It’s been almost three months since I last posted a Salvation Story.  Time does truly fly sometimes, doesn’t it?  There isn’t a tragic or wonderful reason I haven’t written.  I’ve been busy.  My clients have been more burdened, more needy, more desperate . . . and I’ve been more privileged than usual to be a small, small part of such sacred stories.  I’ve also been working on creating mobile phone apps, a concept that will always make me shake my head in wonder — confirming that my future is not dependent on my abilities or my failures.  And I have been watching The Olympics.

It seems as if this recent time that has flown has been uniquely marked by “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”  — a good sports phrase from an ancient television program that our family gathered around our Zenith Console TV to watch during another era.  I think The Wonderful World of Sports was on Sundays.  I clearly remember days back then when time crawled so slowly I could barely contain myself as I waited for each week’s new episode.  I would have never believed during those long-ago 1970’s that the day would come when I could watch The Olympics happen in real time, twenty-four hours, seven days a week, by choosing one of over a hundred channels on my cable box to bring high-definition color images to my flatscreen TV of events happening thousands of miles aways and yet somehow time-traveling right into my living room.  I didn’t know concepts back then to imagine one day utilizing high-speed Internet on my amazing Mac Pro computer to watch an Olympic event that happened the day before.  I laugh as I think about that cumbersome, central piece of television furniture from days of old, luring us all into the living room to watch whatever program Dad picked from the three available network channels.  We would have laughed in complete mockery at the idea that one day we could choose a computer, television, video-gaming system, or telephone to join together via Skype, Google-chat, or FaceTime to watch The Olympics together from any part of the world and talk about what was happening without anyone ever chiding, “Shhhh!  Wait for the commercial,” because today we don’t have to wait for anything.  We can push, click, or say, “Pause,” and somehow time stands still until we’re ready.  Maybe the final incredulity, back when time passed much more slowly, would be to imagine  that I could ask a constant, time-travelling companion named Siri to tell me what happened in a sports event, or to remind me to watch an event later, or to find the name of the person who won that event back in the 1970’s when a black and white console television was the most amazing technology we could imagine to change all our categories of time.

All this real time, high-speed, 4G time-travelling, compelled me to ask Siri to remind me that I was taking a week’s vacation, starting August 6.  Siri, of course, complied — and right on time, reminded me — “Sharon, you are on vacation.  It is time to take a breath.”

So, I have slept in, read a few books, sat by the pool, scrubbed my bathroom floor, re-organized some files, met with friends, continued to watch The Olympics, and tried to slow myself down by breathing deeply and exhaling slowly just like I learned to do in that one Yoga class that I attended.

I’ve spent some of this vacation time thinking about what started this meandering blog to begin with — thrilling victories, agonizing defeats.

The Thrill of Victory

I have a couple of dear friends who are in treatment right now.  I went to visit with one  of them during the hurry, blurry, time-flying week before vacation.  My friend happened to be in the same in-patient treatment program that I was in.  I proudly gave the tour to her exhausted family.  I thought about the irony of how “treatment” sounds so wonderful, so restful, and like such a good idea when an alcoholic/addict is doing well; but it sounds so dreadful, so confining, and like such a waste of time when we need it most.  I introduced this family to the Meeting Room where the walls are lined with decorated coffee cups hanging from hooks.  I explained that near the end of treatment each patient is invited to decorate a coffee cup memorializing their journey from addiction to recovery so far.  The variety of cups is a small, small representation of the wildly diverse group of people who struggle with addiction.  With the knowledge of an insider, I somberly elaborated to my little tour group that the black ribbons that were tied to cups interspersed throughout the rows indicated a fellow struggler who had died from the time-shattering disease of addiction after they left treatment.

That inside knowledge slowed down our tour and made everyone hit their own “pause button” for their own reasons.  I paused to give thanks for every single day of this journey — every day that addiction tried to rob, steal, and destroy my time and every day that Jesus answered yet again with the words that restore, renew, and redeem everything that distorts time: “I will never leave you or forsake you,” (Hebrews 13:5)

Our next stop on the treatment tour was The Chapel — an option in the list of remedies offered by this particular program.  Stepping into that room brought back sweet memories from time past.  I picked up a piece of paper from the top of a stack of papers on the table by the door.  I suspected that it was an optional “reading” that patients could take if they wandered into the option of chapel during their 28-days of time-standing-still.  The top of the paper read:  A Breath of Prayer.  I didn’t read the prayer until I left the overwhelmed family with their beat-up, bedraggled, ragamuffin daughter.  I waited to read it in my car in the parking lot as the sun was setting on another, “Where did the time go?” day.  By the time I got to the the fourth stanza time did that magical, mystical thing it does when we take a breath, and it took me back to remembering exactly what it felt like to be a beat-up, bedraggled, ragamuffin daughter myself — desperate for a breath of hope.

A Breath of Prayer (author unknown)

I asked God to take away my struggle.
God said, “No. It is not for me to take away,
but for you to give up.”

I asked God to grant me hope.
God said, “No.  Hope is a byproduct of suffering.
It isn’t granted, it grows in sweet surrender.”

I asked God to spare me pain.
God said, “No.  Suffering makes time most meaningful,
and draws you closer to Me.”

I asked God to help me grow and not mess up again.
God said, “No.  When you mess up, I will prune you
and make you fruitful.”

I asked God to help everyone understand and not judge me.
God said, “No.  I have judged you and you are forgiven.
That’s enough.”

I asked God to love others through me.
God said, “Ahh . . . finally you’re getting it.
Breathe you out and Me in.”

I turned the key in my old jalopy Jeep, and exhaled slowly and breathed in even more slowly.  I took a Breath — before vacation even began. Maybe time wouldn’t taunt this vacation like it had in the past with temptations of too much work to do or not knowing what to do when I finally stopped.  I drove home feeling a tinge of the thrill of victory.

The Agony of Defeat

I woke up this morning and that breath was gone.  My vacation is half over and I spent the entire day yesterday talking to tech support about computer and phone issues.  The time spent in that time-draining hell seemed to speed up the clock, and by the end of the day yesterday I was madly returning phone calls, making lists, starting projects, and feeling like I might as well jump back on the “time-flies rocketship.”  I started to feel sorry for myself, think of all the people who have been hurt by my failures and lost in the process, and give into the despair that any thrill of victory would be swallowed by the agony of another defeat.  I’d stayed up until 2:00 a.m. talking to an Apple support tech who I could barely understand due a little bit to language difference but mostly to intelligence differences (mine definitely being the more limited).  I was tired before I even woke up, if that’s possible.  I picked up the top book on my bedside table, and turned the pages to another prayer.  This prayer is entitled, Breathing Under Water.  I read it four times before I remembered what I always forget — that what I think is real, isn’t; that what feels like death is often life; and that no matter where I find myself — breathing me out and Jesus in is the only way to truly take a breath.

Breathing Under Water (by Carol Bieleck)

I built my house by the sea.
Not on the sands, mind you;
not on the shifting sand.
And I built it of rock.
A strong house
by a strong sea.
And we got well acquainted, the sea and I.
Good neighbors.
Not that we spoke much.
We met in silences.
Respectful, keeping our distance,
but looking our thoughts across the fence of sand.
Always the fence of sand our barrier,
always, the sand between.

And then one day,
— and I still don’t know how it happened —
the sea came
Without warning.

Without welcome, even.
Not sudden and swift, but a shifting across the sand
like wine,
less like the flow of water than the flow of blood.
Slow, but coming.
Slow, but flowing like an open wound.
And I thought of flight and I thought of drowning
and I thought of death.
And while I thought the sea crept higher, til it
reached my door.
And I knew then, there was neither flight, nor death,
nor drowning.
That when the sea comes calling, you stop being
Well-acquainted, friends-at-a-distance, neighbors
And you give your house for a coral castle,
and you learn to breathe underwater.

Whew!  I took another breath, knowing that whether I am in the sweet chapel at Valley Hope in-patient treatment center with time gently slowing so I can remember God’s care for me when I cannot care for myself; or whether I’m in the hurry-up, keep-up, make all you’ve lost-up world that I’m prone to plunge into where it does feel like I’m underwater (and I’m not a good swimmer), that every breath is a gift.  And Jesus — the same yesterday, today, and forever — is always in my now, and is always and only about being my Breath now — not when I’m good, balanced, and worthy of His being the very core of my being (because none of us is ever worthy), but because He wants to be my true, time-travelling companion unconditionally breathing right thinking, right living, a clean slate and fresh start into every moment of every day. (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).

May the rest of your summer and mine — whether time flies or vacation allows it to slow down a bit — be filled with reminders to take a Breath, and by taking a Breath I mean taking in the Breath of Life.  Just the thought that as I breathe me out and breathe Him in, He breathes me in?  The thought of such intimate, life-giving love is enough to take my breath away.  And maybe that has only and always been the point.

“God formed Man out of dirt from the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life.  The Man came alive — a living soul!” (Genesis 2:7)