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.