“I Didn’t Know My Own Strength”

Editor’s Note: The following column was written by journalist and aspiring filmmaker Jaz Gray. Prepare to be inspired. 

Sure enough, over the next few days, weeks and months, news media and water cooler talk will all surround the death of one of the greatest voices of all time, Whitney Houston. But, I hope we can all soon turn to recount the number of songs she had throughout her career that touched our souls and empowered us in some way.
One song for me was “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength” from Whitney’s final album, I Look to You. In the song, she sings about the challenges she has faced, the doubts she initially had and how she was able to eventually realize the power she had within.  The chorus of the song is my favorite part. It makes me think deeply about my own journey of overcoming physical illness and insecurity to reach the place of God-given peace that I am in today. 
Survived my darkest hour
My faith kept me alive
Starting at age 10, I have had over thirty surgeries for a rare vascular anomaly called Arteriovenous Malformation or AVM. The physical toll of these tangled growths of arteries and veins has included removal of sections of my face, battles with bleeding, and challenges speaking and eating. But, there were times when the emotional challenges — enduring procedure after procedure, spending 10th through 12th grade in and out of the hospital and realizing that I would never have a “normal” face– would almost send me down a despairing spiral of depression. Thank God for the support of my parents who reached out to my doctors who assigned me a hospital psychologist. I was asked to find an outlet, somewhere to go with the baggage I felt I had to carry alone. Deep down, I knew that God had some purpose for my life and I was just frustrated because I didn’t know what it was. So, I decided I would start to focus my days on developing my relationship with God through bible study and prayer to take away the loneliness and my evenings on writing my story to gain a clearer perspective on the path God was allowing me to travel.
I picked myself back up
Hold my head up high
As I began to use one of the gifts that God had given me,writing, to share my story, those around me began to pass my pieces along. And a wonderful thing happened. I started to get letters from people I had never even met telling me that my journey had inspired them to continue pushing forward and to share their own story. Eventually, my passion for storytelling would lead me to Middle Tennessee State University to study journalism and to Syracuse University on a full fellowship to study television and film production.
I was not built to break

A few days after finishing my Master’s late last year, I had to come back home to Memphis, and travel for yet another surgery. At first, I did feel a tinge of disappointment that, while my classmates were making moves to L.A. and New York City, for some reason I was back where I started.  Well, the day before that procedure my surgeon informed me he was putting together a “super team” of doctors to find a cure for AVM before he retires. This news inspired me to embrace the fact that God is not working on my schedule, but He most certainly has a plan of His own. I decided I had to start producing a documentary to highlight the incredible stories of some of the other AVM patients and document the super team surgeons’ quest for a cure.
 “I didn’t know my own strength.”
Now, a month after my 32nd procedure, I am in the mist of an online campaign to raise money towards the production. Before the campaign started, I had a moment where my stomach was doing somersaults. I could tell that the old seeds of doubt and anxiety were trying to arise.  But, this time, I knew what I had to do to get past those negative thoughts and emotions. I told myself to trust God and the power that I had through Him. And, in less than two weeks, people have contributed over $4000 of our $5000 goal. Like a moving Whitney ballad, people are being inspired to remain confident about the purpose behind the obstacles in their lives and motivated to keep pushing forward. 

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