valleys & summits

Valleys and summits. Both beautiful, scary, unknown. Both different. Both needed. We don’t get to choose one or the other. Without the valley there is no summit. And without the summit there is no valley. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. It’s the nature of it all.

But I think most of us hear the word “valley” and think of pain, struggle, loss, even death. And we hear summit and think of joy, peace, celebration and beauty.

But I want to challenge those thoughts and introduce a new thought altogether. That maybe the two aren’t that different. Maybe valleys and summits are threaded together, offering beauty and pain simultaneously. Both part of the path our Guide has us on. A path of growth and transformation.


When you set out to hike a mountain, you begin at the bottom. In the valley.

The valley is where you see wildflowers wrestling in the breeze and find tiny strawberries growing undisturbed. It’s where streams trickle by unfazed by the life around them, yet providing drink to thirsty creatures. The valley has sunny meadows to run in, shady forests to hide in and big trees to rest under.  Valleys are places of growth and wonder for all of nature.

The metaphorical valleys of life are no different. Still full of growth.

The valleys of life often include struggle and pain. Loss and death occur here too. But ultimately, valleys are where growth happens. Because, growth requires struggle. Struggling through the valley, up and over countless hills, just waiting to see the tree line ahead, is exhausting. It’s hard work. It stretches us to uncomfortable places. But if you don’t trek through the valley then you are not able to summit.

The valley is where we grow in strength and trust. The strength and trust necessary to summit. Life’s valleys are where we learn the struggle of growing strong and giving thanks. It’s where we are made more like our Guide.

In Hinds Feet On High Places, Much-Afraid who desperately wants to reach the summit says, “O Shepherd. You said you would make my feet like hinds’ feet and set me upon High Places”. “Well”, the Shepherd answered “the only way to develop hinds’ feet is to go by the paths which the hinds use.”

How often are we Much-Afraid? Longing to skip the struggle and step into the summit. But just as the Shepherd says, we too must go through the valley if we want to be equipped with the strength to summit. Without the strength gained from trekking through the valley, the power of the summit will be too much to handle. Without the growth in the valley, the vision gained from the summit is meaningless.


The summits are where we gain vision and perspective. From the summit of a mountain you can see everything. Every valley, lake and surrounding peak. You can see the trails, the clouds, the treetops. Suddenly your journey up makes sense. You see why the struggle up was worth it. All because your perspective lifted and widened.

Life’s summits are similar. They allow you to see widely, clearly. Perspective from the summit is different. You look down instead of up. You look into your known past instead of your unknown future. You see where you were and why it was necessary.

The lens lifts on the summit and we can see other mountains, other valleys. We can see how the mountain ranges connect, how other peoples lives and journeys influence our own. We gain perspective on the past and vision for the future. Summits often bring surety. A sense of belonging where you are knowing that your journey up had purpose.

But they can also be stagnant, harsh. There is no sugar coating the journey when you are looking from the summit. You see things for what they really are. You cannot hide on the summit. You are exposed to the elements, vulnerable to their impact.

There is no growth on the summit. No life. You can see the growth and life below. But you cannot participate from the summit. The glory of it all fills your cup, but you must walk back down to pour that cup out in new life, growth and joy. If that cup is not poured out then eventually the harsh elements will erode it and the summit will lose its glory and meaning.

So we must take that summit transformation, the new eyes and ears, the overflowing cup, back down to the valleys so we can share in community. Pouring out the glory and clarity in everyday adventures and put our summit selves to use. It’s never easy to follow the Shepherd from valley to summit to valley again, but its always rewarding, always worth it, because when the Shepherd is our Guide we know He is for us until the end of time. No matter what. He won’t leave us undone in the valley or the summit. He will finish the growth began an He will transform us for our good and his glory.


Moral of the story is this: the valleys and summits of life are both good. Both are needed. Both result in transformation. But you cannot have one without the other. In order to celebrate the summit you must have walked through a valley to get there.

So whether you are standing on a mountain peak or in a deep, dark valley, hear this truth. God is not finished with you yet. He is growing you, transforming you. Even if you don’t see Him. Even if it’s lonely. Even if you’re barely breathing. He is working for your good in ALL circumstances. That’s who He is. 

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mountains among skyscrapers

 

Walking the streets of Santiago with the hustle and bustle of millions of people. The air heavy. Cigarette smoke lingers. Voices, music, cars sound all around. Eyes down, thoughts all over the place, I block it all out. I walk with purpose, on a mission to catch the metro to continue the mundane, until I’m stopped at the corner. I hear myself audibly gasp. A smile spreads and I laugh aloud as I look up, as I look before me.

There they are. The mountains. The Andes. They stand before me, peeking between skyscrapers and above buildings. There they are in all their glory just like usual, but this encounter is different. This encounter changes me.


As I stood on that street corner, the Holy Spirit spoke boldly. The lesson learned, pondered, taught, nearly forgotten, but recently remembered. Full circle you could say.

The lesson was simple: I AM WITH YOU. The picture was breathtaking: the mountains among skyscrapers. The importance was more than I could have known or understood in that moment.


With my eyes lifted, a goofy grin on my face, I knew the truth. The buildings stand tall, but the mountains stand taller. The skyscrapers loom, but the mountains are still present. My fear, my uncertainty, my inadequacy rise to the heights of the Costenera Center. Anxiety and unknowns grow until I can’t see anything else, until lifting my gaze above them is too much. But there they are, those mountains, waiting to be seen. Amidst the chaos of the city, the Andes stand firm, unchanging. Amidst my overwhelming thoughts, God stands. Just like the mountains, He stands unchanging. He stands with me.

Fear grows, but the Lord makes His presence known. Commitments take over, but He is unmoved. Unknowns remain unknown, but He makes Himself known. Uncertainty addicts, but He refuses to give us up. Life overwhelms, but He surrounds with provision and protection. Everything is too much, but His “with-ness” is enough.


“As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people both now and forevermore.” Psalm 125:2

This verse and the picture of the mountains among the skyscrapers all scream this one truth to my forgetful soul: He is WITH me. He is Immanuel. He is GOD with us. It’s who He is.

As the Andes surround Santiago on every side, so does the Lord surround me, so does the Lord surround you.

There will be rooftops moments where the mountains clearly surround like the walls of Jerusalem and our souls rest, in unmistakably seeing their presence, and sometimes all we get is a glimpse of them between buildings. But no matter the moment, no matter the time, the mountains are there. They never change, never move. They’re constant. What changes is our posture. Are we looking up or down? Are we looking around, walking blindly by? To see the Andes around Santiago one has to look up. One has to choose a different posture, that of expectancy. We can always expect to see Him. We should always look up, ahead, between. It is only when we change our gaze to the steady, the unmoving, the Mountain in our midst, that the breakneck speed world turns slow and finally our souls can rest. For when we know the Presence before us, we know the One WITH us.


Despite seeing from the rooftop, I somehow forgot about the mountains, about their faithful presence despite the buildings in the way. I forgot about THE Mountain, the One that is bigger than all of my distractions and uncertainty. But a truth-telling friend reminded me, “When the distractions, the seemingly impossible tasks, the skyscrapers of life start to cloud our view, we are reminded of the mountains; never moving, never changing, never faltering. Just like those mountains, my God never leaves me, never changes, and is always WITH us. Remember THE Mountain, the Mountain forever WITH us.”

I’ll remind you and me now. Whether your view is from the rooftop or the streets below, your surroundings, the mountains, our God, remain the same.  We change. He does not. We move. He does not. We are easily distracted. He is always present. He dwells within and without. He is the Mountain among our skyscrapers. He is God WITH us.