A couple walks arm in arm, runners sprint past, and grown men whiz by on bikes. A little boy cries crocodile tears as he tries to maneuver the trike with training wheels. The trail is full today, but so are the ditches on either side.
A week of gray skies and pounding rain kept us indoors, the pathway empty. Yesterday’s storm raged, the wind violently ripping branches, and we sidestep what has haphazardly fallen, careful to avoid the trees split in half that nearly block the way. The small dips are now filled to overflowing with stagnant water that approaches the edges of the trail, the limbs are empty of all they once held, but there are quiet conversations and laughter floating through the air like the branches swirling in the storm-made ponds.
I pause beside a tree that I’ve walked by one hundred times before. I know that it blooms each spring, that soon enough pale pink buds will appear, but today it appears void of life. For now, it tells the story of the storm. If I didn’t know any better, I’d declare destruction got the last word. But when I step back to snap a picture, my breath catches and tears prick, threatening to water the ground that is already flooded.
Somehow, my camera phone picks up the rays of the sun reaching, covering, landing directly on the broken pieces. Like a laser, it beams down on what has splintered. I snap pictures and walk on, wondering if I’ve just seen the verse that sits on my dresser come to life before my eyes.
Every day I look at a framed print of these words from Hosea 2:15, “There I [God] will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And she shall sing there.”
Every day I pray “May it be. I believe, Lord, please help my unbelief.”
I am weary and worn out from a nearly thirteen-year-long storm that doesn’t seem to end. I’m confident God is with me here, by my side every step of the way, but after all this time I’m learning what it means to not set up camp, to believe that I really am passing through.
The Valley of Achor means the valley of trouble or affliction. It’s a low place of weeping and wailing, of suffering and severity, of death and difficulty.
I know the consistency of the sand and the pebbles that crunch beneath my feet. I know the scorch of the sun bearing down in the day and the questions that arise as the stars fill the sky. This valley has left its mark in scars and sunburns and tear-streaked cheeks.
I know this place, but when I find myself becoming resigned, tempted to reach for tent pegs because I might as well settle in, Hosea fills me with the hope that one day I’ll know it in a whole new way.
Isaiah 65:10 seems to underline the promise, circling hope with a bright highlighter, when it declares the Valley of Achor will become a resting place for sheep and for God’s people. The Shepherd will lead us through the valley of the shadow of death until it becomes a flourishing field, a place of restoration.
We may not know the how or the when or why the valley seems to be stretching on so long, but we can trust the One who will carry us through, can settle into His arms instead of setting up camp.
We have a God who fills the valleys to overflowing, who takes places of deep heartache and makes them doorways of hope.
We have a God who can turn things around, who swallowed death and then spoke resurrection.
We have a God who stays with us in the storm and says “this won’t be the end of the story.”
The trail tells a story of destruction today, but the sky sings another song. The branches above are bare, but between them stretches an expanse of bright blue. The storm had something to say, but the sun arrived and a place of loss is coming back to life.
He’s a God of resurrection, not resignation.
For now, there’s mercy like manna in a muddy place. But it won’t be long until heartache is swallowed up by hope. The valley is never the end, for the valley itself is a door. We’re passing through.
Already, all is being made new.
For more encouragement in the messy middle, pick up a copy of Kaitlyn’s book. Even If Not will help you shift from the suspicion that God isn’t kind or present to the truth found in Scripture: in every storm and on every single page of the story, He is with us and working all things for good. In daylight and darkness, may we choose hope for tomorrow when today feels like a question mark. The Author can be trusted.