I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
-Henry David Thoreau
I’m back in Boston, friends. Jet-lagged, reverse culture shocked (like what is this thing called flushing toilet paper? And do I really see gluten-free bread?!), and happy to reunite with Sushi the Ninja Cat, and, oh, my family.
Yet there’s a tremble in my heart for a people and a place I knew for a very, very short amount of time (relatively speaking), and it’s not easily ignored. A city of a spirit and culture stunningly different yet eerily familiar, and hauntingly unique, all in one. And the people … did I mention the people?
Sure, we didn’t know each other for very long but, you see, we dove deep. Both on my team and the people I met in the city. Every one of us unique, intricate tapestries, woven by a vast God so creative He takes my breath away at night when I dream I’m back in that city with the people I know.
And now I’m resurfacing and they’re not here for me to smile at and talk with and listen to, and it’s hard. Like, smack-your-head-against-a-metal-plate-and-see-stars-as-you-drop level hard.
So: this might be a long post. Bear with me, friend.
He brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley…
It’s cliche, but I’ve been lost for so long. Ill and exhausted.
I’m not sure where I first heard the term “post-evangelical wilderness” to describe this place. All I know is I’d been inching closer to the city gates for years, then World Vision happened and I bolted, tripping and dizzy and falling on my knees in the desert dust, beaten down by the fists of the sun.
And then I was like, oh, right, I decided to do a cultural exchange with a bunch of Christians in the Middle East. Even though so many things about church are triggering for me. This should be interesting.
I never said it aloud, but what I secretly thirsted for was a rediscovery of God, the true God, whoever He is. To find peace again, the peace long since dried up as I fade to brittle bones in the desert.
I wanted to stand in the dust and raise my hands up to the vast sky and the God watching me. I guess I wanted to feel Him smile.
…it was full of bones.
It’s not like I didn’t have friends going on this trip. I do. I’m just afraid of them, afraid if they know how broken my heart is and how angry I am at Christians and how I panic at Christianese, afraid if they know my real opinions, they’ll misunderstand me as someone disobedient to God, a liberal fool.
It’s day one and I’m excited, yet I melt in fear when I face the forty-one beautiful people who will be accompanying me.
Inside me I know: this trip might mean either the resurrection or end of my thinned spiritual life.
And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry.
It’s the first week and my heart is racing, racing. Why does God let people slip away? Why doesn’t He answer? (Don’t give me that “God’s ways are higher than our ways” cop-out crap).
I kinda want to stay in my room, curled up and ranting at God. Maybe letting my faith extinguish a little more.
But instead, for some reason or another, I get up. I walk downstairs and pause, fist raised to knock on my friends door.
She’s always said she’s available. But I know people don’t often mean what they say, oh boy do I know.
She opens, she smiles and asks what is wrong. She listens and talks and by the end of the conversation I have no answers but a hope in my heart. A hope that sees someone who loves truly, like I wish God did.
And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
It’s week two and I tell my story in all its ugly, raw detail. How open-ended, how incomplete and messy it is. How concerned they must be for me. How they must be judging me.
But my heart was pounding and my nerves were tingling, I knew I had to say it.
And they listen, and they pray, and they love me. Not one doubt, not one judgement proceeds from their mouths or their eyes.
And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” [No, that was Ezekiel. I said, “I don’t think so, but You prove me wrong, okay?].
Week four we will be discussing our family backgrounds. I’ve done this before and I don’t want to do it again. I don’t like to face the truth. You can’t imagine how it hurts.
In preparation, I zone out. I have nightmares and anxiety attacks and flashes of unwelcome memories days before. As we arise the morning of, tears build in my eyes, but I’ve long learned how to hide.
And then someone comes up to me and asks how I am. She asks if she can pray for me and says our team is part of my family now, too. And I feel a glimpse of love and warm, warm hope.
So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.
As the weeks pass I feel myself set free. No weight of anxiety, no weight of feeling unknown, hold down my broken shoulders. Bolder and bolder, I can walk up to someone and ask either their life story or their thoughts on any of the many controversies eating my soul (which I suppose brings me one step closer to my dream
I feel connected and – and I feel safe – with everyone on my team. Safe isn’t a feeling I’ve ever really been able to have, but it’s here now. And love is here, too.
They say God is love
. So maybe He is here as well.
I don’t feel Him like I’m used to. No otherworldly presence, no whispers in my soul. I simply feel Him through these friends who love me, uneven and unfinished me.
And somehow, my faith, my dry bones faith, knits together, into something new. My doubts don’t end – intellectually I remain a disillusioned skeptic (maybe I’ll always be so). But somewhere else – maybe it’s that spiritual soul I can’t feel or think – a deeper faith settles. Because of the very, very diverse people who love me. I can’t quite explain it, but I’m strangely okay with that.
Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people.
On waning days of our trip, the men on our team pick out one adjective for each of us women.
Mine is brave, written in green marker. Green, my favorite color, the color of life.
I’m not a crier. But I cried then. Do they know how I’ve chastised myself as coward for years? Fear has ruled me. It’s only here it doesn’t.
But here they gave me a new word. Brave, in light of my ugly and unfinished story.
It feels like a resurrection of sorts.
And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”
Now, my beautiful and strong adelasters, I’m glad to be back and I’ve missed publishing on a more regular basis. Love to you all; go live today.