My Never-Ending Migraine: A Summer of Grace

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This has been the summer of doctors for two reasons:

  1. I’ve been mooching off my dad my entire adult life, and since I’m about to turn 26 and lose his excellent insurance, I’m trying to fit as many appointments as possible into the next few months.
  2. The first week of May I got a migraine that never went away.

Every year I get a couple of migraines that begin with vision loss in my left eye. If I lie down quickly in a dark place and take ibuprofen, I typically escape the terrible pain that other people describe. This time, though, the visual aura lasted way longer than usual.

After about a month of shadows across my vision, I visited my family practitioner. (I had already seen an ophthalmologist prior to the migraine, so I knew my eyes weren’t the issue.) She sent me to get an MRI. When the MRI came back normal, my mom made an appointment with an OBGYN in case my symptoms related to a hormonal imbalance. The OBGYN referred me to a neurologist. At this point I had spent a fair amount of money to discover that I am, overall, an extremely healthy person. Go, me.

Just when I started to wonder, “How much do I really need my left eye, anyway?” the Neurologist, an adorable Asian woman, informed me calmly that I have been experiencing a continuous migraine for more than three full months. Now I’m on a daily regimen of natural supplements, and she asked that I up my cardio workouts to three times per week. Supposedly it will take 4-6 weeks to get my brain un-stuck.

I think God weakens our bodies sometimes because he wants to take care of our hearts.

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I think God weakens our bodies because he wants to take care of our hearts.

My entire life, the Lord has treated me with such tenderness, but I don’t notice until my physical capacities fail. The most vivid illustration occurred during my semester in Oxford, England, when I nearly collapsed beneath a burden of crippling anxiety.

I remember sitting with my back against the door of the shared bathroom on my dormitory hall with my knees drawn to my chest, trembling with sobs. The strain of an incredibly difficult academic semester had kept me from sleeping; I had lost so much weight that my clothes had started to fall off; and an ocean separated me from the people who normally calmed me down. I had reached the end of my ability to “push through.”

Suddenly, just moments after whispering a desperate prayer, a physical tingling sensation washed over me from scalp to toe. I had never felt palpable peace like that before, and about a minute later I realized that I had stopped crying. The light buzzed above my head while I rested my chin on my knees, completely calm.

He’s so gentle, friends. When my emotional turmoil reaches the breaking point, and my body buckles beneath the weight, He cradles me. This summer His hands have appeared in the form of bosses who remain lenient with hours missed due to doctors’ appointments, family members who sit with me in waiting rooms, kitties who purr on my chest, and paid sick days that give me time to sleep.

Maybe I needed this migraine to remember how much Jesus cares for me.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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You have not given me into the hands of the enemy but have set my feet in a spacious place.
 – Psalm 31:8

Something to Remember when You’re Sleepy

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I’m tired almost all the time.

Depending on the day it ranges from bleary-eyed mornings kind of tired to tripping over nothing, stumbling into walls, blurting nonsensical phrases kind of tired. So, so sleepy . . . and I have absolutely no excuse.

My husband makes fun of me for prioritizing sleep so highly. Rarely do I get less than seven hours, usually more. I’m not raising small children who keep me up all night; I’m not working three jobs to pay my way through school. Every morning I wake up at the same time, drive 40 minutes to work, stay nine hours if I take a lunch break, and drive 40 minutes home. My weekends feel restful, rejuvenating, and relaxing.

Nevertheless, there are many evenings I feel like I could lie down the moment I walk in the door and not wake up until morning. I’ve actually done this a time or two, and whenever I visit my parents’ house, I nap for hours. My body craves sleep like — I don’t know — like a cat craves tuna.

Sadly, I have a hunch I’m not alone. I see your posts on Facebook. I hear the yawns trembling in your voices. We’re all walking around with eyelids drooping and brains buzzing, wishing we were still in bed.

In high school I had a few friends who gave the same answer every time I voiced the perfunctory greeting, “How are you?”

“Tired,” they’d say, until the regularity started to bug me. How can you always be tired? I’d wonder in annoyance. Why don’t you try getting more sleep? Even in college I never pulled all-nighters like some of my classmates. Now, however, I appear to have joined the ranks of the sleep-deprived.

I don’t have an answer for this weariness that seems inherent to adulthood. Instead of wasting screen space searching for a cure, I’ll share one simple lesson that carries me through sleepy days on those occasions when I stop to remember.

You can be thankful and tired at the same time.

You can be thankful and tired at the same time.

When I’m sighing sadly on my bumper-to-bumper commute to the office, my mind wanders to the words of Ann Voskamp in her beautiful book A Thousand Gifts: “All is grace.”

Thank you for trees, God. Thank you for shadows. Thank you for branches waving. Thank you for cool air blowing from my vents. Thank you for diamonds sparkling on my hand.

This is a lesson I must repeat often to myself. I’ll admit that historically, sleepy equates with grumpy for me. When I pause to thank Him, though, I’m surprised to discover that I can experience happiness and sleepiness simultaneously. Feeling tired doesn’t need to defeat me. Instead, my simple refrain of gratitude lifts my eyes from the grogginess of my physical body to the sweetness of each moment that meets me in this day.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits. – Psalm 103:2

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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“Give thanks in this one small thing. The moments will add up.”
– Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts

Why I Am my History

My mom meets me at Starbucks to watch old home videos.

She has recently taken a step into the 21st century by converting them to DVD, so we share earbuds and play them on her laptop, laughing so loudly that the other coffee drinkers stare at us.

They’ll get over it.

Viewing scenes from my past – many of which I don’t remember – a strange feeling swells in my chest.

I see my smaller self curl on the lap of my grandpa, who passed away a few years ago. A pacifier protrudes from my mouth; I’m wearing pajamas with feet in bright primary colors.

Suddenly it’s Christmas, and I hold an armful of plastic animals, surrounded by wrapping paper. A giraffe drops from the couch, so I turn to the camera with round eyes to pronounce, “Uh-oh!” Auntie Ann crouches next to me so we can play zoo together. My grandma comments off-screen.

A few moments later and many years older, I stand in a crowd of children singing the soundtrack to Mulan. A taller kid partially obscures my pale, nervous face. My little sister twirls nearby in a floral dress, oblivious to the performance. After the final song, I approach the camera to hear my mom’s praise, concern melting into a smile.

Jump to a wedding. The camera sways wildly before focusing on my fat baby brother. He’s unsteady on his feet, dressed in a little blue suit. He approaches a pair of skinny legs – mine – and lifts his arms, wanting to be held. I heft him onto my hip and wave his chubby fist, instructing him to smile at the camera.

The DVD ends in a few moments of visual fuzz. I allow the sounds of the coffeeshop to wash over me, considering the feeling that has been expanding inside of me since we hit play. It’s as if the little knots in my stomach have loosened. The tasks ahead; the conversations behind; these small cares that I carry with me have momentarily evaporated.

I am so loved.

In every home video, family surrounds me. As the first grandchild, my babyhood constitutes the sole focus of a large group of devoted adults. As the oldest sister, my childhood fills with firsts: the first student; the first performer; the first friend to my two sweet siblings. At the time I took it all very seriously. Observing the scenes years later, I notice something new.

There has never been anything to worry about.

All the events that consume my thoughts become nothing more than memories captured in film. One day, this moment will slip away, too. The fear will fade. In its place will linger the deep affection that marks me like a thousand fingerprints tattooed on my skin. I am precious. I am noticed. I am loved.

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There’s a word for this feeling: perspective. When I witness my life from a distance, I recognize the consistent theme woven into every season. I am still the small child curled in my grandfather’s lap. I am still the nervous singer onstage. I am still the bossy sister ordering a baby to smile. Above all, I am the beloved daughter with a camera pointed at my face because I matter.

I leave the coffeeshop refreshed, alive to the details of this day. If I am my history, then I am something warm, safe, and happy. Therefore I may enter adulthood fortified by a past rich with tenderness.

Thank you, Mama, for reminding me.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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When Your Spouse Goes Back to School

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I figured out the source of my blues from last month, and once again the blame lies with my least favorite word: transition.

This time, though, the transition wasn’t mine.

A few months ago, my husband quit his full-time job and went back to school to study computer science. We both knew – or at least trusted – that it was a good move for our future. Thanks to God’s provision and the generous support  of family, we were (fairly) confident we’d be able to pay our bills. Still, it was a big leap of faith for my husband. I don’t think I realized how big.

I’ve always been the worried one in our relationship. I over-think small decisions. I am swift to consider potential problems, to the point that I sometimes squelch happy dreams. Any transition, even the positive ones, tend to leave me trembling with anxiety. This particular change, however, didn’t bother me.

I knew my husband was nervous about his first week of classes, and I was vaguely sympathetic, but I was far more interested in my own career. I had a good job; he would be fine. In fact, my main worry was that his homework might interfere with our hang-out time in the evenings.

A few weeks into his classes, I started to notice a change in our home life. We began quarreling far more frequently. It bewildered me. I’d come home from a great day at work, and we’d end the night with tears and angry silences. The fights were silly ones, but the mood between us had noticeably shifted.

I remember thinking, Maybe this is the hard part everyone warned us about.

I remember thinking, Maybe this is the hard part everyone kept warning us about when we got married. Maybe we just don’t like each other as much. The thought had barely formulated before I rejected it. We were still crazy about each other. We always would be. There must be a reason for the sudden tension.

The fact that I took so long to trace the source proves how clueless I was about my husband’s emotional life. Ever since graduating from college, he has tackled adulthood head-on. I’ve never known him to hold fewer than three jobs. Even now that he’s back in school, he works part-time for our church and  runs his own business from our basement. Financial independence is hugely important to him, as is his vision of “success.” He frequently worries that he hasn’t achieved enough — that he’s progressing too slowly.

I don’t remember how the conversation started, but I finally got around to asking him how he felt about quitting his job. I quickly discovered that he felt he had taken a step backward — even though he knew this degree would benefit his future. In one clarifying moment I realized the tension I had sensed wasn’t about me. My husband was understandably stressed by a major life change. Perhaps if I had taken a more active look outside my own emotions, I would have recognized it sooner.

As I write this, my husband is totally rocking his classes. We’re paying our bills every month, and we still really like each other. The change continues to carry its stressors, but next time I feel the strain, I’ll look for practical explanations instead of assuming the worst.

I still hate transitions. I’m learning, however, that identifying the source of my blues can sometimes help cure them.  Hopefully I’m learning a little something about empathy, too. Most importantly, this blip on our marital radar has reminded me that I’m not the only one facing uncomfortable adjustments. It’s nice to feel like a team again.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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In Search of Joy

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The last few weeks have felt a little heavy, and I’m not sure why.

The weird thing is, a lot of wonderful stuff happened recently. A friend of mine accepted Christ and was baptized. I got to be part of her decision. My husband played a gig in Vail, so we stayed for free. We spent an entire Saturday wandering in and out of shops, surrounded by mountains. I successfully produced a few live radio shows at work. During one show, I got to shake the hand of a WWII veteran who just finished an incredible sculpture — at the age of 94.

Seems like life would be feeling pretty good right now. For some reason, though, I’m having trouble shaking these depressive feelings.

The other night I got into bed feeling sorry for myself. My husband was up late with homework, so I was going to bed alone. Instead of turning the lights out and moping, I opened my dresser drawer and pulled out a book I’ve never read, one that I got for free. The first chapter was about reading God’s Word and applying it to my life.

It’s been a while since I spent regular time in the Word. Last year, when everything was so difficult, I read the Bible and prayed obsessively, begging God for answers. I think I wore myself out a little. This year I’ve backed off, trying to give my heart a break. I may have missed the happy medium.

Placing the book back in my nightstand, I opened Numbers and took a stab at application: reading a passage and then asking myself, “How can I obey these words?” It was one of those chapters about sacrifices, in which God told the Jews exactly how many goats they needed to slaughter every month. I had to use my imagination, but I decided my version of a daily “sacrifice” could be reading a brief Bible passage every morning and evening. I went to sleep feeling surprisingly refreshed.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

– Psalm 51:12, NIV

I believe God uses every piece of our lives to teach us about Himself. He’s using my job and the time I spend in church and the numbers in my bank account . . . all of it. I can still grow in the Lord when I’m not studying the Bible every day. Still, staying in touch with the Holy Spirit makes a difference.

I’m needing refreshment right now. A day off might help — and I was thankful for the three-day Labor Day weekend — but more than that, I need some refreshment of the soul. Reading a few Bible verses twice a day may not cure my blues, but it could help shift my focus. After all, I have a lot to be thankful for.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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What Normal Feels Like

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Something hit me at work today: I’m not afraid of my job.

I’ve spent most of my life being afraid of ordinary things. I hated giving people hugs as a kid, and I never wanted to say hello to acquaintances at church. Calling people on the phone scared me. Swallowing pills scared me. When I learned to drive, I was afraid of turning left. Studying for tests scared me – not the test itself, but studying for it. Having a boyfriend scared me, thinking about marriage scared me, and getting engaged scared me so badly that I almost didn’t do it.

Now my job is to ask people – really capable, interesting people – about their passions. My job is also to form paragraphs beginning with a hook and ending with a call to action. I am not afraid of those things.

My Junior year of college I spent a semester studying at Oxford University in England. While I was there I attended lectures that blew my mind, entered libraries that were hundreds of years old, and wrote poetry for homework. I also learned something about myself: I don’t particularly enjoy solo adventures.

I don’t particularly enjoy solo adventures.

All those hours alone in grand, silent buildings made me terribly lonely. This was a startling discovery because until that point I had considered myself an introvert who needed her “alone time.” I decided I could never do research for a living because I needed to work with people.

Fast forward to the present, and I’m participating in something I didn’t know existed. I do research, but it’s in-person research. Instead of taking notes in a library, I ask questions face to face, and I’m usually accompanied by a more experienced salesperson, so there’s not as much pressure.

Not being afraid is kind of weird. The same thing is happening with my marriage. I’m not nervous about our relationship; instead, being with my husband makes me happy, confident, and secure. Of course working full-time is an adjustment, and I’ve been exhausted a lot the past few weeks. Nevertheless, large parts of my life are beginning to feel … normal.

I like the feeling of normalcy, especially when I was expecting a scary transition. It’s nice to know I can be calm about the two most prominent features of my life, work and family. In fact, it feels a little like a miracle.

I’m realizing that I can’t always predict what will scare me and what won’t. The best I can do is accept each event with the emotions that accompany it and do my best to remember that God is involved. He knew I would be afraid of getting married. He knew I wouldn’t be afraid of this job. He let me go through both with my good in mind.

I still get nervous about ordinary things like waking up early or asking my boss a question over the phone. I’m thrilled, though, by the blessings that have begun to feel commonplace. Thank you for helping me enjoy them.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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When You Get what You Prayed for

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About a week ago, I got an amazing job.

This job promises to develop my strengths – writing and learning – while addressing my weaknesses (worrying and accepting criticism). It affirms my Christian values and surrounds me with strong, like-minded people. Furthermore, it came right when I needed it.

As of last month, my husband and I were approaching an uncertain financial future. Although I enjoyed my job at the coffeeshop, I wasn’t contributing much to our monthly bills. Meanwhile, he was crumbling beneath the strain of 3+ jobs. Something had to give. It occurred to me (last minute, as usual) to pray for a higher-paying job. A week or two later, I got the interview.

God doesn’t always work quickly, but when He does, it’s hard to miss the message. When my interviewer told me over the phone, “We’d like you to work for us,” I responded before he could take a breath: “Yes, I accept.” I would have been a fool to refuse.

But I wasn’t excited.

I didn’t hang up the phone doing a happy dance; I didn’t give anyone a hug. Instead, I prayed for courage before calling my old boss to give notice. I sent Facebook messages trying to get shifts covered and started cancelling plans that conflicted with my new work schedule. I shared the news with the necessary people (my husband, my mom, my girlfriends) and absorbed their congratulations perfunctorily, breathing deeply to combat the tightness in my stomach.

You see, change – even good change – is scary. Even when I clearly see God at work; even when I anticipate myriad practical benefits; even when I receive exactly what I asked for, I get nervous.

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My mother, who knows me better than most, guessed how I was feeling. “Marie,” she told me, “you can trust God because this is what He has for you.” I replied that I did trust Him. I knew perfectly well that this job was part of His plan.

In a rational sense, I don’t have a problem trusting God. His active presence is the axiom to my theological proofs. (See, Mom? I retained something from geometry.) I do, however, struggle to embrace challenges with exuberant faith.

My laptop’s built-in dictionary defines trust as the “acceptance of the truth of a statement.” According to that definition, trust could happen at the cognitive level without extending to the gut: “Yes, Lord, I believe you – but will it hurt?” True faith, by contrast, reacts with joy to whatever future awaits. It takes a person of real courage to say with confidence, “I know Your plans are worth the pain. Bring it on, Lord.”

True faith reacts with joy to whatever future awaits.

Two days ago, my new job flew me to Philadelphia. I stayed in a hotel where the cleaning staff left chocolates on my pillows; I dined for free at three different restaurants; I attended a lecture on How to Listen; I filled an entire notebook with tips on effective communication. I even enjoyed it. Still, my primary emotion regarding the home trip was nervousness: what would the company expect from me when I returned? Could I really apply what I had learned?

My prayer for the upcoming months is that I would enter wholeheartedly into the work God has given me. While there is plenty of room in God’s kingdom for hesitant believers, I’d rather not remain one of them. Join me if you like.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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