Beauty in the ValleyPersonal landscapes end up shaping us differently; God calls us to be thankful in the midst of them.
In my 29 years of life, I have experienced many landscapes.
Growing up in The Salvation Army, and now as an officer (pastor), I am deeply thankful to have experienced many different landscapes that God created for us. I’ve mostly lived on the dynamic west coast, with a few years in the gorgeous northeast. There is beauty not only in the physical landscapes we travel through in life, but in the personal landscapes of our lives as well.
Personal landscapes, whether jagged or smooth, all end up shaping us in different ways. Some landscapes will be lush and bright, while others will be dry and dark. Yet, God calls us to be thankful in the midst of them all. How can we do that? It’s easy to be thankful during our “mountaintop” moments, but how do we give thanks when life is tough?
“We can give thanks to God, because fear will never conquer us if we invite Him along for the journey. He makes beauty from ashes, a truth I am living proof of.”
I am currently navigating through the toughest situation of my life. Earlier this year, my 3-year-old son Callum and I found ourselves in the midst of a trauma completely out of our control. In one day, our lives completely changed. We were abandoned and left with the aftermath. The result? I had to leave everything I loved—the church I pastored in Portland, the friends I adored, the vision God had given me for our community. I was completely broken: mentally, emotionally, spiritually. For weeks, I couldn’t sleep or eat without the help of others. My 3-year-old son even said to my visiting father one morning, “Grandpa? Mommy is broken.”
How do we see Jesus in the valley?
James 1:2-4 says, “My fellow believers, when it seems as though you are facing nothing but difficulties see it as an invaluable opportunity to experience the greatest joy that you can! For you know that when your faith is tested it stirs up power within you to endure all things. And then as your endurance grows even stronger it will release perfection into every part of your being until there is nothing missing and nothing lacking” (The Passion Translation).
We can see Jesus when we recognize the power within us that helps us to endure these trials. That kind of power is unrecognizable until you walk through the fire with Jesus. That power, just as the apostle James tells us, won’t stop until we are whole again.
A life-destroying event hit me like a ton of bricks. I didn’t see this trauma train rolling down the tracks towards me, not one bit! But soon after “T-Day” (the traumatic day my life fell apart), I realized quite powerfully that God had prepared me for what was coming. You see, two months before “T-Day,” God began leading me into deeper waters with Him. This wasn’t just walking hand-in-hand with Him, but rather running with Him at a rapid pace. I was left nearly breathless. I was confused, but committed, as He led me deeper.
The Lord kept leading me to a song I had never heard of: “In Over My Head” by Jenn Johnson. The song ebbs and flows like the tides of the ocean. You feel intensity build, until finally, all control is gone.
I had no idea why the Holy Spirit was knocking persistently on the doors of my heart with these words. I could just tell that God was preparing me for something in my life, but I had no idea what that “something” was. In the aftermath of my trauma, once I opened my eyes to see that Jesus was with me even before it happened, my perspective completely changed. I realized how I could give thanks, even in the midst of the grief I was experiencing.
How do we give thanks in the valley?
When we cling to the hope only God can provide, our perspective changes from a defensive posture to one of grace and humility. When we ‘let go and let God’ ravish our broken lives with His love, an ‘attitude of gratitude’ will come along with it. Those two phrases can often sound cliché, but hear me out: we don’t have to plaster a fake smile on our faces during hard times … that’s not even what God wants! He wants our authenticity and our transparency. We just have to make room in our grief, for the love of God to change us and shine through us. And as we witness God at work in our lives, we can’t help but give thanks.
“…we don’t have to plaster a fake smile to our faces during hard times … that’s not even what God wants!”
Psalm 23 is a passage of Scripture that people often go to in times of great grief and loss, to bring comfort to their aching souls. Yet, there is also great hope here, as David reminds us in verse 4: “Lord, even when Your path takes me through the valley of deepest darkness, fear will never conquer me, for You already have! You remain close to me and lead me through it all the way. Your authority is my strength and my peace. The comfort of Your love takes away my fear. I’ll never be lonely for You are near” (The Passion Translation).
We don’t dwell in our valleys alone, for our God is with us in all things. We can give thanks to God, because fear will never conquer us if we invite Him along for the journey. He makes beauty from ashes, a truth I am living proof of. And yes—while He creates that beauty, we dwell in the valley. We can give thanks by acknowledging His presence in these moments, and trusting Him as He leads us out of the valley into new landscapes. Just take one more step, then another … He’s got you.
For Further Study
Part of growing in our faith is figuring out how and where God breathes His Word and truth into our lives. The following are personal recommendations that have helped me navigate through this season of my life:
- “Remember God” by Annie F. Downs
- “It’s Not Supposed To Be This Way” by Lysa TerKeurst
- “Pray-As-You-Go”—a daily podcast, in the Lectio Divina style.
- “In Over My Head” by Jenn Johnson
- “Trust in You” by Lauren Daigle
- “One More Step” by People & Songs
- “Defender” by Francesca Battistelli
- “You’re Gonna Be OK” by Jenn Johnson
- “Praise Before My Breakthrough” by Bryan & Katie Torwalt
- “Another in the Fire” by Hillsong UNITED
- “Closer” by BETHEL Music
- “Reckless Love” by Cory Asbury