As believers around the world celebrate Easter this weekend, one Seattle pastor understands all too well the themes of redemption surrounding the holy day.
God worked in powerful ways to resurrect Jesse Bradley’s health, life and calling after he suffered a devastating 10-year illness.
Bradley was a professional soccer player enjoying success on the field when extreme illness from a malaria medication sidelined him from the game he loved — and almost took his life.
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“When I was two years old, I told my parents that I wanted to be a professional athlete,” Bradley shared with Fox News Digital in a recent phone interview.
“Sometimes you just know at a young age what you want to do, and my childhood dream came true,” he said.
Bradley grew up playing the game, then went on to play for Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.
He also traveled outside the U.S., playing in Scotland and eventually playing goalie professionally in Zimbabwe for the Bulawayo Highlanders Football Club.
While in his early 20s, at his physical peak and enjoying the way his dreams had come true, Bradley began experiencing alarming physical symptoms.
“I had never had migraine headaches, but suddenly I couldn’t [handle] any light or any noise, and I couldn’t regulate my body temperature,” he said. “I had constant sweats and chills.”
He soon developed tachycardia and was dealing with a constantly racing heart.
“It was so scary,” he said. “My heart felt like it was beating out of my chest, and I also had an atrial flutter.”
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Bradley experienced constant chest pain, multiple cognitive symptoms and double vision, along with “waves of panic and anxiety,” he said.
“I had always been very steady in terms of my emotional equilibrium,” he said, “and suddenly I had mental chaos and crazy dreams.”
“God does his greatest work in the darkest moments.”
Too ill to compete, Bradley returned to the U.S. After seeing scores of specialists and undergoing an array of tests, he was told he had suffered a “massive drug overdose from a prescribed medication to prevent malaria.”
In the meantime, he said, while experiencing multiple aggressive symptoms, he had “moved back into my parents’ basement bonus room, which is very humbling.”
Amid the physical, mental and emotional upheaval to his life, “God was already intervening for my good,” said Bradley.
“This is where God saved my life, because [prior to the diagnosis], all the physicians advised me to keep taking the drug, the prescribed medication, for another month,” while they continued investigating, he said.
“They were trying to be cautious and well-intentioned, but they were completely wrong.”
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Although Bradley hadn’t given much thought to God or his spiritual life as a youth, he could “hear God clearly telling me to stop taking the medication” — which he did.
“I shifted in my identity to God and his love … That is something no one can take away.”
Several weeks later, doctors confirmed there were “toxic levels of the drug in my system,” he said.
He had to say goodbye to professional sports — and tried to turn his focus to the future.
“God does his greatest work in the darkest moments,” he said. “God can take a tragedy and redeem different aspects of it.”
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Noting he went through a “restoration process,” he was actively fighting for his life for one year, “and it took 10 years to fully recover.”
He said, “God did many works of transformation in my life, right away. I realized, if I’m alive, it’s a gift. If I’m in my right mind, if I’m physically healthy, if I can help someone — that’s a gift.”
He continued, “So I started thinking, ‘God, every day, give me 10 things to be grateful for.’”
He said, “You do it even when you don’t feel grateful” — calling this “gritty gratitude.”
“I would say it out loud,” he continued. “‘Thank you for my clothes. Thank you for a hug from my parents. Thank you for a comfortable bed. Just — thank you.'”
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As his focus shifted toward his faith, Bradley said he “didn’t realize that previously, my identity was attached to my performance.”
“Who you are is not what you do. But we in our culture attach so much to performance.”
He noted, “That’s a cruel roller coaster because you go from pride to shame, inflated to deflated — when who you are is not what you do. But we in our culture attach so much to performance.”
So, he said, “I shifted in my identity to God and his love, because that is something no one can take away.”
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While opening himself up to God’s will, he realized that “this is an identity and a hope that’s indestructible — and it’s so freeing,” he said.
“And I wouldn’t have gone to that place if I didn’t lose my career, my health, my soccer – if I hadn’t lost all those other things.”
Bradley said he relied on the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 7, “where Jesus says that if you abide with him, trust him and walk with him, your house will be like a house on the rock and not on sand.”
He also said, “I wanted a house on the rock. I needed Jesus to rebuild my life. And I started praying, pouring out my heart to God.”
He went on, “My approach in life before all this was that I didn’t cry a lot — I just persevered.”
“God was opening up this new chapter.”
“You white-knuckle it, you try harder — and while that has some value, it has a very low ceiling. And it wasn’t going to help me make it through this magnitude of an ordeal.”
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Bradley said, “I wanted to share the pain with different people and even cry with them in that. I was learning new ways to walk through the valley of the shadow of death.”
Saying he never thought he would be a pastor, he noted, “It wasn’t on my radar, but God redirected me. I just started serving and volunteering in a church and God spoke to me, again and again.”
Bradley, who didn’t grow up reading the Bible, finished seminary four years later.
“When I graduated from seminary, I didn’t know if I could handle a full-time job” due to his health situation, he said.
“I went to be a college pastor at a church in Iowa City. I went there in weakness, and God’s power is strong, and He gave me back so much energy,” he continued.
“God was opening up this new chapter.”
Today, Bradley is pastor of Grace Community Church in the greater Seattle area.
“I grew up not believing in God and didn’t read the Bible because there was success only on the outside of my life,” he said.
“But trusting God completely will take you on a journey you could never imagine.”
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