Waiting to Inhale

“As I lay there on my back I wondered if I would ever breathe again…”

The world is messed up but still we sing Hallelujah because we have hope, we have Jesus. We know our Savior has come—that is what we celebrate in this Holy season. And what a joyous time it is knowing that the promised one has come—though there is still a lot of pain in the world, we have hope because the  breath of life has come. We no longer have to wonder and wait, we simply have to trust and believe.

Have you ever had the wind knocked out of you? 
Vintage frame from tall trees covered with snowEver been hit so hard that you couldn’t breathe for a while? If you’ve played sports like Football, soccer or hockey there’s a good chance you’ve experienced this— and it’s not fun.

I know I have experienced this a few times, the most memorable and scariest being while sledding—sledding and trees don’t mix. It was fun watching the kids—and Charlie—sledding when we went on our annual Christmas tree outing a couple weeks ago and I thought it was actually kind of a good thing that the lack of snow on the hill we usually use was bereft of snow, inspiring us to find a hill with snow on it, because the new spot we found wasn’t lined with trees like the other one.

Trees scare me. Back in the winter of ’79— a year that Montana set all kinds of records for snowfall and cold— I was in the Anaconda Job Corps Center. The Job Corp center was actually a few miles out of Anaconda in the Pintlar mountains.  One of the things we like to do to combat cabin fever during those long winter months was grab some sleds and head out into the hills behind our dorms in search of the craziest sledding adventure we could find.

Some of my buddies and I decided that the lower part of the mountain where the trees had been cleared to make way for the football and track field below was not nearly long enough so we went high up into the trees with snow shovels to create a zigzagged course through the trees, complete with banked curves and ice covered straightaways.

We spent days on this and it was like an Olympic bobsled track when we were done. I watched a few of my buddies fly through the course at break neck speeds and come out at the bottom hootin’ and hollerin’ for joy— what a rush! It looked kinda scary to me, there’s an awful lot of really big trees lining this course.

Of course being 17 years old and surrounded by other 17 and 18 year-olds I wasn’t about to say I was too scared to go down the hill. I mean; if they can do it then certainly I can! The fear just adds to the rush, right?

What I didn’t consider was that I was bigger than the guys who had gone down before me and that with each pass the track had become slicker. I was also probably the least athletic, I mean growing up in Minnesota I played hockey by aiming myself at a group of players fighting over the puck and plowing into them like they were bowling pins so I could come away with the puck—I had to plow into them because I didn’t know how to stop.

But anyway, a few winters and a thousand miles removed from those Minnesota skating rinks I now find myself on a mountain side in western Montana holding a sled. So I get a running start and belly flop onto the plastic sled, and with an unwanted extra push by a couple of my companions, I am suddenly flying down the scariest sledding hill in the history of modern man—at least the scariest one I have ever seen.

I make the first corner to the left, the second corner to the right and am flying straight at a sharply banked corner that will take me to the left again—except instead of the bank shooting me around the corner it becomes a ramp that shoots me straight into the air and into the trees. I hit the ground still on my sled, not good news, because before I have time to react I am looking at the quickly approaching trunk of a huge Ponderosa pine, a fine sturdy specimen of the Montana state tree.

I don’t know how fast I was going but it was way too fast to be running head first into a tree. All I had time to do was push myself up off my belly with my arms and lean my head to the left so that I hit that tree chest first instead of head first— which surely would have killed me.

Instead I bounced back like a crazed dog who hit the end of his chain after forgetting that he was tied up when the mail man walked by. And there I lay, on my back staring up at the grey winter sky framed by the evil snow covered pine trees that had conspired to kill me.

As I lay there all the air was slowly leaving my body with a very embarrassing moaning sound. I had the air knocked out of me—literally— and I couldn’t get it back.

I looked it up the other day and found out, through the miracle of the internet, that what happens when you get the air knocked out of you is that your diaphragm spasms, leaving you unable to inhale for usually about 3 minutes until your nervous system kicks into emergency backup mode and overrides your diaphragm’s trauma and refusal to cooperate.

All I knew at the time was that I really, really hurt and I couldn’t breathe. It wasn’t long before I was surrounded by my buddies looking at me and wondering why I was making this strange noise while asking me if I was all right. Of course I couldn’t respond—I couldn’t even breathe! But even though what I am sure was all, and perhaps more of, that 3 minute average of diaphragm meltdown, I knew that eventually I would be able to draw a breath, I had hope, because I had been there before.

As a kid in Minnesota I had gone down a very steep hill on one of those insane aluminum flying saucer sleds, the ones that like to spin around backwards leaving you flying down the hill unable to see where you are going. On this occasion I had slid blindly into a tree, another big ole pine tree, slamming into it back first leaving me sitting there with my back still against that tree, making that same stupid noise as all the air left my body for what seemed an eternity.

But before I had died of suffocation I had been able to start breathing again so I had hope that once again, after another unprovoked attack by a large pine tree that I would breathe again. And I did, eventually, after losing more air than I thought was humanly possible to hold, I was able to breath in again and finally roll over onto my hands and knees and regain my feet and my dignity.

I think I cracked a rib as I was sore for weeks afterwards but I lived. Breathing is such a wonderful thing.


21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. John 20

There was a popular movie in the 90’s called Waiting to Exhale; forget exhaling, we need to inhale! For millennia the world was waiting to be able to inhale again. To breath in the life giving Spirit of God, the breath of life that had been lost in the garden when Adam and Eve decided to disobey God losing the eternal life of fellowship with him that he had created them to have.

The world had been waiting, God kept telling them in various ways and at various times; ‘I have a plan, one will come who will restore that life, who will breathe life once again into your dying souls.’ But it seemed like it would never happen; “How long can I just keep losing air, how long can I hold on until it’s just too late, when all hope is lost?”

And then he came, a Savior restoring life—literally breathing life into his people once again just as he had when he breathed life into Adam and he became a living being, Jesus breathed life into his followers and they once again became living beings, born again, made alive by his Holy Spirit. Fellowship with God was restored. Hope is here.

All of us have trials, times when we think; “Lord, when will this end, how long can I hang on? I don’t know how much more I can take, when will  my eyes see my salvation? When will I be able to draw a breath?”

As I lay on that mountain side terrified as all the air was leaving my body and every cell in my body was screaming for air my brain was telling me—“Don’t give up, you will breathe again, remember that time when you were 8 and you thought you were done for? You weren’t.”

—I had hope.

That’s what you have, hope, and hope is everything because that hope is named Jesus and hope never disappoints us. The same God that created in us a nervous system emergency override mechanism to kick start our diaphragms again even after we do something so dumb as to fly head first down a mountain into the trees, that same God who got me breathing again on that mountain is the same God who is now asking you to trust him, you will get through this, you are safe in his arms and he will never let you go!

He never leaves us hopeless, he never leaves us forsaken, he will never leave you to perish in despair. Sometimes the wait seems too long, like those three minutes on my back, or the two thousand years that the church has been awaiting the return of our Savior to put an end once and for all to all the pain in this world, but in the perspective of the eternity we will have with our Lord—it is just a flash.

You will breathe again, the ribs might hurt for a while but even that will heal. Our Redeemer lives, hope lives on.

Just as the my body interceded and restored life giving breath that cold winter evening while I lay on my back moaning after my sled wreck, so Jesus intercedes for us and gives us life. He will not leave us hopeless and forsaken, the wind has been restored.

Merry Christmas

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