scar

If you are one of the poor souls who reads my bloggages regularly you will know that from time to time I mention that I suffer from Chronic Migraine and Cluster Headaches. From about 2002 onwards there has been a constant Migraine headache going on inside my skull. The only variation was in intensity of the pain levels. To go with this is a regular routine of Cluster Headaches. The CH attacks make the migraine feel pleasant by comparison and are debilitating beyond belief.

Before you start getting the handkerchiefs out for a sob story let me say that since I had an operation to install an Occipital Nerve Stimulator I have been more or less Migraine and Cluster Headache free while it has been working, which is life-transforming. The headaches are still there. They are still firing away, which I discovered to my painful cost when the battery in my first ONS expired and the headache pain resurfaced almost instantaneously. But the ONS means that my brain no longer pays attention to the pain signals.

(If you don’t like the idea of surgical implantation you might like to skip the next paragraph and pick up the bloggage below the picture).

I am SO grateful to have this gadget implanted within me and to feel the reassurring ‘fizz’ in the back of my head where the wires are implanted. Each week I sit for a while and re-charge the battery that is inserted just under the skin at the top of my chest (no, I don’t plug in, it’s an induction charging process).

charge
recharging

 

 

(If you skipped the last paragraph, welcome back). The great news for me is that because of this implant I am pain free on the whole. The headaches are there still, but I can’t feel them because my brain has been tricked into ignoring the pain signals.

However, occasionally I get a bit self-conscious about the bits and pieces inside me. Last weekend I attended the Baptist Assembly and as we were sitting in a row in the auditorium one of my self-conscious moments came over me as I realised that all of the people behind me were able to see the scar in the back of my head (oops, sorry, another potential squeam moment). I started to wonder what they were thinking about it, and if they were put off by it. I started to feel uncomfortable about it and wanted to put a hat on to hide it.

And then I realised that most people weren’t likely to be feeling as awkward about it as I was. I realised that if anyone asked me about it I would be able to tell them about the wonderful life-transforming nature of the surgery that led to that scar. And I realised that, once again, I was grateful that I have the scar rather than the headaches. I still wouldn’t mind if my hair regrew in that area and covered it (or indeed the rest of my scalp too) but I became comfortable once again in my own skin, scars and all.

That then got me thinking about how people can be really uncomfortable about how other people perceive them. We all want to be liked and appreciated. We don’t want other people to think badly of us. We try to keep our weaknesses and failures and difficulties hidden from others.

But as a follower of Jesus I want people to know that I have not got myself completely sorted, I still make mistakes, I still let people down, I still get things wrong. I want people to know that I am a work in progress. And while I don’t rejoice or revel in these things they are like the visible scar on the back of my head and I am happy that they are visible because they are testimony to the change that God is bringing about in me. I want people to know that my relationship with God, the example, teaching, forgiveness and fresh start offered by Jesus Christ and the personal experience and presence of the Spirit of God make all the difference in the world to me. Slowly but surely I am being changed to become a better person. The scars and wounds of fragile human nature and fecklessness are still present, but they now point to the fact that my identity in God has been changed to ‘forgiven’.

Just as my ONS means that my headaches no longer have the debilitating effect on me they once had, and it gives me the opportunity to live life with a broader smile on my face, so my relationship with God described above makes all the difference. It’s not that I am perfect and that bad stuff will no longer affect me – far from it. The bad stuff still happens but it happens in the wider context of God’s forgiving, all-embracing gracious love, his gentle presence, a certainty, a hope and a meaning for life within me that are life-transforming for me.

And my story includes an experience that without that forgiving, all-embracing gracious love, presence, certainty, hope and meaning for life within me during the darkest days of the rampant Migraines and Cluster Headaches I would not have been able to live in even the semblance of coping that I had. God’s grace was enough when there was nothing else but pain. The pain didn’t go away, but the all-consuming meaninglessness of it was given a different context of life, hope, love and strength that came from God, not from within.

I hope and pray that you might experience that for yourself too.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Speaking baldly

'Normal' (whatever that is for me)
‘Normal’ (whatever that is for me)

Yesterday was a Bank Holiday in England and was predicted to be the hottest day of the year so far (not difficult). Sally and I went out in the morning and I went equipped with a cap to stop the top of my head from getting sunburnt in the scorching heat.

For those who are not follicly challenged like me, the wearing of a hat is optional – a fashion decision. When God has decided to reveal the true beauty of the scalp he has given you by removing the hair that covers it you need to be prepared to cover it in order to protect it (and also prevent glare from the shine causing distress to others).

One of the things I have discovered from my increased cap-wearing is that you have to live with the consequences of deciding to wear a cap. Because there is no fringe on the forehead of the non-hirsute head any lines that are caused by wearing the cap will be very visible when you take it off. So, unless you don’t mind looking like you have a very big frown line, you have to decide to keep the cap on for long periods of time. That means that the tradition of taking your hat off when you go indoors is eschewed in favour of not having people point at your head laughing. Hats remain un-doffed to ladies. And when you continue to wear the hat when the sun has hidden itself you risk looking like someone who is trying (and failing) to make a fashion statement.

Yesterday was not a scorching hot day in the Colchester area. I would describe it as Wesley weather. (John Wesley describes the moment when he became a Christian as his heart being ‘strangely warmed’.) The cloud cover was sufficient that the sun played ‘hide and seek’ during much of the day and I reluctantly realised that the silliness of a man in his mid 40s (I know, I look much older) wearing a baseball cap (oriented correctly I should add) was greater than the temporary silliness of having a line across the front of my head. After a little while that line would disappear and I would look ‘normal’ again. (Yes, I know, I don’t look normal at the best of times, but you know what I mean!)

At the same time I was also aware that wearing a cap covered the surgery scar that I have in the back of my head. It is in the middle of what little hair I have left and is very obvious. I used to be very self-conscious about it but now I hardly give it a second thought. Yesterday the thought occurred to me briefly as I contemplated the line at the front that it would distract people from the scar at the back.

So many of the worries and concerns we have in life are like the lines on a bald man’s head. They are things that make a mark on us, but it is a temporary mark. It will fade. It will pass. In days gone by today’s news was wrapped around tomorrow’s fish and chips* and that was a metaphor for the transitory nature of many of life’s issues and problems. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells people not to worry so much because God’s got them in mind and worrying won’t change anything anyway. If God has us in mind we can relax a bit more.

Now I do know that not all of the things that worry and concern us are transitory. Some things make a lasting scar on us (like the one on the back of my head). But just because we are scarred does not mean we are defined by our scars. We carry them with us always. Yet they do fade a bit and can be reminders not only of the painful experience of life but also of God’s faithful presence with us even in the darkest of times.

I usually close my bloggages with ‘Be blessed, be a blessing’ but today (as well as that) I want to offer you a blessing that is based on 1 Kings 8:

The Lord, the righteous God, make his face to shine upon you, the Lord fill you with a joy greater than all this world can give, the Lord make you to sleep in peace and to dwell in safety; and the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with you now and always.

*why do they use plain paper now instead of recycling newspaper?