Today I turned 31 years old. (I think this is the birthday when people stop celebrating, right?) The past several years have not looked the way I would have chosen. I know that is very cliché but several previous birthdays I spent “celebrating” at some type of medical facility, miserably on the couch or away from home. When I think back now my eyes become blurry and the pain is still accessible to my heart, the exhaustiveness of dry valleys leading to dry desserts proved to me our human strength is no match for many of this world’s obstacles. Many days it appeared as if life were too much for my finite heart, mind and body to bear. Surviving became my daily lens instead of living. No doubt there were a multitude of days I wanted to give up as depression, loneliness, lack of purpose and hopelessness set in.

I can honestly say today my heart is full of gratefulness and joy. My body is still navigating through the remaining residue of an enduring illness, but my soul is alive and thriving. I’m in no way perfect, but God has taught me great truths and treasure far beyond this world can give. He has healed me in ways beyond my prayers pleaded. No words assembled on a page can begin to explain the precious gifts He’s given me in the darkness. He has truly comforted me to be a comfort. He was there when everything else was taken away. He listened to every angry (sometimes swearing) word, petition and tear, and was not afraid. I still don’t love the “school of suffering” but I believe and have seen that it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those trained by it.

The words “Bless the Lord O’ My Soul” depart my lips with new meaning today. I am thankful that in God’s Kingdom no trial or tear is in vain. His love mysteriously endures when we cannot. Often I resonate with the jewel Job extracted from hardship, “I have seen the Lord with my own eyes.” He has enlarged me in distress because in my misery I earnestly sought Him. For now he is making my Valleys of Achor (trouble) into giant doors of hope. My current passion and call have come from my pain. I too am still “in process” and struggle, but my Heavenly Father has impressed his love and friendship deeply into the core of my being, and that cannot be taken.

So, I celebrate turning another year older and the years before that were not lost. Thanks be to the God who saves and refreshes his weary inheritance! If you are starting the New Year in a valley please don’t give up or lose heart in the Lord’s strength. Continue on fellow sojourner, for the Great Lifter of Heads is with you and will not leave your side. Our Ever Present Help will lead you along unfamiliar paths and guide you through the surrounding wilderness. Whatever season you find yourself in, may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him (Rom. 15:13). To Him be all glory and power forever and ever, Amen.

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