I have a farm. Have I ever told you that? It's my literal favorite place on earth. We don't live on this farm. We don't farm this farm land (there are professionals for such things), but it's been in my family for 70+ years.
Sunday was one of those perfect days for being outside. The sun was shining. It was cold in the shade. The wind kept the perfect amount of chill in the air and sugar cane ash in your hair. Perfect.
There's a project I've had on my heart for 20 years (yes, I dreamed big at the age of... 5.) The farm is nestled on the Vermilion River. One corner is covered in trees---trees that are covered in other things (actually that comment applies to several corners...we have lots of corners. It's an odd shaped property.) This one particular corner offers a beautiful walk to the river if you happened to have a machete in your back pocket. When I was in high school I went exploring with a few of my best friends--we found some ancient bovine remains. From the pitch of our screams you would have thought we found the lost ark! Ever since that exploratory mission I've wanted to spend time in that corner. No one would imagine that on the edge of this soybean field is something like a hidden enchanted forest. My own secret garden.
This weekend we cut a path.
Walking through this crazy mess of vines brought up a lot... feelings (beauty! joy! excitement! childlike giggles!)... regrets (why haven't you been back to this corner for 20 years!?)... hopes, dreams, self-reflection (it is still my birthday weekend/week/month).
The reason this corner is lush, overgrown, and fabulous is because it sits low on the riverbank. This corner of land slopes down directly to the water--it's not the 9ft+ bank at the highest corner of the property. As the river rises and recedes water flows over this land... depositing different sets of nutrients, creatures, and river trash. This ebb and flow creates a lush ground that is fine and rich with vegetation. It is so green. So very green. The tall trees and overhanging vines create a safe-haven where the plants are protected from the harsher elements outside the wood. These beautiful wild elephant ears were popping up all around (protected from the recent and unseasonably cold hard freeze we just had.)
These plants grow in the valley.
They grow in the darkness of the overhanging vines and overgrown trees.
They grow as the water flows in and flows out.
They grow despite the trash that washes up.
They grow because the soil is good.
We're like these plants. Only we never see the richness of the valley life. We feel the dryness and pain when the waters recede in our lives. We find it harder to be fed when we are deprived of light. We don't like the valley. Because we remember this mountain top or that. Nostalgia for a better time traps us in the past. Longing for the future robs us of the now. We grow in the present. In the valley. It's exhausting. It's ordinary. It's not bright and shiny--it's dark and cold and lonely. We feel abandoned in the valley. We feel like everything is more difficult. We are tired in the valley. Kindness isn't worth the trouble. Thoughtfulness requires too much thought. Everyone else seems to be in the sunshine.
But too much sunshine can make the plants dry. Brittle. Dead. Isn't that also true for us? When everything's going right we somehow forget about God. We manage to say "Okay, Lord, I got this now--I'm set. I'll take it from here." When we're in the valley we're closer to the water--the source of life. In our weakness, in our darkness, in our emptiness, in our nothing-left-to-fight-ness we are closer to surrender. When we surrender we allow the Lord to do the heavy lifting. We allow the Lord to wash over us. We allow the Lord to be the tiller of the soil.
Life is made up of a lot of valley. We have to learn to thrive there.
Let's grow in the valley together,