As a teen, the singer-songwriter struggled with a serious illness. Then she saw a vision of her future.
Posted in , Jan 23, 2019
I was 15 when I got sick, really sick. At first everybody thought it was mono. All I wanted to do was sleep. All I could do was sleep. No going to school, no seeing my friends, just lying in bed or on the sofa in front of the TV.
My mom’s a teacher. She was gone all day. So were my older brother and younger sister. Dad worked in pharmaceutical sales and would come home to fix me lunch. “Maybe I should quit my job to take care of you,” Mom said. I told her that would be ridiculous. Why stay home just to watch me sleep?
I figured I’d get better. Get back to a normal life. Go to school, hang with my friends, listen to music. Instead I got worse. I was so exhausted that I couldn’t even lift the remote to change the TV channel. My parents took me to doctor after doctor, specialist after specialist. The doctors asked me a million questions and did a million tests. In the end, they said it was a disease called cytomegalovirus—a nasty, stronger cousin of mono—that can attack the liver and other organs.
The doctors told me to rest. Which was all I could do anyway. I dragged myself around the house, wishing I could be someone else, somewhere else. My old self. Calling friends, doing homework, staying up late, singing in the choir—just singing, period. That was the worst. I was too weak to sing.
Why was this happening? Would I be like this for the rest of my life? What kind of life would that be? No life at all. Yet I just couldn’t imagine ever feeling better again. At 15, it felt as if my life were over. My dreams were just a joke. I sank deeper into despair. And still the doctors could promise nothing. Rest, they said. But it felt like I was dying.
I yearned for some escape. We had a loft in our house in Lafayette, Louisiana, and after everybody left I literally crawled up there, grabbing onto the stair rail—using every bit of strength I had. I would stack a few pillows underneath me and lie in the sunshine that streamed through the windows. It was my secret place, my prayer closet. Mom had bought a devotional on sale someplace: One Minute of Praise, the book was called. That was about all I was good for. One minute.
I would close my eyes and try to imagine another person, another Lauren Daigle, someone I used to be, someone I barely resembled now. Confident, exuberant, sure of herself. A singer. I remember when I was just three and the music director at church asked me to be the camel in the Christmas pageant. She handed me a piece of music that I was supposed to sing. “Solo,” it said. I recognized the word: S-O-L-O. “Does this mean I get to sing by myself?” I asked, just to be sure.
“Yes, it does,” she said.
The part was only two or three lines long, but the first time I sang it, I thought, I want to do this forever. Once, in rehearsal, the director skipped my part. “I’m supposed to sing here,” I announced, stopping everything. “Yes, you are,” she said. She never made that mistake again.
Mom called me her little music box. You didn’t even have to wind me up. I’d sing around the house, mimicking Whitney Houston or Celine Dion. “Can’t you get her to stop?” my older brother, Brandon, asked.
“I wouldn’t ever do that,” Mom said. No more than she’d ask him to stop shooting hoops out back.
One rainy day, the kind we often had in Cajun country, I saw the water mix with dirt and turn into mud. It was beautiful, like chocolate milk. My mind leaped forward, verses forming in my head. I wrote them down and drew pictures to go with them. “It can be a book,” Mom said. I worked on the pictures with crayon and marker, then Mom showed me how to staple the pages together. We’d sit together reading it aloud. I couldn’t quite believe I had written a poem. And somehow I knew that a poem could be a song. It was a revelation.
Now that energy, that wonder, was gone, stripped from me. I lay on the floor in my prayer closet, the sunlight streaming through the windows, warming the floor. Why couldn’t it penetrate me? Why couldn’t it heal me?
“What are you trying to tell me, God?” I asked. “Who am I supposed to become now?” I’d had all sorts of notions about what I would do someday. Be a missionary somewhere and help poor people. Go into the medical field and help the sick. Now I was sick. I needed help.
I read that five-dollar devotional and listened for God’s voice. Day after day, I kept going back to the loft, struggling up the stairs, pausing on each step to catch my breath. I’d always had a strong faith. Or thought I did. Now it was being tested beyond my endurance. Even if I survived this disease physically, could I survive it spiritually?
One day I was in the bathroom, standing in front of the mirror, staring at the wan girl in her pj’s, too tired to brush her teeth. The oddest thing happened. Someone else looked back at me. Another Lauren Daigle. Literally. Some impossible image of myself. Vivid and real. Was I delirious? No. This felt God-given.
I saw a girl—me—singing in front of thousands of people in an outdoor stadium. Then I saw myself getting on and off a tour bus. I saw this person writing songs, her own songs, and singing them. And going into a studio to record.
The images kept coming to me that day and the next and the next. It was like a movie playing in my head, a multipart serial featuring the person I wished I could be—a dream I thought was being stolen from me by my illness. Words came to me: Lights, camera, action. What was that about? How could that ever happen?
Finally it struck me: This was God’s answer to my prayers. He was giving me his promise. Yes, I would get well, but I would be sick first. Yes, I would be able to go back to normal life but not as the person I thought I was. This time alone—this horrible isolation—was meant to give me strength. All those friends I missed. Even if I had the energy to see them, the doctors were wary of me being exposed to any germs in my fragile state. What I had was my prayer loft. And these images of a promise.
My health improved little by little. It took way longer than the doctors had thought it would—almost two years. I missed the homecoming dance and the prom. With my strength returning, I studied at home for six months, then graduated from a charter school. I did manage to go to Brazil as a missionary—one dream accomplished—then enrolled at Louisiana State University.
I sang in the choir at LSU, reconnecting at last with the joy that singing had always given me. I tried out for American Idol. Lights, camera, action? All the lights were on me, singing in front of an audience. I did pretty well in a couple of seasons, only to get cut at the last moment. That was all right. There was another path for me.
I’d been exposed to all kinds of music. Dad loved classic rock; he was a big Led Zeppelin fan. On long car rides, he’d play a game with us—the Dollar Game, we called it. We listened to the radio and had to name whoever we heard performing. If we got it right, he’d give us a buck. Mom had her own loves—jazz, pop, old standards. I loved Adele as much as I loved Tony Bennett. But after those gigs on American Idol, I wanted to write my own songs, songs about what I believed. What was true. What was holy. Isn’t that what I’d been shown in the mirror?
Opportunities opened up for me. I performed in bigger and bigger venues. Recorded songs—my own songs. I released my first full-length album in 2015 and the second just this past year. I have won Dove Awards and been nominated for multiple Grammys. It can be overwhelming at times! Critics have compared me to Amy Grant, a singer with Billboard chart numbers that would make any mainstream artist happy.
And yet it is not the acclaim or the success that makes those two years of being really sick worth it. That’s not how it works. Success can disappear as quickly as it comes, and suffering is a part of life. What was true about those days I spent lying in that patch of sunlight in the loft is that God made himself known to me and in that knowing I found myself.
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Check out Lauren’s Grammy-winning album Look Up Child wherever music is sold. You can find out more about her music and tour at laurendaigle.com