Two years ago my life began to take a turn. At the time I would have called it a "turn for the worse" even though I didn't fully realize what was happening or how it would affect me. My life was teetering on the brink of darkness—a darkness so deep and consuming that I didn't know it existed. Well, that's not entirely true. If I thought about it, I could have sited multiple examples of such darkness...in other people's lives. But, no, that depth of darkness had never come near me.
Then it happened. A phone call was all it took. I was pushed, without warning, into the darkest night I had ever known. In an instant my world went from beauty to ashes...from happiness to despair...from "all is well" to "will I ever be OK?"
As I thrashed about in the darkness, looking for a way out, crying out for mercy, I felt the hand of the Savior. It was warm and strong and gentle and confident. He began to lead me—not out of the darkness but through it. I hung my head low, my eyes cast to the ground, for I couldn't see anything anyway. It was very dark. At times I would squeeze my eyes so tightly shut that I would see stars. Indeed, that was the only glimpse of light I was able to see now. I walked, or rather stumbled, ahead in the darkness led by a Hand I couldn't see but couldn't deny feeling.
I have never experienced physical blindness, but with spiritual blindness as my new companion, I had a lot of time to think. I imagine this to be true of those whose eyes are blinded to their natural world. In the beginning I spent much of my time remembering what it was like to see—what life was like before the darkness had settled in (it actually flung itself upon me). I categorized my life into two parts: (1) before the phone call, and (2) after the phone call. Life before the phone call was easy, predictable, fun and one to be coveted. Life after the phone call was dark. Very, very dark.
Envy became a new companion as well. I would look at other people and envy the ease with which they seemed to be passing through life. Bitterness soon followed because other people were living the life I once had. In fact, I was convinced they had somehow stolen my life. It's a funny thing how your heart can become so infected with things of this world—bitterness, envy, unforgiveness, fear—and yet you continue to feel the Hand that leads you. Its as if the condition of your heart has no bearing on the One who leads. Yes, I know this to be true.
A valley. That is the term I came up for my new existence. I was living in a valley and would be there for an undisclosed amount of time. Perhaps it would be for the remainder of my days in this life. That was often my only consolation—for I knew God's Word promised the troubles of this life would not, could not, follow me to the next. At some point, I began living in the valley, not just existing. And still the Hand of the Savior led me.
The Dawn of a New Light
Last Sunday morning, as I was standing in worship, I looked up for the first time in two years. I started to tell you that I opened my eyes for the first time, but the truth is my eyes had opened earlier at some point and even adjusted to the dark. I could see things...I could see God at work in my life. But I had not looked up since that first night in the valley. I had learned to walk with my head hung low, my eyes cast to the ground.
You'd think I would be able to recall the song we were singing, but that seemed to be irrelevant to the conversation that took place between my God and me. As I sang, I sensed the Holy Spirit was telling me, or asking me, "Where are you standing?"
"It's a valley, Lord. I know full well because I have been here for two years. I'm trying to learn the lessons you have for me in the valley." There was not an audible answer at first—not even in my spirit. But there was a touch. I felt the Savior take His hand from mine, place it on my chin, and lift my face to the heavens. "Look up, my child. Where are you standing?"
That is when I realized I was no longer standing in a valley—my valley—I was standing on a mountaintop. Then an understanding overtook me at once—like something you realize you've always known but never acknowledged. I wasn't just arriving on the mountaintop. I had been here for some time. My Savior had led me here. In fact, after the initial plunge into darkness, when I felt Him take my hand, my Savior began to lead me up out of the valley. I couldn't say how long I had been here—on this mountain—because I had kept my eyes low, certain that a valley was where I would remain.
There's something you must understand. My valley didn't become a mountaintop because my circumstances had changed. In fact, very little had changed about the circumstances that pushed me into the valley. What made it a mountaintop is God's presence with me and the things He had taught me over the past two years. It was a mountaintop because of the intimacy I shared with my Lord...because of the truths that enveloped my heart and gave me new understanding...because of the grace and mercy that had been poured out on me...because He turned my "valley of weeping into a place of springs." (Psalm 84:6)
Yes, life is a journey. Sometimes we journey through valleys, filled with darkness, and sometimes we journey over high mountains, shrouded in bright light. And sometimes, when we fix our gaze on the Savior, we realize it doesn't matter whether we are in a valley or on a mountaintop. The only thing that matters is that we are with HIM.