The Testimony, Draft

I used to be able to sit down at a keyboard to journal with the words flowing freely from my head through my fingers. It seemed so easy to me, to be able to write out all of my thoughts to properly express exactly what I was feeling as I dealt with my juvenile struggles on LiveJournal back in the late 1990’s. 

Today, that task is not so easily accomplished as I attempt to document Annadelle’s progress and recovery of acute flaccid myelitis. I never imagined myself being in the position to write the words I am writing, to tell thousands of internet users that dealing with a child fighting an extremely rare diagnosis is terrifying in more ways than one. 

I find myself answering the same questions over and over. “Will she recover?” “What caused this?” “What is the cure?” The answer is simply, “I don’t know.” And not only that, but they don’t know, either. “They” as in “the medical professionals” have no idea the answer to any of those questions. And here I am asking God why He ever allowed us to be in this situation. Why me?

I’ve thought long and hard about the answer to that. Why, of the few hundred people going through this same thing, was I chosen to tell this story? I’ll tell you why.

Because my story was written long before I was born. 

Truth be told, I have been planning this post for a while now. I originally wrote this story in a handwritten letter to my pastor as I sat in the PICU in Mobile. It was the early hours of the morning (or late hours of the night, whichever you prefer) when I sat down and put pen to paper, pouring out my testimony to the man who helped bring me where I needed to be in my spiritual journey.

Let me warn you before you read any further: This post is drenched with God talk, church speak, and frank spiritual craziness. If you aren’t a believer, this post may rub you as raw as shorts rub my thighs in summertime. You’ll roll your eyes, exit right on out of this blog, and forever see my writings as coming from “that weird Jesus lover on Facebook.” Let me tell you, that’s a-ok in my book. It may not be your time to soak in this testimony, and that’s alright. When it’s not our time to open our hearts to God, it’s just not our time. I will never force my beliefs on anyone, but I will speak the truth about God’s power. And it just so happens I have an amazing story to prove it.

Ok, rewind. 

This story actually starts way back in 2006. I was 21 years old, holding down three jobs and surviving on Yellow Jacket pills and Red Bull. During the day I was working at a local bank as a teller. I’d leave there around 5:30pm and head to my second job waiting tables. I’d sit in the parking lot before my shift started and smoke a little marijuana before heading in to work for the night. This wasn’t unusual- all of my coworkers did the same thing. We were serving six ounce sirloins and Bud Light high at kites, giggling in the kitchen as we ate the bowl full of chicken tenders that were about to be discarded for the night. I’d leave my second job around 11:00pm to midnight and drive over to my third job at a little dive bar close to my home. I’d bartend for a few hours, shoving my tips in my bra on the way out the door. I’d leave the bar around 3:00am, grab a few hours of sleep, and head back to the bank with a fresh face the next morning. I kept this routine almost every day except Sundays when I’d go with a friend to another bar, the only one opened on Sunday, to play poker until the wee hours of the morning.

As you could expect, this lifestyle took a toll on me emotionally. I craved attention not only from my friends, but from strangers. There were many nights I would leave the home of someone I barely knew and call my dad to admit most of the horrible things I had done that week. I’d cry on the phone as he listened patiently, never making me feel as horrible as I felt I was. Even with all of the mistakes I was making, he made sure to let me know I was still loved unconditionally. He and my mom would always be there for me no matter how awful I was.

Looking back on it, I think my dad probably kept a lot of the secrets I spilled while drunk or high between the two of us. I told him things that I don’t think I ever really admitted to myself. I knew he supported my uniqueness, my nerdy quirks and all, and I always felt comfortable telling him things I wouldn’t share with even my closest friends. He was my hero in the true sense of the word.

I spell all of this out to make you understand that my dad wasn’t just my dad, he was my best friend. I knew that out of everyone on the planet, he appreciated my misfit, artsy-fartsy self and the fact that I never did or would fit the mold of an all-American girl. 

At the end of 2007, I met my husband, Chris, at the same bar I was working. We hit it off quickly and were married less than a year later. He was a bit older than I was, previously married with kids of his own. I guess he helped me mature a bit, although my mother would probably say I’m far from mature. After I met Chris, I quit waiting tables and working at the bar, but I kept my bank job. I eventually moved up within the company and started making more money. I tried my hardest to move up in the world of finance, but the truth is I never fit in. I’m not the professional type. My ripped blue jeans and Amy Winehouse t-shirts don’t exactly qualify for casual Fridays, if you get my drift.

Chris and I eventually started entertaining the idea of going to church. He had previously been involved heavily with a church during his first marriage. His parents were active members in their own church and taught both of their children the ways of the church. My family was Christian, but my parents never forced me to go to church or attended on a regular basis. The only recollection I have of Sunday School included extreme anxiety and what would probably classify as a panic attack as my mother tried to encourage me to meet new friends. After that, we really only went to church on Easter and Christmas.

February 15, 2009 is the day I confessed with my mouth that Jesus Christ was my Lord and savior. For those unfamiliar with Christianity, we refer to that as the day we were “saved”. Saved my grace, saved by mercy, and saved by unending love. On that day, I had been to church and heard songs of worship led by Anthony Evans, and for some reason my heart pulled me right out of my seat and to the front of the church, out in front of hundreds of other believers. It was one of the first visits Chris and I had made to church after briefly discussing our visit. He, too, renewed his faith that day as we were both baptized in the Holy Spirit.

As I left church that day, I was on a spiritual high. I felt invincible, like nothing could harm me as long as God was with me. That’s what the preacher said- no weapon would ever prosper against me as long as I had Jesus. Nothing could touch me.

Less than a week later, with my spiritual high slowly fading, I received a call from my mother telling me my dad had been diagnosed with lung cancer. I remember standing in the restroom at the bank with my hand held over my chest as I tried to soak in the information she had just given me. “It’s the size of a small sauce place,” she had said regarding the tumor in his chest. I heard the words, but I did not fully grasp what she said. And I didn’t for a long, long time.

Lung cancer is a disease that takes more than just your health. It tarnishes memories. It breaks families. It slashes through your wallet almost as much as it does your heart. The worst part is that it works quickly, barely giving you enough time to catch your breath as your loved one takes their last. It is something I would never wish on my own worst enemy.

As the realization set in that my dad was quickly deteriorating despite treatment efforts, I got on my knees and begged God to save him. Please, God, don’t do this to me. Why are you doing this to my family? What have we done to deserve this? You can stop the pain and suffering, so why don’t you? I begged for hours on end until I cried myself to sleep.

A week later he was dead.

May 20, 2009 is the day my life was put on pause. I am telling you no lie when I say I don’t remember many of the months surrounding my father’s death. The memories are all a blue with the exception of a few bad ones, like arguing with my siblings over which photos to display at his funeral. I remember watching my mother melt into her bed with sadness. I was sad, too, but more than that I was angry.

I was angry that I had taken a leap and trusted my heart to God. I gave Him all of me, something I thought meant something, but He tossed me away like rubbish along the median of an interstate. God didn’t love me.

For years after, I discovered an unsettling pattern. Each time I went to church, something horrible would happen immediately after. Whether it be the loss of a loved one, a promotion not seized, trouble in my marriage or with my stepchildren, fertility problems- it didn’t matter. God was telling me I didn’t belong in His house. I convinced myself God hated me. He would punish me stepping into His house with unimaginable pain, so I stopped having the nerve to go.

Fast forward many years later to 2017. My dear friends Matthew and Amanda invited us to visit a church they had been attending and seemed to enjoy. They didn’t even fully get the invitation out of their mouth before I said no, explaining that each time I went to church, something awful would happen. They looked puzzled as I explained my theory, but still they insisted. Week after week I would receive another invitation until  I finally agreed to go. I would go to appease them, but I wouldn’t put forth much more effort than that. I figured if I didn’t open my heart to God, I’d be safe. I’d go to one service just so I could say I went, then maybe they would quit asking.

The first time I stepped into Cornerstone Church, my spirit changed. That bitterness I had held on to for so many years seemed to just melt off of me. I felt welcomed, warm, but most of all loved. I listened to Pastor Mike and it was as if his words were directed only toward me. He put his message in simple terms that I could understand. As I looked around the sanctuary, I saw a mix of people from all walks of life. Some were in their traditional Sunday best, but many looked as disheveled as I felt, like they were living the life I had led a decade earlier. Tattoos, wacky hair, ripped jeans and Converse all caught my attention. Everyone was welcome here, including me.

The next Sunday I came to another service, then another, then another. Eventually I started coming on Wednesdays to small groups, one being a Foundations class. This is the class where you truly begin your spiritual journey as you discover you spiritual gift (or gifts). Everyone has a spiritual gift and this class aims to identify it, then direct you in how to put it to good use. During my time in Foundations, I discovered I had two spiritual gifts- mercy and exhortation

Over the next year, I became very involved at Cornerstone. I surrounded myself with people that helped to shape me into the person I have become today, someone drastically different than the person I was in 2006. I began to study the word of God and make a conscious effort to live a godly life. Sure, I made (and continue to make) mistakes as we all do, but I learned something so valuable that I wanted to share it with you today.

Just like I had expected, something horrible happened shortly after I stepped foot in church again. My grandmother, Nadine, had been diagnosed with lung cancer, the same horrible disease that had stolen my dad from me. I knew from experience that her time was limited. But this time, instead of getting angry with God, I sought comfort in Him.

My time at Cornerstone, and subsequently my time studying the word of God, had taught me that God didn’t hate me. It wasn’t God that had stolen the joy from my life. That was Satan. Satan, not God, had attacked me time and again every single time I had tried to connect with God. This was Satan’s way of deceiving me into believing that I wasn’t loved, that I was unwanted and unimportant. He tricked me into walking out of God’s house, but God always brought me back. Every time God would tap me on the shoulder and invite me back to His house. He placed specific people in my path that would help me the understand the word of God as it is meant to be interpreted. He knew that weapons would form against me, just as my former pastor had said, so He kept placing me in situations that would lead me back to where I needed to be in order for Him to prepare me for what was coming.

Over the last year, Chris and I have spent a lot of time trying to realign our lives with what God has wanted us to do. he helped us to start embracing a minimalist mindset in order to rid ourselves of all the junk we had and focus on a more simple, intentional life. We finally made the decision to relocate and once we did, God set that plan in motion quick, fast, and in a hurry. Before we knew it, we found ourselves in Orange Beach. We enrolled Annadelle in school and spent most of our day cleaning out junk and selling what we didn’t need.

Chris spent a lot of time in prayer and told me felt that God was telling him to “stand still.” I thought, Huh? What do you mean “stand still”? How are we going to pay our bills if you don’t work? We can’t just stay at home all day every day and survive. We fought over this for many weeks. Our savings drained and drained and drained until finally there was nothing left. We put a lot of money on credit cards buying groceries or items we needed. I had no idea how we would pay our bills, but still he insisted that God was telling him to stand still. I simply didn’t understand it.

At the end of September, Annadelle developed a slight fever and began complaining of a headache. This eventually led to a diagnosis of an extremely rare condition called Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM). A polio-like illness affecting an increasing number of (mostly) children, AFM inflames the spinal cord and blocks messages from the brain to being sent to the rest of the body. AFM often paralyzes its victims and sometimes causes vital organs such as the lungs to shut down.

During our time at the hospital, I have been asked countless times how we have been able to endure this ordeal as we have. The answer is easy: God prepared us for this exact moment. He knew we would be here questioning His goodness and grace. He knew we would cry until there were no tears left. He knew we would experience unimaginable pain, worry, and anxiety about the future. He broke us down to our bare bones so that this story could be used to bring others closer to Him. He gave us a test to see if we would leave on Him in our time of need just as the apostles instructed. He told us to keep our eyes on Him in our time of need and we did. As a result, He is giving us the desires of our heart, the desires we have asked for in prayer fervently. 

God put me in that sanctuary that morning so that I would be led to Foundations. He knew that I would be sitting here today writing this post, using my spiritual gift of exhortation to write and record this testimony.

Prior to this, I felt like I had been through a lot in my life. I have lost loved ones in a horrible way, I’m a survivor of domestic violence, and somehow I survived my 20’s relatively unscathed. I’ve been through Hell and back in a sense that I’ve had to consistently ward off Satan’s trickery, but it is paying off in the end. Through faith, we’ve experienced miraculous healing as only God can provide. Sure, we have a long way to go, but I’m not super worried about that. I have a peace over me about Annadelle, a peace I’ve prayed for over and over. God has granted me that, just as He will grant her a full recovery. We are praying and believing for complete healing because God has told us in Mark 11:24 “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours.” 

I know there will be some that read this post without fully understanding the truth of God’s power. There will be those who read and doubt that God will always provide, protect, and heal. There will be many who dispute the grace of God and instead credit medical professionals for her healing, and that’s okay. I know God uses the gifts of others to help perform his work, and we are forever grateful to the medical teams that have provided her care, but we know better than to put my full trust in man. We put our trust in God, and for that he has rewarded our faith.

If you are on the fence with your faith, or at a crossroads in your spiritual journey, I’m throwing a pebble. A little grain of direction to a place of peace and tranquility. A mark on a tree to help you find your way. Allow me to be your Matthew and Amanda, to open the door for you to take a step and discover what it means to be truly loved.

You won’t regret it.

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5 Comments

  1. vfbowen

    I just read your testimony & it gave me HOLY GHOST BUMPS. I have never met you or Chris but feel like I have really got to know you through your post about Annadelle. You are so right about God guiding us even if we don’t realize it. Everything we go through is for a reason & can either make us stronger or send us in the wrong direction. Like Chris, I was raised in church but went back on the Lord for a while. When I had my second son & he was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy I knew that I needed to get back in church. I’ve quit a few times since then, but I’m back where I know I need to be. Speaking from experience, I know that you can learn a lot from a special needs child. Children are so innocent & humble in their faith. We should all be humble as them so that we can learn to lean on HIM. i know this is a long comment, but I’ve been typing what has come to my mind& the Lord has laid on my heart, Prayers will continue for Annadelle. Hope to meet you, Chris & Annadelle one day.

    With love,
    Vickie Faulkner Bowen

  2. Lisa Bradley

    Neeli, this was a wonderful “read”…. I love that you shared so much about your life…continued prayers for all of you!

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