Many times in life we are challenged to be thankful.
Thankful for food in front of us, the clothes on our backs, the family and friends that surround and for the God above. I see my dad gently reminding Little Me when I would stubbornly refuse to be grateful. He would remind me that I have it so good here and that kids in other countries would love my last bit of veggies on my plate or to have a soft bed to sleep in.
Like many other children, that advice probably fell on deaf ears for awhile. As sinful human beings, we don’t understand gratefulness right off the bat. We enter the world with clenched fists and screaming mouths; demanding we are heard. We struggle to look past our own human lens while most of the time we rock at sympathy but suck at empathy. We listen only when focusing on responding instead of learning. We are machines of self-defense and quick to cast judgment on those we barely know. We are frazzled and nervous; hyper and discontented; solution-seeking but effort-lacking. We are simply broken and sin-consumed. Lust-crazed. Satisfaction-thirsty.
Broken people who masquerade as untouchable beings.
For around 13 years I struggled with severe panic attacks.
Hehehe. I always rocked when it came to transitions in writing.
I almost feel embarrassed writing these words because “depression” “anxiety” and “panic attacks” are thrown around as if they are nothing these days. All it takes is a facebook article about who went to rehab for their depression or someone’s 12 year old who was just put on anti-depressants before full blown discussion thrives forth. Ugh I hate that I always bring up the evils of social media……anyway! The severity of the subject has lost its touch and in many ways its true diagnosis. Before I go any further I want to clarify that I am in no way trying to downplay someone’s mental health condition or make my own mental health the generalized diagnosis or common symptoms for all who struggle. I simply write from my own experience and what it has helped me realize. I’ve touched on particular formative time in my life in one of my first blogs, and you can get it by clicking here.
While I myself am an open person, I became so used to stuffing anxiety down that I didn’t realize how serious it started to affect daily living. If you have ever wondered what an actual panic attack feels like (and no, it is not when you just “freak out” over nothing), I will give you a sneak peek (luck you!)!
Imagine your entire body goes numb, you can’t feel anything around you, and the entire area or room you are presiding in shuts out sound. Sometimes you break out into cold sweats, and most of the time you can’t catch your breath for a good few seconds. It feels somewhere in-between feeling like you are about to pass out or die. I wish I wasn’t exaggerating when I write that, but there have been times where I honestly felt as though I was dying. Annndddd lucky me over here early on developed a reaction where I have issues swallowing when my anxiety kicks in. I have only heard of one other person who struggles with that, and it’s been so miserably embarrassing because what normal and healthy person can’t swallow whenever they want? Being a musical theater kid and a competitive dancer, these became nightmare scenarios whenever I had to perform by myself. I screamed silent prayers whenever I had a show or had to sing that I would be able to have access to water or something to hold onto in case I had a panic attack strike. My career choice started to seem like a living hell for fear of my heart giving out or disappointing all of those who believed in me. I turned down multiple vocal opportunities in high school for the sheer fear of not being able to breathe while performing.
Flash forward to today, and I am sitting on my couch reflecting on how much and if anything has changed. As I entered my freshman year of college over half a decade ago, I came in probably at the lowest of lows. Through incredible support I was able to overcome much of my performance anxiety and able to grow tremendously. But several times this year I find myself ready to enter a new opportunity and my heart slams against my ribs and I hear that fatal whisper: “I can’t do this. I will never be able to do this. I won’t be able to breathe. Sarah, you weak little baby, why can’t you just get through it?”
The truth is, I am so much stronger than I once was.
Yes, I still struggle with breathing properly. Sometimes I need to calm myself down in order to swallow again. Even this week I sat next to my mom and leaned against her like Little Me did as a terrified child and allowed fat tears to rush down my face. This steel-willed and exuberant “adult” was nothing more than a fearful child and I had no other choice but to ask for love and wisdom. I was exhausted of being afraid; wishing so badly I could teach my heart to beat this way or that while wanting to calm my body down when all it wanted to do was self-destruct. Living with so much effort. Sick of being sick. Completely jealous of those who are care-free and never once experienced anxiety in it’s debilitating force. Deceiving enough, I threw stones at God selfishly wondered why this life can be so good and beautiful and yet I am not able to enjoy it? Humbly enough, as I warmed up with the worship band this past Sunday morning, we prayed over one one of our congregation members who is currently battling brain and lung cancer. The severity of the diagnosis is not glossed over and I watched in tears as this family bravely stepped out and praised God amidst such suffering. My heart aches uncontrollably for them. While I struggle to breathe some days, she takes a terminal diagnosis and offers it to the Lord in praise. Why God? Why this mom? Why this family? As this woman’s husband took the stage to share about their journey, he quoted that someone once said the following: “Suffering is a pulpit”.
Suffering is a pulpit.
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
There is a beauty that is the most understated of all and that is Christ’s witness in suffering. Horrible suffering. The Bible does not skim over that we will face trials, heartache, alienation, ripping pain, and searing loss (although we like to pretend that we never will). But those who know Jesus and cling to Him in these trials will be delivered, whether on earth or into whats ahead. I grew up seeing death for exactly what it was; hellish and ugly. Death and pain are not what God wants for us. But through Christ, we never truly die. Where the outside world grieves for they have no hope, we do indeed have hope. One day, there will be no more pain. Here on earth, we only see the end result of sin, which poisons every part of life: relationships, health, environment, politics, money, and dreams are all fractured in the name of sin. But sin is not life. Sin is the absence of TRUE LIFE. For we were not mean’t to live fractured and spewing poison, but with bursting joy and inexplicable hope. We were reborn to be counter-cultural; forgiving when betrayed, trusting when the stability of the world crashes down, and loving fiercely through the foggy mess that clouds the earth.
“…..through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, HOPE.” Romans 5:2-4
Every morning Jesus gives me breath. But every day I act as if I don’t have any left. He has told me countless times that no HEIGHT, no DEPTH, no SICKNESS, no AGENDA, no DIAGNOSIS, no SHAME, no HUMAN OFFENSE and no DOUBT will ever separate me from HIS LOVE. And if He truly sent His ONLY son to die for me as a symbol of unconditional love, then how can I ever doubt His grace for what’s ahead?
Now when I sing, it has become an offering of thanks. God could have very well taken my passion and ability and shut it off or given it to someone else, and He didn’t. He isn’t finished with me. He has kept me breathing. He has plans for my lungs. Who am I to tell Him what to do with it?
No matter what I think of as suffering.
Through suffering I have been able to understand what I couldn’t before; that this life is so precious and temporary, and we only get to do it once. But in that realization, is that we were made for so much more than this, and are not mean’t to waste our earthly life. For it is here we find Jesus for the first time, and here that we understand WHY we need Him.
See the difference about believing in Jesus is that the beauty of this world will grow strangely dim, and there will be no other satisfaction than what is to come. In a way, God spared my life by walking me through pain. He showed me that pain is not what He has prepared for me, but that it is merely a hallway to walk through. Do not fall into the lie that pain will be suffocating you forever. He has beaten sorrow. He has beaten death. He is the breath of life and the air in our lungs and the blood in our veins. So I gladly accept my daily struggle as I watch my fellow believers stand out in the fire and proclaim the name of Jesus for all to hear. For suffering might be our greatest pulpit, because it shows us that we are only human. But we are human with an INCREDIBLE God. Without Him, we can do and are nothing.
We must have faith.
Through faith, we will always overcome.
Through sickness, it is well.
Through pain, it is well.
Through famine, it is well.
Through brokenness, it is well.
Through death, it is well.
For it is well…..with my soul.
Thank you Jesus.
Please join me in praying over this family I mentioned above!!!
Thank you for coming alongside me on my journey through life!
All my love,