My Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death
By Sandra Jones
West Virginia was a welcome haven of rest, peace, and beauty after spending a year fixing up my mother's house in California. Yet, it had also been a lonely place. I was used to a full house with lots of noise, but since moving to the state most referred to as ‘almost heaven’, weeks often went by without hearing another person’s voice unless through the TV. I dearly missed my children and grandchildren, but held onto a promise from the Lord that they would come later.
In the warmer months I spent most of my time working in my yard, and when the colder months came where I was confined to the inside, I passed much of my time away on the computer. I loved learning, and the Internet held a wealth of information on virtually any subject I searched for. I became so engrossed in my discoveries that I neglected to feed my spirit, and though I was becoming wise in worldly knowledge, spending time in the Word of God was sadly lacking.
The day finally came when I got the news that my youngest son JB with his two sons, and my daughter TJ with all her children would soon be on their way. TJ was about to give birth to her fifth child, and I had about a month to get ready for everyone.
There had been issues with sibling rivalry in the past between family members, and I felt it crucial that everyone had his or her areas of privacy for us all to get along. So, as I moved furniture from one room to the next to accommodate everyone, I prayed that the same peace I had experienced since moving to West Virginia would prevail over all my children once they arrived.
At first everyone busied themselves with all it takes to get settled in. However, in spite of my efforts to ensure everyone had their own space, it didn't take long before no room received that respect, and I quickly became exhausted trying to keep things in order around the house. Too exhausted to spend time in the Word.
To make matters worse, we were all soon tiptoeing around my daughter trying not to upset her. TJ had gone through some traumatic events as a child. As a result she had extreme periods of highs and lows. When she was on the uphill climb, you couldn't meet a nicer, more loving, and generous person. But when she was on that downhill plummet, she directed her animosity toward her younger brother, and there was no reasoning with the thoughts of resentment she imagined he had toward her.
I did everything I knew to divert the mounting tension. I bound strife and prayed for peace and harmony, only to have her mimic my prayers back upon me, while continuing to recite her odious agenda against her brother.
"You promised to leave all that strife behind. Whatever it is that you think your brother has done, he isn’t doing it now, and you need to forgive him," I pleaded. But she didn’t. It only grew worse until the very air was rife with venomous hate. When she said, "I’ll never forgive him. I have a right to hate him," it pierced my heart to the core. I couldn’t eat I was so upset.
When I developed a severe pain in my chest, I made an appointment to see a doctor. I couldn’t afford to get sick… I had to hold things together. I had no inkling of how my physical and spiritual neglect was about to catapult me into the greatest battle of my life.
After explaining to him my symptoms, the substitute physician standing in for my regular doctor asked, "What do you think is wrong with you?"
"Well, I have COPD, but I have had a broke rib, pneumonia, and costochondritis in the past, and they all felt the same," came my answer.
He looked at my vitals, placed his stethoscope in two places on my back, and decided, "You have costochondritis." He handed me a prescription for a large bottle of Ibuprofen, and told me, "Check back with your doctor in a week."
That night, even after piling my bed high with blankets, I shook from head to toe with chills while gasping for air. I was told that with the COPD there’d come a time when I would need oxygen. Was it that time?
I detested going to the emergency room where in times past I waited for hours before being seen. I was too sick to sit up at home, how was I ever going to do it there? And then there was the added risk of exposure to contagious diseases. But by morning I no longer had a choice; breathing was now near impossible. And even more alarming, I had lost control over my bodily functions and was passing what appeared to be pure blood.
At the local emergency room I struggled against the respirator the doctor ordered to assist in my breathing. I had to let them know I was allergic to penicillin. But no one listened. They just kept telling me, "Don’t fight the respirator Mrs. Jones. You are a very sick woman. Relax and let the machine breathe for you."
Later my son would tell me, "When I told the doctors you were allergic to penicillin, they looked at each other, and mumbled something about changing the course of treatment."
The emergency room physician told my son, "Your mother should have been brought in two weeks earlier. It might be too late to do anything for her now. Both her lungs are full of pneumonia and her left lung has collapsed. With her COPD her chances are not very good. She also has internal bleeding, probably from a blockage in her intestines. I’m sending her to the university hospital where they might be able to do more for her. Hopefully, she'll make the trip."
Why, I wondered, hadn't the doctor I saw the day before not caught this?
Before leaving our local hospital I was drifting in and out of consciousness. I began to hallucinate that I was back in the car with my son, and he drove me to a hospital where we were told, "We don’t have the equipment here to help her yet."
Author’s Note: In actuality, I rode in an ambulance straight to the university hospital, and the hospital I saw during this hallucination, which was in another city in an altogether different direction, had not yet been built. It is now over two years later, and is exactly as I saw it.
And then all around me I began to see a thick, off-white, yogurt-like substance. This profuse material swarmed with multi-colored specks shaped much like cupcake sprinkles; except these were not at all pleasant to look at. And they seemed to be multiplying.
What is this I am seeing Lord? I questioned within my spirit… but I heard no answer… and the vision would not go away.
At the university hospital, I came too to hear one of a team of doctors saying, "Mrs. Jones, you are a very sick woman. There’s an 80% chance you won’t make it through this. We'd like you to agree to a No CPR Order should you arrest."
The doctor went on to explain all they would have to do in order to resuscitate me, and how the chances of my surviving their efforts were slim; and then left me for a time to consider all he told me.
It made sense to me that if my heart stopped, then it surely must be because it was my time to go. I decided that I would agree to the order should I arrest, and the next time they asked me to consent to the No CPR Order, I said yes.
"You are extremely dehydrated," the doctor said. "We are giving you a saline solution by IV. It will help your muscles to relax and make your passing easier."
What did he mean by it would make my passing easier? I surely felt sicker than I remember ever being, and by now the pain shooting throughout my body was excruciating. But I had no idea he thought my death was so imminent. Nor did I realize that when I agreed to a No CPR Order that I was giving permission for them to just let me die. After all, my heart had not arrested, and I wanted to live!
Then I wondered, was it my time to go? Had I indeed done all I was to do here? There were still some things I thought the Lord had yet for me to do, and I had some loose personal ends I would like to have tied up. I fully trusted that my times were in the Lord's hands (Psalm 31:14-16), and if it were His will for me to come home, I would just have to trust that he would see to all my concerns. I resolved to give myself over.
"How long?" I weakly whispered through the oxygen mask. "About two hours," came his answer.
The team of doctors was surprised when my condition had not changed when they came by two hours later. However, I began to feel an alarm when the lead doctor now spoke only to his team of medical students rather than me about what he was doing; especially when I caught part of his mumble, "…she'll be gone by morning…" after ordering something more to be put in my IV.
"Try to relax and sleep," the nurse encouraged. But whatever it was they gave me to make me sleep had the opposite affect. I was wide-awake, and my mind was still clearly cognitive; and though horribly sick and in pain, I still felt very connected to this world, and I certainly did not want to waste these last moments of clarity; so I began to examine my heart for any unconfessed sin or unforgiveness I might be holding toward anyone.
As I lay there, I began to reflect on precious memories of God’s grace and mercy I had seen him extend toward others who had been in my life… and in particular, my thoughts went to Charlie…
Charlie, my mother's ex-boyfriend, was a cantankerous old man bent on taking her for everything she had. He told my mom when he met her, "My body is riddled with cancer, and I'll be dead within two years."
I tried to tell Mom that he was using that to make her feel sorry for him, but she wouldn’t listen, and Charlie ended up separating her from all her children. That was especially hard on me because my mother was the closest friend I ever had.
Mom was about to sign everything she had over to him when she read in the newspaper he had been arrested on suspicion of molesting a child and she finally kicked him out.
Charlie had been out of her life about two years when Mom got a call from the hospital in a nearby city. He had been homeless on the street when someone found him unconscious in a gutter and brought him in. True to his words, Charlie was now dying of cancer. The hospital’s social worker found Mom’s number in his wallet, and wanted to know if she knew of any living relatives who would be responsible for burying him.
Charlie was on a respirator and unable to talk when Mom and I, and my sister Marian went over to see him. His expression was one of terrible torment. We each gave him a hug, and then there were some awkward moments where no one knew what to say to him.
Then I took him by his hand and leaned over him, and said, "I want you to know we don't hold anything against you Charlie. Jesus loves you, and He has something to say to you, and He is right here waiting for you to talk to Him." He had tears in his eyes when we left him.
A couple weeks later I called the hospital to check on him. Charlie had passed away and been cremated by the County. I asked the Lord, "Did he make it in?"
God answered me with a vision of Charlie kicking and flailing with an angel on each side carrying him toward heaven. I’ll never forget the stunned expression on his face as he made it to heavens gate, and said, "Wow! I made it in!"
I lay there throughout the night waiting for the angels to come get me, but hour after hour went by, and they never came. The only thing I saw, other than the nurse popping in from time to time to check on my condition, was that thick viscous substance all around me. "What is this I am seeing Lord?"
The night finally passed and I still received no answers. The only thing I heard was the sound of my heart thumping erratically within my chest as it competed with my desperate attempts to breathe. But by that next morning I knew that no matter what the doctors said, it was God's will for me to live.
Little did I know that the battle over my life was about to grow even greater?
The next morning when the team of doctors came, they were all amazed I was still alive. When my son came in and found the No CPR Order he quickly remove it. They argued, "If we have to do CPR on your mother in her weakened condition it will break her ribs, and she will suffer far more than what she is now."
"If you have to break her ribs for her to live, then break them," he answered. "You don’t know my mom. She is a strong woman and her ribs will heal."
He would end up having to order them to remove the No CPR Order several times, for as quickly as he would leave, they’d strap another bracelet on me. It would take a while for him to get his message across.
Weeks went by, but I was now oblivious to time as the drugs meant to keep me from fighting the tubes and the respirator took affect. However, I was always keenly aware on some level, and contrary to what I formerly believed, the pain was far more acute when sedated than when I was conscious. And whether it was because of the effects of the drugs, or because of the spiritual nature of what was happening to me, when unconscious, I was in a world where there was no rest, filled with frightful hallucinations. Never did I fall into a blissful sleep until weeks later.
When I heard someone from far away, say, "Blood poisoning has spread throughout her body,” I wondered, was the ever-thickening confetti-like substance that I've been seeing, now more purulent than ever, what was rapidly invading my blood? I did not know that a chronic yeast infection I fought because of my inhalers had entirely encased my heart, and combined with MRSA, now invaded my entire system.
My veins began to collapse from the constant blood tests and IV replacements, until a blood clot formed. The medicine needed to counteract it was in itself a poison (the main ingredient in rat poison), adding even more to my body already full of it. When the nurses lifted my limbs to bathe me I could no longer recognize my hands and feet. They were black with gangrene, and so swollen they looked more like lobster claws.
For the first few weeks when I came too either my local family or friends were gathered around me. Most times it was Deb, my pastor, and Betty, a ministry friend, by my side praying over me and encouraging me to fight. Other times it was my children and grandchildren praying and begging me to get well.
And then my eldest son, Hoyle came in from Washington State, and my sister Marian and brother David arrived from California. Bonnie, my other pastor, drove in from Tennessee, and Bridget, another ministry member, drove in from Mississippi. There were others that came that I don’t remember. Most came in for my funeral; they would all leave expecting a miracle, but not before my condition got a whole lot worse.
Every time I became conscious and none of my family or friends were there, a team of doctors and medical students came to tell me that I was dying and tried to convince me to consent to a No CPR Order.
Dear Reader, you have no idea how important it is to speak words of life over your loved ones when they are in a battle for their lives. I was so sick and weakened that when I searched for the Word within my spirit to war with, I couldn't find it, and had no strength to fight. And each time someone spoke over, or to me that I was dying--and there were a few that did--their words sliced through me, bringing with them unbearable pain to my body and soul already overcome with it. Nor was I able to tell anyone. My only hope was to call upon the grace and mercy and strength of my Lord Jesus… Lord, I am empty. Please help me.
And he did. One of the first miracles I received were all those that came to stand by my side and war over me with their prayers and words of life. Others held me up in prayer within online ministries and in their churches from all over the world. This miraculous support was great, but the battle for my life was great, and literally a minute-by-minute war.
I was often wheeled out of the room for a test or procedure. One of those times I woke to find myself parked on my bed in a hallway. And then the head doctor of the university hospital came and introduced himself, saying, "Mrs. Jones you are a very sick woman. You have several issues we are dealing with, and the odds of you surviving any one of them are next to impossible. In fact, I find it amazing that you are even still alive."
The odds of you surviving complications from CPR are even slimmer. In your weakened state it would more than likely break your ribs, and should you have that one in ninety-nine chances to live; you’d be no more than a vegetable. You would have to live the remainder of your life connected to a machine, and be in far worse pain than you already are. That is no way for anyone to live."
I agreed it was no way for anyone to live, and I absolutely could not fathom being in any more pain than what I was already in. However, I now knew that to say yes was to agree to my death as all efforts to keep me alive would cease. If I was going to die, I wanted it to be because it was time for the Lord to take me home and no other reason.
He continued with, "There is a procedure that could possibly help you, but it is a very expensive and it is unlikely that your insurance will pay for it. The hospital has decided that in your case it is not worth the expense."
"There is nothing of any great importance you are doing. You are sixty-three years old. You have raised your children,, and you have lived a full life. Many people do not live this long. You need to accept that you are dying, and consent to the No CPR Order."
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I couldn’t talk, so I just looked at him, thinking, but you don’t know my Jesus. No matter how impossible my condition might be, Should he choose to, my faith in his ability to heal me was unshakeable.
He left, and a nurse came to check my vitals and replace one of my IV bags. And once again I began to drift in and out of consciousness.
When I woke again I was still in the hall waiting for whatever they had brought me out of my room to do. My right leg from my knee to my ankle was turned in a very awkward and painful position. I tried to move my leg, but couldn’t. I tried to move my left leg, and it wouldn’t move either. I could feel my legs, the pain in them proved that, but something was wrong. I went to reach for the call button, but when I tried to move my arm, I couldn't move it either. Nor could I turn my body from side to side, and it was only minutes ago that I could! What was happening to me? My brain was sending the messages out, but somehow the connection had been lost between it and my limbs. It was like the nerves in them were dead… except for the pain… Oh Father, help me, the pain!
Back in my room it seemed my prayer warriors saw I had taken a turn for the worse. I tried to focus on what those around me were saying, "Sandi, you've got to hold onto life and fight. God is going to heal you, and you'll have a great testimony filled with visions of the Lord."
But I had no visions of the Lord, or of heaven. Instead I now found myself engaged with the death angel. The cruel, spindly looking creature that wrestled me was not anything like the handsome man portrayed as the angel of death on the TV show, 'Touched by and Angel.' It was a hideous shade of black, with its dim features distinguishable only by the dull, grayish-purple highlights that flashed off it as it tried to suck me dry of all life. I had not an ounce of strength in me to fight it with. Nor could I tell those warring over me that every cell in my body screamed out in pain so impossibly horrendous there seemed no other option than to give in.
There was a time eight years before when I was also very sick, and so tired that all I wanted was to go home to be with the Lord. At that time my spirit was actually hovering over my body lying upon my bed when the Lord clearly spoke to me, "Sandi, you have lost the will to live."
"Yes Lord, I am tired." came my answer. "I just want to come home. This old warrior has fought one too many battles and climbed one too many mountains. I no longer have the strength to fight or climb another mountain."
"It is not my will for you to come home yet. I still have a work for you to do," And when He said this, five many-faceted, multi-colored jewels suddenly appeared before me. "You see these jewels?" He continued, "These are talents that I have placed within you. You have used them some, but not near what I have called you to do."
The last thing I wanted was to stand before my Lord and hear Him say that I hadn’t finished my course. Yet, when I gazed down upon my still body lying on the bed, I knew there was no way I could put life back into it. "Lord, if I am to live it will be by your hand alone. You alone are the Giver of Life."
No sooner had I said that, than I was suddenly back in my body. And then the Lord's magnificent presence appeared before me. "It will be a fight," He warned me, "But look to me, for I am your Victor and your source of strength."
Now here I was, eight years later in this, my greatest of all times of need. I didn't think I could get any sicker, and yet I did as the arteries to my heart began leaking blood into my chest cavity, and one by one, my organs began to shut down. And with each failure the already unimaginable pain raging throughout my body magnified beyond belief while the death angel held me in its dreadful grip; until finally from the depths of my heart all I could do was cry, Lord, I can't live like this any longer!
Then, my son JB was there with tears in his eyes, saying, "Momma, you can’t give up. You have got to fight. You are a strong woman and you can get through this. Your grand kids need you. I need you. We all need you. There are still things you need to teach us."
I lay there in agony, peering up at him, and wishing I could somehow let him know the horrible misery I was in. But when I saw the look in his eyes, I knew that even if I could, I would never do it. I could never put on him the terrible responsibility of having to make the decision to let me go. Yet, if it depended on me it was surely going to be a losing battle for I had nothing left within me to draw on. Nor could I even think to petition the Lord for His strength, His mercy, or anything else. I knew only that He is God and His ways are just.
It was at that moment that I commended my spirit entirely over to my Lord's will and care. And for the first time since this battle began my spirit came to a place of rest. No longer was I focused on my own lack of strength to fight against that horrid shadowy black and purple nemesis; it was no longer my battle. From that point on every breath I drew came from the Lord.
And then I saw myself being wheeled into this large room that seemed as if it was in the hospital basement. There were other cots with people on them in the room as well, and I knew that all who were in there were in various stages of dying. I also knew that most would never leave there alive.
Somewhere off to the right of me I heard voices murmuring. And then I realized they were talking about me, and they were deciding whether I was to live or die!
I heard one voice say, "Physically she's all used up."
Another voice argued, "But she has talents, and wisdom that she can teach the younger women."
And then suddenly the purulent confetti like substance I had been seeing all along began to gather together until it formed into the shape of a cross. And this time when I asked the Lord, "What am I seeing Lord," He answered me. "My daughter, this is what you have filled your spirit with."
As He spoke those words to me I knew that though I had gained much knowledge in all my months of research, I had neglected His Words of life. By doing so, I left myself wide open and defenseless against spiritual attack when it came. Neglecting my body only made it worse.
From the depths of my innermost being I cried out, Father, forgive me for my neglect. I call once more upon your grace and mercy, and the blood of my Lord and Savior Jesus."
I already knew there were people praying for me for they were so often by my side. But now, in my spirit, I became fully aware of the literal army the Lord had risen up on my behalf, and sensed the thousands that had been praying for me. And for the first time I became aware of angels—multitudes of angels all around.
Yet, the battle raged on as one by one my organs continued to shut down beginning with my kidneys. But with every assault, those gathered around me refused to give in, and with each new announcement of organ failure they prayed all the harder.
When the lead doctor told them I was only operating on 10% of my heart, Bonnie quickly turned that into a positive, shouting, "Praise God! Sandi still has 10% of her heart for the Lord to work with!"
The doctors, who couldn’t understand how I had survived this long, just shook their heads, saying, "You people need to face reality. She is dying."
And then the miracles began. Before that day was done my kidneys began to function again and with no sign of damage. God’s A-Team left that night for their homes or motel rooms glorifying God.
By next morning when my liver had failed, the word was sent out to all the prayer lists telling them what to target. My faithful team of prayer warriors went back into action, and soon, my liver began working again.
And then it was my gall bladder, but after my liver kicked back in the surprised doctors started to talk about surgery. Their concern was the added poison from my gall bladder to my already poisoned system but did not think I could survive surgery in my weakened condition. Personally I did not think I could endure the added pain, and felt that if the Lord could heal my kidneys and my liver, surely healing my gall bladder was not too hard a thing for Him.
When my pancreas gave out, they began making hourly checks on my blood sugar levels and adding insulin to my IV. But as each failure had occurred the word went out to those that were praying, and soon my pancreas too was inexplicably healed.
Finally the doctors said their monitor showed that I had suffered a heart attack, but when they examined my heart, they were stunned at how strong and healthy it was, even after it had raced far beyond normal limits for well over a month.
Soon my blood began clearing up from the poison. The pneumonia finally disappeared from my lungs, and the collapsed lung was now healed, and I was breathing on my own. God had indeed done what the doctors said was impossible, and they were baffled.
By now the hospital was getting used to the loud prayers and proclamations of this crazy bunch of Believers, and didn’t even seem to mind when they went about praying for other patients. Best of all, they finally quit urging me to agree to a No CPR Order, as it didn’t look like one would be needed.
Then one by one my prayer warriors left to go back to their homes. I was now over the hump. They had prayed me through to the other side of the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
However, my body had suffered such intense pain for so long that every nerve ending was in a heightened state of awareness. I hadn't eaten in well over a month and was extremely emaciated. Nor had I been able to move my limbs in weeks, so just laying in bed was painful. I was finally able to be understood by some of the nurses when I whispered, and when a nurse finally noticed my tears, she asked, "Honey are you crying because you are in pain?" When I whispered my affirmation, she got the doctor to order some pain medication, and for the first time since the illness began I felt blessed relief.
In all I spent seven weeks in intensive care, with the first five weeks battling for my life. But time had no meaning for me during this period. In fact I was surprised when I was told how long my struggle between life and death had been.
The next two weeks were spent adjusting to eating again in order to strengthen my body enough to begin physical therapy in order to learn to use my limbs again. When they tried to sit me up I collapsed in a heap like a cooked noodle, and all I was able to move throughout my whole body was the index finger on my right hand in a circular motion about the size of a dime. I was to be transferred to a nursing home closer to home for the physical therapy.
I had been through three different teams of doctors while at the hospital in Morgantown, and before I left, every one of them came to me and expressed that what they had seen happen with me could be nothing other than a miracle. Some went as far as to say they never believed in miracles until they witnessed what I had come through.
However, the Lord was not finished with His miracles. Once I was in the nursing home, the therapist who evaluated me said it could take up to a year before I regained full use of my limbs. But only two months later I was able to walk out of the nursing home to return home. The team of physical therapists ended up so amazed with my recovery that they nominated me to be submitted as the, "Most Improved Patient of the Year" to one of their Therapeutic magazines.
I wrote my story to hopefully make those that read it aware of how important it is to keep our lamps full. There is much going on around us in this world we live in to distract us from the Word of God. That is not always easy when it comes down to work, or our personal relationships such as with our friends and family.
Also, the spirit of strife can often gain a foothold through our placing 'blame' on others rather than looking deeper into what is really going on in the spirit. The ONLY way we are able to overcome this is by daily putting on the WHOLE armor of God so that when the day of evil comes, we may be able to stand our ground, and after we have done everything, to stand in faith believing that Jesus Christ, our Lord and King, has overcome for us.
It is my sincere prayer that this message has blessed you, and will help strengthen your faith. No matter how impossible a situation appears to be, our God is greater and able to see us through. He is no respecter of persons. What the Lord has done for me, He can certainly do for you. Believe it, and receive it.
Psalm 23:1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2He makes me to lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside the still waters. 3He restores my soul: he leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 4Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me. 5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies: you anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. 6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever
Sandra, this is a beautiful and incredible story of God's love and grace. My heart has been touched in a powerful way and I thank you for sharing it.
It is also very well written and I have no doubt that God will send you a publisher so that others may be helped.