Living in the Valley of Bones.

I’m up unusually early this morning. I’m not known for being “bright eyed and bushy tailed” anywhere near before noon. I’ve had a lot on my mind - A LOT - and few know how much and to what depth. But I bet you can’t identify with this now, can you?

I’m a very visual person. Photography came fairly easily to me and it’s the best way I communicate, I think. I made a photograph yesterday that spoke to me immediately and the message it sent I need to share with you this morning. It comes in the midst of a dry season of life and anterior to a very emotional next-step in my wife’s health recovery. It’s an essential truth that I and you need to hear.

On my way to a meeting yesterday, as I walked over crunching gravel and towards the red clapboard barn, there, piled on slate were white tailed deer antler sheds. Far from the lush brown and cream they have during the rut, these were sun-bleached white and stood in stark contrast to their shadows as the late morning sun baked them just a little more. I stared for just a moment as I wrestled, internally, with challenges too numerous to list. The glare off of the bones whisked my mind to a passage of scripture and suddenly the concerns of my life and the questions that were swirling around settled, as silt does in a churned up pond.

White tailed deer antler sheds, bleached white by the sun.

The prophet Ezekiel recorded this event in chapter 37, verses 1-10:
    The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
     I said, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”
    Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.  I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’”
    So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin 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 it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
It’s probably one of the most popular and known moments in the life of the Israelite prophet, Ezekiel. I love Ezekiel’s interaction with God. Not having a clue, and probably wondering what on earth this was all about, He yields to the LORD the answer to the LORD’s question. He doesn’t even take a potshot! And as I recalled this passage, as I photographed the bones, I kept thinking of what God did in reanimating that which Ezekiel saw as useless and impossible to redeem - apart from God.

Deer antlers grow back each year at an amazingly fast rate, up to 1/4 inch each day. It’s kind of a necessity the bucks bank on each breeding season. Our life is very much like an antler - growing at amazing rates and full of life! Then something drops off. Great moments of joy, peace, focus and purpose, and then….nothing. Dryness. Parched and scorched, life just seems like a valley of bones. And I have a feeling this is where some of us are right now. And just like Ezekiel, God has an answer!

Life can be hard, debilitating and life-sucking. Most of the time we simply have our eyes focused on the wrong things (see tunnel vision), that’s the simple answer. But there really are intervals in life where it’s just dry, dry, dry. If we’re not careful, or if we get charmed by the darkness, despair will unrightfully take it’s place in the core of our soul. I’ve seen many people encamp here and it’s a precarious place - real, but perilous. I’ve seen loss of relationships, loss of faith, even loss of life because of it. When we stare at the bones of our life without the LORD’s guidance, we are left, like Ezekiel, wondering if anything excellent will ever come.

As I captured images of the antlers, I felt a reassurance that the dryness that I feel right now will one day change. Life will return, that which seems dead and useless will animate to gloriousness. But I don’t know when and I can’t answer that question for you, either. The Spirit of God speaks life for a time to come. It’s my job, your job, to trust Him and to wait well.

So, just as the LORD brought life to the valley and just as deer regrow antlers, the promise for us, for you, is that life will return! Until then, we have to hold fast. Do not give into despair, do not allow hopelessness to reside in your heart. Hear the Voice of the LORD speaking life into you. For a season, you must endure this hardship. Fight the good fight. Win this race! For there is life yet to come to the valley of your dry bones!

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10