This Easter marks 11 years since God supernaturally intervened in my wayward life with two words that sent me on a search. Those words were “dry bones.”
I was a prodigal, a rebel, a rambler. I left my small farming valley in central Pennsylvania a year after college and set out for California in an old Subaru. It was 1984. No cell phone, no credit card, no GPS. But I had saved $1500. It seemed like enough to carve a stake in the Promised Land.
I was a young journalist, and California gave me the excitement and experience I desired. Earthquakes, gang warfare, race riots, even the hunt for a serial killer. In the land of endless sun and opportunity, I made career my God and shucked my Mennonite upbringing. I told my new friends that my people were fundamentalists, a popular label in the days of Jerry Falwell. It made it easy to dismiss them as extreme.
California held me for 10 years, but my career hit a brick wall. I couldn’t advance. In the season after the Los Angeles riots, newspapers learned they needed a more diverse staff. I was female, but white. An interior hunger took hold. I craved change. A boyfriend and I decided to head east, where both of our fathers were battling cancer.
I found myself in New Hampshire, eight hours away from “home,” and then my father died.
My relatives must have said their prayers. I came home to his funeral, wary and bruised, but amidst that kin, soaking in the sweet refrains of four-part harmony, I knew that these people, however strapped by their beliefs, still loved me. They had not rejected me. I had made an outcast of myself.
Slowly, I edged home. In my late 30s, I traded journalism for a new career as an entrepreneur. I took over an antiques shop in seaside Portsmouth, N.H. In those pre-911 days, business boomed. People thought nothing of spending a couple hundred dollars on a trinket they could fit in their hand. I had been married briefly and divorced in California, and now I became engaged again. If not for his Jewish mother, we would have eloped on a whim, but she insisted on seeing her only son’s wedding. So, we waited, and floundered, and as the engagement came to a miraculous end, my rented shop went up for sale at $1 million, and my business was lost.
Wounded and wondering, my thoughts turned toward home, to little Big Valley.
I had vowed never to return. The people were myopic, uneducated, rigid, hypocritical, and gossipy. Would it be safe for me to be myself there? I could never conform. I asked myself: What do you really want for your life? At that time, I was living in a run-down over-priced apartment. I longed for my own home and to live someplace safe and green and restful.
My new home came with a priceless view of Big Valley farmland and a $400 monthly mortgage payment. It was heaven, and I was home.
Several weeks later, I woke up to the television telling me two planes had been flown in the Twin Towers. I looked at the scene and thought: “This changes everything.”
The change in my life would be just as seismic. By the next spring, 2002, I found myself edging back into church, the same Mennonite church of my childhood. Here was the ghost of my departed father, sending me into tears as I sat far in the back, trying to get something out of the sermon. Mostly, I felt edgy and emotional, and wanted to flee.
That Easter, I arrived at the last minute as usual, and wedged myself into a seat in the back. My dad’s hospice nurse was in the same pew. The sermon lost me, and I found myself paging through my unused Bible. In the back, unseen before, I found two sheets of old typewritten paper. I instantly recognized them as my dad’s testimony, written when he was sick with hepatitis and hospitalized, after a missions trip to Brazil. As a teen, I drew a cross for the cover, and the testimony was given out at church on Easter Sunday, (35 years ago as of this Easter.)
His testimony told of looking for joy in things and entertainment and finding only emptiness, of “leading my family in the ways of world.” At 35, the rebel preacher’s son turned to the living God and was transformed. I knew that testimony well, and now it spoke to me as if my dearly departed dad had come to church and sat beside me in the pew.
My mother had offered me my dad’s Bible and I refused it, but now I wanted it. A few Sundays later, once again distracted in the service, I began paging through his Bible and found an outline, probably used in a Sunday School class. Across the top was written “Valley. Dry Bones. How to breathe God’s Spirit into it.” It was a mystery to me. What was dry bones?
I went to Sunday School that day. I sat silent, afraid to share, feeling an outcast and uncomfortable. I have no idea why I even went. But in that room, an old high school classmate began to share thoughts that occurred to him as he was out milking the cows that morning. “I was thinking about that army of dry bones in Ezekiel,” he said, “and how God breathed his spirit into them, and they came to life.”
God had my attention.
I asked a friend, “What’s this dry bones stuff?” and he led me to Ezekiel 37, the story of the fallen house of Israel, bereft of hope, lost to God and His Holy Spirit. But the prophet Ezekiel was told to command those bones to come to life, and the Spirit fell, and the bones rose. “I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land,” Chap. 37, verse 14. “Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord!”
And, so the Spirit breathed on me. A short time later, I woke up one morning with the memory of a box of old books I’d bought at auction and never really examined. I tromped out to the garage and quickly found the box, took out a leather bound volume and opened it. Printed atop the page were the words: “Dry bones restored.” It was the title of a sermon by Joseph Lathrop from 1802.
My neighbor, a praying women, listened as I related the story and asked: “Do you think God is talking to you, Barb?”
God is real. He will use any small detail He can to get to the heart of those He seeks. You can run from Him for 20 plus years as I had, but if you are in the heart of the Hound of Heaven, you will not escape. He will find you, He will lure you, He will bring you home, and if you agree, He will fill you with His Spirit and transform your wretched life into a miraculous work.
Some people get delivered instantly. Just yesterday, I heard the testimony of a man who found himself barbiturate free after a single prayer of submission on a hilltop in Seattle. All of us are renewed day by day. My journey has been an unfolding, requiring battles through layers of pain. I came back to God through Charismatic craziness and was led out and back to the safer doctrine of the Mennonites, and I know there is more ahead. God is patient and incredibly kind.
I was a victim of hope deferred. I left God and home, and like the prodigal I turned back when I was hungry. My heart was sick. My adventures had not fulfilled my longings. But life with a loving Lord and Savior does.
May the Lord renew your spirit and give life to your bones so that you may live.