Keep Breathing

It’s a moment that takes your breath away— that moment when everything changes. It’s the moment when you get that dreaded diagnosis, that life-altering phone call, that split-second decision that forever shifts the course of your future. I’ve been there. I’ve experienced the death of loved ones and the crushing news that they are gone. I have also witnessed the death of a dream.

In 2005, I never would have dreamed that a panic attack and stress would prepare me for a prolonged illness nearly four years later. As I prepared to audition for “NC/DC Extreme,” an American Idol- themed competition, I gave in to an unsatisfied drive for perfection. I talk about this in an earlier post entitled “Imperfect Progress.” As a result, I allowed panic to take hold in my life. It almost shut me down, until the phone rang.

You see, I had decided not to audition after all; my stress level had peaked, and I didn’t need one more thing vying for my time and attention. But I had forgotten to take my name off the audition list, and so they called me to remind me of my upcoming time slot. For a moment, I thought about telling the committee that I wasn’t going to audition, but I couldn’t get the words out. I found myself grabbing up my coat and making my way over to the audition site where I later sang my heart out for the judges. Long story short: I made it into the top 14 for the competition.

I bounced back from my nearly paralyzing stress and simply sang. It was incredibly freeing to set all expectations aside and just carry on. So when another road block to my music career emerged in 2009, I found myself at a crossroads. I could carry on as I had before my “NC/DC” audition, or I could cave under the stress and panic. It was a war in my heart and mind. I was legitimately sick during that season so my symptoms were not all under my control, but my panic and stress level was something I could surrender to God. After all, He was able to carry me through, right?

There were times I had my doubts. I would cry and plead with God to relieve me of the breathlessness I was facing because of my allergies. At times, it seemed so hopeless that I didn’t think I had the energy left to take another breath. I knew in my head that God had delivered me from struggle in the past, but I was in a very dark place.

As I struggled forward in this tangle of medical drama and faith trial, I was reminded of Joni Eareckson Tada’s first moments after the diving accident that rendered her paralyzed. It was a life-altering and spiritually defining time for her as well. Although I wasn’t physically paralyzed by my health struggles, something inside of me poignantly identified with Joni’s realizations in the first few days after her trauma. As she pressed on in rehabilitation, she was gripped with the ordinary strains of daily life: “eating, breathing, sleeping”— this routine that pushes each one of us toward another day. For someone with a disability, this routine takes on a whole other meaning.

I think we often take the little things for granted: the food in our bellies, the breath in our lungs, the comfort of our beds. But when you come through a trauma like Joni experienced, sometimes, it’s just a miracle to be alive. Oh, if only I could have seen that miracle in the bleak days of my breathing struggles! If only I could have recognized that God was preparing me for another day in service for Him.

He was faithful in bringing me through, and every step along the way, He proved that He could do “immeasurably more” than I could “ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). There were times in the months and years that followed that I would slip back into that place of doubt, fear, and stress, and I continually had to remind myself of His promise that He would carry me through. I vowed that nothing as simple as panic attacks or allergic reactions would derail my focus to such a degree again. After all, my God was greater than all of that; in fact, He had even enabled me to move forward despite a visual impairment and I was still standing.

If He is truly able and His provision for me has no measure, then I need to set my view of Him higher than my limited expectations. I want to seek to glorify Him even when the stuff of this world tries to drag me down. I want to set the bar high and not place any limits on His amazing love for me.

Sometimes, the wisdom of my teens at camp humbles me, and I would like to leave you with these incredible words from one of this year’s campers. This is from the pen of an amazing young man who, like Joni, was paralyzed in a tragic accident. But his attitude is far from tragic. In fact, he is doing more than just breathing; he is breathing in God’s grace and pressing forward in faith. “I also never want to lose my vision to walk again and to try to glorify God with everything I do.”

The reality is he may never walk again on this earth, but he’s walking in faith every day of his life. His words of confident faith breathe life into a world that needs to be reminded of the greater vision. So I’m going to keep breathing and moving forward. Joni, my camper, and I— we’re all in this together— and God is our source of strength.

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