The Modern Pilgrim #23 in which the desert plains give way to a barren valley. Pilgrim becomes weary and is tempted to turn back.
All of us travel through dark, tearful valleys, at times. One moment we walk in a sun-filled meadow. The next we are head down in a canyon of pain. I remembered one wilderness valley today. The desert formed on a Friday morning after four days of struggling with a “stomach flu.”
I leaned away from the toilet, after vomiting for the umpteenth time, and slumped against the wall. My positive pregnancy test sat on the counter. A dream we’d longed and prayed for. But while our sweet one grew inside of me, I struggled violently outside, with “hyper-emesis.” The medical term for uncontrollable vomiting. This occurs with an overabundance of pregnancy hormones that overwhelm the digestive tract.
Not some morning nausea controlled with saltines and ginger ale. I’m talking about not keeping spit down. Vomiting or dry heaves every 5-10 minutes. Round the clock. Dehydration. Weight loss. Sleeplessness.
All the dreams Ken and I shared about how to break the news to family and friends were gobbled up by sickness and anxiety. Surely, our sweet baby couldn’t survive all this, we thought. We later learned that Jennifer was always fine BECAUSE of all the extra hormones and her fetal ability to pirate stored nutrition from my body.
But we didn’t know that at first, because our original ob./gyn was a newbie, full of fresh notions. His theory? I generated nausea in my mind because I secretly hated my baby. He hospitalized me frequently, with IV treatments, insisted I do psychiatric sessions, and for reasons we still can’t decipher, treated the nausea with Demerol, a powerful pain killer.
I started vomiting around one month. The above madness lasted until the end of the fourth. During my third hospitalization, my mother stepped in and spoke plainly to Ken. “Sharon is not crazy, she’s pregnant. She needs something for the nausea and a different ob./gyn.”
A sweet nurse overheard and shared a name. My new doctor showed up within the hour and listened while I poured out my heart. He took my hand as I wept and said, “Sharon, this is not in your head. It’s in your gut. I’ve ordered shots of an antiemetic drug called Phenergan and I think you will start to feel better by the end of the day.” His prediction came true and Ken and I could finally be excited about having a baby, although it still took me several months to gain back the 30 pounds and strength that I lost.
To this day, those three months are only dim memories. A dark valley of cycling between home and hospital with many tears and questions.
King David wrote about such a valley in Psalm 84. As I listened to it this morning, those three months came back to me and I looked at them with a different perspective, through the lens of that Psalm. I realized, God did indeed take me “from strength to strength,” during that horrible time, even though I didn’t see it back then. He did it for me. He will do it for you.
What is your valley of tears right now? Sickness or disease? Financial problems? Job loss? Kid trouble? If you’re not in a challenging place right now, thank God. But recognize you probably will be again, at some point, so maybe tuck this away somewhere for when you need it.
The Valley of Baca was a real place, a bleak place outside of Jerusalem. “Baca” means tears in Hebrew, so literally, the Valley of Tears. Only scrub brush grew in this wilderness valley. Nothing lush or green about it. In Psalm 84, in verses 6 and 7, David speaks hope to those who find themselves in this dreary place.
“Even when their paths wind through the dark valley of tears, they dig deep to find a pleasant pool where others find only pain. He gives to them a brook of blessing filled from the rain of an outpouring.
They grow stronger and stronger with every step forward, and the God of all gods will appear before them in Zion.
Psalm 84:6-7 Passion Translation
Here’s what I see in this passage that helped me in this wilderness:
God’s children can find refreshing water where others only see desert.
On my darkest, most disorienting days, I still found comfort in prayer and Bible readings. My flesh wanted to check out but the Spirit inside pushed me to talk to God about everything I felt and find comfort in his Word. I didn’t know how he’d fix this but every time I ate some more Scripture (I surely couldn’t eat much else) my confidence in what I knew to be true about him, grew larger. He is good. He is kind. He is not capricious and uncaring. He weeps with us. He never leaves us.
God sends blessings to his children in the valley and strengthens them if they will keep moving forward, step by step.
Every time I wanted to give up and stop even trying to eat, God sent a friend or a nurse to encourage me. Often, in the wee hours of the night, in hospital rooms, I’d sense his own presence drawing near, quieting my weeping, and calming my mind. He will send you provisions you need and strength you lack also in those moments when you feel like you can’t take one more step.
Don’t give up and give in. Take that next step forward, whatever that is for you. Maybe it’s just getting up out of bed or being faithful with a medication or going to work.
Wilderness valleys can be soul crushers. Even when you look up, all you see at first, are the sides of the valley sweeping up all around you. Look higher, dear one, and you will still see the sky above, still the same in the valley as it was in the meadow. God’s promises still as true in the valley wasteland as in the flowered fields. His love just as strong, his power to strengthen just as reliable.
If you are in a valley today will you ask God to show you your brook and provisions? Will you trust him to strengthen your steps and not quit on yourself and those around you?
If you are not in a valley, perhaps God is calling you to be a brook of blessing to someone who is. Will you talk that over with God and see if he puts someone on your heart?