From the Valley of Suck to the Plains of Hope

I started hiking again. That may not sound like much but for me, it put me in touch with my soul in such a way that it brought a lot of things together, namely, hope.

These days I am a bi-vocational pastor, working part-time at my church and part-time is a therapist. Because of that second job, the young people I work with got me out on a trail for the first time in a long time. I discovered trails just a ten minute drive from my house and so it got me back up in the mornings, exercising and in touch with nature and it tapped my soul. It touched hope.

I am a huge believer in our lives being holistic: mental, emotional, physical and spiritual. I know some folks discount the spiritual but for me, well, I can’t get passed what Jesus did for me, does for me and that transfers to my faith in Jesus’ words of what He will do in the future. Since the journey through the valley of suck began, the spiritual is one thing that has been most consistent even as the other three wavered and collapsed.

With each day, week, month, and year that has passed, I’ve been up and down. Hitting rock bottom mentally, I got on medication and through some therapy, we determined I have a general anxiety disorder that if left unattended, can lead to depression and panic attacks. What I learned was how my emotional, physical and spiritual practices had kept this in check for all these years.

The emotional, is really all tied together. Still, learning to be independent, releasing my young adult children to live their own lives, and reforming my support network was big. I can’t say enough how falling in love again has made a HUGE impact BUT I had to be emotionally ready for that, and I couldn’t expect Lauren to take on my emotional health. I had to own it.

And so then came the physical, an on again, off again struggle, it finally came together three weeks ago on the trail and with it, came hope. The valley of suck began in the fall of 2014, so coming on 5 years, it seems that the journey has led me to something I’d like to call the plains of hope. No analogy is perfect but it seems here, with hope, I am able to have some freedom in the choices I make where the valley of suck is mired in survival. I also say “plains” because I can still the valley of suck around me. It is always possible to step in it and stumble and fall.

Grief remains.  It just doesn't go away.  It is right there in my pack when I hit the trail.  It turns ugly sometimes and the dust and mud from the valley of suck remain.  You've got to do you.  You've got to find the road forward and address the mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual aspects that feed you.

Grief has become a new industry now.  I can tell.  My social media has blown up with new books and new coaches.  My readership on my blog has dropped off tremendously since Heather's death.  Granted I haven't written so much and that is precisely because the journey has been hard as "H -E - double hockey sticks."  We don't get over the grief - we walk through it - we walk with it - and we grow with it as part of who we are.  I never wanted my blog or writing to be solely about grief and being widow.  Life is more than that.  It sucks BUT it can be so much worth living!

For me, Paul’s words of tribulation and suffering have come to have much broader understanding than my younger years could have comprehended…

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)

Judging Just Ain't Your Thing So Give Grace

You ever have one of those moments with your best friend or significant other and say, “I just need some space?” It isn’t always that you have a disagreement or a fight, you just find in yourself that you need some time to “figure stuff out” even if you don’t know what that STUFF is??? When you become an adult, we get the weekend or some vacation to do it, and hopefully we don’t wait and do something stupid.

How do you respond when someone says it to you, though? It might be easy to take offense right? You wonder if you did something wrong if they didn’t give you more information. You might be tempted to say, “What’s your problem?” or worse yet, just blow them off and walk away. Maybe even judge them? (gasp!)

Of course we would. We’re human. It is our nature to be self centered. It isn’t good, its just who we are sometimes. Okay, maybe it is just how I am (when I am at my worst, of course).

I couldn’t help think about it today though, how we look at other people on their spiritual journey, when they are not at a place where we are, spiritually speaking. Our ideas of discipleship seem to prove the idea that we are more gracious for the flaws of those like us and far more quick to demand more from those who are not.

Jesus was always quick with stories and images and one of those favorite images is that of planting. He talked of seeds and shrubs. He condemned a fig tree and talked about harvesting wheat, the struggles with weeds. When it comes to planting, growing, and harvesting, Jesus makes clear, we don’t have as much control as we think. In one of those stories, here is what Jesus said...

“And He was saying, “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil;27and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know.28“The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head.29“But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29)

I’ve also often heard the adage too, “bloom where you are planted,” directed at pastors. I’ve done enough gardening to know that sometimes, plants don’t grow in one place but take off in another. It could be a combination of soil acidity, sunlight, rain, temperature, or even a neighborhood dog coming by and peeing on our plants in the early morning when we don’t know. I’ve observed enough and pastored long enough to have seen pastors who didn’t “grow” the church they served in one place and in another, the church they were serving took off. I’ve seen it to be the case in my own calling as well. Growing an orchard is going to take longer than growing a field of wildflowers. Be gracious others on the journey.

"Don’t judge" seems to be one of the best reminders we can remember when we speak of the spiritual journey and how people are growing in their faith.  I just don't know WHY some people do what they do.  You don't know why I do what I do.

Moving into judgement is also a movement into shaming another person. There is no life giving justification for shaming others, the journey of life will present enough struggles and pitfalls of its own without offering condemnation or shame on another. Jesus is so quick to encourage us OFF that path: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. (Luke 6:37)

Notice that Jesus gives us the best possible scenario: If you are going to do something then forgive others! Pardon others! Be merciful! Let God handle the judgement part when God determines the right time for it (Isaiah 33:22). See all the people as God does, as you were, and as you are, a person of worth in need of God’s abundant grace.  Judging just ain't your thing.

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