by David Sisler

Think for a moment what it would be like not to be able to breathe. I am not talking about suffocation or strangulation. I am thinking about being born without the ability to breathe naturally. For the last few seconds, you have been very conscious of your breathing: in--out--in--out--your chest rising and falling--in--out. Ordinarily you do not think about breathing. It is a reflex, something your body does naturally.

But just suppose for a moment the reflex short-circuited. Every breath would have to be the result of remembering to expand your chest, to suck air down into your lungs, and then to constrict those muscles and force the air back out. If that were the case, you would have to spend your entire life on a ventilator, otherwise you wouldn't even be able to sleep.

Alex was born with an overwhelming infection. He was immediately placed in a neonatal intensive care unit and hooked up to a ventilator, a breathing machine that blew air into his lungs 20 times a minute, 24 hours a day. After two months of intensive study, specialists determined that Alex was suffering from a condition known as "congenital central hypoventilation." His brain did not respond to stimuli that induced breathing.

Overwhelmed by their son's problems, Alex's parents came to the hospital less and less frequently. Alex continued to thrive and the nurses became very attached to him. Over time they became his surrogate family.

When Alex was five-months-old, doctors implanted a breathing tube in his windpipe. It aided his machine-breathing, but it rendered him speechless.

Alex quickly became a favorite of Maryanne, his primary nurse. Every morning, when she came on duty, she would awaken Alex, wash and dress him, and then feed him breakfast.

Alex grew up in ICU. He learned to walk and gained a little freedom over his world, but always connected to a ventilator. When he was almost four-years-old, Maryanne decided to teach him to breathe, to help him learn the mechanics that would allow him to escape from ICU.

It didn't go well at first. Remembering to move his chest wall required all of Alex's attention. After about three months, though, he began to catch on. With close supervision, he could spend short periods of time away from his ventilator.

One day, accompanied by Maryanne and two doctors carrying emergency supplies, Alex rode the elevator to the first floor, and walked outside for the first time in his four years of life. Maryanne squeezed his hand as a signal: "Breathe, Alex, breathe.

Alex continued to progress. The tracheostomy was plugged for short periods of time and Alex learned to talk. Almost a year after he left the hospital for the first time, Alex walked out for good. Maryanne and her husband had adopted the boy.

Alex's story is a story of love. It is also a testimony to patience.

What is patience? Patience, on the part of man, is the willingness to wait, to hang in there, to finish. Patience, on the part of God, is restraint, the willingness to withhold punishment, the willingness for Jesus not to come quite yet.

Tennessee Ernie Ford had a song with all of the potential to become a hit, but it never quite made it. He pleaded with Jesus, "Come on down, Lord, come on down." It was the plea of someone who wanted to see injustice ended--now, who wanted to see the crooked made straight--now, right now.

But the whole scope of scripture is based on the patience of God. A patience that searches, and forgives, and restores over and over and over again. But it is a patience which will some day end, and then that tragic line from American theater, "That's all there is, there isn't anymore."

If God has been chasing you, isn't it time you stopped running. Isn't it time you discovered God for yourself? Isn't it time you responded to His patience?


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 6/18/94

Copyright 1994 by David Sisler

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