When You Need To Breathe

Our birthing room for her was under the open African sky. The smell of burning trash and the sound of wild dogs outside our guest home, her welcome committee. “Daddy” she squealed when she saw us. It was the first word out of her mouth as she put years of her story and herself into arms that had never been fully trained to hold such loss. She trusted him, even before she trusted me. And both of us were naive to how we should have to raise her.

She let him cradle her before the courts granted us guardianship and I bit my nails at night wondering what we’d do if this child couldn’t be legally ours.

The “odds” were against us. Nearly every legal step we took came back with a “no” or “not now.” The courts were closing, the judges were out of their offices and our lawyer was irritated that we’d crossed the ocean under such uncertainty. (And he didn’t know the cost of our plane tickets and the single digit in our savings account.)


Did I marry a fool? I wondered, not for the first time. I trusted him to go — to spend money we didn’t yet have and relational capital we hadn’t earned, all on a nudge He had from God. Here we were, with a life in front of us that was no longer an image on our computer screens. Her eyes swooned at the man she called Daddy and our paperwork to adopt her was, at best, incomplete.

So he did the only thing he knew to do.

Morning after morning, he’d set his coffee on the cement steps of the place that housed us (but which felt so far from home) and he circled the permitter with his Bible in hand. He spoke his prayers — these scriptures — out loud, lost enough in the world he read and prayed to ignore the house dog nipping at his feet.

Nearly every day, we’d face another piece of bad news. This child who called him Daddy might never be ours, according to the reports, but my husband had his head in another reality. Those mornings anchored him. The Word of God was his Truth — more real to him than any news we received about our adoption. He imbibed the Words in those pages. They were all he had as a burgeoning father and a still-young husband, following a nudge that most of the world would call crazy.

This often-broken man of mine was given Words. He spoke to the dry bones of my little girl’s story with God’s Word and said breathe and saw life form from the brittle and broken, the lifeless.


And six weeks (not six years) later, we packed our bedraggled selves onto a plane and traveled back home as Hagerty’s. Six of us. The Word of God, through my husband’s mouth, had became more real than every single door that had closed in front of us. Africa’s birthing room gave way to this miraculous birthing, when God’s Word carried more weight than what we could see with our eyes.

The Word of God made a daddy out of Nate.

As he prayed it and declared it (and even some mornings, sang it), it made a man out of him, that summer we spent our life savings.

It wasn’t the first time His Word would give her dry bones reason to breathe.

FLower opened


She’d been sinking inside of herself for a few days. I knew the look that accompanied the slumped shoulders and the shuffling feet. Her heavy gait wasn’t all too different than the one I’d seen in the mirror in years past. She’d had years of being an orphan — maybe even more reasons to have to combat the lies that plague a child of God — but her lies weren’t all that different than ones I’d faced. I just saw them more clearly in her.

I watched the fog settle over her countenance and knew my words to her were reverberating against her mind and heart in a way she could hear but not absorb. She’d climbed right into an aluminum tunnel with those lies.


I started to take notes on her, just like I did with myself — writing down the words she spoke out of that haze, noting the lies that felt as true as day to her. From her perspective, it was just a bad day with a bad set of circumstances. That tunnel keeps you nestled, close, to those lies and nothing else until the recycled air in there starts to feel normal. She’d spent years surrounded by them, those lies. They were familiar, even safe. They’d blanketed her loneliness and inebriated her pain. They’d posed as thoughts of her own, in her own voice. How could they not be hers? They were natural, seemingly native to her.

And toxic: stealing when she wasn’t looking the life she didn’t know she could have.

I knew those lies.

Door Lock

She was me at sixteen and twenty-one and near-thirty, wondering what the morning alarm might serve me for the day. What flavor of awful am I today? Where have I missed it, already, before my feet even hit the floorboards? They morph and mature with age — these lies, they grow with us. They look like us and sound like us and leave us just as hollowed as they are when the day is over, but we climb into bed with them again only to be reunited when the alarm rings.

I wasn’t going to let her sleep on this, but she wasn’t ready to talk. Who is? When we live covered in lies that feel like truth the mere mention of them only leaves us confused.

I gave her the Words her Daddy used — the only Word that has ever worked for that twenty-one and twenty-five and, now, near-forty year-old me who faces lies of her own. My girl and her Bible, a list of those lies and a list of verses from His Word that spoke the opposite — I gave a charge to dull eyes and a sunken gait. Hours later there was a lifting. She’d revived. He’d revived her. No more shrunken shoulders and cloudy perspective.

His Word had worked its way in.

She found her breath. Again. It’s sourced in only one place.


To the reader and the writer and those of you with dry bones who need to hear “breathe”

I love words. I still sing hymns and I read poetry near daily. I have a stack of books five-high on my chair that I’m currently working through. I ask God to infuse me with the beauty of Himself as I write my own words.

And in a time and age when thousands of words scroll across my feed and my day, there has never been a greater need within me for One set of Words. HIS Words. His Word.

The others — like these — may allure me into the pasture and down to the river, they may entice me into that quiet space where He lives, but they aren’t my drink and they don’t give me breath. They may leave me enticed, but if I’m powerless because I sat by the river but never took a drink for myself: a life lived merely inspired is lifeless.


Tomorrow is lifeless for me, without His Word. 

I can’t face another morning alarm, coupled with the enemy’s shouts of all that I’m not, without the Word of God to tell me the Truth.  And neither can you.

The question I ask myself: am I approaching His Word like it’s rote, dry history ….or food, necessary for me to thrive? Are these Words of His on this page more real to me than any circumstance, any diagnosis, any heart-ache, any loss I’m living? Are they shaping me or am I looking to squeeze them into my very-small understanding of God? (Is my jaw dropping in awe as I read about God in these pages and see how different He is from the ways of this whirlwind of a world around me?)

Could it be that the power and the beauty and the joy we most crave is locked up in His Word, waiting to be read and spoken (and shouted and sung) from.our.mouths? 

Could it be that your dry bones need to not just be held or comforted, but could they need to hear the Word, from your own mouth: Breathe.

Life gets clear when you have no other options. But why wait? Maybe today is the day to start the circle around your own “African guest house” with a Bible in hand and find Words to speak into the dark.

For Your Continued Pursuit: Psalm 119 (yup, all of it) | Hebrews 4:12 | John 1:1-4 | Ezekiel 37:1-14 | 2 Timothy 3:16-17 | 1 Peter 4:11 | Psalm 119:9-11 | Psalm 119:25 | Psalm 119:37 | Psalm 119:105

Photos compliments of Mandie Joy.