Blessed by a Brush with Death

dscf2042A year ago today I had a life-changing experience. After Emma was born, I started having intense headaches and odd symptoms. I went to the hospital four times, with no answers. But on Dec. 29, 2016, I had the worst headache of my life, and I couldn’t keep my eyes open if there were lights on in the room. I went to the doctor, and he sent me over to the ER. After sitting in the waiting room for two hours, I was tempted to go back home, but I believe the Holy Spirit told me to stay a little longer. A nurse came out and told all of us that all 30 ER beds were full, that there were about 30 of us waiting, and that there were only three doctors on staff. I found out I was triaged at number 24. Yet I stayed. In minutes, the ER cleared out and I was called back.

I laid there for hours in a darkened room with not much in the way of treatment. My husband’s face began to look distorted. I had to reach out and touch him to be sure he was really there. I could almost see through him. I truly thought this was my last day on earth. I had a five-day-old baby, and a husband of less than two years. I prayed that God would spare me for their sakes.

I began seeing a pinwheel and some geometric solids in various colors. I told the nurse, who     asked, “Have you ever had a seizure?” I hadn’t, and I was too tired and disoriented to worry much about what she said, but I still felt quite sure that my time on earth was short.

Eventually I was given a series of tests. The last thing I remember was being wheeled to an elevator after the tests were complete.

I woke up about four hours later to a bunch of people circled around my bed. A nurse started asking me strange questions, such as, “What year is it? What’s your name? Who is the president of the United States?” She informed me that I had had a seizure. I later learned that the seizure was triggered by a brain hemorrhage, which was the result of a rare condition called Posterior Reversible Encephalopathy Syndrome (PRES). I truly could have died, and very well may have, had I not listened to the nudge of the Holy Spirit to stay and wait.

In the days and weeks that followed, it took awhile to recover. And just when I thought I was ready to go back to work, I broke my ankle. In August, I was hospitalized with sepsis, another life-threatening experience. I still haven’t recovered from all the things I’ve been faced with this year.

So what have I learned? For one thing, I know not to take life or health for granted. Though I’m ready for heaven, I’m grateful that God has allowed me to have this time to take care of my family and to serve Him on the earth. I also have learned empathy for people who have medical issues and physical limitations.

The most profound lesson has been that I indeed have limitations and that I must not burn the candle at both ends. I must make time to rest and to care for myself. Otherwise, I may not be here to see my children grow up.

As we get ready to enter the new year, I am working on taking better care of myself than I ever have, and I am cherishing the time I have to minister to my family and to others. A year ago, I was convinced I wouldn’t have another day to live, but God has graciously given me a whole year! What a blessing! There was a time when that didn’t mean much to me, but coming close to death changes one’s life profoundly. Though it seemed like a terrible thing at the time, my brush with death has blessed me beyond measure.

 

 

 

 

Empty Places

18519930_1375503069197376_5749210635434995505_n-e1502742680730.jpgThis is a very different first day of school.

That’s because there are a couple empty places in my heart. Big empty places.

For the first time in 18 years, I woke up without my second-born daughter under my roof. Of course she has spent the night away from home before. But for the first time, this is not a sleepover. We said our goodbyes yesterday as she began her college career. What a bittersweet time. There is sadness of knowing there will be an empty place at the table, but an even greater joy at knowing that she has a foundation in Christ and that she is working toward her dreams.

And then there’s another empty place.

For the first time in eight years, I’m not decorating a classroom, planning first-week-of-school activities, outlining classroom expectations, working and reworking seating charts and floor plans, and preparing for open house. For the first time in four years, I’m not in charge of the school I founded. I’m not coordinating opening programs and answering last minute emails.

These are wide-open empty places. Give-me-a-home-where-the-buffalo-roam kind of empty places.

Places where God is preparing to write new stories, to draw new pictures, to create new masterpieces, to compose new melodies. But right now, those places seem a little stark, a little bare, a little bland, a little … well … a little empty.

In the next few weeks, I’ll begin the homeschool journey with my boys, and I’ll get baby Emma into a routine (hopefully), and I’ll find my place God’s place for me, and those empty places will become beautiful, abundant, joyful places in His time and in His way. You see, empty places aren’t void of life and goodness, and if you look hard enough, you’ll see that they aren’t actually empty. They’re full of possibilities and grace, just waiting to blossom, if we’re still enough to wait.

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The Sifting

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We don’t know how much time we have, but if we relax and listen to God, if we are still enough and if we acknowledge that He is in control (Psalm 46:10), then we can trust that there truly is enough time for His plan to unfold in His timing. We don’t have to be stressed, to overanalyze, to force things, or to make things happen. We can listen to His voice and follow His plan, and if we do mess up, we can trust Him with that too. He is able, more than able, to handle anything that comes our way.

This is a lesson I have had to learn over time. God has graciously been teaching me in many ways. He has sent wise people into my life to gently attempt to steer me the right way. He has given me His Word and His Spirit. He has allowed me to see the positive and negative outcomes of others’ decisions and lifestyles. Yet, like most people, I’m a hands-on learner. The most powerful way I’ve learned the hard lessons has been through my circumstances. And like many other people, I’m also a slow learner, so I haven’t learned through the first hard thing, or the second, or the third. No, it’s taken several serious difficulties to get my attention.

A little more than two years ago, I was watching a Beth Moore Bible study, in which she discussed a period of “sifting” that took place right before her public ministry took off. As soon as she finished relating her sifting journey, I heard the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit say, “You’re about to be sifted.” Honestly, I didn’t think too much about it at the time, but I did take it seriously.

Within two weeks, I discovered I had a life-threatening and heart-breaking ectopic pregnancy and had to have emergency surgery. During the following year, I had many struggles in my full-time ministry. It seemed we were relentlessly attacked by the enemy. The next year I became pregnant again, and we now have a healthy, sweet baby girl, but I developed a postpartum condition called PRES, which involved a blood pressure spike, a brain hemorrhage, a Grand Mal seizure, and many after effects, and which also kept me away from my ministry for longer than anticipated. When I returned to work, I fell and broke my ankle within a week and had to sit out for another couple of weeks. Since then, I’ve had simple partial seizures on a regular basis.

Through all of this, I kept hearing God say, “Be still and know that I am God.” And I kept saying, “Yes, God, I will.” And I kept returning to the hamster wheel of being busy and thinking I had to do it all myself.

At the end of the school year, circumstances made it clear to me that it was time to move on from the ministry that I had founded four years earlier. This was not what I had planned, but I knew it was the right thing. The timing seemed bad,  but in retrospect, I can see God at work.

Again, I could hear God say, “Be still and know that I am God.” And I said, “Yes, God, I’m going to take the summer to be still. Just let me put in my resumes and I’ll be still right after that.” OK, so I didn’t exactly say that, but that’s what I did. I put in resumes the day after I resigned. I had four interviews and had three offers within a week. I accepted a position at a wonderful school and was so excited, and then I proceeded to be still–relatively at least. And it was a good thing, because God really did have an opportunity to speak to me over the summer, because I could finally hear Him. I was going at a more reasonable pace, and it felt good. I had time for relationships–both with God and others.

But there was something nagging at my soul. I kept hearing, “Be still and know that I am God.”

And then last Thursday happened. I suddenly ended up in the ER, wondering once again if I would live to see another day. And then it clicked. It’s time to “be still and know that (He is) God.” He wants me to slow down, take care of myself, pay attention to the people closest to me, and listen to His voice before making major decisions. He wants me to have enough time to be in His Word regularly so I can learn from Him. He wants me to let go of my pride and impulsivity and self-sufficiency, because He is my all in all and He can take care of every detail of my life. There is nothing He can’t handle, so He doesn’t need me to take over His position. He simply wants me to accept His provision and direction.

He wants me to stop doing, and start being, so He can stop sifting.

Finding Freedom from a Frazzled Fate

By Heather Walton

Author’s Note: I wrote this originally in June, just before resigning from a ministry I founded. Since then, I have continued a quest to learn how to live authentically and passionately to fulfill God’s purposes, and His alone.

20170804_163841God does not call us to live frazzled lives. He calls us to peace, to quietness, to prayerfulness. It has often been said that if the devil can’t make us bad, he’ll make us busy. Why? When we’re too busy, we can’t even hear God guiding us, and we make decisions, big and small, in our own strength and intelligence, rather than in the wisdom and foreknowledge of God.

We think we are making decisions in God’s will, because they seem to be Godly decisions. And even if they’re not, we can justify those decisions as Godly because we do not know the Scriptures or the power of God (Matthew 22:29). When we are spiritually anemic, it’s pretty easy to think we are doing God’s will when we are not.

I have been in full-time Christian ministry for four years. During that time, I have gone from running a ministry in the power of the Spirit to the ministry running me, draining me of power I don’t even possess. The result—there is some fruit because God’s Word will not come back void; however, the main result is that I am burned out, I have no joy from this ministry anymore, and this ministry isn’t as effective as it once was or as it could be. Not only that, but I regularly neglect my family. So, can I really call it ministry?

Why are so many Christians and churches virtually ineffective? Because there is little to no time for relationships. We go to church like it’s a club—we get to see some of the same people week after week, but do we KNOW those people? For the most part, no we do not. People don’t let us into their lives because our relationships are inauthentic. We don’t have TIME for real relationships. We are too busy!

It’s time to change the tide. I can’t do it all and do any of it well, much less all of it well. I’m exhausted physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. And I’m teaching my children to imitate me. That may be the biggest reason to slow down the pace: I am to live in such a way that I can say to my children, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1). But I can’t possibly say that. I don’t want my kids to live the way I do. I don’t want them frazzled and ineffective. I want them to have time for daily Bible study and prayer time. I want them to have some down time. When they have families of their own, I want them to spend both quality and quantity time with their spouses and children. I want them to be able to sleep at night. I want them to be able to be “all there” for their relationships.

One of my life verses is Psalm 46:10, which says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Some translations replace “Be still,” with “Cease striving,” or “Relax.” For much of my life, the past two years included, I have felt the need to go at a frenetic pace. I have worked so hard to do a good job for God. But that’s not what God requires. He wants us to be still, to cease striving, to relax—not to slack off—but to rely on Him to do the work through us. Yes, He wants us to work with all of our hearts, but certainly He doesn’t expect us to make bricks with no straw.

“My yoke is easy and my burden is light,” Jesus said. (Matthew 11:30). These days my yoke feels cumbersome and my burden feels like a ton of bricks. The Lord calls us to work with all of our hearts, as working for the Lord, not for men. Part of my problem is that, in many ways, I have been working for men. I have been trying to keep people happy, and in doing so, I have lost the time and energy to seek the face of God regarding the ministry with which He has entrusted me.

I’m ready for an easy yoke, a light burden, a passion for ministry, a renewed enthusiasm for my relationship with the Lord, and more time and energy for my family. I’m exhausted. It’s time to rest. I’m suffocating. It’s time to breathe. I’m parched. It’s time to drink from the well of living water, the well that never runs dry.

Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, I find myself thinking, “He was with me all along and I didn’t recognize Him!”

 

 

Rest and Call for Help

By Heather Walton

rest and call for helpToday I sit in a hospital bed. Again. In the past three years, I have been hospitalized for life-threatening conditions multiple times. One of my life verses is Psalm 46:10, not because I’m good at being still, but because I’m very, very, very bad at it. So over these past few years the Lord has taken the liberty of requiring me to “be still and know that (He is) God.” Directly in front of my bed, there’s a board with information, such as the nurses’ names and my room number. It has these instructions written in the middle:

  • Rest
  • Call for Help

Looks like a paraphrase of Psalm 46:10 to me.

Oh, and to drive the point home, there’s an alarm on my bed so if I ignore the sign and try to do anything on my own, everyone within a three-mile radius will know and someone from the hospital staff will come to my aid. Know how I know this? Because I just tried to get up and get something a few feet from my bed. No independence for me today.

I have read several blog posts lately from people who are deciding to get off the first-world roller coaster of frazzled living. I believe I’m ready to join them. I’ve been so afraid of missing out on something that I may be missing my life. My real life. You know, the one with the relationships. The one with the family. With the game nights, the read alouds, the good-night prayers, the walks in the park, the Bible studies, the journaling, the bubble baths, the long talks that take you down a million windy paths, that kind of stuff.

I tend to be an independent person. But after an ectopic pregnancy, a brain hemorrhage, a broken ankle, and epilepsy … well, it’s harder and harder to be independent stubborn. I’m learning that it’s necessary to be both dependent on God and interdependent with those close to me.

First world life has lots of conveniences, but I believe our conveniences have complicated our lives and weakened our relationships. Many of us live such fast-paced lives that we watch it all go by in a blur. I’m ready to get off the roller coaster and enjoy a walk in the park. And maybe, just maybe, sit down on a park bench and enjoy the view for awhile.

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