God speaks in the oddest ways if I am ready to hear. Sunday morning, my devotion was Ps. 1. I had literally just finished typing my blog about it and had the imagery of green, leafy, fruit-bearing trees planted by streams of living water and the promise of an abundant ministry in my mind when I opened the hotel room door to continue my road trip and was greeted by the fragrance of farm country…manure.
About a year ago I learned that manure must be aged before it can be used. I didn’t know that. But it makes sense…and it has spiritual implications as do most things about tilling the earth. Fresh manure is too acidic. It will burn any plant life beneath it. Have you ever been under a pile of life’s manure? You feel the burn, smell the stench, and no matter where you turn it clings to you. But give it time and eventually what you’ve gone through become useful enough to spread around and encourage young things to grow.
I’m driving West on Hwy 84 from Colorado to Oregon while God is preaching this sermon and, just as I’m getting the point, I reach Paradise Valley, Idaho. For those of you not lucky enough to view this place for yourself, it is a fertile valley lush with green leaves in straight, planted rows where the Snake River winds and curves. It is surrounded by high hills, yellowed by the hot sun with purple rock plateaus. Gorgeous.
But, God says to me, what good is perfectly aged manure on the mountain top? It needs to be spread about down in the valley.
Seven years ago, my husband and I were deep under the manure pile. It burned, it stunk, and it followed us everywhere. But God graciously took us out of the valley of our hurt and placed us high. It allowed us time to rest from our labor, recover, and glimpse some of the fruit we had worked so hard sowing during that time. The recovery process took time. Nathan’s return to full-time ministry as an Army Chaplain marked the beginning of a new “field labor”, but to tell you the truth, it was still a time which felt very “high” for us. We are now at the beginning of a year-long deployment and, I’ll be honest, I’m not looking forward to it. A definite “valley” experience. But it’s where all the growth is, and it’s the best use of Nathan’s “aged manure.”
At this point, I’m starting to smile. So God throws a second sermon in for good measure. Water, He reminds me, doesn’t flow uphill. Whether it’s a trickling stream or rushing river, it will be found at the lowest place in the valley. Trees planted firmly by the water’s edge are only a few feet above the lowest place in the valley.
And then God tops the whole thing off by reassuring me that, although I’m used to thinking of valleys as “hard” times, it is not a place to be feared. Yes, there are occasional floods and manure drops, but it’s generally just a place where hard work gets done. Hard, rewarding work which produces a lush, green harvest.
Until next time,