I remember so vividly the time I laid there, wondering how I had found myself in the wilderness so quickly. Dry. Parched. Unsure of how exactly I would live the next day, or feeling aimless like there was no direction because everything looked the same.
I would love to say it was because I was some martyr. Because suffering can somehow be glamorous in today’s society. But really, it was something the Lord was trying to prepare and refine me for. I kept putting trust in myself while trying to control everything around me. I kept thinking I was the one dealing the cards, but it wasn’t the case. Pride drove my actions and emotions, then suddenly I was stripped of everything.
Not all, but most people have been through some sort of ‘desert’ experience. Moses spent 40 years in the wilderness before God called him to lead Israel out of Egypt. The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years before entering the promise land. David spent time in the desert hiding from Saul before God later made him king. And Jesus was led through the wilderness for 40 days after being baptized. And though you may not have ‘literally’ been in the wilderness, figuratively, there are seasons of life where we live through difficulties where hope feels out of reach.
During our time in California, we took a day trip up to Joshua Tree. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but when we arrived I had so many strong emotions and deep feelings. It was one of the most beautiful places I had ever been to. Part of it was due to the fact that I had never been anywhere like Joshua Tree and its uniqueness made it all the more lovely. It was this deep overwhelming sense that I had been there before in a dream… That the Lord had showed me this place before. Miles and miles of harsh land surrounded us. As we drove, I didn’t even have words to share with Ian (which is very unlike me).
Memories flooded back from two distinct times I had walked through the wilderness. The first was after an abusive and unhealthy relationship. One that left me with nightmares and shame. Months passed, countless tears shed, and I was left in a desert. At first it felt like abandonment and punishment. But later I realized that a thirst was developing within me. A thirst to seek after the the Lord and his Word. That desert refined me in a lot of ways. It hardened me in the sense that I had to seek and know truth in order to truly survive on my own and to have my own relationship with God. Not my parent’s, not my christian school, my church, or my friend’s, but my own. It also taught me that glass walls are not always harmful, but can be helpful. What I mean by that is, the society I grew up in didn’t allow for glass walls. You dressed a certain way. You acted a certain way. And you did certain things. And if you did all of those things right, you were a pretty person and you could be checked off the list. Glass walls allow for transparency. When you live with glass walls, there is no opportunity to be two-faced or fake. You are who you are and your ‘true’ character is revealed. This allows us to be genuine and it also allows for imperfect people to be loved on and shown grace through truth instead of masking things so that you aren’t judged so harshly. This desert shaped a huge part of who I am today and was part of the Lord calling me to obedience.
The second desert was after losing our first baby. There was beauty from ashes, but not before walking through the fire. Sometimes the beautiful part doesn’t come immediately. It comes after months of tears and prayer. It comes after being stripped of what you thought the plan was, and learning that you are not in control of your story, and that’s okay. This desert taught me the Lord sometimes uses our hardships to refine us, if we let him. Job 23:10 says “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.” I had to constantly remind myself that He already knew my situation and my grief, and no matter how hard of a path it may be, if I truly trust in Him, He can use the brokenness and make it whole. This desert also taught me to rejoice with others. You are usually not walking through the desert with your loved ones, so when others are receiving blessings and you are left with emptiness, it can be hard to rejoice with them. But the refining and prayer help your heart to rejoice with others and still be thankful despite your situation.
If I am truly being honest, I still live with some of the sand in my shoes from both of these deserts. And sometimes it rubs and creates blisters where I thought I already had callouses. But those blisters help remind me of what I learned in both of those places. For me, the deserts I faced were humbling. They revealed the deepest parts of my heart and caused me to thirst for the Word like never before. Some days, we are only given the food we need for the day, like the Israelites (Exodus 16). We have to trust and have faith there will be food provided again tomorrow. I don’t wish to go through them again, and I certainly don’t wish to go through more in the future. Although, I am certain there will be another desert to face.
Snap back to driving through Joshua Tree with my family of three. Tears were welling up in my eyes and my heart was beating out of my chest. I couldn’t help but see beauty. God has used the desert to reveal his glory and it has always been a huge part of His story of redeeming love. I would not be who I was today without passing through the desert, and I am grateful for that. Miles of Joshua Trees and cacti surrounded us. We pulled off at a little trail and got out of the car to take a few pictures, and standing in front of me was a Joshua Tree, in the same position as Cove and I, and I couldn’t help but see the tree as a mother holding her child. The wind whipped around us, and Cove clenched me tighter, and Hosea 2 came to my mind. It was a passage I had read in 2014 several times and the Holy Spirit had used it to convict me. But this time when it came to my mind, I remembered the second half of the chapter where God shows mercy.
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.
And there I will give her her vineyards
and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth,
as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.”
I can’t help but thank God for making my deserts a ‘door of hope,’ and a memory of where God delivered me.