Useful Suffering

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
(Romans 5:3-5)

There is nothing quite like being a parent to highlight certain Scriptures with excruciating clarity.

Since Ash Wednesday, I’ve been reading and re-reading in the book of Romans, going through a couple of chapters over my breakfast and diving into a smaller portion for closer study when the meal has been consumed.

My weekend reading focused on chapters 9 and 10, which a read through a handful of times. I broke today’s fast with eggs scrambled with kale, onion, and red bell pepper along with a side of Romans 11, the previous two chapters still fresh on my mind. Then over coffee, I turned to Romans 5 for examination.

And I saw a horrifying glimpse of the grief our Creator feels over the rebellion of His creation. His children.

I saw it because I recognized a tiny sliver of His grief in Paul’s impassioned words from Romans 9:2-3:

…I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.

And I recognized it because now that my own little brood have begun trying their wings, I share a human-sized portion of the same unceasing anguish, not only for my brothers, but for my children.

If I could trade my salvation for the assurance of each of theirs, I would do it without a second thought. Now with our oldest counting down the months until legal adulthood, I am more certain of this than ever before.

There is definitely anguish in my heart as I watch him stumble into a trap lined with acceptance but secular to its purposeless core. Only weeks after I’d bragged on what a delight he has become, he has seemed to turn a darker corner and morphed into the stereotypical rude, withdrawn teenager.

And the people who have his heart are not my brothers and sisters in Christ as before. I do not even know where they come from, but he is more connected with them than with any portion of the Body of Christ at present. This is a source of terrible grief for me.

And yet, I know there will truly be no greater joy for me than if I live to see him and his sisters walk in the Truth.

For now, however, I pray. I watch. I search the Word for wisdom and guidance. And I pray even more.

Through it all, I also rejoice in this season of parental suffering because, while it is intensely frightening and painful to watch my firstborn dancing around a fire which threatens to consume him, I know this form of suffering, too, brings endurance.

Endurance in prayer, greater hope in the faithfulness of my Lord.

But it also because this heartache helps me to understand with greater poignancy the never-failing, never-ceasing capacity for forgiveness and love held by my Father’s many times shattered heart. And also because through this anguish, I begin to better understand His keen joy when even one lost child is found and begins to walk in truth.

Lord, forgive me the hurts I have inflicted on You by my rebellion and untrusting ways. I never knew what pain was until now. Please guide my children to You. May they become Your children more truly than ever they were mine, and we rejoice together to someday see them walk in Your Truth.  

 

Finding Purpose in Pain

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

(Isaiah 53:6-7)

It’s been a while since I’ve jotted out a migraine post. In fact, I realized my last one was in early September when I wrote about my latest dietary experiment.  In fact, today is  my 49th consecutive day on the ketogenic diet.

So how’s it going? Well… not bad. My first two weeks were like a dream. I had more energy and fewer headaches than normal, and what headaches I did have were extremely minor. In short, I felt well for several days all in a row – something that has not happened since… honestly, I don’t know. Ask my husband. He pays more attention than I do.  For me, it was enough to actually feel like doing things rather than merely muscling through the day until bedtime.

Unfortunately, subsequent weeks were not as remarkable. It is possible I had a touch of the virus that went around our house, but my usual crazy fatigue was an unwelcome visitor during the last weeks of September. October did not begin well, either, and last Saturday saw the blessed end of a 6-day-long, slowly building migraine that left me feeling perfectly wretched.

But that is all over, this week is looking promising, and I am feeling as wonderful as my first days on the diet. Hurrah! I have sworn to give it at least two more weeks before ‘cheating,’ and my cheat will be minor – a signature coffee beverage from a friend’s newly opened coffee shop.  (By the way, this is a shameless plug for the Fainting Goat aimed at my local readers…)

Now on the other side of the month-long energy drain and the resurgence of headache issues, I can honestly say that this whole experience – from the meningitis when my middle child was a few months old all the way through today – the ups and downs and all the in-betweens has been good.

I mean it. Despite the unpleasantness, it is really, truly good.

Not to sound like a nutcase, but I am thankful for the pain. Even today as I sit writing with a clear head and an inexplicably aching hip, I can rejoice in my suffering.  Admittedly, a large part of that rejoicing comes from the fact that some of it is past… but also because in the midst of it all, God reminds me to give thanks in ALL circumstances – including the less enjoyable ones (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

For one thing, as this morning’s reading in Isaiah 53 has reminded me, I do not deserve health, wealth, or prosperity. For countless past acts of rebellion against my Creator as well as for a continuing propensity to wander astray like some doltish sheep drifting mindlessly after what looks like a mouthful of greener grass far away from the Shepherd’s safe pasture, I deserve death.

But my gracious and incredible God gives me Life instead. And just so the spiritual ledger is not out of balance, He paid the penalty of my crimes with His own blood.

What’s more, He continually offers purpose in my pain. Though last week was discouraging and left me feeling physically spent and emotionally defeated, this week starts fresh, beginning with absolutely priceless time spent with a young lady, one of my part-time daughters, who also struggles with chronic migraine.

Because I can relate, she can speak freely and be understood – which I must say, is no small thing for those who struggle with an “invisible” disease. And because I love her, I am delighted to participate in the suffering so that I can encourage her as she fights through it and remind her that God is still good even when life looks bleak.

After all, if He did not spare His own sinless and perfect Son, the Radiance of His glory and the exact Imprint of His nature;  if the King of kings was not spared physical and emotional pain, why should I be? For I have sinned and fallen far short of God’s perfection, but by His grace I can share in my Lord’s sufferings – because even pain, when surrendered to Him, can be used for something glorious.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
(1 Peter 4:12-13)

 

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Splinter

For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
(Acts 9:16)

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.
(2 Corinthians 12:7)

During my struggle with migraine, I have been blessed by the prayers of many fellow sojourners for healing. Some of them, very well-meaning and wonderful people, have told me emphatically that it is not God’s will that we suffer with such maladies, but that He would have us be free from them in order that our ministry might be effective.

Respectfully and without a trace of acrimony, I very heartily disagree.

You see, more than once when I have prayed to see the end of migraine, God has brought 2 Corinthians 12 to mind, particularly verses 7-10. In this passage, as in the book of Job, God has repeatedly reminded me that sometimes His work in the midst of affliction is what brings Him glory.

And in truth, He does not need me to be particularly efficient or even functional to accomplish His work. To the contrary, my weakness and inability provide a background that prominently displays His glory.

While I have to admit that I would love to be entirely free of migraine and all its myriad accoutrements, I also know that the ability to praise God despite them honors Him for who He is and not merely for what He does.

Do I believe that God is able to remove pain from my life? Yes, absolutely; I have no doubt that He can.

However, I also know that He knows what He is doing, and what He is doing often necessitates putting me in situations that I would avoid if given the chance. In the same way, if someone told me that eating a certain fruit every day would give me the body of a 25-year-old Olympic gymnast, well… Suffice to say that I would buy them by the truckload.

But I tend to learn best from hands-on experience.

Though I may understand the principal of a thing – how it works or how it is done – I never fully grasp it until I have experienced it myself. Just so, experiencing pain helps me to better understand how intensely my Lord suffered for me. Having a weakness of my own gives me a more complete understanding of how little God actually needs me to accomplish His will.

Perhaps this is why Paul wrote that his “thorn” was to keep him from becoming conceited. Personally, I am embarrassingly susceptible to swollen pride if I were allowed any credit for what God has done through me. As it is, I can only marvel because I am keenly aware of what is done by Him despite my weakness.

Pain, though unpleasant, is an excellent tutor.

In the original Greek, the word translated as “thorn” in the ESV is only used this once in the text of the New Covenant. According to Thayer’s Greek Definitions, it could be translated as “a sharp stake or splinter.”

The idea of a splinter resonates well with my experience of chronic migraine; specifically, the maddening type of invisible splinter inflicted by a thistle or nettle. You can’t see it, but you certainly know it’s there. (Perhaps this is on my mind because of a recent gloveless and rather silly attempt to rid my garden of an infestation of these wicked little plants…)

But the thistle is not without purpose. With its habit of propagating in neglected areas, it Goldfinch004can draw attention to fields or fencerows in need of a little TLC. And though its needles are most unpleasant, its flowers do provide nectar for a wide variety of bees, butterflies, and even hummingbirds, and its seeds are a favorite of many species of birds, including the stunning goldfinch.

Even so, my own pain is not purposeless. I fully believe God can and will heal me if it best serves His plan. However, I also know that He will not until He is finished pruning away my pride, my self-reliance, even my lack of faith and providing hope for others in the meantime.

 

I am not advocating that we never pray for healing for self or others, only that we do not allow it destroy our faith if His answer is, “No.”

Instead, while you pray for healing, also ask God to reveal any areas of your heart that may need a little TLC and trust Him to be enough. We can truly rejoice that no experience of our lives lies beyond His power to redeem. Not even our pain.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
2 Corinthians 12:9

Drink Up

So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
John 18:11

God always answers prayer. However, His answer is not always something my flesh wants to hear, because sometimes His answer is “no.”

To me, it is a telling thing that the very Son of God Himself presented at least one request to the Father which was answered in the negative. Earlier on the night of His betrayal and subsequent trial and execution, Yeshua prayed in a place called Gethsemane. Perhaps the feast of Passover was fresh in His mind as He asked the Father whether He, too, might not be passed over:

And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
(Mark 14:35-36)

Of course, we know what the answer was.

And at some point later that evening – a point after Judas’s betrayal and Peter’s somewhat bizarre attempt to protect the honor of his Master by slicing off the ear of the high priest’s servant – Jesus spoke the words first highlighted above: “Shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

It was Tuesday morning when I read John 18; the middle point of three days of outrageous and inexplicable fatigue coupled with a slightly elevated temperature and (of course) a good, old-fashioned migraine.

“Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

I don’t know about you, but I have spent a good deal of time asking God to remove painful circumstances. Whether it is physical pain from migraines, arthritis, or the like or the emotional pain of dealing with the mild psychosis that seems to afflict most children between the ages of 12 and 18, I have presented many requests on my own behalf and on behalf of my loved ones that we might be spared from suffering.

But sometimes the pain is God’s will for us.

Sometimes, it is through the pain that He is most glorified and that the most good is done.

Now of course, the Son of God’s case is very different. Although He desired not to endure the horrifying agony of crucifixion along with what was likely a much more excruciating separation from the Father when He bore the sins of the world, He was willing to drink the brimful cup of God’s wrath to the very dregs in order to glorify the Name above all names and to redeem the rebellious creatures He made in His own image and loves even in their rebellion.

My Lord and Savior knew that the pain had a purpose, and even though He asked if there was any other way, once He was certain of the answer He was ready to accept God’s will even though it was more than a little unpleasant.

“Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

Naturally, no one will be redeemed through my own suffering. I am certainly not a spotless Lamb capable of paying for the sins of the world (although He has offered the cloak of His righteousness to me that I may cover my shame before God in His own garment – praise Him!).

Although I cannot see what benefit my own pain or the pain of my children and loved ones may bring to others, I can trust my Father to know what is best.  Certainly, God has already used some of my past suffering to encourage others, and so I can walk in confidence, knowing that He will work all things to the good of those who love Him.

And I do. I love Him.

While I would love to spare my three youngsters even a single step on the path of suffering, I also know that I have learned many lessons through pain that would have never struck home had I been spared difficulty.

So today, while I may ask that myself, my young friends, and my adult friends might be spared from migraine, emotional anguish, cancer, the consequences of sin, and other forms of suffering, I ask with a willingness to accept what the Lord sees fit to allow.

Shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me? If it be for His glory and for the spiritual growth and health of those He loves, of course I shall.

After all, if He did not spare His only beloved Son from following a path of torment and suffering, why should He spare me? For I have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Yeshua did not and suffered anyway. For you. For me.

May all my pride be humbled before this understanding of the Servant King, and may His honor be forever displayed in every facet of my life.

Bottoms up!cup021

 

Migraine Chronicles: Another Letter

Hey J.,

I missed Monday this week, but I didn’t want to entirely miss this… Last week, I talked to you about refocusing on praise rather than on your circumstances.  Today, I want to talk a little bit about why.

If you are anything like me, you have probably entertained the idea that the whole chronic migraine issue just isn’t fair. Other people can eat whatever they want, do whatever activities they want; heck, many can even go for a hike or a run in hot, sunny weather. It doesn’t seem at all fair, does it?

But here’s a funny little secret that I have learned: When we humans say that something isn’t fair, what we really mean is that we don’t like it.

In fact, I doubt any of us would enjoy “fair” if it were put into practice. If fairness were to rule the day, then Jesus would never have given Himself up as a substitutionary sacrifice and we would all pay the eternal price of our sins. That would be fair, but I would not look forward to it.

So when you think about it, unfairness itself is something to be grateful about. You and I, we have sinned. Although I can’t speak for you, I daily fail to put God first in everything, often by falling into self-pity. And that is just one single area – there are many, many more.

The truth is that we have fallen far short of the glory of God, and we actually do deserve pain and suffering, both now and in eternity.

But Jesus did not. He endured hunger, thirst, fatigue, and even torture, betrayal, and a shameful, horrible death at the hands of the very people He came to save. He did not deserve it, but out of love, He did it anyway. For you. For me. For any of us who will accept His Lordship with gratitude.

 

So when you are in pain, try to fix your mind on Jesus and remember that the unfair price He paid is something for which we can be forever thankful. And remember that I am trying the very same tactic, though not always with success.

Be encouraged that even in suffering, you are never alone, for our Lord suffered, too.

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
(Hebrews 12:3-4)

Love always,
Ms. Heather

Reflections of Pain

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Romans 5:3-5

My first awareness last Sunday was of pain. All the warning signs from previous days had coalesced into a tight, aching knot somewhere vaguely around or behind my left eye. Pain spread in ripples to encompass the whole left side of my head, my muscles felt like water, the dim morning light seemed excruciatingly bright when I cracked my eyes, and I wanted nothing more than to lie perfectly, perfectly still.

Good morning, Migraine… my nemesis.

I took some medication and curled into a ball, praying for the thing to end so I could spend Sunday morning with some of my favorite two- to four-year-old kiddos.  Lying there trying to think of anything but the misery of migraine, my thoughts drifted to the pain of others:  to the suffering of a friend who has received heart-wrenching news about her new baby, to another friend whose life has been a battle with emotional anguish and who now struggles under a debilitating physical ailment, to a family member whose heart is torn and tattered… on and outward to so many who suffer and hurt and weep.

So much pain; such a tremendous, horrible variety of pain.

Like a shaft of sunlight penetrating storm clouds, a fresh and awesome sense of the magnitude of what Jesus has done broke into my dismal reverie.  I cannot help but wonder that the Master and Maker of all the universe would choose to put on such a frail and faulty machine as a human body and trudge about in the muck of His own creation.

Why would He voluntarily step down from a state of complete and painless perfection into the sticky and unpleasant tangle of human emotions and physical shortcomings;  of hate and jealousy, of sweat and hunger and disease and despair? Why would He suffer physical pain, torture, betrayal, loss, rejection, death — all for a people who neither understand nor care what He has done; a people who often glance blandly at Him, battered and bloody on that cross, sparing little thought as to what it all means?

Why would He choose to endure pain for me? I, who will call Him “good” when all is well in my  little arena and yet will wail dismally, believing that He has forsaken me when some little distress disrupts my plans? Why?

I know why. It is no more and no less than perfect love that motivated His sacrifice;  a love so intense and so profound that I can barely fathom it even if I strain with all my being to grasp it. On Sunday, as my thoughts burrowed inward, attempting to escape the conflagration of pain, I was grieved that there were so few traces of such a love within me.

Lying there in the dim semi-consciousness of migraine, I cannot honestly say that I would willingly endure such things as this– physical pain, emotional torment, rejection — for my enemies as He did. Perhaps I might face such affliction on behalf of my children, my husband or sisters, or close family or friends, but certainly not for the ones who slander me or those who wound my children.

For them, I would not embrace pain. But Jesus did.

He endured excruciating physical torture at the hands of the brutal but efficient Roman lictors even before the gory horror of crucifixion. What’s more, He did it willingly, knowingly, fully understanding what it would cost. He understands physical pain.

Despite the heavy toll exacted from His flesh, He was — and still is –rejected by the very ones He was suffering for. He was betrayed to this cruel death by one of His inner circle.  He knows about emotional pain as well.

As I contemplated His shattered and broken body on that cross through the haze of my own pain,  I felt truly thankful.

Thankful that my God is not distant and impartial but willing to undergo temptation, torture, rejection, and loss so that a worm such as I can gain access to the Throne of Grace.

Thankful that my pain is a small reminder of the price of sin; a moment to reflect on the suffering of Jesus.

Thankful that even enormous pain will not last forever, but that His love brought victory through the pain to the bitter end of the grave and beyond.

Thankful that in Christ, I have a hope that does not disappoint, even in the midst of pain.

In Appreciation of Pain, Part Three

Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Romans 5:2-5

(Earlier, I wrote about two other lessons I learned that make me thankful for the decade I spent struggling through chronic migraine. If you would like to read them, you can find them here and here.)

The third,  but perhaps the most purely delightful, lesson I took away from those years of suffering was in learning to praise my God even when shrouded in pain. While those words are easy to write now, it is critical to note that my gratitude for the suffering did not begin after I  had exited the dark valley of daily pain– I began to express thanksgiving and praise aloud to God even while striving to function through the throes of migraines.

Those years were truly dark ones in all senses of the word, some points of which I have already outlined in my previous posts. Implacable pain was only one of the reasons for the gloom, but it was a pushy, domineering one. I could not escape the grip of pain for long. Medications would work for a few weeks, but they had their own side effects besides losing efficacy over fairly short periods of time.  I began to dread waking, knowing that all that waited for me was an awareness of pain.  My mind also seemed to be failing as I struggled to recall familiar words like “toaster” and “laundry” or my children’s names. I was perpetually, relentlessly tired, almost a zombie trudging mindlessly through each day. Because of the intensity and long-term quality of the affliction, I found myself frequently succumbing depression.

I remember clearly the first time when, in the clutches of a migraine so fierce that I dared not twitch a finger for fear of the repercussions, I was compelled to whisper oh, so quietly my adoration of God and praise that He was allowing me to be broken and reshaped by such pain, allowing me to participate in some minute way in the sufferings of my Lord Yeshua. It was the first toddling steps of a shaky practice that I began to form, a routine of murmuring blessing or praise even. or rather, especially in the depth of affliction or when despair constricted and stifled my heart. It was some time and many stops and starts before the practice began to be a habit.  It is still not a solid habit, I am sorry to say, but I now remember more often than I forget.

Slowly, strangely, the leaden fog of despair was rent and began to dissipate as surely as mist in the sun.  I began to understand the truth behind yet another quote from Nancy Leigh DeMoss: “True joy is not the absence of pain but the sanctifying, sustaining presence of the Lord Jesus in the midst of the pain.” I understood because I had begun to learn to recognize His Presence always, even when veiled by my own pain.

Through this moment and countless others like it, I learned to acknowledge the glory and worthiness of my King despite what I may be feeling. Though my body was wracked with exhaustion and tormented by ruthless headaches, I learned to be thankful that He was greater than my pain.

What’s more, I learned that He is worth praising no matter what my circumstances are. Even the worst of my pain can never amount to the humiliation and rejection my Lord experienced when He literally became sin on that cross as ransom for billions of undeserving, debauched human lives like my own. Even the temptation to despair can be overcome when I focus less on myself and more on the majesty and undeserved compassion of my Lord and my God.

So all in all, I am thankful for the trials God has sent my way. I am thankful for pain so persistent and intense that I was forced to the end of myself… and most gloriously of all, I am thankful that I found Him waiting for me there.

It is my sincere prayer that you will know that He is there with you in your dark valleys as well, and knowing that, you will unabashedly sing His praises into the cold and uncaring darkness. Hang in there, my dear, no matter how long it takes. He is there, even when you do not see Him. And His grace truly is sufficient for whatever trial you face.

In Appreciation of Pain, Part Two

 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews 12:11

(If you missed the first installment of why I am thankful for a prolonged season of pain and want to check it out, you can find it here.) 

Some of the spiritual gleanings of the years I spent living with chronic migraine cannot be expressed in clunky words. They are, for now, just impressions of intense joy or closeness with my God. Other lessons are permanently etched into my consciousness, as palpable as scars from a wound. They act as a brand of sorts, reminding me to Whom I belong and are entirely caused by my opposition to His firm leading.  Many of these scars are remnants of the chastening I received during those years, reminders to me now of the plentiful grace God was eager to give when I humbled myself… and of the ridiculous wilfulness I demonstrated, digging in my heels against His attempts to lead me to still waters and green pastures.

This second lesson is the one for which I am most exquisitely grateful but is also the most difficult to share. However, I want to share it with you; this bit of  instruction more painful even than the migraines themselves, poignant and personal, so that if you, my beloved, go through a season of crushing, you can be reminded that all the trials God allows to afflict us are for our eternal good–shaping us, preparing us for an eternal expanse of joy beyond compare.

During those dark years, I went through Nancy Leigh DeMoss’s study for women entitled Lies Women Believe and was confronted with a truth, roughly summarized that my circumstances do not make me what I am; they reveal what I already am. Before entering this long, treacherous stretch of my spiritual journey, I had felt pretty good about myself as a Christian. I served my God well, or so I believed. I had sacrificed much and was pretty proud of that. I did a lot for the Kingdom–at least in my own estimation — and I was able to demonstrate love to a variety of people. By all appearances, I was a good servant.

However, the God who knew my heart was ready to show me what lurked beneath the surface.

When I had walked in that dark valley long enough that even my hobbies weighed as a burden and the concept of “fun” had faded to a distant memory, then the real me was revealed.  I discovered that my heart contained more that was shrewish, complaining, and hateful than I had ever dreamed. I saw that I had little self-control and less patience. In short, my circumstances revealed a me that I was ashamed of and horrified by. It was as if I had imagined I was dressed for a royal gala only to have a mirror held up, exposing garments that were soiled and tattered,  greasy hair in utter disarray, skin that was sallow and sickly.

Here, in the disagreeable circumstance of chronic pain, I was confronted with some bare facts: my heart harbored more bitterness than blessing, more rage than compassion, more indulgence than self-discipline. Much of my service was revealed to me now to be done out of pride; a prim little girl looking for accolades and disappointed when none were offered. God lovingly but firmly exposed the real me that seethed secretly with bitterness and resentment.

I felt entitled to appreciation, entitled to have someone else help me in my work when I was sick, irritated when I felt that the work I did was unfair. And sometimes it was. I justified my peevishness with worldly standards, but by the grace and chastisement of my Father, I now fully comprehend that it was –and is — desperately, desperately wrong.

You see, for me to think that I deserve anything for my paltry, haughty service, to believe that I deserve anything at all outside of condemnation for the tremendous sin debt I owe, is tragically incorrect. All I deserve is death, yet in Christ I have been granted not only unmerited forgiveness but eternal life as well. It is by His grace alone I am saved. The thankfulness I have for this gift is beyond expression, though it took suffering to make me see clearly.

So did this time of intense and painful scourging result in a harvest of peace and righteousness? Peace, yes. I now have a more profound peace in my heart than I ever knew to be possible. Righteousness–well, the only righteousness I can claim is the mantle of my Lord that He, in His mercy, has clothed me in. I can say undoubtedly that I am no longer serving Him for what I may get out of it, but out of a gratitude so intense that it makes any task He metes seem light and simple, and when I fall into old habits of grumbling, the scars remind me to repent and fix my mind on His grace once more. The burdens I once whined beneath are now cheerfully borne because of the love I bear for my King. This is the meaning of Matthew 11:30, and I rejoice in the pain that helped me to understand it.

But even that is not all. He had something to show me still yet. . .

In Appreciation of Pain, Part One

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
James 1:2-3

Today I am thankful for the relatively recent freedom from chronic migraine and associated headache pain I have experienced. I am grateful beyond words that my days are no longer bookended by varying degrees of that miserable pain which was both my first and last awareness for so many years.  As appreciative as I am for the fact that the number of headaches has drastically reduced, I feel the need to stress that I am also thankful for the many years I spent in the ruthless, dense fog of chronic migraine.

Strange though it may be,  I now consider those months of  incessant pain a blessing. There was absolutely nothing about it that was pleasant, nor would I wish to repeat even a week of the experience. Still,  it was during those interminable, torturous days marked most heavily by fatigue borne of perpetual pain that I learned such a great deal about the goodness of my Creator.

I have always been the type to plow on through an illness or injury to the point of utter collapse. Even that trait, however, proved a poor prop under the onslaught of nearly a decade of being both awakened and lulled to sleep by the pitiless ache in my head. For a while, my own strength sufficed. . .  for a while. But there came a day when I simply had nothing left. Even the most mundane tasks were overwhelming and the job of educating my children with patience and love seemed hopelessly out of reach.

Up to this time, I had sporadically called upon God for help when I found myself quite over my head. Now, however, I was in a perplexing state of trouble where my tremendous need was not covered by occasional pleas for mercy.  This was the time when I began to understand that a commonly spoken platitude was horribly flawed: God does give us more than we can handle. Often. Repeatedly. Even tenaciously for those of us who, like myself, are stubbornly proud and unwilling to even recognize our own weakness.

Finally desperate to break the cycle, I began to pray for help and confess my ineptitude continually throughout each day. I asked for His Spirit to expose and give me strength to repent of every act of self-sufficiency and for the grace to remember to call upon Him for mercy and for help in time of need — not only when troubled waters had swelled and I was drowning, but at the very moment those waters began to rise around me. I began to call upon Him sometimes hourly, sometimes every minute, and He willingly provided far above what my feeble efforts were worth. Slowly, the darkness of the valley did not bear down so intensely and though I still was too benumbed by pain to see far ahead, at least He provided the light to my feet for the step that was imminent.  I could see enough to walk forward. I could see that I needed to lean completely on the limitless sufficiency of His great grace.

But God had still more to show me…

 Lord, thank You that Your grace is truly sufficient! Thank You for not allowing me to move forward in self-sufficient pride; that You care enough to humble me and cause me to see my need to abide utterly in You.