Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My Weakness, His Strength

As many of you now know, the last two weeks of my life have surely been an adventure. I thought I'd sit down and document some of the details of what's taken place in my life since 3 PM on Saturday, December 12th, 2009 – mostly for myself to forever remember and for others to catch a small glimpse of what I've experienced so that I may boast in the LORD. Several people have asked exactly what happened in this mysterious event, but perhaps did not realize the account would be this long. I frequently write about everything else that spiritually takes place in my life, so this seems quite natural and therapeutic for me. Within this account is example after example of God making Himself known to me, in the midst of the most challenging time of my life thus far.

Saturday the 12th was just like any other day for Kristin and me. We slept in, made homemade French toast and bacon and enjoyed a new, uneventful morning together. In the early afternoon we headed down to the mall to do some Christmas shopping for friends, family and ourselves. It was as normal of a day as any other. I had however some minute concerns with some things my body was doing for a few random days previous. I had several small episodes where my vision would be blurred and I would become light-headed. We had innocently thought that it was perhaps just some blood-sugar issues and we had discussed my going to get some blood tests done one day. It was nothing prolonged and seemed like some trivial issues really. As we arrived at the mall, nothing was on our agenda except shopping and perhaps a movie later that night. Our first stop was a kiosk selling calendars. As Kristin nonchalantly perused the selection, I innocently did what I had done a million times over the course of my lifetime – I pushed my head to the right slightly, trying to get some relief from some minor neck pain. You see, I've popped my neck for years. I push, I pull, I crack, I twist. Neck pain was something I had just become accustomed to. This time however, something quickly became noticeably different. My vision quickly became blurred. I began to sweat. All began to spin and I had to sit down right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the crowded mall. I was concerned because this time was much more intense than any other dizzy spell I had experienced… and it wasn't passing.

As Kristin helped me get to an open bench, I was becoming more and more concerned. Normally I may moan and groan a bit or something, but I don't like making a big deal of things like this. After all, in my thirty six years I've had no major health concerns – ever. But this was different… and Kristin knew it. As Kristin looked for a mall medic, I was getting worse. The best she could find available was a less-than-knowledgeable mall security guard who told her where to get a wheelchair for me. As I sat alone as she went with him, I called my parents house. My mother answered and I asked her to pray. She did, completely unaware of what was really even going on. As Kristin returned with the wheelchair, I was becoming less and less coherent. All I really remember was the rush of the wind as she quickly maneuvered me through the busy mall. From this point on, my wife was my strong tower. She never panicked. She never lost control. The LORD Himself enabled her to be my perfect help-mate in ways we had not yet ever known. He showed Himself strong from the very outset of what was to come. As she wheeled me out into the cold parking deck, she helped me get into the car and then had to take the wheelchair back inside as they held her driver's license until it was returned. While she was inside, I called one of our closest friends and asked her to be praying as well. I knew I wasn't making much sense, but she understood enough to direct us to an urgent care clinic nearby. As she and Kristin talked on the phone, Kristin raced through the crazy holiday traffic the best that she could. After we arrived at the Urgent Care, she helped me inside and took me to a seat. As I slumped down in the chair, I'd open my eyes now and then as Kristin attempted to get help. The nurses and doctors there immediately saw that this was outside of their capabilities and called 911. I distinctly remember wondering what was happening to me when I opened my eyes and saw a girl behind the patient check-in staring right at me, chewing her fingernails with a look of great concern in her eyes. As they checked my blood pressure and other vitals, the fire truck arrived (I didn't even know of this until days later). The ambulance arrived soon after and I was quickly placed on a gurney and loaded up. I don't remember a whole lot over the next few hours. I never fully lost consciousness, but I was surely not aware of all that was going on. Looking back, I count this as a blessing. I was never in any pain and I was never once fearful. As a matter of fact, little did I know the next three or four days, even despite all that I would experience, would be some of the most peaceful times I had ever known.

As I was whisked from the ambulance into the ER, all continued to be somewhat dream-like. I remember nurses and doctors moving about, blood being drawn and other various ER happenings. Some of our friends came into the ER to see me what seemed like immediately. Kristin tells me that within a couple of hours, I was taken for a CT-Scan. They found nothing definitive but thought that I might have somehow torn an artery at the base of my brain. I was incrementally feeling better and becoming more coherent. Around eight o'clock, I was discharged with orders to see a neurologist the next week so that he could do some further tests to find what had exactly happened. Some of our friends took us out to Chili's, even though I was needing help walking and was still quite out of it. As we sat and talked, and I ate a bit, I began to feel better. I was obviously exhausted and just wondering what had just happened. It was somewhat frustrated that I had gone through all of that just to be told they couldn't really find anything and then be discharged. As we were eating, we were having copies made of my CT Scan at the hospital. As we went back to get them, I sat in the car with our friends and Kristin went in to get them. My neck was really hurting again – as it had a million times before. I was uneasy and wondering how I could avoid popping my neck for the rest of my life (as the doctors had urged me). Well, as idiotic as it sounds, I turned my neck and *pop*. It was no earth-shattering crack, as some are, on a regular basis. Within thirty seconds, the symptoms began to return. Dizziness, light-headedness, all again began to spin. I could feel myself beginning to slump down in my seat. My left arm then began to get strangely numb – something that had not happened before. Then it slowly began to move down to my leg. I knew this was bad as I apparently began to groan. My friends assessed what was taking place and forced me to go back into the ER. Thankfully, Kristin had bumped into an acquaintance of ours and a friend of who we were with. As he came out to see them, what was taking place with me became evident to he and Kristin. He went in to get a wheelchair for me and came out to the car. As I stepped out of car, I immediately started to go down. Kristin and one of our dear friends caught me and pretty much dragged me into the ER and then put me in a wheelchair. All I remember is completely slumping forward, unable to move or speak. This was much more intense than the first time. I felt completely unable to do anything. I praise God that this young man had been there to wheel me directly back to the ER, without any waiting. He got the doctor that had seen me just hours before and days of tests ensued.

As I briefly stated before, I praise God that I was not fully aware of all that I was about to go through. I was taken to get a different kind of CT Scan where my blood was filled with "contrast" so they could see what was going on in my brain and where blood was and was not. As we spent the entire night in the ER, Kristin had been at my ER bedside, praying over me and trying to rest, with her head beside me on the cold, metal bedrail and her hand in mine. Throughout the night I heard sounds I will never forget. A woman violently vomiting two beds down. An obviously mentally challenged man who explained to the doctor that he had a brain tumor many years ago that left him mentally disabled. He had not slept in a week and was afraid. I'm still not sure anything was wrong with him physically outside of he was lonely and afraid. It hurt me so deep as I laid there and listened to him. A young woman who just kept yelling "I'm sorry. I'm sorry." over and over and over again for what seemed like an hour. In the midst of all of this, I thanked the LORD that I was laying there in perfect peace, in no pain. When I would come to, Kristin and I would pray that a wind of healing would blow through that ER and that God would make Himself known to all who were there. We'd cry together as we waited. Looking back, I understand how people "find" God in these dire, life and death experiences. In our need, when our ability to control our own lives is gone, we see our frailty. We see our vulnerability. We see that we don't control anything. We see that the things we gather and cling to here in this life mean absolutely nothing. Perspective comes and we see what really matters.

Finally, at 5AM, I was moved out of the ER and into ICU. As I awakened a bit in my room, Kristin was there, alongside a nurse. The first memory I have there was a nurse telling Kristin she could not stay with me. I remember feeling so bad when I saw Kristin begin to cry. We had never even spent one night in a hospital before. We did not know anything. But the perfect peace that passes all understanding was with us. It's not some clich̩. It's got nothing to do with "church" or fake, feel-good Christianity. It is the absolute reality that Kristin and I daily walk in. I remember consoling her as she had to go. We prayed again, thanking the LORD that my every breath was in His hands, not ours. He would be our Helper and our Strength. There was never any question. Even in our complete ignorance of all that was happening, there was peace in our abandoning of any control we attempt to take. We truly had faith. We didn't know what had happened, what would happen or even what the next moment would hold, but we trusted our Father to hold us in the palm of His hand Рperiod. By mid-day Sunday, a neurologist had been called in to assess my case. He ordered 2 MRI's to be done immediately. I had no idea really what an MRI was. I had heard stories of course, but as I keep stating, I was so in and out of it, I was just not really sure what was fully going on. I remember being given a rundown of the procedure. He told me it would be loud and some people get quite uneasy. I kept my eyes closed as much as possible, doing all that I could to focus on the fact that the Word says I am seated in heavenly places with Christ, now. I asked the LORD to take me away from what I would have to endure. I cried out to him, silently within myself as I was being prepped to go into the machine. As the technician began to slide me onto the MRI table and place the earplugs in my ears, he told me, "the neurologist has ordered two MRI's. This procedure will be 45 minutes long. Do not move". As the machine began to whirl and I was slowly moved into it, I remember anxiousness and fear trying to move in and have me. I cannot stand close quarters and even the thought of being enclosed and immobile makes my heart race. But I had to stand. I had to expect the LORD to enable me to do this. I, in absolute honesty, could not have done those 45 minutes in my own strength and ability. I literally would have lost it. As any who have had an MRI know, it is an awful experience. The sounds and shaking would more adequately be described as a torture device than a piece of medical equipment. As the rhythms would come and go, I would envision a vast angelic army lined along a hillside, gathered on my behalf. I would, within my mind, chant the name of "Jesus" along with the pulsating thumps. I thought on the Scriptures where the eyes of Elijah's servant were unveiled to see the supernatural army that was encamped around them. These things were my reality, not some Sunday School fables that simply made me feel all warm and fuzzy. Yes, I would have moments where I didn't think I could hang on another moment in there. But I would cry out to the LORD for strength and it would come. I made it through the 45 minutes with victory!

After several baffled doctors and more tests, it was determined that I had a vertebral arterial dissection (a tear in the inner wall of the artery at the base of my brain) that had clotted and stopped blood flow to my brain, resulting in a stroke. "Your case places you in one per one-hundred thousand", the neurologist said. Although the doctors were perplexed, I knew that the One who had formed me in my mother's womb before time began was not caught off-guard. You see, nothing happens unless He allows it. Many people errantly see this life as good versus evil and they're always trading blows. But the reality is, the enemy can do nothing unless the LORD allows him. The only way any testing and trials can come to me is if the LORD allows it to come to pass. Knowing this empowers me to rest in absolute faith and rest. Nothing will come to me that I have not already been fully enabled to conquer and defeat, in Him! His strength within me allows me to scale a wall and take back any ground that the enemy has encroached upon. There is no room for "why me's" in this place. Pity parties, doubt and dread will not dwell here. I chose then and I choose now to stand tall and declare the LORD is God, no matter what comes.

I would have more opportunities to rest in my Father as more days passed. Humbling situations where I could not take care of myself at all. A procedure where a scope was placed down my throat into my esophagus in order to check my heart valves and arteries and the anesthesia didn't work in time (they had to give me four times the normal amount for this procedure). A middle of the night occurrence where my vision began to blur again and I woke up fearful of another ensuing stroke. But, victories always came! For example, my neurologist ordered a physical therapist to come and get me out of bed to do some exercises meant to determine how much physical therapy I would need. After we walked the halls of the ICU, I felt like I had done horribly. She however immediately determined that I would need no physical therapy. Praise God! I began to eat again. My blood levels were beginning to rise to the levels they needed to be. My strength was coming back. I was beginning to sleep at night again after several nights of not being able to. My parents drove in from Texas to stay with us and help Kristin. Friend after friend after friend would come to visit me from the very second they could get into my room until the day I was discharged - praying over my body, declaring healing and wholeness without wavering. Standing beside my wonderful wife as she wholeheartedly expected to see her husband restored. Conversations with family members who I desire to see "get" this reality that is life in Christ. Absolutely everything is for His glory! I praise God for the last two weeks. I thank Him for allowing me to experience and endure what I have since that afternoon in the mall. "Why?" you may ask. Because it's all about Him. I fully expect this experience to literally change the lives of others around me. I expect it to be used to bring people to Him. It already has changed me beyond words and I now know my Father in ways that I would not have known Him without going through this.

Let me summarize it in another way. I fully believe what the Scriptures say, that there are weapons formed against me, is true. If the plan that was formulated was to take my life or ruin my walk with the LORD, it dramatically failed. The enemy cannot do anything without my Father's approval. What he designed to take me down actually elevated me to a new spiritual plateau. When I first started feeling the effects of this event, we went to the LORD. When I was in the ambulance, I called out to the LORD. When Kristin and I were in the ER, we cried out to our LORD. When we were in ICU, we prayed and declared healing to my body. When we were told I had suffered a stroke, we rejoiced that they had found out what was wrong. When they told me I would need physical therapy, we trusted the LORD to enable me to walk and continue on as normal. When I was moved to a normal hospital room, we all praised God for it. When people came through to see me, many would anoint me and speak Scripture and life over me. Family and friends in the Body of Christ rallied arm in arm in the spiritual realms and declared victory over me. Fear had no foothold and dread was given no ground to stand on! The entire atmosphere, whether I could physically utter words or not, was drenched in hope, faith and expectation that the LORD would absolutely provide a victory! You see, the enemies plans were thwarted. What he desired for harm and detriment actually drove dozens of people closer and closer to the LORD. As Kristin and I were driving back home after a return visit down to the hospital for some routine tests, a certain song played that hit me so hard. The song states, "Jesus, You're the only One for me, there's no way I'm leaving You". I was overwhelmed with emotion. It was as if I could literally see laid before me what had taken place over the last week of my life. Kristin and I sang and cried together as we rejoiced in the fact that we had lived out what the Word states as "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?" I could see the enemy cowering in fear as the praise of the LORD went up. Sure there are times when I yell and get all worked up, but there is nothing more powerful than the simple, pure and genuine worship of the LORD. I truly believe that pure worship defeats the enemy like nothing else. When my gaze is on the LORD and my eyes are fixed upon Him, the enemy's schemes simply cannot stand. Victory in realms unseen is absolute victory indeed for the battle is the LORD's and is not against flesh and blood.

As of today, only seventeen days after, nearly every physical sign of my stroke is gone. Only some minor balance and equilibrium issues remain and even they are quickly moving out. Strength is coming back to my body and victory is sure. If you pray with expectation and resolve, according to the Word of God, please continue to believe that my torn artery will continue to heal to complete wholeness so that when I return for my three-month CT Scan, all will be found to be even better than before. We're also believing that all dead brain cells from the stroke will be restored back to life and function. I was also diagnosed with arthritis in my neck. I'm thankful to now know of this so that we can pray accordingly against it. Only absolute wholeness is our desire! Lastly, I'm self-employed and uninsured. The large amount that we currently owe is not the issue because my God is the holder of all the riches of the entire earth. He owes no man nothing and we trust that He will continue to hold this entire situation in His hands. How foolish would it be for us to believe and trust in Him to heal my body yet be anxious and fret over hospital bills? Again, He is the Author of it all and our trust is in Him. Please agree with us that all financial needs will be met, as He deems perfect. We are daring to believe that all will be paid in full, soon. I'm not allowed to drive nor work as of yet, so please pray that I will use this time wisely and that the LORD will reveal the width and the depth of this situation as I seek Him during this down time.

Although I could write volumes more in much greater detail, I praise God that I didn't wait to "find" Him there in my need and despair. I went in with several years of intimately knowing Him under my belt and that alone enabled us to overcome all that we faced. My heart-felt prayer from the deepest recesses of my inner man is that those who read this grasp the reality of the One True God. Jesus, The Christ is real. He is not some make-believe character in my mind. There are many more examples that I could pen in an effort to more elaborately explain some of the supernatural events that took place in my hospital room, but those who desire to know Him will do so and those who think they were meant to go it alone will continue on with life as usual, unmoved. No man comes to the Father unless He draws him. I urge you, don't resist His drawing. Don't resist His calling you. Nothing else matters. Your reason for existence, the every beat of your heart, why you have breath in your lungs can only be found in Him. Praise be to Him forever and ever for all that He has done.


Valerie said...

All praise, honour and glory to the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords. He alone is our strength, our strong tower, our everything.

rave.n said...

Joel, I thank God for you and Kristin. Not just as friends but as continuous models of a life rooted in Christ. So that when these winds blow your roots hold you firm in Him. And even in the midst of everything, not just before and after, you and Kristin were still praising God. He is using you!

Mad Mad Love,

Harriet said...

you know that Frank and I will continue to stand in agreement with you and Kristin. Your dependence on Jesus has and continues to bless us!
Thank you for being so open about your life! It is bringing Him glory!!
all our love, Harriet and Frank

Mary said...

Joel this is Mary Hulse, I followed this link from Raven. I am glad you are doing well and that the Lord is with you.

Harriet said...

not that you don't KNOW this..but this is what I was thinking as I read your blog again..
Matthew 11:28
"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."

Joel Spencer said...

Everyone: Thanks for all of your comments and encouragement! The LORD is using this to touch lives - of friends, of family members, of strangers. It's absolutely ALL in His mighty hands. Kristin and I will continue to stay seated there as we journey ahead into this new year. We will boast in Him alone.

Daughter of Wisdom said...

Praise be to God! May you have a HAPPY, and HEALTHY 2010!

lillabet said...

Joel, you might be interested to know that I had harrowing experience with my husband being hospitalized in another city for severe depression for one month, and I stayed in that city nearby to be with him. Happened in Spring of '07. He had been advised to go there to take ECT (electro-convulsive-therapy) treatments. We had been married 9 years by this time and I was well acquainted with his depression. He held a steady job (still does) at a semi-conductor manufacturing company. We both love the Lord Jesus, and He has been, and still is, very real in our lives. My experience was truly anxiety producing, in that every day was an unknown during my husband's hospitalization, like how would he be each day that I went to be with him, etc., would he ever get better, what would we do if he lost his job, you know, all the fear mongering that Satan sends our way at every opportunity. I prayed much, and daily with two fellow believers via phone who were living in the city we are from. Well, what happened over time to me inwardly with the Lord was: I was walking in one of those beautiful spring mornings to go see my husband where he was at the hospital. I said to the Lord, "Lord, I know I am no one, I am nothing, but You are so real in me. You are so real to me." I had never experienced sensing the Lord being so real and indwelling in me as the Spirit as I had at that difficult time. So, indeed, the Lord uses even the most difficult situations, where He brings us to the end of our attempts to struggle and control, and we succumb to His love and His care for us which never left us in the first place. Ultimately, we found out by God's mercy through a psychologist that my husband was suffering from minor seizures. Thus, he had to stop ECT -- can't tell you how thankful we were to stop those treatments. He takes meds for the seizures now. He is doing very well now, still some depression/anxiety issues, but by the Lord's grace, he came through all of this and is making good progress, reading God's Word, praying with others, Praise Him!

Joel Spencer said...

Lillabet: Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing a bit of your story with us - welcome! I read into ECT and it looks absolutely horrid. Praise God your husband no longer has to endure such treatment! May this year be teeming with the obvious hand of the LORD in you and your husbands life!

David L. said...

I've never been here before (was sent by a friend) but dude, this story needs to get out. This kinda stuff changes peoples lives. Thanks for sharing it.

Joel Spencer said...

David: It sure does. It started with mine. :)

Joshua said...

This testimony is incredible. To say that it's challenged me is a major understatement. I hear so many people debate the reality of God today. Maybe if we walked in this level of faith, I think would surely change. I'm curious, what would you say is the one key thing that prepared you for this?

Joel Spencer said...

Joshua: (sorry it took so long - was without internet access for a few days) I'm glad that this account of what I experienced has challenged you. What is "the one key thing that prepared me for this?" Well, I guess it may sound too simple, the reality of my personal relationship with the LORD.

Of course things like studying the Word and talking with Him daily as Father also assisted, but most of all my daily reality of God is what enabled me to come out victorious. Faith is a funny thing. It can only really be walked out when it has the opportunity to be exercised.

Religion, cheesy Christian slogans and feel-good, pep rally Christianity would have done me no good. But, believing the promises in The Word that are mine and walking out what I've been saying I believe for the last 4 or 5 years brought life and victory.

Ultimately, the love and power of God Himself is what enabled me. I don't really feel like I had to do a whole lot of anything. :)

Great question.

Disciple said...

Joel. I enjoyed reading most of your post, but I must admit it saddens me the way you attack "church" or the "church". It seems as though you have an anger that is deep seated. Please, I am saying this with all love, do not be offended. I, too, have problems with some of the things people do when it comes to organized religion, but we must uplift and encourage people to change. Like the verse in the NT, "For he that is not against us is for us." We must not attack the differences, we must show the path to greater joy in the Lord. We must build upon the work that has been done, and tear down the institutions that wish to devour the soul.

Joel Spencer said...

My response was WAY too long for here. Check out the latest post for it:

Shawn said...

Out of all of the stuff that you wrote in this post, how in the world does your stance regarding church have to do with anything? I don't agree with everything you post on here, but this story is not about church preferences, it's about the power of God seen in your life. I think disciple may have missed the entire point.

Joel Spencer said...

Shawn: I also had a hard time seeing how my stance on how the Body of Christ is to gather biblically is found within this account of my stroke. Especially compared to other past articles.

Thanks for sharing Shawn... even if you don't agree with me all of the time. ;)