Blowing Smoke

I unpacked my overnight bag and immediately put the items into the wash with extra soap poured on for good measure. My hair reeked of the smell, but I couldn’t throw myself in with the clothes so a different kind of scrubbing was needed.

Any type of establishment that allows smoking inside the premises leaves its trace long after one has departed. Standing outside in hurricane type gales would not even do the trick to remove the odor.

So it was after a night away that I found myself hurriedly transferring the offensive garments to the machine and thanking myself for quitting the habit at the age of eleven .

What would have happened to me if I would have let it take hold? I wondered.

One day while at a friends house, unattended by any responsible adult, we were left to our own devices.  I was sitting in the living room when she rounded the corner with a lit cigarette between her long skinny fingers.  She sat down next to me, handed me one and said,

“Here.  Try this.”

“Where did you get this from?” I asked.

“My mom’s room. She doesn’t even know when I take some.”

I felt a slight twinge in my stomach.  I wasn’t the type to steal, lie or do anything that suggested shadiness.  However, before I knew it, I had white puffs coming out of my mouth that I was trying to fashion into different shapes.

I didn’t go into a coughing rage or choking fit.  I watched what she did, repeated it and took one drag after another.  Once down to the end of it, we both ran them under cold water and threw them outside into the trash.

That is when the guilt hit.  I had just smoked a cigarette!  All the way home, I wondered,

Would they smell it on me?  Would I look different when I walked in?  Would my mother look me in the eye and know what I had been up to?  

Anxiety overwhelmed me as I strode in the door and made a quick turn into my bedroom.

That entire evening as I ate dinner, worked on my homework and changed into my pajamas, I prepared myself mentally for the bomb to drop.  Nothing happened.

The next day I found myself in the same set of circumstances and the days to follow.  Soon, it was becoming a regular afternoon occurrence to which she invited another girl to join us.  My worries became non-existent as my confidence grew that my parents did not have a clue as to what I was doing.  I generally limited myself to one, but with the three of us smoking in the same room, it would get hazy fairly quickly.

One evening, while eating dinner, my dad said,

“I bet when Chris grows up she is going to smoke.”

It was like he jabbed a hot poker into my chest.

“Why?  What? No I wouldn’t.”

He slurped down a spaghetti noodle and said,

“I think you will.”

I became instantly angry with him for unfairly judging me.

“I would not!  I will not smoke!” I raised my voice much louder than I normally would.

How dare he look across the table and decide what I was going to do when I was an adult? Then, I remembered.  I was already smoking.

“I think you will, ” he said again.  “And anger shows guilt.”

It was like the ceiling fell on top of me.

He knew!  He knew!  How did he know?  I thought I had covered my tracks carefully by spraying myself with perfume and chomping on mint gum.

“When someone is angry like that it shows they are guilty.”

“I am not guilty,” I said looking at my carrots on my plate.

My mom saw how upset I was getting, so she added,

“She won’t smoke.  Smoking is bad for your health.  Chris is too smart for that.”

Oh, boy.  I finished my meal and slunked away.

The following day when I was offered a cigarette, I declined.

“I think my mom and dad might know,” I told her.  “I am quitting right now.”

For a few weeks I was ridiculed by the two smoking partners, but the situation changed when the thief was caught stealing from her mother’s stash.  Fortunately, I was not a part of their group that had grown to a club of eight.  I guess, lifting one or two goes unnoticed, but that amount got her into trouble.

The subject was never discussed in my household again until I was in my twenties.

“How did you know I was smoking?” I asked my dad.

“What do you mean?”

“You know. That time I was sitting at the table and you kept saying I was going to smoke when I grew up, and I got mad. You said anger shows guilt.”

“I was just joking.  You were smoking?”

“Yes!  And, I thought you knew I was so I quit the next day because I thought you were on to me.”

“No.  I was teasing you.”

“You and mom really didn’t know what I was doing?”

“Nope.”

I am grateful to this day for the intervention of an unseen source on my behalf.   We hear of statistics of many dying from lung cancer due to this, and yet if you stop in traffic long enough and glance around, chances are you will see someone who has gotten caught into the addiction.  Most likely, someone made the offer and they took it.  Just like I did.

The other day while in the grocery store, the cashier said,

“You don’t drink pop?”

She held up a bottle of an antioxidant fruit beverage.

“No.  I quit drinking it.  And, that is my substitution.”

“Is it good?”

“Yes, but quitting wasn’t easy.  I am okay now, but it took a few days.”

“I know how that goes.  I quit smoking a year ago.  Cold turkey.  I decided one day not to do it anymore, and I had been smoking for awhile.  I started before my teens.”

“You quit without any type of help?”

“Yes.  My mom told me I would never be able to do it.”

I asked the obvious,

“Does your mom smoke?”

“Oh, yes, really bad.”

“That is why she told you that you couldn’t do it because if you were successful, then she would have no excuse not to quit too.”

Once out in the parking lot, I thought about the power of that mother smoking and discouraging her daughter from doing something healthy.  What a triumph to overcome the cigarettes in the face of such adversity.  Not everyone has the “I will show you” attitude.  In fact, many of us shrink down under the presence of a negative thinker with a bad outlook on life, and we take on their pessimistic stench.

How many times have you gone into an environment in a peaceful state and were inundated with harsh words, a sharp bark or a put down only to find your sunny disposition gone within seconds? Suddenly, the world is dark and unfavorable.  The next thing you know you have a headache or some other sort of pain in your body, and maybe a whole week goes by where you find yourself depressed and out of sorts. All because you allowed someone else’s foul ideas to permeate your spirit.

Here is a possible solution to not living like that anymore.

Above all else, guard your heart,
    for everything you do flows from it.
24 Keep your mouth free of perversity;
    keep corrupt talk far from your lips.
25 Let your eyes look straight ahead;
    fix your gaze directly before you.
26 Give careful thought to the[c] paths for your feet
    and be steadfast in all your ways. (Proverbs 4:23-26;NLT)

Here we are given a wonderful answer to how we can combat and protect ourselves from being pulled into the opinion or drama of another.  If we stay connected closely to the Creator and only exist to please heaven, then one can remain on the outside of the mess without stepping into it.  A love filled relationship with God provides a way for us to see the genuine goodness of life and avoid those who are just blowing smoke.

 

image

 

A Breath of Fresh Air

I pushed my overflowing cart into the room just as she gasped.

“Help!’ she gurgled. Slumping back onto her pillows that were piled up behind her head, she reached her hand out to me. I put down my squirt bottle and walked over to her side.

That is when the coughing started. Not the simple clearing of the throat, but a lung rattling never ending choke that made her grip my hand all the more.

Then, when the moment had passed, the sound of fluid in her lungs began again as she struggled for oxygen. Her eyes wide with fear she said,

“Help me.”

“You are okay,” I said softly. On the outside I put on the best comforting face I could and placed my other hand over hers, but on the inside, I was horrified by what I was witnessing.

With those words I saw her relax a little just before a second round of a choking fit overtook her.

“Please,” she cried in between the paralyzing coughs and gasps. “I can’t breathe! Help!” The more she panicked, the worse her symptoms raged.

I pushed the call button to summon the nursing staff. I had seen this type of situation before but not this severe. I had begun working at the nursing home at age sixteen, and I was about a year into seeing people at the end stage of life. Contrast this with going to high school, and I was living in two worlds. While the elderly were clinging to life and some wished they had more time, many of my so called peers were on their way to destroying their existence with drugs and alcohol and thought they were going to live forever.

The nurse arrived quickly.

“How are we doing?” she asked.

Always a bright light in most situations, I was glad she was the one working this particular shift. No matter how dire the circumstance, she seemed to bring peace when she spoke to the patients.

“I can’t breathe,” the woman replied with all her strength.

“You can breathe. Just slow down a little and it will help. The harder you struggle, and the more worried you get, the more it feels like you can’t breathe.”

She adjusted the tube under the nose, turned up the oxygen a notch and administered something to relieve the situation. I walked out into the hallway to grab cleaning supplies from my cart.

As she walked past me, I said,

“I feel bad for her. That seems so miserable.”

“She has a lot of fluid in her lungs. She has emphysema from all her years of smoking. When she can’t take a deep breath it makes her panic because she feels like she is drowning.  I gave her the medication the doctor ordered to help her relax a little.”

I returned to the room to find her quiet and only coughing occasionally. I silently went about my work so I wouldn’t disturb her. As I wiped down her dresser, I could see her reflection in the mirror. She was so vulnerable and frail looking with her eyes closed and her labored breathing interrupted by a torrent of rumbling in her chest.  I carefully moved all of her items, dusted and put everything back in its place.  I watered her flowers that the family had brought in, straightened up clothing on a chair, and emptied the waste basket.  Any little movement or sound from her made me look in her direction to be sure she was okay.

I noticed her window was dirty, so I began to spray it with cleaner.  Her view overlooked the parking lot, so as I scrubbed, I could see various staff coming and going.  The back door to the building opened, and the nurse who had just given such good care to the ailing lady exited.  Much to my shock, I watched as she pulled out a pack of cigarettes, lit one and smoked away as if she hadn’t just cared for someone who was on her deathbed.  I stood there with my paper towel roll in mid-air as a coughing fit seized the woman in bed and the nurse happily puffed away in the parking lot smiling and talking to a fellow co-worker smoker.

I could not make sense of it, and to this day the vivid memory haunts me.  I realize addiction exists but what does it take to wake us up to the reality that the decisions we make determine the quality and direction of our path? I am sure the woman confined to her bed would have loved to rewind the clock at that moment and go back to make different choices. She would have given anything to take one, long, deep, satisfying intake of air.  But, would she?  If given another shot, would she soon get swept up in the habit again which would only lead to the same result?

We engage in activities knowing full well that they lead to our own destruction.   I’m not just talking about smoking or over eating. What about worrying? Uncontrolled anger? Jealousy? Judgment? Resentment? Unforgiveness? Fear? Our emotions can be just as detrimental to our physical well being as ingesting a poisonous substance. And, if we feed on the negative thoughts long enough, it can ultimately lead to early death.

In addition, even if the end doesn’t come, living with dark thoughts and attitudes is just as miserable as the woman who couldn’t breathe.  Life becomes confined to a small space where depression and mental torment become the normal.  If this condition is left to go on you become just like the woman who could not escape her own failing lungs.

The good news is this: we have choices.  It may not seem like we do. We want to make excuses for ourselves and say we can’t help the decisions we make.  But we will always have the ultimate say about the direction we are heading.   We can put down the fork. We can extinguish the cigarette.  We can chose to forgive even if the other person is a real piece of work.  There is an important passage that says: Death and life are in the power of your tongue. Choose life!

Speak blessings instead of complaining.  Give someone a compliment instead of a put down.  Start with one little thing and build on it day by day until the light penetrates the dark.  It may take effort.  It doesn’t happen necessarily overnight to rewire ourselves.

“But, I can’t do it on my own. I am not strong enough.”

To this, there is another answer and it isn’t a pill, potion or a puff of something.  Look to the One who created you.  Yes, it is as easy as that.  There doesn’t have to be a long list of rules to follow. There just has to be a simple asking for help and a willing heart that seeks better.  Heaven will respond because you are loved that much.

Similar to opening up a window to let in a gentle breeze that blows away the staleness, inhale the goodness that has been there for you all along. Now, isn’t that a breath of fresh air?

window