“Passion doesn’t bow to what they think. It’s You and me. Sometimes it’s painful to be brave, to look fear in the face and know your name, to find your strength.” - Steffany Gretzinger
This year has been full of days bursting with value and lessons I could never imagine learning here on the mission field. Days full of joy, and deep, soul-wrenching pain. Days full of loud, abundant laughter and burning, tender tears. Days full of grace upon grace and precious moments in the still darkness of midnight. Days where I ran out of energy chasing my dreams and so many moments of falling on my knees before Him that they now hold physical scars. So many days and so many lessons that if I wrote them all out it could fill a library of memories. But in all of them, there are two days that stand tall, boldly among the rest of the days: October 31 and November 20. And I want to share them with you in hopes that their power will speak beyond my own heart.
October 31, 2017: The day I looked death in the face is the same day I learned to stand up for myself.
I've been cautioned many times about sharing this story with others. And, I myself, struggled to share this story with anyone when it first happened. But little by little, as God often does with me, He walked me into acceptance and into boldness with this story. So, while I may not share all the details (some moments with Him are meant to stay intimate), I will share the meat of the story with you now and the power it had to change my life forever.
Leading up to this day God and I had been dealing with a LOT! I was struggling with what I can only classify as a broken heart. I carried so much pain and hurt in my heart in the days leading up to this event that I physically could not handle the weight of it. I hurt for so much in my life, past and present. So many things felt broken in me and around me. So many things felt stolen from me, in my life and in my own heart. Even the sight of some people made my heart physically hurt because of all that I saw that had been taken from me, how much was damaged and beyond my capacity to fix. And while I believed the promise that He was the God of restoration, I began to recognize that not all things would be restored in the here and now. I know a lot of this is figurative and vague, but I'm afraid that's how it has to be for now to protect those I love dearly. But know that this was the place I found myself emotionally and mentally the days leading up to this life-changing evening.... understanding in a way I never had before what it meant to have a broken heart, to be crushed in my very soul.
This struggle was building in my heart and mind for several days, specifically with a couple of relationships I desperately longed to change but could not. And when I am preoccupied with my thoughts I tend to lose track of my physical needs (something my Mom has called "falling down the rabbit hole"). This was the case with the week leading up to October 31. A few days prior I had fallen sick, as I often do when I'm stressed. I caught one of the little stomach bugs that floats around SA from time to time. Nothing too bad, just par for the course. But it did come with a fever that was unexpected. A few days later I had shaken all of the symptoms except the dizzy spells. I assumed this was residual effects of the fever and just kept on keeping on, as I typically do. I missed several warning signs that I should have seen, signs pointing to a more serious problem than a fever. But because they were subtle and combined with other issues, I didn't recognize them for what they were: asthma.
October 31 came in like any other Tuesday in my world, with one exception. It brought with it a strong "berg wind" causing a heat wave we had not had for several months. The heat caught my body off guard. And since my asthma is heat-induced I should have been on high alert. But, as I mentioned, I was a bit distracted by life and missed the signs. So while sitting at the Hope Centre talking with other volunteers I became weaker and dizzier than I had already been. But this was also the moment I realized the root of my mental confusion and sadness and recognized the feeling of "broken-heartedness." It was sitting in the hot room listening to others talk around me as my head spun in circles that I recognized my heart physically twinge at the thought of a broken relationship in my life that I had been praying for restoration. It was when I had the thought of "My heart is breaking for this to be better, Lord" that caused me to connect the dots and understand that I was physically responding to my mental angst. But I still did not connect enough to my own body to recognize that I was slowly, steadily, struggling to breathe.
We closed the Centre early due to the heat and I went home. My sweet neighbors became concerned with my struggles and asked me what was going on. But at that point I was too dizzy to even walk straight, much less explain all that was happening in my mind and heart. I found the quickest excuse and went in my home, where I could turn on a fan and rest. I promptly decided I needed a "soaking session" to just sit and rest before God and let Him help my heart, the only thing I could recognize as a problem. I turned on my youtube playlist of soaking music and laid face-down on the floor of my living room, with a thin blanket between me and the cool tile floor. And within moments I was out like a light.
I remember laying on the floor and hearing commotion outside my door but being too weak to respond. And I remember hearing the various songs on the playlist change, each about an hour long so the changes being well spread out. And I remember realizing that I was breathing strangely. But eventually, all that was around me disappeared.....
The next thing I remember is being in a place that is beyond description. I was standing in a place of complete calm, of beauty I have never experienced in my life, seeing colors I could never imagine and hearing sounds I could not recreate if I wanted to. And before me, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. After a very private moment with these two that I'd like to keep to myself for now, I was taken into a place I can only describe as a throne room. I don't want to go into great detail here because it would take way too long, but I will say that this moment was more real to me than anything I have ever experienced in my life. The details don't really matter, but the peace, the joy, the beauty and strength that this place held.... was more than I have words for.
Like I said, I don’t want to share all the details of this experience. But after a conversation with God, Himself, I was walking away from the Throne with Jesus and Holy Spirit at my sides again. Suddenly I was grabbed and moved in front of Jesus very quickly. He blew, strongly, into my face and I was instantly back to reality on my living room floor. But something was very different.
As I lay on the floor, still face down on the blanket, I realized that I had not been breathing. The breathe I experienced in my "vision" actually shook me awake physically. I don't know how to explain all of this. But I can tell you that one moment I was stiff, cold, and not breathing. And the next I was gasping for air and physically felt my heart jump start back to action. My body was still very cold and stiff and it took over an hour for me to regain control enough to get off the floor and move to my bed. I know people may not believe me but the only answer I have is that I did in fact leave this earth and experience death. By God's grace I came back. One more time that evening I caught myself not breathing and ended up visiting the doctors the next day to discover my asthma was not responding to my normal inhaler, causing the subtle breathing problems that kept me dizzy, weak, and fearful to go back to sleep for fear of repeating the past two experiences. I was given a stronger inhaler, antibiotics to fight anything fighting me, a steroid, and some other instructions involving getting my butt to the hospital if it happened again, etc, etc.... but none of that is the point. (I will add that the doctor did confirm that something "traumatic" had happened to my body recently. He compared my muscle responses to someone coming out of surgery, and not typical for an asthma attack.)
I share this story with you all not to scare anyone or make anyone think I'm in an unsafe environment or mental state. But to share with you the difference it has made in my life ever since. Understandably, it took me a few days to comprehend fully what had happened. But once it sunk it, and the reality hit me that I had faced my biggest fear - death, I found a strength growing inside of me that I didn't know I had. I no longer feared the worst-case-scenario. I felt my passion inside of me that had been buried for several months begin to grown into a flame, and then into a burning fire that could not be quenched. I no longer felt the need to wait for approval to do anything. I wasn't willing to wait for anything anymore. I knew I had a purpose. God had brought me back. He had told me I had a purpose still on this earth. And I didn't want to waste it waiting for others around me to say it was okay. I HAD to do what He was calling me to do. His voice was so much louder in my heart and mind! So much louder than the lies that tried to take me out, than the opinions of others floating around my mind trying to stick in places they didn't belong. His voice loudly proclaimed: "You are important. You have a purpose. Your passion is from Me. Now go and do it, My girl!"
In the days and weeks that followed I discovered that I had a voice of my own. I began to speak in places I was once intimated and stifled in. I began to act boldly and go and do rather than wait and ask others. I discovered that when others spoke negatively to me I began to laugh inside, rather than analyze and criticize myself. When others treated me unkindly or tried their usual tricks to manipulate me, it simply didn't matter. In fact, in several occasions I didn't even recognize their tricks until afterwards. I had more important things on my mind than what others were doing or what others wanted of me. I knew what HE wanted of me. Nothing else mattered. And I was determined to find a way to do exactly what He had told me to do, in His timing and His way. I still loved others around me but what they said and did no longer had a knuckle-clenching grip on my soul. I heard them, and then I heard Him. And it was His voice that drove me, calling me forward, boldly into the unknown.
A few weeks later He began to make a way for me to pursue this passion inside of me to help His children in need in a way that I never could have imagined, by restoring a relationship I thought was lost forever. And in doing so, He was also beginning to heal my broken heart and giving me back my hope for a future surrounded by His love and power. But I know that if I had not experienced October 31, I never would have been open to what He had in mind for me next. I would have missed the plan He had already designed for me to walk in next. And I would have continued to walk this road without my own voice, without the ability to say "I matter to Him. I matter to me. You need to respect that." I would not have had the courage to speak up and speak out when things were done incorrectly in the days to come, when people were being hurt who had done nothing to deserve it, when God's own people were being attacked. I would not have had the courage to address my own attacks with strength and honesty and a maturity I didn't know I had. And I would not have had the faith to take a step towards something I know will hurt me one day but will also draw me into Him, and lead me to His purpose, His passion in me, regardless of what anyone thinks, simply because I knew He made a way, because I recognized His character and heart in the way it came to be. I would not be bold enough even to write a post like this and share it for the world to see knowing I HAVE to do it, simply because He asks me to.
Just a few days ago I had a friend email me to say that they saw a difference in my posts, my messages on FB, emails, and here on the blog. Simply put he told me that he saw a confidence in me that he'd hoped I would one day have. Do you know where that confidence came from? October 31, the day I faced my greatest fear with God right by my side and lived to tell about it!
So I share this (sorry, long) story with you now to encourage you as well! If you're reading this blog post, you're here for a purpose! You're meant to be here in this life! You're meant to battle the struggles you face and you are meant to win! You're meant to be one of His victors, proclaiming boldly and proudly that you are a child of God! And you were meant to stand tall, to stand strong, to speak up and speak out for His love, both for yourself and for others. Stand tall, Christians! Stand up! Listen for His voice among the chaos of other voices. Cling to His truths. And when you have a hold of them, REFUSE to let them go!! YOU MATTER!!!! Refuse to believe anything else! You matter to Him and to the world! You are important! You are so, so valuable! Don't let anyone else rob you of this truth! Start today believing that you matter. Say it over and over again until you believe it in the depths of your soul. Because it is true.