"Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
Who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the valley of Baca,
They make it a place of springs,
The autumn rains also cover it with pools
They go from strength to strength,
Till each appears before God in Zion”
(Ps. 84:5–8, NIV)
I just had a birthday, a time to reflect over the years and remember my valleys of Baca. In 2003, a California wildfire came through Hilltop Renewal Center and our ministry was gone; 2009, my breast cancer and five surgeries; 2019, my husband Gene’s melanoma diagnosis, surgery and treatment; the end of 2019, Gene’s ATV accident resulting in a fractured C2 vertebra, a broken arm with a long recovery; August, 2020, melanoma reappears, bringing surgery and new treatment for a year which we are still in along with the dramatic crazy time of COVID-19 with death and sickness all around us in the midst of political unrest and turmoil throughout our country.
How do we move through the valleys life brings? Where does our hope come from? By setting our hearts on pilgrimage where our strength is found. This world is not our home, we are just a-travelin’ through, the songwriter repeats what God tells us is true. We are citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20). We are like pilgrims in a foreign land and we shouldn’t allow ourselves to become too comfortable here. Our home is in heaven with God and we are to keep our eyes on the road that takes us to our true home.
Psalm 23 has helped with the journey through the valleys and helps me today. It says, “Even though we travel through the valley of the shadow of death, his green pastures and quiet waters are still there for us.” Whenever the valleys came, I found my heart wanting to move into despair. Despair is when we send negative messages to ourselves that are not true and are not of God. For example, when Hilltop Renewal Center burned to say, “the ministry is gone.” Or with cancer to say, “My life is over, God sees my impact in the world as finished, my life no longer has meaning.” These messages come very easily and I find to combat them I needed to take things off my calendar and spend more time with God in prayer and travel the journey with him, reading his Word, praying, reflecting and journaling. As I did, his comforting rod of Psalm 23 would gently nudge me back into his green pastures and quiet waters and the despair would dissipate. I had to set my heart on pilgrimage to my real home and look for his goodness and be grateful for his blessings in the midst of the valleys. Blessings like people praying for you, words or gifts of blessing from others, the beauty of a flower, creation, a blossoming tree. Receiving these gifts of goodness and taking them into our heart, brings gratitude that his goodness is all around us in the midst of the Valley of Baca. Gratitude brings honor and glory to our Creator.
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” (Katia Adams, Equal)
He will take us from strength to strength until we reach him in Zion where he will welcome us and show us our home to which we are traveling. As we pray, we put our trust in him to get us home, we find his goodness and we are blessed. Small or big, each blessing can lift our spirits. But I found that some of the greatest blessings were the ones he brought to me from others sent to encourage me. God can bless us when we have taken time to develop relationship with others who know us and love us even when we are hurting. When I reflect, write or talk about the valleys we went through, I now feel blessing where I once felt pain. In 2005 God provided a new home for Hilltop Renewal Center and ministry began again. Cancer brought me the blessing of knowing that there is joy in suffering — his joy. Gene’s accident and cancer has developed more selflessness in me as I cared for him and empathy for what it means to wait for healing. He continues to shape and mold my character and life to bring me to a life of focused pilgrimage. Listen to the blessings of Psalm 23.
The Lord is my Shepherd
I shall not want
He makes me to lie down in green pastures
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me,
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord.
(Brandon Lake and Naomi Raine, Fresh Fire)
Oh, what a great pilgrimage he invites us on!