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Dying was a gift

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Dying was a gift

Levi Hill/News-Sun

Editor’s Note: Miracles happen every day, and they come in all shapes and sizes — just like Christmas presents. And, the News-Sun has gathered nearly a dozen stories of miracles that have happened to residents of southeast New Mexico we will be sharing over the next week or so.

Most people live their lives in fear of death, but having died once already, Renee Austin no longer fears death, in fact, she welcomes it.

“I absolutely am not afraid of death,” said the long-time Hobbsan. “I have a DNR in my wallet. If I go down again, do not revive me. I want to go to Heaven.”

Renee suffered what might best be described as spontaneous death. The best guess by paramedics who fought to bring her back to life is she was legally dead for at least three minutes.

When they successfully started her heart again Renee was distraught and angry with the paramedics who pulled her away from what she had seen on the other side.

“I got really depressed being back on earth,” Renee said. “I knew I had no control over God’s will for me, but everything looks so dirty — the carpet, the streets, people being ugly to each other.”

It all happened March 27, 2016 — Easter Sunday — at Cowboy Junction Church north of Hobbs.

Renee has just taken communion and returned to her pew when a wave of light-headedness swept over her. She was just 59 years old at the time and was in fine health, medically.

She leaned over and whispered to her then boyfriend that she was lightheaded as the feeling passed. Thinking she was just stressing about all the days activities planned with family, she went over the list of “to-dos” in her head.

Everything was in order. There was no reason to be stressed she thought, shrugging away the fuzzy feeling.

Suddenly another wave of dizziness hit, and this time she urgently prodded her boyfriend. The last thing she remembers on earth is her boyfriend gathering up her belongings, taking her by the arm and leading her out the doors of the church, and then darkness took her.

Across the church sat Rene’ Watts, a certified nurse and fellow Cowboy Junction parishioner.

She noticed Renee and her family get up to leave in a hurry. Curious and concerned, she got up and followed the group outside into a bitterly cold, northern wind.

“The minute I walked out the door I saw her. She was pale as a ghost and her eyes rolled back in her head and she just dropped like a rock,” Watts said.

Five other nurses who also attend the church joined Watts and they swarmed around Renee’s lifeless body, beginning CPR.

“She had no pulse, no air. She wasn’t breathing,” Watts said. “It was cardiac arrest. The heart and lungs completely, 100 percent, stopped.”

Watts started chest compressions and the next three minutes went by in a blur as they fought to bring Renee back while bystanders called 911.

For Renee, the next sensation was one of floating. She opened her eyes to find herself flying through a clear, blue sky — oddly jarring considering the sky had been grey and cloudy that morning.

“I was totally alone but not fearful and not in pain. I was slowly floating upward. I had no control over my speed,” Renee said.

Ahead of her the sky flashed with beams of bright light almost as if lightning played across a clear, blue sky. As she neared the bright bursts, something came into focus.

“As I got closer I saw a banquet table with a pure white table cloth. On the right hand side was Jesus, he looked about 7 feet tall and so bright I couldn’t see his face but I knew it was him and the rays of light were pulsing from him and heading way out into atmosphere,” Renee said. “On the left side was my dad who had killed himself in 1989. In the middle of table was mom’s mom who’d died in 1978 from natural causes. They were also shooting rays of light out, but their rays were not going much further than 10 feet from the table.”

Renee said the trio was smiling and she could tell they were talking, but she heard no words.

Seeing her father laughing and smiling shook Renee deeply. He had not been a pleasant man in life and even now recalling her childhood brings tears of pain to her eyes.

Her eyes lingered on the face of her father, seeing a man who’s past shortcomings and pain were gone, giving way to a brilliant, smiling soul.

“I was just drinking in my dad’s face. Dad had bipolar disorder and had been physically violent with us when we were young, because of the shame he had, he had a hard time looking us in the eye. He was totally healed of any shame, depression, guilt and he was looking Jesus straight in the eyes and Jesus was looking at him like he was his best friend.”

The trio was feasting and toasting at a table resplendent with food.

“Dad was 55 (when he died) and he looked about 40 in Heaven. Grandma looked 45 but she was 65 when she’d died.”

“All of a sudden I saw silhouettes of 10 or 12 people coming and gesturing towards me and indicating me. I don’t know who they all were, but I know they were family. My grandma had lost her daughter at 26 from lupus and felt sure one of them was her.”

Finally the dead silence of the scene shattered with the sound of musical instruments and voices raising up the Lord’s name in praise.

“I couldn’t tell a stringed instrument from a voice. I couldn’t tell what language it was, but I could tell they were praising the Lamb of God. I could tell Jesus heard it and knew it was his due but he was not egotistical.”

Then something else caught Renee’s eye. Below her feet, far off in a dark void, was the world. From it radiated waves of grief, misery, pain and cries of anguish.

When she looked back to the table her grandmother and father looked her direction, noticing her for the first time. As their eyes met, Renee felt sure she was fixing to hug her father as waves of love washed over her, but at that moment she was jerked violently away.

Back on earth, a full three minutes had passed and Watts was finishing a full round of chest compressions. As another nurse leaned in to perform mouth-to-mouth, Renee suddenly gasped and tried to sit upright.

“She was fighting me tooth and nail,” Watts said. The ambulance arrived a few moments later and Renee was adamant she wasn’t going to go to the hospital while simultaneously berating Watts and the others for bringing her back.

“She was mad at us,” Watts said. “She kept saying she didn’t want to come back.”

“I was suddenly back on the ground and heard the paramedics saying, ‘Renee, are you with us,’” Renee said. “I heard people crying — my son — and my daughter-in-law was screaming. I was so sad to be back on the earth.”

Despite not wanting to go, paramedics took Renee to the hospital where enzyme tests and MRI scans gave no clue as to what had caused her heart to suddenly stop.

“I have been in a lot of codes,” Watts said. “I worked at the hospital for a long time and I have never seen anything like this. Usually they don’t come back after one round of compressions and afterwards there is always a cause. They ran every test known to man when she went to the hospital and more tests ran later and never found one thing wrong with her.”

“There were no enzymes for heart attack and no blood clots,” Renee said. “They still don’t know why I died. I believe it was a gift.”

A gift? Indeed, a gift Renee said has changed her life and brought peace to her family in many ways.

“It was a gift so I could tell mom and my siblings that dad is in heaven and he is healed,” she said.

In other ways the experience has divided the family.

One of Renee’s son’s believes it was a genuine miracle, the other believes it was a hallucination brought on by a dying brain. Her sisters are also split on the subject.

Renee, however, knows what she saw and she has come away from the ordeal a changed person in many respects.

“I don’t belong to one church any longer. I love to float. I love to worship at different churches,” she said. “I am not perfect, but I would like to think I am more loving and kind to people. I love to share my experience. I think I am here to share my experience.”

Watts said she knew Renee before the incident, but they pair were not close. They have since become close friends and Watts said Renee shines with a new light she didn’t have before dying.

“She just glows and she just loves people. It just changed her. You cannot be in the presence of Jesus Christ and not be changed,” Watts said.

Watts said the pair enjoys exchanging heart-felt jabs at each other, Renee claiming she still hasn’t forgiven Watts for bringing her back.

“Every year on the anniversary we Facebook each other and give each other crap,” Watts said with a laugh.

Renee said she sets out every morning to brighten someone’s day, even if it’s just with a kind word, and she shares her message with all who will listen — there is a Heaven and it is a beautiful place.

Watts agrees.

“That girl is rock solid. She has been able to touch so many people all over this area,” Watts said. “I think the world is full of gloom and doom and everything is unstable and everything can be terrifying if you don’t have knowledge that God really is in control and everything is going to be OK. Yes, God is real and, yes, God does love. I think that’s the message Renee brought back with her and it’s her mission to share it.”

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