“There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.”
We’ve all had a Valley of Achor through which we must journey; scrabbling over rough terrain. But God takes the valleys of our lives and transforms them. He turns the very journey that seemed so desperate into a door of hope that opens to Him. If you’ve been struggling out in the wilderness, know that God will give you back your vineyards; the ripe fruit of your life that sustains and nourishes you.
Only the Almighty God can turn our troubles into a door of hope! And He does so, each and every time we find ourselves journeying through the rough and barren terrain of our lives. Every hard climb up and out of our valleys leads us closer and closer to God.
“I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
The light was fading from the western sky as I made my way out towards the woods. I knew I’d have to work quickly if I wanted to pick blackberries before nightfall. The bushes were exceptionally full this year; big, ripe, luscious globes that plucked free with just a little tug. I gathered as many as my basket would carry and turned towards home. Already, the stars were dotting the night sky—I had tarried too long. I reached into my back pocket for my phone. I’d use its flashlight to light my steps. But my hand found only an empty pocket; my phone lay on the kitchen counter where I had forgotten it.
My foot caught a fallen branch, and I stumbled, scratching my legs on sticks and thorns. All I could see around me were berry bushes and briars. “You’ve been in worse places,” I said out loud to reassure myself as I slowly took a few more steps. “You’ve always gotten out of them.” And that was true. Friends marvel at how strong I’ve been to have gotten through the adversities in my life. But I know better. It’s not my strength that has prevailed, for I’m not that strong. It has always been God making a way for me.
As I slowly pushed onward, I saw a small round light bobbing out beyond the treeline. “Jennifer!” I head my friend Steven calling my name off in the distance.
“Over here,” I yelled and waved an arm above my head, even though I knew that he couldn’t see me through the trees. After a few minutes of us shouting back and forth, he found me. I threw my arms around him and hugged him. “Thank you for coming,” I said.
“You’re lucky. I was at home and suddenly got this feeling that I should check in on you. When you didn’t answer your door or your phone, I let myself in. I saw your phone on the kitchen counter next to your pie tins. It didn’t take much to put two and two together,” he said.
“Luck had nothing to do with it. You were sent.” I smiled, “Come on, let’s get home and I’ll bake you a pie.” We held hands as he shone his flashlight for us as we made our way back to my house. “Thank you, God, for sending Steven,” I prayed when we opened the door and walked into my kitchen. “Thank you for making the way for me, again.”
No matter where you are right now, no matter how desolate or desperate things may appear, God is making a way for you, too. In fact, He sent me to tell you so.
This place where you are right now
God circled on a map for you.
“I’m tired, God,” I said under my breath as I walked to the pond to feed the fish. “Tired of these problems that don’t seem to go away.” I stopped at the edge of the water and reached into the bag of food and grabbed a fistful. I threw it to the center of the pond. It scattered on the breeze then fell back to the earth, creating ripples that swam out in circles. “You are where you are supposed to be,” God said.
I watched the fish rise, their mouths open, hungry, searching. Like me, hungry and searching for answers, I thought. “You’re exactly in the right place,” God said.
“But it’s uncomfortable,” I whined.
“I was there before you, making the space sacred for you,” God explained.
“Of course,,” God said gently. “I’m with you now, walking with you through this chapter in your life, watching you grow.”
“These problems are growing me, I must admit,” I said as a fish cleared the water, gleaming in the light of the soft winter’s sun.
“Give thanks, then, instead of complaining,” God suggested. “You’ll feel better and you’ll grow even more.” “You are right where you are supposed to be, here, with me, with these challenges.”
I walked back up the hill as a flock of wild geese drew a long V across the sky, calling out to one another. I stopped and listened as the ribbon of them disappeared over the pines. “Thank you,” I said, and then moved my feet once again, towards the house, towards the fullness of my life.
“And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become
like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
I pulled out a long row of Shasta daisies that had taken over the front of my flower bed. As I worked in the gentle sun of the winter’s day, my thoughts focused on my problems. Slowly, I sunk into a bad mood. A squirrel scampered into the garden and sat up, begging for peanuts. “Thank you,” I said to her. You’re a good distraction from my self-induced misery.” I stood up and got the bag of nuts. I threw her a handful.
“Do more than feed the squirrel,” God urged.
“Do you want me to feed the crows and the jays, too?” I asked.
“No. I want you to do more than distract from your negative thoughts,” God explained.
“If you only distract, you’ll eventually return to your judgments and feel miserable again,” He said. “Become childlike instead of judgemental.”
“Wait. What? You’ve lost me,” I said.
“Children are innocent. They see the world through eyes of curiosity and wonder. They don’t judge until they are taught to fear and hate,” God said. “Look at your life with curiosity and wonder. Don’t judge. Look with kindness and compassion, the very same way that I look upon you—with love.”
I watched the squirrel eat the peanuts. She wasn’t concerned about her problems. She lived in the moment. I took God’s words to heart and promised I would do my best to become childlike. I’d do my best to see my life, including adversity, including my past mistakes, through the lens of innocence, and wonder. I’d look at everything as if I were looking into the eyes of God. Such peace that would be!
“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”
Winter storms have kept me from tending to my garden. The ground is saturated with rain. I went out after work, with only a few minutes of light remaining in the day and turned over the soggy earth. Each shovelful was as heavy as my heart, for many plants had died from too much water.
I looked over the garden and was struck by the determination of life. Here, in the depths of winter, one storm after another, the flowers have patiently waited for this sunny day. I spied a Mask Flower peeking out from behind an overgrowth of Nasturtiums. The red blossoms looked so cheerful in the fading light that I couldn’t help but smile. I turned to walk back inside when God rested His hand on my shoulder. I stopped. “What is it, God?” I asked.
He whispered. “Everything’s going to be alright.” A Finch at the feeder burst into song as if to punctuate God’s sentence.
I nodded, not wanting to speak. I wanted only the Finch’s voice to be heard. I climbed the steps into the house and closed the door on another fine day, another great gift from God. I took the lesson from my garden to heart. I will be more patient in the face of adversity. I will be as cheerful as the red blossoms, as joyful as the singing Finch. I won’t lose hope in the storms.
“Do not be anxious about anything…”
On the wind, the Starlings fly; their soft bodies pushed side to side as they navigate the coming storm. Instinctively, they take refuge in the oak tree just outside my window. I watch a mother squirrel lead her baby across the lawn. Together they climb the magnolia tree to wait out the rough weather. The Juncos eating at the bird feeder take flight as it swings with each new gust. I sense a shift in the temperature as the clouds burst open.
I marvel at God’s creation. He instilled intelligence in all of His creatures. Everything works perfectly together; all the minuscule pieces aligned by God’s hand. Everything that I see in the world enables me to trust all that I can’t see.
The storm slowly spent its fury. The clouds rolled away leaving a turquoise sky shining with promise. The animals left their safe harbors and once again, went about the business of the day. So too, do I. Out beyond the storms of my life I go with God. I trust Him with all of my tomorrows— with all that I cannot see.