I woke from a dead sleep, choking. Dry, thick smoke had seeped into the back of my throat causing me to sputter and hack, gasping for the same air I usually took for granted. At first, it was a bit disorientating trying to figure out exactly where the smoke was coming from. My mind was racing with thoughts.
For the past couple of years due to busted pipes in the master bedroom and an intense, yet non-productive struggle with an insurance claim, my husband and I had had the extreme pleasure of sleeping in the living room. Though grateful to have a roof over our heads during what can be coined as the “reconstruction period”, sleeping in the living room/dining room/kitchen, which on a ordinary basis has an awesome open plan, had now become more of a sleepless torture chamber. Clanging dishes, banging doors, (yes, adult children including grandchildren), made a good nights rest somewhat of a distant, hard to reach goal dangling just beyond the limits of our reach. Abruptly awakening to some type of crisis had become common place opposition to our sleep efforts.
Adding to this already tedious schedule were 12-hour shifts I worked as a police dispatcher, which despite being an enlightening, eventful career, was regularly garnished with unexpected situations and consistently high alert dramas that only exacerbated my inefectual pattern. The bittersweet came when the 2-days on, 2-days off, every other weekend work calendar combined with rotating days and nights became a conglomeration of unrecognizable days and dates of the week and year. I would often times wake in a heightened state of panic thinking I had missed an alarm, only to discover that I had only just fallen asleep. There was always some interruption to my normal sleep pattern. Today would be no different.
Smoke inhalation is a tricky thing. People smoke, cigarettes for instance, all the time inhaling by choice, but when its involuntary the obvious effects can come shockingly immediate and harsh. Before smoke reaches the trachea and enters into the upper airways of the lungs it is only a matter of seconds before the mind registers the lack of oxygen. As the membrane in the trachea attempts to filter the waste from the smoke mixed in with air, the excess mucus produced is pushed away from the lungs by the cilia, the tiny hair lining, causing the sensation to cough for expulsion. When I woke up sputtering and hacking I had no idea my body was in this process trying to save my life. The foggy dreamlike state of my subconscious was still trying to assess whether the experience was real or dreamt up. As I looked around I could see a smallish trail of thick gray smoke coming from the area above the stove in the kitchen. The smell and taste of the ashen cloud was chalky and stuck to the back of my throat like a thick coating of Teflon.
I could hear panicked muffles under the clanging of pans. Then a sudden sizzle of the water stream from the kitchen faucet causing an even thicker, darker, char-filled cloud of smoke to rise up toward the ceiling filling the room with a mushroom shape that cascaded over everything, leaving a not so subtle hint of burnt. The stench in the room became automatically unbearable.
Through the smell in my now burning nostrils I managed to choke out a few choice phrases.
“Wha what… happened? Is… that you… Izzy?”
I could hear concern and fear in her soft child-like voice, “I’m sorry… I only walked away for a few minutes to my room. I didn’t think that they would cook that fast…the burner was on low”. But they did cook fast. The low burner did not care that my daughter walked away for only a few minutes. The sausages, now dried out, burnt, and charcoal black could never be eaten. Fortunately, there was no fire. No one was critically hurt. We only lost a pan or some of its use, but it was savaged for the most part. Windows had to be opened and room deodorizer had to be generously sprayed, but we recovered.
As the fresh air poured into the room and the smoke finally began to dissipate I realized something. My daughter being a teenager with limited experience had decided to cook some sausages. She left them on the stove on low never anticipating that in a “few minutes” they had the potential to burn. It was not intentional nor malicious, but yet it could have been fatal.
How many times during the course of our lives do we negate the tugging of the Holy Spirit on our souls? We equate that “low” pull on our conscience that keeps trying to insist that something in our spiritual life is not right to some small, self-pleasuring desire of the flesh that begs to be filled. We attempt to satisfy those desires with food, career, money, self-gratification or worldly pleasures that are temporary at best. We are “cooked on low” until we become impassioned, unemotional, unexcited and burnt out and have to search for some other temporary fix.
Life is but a moment. Though we are meant to enjoy it, Christ did not intend for it to be selfishy handled and thoughtlessly viewed leaving our life “unattended” as if it happens unprovoked. Waiting for the proverbial “smoke to clear” can leave our spiritual life in danger. Only through our love and honor of the Father and by loving our neighbors as ourselves will we be able to put our life in perspective and fulfill our purpose.
Purpose can only be drawn from the God-given talents that we have been blessed with, whether that be creativity, hospitality, administration, leadership or counsel, which is given by God and developed through the power of the Holy Spirit. We must conciously submit and allow the “consuming fire” of the Spirit to transform us to our destiny. To do anything less would be like putting a sausage on a slow burn.