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  • Writer's pictureSue Bowles


I confess every time I hear the word ‘exhale’ I start singing the song by Plumb with the same title.

“It’s okay to not be okay / this is a safe place / this is a safe place.” That song is special for a LOT of reasons. If you know the most recent chapter of my story you understand why. One word: RETREAT.

Hard to believe another year has come and gone. We are down to hours left in 2015. As I look back on the year I calm my thoughts and take a deep breath in. And slowly….exhale.

It used to be I would hold my breath during the holidays. They were simply to be endured with as little maskless living as possible. The operative word there is USED to be that way. I used to hold my breath just to survive – my chest would tighten, my face would go red, and the laser focus in my eyes was simply ‘show me where the next rest stop is.’ I wasn’t living…..I was barely even alive…..I was just existing.


When I look back on 2015 I can’t help but actually look at Fall 2014 first. It set the tone for 2015. And it’s really my brother’s fault. He doesn’t know it, but my brother Scott is responsible for getting me started on this Ragamuffin path. All because of one little thing.

He had been home from prison for a few weeks and was having fun with folks who asked “Where have you been? I haven’t seen you for a while.” “In prison” was always his response. He loved seeing the reactions and then would share his story.

I was convicted by his boldness. He wasn’t ashamed. He didn’t try to hide it or gloss it over. He was up front and honest about it. Maskless. I was impressed. And here I was hiding behind anything that would offer a scant degree of protection. Anything but maskless. Until I made a comment to someone. An innocent comment. Less than 10 words. Words that would change the course for my life. “I just want to be authentic.”

And with that began a path of taking off my masks. Acknowledging my story. Coming to grips with my story. Embracing my story. Telling my story. Watching God redeem my story. The movie Ragamuffin had planted the seeds, my brother poured water on them, and then my friend and I started digging.

SO…..all that foundation was laid to get me to 2015.

Don’t get me wrong…2015 was gut-wrenching in a lot of ways as I stared my Ragamuffin face in the mirror every morning, not liking what was needed to get where I wanted to go but also not liking the option of remaining stagnant. So work I did. I worked on myself. I got serious about taking off masks. I did a lot of hard work emotionally to start looking at everything I was trying to deny. It wasn’t pretty. It was actually rather ugly a lot of the time. But weird things started to happen. I built a friendship with a couple other Ragamuffin friends. REAL friends. REAL camaraderie. REAL accountability. REAL-ness. And I began to let loose of that breath I was holding in so tightly.

And as I exhaled – even just a little – the tenseness in my body started to relax a bit. A peace was starting to come. I started to relax a little. Might not have been noticeable on the outside but I sure knew it on the inside.

And then October hit. The Disappointing Messiah retreat put on by Walking Stick Retreats was a bigger Ebenezer moment than the Ragamuffin Retreat last year.

I started breathing in more deeply – followed by a deeper exhale – from the first session.’

“Everyone put your arms out with your palms up. Anyone have nail prints? You are nobody’s savior this weekend. You’re no hero or heroine. You don’t have to take care of anyone or anything except you this weekend. Just be who God created you to be.”

Those were the first set of instructions given us. My lungs were already expanding.

What followed were 2-1/2 days of breathing in more deeply than I ever have before, and exhaling in more fullness than I ever have before. My lungs have a bigger capacity than I ever imagined possible.

Usually if you do any kind of relaxation breathing you can feel yourself relaxing. With each breath and subsequent exhale the load lightens a bit, the burden gets a little lighter. A peace starts to envelope you.

Such has been the case with me. In the last 2 months since retreat I have breathed deeper and more fully than at any other point in my life. Even after running multiple ‘suicides’ in basketball practice senior year of high school when I was panting just to stay upright, I am breathing more deeply and with greater peace. “There’s a peace I’ve come to know” as Chris Tomlin sings. And it defies all description. “The peace that passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:7). Um…yep.

I SO wish I could find words. It’s all new territory for me – like someone just gave me a new oxygen tank and I don’t have to ration it anymore. I can breathe freely. Deeply. And exhale. Slowly.

I just feel relaxed. At ease. Peaceful. Easy-going. Content. Joyful.

And to be quite honest, much of the time I’m not sure how to handle it. It’s TOTALLY unchartered territory for me. Maskless living. Risk taking in relationships. True and genuine care for others. A peace that if I’m going in a different direction that’s okay – that I don’t have to ‘conform’ to belong. There is MUCH to be said to be a part of a community where ‘it’s okay to not be okay’ is the daily standard, where asking someone ‘how are you doing?’ means waiting for a real response, and where each is loved…just because…and believed in…just because…and supported and cheered. Just because.

So I exhale deeply and thoroughly as 2016 approaches. And I can only do that because I inhale deeply and ‘suck out all the marrow of life’. My lungs have expanded and I can ‘breathe in Your grace” as the song Exhale says. And when I exhale, I pray His love is what comes out.

What does 2016 have in store? I have no idea. I have some plans in the works and some changes I will be making. You’ll know it when it happens. But really – for the first time in my life – I want to welcome the new year. Not exhale just in an effort to say I’ve survived and to wait for the next storm to come. I want to inhale opportunity and new perspective and new LIFE and exhale the same. Congruency. Consistency. Authenticity. It started in Fall 2014, carried me through 2015, and has begun to lay a new foundation in me for 2016. I’ll breathe that in and out every day. “Get lost in the surrender” – for there I have found true life. Exhilarating. Freeing. Creative. Expectation. Adventure. Wonder. AWE! Resting in the TRUTH that I AM loves me and has set me free. “My chains are gone I’ve been set FREE!” Now THAT is worth exhaling over!

Here’s the link to the Plumb video.

You can read more thoughts on what it means to exhale from Jenn at and Leisa at

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