The Unwelcome Thief
How do you recover from an experience that has brought you moments away from death? How do you rebuild your life from a template that you didn’t design?
It was on this day last year, when my whole world got flipped upside down and when everything I thought was sure became uncertain. I was hesitant even writing and revisiting this day in a blog because the memory of it, is still so raw that even sharing this now, brings tears to my eyes and makes my heart race.
I am no stranger to the plot twists of life or navigating through the traumas they leave behind. In fact, overcoming difficulties has been something of a regular occurrence in my family since early childhood. But something about this time was different.
It came like a thief in the night. Stealing my hopes, dreams, plans, independence and my feeling of security – all within ten minutes.
I was on my way home to Northern Ireland from UCB (United Christian Broadcasters), which had become like my second home over the last few years. I knew God was knitting me into the heart of the team and I thought this opportunity was the ‘appointed’ pattern to do so.
The previous evening, I had confirmed the final details of the new job role I was due to be taking up, with my new manager and was due to start the Monday after. I was accompanied by my Mum who had been a long-time supporter of UCB and was being interviewed live on UCB 2 radio the following day sharing her testimony of how God helped her through grief.
Morale was at an all-time high; we were both buzzing about what God was doing and what He was about to do.
We were due to leave the UCB Broadcast Centre to catch the 12pm train to the airport, but I decided last minute to get the earlier train as the queues in security had been diabolical the last few flights home.
When we arrived at Manchester airport, I was surprised to see there were only two rows of people waiting to go through, not the usual snake of passengers pouring outside the front doors onto the street. I remember mentioning to Mum several times that this had never happened before, that it was a miracle and that maybe we could get an early lunch in departures as we were now really early for our flight.
We went through the scanner and waited at the end of the conveyor belt for our hand luggage, Mum casually talking to our friend who was also with us on the journey home.
Out of nowhere, my body started to go into a full blown meltdown. Panic rose from my stomach to my heart like undiluted poison, the fiery feeling of dread, emulating into every part of my body. My lungs suddenly started stuttering, like they had lost their ability to communicate with my brain. My last fleeting memory was telling my Mum that something wasn’t right and that I thought I was having a panic attack. I watched as my hands started to violently and uncontrollably shake.
I woke up on the floor of the airport on my side, stripped down to my T-shirt and leggings. My clothes resembled a second skin, glued on by my perspiration. I remember my Mum kneeling on the floor beside me with a security officer who had her arm around her. Both of them had their hands on my side and were fervently praying. All around me where privacy screens and security staff fanning me to keep me cool. I attempted to speak, begging Jesus not to take me home. I had too much to do in this world before I went to Heaven.
I wasn’t ready, this wasn’t part of my plan.
I did not want this. I didn’t want to die in my 30’s like my Father.
Almost as suddenly as I blacked out, my body rejected the contents of my stomach, filling two security trays with vomit. My speech was slurred, I couldn’t think straight, and the overhead lights around me seemed like they were lasers, burning holes into the depths of my eyes. I was suddenly aware of the pain, oh the excruciating pain my body was in.
It overtook everything. It felt as though I had torn every muscle in my body. I could taste blood.
I ran my tongue along the inside of my mouth and realised it was an open wound. Waves of uncontrolled emotion erupted from my soul. I was terrified. I was certain that I was about to die.
Mum was holding me as I wept uncontrollably, trying to comprehend the incomprehensible. All the while, this unwelcome thief was boasting his name in my ear…
Grand Mal Seizure.
Mum told me that I had been violently fitting for ten minutes and nearly stopped breathing. (The average tonic clonic seizure [grand mal], is three to four minutes). It is a miracle that I am alive.
As I was wheeled outside the airport, I was so disorientated and confused. Why were we leaving? We had a plane to catch. I had to go home and pack, I was moving to England in three days! Two people lifted me onto a bed and fastened me with a belt and put a mask over my face. I was surrounded by machines and tubes. A friendly lady wearing a paramedic jacket buckled up in front of me watching my every move. I heard a familiar voice behind me, Mum was on the phone telling someone to pray, ‘we are in an ambulance on the way to hospital’ she said, ‘I thought I had almost lost her, she stopped breathing. No, this has never happened before, please text people to pray!’
Fear gripped my chest like a vice. I lost and regained the functions in my body like someone was playing with the control buttons in my mind. I tried to focus on the ceiling and fought the urge to go to sleep, convinced that I’d had a stroke and I wouldn’t wake up again. I couldn’t move my arms or legs and struggled to form words and couldn’t really talk.
I remember praying in my heart, ‘Lord, you’ve called me to be a speaker, but if I can’t speak Lord, what am I going to do? If I can’t thank you in this moment, I don’t know if I ever will again.’
In that moment, a sentence leapt into my spirit. It would be my declaration of hope in the uncertainty that followed.
‘I WILL live and I will NOT die. I WILL SEE the goodness of God in the land that I LIVE in.’
(I later discovered that it was an amalgamation of Psalm 27:13 and Psalm 118:17.)
My memories of the hours and days that followed are fleeting and uncorrelated. It was a mixture of doctors, scans, needles and tears. I was in hospital for eight days. They assumed that I had a brain tumour. I am no stranger to pain, but the pain in my head was on level that I had never before experienced. It overpowered my every thought. The next few days were masked in a haze of IV painkillers which only helped to take the edge off. I lay under the covers of my hospital bed trying to claim every ounce of darkness to protect my eyes and turn down the screaming volume of my migraine. Eating was impossible. I had chewed through my tongue and the inside of my mouth from the convulsions.
My Mum, as always, was my rock. Rarely leaving my side, she held me together as my whole world fell apart.
It was one of the worst experiences of my life.
As Saturday approached, I realised that I was meant to be boarding a ferry in my van filled with my belongings and fuelled by the excitement of a new season, living in England and serving God in my new job. Instead, I lay in a hospital bed facing the threat of a brain tumour and the certainty that I would lose my driving licence and the job which required me to travel across the UK.
Where I was once fiercely independent and had built a reputation of never saying no to Jesus (no matter how wild the adventure or impossible the pursuit seemed to be), I was now faced with the reality that my yes to Jesus didn’t look like a mountain peak – it looked like a valley of tears.
As we packed up to leave, I knew things would be different. I knew my surrender to trusting God through this next season would look like trying to piece together fragments of my broken vessel. What I didn’t know was that yielding to the Father in this season looked like being ground down to dust.
He beckoned me to give Him all that was familiar, everything that I built my confidence around in the previous years; my business, preaching, my independence and my ability to do things without being supervised at all times, but most painful of all – my driving licence.
I discovered that it is only when we say yes to Him in these seasons that He pours a fresh stream of water onto that dust and forms clay. A shapeless lump of clay which has no defining character or hint of what it may become. This is the place where you find yourself saying a new, ‘here I am Lord, use me.’
What I didn’t realise was that God was unknowingly working behind the scenes, sketching out a new vessel to ready my heart for the next part of my story. A journey which was beyond my wildest dreams. My dream job, a new home in England and the unexpected blessing of a new group of friends who have embraced and supported me through a recent epilepsy diagnosis and the unwelcome changes it has brought to my life.
There were so many God interventions and divine appointments that week. Things like that early train which meant I didn’t seizure on an express train in the middle of nowhere with no medical access and may have died.
Or that there was no queue at airport security, or the fact that the security officer was a Christian and had prayed in agreement alongside my Mum and who had firsthand experience with a family member with epilepsy. Or that it was my 48th flight in six months, all of which I had travelled on my own, but on that one time where I needed her most, my Mum, who is a specialist nurse, was with me. Or how UCB swooped in like a band of angels, putting Mum up in a local hotel and helped us in any way they could. Even visiting us and sending a pastor to pray over me and anoint me with oil, asking God to heal me. Or my friend’s mother, who lovingly took our limited clothing and washed it and bought all the essential things we had not prepared for. Or how God turned up in conversations with the nurses, provided opportunities for us to witness to a lady dying of brain cancer and opened a door where we were able to provide every person on the ward with a copy of The UCB Word For Today and bring the Word of God into their lives.
There are countless numbers of things to be thankful for. Endless people to thank and honour. But I don’t want to escape or deny the gritty reality that life as a Christian doesn’t always look like smiles and hallelujahs. Christianity is not a fairytale. Jesus never promised a pain free life, in fact, He assured us of the complete opposite. Sometimes Christianity looks like questions, doubts and fear. To deny the reality doesn’t change the facts that you are facing. Sometimes it causes you to look at the things you have built upon and examine deep within your soul to try and weed out the things that have unknowingly choked the garden of your heart.
Today, as I mark one year on from this moment, I can honestly say that has been one of the worst years of my life. I have withdrawn from everything and have retreated inside my shell to try and make sense of all what happened. I am however, beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I know there is an ending to this chapter, I am yet to know how it will transpire but I wholeheartedly trust the author.
What I do know is that no matter what happens, God is faithful. He has and never will leave me or forsake me. When I look back, I see that He has turned up in every wilderness, in every season of lack and in every season of blessing. I look forward in hope, even in this uncertainty because I know that he will make all wrong things right, whether it is this side of eternity or the next. I may not ever get the answers to my questions or see the manifestations of answered prayer while I am here, but one day, I will.
Until then, His grace has and will continue to strengthen and guide me. His Goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will see the goodness of God in the land that I live in.