Last week I introduced you to my secrets of breathing underwater. Breathing is an automatic response that seems incredibly simple. It is until itʼs not. Spending a fair amount of time in an ICU setting with my daughter over the past 17 years, I have a deep appreciation for heart rate, respirations and the amount of oxygen in the blood. In the ICU, those numbers are monitored very carefully and if something is amiss, an incessant beeping noise calls attention to the change in any of those rates.
The dreams I had about being out in the midst of the ocean, treading water with my daughter in my arms, changed a little over the years that I had the dreams. Sometimes my husband and I would be at the beach playing on the shore with the kids when a tsunami would start rolling in. We were frantically trying to grab our four children and run out of the way of the impending tidal waves. But we couldnʼt run fast enough. I recall in those dreams that there was no time to come up with a plan. My husband and I exchanged a look of panic and determination between us. We couldnʼt even communicate with words. There was no time. He grabbed hold of the older two and I held my little girls. Then we watched helplessly as the waves carried us out to sea.
It is no wonder that I wasnʼt a big fan of beach days after Johanna was born. It helped that my husband is from the Midwest and he isnʼt really fond of the feel of sand between his toes. He also despises the stuff you have to carry to bring a family to the beach. I guess thatʼs because it was mostly he who carried it. For the most part, these dreams didnʼt permeate my conscious thought during the day. I do recall a trip to the water park when I had a minor panic attack as I was holding Johanna in a boat on a lazy river ride. She was fussy and trying to jump. I felt my fear/fight reactions set in and for a moment I was paralyzed with the thought that this subconscious scenario was going to play out in real life, as she slipped through my hands to drown just outside my grasp. My husband caught my panicked look, from across the wavy river and paddled hard to reach me to take Johanna in his boat. As silly a scene as this seems in reality, the subconscious fear of drowning was powerful. In truth, the fear ran deeper than drowning. The root fear was losing control and realizing that there are circumstances in our lives that are just beyond our control.
I guess I should have discussed these nightmares with a professional, except that they didnʼt permeate the day to day. It didnʼt paralyze my every day thoughts and decisions. I did noticed that there was a pattern to them. It seemed that dreams of being swept away into the ocean by impending tides preceded a time of more intense difficulty. This awareness came in retrospect. It wasnʼt like I had the dreams and wondered what trial lurked around the corner. I did start to notice that the dreams served as a warning that rough waters were ahead.
It was years into my daughterʼs diagnosis that I heard a voice speak to me in those dreams, telling me that I could let go and even sink into the depths of the waters because God would teach me a new way to keep breathing.
Last week, I began to unpack for you the lessons I have learned in finding peace in the midst of extreme trials, expanding on the image of what it is like to breathe underwater. Itʼs not like the Lord gave me a formula when He told me that I would learn to breathe underwater. All I received that night in the dream was a powerful sense of Godʼs presence and I promise that if I surrendered in trust, I could handle anything.
The acronym for the word breathe was born out reflecting on the lessons I have learned.
Believe – Restore – Exercise – Advocate – Take Time – Heal – Engage
Last week I shared that to believe is the essential foundation for learning how to keep breathing when the floodwaters of trials rise over your head. The second strategy is to restore.
To restore something means to replace what has been lost. In breathing, we are releasing carbon dioxide as we exhale and breathing in oxygen, the foundation for all life, as we inhale. As we inhale, the oxygen fills our lungs and restores every cell in our bodies to keep us alive. How then, can one restore if we seem to be overcome by trials, unable to take a deep breath?
I have thought about this for many years. If to restore something means to replace what has been lost, then what do I do when I feel like all my resources have been depleted and there is nothing left? How can one restore and breathe when you are drowning?
I can tell you it isnʼt easy and it is all in your perspective.
Over the years, I have lost a lot in the trials. I have lost time, money, relationships, opportunities and dreams. We almost lost our house and much more. If I count up all that I have l have lost. It would seem that there wouldnʼt be enough resources in this lifetime to restore them.
While certainly, I have survived through extreme times when it appeared that my emotional and physical reserves were totally depleted, I can confidently say that the key to restore is staring me in the face and in the root of the word; RESTore.
Our bodies need rest to restore. Our minds need to rest from the onslaught of information thrown at us. Our spirits need rest. Rest is the key to restoration. We need time to relax and unwind, to reflect on the blessings of our life when all we see are the difficulties.
In the midst of trials, rest seems to escape us. There have been many an article and book written on strategies to balance your life, manage stress and succeed. None of those really matter when you feel like your drowning.
When God told me to let go, as I was treading water in the vast ocean, no land in sight, he told me that I would feel like I was drowning. He also promised me a key to breathing and restoring my life. God gave me a new perspective on trials when He told me that I was in the ocean of Godʼs mercy. In that moment, the cold threatening ocean, which I thought was filled with untold dangers, became a place where I could rest. I didnʼt have to keep treading water because Godʼs love and mercy, His very presence was surrounding me in the midst of the trials.
As I write this, I am on retreat with 100 women. It was stressful to pack up and leave the my daughter in the PICU, but my older daughter and my husband were at Johannaʼs bedside.
This weekend is more than just rest for me. I lead the music and prayer times for the group. After my husband helped me set up the sound system, I was alone in the chapel. As I rehearsed, the music filled this large old chapel which was the Diocesan Seminary for over 80 years. As I sang songs of praise to God, all the tensions of the past few weeks seemed to roll off my shoulders. My voice filled the chapel and I was acutely aware of Godʼs presence surrounding me. I sang for three hours. It was work and it was rest. As I sang, I was immersed by Godʼs love, as if I was drowning in the ocean of His Mercy. In just three hours, the Lord restored my energy, my focus and gave me hope. My life didnʼt change. I still have a lot of stuff to deal with at the hospital and at home. Restoration happens just the same. Whether in an 80 year old chapel or at a hospital bedside, the Lord will restore us with a renewed perspective if we but come to Him.