Thunderclap Migraines, The Plans Of Men, And The Providence Of God
Why does it sometimes appear that the best-laid plans of man, or at least parts of these well thought out plans of ours end up failing miserably and get heaved onto the dung heap of life, and by no apparent fault of our own? Or, to take it a level deeper: Why do some of our most sincere efforts, especially those sincere efforts that we believe are being done to the best of our humble understanding and ability for the glory of God…why are those undertakings sometimes squashed right before our eyes like a blood-bloated, aged, and enfeebled mosquito that is too sluggish to escape the swat of its most recent biting victim?
Surely we have all faced situations in which hours, days, weeks, months or even years of painful, patient, and perspiration producing preparation on a particular event, project, relationship, or personal endeavor have suddenly – out of the blue – out from left field – out of nowhere – (or you thought, maybe even out from the deepest depths of hades) came to a sweeping, screeching, crashing and clambering halt like the swift annihilation of the aforementioned doomed and crippled flying vampirish extoparasite aimlessly trying to flutter off your arm.
Some will just say, “Ahh, stuff happens!” They consign these sort of unfortunate mishaps to blind or random chance, “life in general”, consequence, luck (good/bad), fate, karma, kismet, fortune (good/bad), ‘it was just in the stars’, destiny, accidents, cosmic mistakes, flukes, and a host of others words that etymologists try to use to define what it means to tack responsibility or blame on ‘something’ for why things happen in this world. And you know what, it’s only natural that we attempt to attach blame for the things that happen. It’s the basic law of cause and effect. Newton’s Third Law of Motion calls it like it is: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. There’s gotta be a reason for the things – everything – that happens in this world. At least he believed there has to be a reason. Well, of course, as you probably know, I’m a man of faith, which means in a nutshell that I believe, not only in God, but also in a God that is actively involved in the affairs of His creation. The deists of the 18th-century said that God was good and created all things, but then after ‘winding up the clock’, so to speak, He left it to tick on its own, and He doesn’t get involved in the affairs of men, unless it’s a real emergency. For the most part He’s like a big old grandfather that comforts his grandchildren when they go through tough times, but that’s about it.
Well, that’s not my God. That’s not the God of the Bible. I believe in and I believe/trust the One and Only GOD. Triune, yes – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – three in person – One in substance. But by GOD I mean that He is God Almighty – El Shaddai – Jehovah/Yahweh – THE I AM – the Self-Existent One. The God I worship as depicted and revealed in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures by the Holy Spirit is the Sovereign Lord God – Ruler and King over ALL things. By that I mean that not one sparrow falls from the sky; not one hair drops out of our head; not one fender bender; not one late arrival to the airport that results in a missed plane crash; or not one sudden, unexpected, never-before-experienced debilitating migraine headache falls outside of the ultimate control of the Almighty God of the Universe.
As one of my favorite pastor/theologians, R.C. Sproul, plainly said: If there is even one molecule in this entire universe that is outside of God’s sovereign control, then that one molecule could set off a chain reaction that could set things in such a motion that it might prevent Christ from coming back. Now, we don’t believe that could happen, do we? (Randy’s paraphrase because I’m too lazy to go look up the actual quote).
Now, before you get yourself all worked up, let me make it perfectly (as I can) clear that man is absolutely responsible for every decision that he makes. God is not the author of sin; the Lord does NOT make or cause people to do evil (since we’re already pretty good at doing it without His assistance!), and it isn’t just the catchall “God simply permits” bad things to happen! I know, I know, I know, theologians and philosophers way, way, way smarter, wiser, and better looking than me (except St. Thomas Aquinas, they called him the Ox, so I know I am better looking than him, but he was definitely a bit smarter!) have been thinking and agonizing, and debating, and arguing, and reasoning, and praying, and pontificating (every once in a while I like to find an excuse to use that word!) about the issue of God’s sovereignty and man’s will, or in the more basic case that I want to address today, ‘Why do our plans, that seem so right and godly, at times seem to go flat and fail?’
And I’ll tell you what…I’m going to throw out a couple of possibilities, but in the end, just as in the case of Job, we aren’t going to get the perfect answer or answers; and as fallible, imperfect, and even those redeemed by Christ who are maturing in Christ humans, we have to all humbly fall flat on our face before God as Job did and declare,
“I know that You can do all things; no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures My plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’ My ears had heard of You but now my eyes have seen You. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
But that doesn’t mean we can’t still approach and ask the Lord our questions when stuff happens. Remember, He’s the Father to His children, and if a princess or a prince of the King of kings can’t climb upon their Father’s lap and ask Him for some understanding, even if as a little child they can’t completely comprehend the probably unfathomable answer, and that child is then asked by the Father to simply hang on tight and trust their Father, who would never hurt them, abandon them, reject them, curse them, or withdraw His love from them, then what kind of Divine King and Father is He? And anyway, the good news is that I think that, not in the end, but during the actual journey, there is essentially something better than knowing the answer! It’s really all about the adapting, learning, maturing, and growing, which ought to be occurring in our hearts during those trials. I mean, I hope that when you came to faith to Christ, the preacher or friend or whomever that may have ‘assisted’ in your salvation didn’t smile at you and say, “Now dear brother/sister in Christ, you don’t ever have to worry again! You will never ever have another problem. No sadness, no pain, no grief, no illness, no poverty, nothing but blessing, love, joy, peace and happiness!” If so, then I’m surprised that after that speech you actually survived the Kool-Aid you drank because that isn’t Christianity!! Remember, it was Jesus – the Author and Perfecter of our faith – the Bishop of our soul – Who said in John 16:33,
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
And then James, the brother of Jesus, said in James 1:2-4,
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
So, for the believer, trouble, trials, upheavals, unexpected change of courses and plans, as unsettling as they admittedly can be to us, can all be used to mold and shape us to be more like Christ. And of course, of utmost importance, considering the suffering that Christ Himself experienced on our behalf, the trials we face in this life help conform each of our hearts/lives into the image of Christ, which is what the Lord wants for all of us who know Christ anyway, right? If you aren’t sure, then here’s the proof in the pudding: Romans 8:29
For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
And Ephesians 4:14-16 –
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
So, let’s finally get to this…What can we learn when our plans, that seem so right and godly, go flat and fail? Haven’t we all had that question now and then? Well, I guess by now it’s been almost a month, but that question has definitely come up in my mind, and I want to be honest with you – and I’m not trying to sound super spiritually mature here – but I got it (the answer, that is) right away. Of course, the painful part that I went through was another question, but why my plans didn’t work out came through loud and clear despite the pain.
Okay, what am I talking about? Well, I was supposed to be sharing at a women’s retreat from Thursday afternoon through Sunday evening along with two other male ministers and a female minister, alongside eighty-plus women, including my wife Becky. All of us would be serving or guiding thirty-three or so women participants from different churches through their special spiritual retreat. All of the ‘team’ had met numerous times over those previous six months to prepare for the weekend, and I and the three other pastors had divvied up the speaking responsibilities (I had two important ‘sermons’ to give among other important ‘lead’ responsibilities) and we were a finely tuned machine, excitedly ready to serve and bless these ladies coming on this special weekend.
Becky and I were to leave to go to the campground in Tampa on Thursday at noon to help set up (the ladies participants would arrive around 6:00PM), but Wednesday morning I woke up with a headache. Everyone gets headaches now and then, and I just figured I slept ‘wrong’ so that’s why the back of my neck and head hurt a bit when I got up. I don’t just grab a pain reliever – I figure pain like this will go away in a bit so I just went about my business. An hour later it was getting worse, so I gave in and took some ‘extra strength headache relief’ medicine that contained acetaminophen, aspirin and caffeine, but a couple of hours later (I may be off with the time) it was worse. After assuring me that she wasn’t after the insurance money, I took Becky’s advance and piggybacked a couple of Ibuprofens. An hour or so later, not only was I not getting any relief, it was getting worse. At this point I couldn’t believe what I was about to say to Becky, but I told her I couldn’t take it any longer…I HAD to get to the Emergency Room! I always felt that I had a pretty high tolerance for pain….well, I had reached it and went well beyond it!
I’ll spare you the details (I’m sure when Zac Efron stars in my biopic there’ll be a great Oscar worthy scene that’ll go into more detail), but let’s just say that thirty-six hours of having your entire head squeezed in a vice while someone smashed it with a sledge hammer is not what I want anyone to go through. I will say that I remember the waiting room was freezing so they gave me a blanket, which I promptly placed over my head as I audibly moaned. I had to have been a pitiful and pathetic sight. I also noticed that during my “dark moaning’s of Job” period Becky was sitting as away from me as possible. No, just kidding. Becky was faithfully at my side – praying and comforting me the entire time.
Final diagnosis: Migraine headache, possibly thunderclap migraine of unknown origin. First off, as much as I HATED every moment of that migraine, that’s the coolest diagnosis a guy could have. I mean, I’m a child of the middle/late 60’s and 70’s and any child of the middle/late 60’s and 70’s knows of “Thunderclap Newman” and their hit “Something In the Air”! But I shouldn’t make light of something so serious. Thunderclap migraine or headaches can be very serious and could be caused by a subarachnoid hemorrhage, but the good news is that my CT, MRI, and MRA all showed nothing was wrong, so really, the bottom line is that no one is really sure why I had a thirty-six hour migraine headache. All I know is that: I spent two nights in the hospital; I missed the ladies’ weekend; they gave me medicine that made the pain go away; my blood pressure is too high; my nurses were very sweet, kind, and caring; the world goes on with or without me; I’ve met a lot of people who suffer from regular migraines; I’ve had no headaches since; the Lord God is absolutely sovereign over ALL things; among many other things.
Initially Becky and I both hoped (since she was looking forward to serving on the weekend too!) that this headache thing would be quickly dealt with so we could get out and get to the campground, but at some point (Remember, time was lost for me) we/Becky made the decision that I was NOT going anywhere, and a phone call was made to the leadership for the weekend to tell them that we couldn’t come.
Here’s a humorous and ironic part of the story. The Saturday before – at our last “team meeting” – I extemporaneously shared with the eighty-some ‘team members’ the Old Testament story of Gideon. Gideon was raised up by the Lord to be the next Judge or leader of Israel to defeat their enemies who had placed them under bondage. Gideon had amassed a large and strong army, but the Lord kept whittling the numbers of fighting men lower and lower and lower – down to a mere 300 men! The Lord did this to show Gideon and the Israelites that it would be the Lord fighting for them, and not themselves.
Often a typical team of volunteers for a weekend like this would be well over one hundred women, but because of schedule changes and a new campground our numbers had been – what some would think – drastically dwindled. But I encouraged the women that the Lord had EXACTLY WHO HE WANTED TO BE ON THE WEEKEND, no matter how low the number was!! Everyone cheered “AMEN!” Little did the eighty-some ladies and I realize that within four days I WOULD BE ONE OF THOSE that the Lord said wasn’t needed on the weekend!! I just think that is so ding-dong funny!!! Well, when Becky told the leadership that we couldn’t come, did everyone panic? As much as they were disappointed that Becky and I wouldn’t be there, and as much as they ALL prayed that I would be well, and would be well soon, they all took a deep breath and prayed, “God help us”, and guess what? He did! On Thursday afternoon the pastor who was ‘second in charge’ (for lack of a better term) gathered the other two pastors (Remember, the participants were arriving in just a couple of hours!!), she divided up the responsibilities, they all started praying, writing and rewriting messages and devotionals, prayed some more, and you know what? Not only was it a fantastic weekend for everyone, but the lady participants didn’t even know that I was missing (since only one – the one lady from my church – even knew who I was)! Oh sure, the team missed us – and Becky was even able to go over for the last day and a half of the weekend – but what a bunch of beautiful lessons that were learned by the team and by me! What lessons?
Here are a few: I was certainly humbled; we all learned to trust the Lord; to be ready in and out of season; to not depend on one person; to not worry, but rather cast all of your anxieties upon Him because He cares for us; to make plans, but understand that plans may have to change (be flexible); the power of prayer; that God is sovereign over all things; that we are all important pieces of the Lord’s puzzle, but we are not indispensible; that the Lord cares for His children; nothing takes Him by surprise; He is a wise God; He is good; His plan is ALWAYS the best plan; and all things really do work for the good to those who love Him, who are called according to His good purposes.
All the work that I and the other team members did with me was not done in vain. I fine-tuned my messages, even up to the night before the migraine, and I may very well be able to share them another time. My time with the team members was helpful to them and me. I was able to establish what I believe will be some lifelong new relationships with some team members even though I didn’t get to serve on the weekend. One of the young pastors and I are going to a Rays game a week from now! My time there was helpful because a couple of the pastors remembered from notes they took when I shared or ‘practiced’ my sermons for the team that helped them at the last minute as they had to write their own version of the message they had to now share on the topic that I was supposed to share on. And I was blessed just being with and hearing the testimonies of the ladies who shared during their ‘practice’ times. So no one’s time was wasted. The ladies who participated on the weekend heard others share the scriptures and stories that weren’t originally ‘planned’ but the changed lives indicate that they heard EXACTLY what they needed to hear. They didn’t need me. They needed Jesus and Jesus is Whom they received.
I have experienced the horrific pain of others who have had loved ones die in my presence, some from gunshot wounds, some from cancer, and some from AIDS. I’ve been at the bedside and held the hand of those who were going through dreadful protracted physical pain, and in those times I’ve had a slight sense of what they are feeling. I’ve had my share of physical pain, but I must say, having experienced that migraine, which I understand now why the particular migraine I had is also referred to as a ‘suicide migraine’, I believe I can be even more empathetic when someone is hurting, whether it be emotionally or physically.
Ultimately, I don’t know why I got that migraine when I did. I haven’t had another headache and I may never have another – migraine, that is. I’m pretty sure that the Lord wasn’t preventing me from having a fun and spiritually enriching weekend with a bunch of women (and my wife and two other men!) because He was ‘punishing’ me for some undisclosed sin, but we should ALWAYS humble ourselves and examine our hearts.
All I do know is that my God knows exactly what He is doing; the ladies had an amazing weekend; my brain seems to be in pretty good shape; I need to work on my blood pressure; I was told that the church service at Grace was fantastic; and I got to discreetly attend by myself a very special Sunday service that weekend at the church I was the youth pastor at – Countryside Christian Center – and that was absolutely God’s providence as well (but I’ll save that story for another Words of Grace).
And hopefully you’ve learned a bit about trusting God in all situations instead of bemoaning that trial, setback, failed effort, or whatever hardship the world, the devil, or even the Lord puts in your path, because one way or another it will be the Lord’s purposes that prevail, and aren’t His purposes what we want to prevail anyway?
I shared these two verses with the church on Sunday, and one is so very simple, so brief, but so full of truth that every man, woman, and child needs to memorize it and quote it daily, because it will bring great peace in those times when we wonder where the Lord is, especially in those times when things seem to be crashing randomly around us. And the second one is just plain good. That’s all you need to know.
Psalm 56:3 – When I am afraid, I put my trust in You.
Psalm 20:7 – Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.