Breath in Our Lungs

It’s easier for me to see God in retrospect. Maybe I’m too full of myself in the present moment. Or maybe the present is too ordinary, or too painful, and I’m too blinded to see Beauty. But whether I realize it or not, every moment is holy, infused with Life itself. Even Vivi’s wobbly steps, to the last gasps of the dying, are fueled by the God “who made the world and all things in it… He Himself gives to all people life and breath.”* This is the song all around me but I don’t always hear it. Today I’m singing along.

It’s your breath
in our lungs
and we pour out our praise to You only**

My sister shows me a picture of her friend’s newborn baby, her perfect face framed by swaddling blankets. Looking at the photo, I wouldn’t know she has skeletal dysplasia, that her lungs will never develop, and that as soon as she was born her parents wondered when she might die. After preparing themselves for the possibility of a stillbirth, or perhaps meeting their daughter for only a few minutes, they are thankful for 30 hours with her. For thirty hours of a beating heart. Thirty hours of inhales. Thirty precious hours of exhales.

It’s your breath
in our lungs
and we pour out our praise to You only

The gravel road winds through poplar groves, swamp, then spruce trees, and finally an open vista of the valley. Goldenrod decorates the ditches flanked by swaths of canola. I am running alone, waiting for my family to catch me on their bikes, when I turn around and see the bear. It’s big, black, and looks smooth to touch. It’s also about 200 meters away which makes it all the more beautiful. Seconds later a cub bounds after the mama. I wait to be sure I won’t miss another cub and to confirm they aren’t moving in my direction. Soon the rest of my clan catches up and passes me. Grandma and Grandpa lead the pilgrimage down the mountain. Cousins switch bikes. Uncles add stragglers to their loads. After ten miles we wheel, and limp, into Tim and Kristalyn’s driveway. Alive. Sore, but alive.

It’s your breath
in our lungs
and we pour out our praise to You only

I’m loading the dishwasher and sweating. Stan is pounding up and down the stairs to his tool room; he is a man on a mission. But it’s the wrong one. According to me, he should finish installing a screen door so I can get some cross-breeze in this place. Instead, he’s building a bee hive.

“Would you be alright if I duct-taped some screen up?” I ask. Stan can tell I’m not just trying to be creative and answers as if I’d been nagging him all morning. Which, in my mind, I had been.

“Well what do you want me to do, Woman? Put up a screen door or capture you some feral bees?”

My sweat glands scream Are you kidding? while I say,Capture feral bees of course,” knowing Stan sees right through me.

A few days later he brings home a souvenir from his mission: a piece of honeycomb. We offer dessert to anyone who stops by, which means dipping fingers into the honey puddle or chewing on a piece of comb and letting sweetness gush into your mouth. Parts of the comb are capped brood which we get to see hatch in our kitchen. Stan studies the perfect hexagonal artwork in between google searches on bees and wild hives.

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It’s your breath
in our lungs
and we pour out our praise to You only

Last week Vivian learned two important survival skills: walking and killing mosquitoes. I’m not sure which is more helpful or more entertaining to watch. When she comes back from toddling outside she re-enacts what happens by slapping her head and making serious guttural sounds. She will tell dramatic stories about the winged predators on demand. You just have to crouch down to eye-level and whisper the trigger: mosquitoes.

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It’s your breath in our lungs

My sister Tara and her kids visit us. We bake, swim, cook, clean, yell at our kids, cook, clean, walk, read to our kids, supervise sales of all kinds (garlic, baking, and ice cream to name a few), bike, hike, and cook and clean some more. Occasionally we manage coherent conversation. One night, after all the kids are asleep I’m reminded she has a life of her own I ask her questions about her friends, church, and future plans. I wonder why we are only getting to this now, when they’ve been here for two weeks already, and then I remember. The children. Mainly the two smallest shysters who take turns loving and hating each other. Eli alternates between offering her his soother and charging at her; Vivian screams and pinches then ducks in towards his neck while he hugs her. They are learning about the push and pull of relationship.

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It’s your breath
in our lungs
and we pour out our praise to You only

The cancer has grown back. It’s in his esophagus, bones, lymph nodes and spread to his lungs and liver. This is not fair. Not how the game is supposed to go. It makes scared and sad just to write it.

Still. It’s your breath in our lungs…

We’re listening to Joni Mitchell and the girls are trying to sing along but it sounds terrible. I’m drafting this post with one hand and eating hot nachos with the other. I look up from my paper and say, “I don’t care what happens tonight except that you have to get your butts in bed by 8:00.” I’m determined to stick to my guns on this one. That is, until Stan gets his guitar out and starts figuring out a Civil Wars song. Susanna slides her fingers up and down her violin until she lands on the harmony. Her eyes get big when she surprises herself with the right notes. A nervous smile turns into a wince when the chords turn sour. We press play on the youtube video over and over again, straining to hear all the notes and who sings what. Belén sings along, even when we want her to stop. We shush her; gesture wildly at the screen; and glare. Nothing works. Her voice floats on top of the recorded music. We shoot more dirty looks her way. She cups her hands around her mouth and resorts to humming. She can’t stop singing.

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…And we pour out our praise to You only

It’s your breath in our lungs. It’s in every creative impulse, song we sing, and story we tell. It’s in every ordinary conversation, and every milestone reached. It’s the trace of you in every bee, bear and bone in our body. In every mother’s desperate cry, and even every cancerous cell. It’s your sustaining power. It’s your breath in our lungs, and we pour out our praise, pour out our praise to You only.

*Read Acts 17:22-30

**Listen to All Sons and Daughters sing their song here.

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4 thoughts on “Breath in Our Lungs

  1. I read this article and thought of my very, very dear friend for 40 years who is struggling with “news about her lungs”…..does not look good. I sent this to her hoping it would be an encouragement to her for today.

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