The park was busy and full of people. Vendors lined the sidewalks, selling their unique creations to pay some bills. Children played and college students threw Frisbees. The dog owners played with their dogs. Others strolled hand in hand, glowing in their euphoria of newly discovered love. Others, the homeless beggars, held up signs asking for a donation. Each person had a reason to be there that day, sharing the sunny, but cooler weather outside. But, as I too, had ventured out for a walk through the park that day, I noticed the two women.

Their circumstances, other than the fact they were both in the park that day, could not have been further apart. I imagined for a moment what they must be thinking. The first woman clutched the worn scarf close to her throat to protect herself from the cold wind gust. Her coat was thin and inadequate for the weather in January.

There was a scowl on her face and she barely looked up from the sidewalk. It appeared that she did not dare to make any eye contact with anyone. She seemed lost in her own thoughts, that had taken her to another place and time. She spoke a few words as I passed by her, but not to me, just to the person she was with. It was not a kind tone, but rather angry.

Why was she angry? I could only imagine what she was angry about. Was she mad at the person next to her? Was she bitter at the lot life had dealt her? Was she hiding pain in her life that came out as anger and bitterness? Was she blaming the other person, or herself, or maybe even God? Had she felt forsaken and lost?

The second woman I saw also wore a scarf around her neck to protect herself from the cold wind. The sun must have felt warm on her face as she closed her eyes for a moment and smiled. She opened her eyes and looked up in time to see the first woman. She probably heard her complaining as had I. She raised her eyebrows in wonder, as if to ask the question; “I wonder what is bothering her?” She might have been considering the differences between the two of them as I had. I wondered if she would have wanted to change places with her, but I thought better about it when she turned towards me and smiled.

She was the complete opposite of the first woman, the one who was scowling and complaining. She smiled at me and nodded as if to say, yeah I heard that woman too, and yeah she must have some real problems going on. We exchanged this moment of nods and smiles. On the ground beside her was a sign, scribbled across a piece of cardboard. She appeared to have nothing, but she had so much more than the first woman. She had peace.

The first woman should have had that peace too, but didn’t. She looked as if she had enough of everything. The beautiful silk scarf, purchased years ago, but still her favorite. The beautiful woven coat. The stomach filled with food and a companion to stroll the park with. She had glanced down at the second woman, but darted her gaze away as the woman had smiled at her. Just the moment before, she had seen her with eyes closed tilt her head back and smile. “What could she possibly smile at?” she wondered, but realized that this woman was probably happier than she was at that moment. The thought bothered her and she looked away as the woman had opened her eyes and smiled back at her.

We never really know what another person is thinking. We also do not understand what they are going through or have been through. Appearances deceive us. Those with the most, sometimes are the least likely to be content. At peace with themselves and others. Even at peace with God. Those with peace sometimes have the least.

Sometimes we might feel as though our circumstances are what defines us. We might think the universe has dealt us a bad hand. Someone is to blame and we are constantly trying to figure out who to blame. If we blame ourselves, we learn to turn that inward towards ourselves. We call ourselves names or harm our self. If we blame others, we will be bitter and angry. We will explode outward towards others or even hurt them. We try to deal with this pain. If we blame God, we will avoid Him at all costs. Deny Him, avoid church or leave church. Argue with those from churches or who call themselves Christians. We will do everything that goes against God and what His word says.

The problem with these approaches is that it rarely solves anything. The more blaming we do, the less happy we are. We are convinced this is our lot in life. We make no room for enjoyment. We keep walking forward, eyes cast down and a scowl on our faces. We don’t want to think about anything good happening to us or to others around us. We feel forsaken and we prefer to stay there in that place rather than moving past our circumstances. We like our discontent and after awhile it becomes too comfortable to give up.

We might even find others who also feel forsaken and unhappy and play the “my pain and problems are worse than yours” game. We up the ante, building upon the negativity in each other’s lives. Misery loves company as they say.

But, it really doesn’t have to be like this. The Bible is filled with promises that God will not forsake us. He is with us and cares for us and about us. Hebrews states that “God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5, NIV) Deuteronomy adds “Be strong and courageous; do not be afraid or terrified of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Dt. 31:6) and Jesus said, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20.

These are just three verses that remind us that God is with us. We don’t have to let circumstances tell us the lie that we are alone and have to figure it all out ourselves. Stuff happens. But God is still there. We don’t have to live in bitterness and anger. We don’t have to feel forsaken. We can find peace and contentment, despite our circumstances. Letting go of the hurts and pains and giving them to God is the first step. God Bless – Nancy

Hills And Valleys

My morning song selection seemed very fitting today. As soon as the song began it brought me anxious thoughts for this day as well as memories from long ago. It was Tauren Wells singing “Hills and Valleys”. It is a great song that reminds us that God is always with us in those lows and highs of our lives.

This morning had been one of those low moments after my mother in law called with news about my husband’s younger sister and her medical emergency. She was okay now, but it was a very unexpected event. The kind that could have gone very badly. Thankfully she is better now, but it definitely put everything into perspective. Life is so uncertain and we never know when we will go from a hill top to a valley.

I grew up in northern New England. Its an area of the United States, named after its mostly English settlers and is known for as being part of the Appalachian Mountains. These mountains were formed from glaciers that melted and dug across the area, leaving behind tall mountain peaks and deep valleys below. Many of the towns are either located in valleys or along the sides of the mountains. The terrain is not flat between these mountains but is more rolling with hills and small level spots that were build able along the rivers and lakes.

As I was thinking about Tauren Wells’ song this morning, I was brought back to a time in my childhood when my mom started a 4- H club for the community youth, mostly farm families, in our home town. The young farm kids learned good citizenship, good animal husbandry skills and team work. But, because there weren’t that many farms in our actual hometown, many of the kids who belonged were from the neighboring small towns. Towns that were scattered along the valleys, mountains and hillsides.

To start the club, my mom needed to give it a name, and as all the adults were brainstorming for ideas, I, as a younger than the official age to join the club, made a profound realization and I spoke up, “Why not call it Hill and Valley” since that describes the variety of places the kids were coming from? I may have been too young to join, but the adults, including my mom liked it and the name was officially chosen. So shout out to anyone back in my hometown who knows if it still is going strong as a 4- H club. I know it was for a while.

The song also brought to mind the 23rd Psalm. About walking in shadows of the valley of death. If you follow the psalm it shifts to speak of the good things God does- anointing the head with oil, spreading out a banquet, goodness and mercy, dwelling in God’s house. It seems quite the contrast when you think about it. The valley of the deepest despair, when you think you’re going to die , to the point you can enjoy the full, over-flowing cup of God’s mercy and goodness.

We usually reserve Psalm 23 for funerals, but I’m not sure why. Whoever is dead is not passing through the shadows of death. They are already dead. But, it seems more fitting for this life. We will go through valleys. Through shadows of death. When we have despair. When we cannot see our way out of the valley. The mountains are too high. Our sadness too overwhelming. But God is with us. He has not abandoned us. He is there in the valleys as well as those amazing mountain top moments. The moments with the celebrations and banquets when our joy is over flowing.

We all like those moments. We wish that we had more. But what if what we think our valleys now, are really mountaintop moments?

I’m sure my sister in law, thought nothing of her routine procedure yesterday. It was just another thing on the schedule. Another evening like the ones before to come home from work, make dinner and sit down with her husband. We all do the same or similar. We wake, go through our days, spend time with our families, our spouses, our pets, our co -workers. And we have anxiety. We have stresses, We have high food prices, and high gasoline prices. We worry about measuring up at work or school. We know we should pray more, read our Bibles more, serve more, share more. But, in these simple moments- stressed filled and all, what if these are mountains? What if they aren’t the valleys we think they are? Life is short. Our days are numbered before they begin, but through it all, God. God is with us. Through the days when we think we are falling into the shadows of the death. When we are lifting our hands in praise to God for the awesome answers to prayer. He is there in it all.

I have been in those deep valleys, praying and crying in the hospital room while a loved one lay in a coma, dying. I have been on the mountains when the praise from the worship band was so amazing, Heaven came down, and the presence of God fell down. To the point at which the worship lead stopped singing and fell to his knees as I too stopped singing. There were no words that could describe His presence.

God was not any closer in that moment, than at the moment in the hospital as my own mother lay dying. He was there. With me. In the hills and in the valleys, -God Bless You- Nancy

Even though I walk

through the darkest valley,

I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff,

they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies.

You anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

Surely your goodness and love will follow me

all the days of my life,

Psalm 23:4-6, NIV

Caution or fear

Life is full of challenges. Too many challenges some days, but overall its our attitude in facing these challenges  that can either hold us back or keep us moving forward. Recent days have demonstrated just how quickly life can change. Lives can be disrupted by a small crown like virus. For some it produces no more than the common cold, for others, a serious medical emergency. But all lives have been affected to be sure in some manner or another.

Yet, time continues to pass, whether that time passes while we sit indoors, or as we venture out to our jobs and schools. Circumstances change, locations change, but time is always moving forward.  We can latch onto this forward movement, or resist it and try to drag our heels.We can either find the good in our circumstances or look for the bad in our circumstances, but we cannot change the fact that even if our world seems to stop, life does not. We get older, and hopefully wiser, as we experience life. As the saying goes, time marches on.

I’ve recently been considering how I address the fears that have cropped up since the pandemic, and found that, I have been letting my emotions have first place. I am, by nature, a cautious person. I make sure not to pull out into traffic without looking carefully. In fact, during my driver’s test, that was the one complaint of the tester, I was too cautious! I will agree to that, I’d rather be safe than crash my car. But sometimes too much caution keeps me from enjoying my life. For example, I’m afraid of roller coasters that turn upside down. I love fast roller coasters- in fact the faster the better- but, I’m just too cautious to go upside down. I’m cautious. But, someday I imagine I will get the courage to face this fear and go on one of those crazy twisty, upside down terror rides.

As the days have passed since the beginning of this pandemic I have noticed there is great debate over the seriousness of the pandemic, some toss all caution to the wind, while others are fearful of everyone and avoid everybody. I admit, at first I was scared to death and followed every update on the news. But, then I began to read more about the disease and also a book that challenged my faith. It made me realize how I had allowed my natural caution to turn into fear and here I was with this question posed at me by the author of the book, “Am I afraid to die?” Wow, that’s heavy for anyone to read in a book about helping your thought life. Thanks? for that, I feel so much better now.  Seriously though,that really put things into perspective. I do believe God has given us all a healthy fear of death, so we will be cautious and not hurt ourselves. But, we can allow this fear to control us and manipulate us.

It’s a good question to ask yourself, what am I afraid of? Am I afraid of all the bad news I hear? Afraid of being rejected? Afraid or being hurt? Afraid of failing? Anyone of these fears are normal, but when moved past the level of cautious to downright fearful, we have a problem. It freezes us from moving forward.We close ourselves off to others, and to God. Difficulties will always face us as a planet. There will be more pandemics, more floods, more wildfires, more famines, more earthquakes, more hurricanes, more betrayals, more hurts, more financial problems, more sicknesses and diseases that claim too many lives too soon. But what matters is how we process all of this. We can be filled with fear and resign ourselves to believe that God is a God who doesn’t care what is going on down here, or we can quietly, take a deep breath, pray, seek God’s face and not His hand, and trust. That’s it. Trust. All of our fear and worry will not change the outcome. This planet will move forward.Time will move forward. All the circumstances that cause us fear will disappear as quickly as they came. In the meantime, trust. God promises that He will never leave us or forsake us. It is what I have banked my life on. God does not leave. God is with us even through this time of stress and anxiety. We can be cautious and wise, but not let fear get the better of us. God’s got this.