Breathing In When You’re Running out of Breath


She holds the marshmallow too close to the blue flame and it ignites.  Then she blows with one puff of her cheeks and giggles at the sight of her charred and blackened puff of sugar on a stick.

I tease her that she burns them on purpose and she confesses as much: “I like them crispy.”

We’ve huddled around the tiny Sterno burner set in the middle of our kitchen table with long forks poked through marshmallows to roast them and make S’mores, a favorite treat.

On a night when we have time, when we miraculously aren’t scarfing down dinner and rushing into the car for an evening of dance and church and the like, we enjoy roasting marshmallows over the flame.

Not living on a campground, however, we use the Sterno instead.

When we’ve each charred our marshmallow and smashed it down on the milk chocolate with the two graham crackers, I smother the flame with the lid, blocking the fire from the necessary oxygen for burning and thriving.

And it dies.

Just sputters right out, so simply, so quickly, so inevitably… suffocation through lack of breath.

How breathless I’ve been, I think as the flame fades.

The running, the pace, the schedule.

The remembering: appointments, pick-up times, forms, and camps, and stuff–lots and lots of stuff every time we load into the van to head out the door..

And I try not to forget the words I’ve stuck to my fridge:  Love is patient.

Or forget that people matter most and how to love and give to them and make them the priority.

I’m remembering that, too.

It’s beauty day in and day out, watching these children grow, loving on them, learning from them.  This is the blessing that makes me pause and whisper thanks to God.

It’s beauty to minister, beauty to serve, beauty to love others with God’s love and to give generously to them just as He has given generous heaps of mercy and grace to me.

Beauty takes sacrifice, though, it takes giving and giving and giving, and sometimes we have intense seasons of pouring out, those times when we’re on-the-go or fulfilling need.

Maybe it’s caregiving.

Maybe it’s those first weeks with a newborn.

Maybe it’s just a week of summer day camp!

In these seasons, I remember that running breathless too long suffocates, cutting off the oxygen I need to survive.

I can do it.  But I can’t do it long and I can’t do it forever.

And also this:  Fueling our flames with our own resources, running our own self-provided fuel, means we will run out eventually.

We’ll suffocate and burn out just like that flame I snuffed after we roasted marshmallows.

So we need a greater source.

The prophet Zechariah teaches me this truth.  He has a vision—-“a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lamps on it, with seven channels to the lamps. Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left” (Zechariah 4:1-6).

Zechariah didn’t understand at first what it all meant, and an angel has to explain:

“This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty (Zechariah 4:6).

The olive trees gave the oil to a bowl that poured out to the seven lamps.

So the lamps themselves weren’t the source.  They depended on something greater and purer.

So do we.  We need this Holy Spirit fuel, the fire He brings, the light that lasts.



This is the grace we need on days when we’re running tired and on weeks when we’re giving and giving and in seasons when we’re breathless.

You and I don’t have to be enough on our own.

We don’t have to keep ourselves going, keep up the pace, keep things together.

We aren’t the source and the world doesn’t depend on us or rest all heavy and cumbersome on our wimpy shoulders.

We seek the oil of His Spirit poured into us.

He is our Strength, our fuel that keeps on going and doesn’t run dry or sputter out or suffocate and die.

Not by my might (I’m so weak and helpless really).

Not by power (I tire easily and can’t keep all this together).

But by His Spirit.

Oh yes, Lord, fill us anew with Your Spirit.

Originally posted September 20, 2013

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