Font Size » Large | SmallBy Jessica Welch Thirty-one-year-olds just don’t have strokes,” the emergency room doctor said. He had a rather baffled look on his face as he looked up from reading the MRI report. It was obvious to everyone in the room that he had never encountered someone so young suffering from a stroke. Well, I managed it. I had just completed my first mountain trail race. It was 16 miles of grueling inclines and treacherous descents, but I loved every moment of it! It was exhilarating. As I finished, my mind was already thinking about the next one, a 25-mile mountain marathon! However, six days later, things started going awry. I began to experience head pain. This was not unusual; I have dealt with headaches in the past. Usually I would pop a few Tylenol, get a good night’s rest, and no more headache. However, this time was different. My vision was impaired by dark spots and holes that were getting larger and darker. Dizzy spells knocked me off my feet. I became overly sensitive to light, sound, and movement. I was experiencing paralysis down the entire left side of my body, affecting my ability to walk and even talk at times. Finally after numerous visits to the doctor’s office and the ER, I was able to get an MRI, which revealed the culprit of the explosion of these-out-of-control symptoms. The report was placed in the hands of one of the very same ER doctors who had sent me home just the week before. I’m quite sure that doctor got an education that day. Yes, 31-year-olds can have strokes. Eighteen-year-olds can have strokes (it happened to my brother-in-law). Even babies can have strokes. Strokes are not a respecter of age. Through the long, drawn-out 13-day waiting game of uncertainty, the peace of God was such a powerful force. The Lord had surrounded me with amazing prayer warriors, and He had laid on my heart some verses which I continually found myself repeating. I later titled these verses “My Battle Verses” because I was waging war not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of this dark world. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:8). “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). These verses became my comfort and strength during my unrelenting battle. They are verses I continue to run to in moments of weakness. I have heard people say we can never stop the “self-talk” from going on inside our heads; we are always thinking about something. After my stroke there was no self-talk. The continuous chitter-chatter that had been my companion for 31 years was a silent void of nothingness. It was a rather eerie feeling, but at the same time peaceful. As the self-talk slowly came back, I can remember thinking, “I could have lost the ability to walk. I could have lost the ability to use my left hand and I could be in a wheelchair. I could be blind and quite honestly I could be dead. BUT whatever God’s plans are, He wants me to walk. He wants me to use my hands. He wants me to talk. He wants me to see. And most important, He wants me alive!” Many people die from strokes in a matter of hours. My series of mini-strokes dragged on for 13 long days. I truly praise God for life! Drew and Jessica Welch after a race.I slowly began to regain capabilities that were once so difficult, including walking. When it was finally safe to take me out of the house, my husband, Drew, took me on a date to one of my favorite places, a shoe store. He knows I suffer from a slight shoe fetish. This particular day a colorful pair of stilettos caught my eye. Due to my instability on my feet, I reluctantly tried them on. My legs felt like Jell-O as Drew took my arm and we slowly and methodically made our way to the mirror. I fell completely in love with these shoes, but the sheer fact that I could not walk in them was evidence enough that purchasing them would have been foolishness at its finest. I am convinced that Drew had the wisdom of God that day because what he said still brings tears to my eyes: “Honey, we are going to buy these shoes in faith that you will walk in them one day!” So with that, the shoes came home. I frequently pulled them out of the closet and tried them on just to see how I was progressing. It was months before I was actually able to wear them outside the house. It was never about a pair of shoes. It was about placing a reminder in my path of God’s faithfulness. These shoes have been labeled my “By Faith Shoes” because we purchased them at a time I could not walk in them in faith that my God was going to bring me to a place of deliverance! And that is exactly what He has done! [caption id="attachment_8801" align="alignnone" width="599"] The Welch family: (from left) Drew, Kayla, Ian, Kirsten, and Jessica. Five and a half years later I am still on the road to recovery. It has been long and hard, but I am praising God for His mercies and grace through it all. Most people would not know the mountains I have climbed to be here today. I still fight daily battles, but God has been so faithful. As I look back, I cannot help but be thankful for all of it. Those initial 13 days of madness until I received my diagnosis were just the beginning of our journey as a family. They launched us into a bigger understanding of God’s faithfulness. They taught us how to rely on God with every inch of our being. What a blessing each day has become. “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24, NKJV). Jessica Welch is a woman wrapped up in faith, family, and fulfilling the call of God on her life. She and Drew Welch, her husband of 15 years, are the parents of three beautiful children. The Welches serve as Open Bible missionary ambassadors to Liberia, West Africa.