“I don’t dwell on it.”
I often find myself thinking about my grandmother’s signature phrase. Grandma went through a lot in life – the Great Depression, WWII, and all the armed conflicts in between. She outlived seven of her fifteen children. When we asked how she coped, she simply said:
“I don’t dwell on it.”
Her words became my primary coping mechanism. When pain whispered, I refused to dwell on it, ignoring my tears and the feelings that went with them. I thought I knew her secret to strength: shove things aside and keep moving. Race ahead and pretend it didn’t happen. Refuse to dwell on it.
But then life caught up with me. Traumatic memories played on an endless loop in my mind, storming my mind and heart like a mighty army.
I realized that I had not only started to dwell on them, but to dwell in them.
I finally had to deal with my pain. Healing made its way through my carefully curated collection of secret wounds, and strength surged through me.
I realized Grandma had refused to dwell on things;
I had refused to deal with them.
I am learning to allow myself to feel the hurt when it hits because I know strength does not come from arbitrary barricades but from enforcing guardianship of my heart and mind. I now see that, while pain has been trying to invade, my God, my loved ones and my own strength have stood outside too, ready to help me fight if I would only let them in.
I am now striving to be the kind of person who deals with pain but who abides under the shadow of the Almighty, and who dwells among those who are amazing enough to love me through it.
And just like that we’re twenty years into the second millennium!
A milestone like this one tempts us to look back and marvel at how things have changed. (Can you believe that we are closer to the year 2040 than to 1990?)
But a new year presents us a new challenge: looking forward. We have a relatively clear view of the past. We see where we’ve been. But the future? Sometimes it seems like we actually have 20/00 vision when we try to look forward.
But this is a special year: it’s 2020, the year of perfect vision.
So why not take this year to make those changes you’ve been wanting for so long? Instead of dwelling on a list of resolutions you’re secretly afraid you won’t be able to keep, why not cast a vision for the changes you want to make in life?
Make 2020 the year of perfecting that vision. Take that big goal and break it into manageable pieces. Work through it as you can, keeping the big picture in mind as you move forward.
If one approach doesn’t work out, realize that you’re still being faithful to your goal: you are merely perfecting your vision. This is the year to break free. Resist the urge to stay chained to yesterday’s mistakes and realize that they have simply been tools to help you calibrate where you really want to be.
It’s 2020! May this be a year of wonderful change and the clearest vision you have ever had for your life. You’ve got this!
It wasn’t meant to last.
When Gustave Eiffel’s team won the heated bid to construct the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair, it was meant to be temporary. Still, for two years they employed their bridge-building skills to fashion the wrought-iron lattice tower, hoping their precision would combat any destructive winds. The temporary exhibit was designed with permanence in mind and soared 81 stories high.
Critics were quick hurl insults, labeling it ugly, daring, impossible, and rebellious, even to the point of circulating an “Artists against the Eiffel Tower” petition. They must have found some solace in the fact that it was at least scheduled for demolition in 1909. No one expected it to change the Paris skyline forever.
After all, it wasn’t meant to last.
And yet it did.
In World War I, it intercepted enemy radio transmissions and dispatched troops. The next world war saw Hitler’s unsuccessful attempt to demolish it. Today, it continues to inspire us, creating moments of international solidarity when its colorful lights reflect triumphs and tragedies around the world.
It wasn’t meant to last – and yet Eiffel’s team built it as if it would stand forever.
Your season may be temporary, intended to last but a moment here, but how are you building it? How will your legacy outlive you when your critics and naysayers are long gone?
Temporary seasons in lives lived with a legendary outlook cannot help but change skylines, worlds, hearts, and lives.
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain:
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
In a world where it seems bigger is always better – especially in the great state of Texas– it can be so easy to dismiss small things. We focus on the big moments in life: births and deaths, doors that open and close, triumphs and tragedies. While acknowledging pivotal landmarks and milestones, may we continue to keep the smaller things in mind as well. While we may define our lives by the big moments, the actual living of it takes place in the smaller ones.
The celebration of a wedding anniversary is possible because two people have striven for at least a year to recommit themselves to love. They have worked through challenges and celebrated tiny joys along the way. The celebration of a birthday commemorates thousands of moments that have made that life possible. If there are loved ones there to celebrate alongside the birthday boy or girl, it is because efforts have been made throughout the year to sustain those relationships.
As we reflect on the things that give our lives meaning, may we celebrate the big things but not forget about the small ones. The tiniest of smiles can bring joy into the heart of someone in tears. A gentle touch of the hand can bring healing into a broken life. A small step can be the beginning of a monumental journey.
As we progress quickly through this new year, take the time to dream big but never underestimate the value of small dreams as well. Whether you are saving the world or simply helping a fallen robin find his nest, your efforts are not in vain.
Ezekiel had had quite a journey. Carried away from Judah into captivity at a young age, he had seen his nation scattered and absorbed into the ever-expanding Babylonian empire. In his latest vision, he found himself wading through a hot, dry valley scattered with bones – dusty, remembrances of lives that had surrendered to their inevitable end. Just as Babylon had taken the identity of his people, this valley represented the triumph of death. Bones were mixed together in such a way that each life represented was indistinguishable from the last. The graveyard stretched before him, filling the open valley with its dreadful presence as he stared across the vast sea of lost lives.
And then a voice from heaven broke the solemn silence:
“Son of man, can these bones live?”
It might have seemed a strange question to Ezekiel. Could these innumerable dead really rise up? But he had learned early in his ministry to focus on the God who could do all things.
At the Lord’s command, Ezekiel delivered a message of life to the dead bones. As his words floated across the desert winds, he heard the distinct sound of rattling. Bones that had been scattered across the valley came together to form the people they had once been. Muscles crept across skeletons, quickly covered themselves by skin. But God’s purpose for the bones to live – not to merely have the appearance of life. So once again Ezekiel preached, this time calling for them to breathe. As lungs began to take in the dry desert air, that mess of bones suddenly became a mighty army standing at attention, a picture of God’s promise of new life for His people.
So often our own valleys are littered with personal boneyards – wide stretches of land scattered with the lifeless remains of dreams, plans, hopes, and potential. We see opportunities we have squandered, chances that have passed us by, relationships that did not work out. But, just as He spoke to Ezekiel, God begins with a simple question:
“Do you believe I can bring newness into your life?”
It is in those moments that He reminds us that He is the life giver. The same God who breathed physical life into man in Eden also breathed spiritual life into His church at Pentecost.
What are the dry bones in your life right now? Whatever you may find yourself facing today, remember that the very same God who spoke the world into existence can speak new life into your situation. Dry bones can come alive and broken lives can be reborn. It is truly remarkable what we can find in a valley when we take the time to let God speak to us through our lowland experiences.
This concludes our 10 Things You’ll Find in a Valley series. Thank you for joining us!
The sun was hot over the Wilderness of Paran where a group of expectant families looked to the land of Canaan, anxiously awaiting the return of the twelve men who had been sent to check out the land. Everything in their lives hinged on the moment they would cross the Jordan River. The long hours they had toiled as slaves in Egypt, the years spent in the desert, the stories they had heard as children – everything was building up to this.
Then, to their families’ delight, a dozen tired men cast shadows on the road home. What tales of the land would they bring? What were they carrying? Could it be fruit? Indeed, two men were carrying an enormous cluster of grapes on a pole between them. Others had packages laden with pomegranates and figs. Taking everything in, their hopes must have soared. The Promised Land was everything they had hoped it would be.
But then the spies issued their report.
In spite of the riches they had encountered, most were upset. In observing the people of the mountains and the harvests of the valleys, they could only see trouble. In spite of the fertile soil and abundant harvests, they only saw the hardships ahead. In spite of God’s awesome promise of provision, they could not seem to take Him at His word. When they looked across their valley, they could only see the giants that blocked their pathway – not the nourishment that would keep them through it all. Sadly, it was this mindset that caused Israel a forty-year delay before they could set their feet in the Promised Land.
But the story goes on.
With their aged leader near the end of his life, the children of the previous generation looked across the fertile valleys, awaiting Moses’ instruction. They were ready. They took in the rolling hills and bubbling springs and could not wait to cross over. God had promised that there were valleys filled with nourishment. For a people who had spent years as slaves, struggling to get by, then years in the desert, living on faith that God would provide, it was an awesome promise:
“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing; a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills you can dig copper.” (Deuteronomy 8:7-9)
While it is wonderful to live in the promises of God, it does not mean we will not walk through valleys. It does not mean there will not be obstacles to face. But it is often in the valleys were the soil is richest and nourishment abounds. If we only focus on the giant obstacles that block us from reaching everything God has for us, it can be so easy to overlook the blessings He provides for us along the way. Even in the darkest valleys of life, God provides everything we need to flourish.
Joshua surveyed the Valley of Aijalon that stretched out before him. Reason told him it was too late. A troop of Amorites rushed across the plain, fleeing his army as quickly as the rolling hills of the Shephelah would allow. The moon had already risen over the valley. Night was falling fast and there was no human way his army could complete the chase.
When they had left Gilgal in pursuit of five Amorite armies set to attack their ally in Gibeon, it had been an intense journey. They had climbed uphill for the entire night in their efforts to cover the sixteen miles that separated them from their foe. Even after exhaustion had set in, they had managed a furious fight, mowing down a significant number before the remaining Amorites chose to scurry down the mountain and flee.
Sleep-deprivation notwithstanding, they had chased the five armies into the foothills, running an additional seven miles until they arrived at the Beth-horon pass where Joshua now stood. Just below, the plain of Aijalon glowed with the impending moonlight and he saw the enemy escaping toward the Mediterranean coastline. He had led an army as far as he possibly could through his own strength. If the sun set, Amorites would be lost to the cover of nightfall before he could fulfill the promise he had made to his ally. And so Joshua turned his eyes upward.
There was one truth he had carried throughout his life: the land beneath his feet was promised to him.
He was a child of the covenant God had made with his ancestors – a part of something bigger than this individual moment. Joshua knew that victory was promised. He had heard it growing up as a slave in Egypt. He had believed it when he had scouted out the land. He had watched God part waters and level a city without a single clashing of swords. Perhaps he thought of Jericho’s ruins in the moment. Perhaps he saw the hail storm forming on the Mediterranean and rushing furiously across the Valley of Aijalon toward the Amorites. Whatever the case, Joshua lifted up his voice in one of the boldest prayers ever uttered:
"Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon.” (Joshua 10:12)
And, incredibly, heavenly bodies froze in their appointed places. The sun shone over Gibeon and the moon glowed over Aijalon simultaneously. The day was extended, allowing time for the impending storm to wipe out the majority of the rival armies and lasting just long enough for Joshua to finish his conquest of the valley.
Valleys often seem full of impossible timings. We strive to do everything right but sometimes it seems like moments and opportunities have passed us by. But God operates on a different timetable. When He makes a promise, He knows how to live up to it. In so many situations, it is through His perfect timing that He receives all the glory.
We may have to climb a mountain at midnight with our target just out of reach but God can cause time to stand still and bring victory to us.
The Valley of Achor had a reputation. Its name literally meant “trouble.” On the heels of an astonishing victory in Jericho, God issued a command: no one was to take the spoils of the city. Silver and gold were brought into the house of God but everything else was destroyed. Or so they thought. A man named Achan simply could not resist the luxurious leftovers. He hid them among his belongings, hoping no one would notice. When their next battle produced a horrific defeat, Joshua sought the Lord, who instructed him to root out the thief. It was after Achan’s punishment that the valley earned its sad name.
The stones marked Achan’s grave for many years. They had built altars in the early years to remember God’s miracles but Achan’s grave commemorated trouble. It was etched into their minds as a continual reminder of the judgment for sin, seared into their memories as a place of failure.
We find the Valley of Achor again in a somewhat unlikely place. Isaiah was nearing the end of his prophecies. Directly after a passage on judgment, he began to describe redemption, recasting a vision of a valley that had been associated with trouble for so long:
“And the Valley of Achor [shall be] a place for herds to lie down” (Isaiah 65:10).
The valley bore a mark of trouble, but Isaiah promised it would become a place of peace where cattle and sheep could be nourished.
Hosea reiterated the promise. He had described a relationship in which his people constantly failed God. They had promised to be faithful and had strayed time and time again. Hosea wrote about God’s justice but then immediately reminded them that God’s love and mercy are unfailing:
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, will bring her into the wilderness and speak comfort to her. I will give her the vineyards from there, and the Valley of Achor as a door of hope” (Hosea 2:14-15).
Of all the transformations God has wrought, how beautiful it is that He turned the Valley of Trouble into a door of hope.
Perhaps the old song says it best: “In the valley He restoreth my soul.”
You may have a Valley of Achor in your life – a moment that seemingly marks you and tells you that you will forever bear the burden of your mistakes. Perhaps you are simply going through a season of trouble and there’s no end in sight. But God specializes in both creation and re-creation. Trouble may have defined your life for a time but He can take the most troubled valleys in our lives and turn them into gateways of hope.