Mountains & Valleys

We are not made for the mountains, for sunrises, or for the other beautiful attractions in life— those are simply intended to be moments of inspiration. We are made for the valley and the ordinary things of life, and that is where we have to prove our stamina and strength. 
-Oswald Chamers

Back in April, Matthew was in one of his very best friend's weddings. The location was one of the prettiest I've been to. Located in East Tennessee on top of a mountain, with stunning 360 degree views and a beautiful stone chateau. We spent the weekend celebrating our friends while surrounded by some of the people we love the most. As the reception winded down Saturday night, Matthew and I sat alone by one of the fire-pits looking over the ridge towards the mountains and the stars beyond us. The laughter and music from the reception tent drifted towards us, but was drowned out by the crackling of the fire. It was one of those GOOD moments. Quite literally a mountain top moment. I sighed contentedly and rested my head on his shoulder wishing that we had more weekends like these. Weekends that left us worn out in for the best reasons. Weekends that gathered lots of people we love into one place for great food and fellowship. Weekends where he and I floated on a cloud of romance and happiness together. Weekends spent on mountain tops.

The moment following that sweet one where I was soaking up every bit of my husband's face illuminated by the warm fire, was the moment that Oswald Chamber's quote un-welcomingly popped into my head: We are not made for the mountains. And how true that was for this season of life. 

You may or may not have noticed that I took a 2 month hiatus from Shalom Sisters. Thanks to a water leak that went undetected for, well who knows how long, we had to evacuate our house and live with my parents while construction crews ripped up floors, took down dry wall, removed cabinets, and then worked hard to put it all back together again. This threw a major wrench into our plans and really interrupted our little mountain top. It didn't start off as an intentional break, but as we quickly descended from the mountain top and made our way into the valley, it became obvious that my energy was greatly needed elsewhere. Now don't get me wrong, there were plenty of perks about moving in with mom and dad. For example, my sweet Momma did all the cooking and cleaning. We got quite spoiled in that way. We also relished in deep conversations with them. It was difficult on us too though as we had set up our lives on one end of town then had to relocate to the other. For two people who love routine and structure, it was a difficult time. Not to mention we were just not in our own home, with our own things, and our own time to ourselves. 

During this time, we celebrated our first year of marriage. I had planned on writing a post about what I've learned and what I've loved about being Matthew's wife, but I didn't quite know what to say. The water damage and house evacuation hasn't been our only or our lowest valley in the past year. It's been a deeply good year while also being the most challenging year I've known (more on that in later posts). It has not been a Nora Ephron "happily ever after", but I thank God for that. Instead, composed of both mountain tops and valleys, our marriage has been something more beautiful, more genuine, and definitely more along the lines of what God had designed for both of us.

This is where the rest of the Chamber's quote plays in: "We are made for the valley and the ordinary things of life, and that is where we have to prove our stamina and strength". Marriage isn't the first experience that I've taken on expecting only mountain tops. In truth, I have lived my whole life relishing the mountain top moments and doing all within my power to avoid the valleys. But I am beginning to see that the mountain tops give us glimpses of heaven, of what is to come, of Eden, and of the goodness of God. They are not the now, or the always, or even the norm (even though modern day America would have us believe otherwise). Chambers puts it like this: "Those times of exaltation are exceptional and they have their meaning in our life with God, but we must beware to prevent our spiritual selfishness from wanting to make them the only time."

I'm drawn to valley people in God's Word. To Moses, David, Sarah, Joseph, Peter, Paul and others. People whose character and relationship with God was forged by the time spent in the valley. People who praised Him not on mountain tops, but in prisons, in exile, in slavery, and in barrenness. All those faithful that I listed had their mountain tops of course, David was called a man after God's own heart, Sarah bore a son as an elderly woman, Joseph ruled over all of Egypt, but they knew God in the valley first. They trusted Him in the valley. They fought their doubts in the valley. They were refined in the valley. Sunday school felt boards may have led us all to believe that their stories were mostly mountain tops, but it really isn't so. Their reality was a gritty one, but also one in which God was faithful. Remember this part of Psalm 23?

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, You are with me. 

The past year has been a major reality check for me. Maybe people close to me knew I had some growing up to do, but I sure was blind to it. God is growing me up. And He doesn't do that on the mountain top. I have lived in fear of the valley, of loss, of death, of real pain, of those ugly trials that test you to your limit, but, after meeting those fears head on, I am praying now to embrace, not avoid them when I inevitably meet them in the future. For I do not want to be undone in the valley, I want to be made whole. 

Friend, if you find yourself exhausted by working hard to stay on the mountain top, let go. If you find yourself in the valley, know that you are not alone there. He is with you always. And please, remind me of this when my valleys get the best of me. 

It's not Sunday Songday, but as I have written this post, Ellie Holcomb's song The Valley keeps coming to mind.