Let me tell you something about my headaches.
I get these things called cluster headaches every now and again, and they’re called cluster headaches because they only come once a year and they often come in a large (and largely painful) quantity.
I wake up with them usually. And it takes me a minute to realize what they are, but once I do, I sprint out of bed for pills and a bottle of cold water. And then I have to run to the bathroom before the pills I just took and the water I just drank are puked up all over the floor. When I am able enough to get up from the bathroom floor, I put a Bed Buddy cold pack on my forehead and drag myself to bed. I usually writhe for a little bit, stop to cry and pray and scream and vomit and whimper. Light kills me. Standing kills me. Even sitting up kills me.
All I can do is just wait it out. Fortunately, cluster headaches don’t last longer than two hours. Sometimes they’re only fifteen minutes long. But the pain is still the same and I have that voice in my head that tells me this is never going to end.
Did I mention that cluster headaches have another name? Suicide headaches. Cluster headaches are considered one of the worst pains known to mankind and having them increases a person’s risk for suicide. Pleasant, right?
I’m explaining all of this to you because I had one this morning. The first one like this in a year. I probably could’ve expected it, but you always hope you never have to have one of those dreadful headaches again. This is my third year and it’s the exact same thing with the exact same thoughts running through my head.
Thoughts like I HATE YOU SATAN AND ALL YOUR STUPID DEMONS AND I WILL NOT STAND FOR THIS BECAUSE I AM A DAUGHTER OF GOD AND I HAVE THE AUTHORITY TO SEND ALL OF YOU BACK TO THE PITS OF HELL IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST.
And then thoughts like JESUS, PLEASE HEAL ME. HEAL ME. PLEASE…PLEASE… PLEASE… PLEASE (and so on and so forth).
And then thoughts like LET ME DIE. JUST KILL ME. I CAN’T DO THIS.
And then thoughts like MY VOMIT TASTES LIKE GINGER ALE.
But you know what I think upsets me the most about these headaches? It’s not that they’re the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced. It’s not that I can’t stand or sit up or keep my food down. It’s not that I’m wanting to die. It’s not that my boyfriend is seeing this happen to me and has to hold my tangled hair back from my contorted, puffy-eyed face.
What upsets me the most is that I KNOW I have been given authority to command my body to be better and I KNOW God is good and delights in healing His children, but I can’t seem to get either of those things to happen.
My prayers felt powerless coming out of my mouth as the pain remained and nothing changed.
I had absolutely no control.
And that’s a scary thing to me because I almost always am in control (or at least I think I am). I don’t have much of a say in what the world does, but I can manage my own life and my own body and my own health and what I say or do. If I’m sick, I can go to the doctor and get medicine to make me better. If I don’t like a person, I can tell them to leave me alone and walk away. If I’m feeling something too strongly, I can write it out in a blog post or in my journal or in a song.
But today was a day in which I just couldn’t control things. I couldn’t control these bastardly headaches and I couldn’t control these ghastly thoughts and I couldn’t control the demons afflicting me or the God I expected to save me.
THAT is what upset me the most.
And that’s when the thoughts turned into WHAT KIND OF GOD WATCHES HIS CHILD SUFFER THIS TYPE OF PAIN AND NOT DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT? WHAT KIND OF GOD HEARS HIS HURTING DAUGHTER’S PRAYERS AND REQUESTS AND DECIDES TO NOT GRANT THEM? WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO BE LEARNING? ARE MY PRAYERS NOT GOOD ENOUGH FOR YOU?
And I wish I could say that He gave me this awesome revelation or I was healed right then and there. But I cried and vomited and rolled around for some time after these things transpired. I am feeling better now, but the healing wasn’t instantaneous and I didn’t walk away feeling as good as new.
But is God still good? Yes.
Do I still have faith? Always.
Do these headaches still suck? You bet.
But do I get through them alive? Every time.
This is not a post about God being cruel. This isn’t a post about how He chose to not heal me when I asked Him to and how that was so utterly wrong of Him. This isn’t a post about how there’s suffering in the world and nothing’s happening about it.
This is a post on time. That one thing NO ONE can control.
God authored time. A clockmaker gets a clock to tick, but whether or not that clock is working, time is still moving forward as we continue to orbit. And God lets this happen because time is HIS and His alone.
Why did I get this headache on a Tuesday morning versus any other day of the week? I don’t know. Why does this happen year after year? I don’t know. Why didn’t my headache go away the moment I called out his name? I don’t know.
And I don’t think I ever will know.
Just like I don’t know why death has to come early for some people and why he waits so many years before giving us the things we’ve been earnestly praying for.
All I know is that God is good and He has been faithful to me even in my wondering and questioning and faithlessness.
His decision to not heal me of my headache instantly is not an indicator of a lack of power or goodness or love. It is rather an expression of his power and goodness and love.
Why would I want to serve and follow a God who does everything I ask of Him the minute I ask it? If He did, I’d be engaged to a man I now know I didn’t have a chance of having a good relationship with. If He did, I would be knee-deep in a career I now know I wouldn’t enjoy. If He did, I would be the most impatient and faithLESS girl in the world.
Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for (Hebrews 11:1-2).
The ancients– Noah, Abraham, Joseph, the marchers of Jericho, and many others– were not commended for how quickly their prayers were answered. They were commended for how faithful they remained when there appeared to be no answers. And what joy they must have received when their prayers were not only answered, but God was given the glory! He IS a God of power and goodness and love, they must have exclaimed.
If everything was done their way and in their timing, things wouldn’t have been the same. We would not know such ancients, such faithful warriors and servants of Christ. We would only know quick-fix prayers, which may do good for the body but not for the soul.
My soul has been healed this morning because I am reminded that God is the Master of time and He is a good one.
Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God has power to do what he promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:18-22).
I want to be like Abraham. I don’t want to stare at unanswered prayers and questions with skepticism and halfhearted hope. I want to stare at God, my good and faithful God, and I want to not waver in my belief.
I am persuaded that God has power to do what he promised. And He could’ve given me supernatural physical strength to send that blasted headache away forever, but He chose to gave me supernatural spiritual strength for my soul. That strength is faith. And I don’t see Him as a bad Father for that. No, He’s a very good one indeed.
I am healed.
I want to be blessed. I desire God’s favor upon my life. I don’t think that is a shameful desire in any way, and I believe God planted that desire in me.
But I have the hardest time figuring out how to get that blessing. A lot of the time I feel like I can earn it. Like maybe if I just do enough good things, God will grant me happiness and blessings. If I honor Him enough with my relationships, then maybe He’ll bless my relationships. If I do enough in my ministry, then maybe He’ll bless my ministry. If I seek him more and more, then maybe He’ll favor me.
Then there’s this passage in the book of Psalms that I can’t overlook.
Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, Lord. They rejoice in your name all day long; they celebrate your righteousness. For you are their glory and strength, and by your favor you exalt our horn. Indeed our shield belongs to the Lord, our king to the Holy One of Israel. (Psalm 89:15-18)
God, I want that to be me.
How do you learn to acclaim God? How do you walk in the light of His presence?
If this is what makes His children blessed, then I feel like these questions are worth finding an answer to.
I’ll just say here and now, though, that I don’t have the full answers.
What I know right now is this:
- Acclaiming God means to praise God
- Walking into the light implies walking out of darkness
Somehow we have to learn to praise God. Somehow we have to walk out of darkness and into His light.
Here’s what else I know:
- I have learned to praise God most through my difficulties and pain. I have learned to praise God in joyous times, as well. But it’s the dark times in my life and the overcoming of that darkness that has taught me what truly worshiping God and surrendering to God means.
- I have walked into the light most when I have finally bared my soul and let the darkness go. Not just to God, but to my brothers and sisters in Christ. I can walk in His light by releasing my innermost secrets and desires to God. But I have experienced many moments of shame-lifting, freeing intimacy with people, too. I have found light by first going through the darkest tunnels, whether hand-in-hand with a friend or alone with just the Spirit in my heart.
What I’m thinking is that perhaps blessings must come through difficulties and pain, through the hard stuff of life.
It takes trials to remind you of how powerful He is. It takes rock bottom to remind you that He is what you really need. Through our difficulties and pain we learn to acclaim and praise God.
It takes darkness to remind you that you need light. It takes painful soul-baring moments and conversations to assure you that you are not alone and living in light is a very real, freeing possibility. Through our difficulties and pain we learn to walk in His light.
First comes pain. Then comes gain.
Isn’t that a major concept of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount? The Beatitudes, anyone?
Amidst the hard stuff of life, we receive blessing.
And what is this blessing we receive?
Maybe it’s the next part of that passage. They rejoice in your name all day long; they celebrate your righteousness. For you are their glory and strength, and by your favor you exalt our horn. Indeed our shield belongs to the Lord…
The blessings are:
- joy in His name
- celebration for His righteousness
- glory and strength of God
- our horn (our power and strength)
- our shield (our protection)
It all just sounds so wonderful. I can’t even comprehend what fully receiving those blessings would look like because here on earth everything just seems so pitiful compared to the beauty and glory in heaven.
The joy we feel now is not even close to the joy in heaven. The celebrations we have here are nothing like the celebrations in His kingdom. The glory and strength of God can only be glimpsed so much through our tiny human eyes and brains. And the horn and shield, Him being our power and protection, is a whole other concept I think we are far from fully comprehending.
These blessings of God are being unlocked here. I do know this to be true.
But there’s so much more we have yet to uncover. There’s still more praising and walking in light to be done.
And hard stuff must come.
So let’s get ready. Expect the suffering and the blessing because they’re both coming.
Last week, I witnessed death for the first time. And it was just so devastating yet eye-opening all at once.
It all started when my friend Lacey and I found a beautiful place to have our quiet time with the Lord. We stumbled across this closed-off patio shaded by trees with such inviting tables and chairs. Joyfully, we entered into this piece of heaven and sat down to spend some time individually in the Word and prayer.
I began to read in the book of John about Lazarus, the man who died and was risen to life by Jesus. My heart began to feel heavy as I felt some of the emotion contained within this passage. Jesus is summoned to go see his dear friend Lazarus, who is very ill, and instead of going to see him right away, he waits. This is the man who heals the blind and lame. This is the man who speaks of love and God’s goodness. And yet when he finally makes it to where Lazarus and his sisters are staying, he finds that Lazarus has already died.
The most difficult part of this story for me to read and understand is when it says that Mary, Lazarus’ sister, falls down at Jesus’ feet and says to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:32). As she weeps on the ground, Jesus begins to weep as well.
The story does end with Lazarus being raised back to life, but I was stuck on that one part, that one image of Mary being raw and completely filled with sorrow before Jesus, the man who she thought was going to heal her brother and save her from this pain.
I sat in that beautiful, lonely patio and prayed. I confessed to God that I didn’t understand Him. I knew that Jesus was glorified through Lazarus’ death, but I couldn’t bear the thought of Mary’s suffering. It’s a similar suffering to the one I see all around me. People die every second of every day. People mourn from loss all around me. And Jesus does not heal everyone. Why, God, why?
I didn’t understand then and I still don’t fully understand now. But what happened next was something I needed to see. God found a way to calm my soul.
I looked across the table and saw that Lacey was watching the birds playing in the trees above us. She seemed so captivated by them, and I glanced at her Bible to see what she had been reading. It was a passage from Luke 12, but I couldn’t make out what exactly it was. I later discovered it was this passage about sparrows.
I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Luke 12:4-7)
As I began observing the birds myself, I was reminded of a different passage about birds (which I also later discovered was in Luke 12).
Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? (Luke 12:24-25)
So here Lacey and I were, both thinking about birds. I didn’t know what she was reading, and she didn’t know what I had been thinking and had just spoken to God. It was at this very moment that we were unknowingly having our hearts prepared for what was to come.
The same birds that were innocently frolicking through the trees suddenly flew into a window above our heads and dropped to the ground next to us. There were three of them, and they laid motionless while we were rendered speechless.
Lacey jumped up to examine the birds and confirmed that at least one was dead. Tears flowed from my eyes. What does this mean, God?
The two other birds were unmoving but breathing. It seemed as though they were paralyzed and hopeless. But Lacey did what I didn’t have the courage to do. She picked up the birds and stroked them. She prayed over them. And all I could think to do was pray, too.
God, in your Word it says that if you care for the birds, then you must care for us, right? But if you DON’T care for these birds, then what does that say about your love for us?
It was in that moment God reminded me that He didn’t have to prove anything to me. Whether or not the birds continued to suffer and slowly die, His love for me and for His children would remain true. It always has been true and always will be.
But still I hoped that these birds would live. I begged God to heal.
The truth is that I knew in my head that God’s love was real, but in my heart there was doubt because so much in this world screamed otherwise.
How could I trust unwaveringly in God’s love and goodness when people are dying from gunshots, cancer, and starvation? How could I believe that God would take care of me when innocent people have been victims of suffering since the beginning of time?
These questions have haunted me because there isn’t one perfect answer. All that I have been told is to just believe.
And here was a moment where I had to believe more than ever. I was staring at death. True, they were birds, but they were living creatures I thought God cared about nonetheless. If they all died, then I would be faced with the choice to either continue believing God’s Word to be true or let that moment change my mind about His love.
He said that we are more valuable than birds. He said that we are worth more. He said that just as he cares for them, he cares for us.
So if they all died before my eyes, what would that say?
Even though I heard the voice of God telling me so surely that He loves His children, I wanted proof.
Understand this: God didn’t HAVE to heal those birds. They all stupidly crashed into a window and there seemed no divine reason for them to be rescued and raised back to life.
But I think that because He knew I was struggling and questioning, because He knew I was like Mary who found herself begging at Jesus’ feet, He chose to heal them as a testimony of His love.
It was a small and simple testimony, but one I needed and cherished nonetheless.
Just as quickly as they had come crashing down, the two unmoving birds responded to Lacey’s tender touch and flew back up into the trees to continue their lives.
They were well again. They were alive and healed.
And a part of my heart was healed, as well.
I still can’t fully fathom His love or completely understand why the world is the way it is, but I do know this: God is good. Even if he hadn’t healed those birds for me, He would still be good. That’s a hard concept to grasp. I think that humans are very limited in their understanding of life and pain and death. I know I find myself confused and baffled by such things all the time.
But I’m learning, slowly but surely.
God knows my weaknesses and my doubts, and He doesn’t condemn me for them. Instead, He invites me to believe in Him. And when I’m struggling to believe, He gives me bits and pieces of evidence and wonderment. Like He did with those birds on that day. It was a truly beautiful thing.
God is in the business of producing beautiful things– both around His children and in His children. That’s something I’m believing in more and more each day. That’s something we’re all beckoned to believe in. I think now is the time to pray for our eyes to be opened more than ever to the divine power and beauty around us. There is love and life to be found.
Taste and see that the Lord is good.