The Lord is gracious and righteous. Our God is full of compassion. The Lord protects the simple hearted.
When I was in great need, He saved me.
Be at rest once more, oh my soul. For the Lord has been good to me.
You, oh Lord, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living.
- Psalms 116
For 365 days, I have attempted several times to sit down and share my story. To wade through the feelings that 2017 brought me, but I always failed. My story has been shared all over the internet but never written in my words, in a way that represents the true weight and pain that last year carried for me. I would sit down to write several times over the last year and just couldn't. Part of me wasn't ready. Part of me didn't want to face the reality that this heavy storm I was walking through was real, and the part of me, like so many of us, only wanted to share the good stuff, the easy stuff, the inspiring stuff, and so much of what I experienced last year wasn't that.
It's hard to think that just one year ago today, I was physically dying. In the biggest distress situation of my life.
If you haven't had the chance to hear my story or haven't followed me the last year, you can get caught up by watching this feature that KCPQ Fox 13 did of me a couple weeks ago, in partnership with the South Puget Sound American Heart Association, that so beautifully recaps a very challenging time in my life.
The heart failure diagnosis was a culmination of so many crazy things that were happening in my life at the time. My physical heart was broken, yes, but so was my emotional & spiritual heart. I was SO lost and hiding behind and disguising what felt like aimless wandering with striving. Striving for relationships, success, validation, collecting physical things, anything that would make me feel LESS lost then I was.
Heart failure was the diagnosis that forced me to face the reality of what had become a very empty life, and gave me the courage from that VERY broken physical heart, to start to put the pieces back together again.
The day I was admitted to the hospital, doctors were uncertain what was wrong. This admittance came after a long week of symptoms, like a loss of appetite, physical pain in my body, and visits in and out of urgent cares and emergency rooms - trying to figure out why I felt so weak and off.
The morning of March 1, 2017, after a very long night in the hospital being re-hydrated with fluids and taking anti-inflammatory medicines, I was preparing to leave for a cross country flight to Indiana, with Ike, to teach at the Reset Conference, when I was stopped in my tracks by a pain I had never experienced.
Ike walked in the door and asked me, "are you ready to go to the airport?" and with tears in my eyes, I looked at him and said in response "I don't know what is wrong, but I know I am not getting on an airplane." After a visit to the chiropractor, we headed to the emergency room and after many hours of painfully trying to catch my breath, the on-call doctor said "We aren't sure what is going on with you, but we know there is something wrong with your heart and we are going to admit you."
I remember being so scared and calling my friends and family, one after another hoping someone would answer to pray with me. I was so scared and I could feel in my stomach something was very wrong. I was admitted to the hospital and within 24 hours started to quickly get worse. My heart was beating 227 BPM resting and my blood pressure had dropped dangerously low. I was barely lucid and moaning from extreme and unbearable pain. My heart was barely able to gather enough blood to pump and was going so fast it was heading to burn out fast. At one point, after a bad drug combination, I started experiencing internal bleeding and my blood levels started to quickly drop. It had become a pretty critical situation overnight.
After 4 days of being barely conscious, I was given two blood transfusions and miraculously, my heart slowed down and my body started to recover. I spent six days in critical care and sixteen days in the hospital overall. My diagnosis was pneumonia and congestive heart failure caused by myocarditis and pericarditis brought on by a flu virus.
For six days, I heard doctors tell my husband that they weren't sure I would make it. That they couldn't find the bleeding to stop it. I heard them ask if we had a plan in place in things turned even worse. I was asked to make a last will and testament, which I declined. Ike was informed that discussions had been made to airlift me to Harborview Medical Center and add me to the transplant list, if it came to that, and although I could barely speak, we were prepared for that and worse, even death.
I have never experience anything scarier, but had a peace I couldn't explain all at the same time.
I felt like God had prepared me leading up to all of it and had stirred up this desire in previous months to steep myself in worship, sermons and scriptures - and it was those same sermons, scriptures that kept me alive. I played Steven Furtick's message "When God Shows Up" over and over for 16 days, it was all I could listen to, and it reminded me that God shows up in the middle of nowhere and that He was with me, like He was with Jacob, in that fight and that I wasn't alone. That God was IN that place with me and that He would be with me wherever I went.
Although I didn't experience a physical death, a part of me DID die in that hospital and even though I was discharged as "healthy enough," when I got home, my real battle beganm and for the last year I have been daily fighting forward and trying to find myself again.
On Monday March 19th, I will have my fourth and final echocardiogram and will receive a diagnosis that will prayerfully finally close this chapter of my life. Heart Failure diagnosis come in two forms, chronic and acute and generally one year after the episode occurs.
Chronic Heart Failure means that this was not an isolated situation and that I do indeed have a heart condition and will have to learn how to manage and live with it for the rest of my life.
Acute Heart Failure means that this was a fluke, by chance, a "once in a lifetime" event that just kinda happened, but isn't likely to be a long-term issue.
We, of course, are hoping for the latter. I know that God is in this because He has already healed me of all of my other ailments brought on by heart failure and so we sit in expectation of more and believe He WILL do it.
In this, I learned so much about myself, my God and my life and I really wanted to take this time to share.
Everything in my life at this point will be divided into before and after.
Before heart failure and after it.
Before 2017 and after it.
In Steven Furtick's latest series "Savage Jesus," he asked "Will you believe in the wilderness what God spoke in the waters?" He went on to say that the " essence of faith, real faith, is to believe BEFORE what will only make sense AFTER."
I believe the lessons I learned walking through this last season of my life, the wilderness, the burdens that heart failure brought on made way for the greatest revelations and insights of my young life.
The biggest lessons 2017 taught me were.....
1.) God is real & He does miracles.
As I mentioned above, a year ago on this day, I was dying. My heart was failing and barely working and my family was in the biggest financial bind of our life. Every day that we stayed in the hospital cost us 100k. 16 days of hospital care is more then any self-employed person could begin to comprehend at that cost. Even after I left the hospital there were weekly doctors appointments and blood test. A team of 5 doctors all monitoring different parts of my recovery (hematologist, cardiologist, rheumatologist, orthopedic doctor, primary care physician) all needing to be paid and with no insurance options.
Over the course of 16 days, God healed my heart and over the course of the last year we have watched Him put my body and our finances back together again. Every diagnoses, healed. Every financial burden, solved.
It is often hard to believe that God is in the miracle business, but our outlook was bleak and we are vibrantly living just one year later with absolutely no debt from my medical downfall.
2.) It taught me what I valued.
When I was sitting in the hospital room fighting for my life, wondering what might happen next, no part of me thought about my social media followers, or what would happen to my clothes or my car or how pretty I was or how fat or skinny I was.
I thought about Wisdom. I thought about how she would be starting kindergarten in the fall and turning five and that I might miss it. I thought about relationships I had that were fractured, and how I wanted them healed. I thought about what a privilege it had been to do the job that God had given me and that I still had so much more I wanted to do and I thought about our girls. The hundreds of girls who lives we had impacted, but who's lives had impacted me - and I wondered what it would be to never be able to see the fruit of the time invested in those relationships.
I thought about what it would mean for Wisdom to grow up without a mother, a generational curse I had been working to break - you can read more about that here, and how much I really loved my family - and if I had really taken the time to show them through both word and deed.
3.) My body should be honored.
Our bodies are sacred. They work so hard for us. They carry us through life. They do what we need them to do without much rebuttal. Why do we wait until something is wrong to honor them?
It wasn't until I couldn't walk and was being carried to the bathroom from Reactive Arthiritis that had flared up so strong I was on steroids for nine months, that I realized how much I valued the ability to use my legs.
It wasn't until I couldn't write when they found a tumor in my right ring finger that needed to be removed, that I realized every single finger had a role to play - and that I couldn't even support my family or do my part without that one finger on my right hand, that holds my camera.
It wasn't until my heart wasn't pumping correctly, that I realized we only get one - and it's not as easy to fix as one would think. Did you know the heart is the only organ in our body that once damaged can't be fixed? There is always a scar, or a history there. It doesn't regenerate itself, and can't be disregarded. We don't even use 100% of our brain, but our heart, we need the whole thing. It's a wonder that God constantly reminds us to guard it because it determines the course of your life - that isn't just a spiritual warning my friends.
The reason why I "bounced back" so "quickly," is because I was mostly healthy before I got sick - and my body COULD handle the trauma that being sick had put on it. I now honor my body and understand the privilege I have to feed it, to exercise it, to use it. Stay fit and eating healthy aren't easy, but they certainly aren't hard - heart failure is hard. Cancer is hard. Living with an auto-immune disease is hard - and I want to give myself the chance of living my healthiest life.
4.) It taught me that time is the most important currency.
Money comes and goes, but the only thing as valuable as money is time - and once it is gone you CANNOT get it back. There is no negotiating it. There is no wishing for more and none of us know the amount we have so we have to invest it, spend it, steward it wisely.
5.) My gifts and talents are not for me, but there are things that are.
As talented and gifted as I may be told I am or that I may feel inside - my gifts mean nothing if they are not being used to bless the lives of others. To uplift, build, encourage, exhort and make the world a better place. It is my responsibility on this earth to invest my talents to glorify the God who gave them to me, that everything that I get to do with my gifts are in worship to the one who so blessed me with them.
Although my gifts and talents are for the world, how I choose to share those things with the world - and the heart behind them are imperative. There is a fine line between encouraging and boasting. There's a fine line between sharing for encouragement and seeking validation - not everything needs to be shared and every blessing doesn't need to be broadcasted. It's okay to enjoy my life for me, and me alone and to hold it close to my heart.
6.) Prayer Changes Things.
Prayer is real. Prayer changes things. Prayer collectively brings people together around the world and allows us to rally behind one cause and using prayer to wake up Heaven on behalf of those we love is one of the most powerful tools we have earth side. It is because of the hundreds of people who prayed on my behalf that I am alive. I firmly believe that. So if you are reading this, and you prayed, thought about me and my family or sent up positive thought on our behalf - I am breathing today because of YOU!
7.) YOU are your greatest advocate.
No one can speak for you, the way YOU can. No one can fight for what is best for YOU more then you can. I was in the hospital with friends and family by my side, but none of them could communicate on my behalf, explain what I was feeling - and should I had died, I would have done that alone. It is important that we listen to our bodies - that we pay attention when things feel off and that we speak up when things are not right. We have to have courage. We have to stand our ground. We have to advocate for ourselves as though our lives depend on it. It is then that we are doing the greatest service to ourselves.
8.) Sickness and disease doesn't have a "type."
You could not have told me that I would be laying in a hospital bed for half of a month, my entire life on hold and my world halted. I was thriving. Speaking all over the country, running a 6-figure business and living my dream - and then I caught the flu. Something as simple as a cold, turned flu virus brought my world to a screeching halt. You have to be mindful and always take care of yourself because NO ONE is immune to unexpected sickness.
9.) LIVING your best life isn't for later.
All we have is NOW. No future is promised to us. All we have is today. All of those things you have always dreamed of doing - those projects you pin on Pinterest, those cities you want to visit, those things you hoped to learn, those people you wanted to meet, those foods you wanted to try and taste - they are all waiting and the time is now. Don't put off today what your heart is begging you to do. You can read a little more about some of those things for me here.
10.) Community matters.
It is 100% because our community, all of you, that we were able to walk though that valley and survive. The Caring Fund started by our dear friend Tiffany Burke, the meal trains, the prayers and so many other things and reasons are why we didn't crumble under the pressure of a challenging situation. We are not meant to do life alone and it isn't until we are brought to our knees do we realize the value and power of a caring and genuinely loving community. We have one of the greatest villages in the world - and we could not be more thankful! The greatest way I know to honor the investment of those during that time is to LIVE my very best life, fully and free. Every second - with the deepest gratitude. So live I will.
and if you have made it this far, my final lesson is....
11.) Give FLOWERS to the living.
When I came to on March 6th, and was able to finally share what I was going through online with the world and our community - I hopped online with hundreds of notifications and checked my phone to 367 text messages. Logging onto Facebook and getting a glimpse of how people felt about me as they petitioned others for prayer - learning of the lives we had touched, I had touched and the impact I had made on my community that they were at a loss to even comprehend that I may not be well enough to survive was one of the most valuable experiences of my life.
See, before that, I was so low. I felt washed up and forgotten. I felt I wasn't making an impact and that all of the hard work I had put in was wasted and didn't matter. When I logged into Instagram and Facebook and read through the notifications - it was like reading eulogies - all of the kindest things people would say about you after you were gone, that you would never know on earth. It helped me to see myself differently. My impact differently and my relationships and community differently. It showed me just HOW valued I was and how important it was that I got better - because there is still so much work to do.
Give your compliments - "your flowers" to the living. You have no idea what people are going through, trying to fight forward toward and how your words might be the water their parched soul needs to keep going. It was exactly what I needed.
It had to happen this way and because it did, I will never be the same.
Heart Failure SAVED my life and I couldn't be more thankful.