Marching Orders

I spent Father’s Day digging in hard packed soil. Stabbing the ground with a garden trowel, I chopped clods into bits, loosening soil around plants still spindly after a month in the ground.

I blamed the seeds, the seedlings, the weather, and the top soil provider. But the fault was mine. I had been too busy to go out and work the land.

The weather was wet this spring, and the rains pounded the new top soil into a hardened crust. Then came the sun. Now we needed rain. I looked out the kitchen window to the garden below and pondered. One broccoli struggled to rise; the rest remained as thin as the day they were planted. A lettuce prospered, but three others limped along. The hard ground ensured few weeds. I had no reason to work it. I waited and wondered.

That said, many will realize that I am a new gardener. Finally, it dawned on me that I needed to till the ground. My plants needed some air.

Earlier that morning, I’d been reading again from Ezekiel 37. “Our bones are dried up, our hope is gone, we are cut off.”

I am cut off, I thought.

Sunday is the day I am cut off. I don’t have a church home anymore. I can’t stomach the Charismatic doctrine at the little church plant where I was once a friend. My childhood church promises safety, but, for me, sterility.

Father’s Day is the double whammy—the orphan’s slap. My father died at 58 of a brain tumor. I don’t have a dad to celebrate with anymore. I receive advance emails of the church bulletin from the Mennonites, my tribe of birth. The sermon title “The Ministry of Fathering” prodded like a hot poker. The orphan inside said: I’ll just stay home.

Out to the ground I went, chopping up frustrations. No church, cut off. No dad, cut off. My husband arrived home from Father’s Day breakfast with his dad. “Do you want a pick?” he asked.

I rarely work till I blister my hands. I’m mostly a writer and a thinker.

“Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man.”

I loosened the ground around those puny stalks and wept that it was me who left them so, unable to breathe and live and thrive. Alive but stunted, they stood in horrid testimony to ground not tilled. Outside, inside.

In my mind, I hear Oswald Chambers reminding me that discernment is not for criticism; it is marching orders for prayer.

Ezekiel 37 gave me marching orders nearly 10 years ago, when I arrived home starving from the prodigal road. I was the dry bones needing life, and I was set amid a valley of dry bones, cut off by parochial sins, hemmed in by mountains of Plain People tradition. But I realize now that I have often failed to prophesy, failed to pray. I have mostly stewed over being kept silent, by tradition, by foolishness, and by my own hesitation.

I bury myself in work. Elijah sniveled in his cave.

“Then you my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it.”

This land I’m on, up against the mountain, looking over our gorgeous farming valley, was once my father’s land, his “little place out in the country.” I sleep where he slept.

He climbed the mountain to sit on a “prayer bench” log and pray. He was an elder among the Mennonites, who grant that right to men. I lay in a hammock escaping into someone else’s best-selling memoir, wondering what to do with this Voice inside, rising this morning from dreams of women chasing me on horseback, a restlessness forcing me to pierce this hard-packed ground.

Puzzling out the irritation, I see taped to the sanctuary wall, this reminder: “Upon the plains of hesitation, bleached the bones of countless thousands, who at the threshold of their victory, sat down to rest, and while they rested, they wasted and died.”

Here I am again, in need of Air, and the bones in the valley remain very dry. He asks us all: Can these bones live? Will the slain of the Lord arise, wash themselves in the blood of the Lamb, and put on white garments? Will we become that beautiful bride awake and ready for His return?

Revelation calls for patient endurance from the saints, our lamps lit with holy oil, our bones alive.

“So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.”

Today, there’s promise of rain, and out in the garden the puny squash plant has raised a blossom flag.






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