Dry Bones

Last fall I attended a leadership conference in Edmonton. As we wrapped up our final evening a prophet invitation was issued calling us to the spiritual front line. Today this came to mind – this need for those that are equipped and able, to step into the fray on behalf of those who cannot. That there is a spiritual battle looming, if not yet already engaged, for which a vast army is needed. The church has – WE HAVE – been sleeping, lulled into complacency by comfort, pride and idolatry. Not obvious idolatry in the old school golden calf kind of way but in the subtle, distraction, addiction, soul numbing kind of way – those things that we pursue because they feel good and, even if only temporarily, fill a void. That in our apathy and complacency we are like dry bones in Ezekiel’s desert:

“The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. 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. “And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” (Ezekiel 37:1-3, ESV)

Those of us then called to armour up and enter into the fray are those listening to Jesus, through the Holy Spirit as He instructs us:

“Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.’

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. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.’ So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.” (Ezekiel 37: 3-10, ESV)

Ezekiel did the work as asked by God. He spoke the words and called the dry bones to life. It must have seemed absurd. The bones were old – “behold, they were very dry”. How could speaking words be sufficient? And yet he did, and they were and breath came into them and they were an exceedingly great army.

Which are you? Are you part of the bones in the middle of the valley or are you, like Ezekiel, being given “words to speak”, a task to do? Are you waiting to receive breath, to be brought to life? Are you waiting to speak, to move, to act on His command?

How can we – individually and corporately – bring life to our community, our city, our country, internationally and globally?
What does this look like for our churches
What does this look like for us as individuals?
What is Jesus asking you to do?

Again: What is Jesus asking YOU to do?

Witness

“A zen koan echoed through my mind: If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound? And then I realized that observing the tree and how being a writer or an artist means being a witness. We witness beauty, joy, sadness, beginnings, endings—moments large and small, in worlds real and imagined. We are the witnesses that make sure the tree is heard.”Lisa Papademetriou, Bookflow

Lisa’s words in my email inbox shook me. With pandemic life, I had shelved writing. Parenting, teaching our isolation bound kids, business managing, working, ministry zoom meetings, have taken over. Even that one solitary joy of a virtual FitFam membership is now shared with mini-me. Not a complaint but a statement. While some have too little to fill their time and binge on Netflix and cupcakes, others of us are seeing the joys of life smothered by responsibilities.

As more of my time is absorbed into other tasks, the easier it is to believe that writing  really doesn’t matter. The inner critic argues that no one reads it anyways so who will notice when I no longer contribute to newsletters, to email communications, to Facebook, to that draft that is started but stagnant.

Even conversations I might have in person with someone are shelved, just like my writing, because they are not effective outside the human connection, serve little end purpose, make no ripples in the pond-world around me. And thus, documenting the things going on around me has been set aside — the choices being made, people begin lifted up, smashed down, risks taken, risks avoided. 

Thus Lisa’s words struck something within. Those things I had avoided writing, those messages I had omitted, words unsaid, need to be written, need to be communicated. The situations need to be witnessed. Even if only by me to me. In the case of poor choices, to not say anything is to imply consent, that the behaviour is somehow acceptable. In spaces were someone has been wounded or there has been loss, be it a life, a job, or a dream, to remain silent leaves them burdened alone. 

If no one says, writes or records anything, there is no witness and the moment is lost, or, worse — the moment drags on deeper and more potent to the one it impacts.

In this, not every moment wants to be remembered but every moment should be witnessed. To let them go is a disservice to someone even if it that someone is only me. 

The Bookflow email ends with these words from Lisa, “… When we say that one person can’t change the world, remember that each person is a world—a whole universe—unto him or herself. Whenever you have an impact on someone, you are changing a world. So please keep working on discovering and telling it. Even if the person you impact is yourself.”

Spilling Out

There was an article on Facebook a week ago, written by a nurse who watched parents bring their children into the PICU (Pediatric ICU). There was a pattern to the process of a beginning, during and after phase which paralleled what we’re going through currently under COVID restrictions. The start of the process, the beginning phase we are looking the situation head on, dealing with the immediate, the panic, the crisis reaction of radical change to life patterns, processes and realities. A shift of thinking about priorities and, well, everything.

The “During” phase is where we are now. During is full of unknowns. The end is unknown. What will happen “during” is unknown. Who will make it through to the end is unknown. Will I catch this? Will someone I care about? What do you mean now my pet could catch this? My neighbour? How will I shop safely? Can I just go for a walk?…

The underlying stress and anxiety of the during phase colours everything like an abstract sort of  baseline onto which everything else piles. The Everything else includes general life – groceries, work, school for the kids, music lessons, pet care, putting in the garden, running a business, [insert usual activity here]. Each of these things has a coating, a wrapper of added time, considerations and sanitizing called “COVID-19” increasing the time each things takes and increasing the level of stress each thing induces.

It’s this during phase where who we are starts to show more clearly. How anxiety and stress play out in our behaviour becomes quicker to surface. 

As Jesus often does, this coincidentally came in my feed:

For some, this is tears, others, sharp tones, others try to take control of anything and everything, some turn daily living into check lists, others hide in video games or literature, others lash out at everyone around them. Yet others still smile, still show grace. There is love and lightness in their words, their eyes and their activities. What is inside of us is what splashes out when we are bumped.

Jesus, I bring my heart and my mind to you. I offer you my self, this vessel that you have built. Holy Spirit, will you show me, in a picture, a word, a memory, or in scripture, what is in me that is spilling out? Lord show me the good things as well as those I need to change. I especially ask you to show me where my sins, where my habits or thought processes are discouraging or hurtful to those around me. Now, please show me the things that are godly, the gifts of the Spirit that you are growing in me. 

Lord Jesus you are my example. Show me how to grow these blessings that they are the things that splash out in this time. The things that are jostled out onto others that bring joy, peace, love and hope.

Cost Uncountable

(A Five Minute Friday Post)

Everything.

It cost everything.

Stepping into obedience the first time cost little in comparison. Yes I gave up time. A LOT of time. And I gave up freedom to do what I wanted when I wanted to but I gained so much in that same space. I gained a knowledge of the Holy Spirit. Of how he moves and works and gifts. I gained insight into missional work and what it means to give thing up in order to serve someone else. Even when that someone else is unknown to me. Unknown to many. Unseen and unloved.

It cost me innocence but gained wisdom and a deeper connection to Jesus. More time in prayer. More time in praise. More time just being.

The second step into obedience was not the same. The second stepping in was a stepping out. Stepping out of the life that had been built. Stepping out of the community I’d come to love. Stepping out of the routine our family had come to know.

Stepping into obedience the first time was joy, light, excitement and nervousness at moving beyond anything I’d done before but knowing Jesus was asking it, that he would equip me regardless the challenge.

Stepping into obedience the second time was pain, sorrow, mourning and reluctance at moving out of familiarity, joy and community. It was like my heart was forcibly ripped from my chest. Yet Jesus was asking this too, same as he had the first.

In my darkest times, I lament the cost. In the brighter moments, I know his cost was much, much higher. And I rejoice through the sorrow.

Settle

(A Five Minute Friday Post)

Why do I settle? Why do I put up with the crap, the pressure, the ignorance, all those things that people foist upon me? I settle for their indifference, for their distain, their inability to see truth or even acknowledge the presence of someone they don’t understand. I settle for this bad form of attention because at least it’s attention? Any attention is good attention I guess. And yet rarely was it even attention. A shrug a nod if I’m lucky. 

I settle for non-existent praise

I settle for misplaced affection

I settle for doing the best I can because it’s the best I can.

My presence there wasn’t for them. It wasn’t about settling for them it was about settling for me. For what I can do. For what God asked me to do. 

The father had very specific instructions for me. Settling for that truth was motivational. inspiring. About following, serving, living life to the fullest. Being who Jesus wanted me to be. Wants me to be. I settled for relationships that were convenient and tried to make them richer. Tried to make them what they needed to be for me but I settled for what they were. I SHOULD have made them what I needed them to be for me. My brain doesn’t work that way. It filters, processes, finds excuses for why others are how they are and how I can and should adapt rather than expect better, ask for better, create better. No more will I settle. No more will I settle for lack of thanks. For lack of acknowledgement for lack of tact or for the lack of gender. I no longer will change who I am for others to settle for what they expect but will push for what I expect. want. Need to thrive. It is my time. 

Lean Into It

There it is again. That ache. The pain. The reminder of loss, of things left behind. Of people, lives, relationships, goals, passions and dreams altered. Separated. Not because of physical loss but spiritual, emotional. One act of obedience that changes the path and leaves a portion of your heart on the side of the road.

It’s a pain that eventually fades. Changes. Mutates. Moves from grief to sorrow. The stabbing lessens to a dull ache, fades to a tender spot. The tender spot the enemy loves to poke with impeccable timing. Those moments when joy starts to shine through, when purpose is forming like an ethereal dream, that’s when he jabs his boney finger right into the most delicate space. That tender spot that awakens the sorrow, stirs the tears and squeezes the heart.

The poke, the pressure, that ache that rises and casts a grey pallor over everything, creating doubt shadows where each decision, each moment, comes with a backpack full of questions, doubts and second guesses.

Are we doing enough?

Earlier this season I attended the local Town Hall gathering for The Meeting House. Included with the expected information was the introduction and subsequent conversation about Jesus Collective for which the initial launch and development path is pastor/leader focused.

One of the attendees voiced a concern that for them, an initial launch of pastor/leader focused resources and networking created an “us and them” environment s/he couldn’t support.

Being a “9” (see “The Sacred Enneagram and/or The Enneagram Institue“) it took some time for me to assess why this reaction bothered me ultimately determining the hackle raising aspect being how much the comment echoed today’s self-centred, consumerist mentality.  It unfortunately reflects the culture we currently live in. A “what’s in it for me”, “we should all have access to everything”, “I want that”, “I deserve to have what they’re getting” culture that expects everything from everyone without obligation to give back. 

In considering whether this cry for equal access is valid, these questions come to mind: Are we truly loving our pastors? Are we loving them well? Do we give them all the supports, encouragement and resources they need? 

Given the number of churches folding, of pastors burning out or leaving their ministry in either disarray or disgrace, is there any answer other than “No”?

From the outside, the life of a pastor looks tough, exhausting really – who would pick it voluntarily? The standards to which they are held is higher than the average person or Jesus follower, and if they’re a teaching pastor, scripturally so (see James 3:1). Plus there is an expectation of always present, always perfect, always giving, always loving, always listening, always agreeing and not ever showing weakness, doubt or fatigue. Simply listen to the grumblings after a service or of someone thinking to leave a church or community. Their words are likely to be unfair but represent the pressures, spoken or otherwise, 

Not every community should be painted with the same brush – there are many pastors with strong healthy connections and relationships within their communities and some with amazing supportive relationships with friends/fr-amily beyond their congregation that make their work energizing and fulfilling.

But what about those who don’t? What about those who stand alone, serve alone, struggle alone? In isolated regions or environments? Those for whom the current social pressures could divide their congregation beyond repair? Where reaching out locally isn’t an option because there isn’t a “locally” to reach out too? Or language is a barrier? Or ethnicity? Persecution? Where going against cultural norms is a life threatening choice? Where the parent denomination enforces practices that are counter to the teaching of Jesus? 

At its heart, this goes beyond a single online resource. It’s about overcoming the “I want that too” sense of entitlement that pervades and choosing to dig in, to lift up the people Jesus has commissioned to be on the front lines. To stand alongside them – financially, prayerfully, emotionally. It is about choosing to sacrifice our indulgent need to have everything and give of ourselves. Just like they do.

Don’t Box Me In

Me when it feels like someone is expecting an older version of me

For just over three years, I had the luxury of working in a local ministry environment. The final year of this journey had me step into a new church environment while my family remained with our home congregation. I would hear rumours of people asking where I was, why wasn’t I present at Church A and so on. Hubby would politely answer that I was doing well, thanks for asking with a gentle reminder that I was serving at Church-Ministry B,

Now that the ministry role has come to a close, I have been attending Church A with Hubby and fam. Some have smiled and said hello. Others share a hug and “it’s nice to see you.”

A few though ask the question.

“Are you coming back to Church A?”
“I see you here a lot now. Does that mean you’re coming back?”

It took some time for me to determine why these particular questions set my hackles up. After all, they were trying to communicate that I had been missed and that they appreciated having me present. What my spirit felt was my new self being pushed into an old box.

The old box of who they thought I was before I went into the mission field. The old box of Robyn fitting in. I can’t say for certain what that Robyn looked like, only that this version is different. This version sees the world differently, is not willing to compromise on who she is to ‘fit in’. This Robyn is more willing to speak up, to speak truth – in love and with gentleness but truth openly instead of hiding in case it make someone not like her. This Robyn has more ink, more attitude and more courage.

And she wants to stay that way.

Some will read all this and say it’s over-reacting. “Just take the welcome and the encouragement.”

How about we change the question. Instead of “are you coming back?” ask “Will you be joining us this summer?” or “Will we see you more? We’ve missed you.” Even better though, a statement then a question: “It is so nice to see you! How was your time in ministry? Did God do amazing things you can share?”

I’ll own it. Over-reaction and all. The word “back” sinks my gut and rips apart my heart. Ask me about my time in ministry. Get to know me as I am now.

Or don’t.

Just don’t box me in.

2 Seconds of Bliss

It’s the fraction of a moment when you first wake up where things are full of potential. Look out a window, take a deep breath, yawn, stretch, sigh, maybe pray for a moment or simply be.

And then reality sweeps in. The crushing weight of … fear, loneliness, grief, hopelessness. Futility.

I remember a time when this wasn’t a challenge. When getting up in the morning just was. Work. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. And all was as it should be with the world. I never had cause to consider it would ever be another way.

When Lo came into the world it was evident that genetic anomalies were at play. And while it meant early intervention, visits to more “-ologists” than I knew existed and a future of therapies and support services, the most exhausting part was the evening when it was time for me to go to bed.

Going to sleep meant being one step closer to going through it all. Again. Another day of doctors, therapies, advocating, researching, plus the more joyful but tiring aspects of parenting – not to mention the fact that Lo is a second child so there was another child already running about needing to be cared for.

I began to dread the evening hours. That moment when the TV is turned off and everyone is ready for sleep. It wasn’t the lack of rest ahead or the emotional or financial cost that would cause the anxiety but the anticipation that for a moment, first thing when my eyes open, there would be moment of bliss. Of having forgotten. Of seeing the world as it once was and, for many, still is. It was knowing that the bliss would last for only a fraction of a moment before being squashed by reality while I watched.

Eventually we grew beyond this, Lo began to thrive. The critical issues taken care of, her limitations overcome and school life settled into. There came a time I never though would arrive – where I could actually forget she had a unique genetic condition. Now, 11 years in, we can go a long time without the name of the syndrome even coming to mind let alone be voiced.

Mornings became mornings. Evening was no longer torture waiting to happen. It’s amazing what you don’t notice is gone.

Until it comes back.

Grief is not linear

There is no straight line from loss to what we’ll call recovery. I’d like to say “all my life I thought…” but truth is, I never even thought about grief, about loss, about what it means for everyday, what that loss does to the light, to time, to joy, to the very act of breathing, getting up in the morning, going to bed at night, how things look, feel, sound, taste.

While I have lost family members, it never occurred to me that grief as a journey isn’t a straight line. The direct loss wasn’t mine. My heart ached for the spouses left behind. Still aches for them. But it wasn’t until an entirely different circumstance introduced me to grief directly that I began to see it for what it is.

Grief stripped me of all that I thought I knew. It ripped me to the core of my being. It flipped upside down everything I thought I knew about life and loss, living and dying.

In my current journey of loss, the most recent lesson is that it is not linear. One doesn’t simply and gradually “get over it” like walking up a gradual incline. There are days when getting out of bed is an achievement. When emptying the dishwasher counts as a productive day. And while I can look back on the months between impact and today and see how things have gotten less painful, how things have changed and, for lack of better words, gotten better, I then had an experience that put me so far back on the path to healed that I’m not sure the end exists. The proverbial “two steps forward three steps back”.

In this particular case, words spoken in support and hope created turmoil. They were intended to heal, to soften a moment of history yet had the unintended result of ripping open a carefully stitched wound. To be clear, I do not hold the source responsible for the outcome. My reaction is on me alone and I hold no malice, anger or disappointment.

The results though tell the state of my heart and stage of my journey. The imagery that comes to mind is that I had just climbed out of a deep chasm. Rocky walls, damp, rough, the only way out going up, through the pain. And, standing on the edge, finally out of the depths and face turned to the light and warmth, to then have words blindside me back over the edge back into the hole like a wrecking ball into the side of a building.

My choice, once again, to remain in the pit or work, inch by inch, memory by memory, hurt by hurt back up the edge. Jesus on belay, me searching for toe holds through the threat of tears.

Grief doesn’t travel a straight line. It weaves and ducks, it leads then follows, strangles then caresses. It sneaks up like a storm on a sunny day. The tiniest scent, a flash of memory, a habitual motion, phrase or task brings a sweeping wave wiping out all forward progress, sets back days, weeks, miles, back to the bottom of the pit.