Some years ago, our family moved home from Budapest, Hungary after nearly 10 years overseas as missionaries. Budapest was more than a mission field to us, it was home. It was where our children were born and where deep friendships were forged. It was where our passion for the hurting was shaped, especially since my own healing journey started there. It broke our hearts to leave, and upon settling in the NW we realized that we were now foreigners in a land we used to call home. They call it reverse culture shock - where you don’t recognize what used to feel familiar. In fact, many things had changed. Most friendships had moved on, technology was light years ahead of us and, well, we were the odd ducks.
Hungarians spoke their mind. There was an honesty and a depth to our relationships. Here, if we spoke our minds and shared our needs we were labeled HNI ( high need individuals) or even worse, EGR (extra grace required!!). We needed a home, a school, a car, friends, a church, etc, we needed everything! And I remember like it was yesterday how hard it was…I learned quickly that to share our needs honestly meant visibly seeing people step back like we were the plague!
Not wanting our kids to miss a beat, yet knowing they were adjusting as much as we were, I found myself on my knees, crying out to the Lord. And I began to realize that I knew the Lord as my Savior and my Healer. Very intimately in fact. But did I know Him as my Provider? As my Rest? As my Identity? As my Peace? As the Lover and Restorer of my soul? Sadly, I couldn’t honestly answer yes. Those things were still out of reach with any kind of consistency, even after “serving” full-time for 10 years. And these immense changes really threw me…
I remember very clearly a morning where I was listening to a worship song and crying out desperately to the Lord to meet me. We had been home close to a year and we were so broke financially - as it turned out, it wasn’t quite as glamorous to support stateside missionaries, so several of our supporting churches and individuals moved on to other international pursuits. Jeff’s ministry to churches was making a significant impact but it wasn’t showing yet in financial support. We were struggling to make ends meet - It was so bad that I would go to the mail box praying there would be a gift of some kind waiting for us! I know it sounds pathetic, but that’s where we were at!
That morning, I was listening to a worship song, “ The River Is Here”. The song was one of celebration, but I didn’t feel that way. God asked me, “Where do the rivers flow?” I thought to myself, “God, I’m pleading with you here, why are you asking me stupid questions??” But He wouldn’t let it pass and so, reluctantly, I tried to give a decent answer. “I don’t know, to the oceans.” He said, “Yes, and what does that mean?” Frustrated, I responded “I don’t know God! Can we get back to the issue at hand?? I need You to show up here!” But He remained attentive, waiting for my answer.
I had so much negative self-talk going on inside. How were we gonna make it? What was our purpose now? Still He waited…I thought long and hard and realized that rivers usually start somewhere in the mountains and flow to the lowest place until they reach the oceans. So I said that, and He gave me a picture that has remained with me to this day…I realized that rivers have created valleys as they carve their way down through rocky landscape…I saw myself in a valley, where the river was flowing gently, barely moving. I was standing in the river dressed in white and the water was gently lapping up against me. There was a sense of cleansing, of renewal, of peace and rest. Then I saw myself walking alongside the bank of the river, where every step was an effort to get through the dense vegetation, but there were beautiful and delicate flowers along the way. I sensed that God wanted me to take in the beauty and every detail that I saw along the path. The details of the valley mattered to God and He wanted me to see this. But I also noticed that I couldn’t see much past my next step. Every step took effort, and I just had to trust God that He was in it.
Then I saw myself start to climb the steep embankment alongside the river. As I continued climbing, I began to feel a sense of accomplishment, like “now we’re getting somewhere!” I could see more than just my next step and felt like God was leading me somewhere. It felt good, purposeful.
When I finally got to the top of the mountain, I could see for miles! I had vision and clarity and confidence! I knew where I had been and where I was going - the blessing of perspective. But I was thirsty…and the Lord said, “That’s why I take you back to the valley, where the rivers flow…”
You see, I wanted to be on the mountain top. All the time. If I was in a valley, I felt ashamed or inadequate, like I was being punished or did something wrong. But God has beautiful, delicate, specific treasures for us in the valley if we only look for them and embrace them. Instead, most of us miss what He has for us in the valley because we are comparing ourselves to others, resenting our time there, straining for the mountaintop.
God has different things for us in both places. This was a spiritual awakening for me. That God takes all of us on a journey that includes both valleys and mountaintops and everything in-between. I poured out my confession to God: Asking His forgiveness for taking Him for granted when I was on the mountain top and doubting His love when I was in the valley.
When we can embrace fully where we are at in the moment, we will begin to see with fresh eyes that we are exactly where God has us… There is a steadiness of life that begins to flood our hearts when we can see that God is at work in all of it. There is no shame in being in the valley if we know that it’s not because of any sin we have committed. Sometimes life is just hard. But placed in the Father’s hands, He can make something beautiful out of the ashes.
This vivid picture has stayed with me all these years and was my first step in longing for more of Jesus. More of His peace no matter what my circumstances were, more of His stillness in the midst of my stressful and demanding life…more of His presence in each of my days.
As you take this in, where are you at in light of this story? What are you longing for? What are your disappointments? Your fears? Do you share some of the inadequacies I felt when I was in the valley? Are you comparing yourself to other believers who seem to “have it all together?”
God is at work in you, for you. He has your best in mind. Take a few moments to share honestly with the Lord what you need. Let Him speak back to you as you listen with your heart, mind and soul. Allow Him to pour out His love and remind you that He will never leave you or forsake you and that you are in His care.