Before my youngest daughter Johanna was born, I enjoyed play dates at the beach. I was a decent swimmer, having taught myself how to swim when I was growing up and then taking formal lessons in high school. The past 17 years, I have taken a different kind of swimming lesson. It has little to do with strokes and everything to do with breathing.
I have shared in this column a few times about my water dreams that started just before my daughter was diagnosed with a brainstem mass when she was three months old. In the reoccurring dream, I am out in the middle of the ocean holding my baby in my arms, treading water to keep us alive. One night God spoke to me in the dream and told me to let go and to trust that we were in the ocean of His mercy. He promised that as the waters rose over our heads He would teach us a new way to breathe — to breathe underwater.
The challenges of my life— raising a medically fragile child, economic crises, and everyday stress — have often felt like pounding ocean waves that threaten to pull me under. All of us can relate to this image. You donʼt have to experience the kinds of trials I have to relate to this feeling of drowning under circumstances. Each of us faces circumstances in our lives that cause us to feel overwhelmed. When we find ourselves in over our heads, we only have three options: work really hard to keep your head above water, drown in our circumstances or let go and breathe.
As the dream kept coming, so did the trials. So for me, treading water for years just didnʼt work. At times I tried. I tried controlling people, circumstances and things way beyond my control. It was just exhausting. Occasionally, I let myself drown, in self pity, in anger and depression, but I found that was worse. Gradually, Godʼs voice in my dream became a reality and I learned how to let go and breathe.
Letting go when circumstances threaten to overtake your life can feel a little like drowning. However, the more I let go, the better I learned how to breathe. As I reflected on this dream, the message and our journey, this acronym came to mind:
As this acronym came to life, I realized I had a way to share the lessons I have learned about letting go and breathing underwater. I began to formulate a talk, a seminar and the chapters of my book, “Breathing Underwater: Taking Care of the Caregiver When the
I am always being asked how I survive and even thrive in the midst of such trials. For me, it’s all about breathing.
Over the next few weeks I’d like to share from this acronym on learning how to breathe underwater. Here I will offer some inspiration and strategies for handling stress with a faith perspective. It all starts with belief.
Belief is the foundation of my life and truly essential for anyone who wants to get through any crisis or achieve any goal in life. We have to believe in ourselves to accomplish our purpose in life and in something beyond ourselves to find that purpose.
From a very young age, I believed in God. My mother told me that God spared me from death at birth because He had a plan for my life. To this day, she tells me how the cord was wrapped around my neck and I was the only one of eight children that she did not witness the birth. She tells me, at that moment she knew God had a plan for my life, as I spared from death. The story and my mother’s devotion helped me to believe what she said and to believe in the God who saved me.
We all want to believe. Even atheists have to believe. They have to believe that they will wake up the next morning, that a new day will begin and that they hold the answers within themselves that cause other people to find faith in God. Unlike the person of faith, an atheist believes in their own power to change their circumstances or else they have tapped into this secret of letting go which is truly the beginning of learning to believe. I find it fascinating that Macy’s logo at Christmas is Believe. We all want to believe.
The most wonderful thing I have discovered about believing is that it is not limited by the circumstances before me. People always ask me how I can believe in a loving God when I have so many trials. Rather than give a long explanation on redemptive suffering (I can do that), I tell them it’s all about belief. When we believe, we rise above those circumstances and find a higher power and purpose in the struggles.
For me, the foundation of belief is quite simple. It comes down to four points:
- God exists.
- God loves me.
- God created me for a purpose.
- God uses everything in my life for good.
I have a friend who I have known for 27 years, but we have only become friends in the last two years. She is part of a women’s ministry that I lead called “Heart and Hands.” She is also the mother of a son with special needs. This woman prays a lot and she prays for me all the time. Everyone should have a friend like my friend Bernadette. When Bernadette prays for me, God gives her messages for me. Those messages, though they don’t always make sense to her, always speak directly to my heart.
A few days ago, as Bernadette was driving, she was praying for me and had an overwhelming sense of God’s presence. She heard these words for me: “Blessed are those who do not see, but believe.”
I have spent the last week in the PICU at NYU with my daughter Johanna. God’s word, spoken to me through Bernadette, keeps teaching me what it means to believe. In stressful times like these, it seems like I don’t have what it takes to climb another hurdle. I don’t have the energy, the resources or the time to get through another trial. It would appear by circumstances that God just does not care and I am going under.
However rather than treading water or gasping for air, I choose the first step to breathe. I choose to believe. I believe that God exists even when my circumstances say He can’t possibly be here. I believe that He loves me though it sometimes feel like He’s left me. I believe that I was created for a purpose and that all these struggles will be used for good.
When I choose to believe in God rather than the pain of my circumstances, I find that I am blessed. I have a sense of peace. I see things work together for good. All around me the trials press in like ocean waters rising over my head. Belief allows me to see God’s hand
at work; to trust Him that He loves me and is working out a beautiful plan and purpose right in the midst of trials. When the waters rise over my head, I believe. God is control. I just believe and take a deep breath.