Four days before her 15th birthday party, Riley got pneumonia for the ninth time.
But this time it was worse than ever before and would usher in a horrible illness she would battle for years.
What she went through would break most people, but through the power of faith and the strength of God, she overcame.
Today, Riley has been healed and God is using this powerful story to encourage others.
The illness hit hard and the recovery was long, beginning Riley’s high school years with exhaustion and lethargy.
The toll of weariness took effect not only on Riley’s physical health, but on her social health, costing her the opportunity to pursue and maintain relationships.
During this time, she learned to isolate herself from the world.
After a while, Riley’s illness seemed to blow over for about a year and a half, until striking again amidst her annual family vacation.
Utterly dejected, she returned home and proceeded to the hospital where she was given a PICC line for two weeks.
A PICC line is a thin, soft medical tube that is inserted into a vein in your arm, leg or neck and is used to provide antibiotics, nutrition or medications, and for blood draws.
During this period, Riley realized the severity of her case. As she put it, she came to the recognition that “this was what people who were dying had to do.”
Along with the twelve pounds she lost during those two weeks, Riley lost her sense of independence, forced to rely on others for assistance in completing normal tasks.
She was only able to shower once every three days. Her emotions and beliefs were beat down as she suffered under the diagnoses: Primary Ciliary Dyskinesia; Bronchiectasis.
When Riley first received her PICC line, her mother received a word from God nine times over the course of three days:
Romans 8:11, “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you. He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (NASB). From that point on, the verse became ‘their verse,’ a promise that dwelled amidst the valley she endured.
Amidst all the physical trauma Riley endured came a night of what she recalls as her worst night.
She describes her mother sitting down with her on her bed, suggesting that she take a moment to let go, to “cry it out.”
In that flood of tears came thoughts of hopelessness, of a feeling that what was happening to her was her own fault, and incomparable emotional pain. After that night, she decided to close off her emotions, to allow whatever would happen to happen.
After two weeks, Riley got her PICC line removed, but things only seemed to worsen.
With the discovery that the fungus which was eating her lungs came from her sinuses, she went in for a sinus surgery.
The surgery went terribly wrong. She was left with a popped blood vessel in her sinuses and was rushed back to a hospital in Durango, CO.
After the emergency surgery, Riley endured seven nights in too much pain to sleep.
When she did receive the hopeful escape of sleep, she was met only with nightmares of a reality worse than the one she was living. She was under anesthesia three times in those seven days, the only instances where she was able to rest.
But through the depths of the valleys she endured, there were two stories which Riley recalled.
The first of these stories was that of Adam and Eve in Genesis. She remembered that Eve ate of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and that before that moment, all she and Adam knew of was the reality of God’s goodness.
The second story Riley recalled was that of Job, of one who suffered and yet knew the truth, that God was and is good.
These stories served as a reality for her during her confusing suffering, that what was unchanging through it all was the truth: God is good.
The next time Riley made the trip from Durango, CO to the hospital in Denver, most of the friends she had made thought they would never see her again.
She has very little memory of that period, mostly of trauma, of feeling alone. During her stay she only breathed outside air once, she was treated like an object, like a science experiment.
At the end of her stay, Riley was told that she would be faced with a lifelong struggle.
She was told that every year she would spend 1-2 weeks in the hospital receiving antibiotics, that she couldn’t live in a humid climate, and that travel would be nearly impossible.
Riley was haunted by the thought that ever having a family was nearly impossible. Though she never told anyone, Riley could feel herself dying.
During Riley’s journey, she describes a strange lack of anger. She never gave up on faith but she had made peace with death.
She mentions that through it all her parents were a solid rock for her and that they would pray in tongues over each decision regarding her situation until given a clear direction.
Her mother had put together a Facebook group of people who would pray for her regularly.
Sometime along her journey, Riley recalls speaking with God, and being reminded of Jesus telling the Parable of the Lost Sheep and what Jesus was willing to go through just to save one of his lost sheep.
She felt God asking her if she would endure all of her suffering again if it would save 100, and she said yes. Then she was asked if she would do so to save 20, 10, and she said yes.
Then God asked her if she would do it again for just one.
It wasn’t an easy answer, but after some thought, she said yes.
She was told that that was what Jesus did for her, and that there was a reason healing didn’t come immediately.
Finally, when healing did come for Riley, it came out of prayer.
After being told of what her future would look like, after being given medication routines that took up hours of her day, her family prayed and decided to see a naturopath as a last hope.
She was told that there were large colonies of fungus that had eaten away at her lung walls, that every two months her lung’s cells were copying bad cells. After not much longer, her lungs would have eaten themselves.
Riley began to go through the process of removing the fungus from her lungs and slowly re-growing her lung walls, teaching them to copy good cells again. Eight months later, she received a clean bill of health.
In what followed her healing, Riley looked back, reflecting on what she learned, who she was.
She knew that the enemy had tried to kill her and had a certainty that there was a reason for her life. She chose to live every day in search of the reason why.
Riley’s story now serves as a weapon against the enemy, a gift that she tells to all who would listen, enthusiastically declaring the goodness of the Lord.
She uses it to communicate Jesus’ desire to have an intimate relationship with His children and that He wants to be with them through the good, the bad, and the ugly if we let Him; and that in it we will be able to see growth amidst our struggle.
Riley now serves as an amazingly gifted leader of youth, a talented steward of worship, and shepherd of all those around her. In all of this, she uses her story as a divining rod to the Lord.
“Everyone has a story, stories are the most valuable weapons we have, there are no weak stories, they are the tools of the Kingdom of God,” she explains.
She says it’s important that we “don’t skip the steps. Growth is in the valley and the wilderness. To produce the most growth, we have to stop focusing on the summit. God doesn’t make bad things happen to us, but He is always there. The wilderness bears the fruit that the summit boasts.”
Are you or someone you know struggling in a valley waiting to see how God will deliver you from it and use your story for His Glory?
If so, we pray you are inspired and encouraged by Riley’s story to live trusting in God’s plan for your own.