A singer facing limitations

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, April 12th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. All through history there are stories of God doing great things through ordinary people and their limitations.

Composer Fanny Crosby became blind shortly after birth, yet over a lifetime wrote more than 8,000 hymns and gospel songs. The Apostle Paul, despite the thorn in his flesh, wrote most of the Bible’s New Testament.

EICHER: Today, WORLD Radio’s Myrna Brown profiles an independent singer/songwriter who faces her own limitations.

MYRNA BROWN, REPORTER: In 2009, contestants from all over the country competed on season six of the show: So You Think You Can Dance.

CLIP: Welcome to so you think you can dance! And cue music. [Music] I love the way she’s using her breath…

While the judges were captivated by this dancer’s agility and grace, millions of people watching at home were inspired by something else—the song.

HELLER: My husband Dave and I had written a song with a friend of ours and the song is called Your Hands.  

That’s independent singer/songwriter J.J. Heller. Two weeks after the television episode, radio stations all over the country began playing her song.

HELLER: God basically reached down and picked up our song and put it on the radio. And I started to receive a flood of email messages and Facebook posts and letters. Maybe they had been fired or they experienced a miscarriage. They were reminded that God was still with them.

VIDEO: Hi, I’m J.J. Heller, and this is my husband Dave, and we have been married for 12 years. And we wrote a brand new song that we want to play for you and it’s called Meant To Be.

One year later, a YouTube video and another hit song. Then, as quickly as it all began, it ended. Radio stations began rejecting their music.

HELLER: For me as a songwriter, I was trying to crack the code of trying to figure out, can I create another song that’s like these?

The Nashville-based artist never got to answer that question. Instead, she shifted her focus to her declining health.

HELLER: The symptoms kind of kept progressing, and I would be sitting on the couch watching TV and all of a sudden my heart would start pounding and my fingers would go numb and I felt dizzy like I was going to pass out, and I just had this overwhelming feeling of fear and terror.

The dark-haired, mother of two was having panic attacks. She prayed for healing. She also sought counseling and went on prescribed medication. But it was lyrics written one year earlier that brought her the most comfort.

HELLER: But it was in the midst of that time when we wrote the song Your Hands. And to think back to that moment when I was writing the song, so frustrated that God was allowing the pain of my anxiety and panic attacks to continue. I can see how He was able to use that pain and then turn it into a song and use it in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. It was a reminder that no matter what is going on around me that God is still in control.

In 2010 Heller faced yet another health crisis.

HELLER: It’s like a bump on one of my vocal cords that will never go away unless I have surgery. But the surgery is really risky. If there is any scar tissue that forms, then my voice will never sound the same again.  

Heller decided against surgery, but she no longer has the same vocal range. So she has to sing softly.

HELLER: There were definite moments of anger and frustration when I would compare myself to other artists and think well, great, I’m never going to be as good as them or sing like them because I have this limitation.  

MUSIC: [I Dream of You]

After 16 years as an independent recording artist, 38-year-old Heller says she’s finally found her purpose as a Christian singer/songwriter.

HELLER: When He puts limitations on my life and I get really mad about it, but then eventually I can see this beautiful thing God has grown out of it.

Heller produced two I Dream Of You albums. People began to notice and respond. Heller remembers one couple fostering babies born addicted to drugs.  

HELLER: So he was saying one night as these babies were crying, he heard one of my lullabies and it doesn’t matter how upset they are, when the music comes on they just immediately calm down.

After that conversation, Heller says God led her to donate more than 100,000 copies of I Dream Of You to hospitals, adoption agencies and foster families all over the country.

HELLER: God was so gracious almost to allow me to have that nodule on my vocal cord, because I really think that he wanted me to sing lullabies. He’s just so, so good at that. Taking our brokenness and turning it into something beautiful.

MUSIC: [I Dream of You]

For WORLD Radio, I’m Myrna Brown.

(Photo/J.J. Heller)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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