It’s in the aftermath of really painful and stressful events in my life when I find myself catching my breath. It’s normally once the storm has passed I begin the process of confronting my feelings, reflecting on what I’ve been through, addressing the emotions, and listening in on what God was trying to do through all of the moments that felt so useless and heartbreaking at the time. It’s in the moments when I’m all stitched up, the pain meds are out of my system, the middle of the night ER trips are seemingly over, the overwhelming physical battle has been fought, the war has been waged, and I’m on the downward slope that I settle down to listen, to feel, and to breathe normally again. So, here I find myself again at 2:30 in the morning. Just Jesus, me, and my boyfriend—a very handsome four legged, brown eyed, 100-pound beauty with long, wavy, golden fur. I can’t sleep. Insomnia has once again taken control of my sleep schedule, and for once, I’m okay with it.
Tonight, God has put something on my heart, and I want this message to bleed onto this page, as I try to be as honest and vulnerable with you as possible.
For the first time in a long time, I find myself really breathing again. Wait, what? I stopped breathing? No—thankfully not. God still has me here on this earth. I want to back up a little bit, though.
When I reflect on my summer, many things come to my mind. Part of my summer was filled with victory. I graduated high school after many years of trying and being knocked down. I also got accepted into Regent University online, and I’ll be starting online college this month. Both victories were accomplished through the strength that Jesus gave me—all the glory goes to Him 100%. However, like so many of us know, sometimes after the greatest victories, come the biggest heartbreaks. Pain can sucker punch you in the jaw out of absolutely nowhere. We don’t get a choice in this world if and when pain enters our lives. For most of my summer, I struggled with a major and debilitating health setback. I don’t really want to go through the details of what happened (I know, it drives me crazy when people are cryptic. If you want a health update, you can go to the updates page I made on my blog). But for right now, you don’t need to be reading about that nightmare and all the frustrating details…it’s what I learned in the aftermath that is worth reading about.
I thought a lot about how to summarize what it felt like to me to once again ride this roller coaster of emotion. Immediately this word picture came to my mind about the process of having an IV started.
Since I’ve been sick, I’ve probably had over two to three hundred IV’s put in my arms, my hands, and my wrists. I’ve lost count by now. Nurses always seem to have trouble with my veins. Due to my POTS, I have really floppy veins. However, I do have one faithful vein that always comes through (his name is George). He’s been so overused that he has some scar tissue—George is now retired! So, here goes the situation. The nurse comes in and pumps the bed up high. Everything is laid out. The tourniquet goes on. Now comes the critical part—searching for just the right vein. Which vein will be the hero to save the day? Oh, looks like the nurse found a good one. Time to clean it up with some alcohol. And then that needle goes in. It’s here I find myself holding my breath, my skin turning white, and I start focusing on the needle. Even though it’s a pain I’ve known, what seems like a million times before, somehow I focus in on the needle and forget to focus on what’s most important for both the nurse and for me in that moment—my breathing. I keep holding my breath, only making matters worse, hoping the nurse will get the catheter in on the first try. I know the nurse doesn’t want to stick me again—so she keeps fishing around and moving the needle back and forth but there’s no blood return. And I keep focusing on the pain—not my breathing. Ugh, try one and it’s a major fail. Time to switch arms. You get the picture. Finally, the nurse finds another vein that looks like just the right little sucker to come to the rescue. “Big stick.” There’s blood return! And then you hear that victorious “click” noise… Ah, all done. It’s over. The saline flushes and the IV works well! Now the tegaderm, or Band-Aid, goes on. I can breathe now. It’s all over.
So, maybe you haven’t had an IV put in before, but maybe there’s another situation you can think of that you do this, too. Going into to get an IV, I know the drill. I know what it feels like. I’ve memorized the procedure. I know the pain like a Sunday morning. Yet, even though I’ve memorized this pain, I hold my breath, only causing myself greater pain. It’s after that little IV is in, I think to myself…Why? Why did I forget to breathe again?
I don’t hold any special answers. But I do know this–no matter how long you’ve experienced any one kind of pain, it can still feel brand new each time it dwells upon your heart.
And this. This right here. This process is exactly what I do when I encounter a crisis or reach a crossroad in my life.
I know what pain feels like. Pain has been an unwelcome, yet very constant companion for the past six years of my life…both physical and emotional. You would think I would have everything figured out by now. If another setback comes into my life, I should be able to pull out an official guidebook and how-to for hard times. Yet, somehow, I get more and more discouraged with each new setback. It’s like being stuck with that IV needle—you know it’s coming but somehow you forget the most sensible thing you’re supposed to do. Breathe. And it’s in these life situations I forget to breathe in God’s strength for the fight. In these new seasons of pain, I hold my breath. I tighten my muscles. I become anxious and worried. I go back to my old ways of asking, doubting, hurting, and retreating. I wish I didn’t. But I’m human, and I’m here right now telling you that I do this every time. I go into this place of holding my breath, strapping on my survival pack, relying on my own strength, and holding on until the “band aid” goes on, and I’m out of the woods. Which, in hindsight, you realize only makes matters worse.
Have you ever held your breath so long and not even realized you were doing it? Has there been something that made you constrict every muscle in your body and you just forgot to breathe normally? Breathing is the most integral and normal thing we do for our bodies—and we do it roughly 30,000 times in a day. However, in seasons paralyzed by fear and the unknown, I find myself nervous to breathe in the reality around me. I don’t want to face the truth before my very eyes. I want to hide in the denial. I want to hold my breath for as long as it takes for my problems to go away—for my reality to change.
Reality, by definition, is “the world or the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them.”
Reality is that familiar friend who, to be honest with you, sometimes I struggle with confronting. When you’re frustrated with your body and how you look, when your life hasn’t turned out like you thought it would, and when comparison can too quickly steal the joy you have in your circumstances, it’s hard to face your own reality.
Reality is revealing, it’s truthful, and, well, it’s just real. And it’s not always what we want for our lives. It can be everything you want it to be in seasons of joy. But in seasons of pain? It can be your worst nightmare. The stuff you only thought happened to other people. Sometimes reality turns out be what we dreamed when we were little—the big, white sparkly wedding dress and the handsome prince charming at the end of the church aisle. Living in your dream home with ten dogs—wait, is that just me? Making it to 101 with the love of your life. Being happy, healthy, and having days spent laughing, dancing, and soaking up the sun and feeling like through it all, you made God proud with your life. However, reality doesn’t always turn out like that. Maybe for some but certainly not always for me.
This broken world is filled with hurting people and harsh realities. Reality is struggling with depression, anxiety, and sadness. Reality is feeling let down by God sometimes and also feeling like you let God down. It’s not feeling like you can do it or take it any longer…whatever your it may be. For me, my it is fighting sickness. Sometimes it’s doubting God’s plan for your life. Reality is giving up or getting thrown off the horse—and then getting back up—and doing that ten times over. Reality for so many is filled with death, loss, grief, hospitals, life lived in a wheelchair, waiting for a transplant, losing your home, not having a home, it’s tube-feedings, it’s cancer, it’s paralysis, it’s facing surgeries, it’s walking 25+ miles for water, it’s showing up for a friend while they get Chemo, it’s getting IV therapies, it’s loving someone faithfully even if they don’t love you back, it’s days spent in the bed…it’s a spouse deployed overseas. It goes on and on and on. The truth we face each and every day can be our greatest dreams coming true or our worst nightmares coming to life. And how do we deal with that?
I certainly have not been through nearly a half of a percentage of any of those realities. But I have found in my pain, when the nightmare comes true, I forget to breathe. Not wanting to feel the pain, I hold my breath. Holding my breath, I stand there waiting. Waiting on God. Waiting for an outcome. Waiting for change. Waiting for something to make sense out of the ruins.
But here is where I want to share what I have learned. This is really where my spirit is just about to burst with joy because it has taken me almost three months to realize something so small, yet so monumental.
When our worst nightmares come true, when we have lost our breath, He rushes in and restores every breath ever lost. He is giving us each and every breath back.
Not when the trial is over, not when we are healed, not when we are all stitched up, and not when all the questions are answered will He redeem each breath that was lost. No. He is breathing for us right in the midst of the pain, and restoring every breath right in the middle of the crisis. He is sweeping in like a sparrow right in those very moments that felt like everything was falling apart.
“I will breathe for you. I am giving you this breath in your lungs back right now. I am the God who restores that which was broken. I will restore the breath that was lost. I am a deeply personal and intricate God. I made you. I have thought about you and been with you every second you were hurting…even when you didn’t feel Me. I’ve kept number of every single hair on your head, and I have given you every single breath you’ve breathed. My child, today it may be too painful for you to breathe in another unbelievable reality or to open your eyes to another ugly circumstance. You may not understand the season of life you are in. You do not have to fight this on your own anymore. I don’t call you to fight alone. Let me breathe for you. Let me fight for you! I am your most personable, precious friend…I know more about you than you. I have bottled every tear, I know every anxiety, every emotion, every hurdle, every setback, and everything about You. So, what reason today do you have not to trust Me? Feel me give you every single breath. Feel me give you every beat of your heart. If you don’t feel like facing another day or facing another mountain of pain, trust me to hold it all in My hands. I know what every kind of earthly pain feels like because I lived it and I felt it. Don’t face these kinds of earthly hurts without me by your side. I have been here this whole time—it’s you, My child, who has a choice.
You can keep going at this alone. But, why would you? You can leave it all in my mighty, fiercely capable, almighty, strong, personal, justly, gracious, merciful, loving, redeeming, restorative, yet soft and tender hands!
Today’s song will be this—‘I surrender all to Thee’. Oh, how freeing it feels to surrender. When you surrender, you can breathe with new lungs, My beloved one!
The Band-Aid goes on.
Put your hand on your chest. Feel my presence. I am right there inside of you.
Inhale. Now Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Count to three. Now four. Breathe. Out. Now in again. Breathe in. Breathe out. I am closer than the breath in your lungs. And the reality that you are facing? It’s nothing compared to what I already defeated on that cross. I am not finished yet. Keep fighting, with me right by your side.
Is this the 10th time you’ve had the wind knocked out of your lungs?
I’ll replace it for the 11th time, and the 100th time, and the 1000th time. I don’t have a limit on the amount of times you can come running back to Me!
I am the God who makes you as surefooted as a deer–enabling you to stand on mountain heights (Psalm 18:33). You draw near to Me, and I will draw near to you (James 4:8), my precious and loved child. This reality—this harsh reality of your circumstance—that is testing your faith—it is giving you perseverance, and that perseverance strengthens your faith. We can rejoice in these afflictions—and this sometimes-unbelievable reality—because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. Hope will not disappoint us. I, the God of all grace, will restore, establish, strengthen, and support you after you have suffered (1 Peter 5:10). You waited patiently for me, and I turned to you and heard your cry for help…I will put a new song in your mouth. (Psalm 40:1,3).
I give you every breath and every beating of your heart. I have you. Trust in Me always. I will always restore your breath. Trust. Surrender. Breathe.”
I don’t know about you, but I am breathing in that truth. I am taking that in…This was revealed to me by God. Like a song written in the night of pain and uncertainty.
Something I have learned through experience these past several years is God takes us through seasons. Seasons of joy. Seasons of sorrow. Seasons of affliction. Seasons of growth. Seasons of celebration. Seasons of hurt. Seasons where you don’t quite know what you’re doing. Seasons of confusion. Seasons of loss. Seasons where you feel closer and more distant to Him. Seasons of service. Seasons of distance. Seasons where you’ve lost your breath. And seasons where it’s restored.
But through all of it, I have known one resounding truth, no matter what reality, no matter what circumstance or season, no matter how constricted my breath is…He is always there. I read a quote once that said, “You can trust the man who died for you.” Today, I am resting in the truth that I can trust the man who loved me so much he gave me His all—so I could have breath.
Psalm 34: 17—18 MSG
“Is anyone crying for help? God is listening, ready to rescue. If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there: if you’re kicked in the gut, He’ll help you catch your breath.”
Job 27:3 MSG
“But for as long as I draw breath, and for as long as God breathes life into me, I refuse to say one word that isn’t true.”
“Though the fig tree does not bud and there is no fruit on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the field produces no food,
though the flocks disappear from the pen and there are no herds in the stalls,
YET I will celebrate in the Lord,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation!
The Lord my Lord is my strength;
He makes my feet like those of a deer and
enables me to walk on mountain heights.”
So today breathe in this new reality, my dear friends…
The man who died for you—His beloved, adored child—will not only help restore the breath that you’ve lost, but He will also give you renewed strength and enable you to stand on mountain heights in the midst of your pain, suffering, and broken-hearted circumstance