Today, I’m thankful for the gift of breathing.
It’s hard not to take breathing for granted. Most of us inhale and exhale over 20,000 times a day.
Five years ago this month, I woke up with trouble breathing. My lungs felt like they were on fire, I had a hard time catching my breath. I thought it was a simple case of bronchitis. But it wouldn’t get better, and the medicines didn’t really help. Over the next four months, I would get a little better, and then much worse. By the first week of April, my lung function tests were at 28%, and I was sent home with intensive outpatient therapy. But I didn’t stay there long. By Good Friday, I was in the hospital, because the work to breathe had become too hard, and my muscles were at the point of exhaustion. Eleven days later, and thousands of dollars of tests later, I was sent back home with 14 different medications to keep me alive, unable to even walk even 20 feet to my kitchen.
As I laid in bed, struggling for every breath, I had no idea if I would ever be able to leave my home again, work again, or go to church again. All I could do was wait. Wait to breathe, wait to get on with my life, or even to know that things would never return to normal. Not only was I struggling with breathing physically, I was struggling with breathing spiritually. I felt like I was holding my breath waiting for God to heal me, teach me, or provide answers to why this sickness stayed so persistently, and somehow redeem the suffering I was going through.
In Ezekiel 37, God brought Ezekiel to look over the Valley of Dry Bones. I can feel the hopelessness that Ezekiel felt, in the middle of the dry dusty lifeless valley, because I felt I was in a similar valley myself.
Ezekiel 37: 1 The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”
Have you ever been led to your own valley of dry bones? Refreshment is no where in sight, despair is surrounding you, the parched wind is drawing the very life breath out of you? God seems to be distant, and your only sense of Him is His allowance of the bleak situations and unanswered questions. You are at the mercy of His mercy, and answers don’t come quickly.
I wonder how long Ezekiel wandered among the bones in that valley. There were a great many of them– a great many glimpses of lives that had gone to waste.
How many widows were left by what happened in this great valley of bones?
Were those the bones of a great warrior laying there?
Those bones seem so small – was he just a boy?
A great length of time had passed while God let the bones parch, dehydrate, desiccate. The bones were very dry. The instant healing had not taken place in their lives. Hope had been snuffed out.
I’m sure the bones were a bit foreboding for Ezekiel. So this is what God allows to happen to His people. . . I wonder if Ezekiel expected that He might soon be the next set of bones.
I know I wondered. I waited months for improvement, answers, hope . . . Six months in an arid valley not only suffocated my lungs, but suffocated my spirit. All I could do was wait.
And in the waiting, God began to speak. Not in a bolt of lightning, or in a fierce windstorm, but in a whisper. Almost as if God had to pin me down in breathless exhaustion before I could hear Him speak.
While the events of my life were very uncertain, I learned that God is not. Instead of wrestling with God and wondering what would happen to me, I discovered the balance of living in a state of expectant uncertainty. The questions of why God was allowing me to become so sick, or if or when my illness would end, were indications that I, in fact, was not fully surrendered to God.
The truth is, God is not as concerned with my comfort, health, or happiness as He is with who I am becoming in Him. The purpose of my relationship with God is not for Him to heal me, bless me, or even inspire me, but to develop my understanding of Him and my love for Him. I do not want to overlook the enjoyment of God today while waiting for healing to take place. I want to desire Him more than His healing.
The truth is, the dry valley may not be as much about the bones, as the journey God took with Ezekiel through them.
Ezekiel 37:4 “Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath (or spirit) enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’ ” 7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ ” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.”
God put breath back in me. In May of 2007, my health began to improve. My doctors and I surmised that a strange combination of a lung-remodeling virus, medication side effects , and new onset of allergies to all trees, grasses, and weeds, corn, potatoes, carrots, almost all raw fruits and vegetables, fish, nuts, and dust mites, as well as irritants like perfume and household cleaners had kept me in a persistent state of breathlessness. Obviously, I am much better today. After avoidance, careful living, and God’s healing, my allergies have dwindled. Today, the only dangerous allergy that remains is to tree nuts.
But God also breathed new life into me spiritually. God taught me much about living in a state of expectant uncertainty, and loving each individual breath of life He has given me.
So today, and every day, I’m thankful for the gift of breathing.