Life has a funny way of moving in directions you never intended, taking you to places you could never have imagined from a younger and often more naive perspective. When I was a little girl I had mapped out in my mind what my life would look like. The model family, how I would meet the man of my dreams in college and marry him at 23, have two kids by the time I was 27, have a nice house and comfortable existence in a place where I would settle down and stay for the rest of my life, growing old with my husband, children, grandchildren and good, lifelong friends nearby.
Things haven't worked out quite that way. As a young girl I watched my father descend into the depths of alcoholism until he left us when I was 12. I saw my mother struggle to hold her heart and our family together. By the time I was 25 I had been through a series of my own dating relationships and painful break-ups that left me feeling somewhat used and somehow "less than." While I met the man of my dreams at 26 and was married at 27, I spent the first three years of our marriage in a state of suicidal depression and illness due to an undiagnosed brain tumor. Against all odds we had one child a few years later, but could not have the others I longed for. I moved ten times in fifteen years, between three states and six cities. I have experienced financial peace as well as the stress than comes from knowing there wasn't near enough to make the ends meet. I have experienced the painful ripping apart of the marriages of dear friends and family. I have walked with my husband through debilitating injury and the resulting chronic pain. I have known the sharp and sometimes lasting grief of needless, severed friendships. I have cried an ocean of tears.
I have made poor, selfish and sinful choices. And I have suffered the consequences in some very painful ways.
Much of my life has been spent in what my sister refers to as the "shadowlands" -- a place of darkness that presses in overwhelmingly. A sense of hopelessness and wandering. The type of darkness that goes far beyond my general melancholy nature. (She says I am a poster-child for melancholy). Melancholy submitted to the Lord is a beautiful thing, but left to its own can lead to deep and desolate darkness. I have spent much time in the shadowlands, sometimes as a result of my own choices and sometimes because of circumstances beyond my control.
Those have been the times, however, that I have grown the most. The times that I have gained the type of wisdom and maturity that can only come from long periods of pain and loss and questioning. Innocence lost and found. The times that God has gotten my attention and has caused me to press into Him. To repent. The times that He has come to my rescue, around the bend, through the mist. If it weren't for the place of my deep need and darkness, I would never be in a place to discover again that Jesus is present in the shadowland, too. It's the digging of a deeper well, full of all He is and all He offers by His grace, being poured into my soul. For me, coming out of the darkness is where my life truly began.
Hannah Whitall Smith says that "The valley is the place of vision." I see that now, and know that when I have come out of the shadowland my eyes are always clearer, the sun brighter, the sky bluer than I remembered. And most importantly, I have a deeper hope and trust in a steadfast and faithful God who is perfect in all His ways toward me.