Dusk was falling.
Should I return to the rutted road I had left several miles back? Or keep following the twisted shadowed path through the underbrush? It was likely a deer trail that would take me further into the forest. Overhead, early stars had begun their nightly passage.
Deciding that it would become part of my adventure, I continued to trek through the woods. I had a bedroll; I would make camp as soon as I found a suitable place. It would be a welcome change from the usual hostels and bed and breakfasts I had been frequenting so far.
An owl called out greetings in the indigo twilight, and in reply, a cricket chirruped. A surreal moon sliced through the trees, deepening the violet shadows.
The valley was just a tiny cleft, and I would have missed it if it hadn’t been for the golden glow of lantern light burning in the window of a cottage hidden in its depths. In curiosity, I stepped through the tall grass towards the little sod-roofed house, and before I even considered knocking on the door, it opened. A wizened old woman beckoned with a gnarled finger.
“You are very tired. Come.”
I was taken back, but did as she bid me.
“Sit by the hearth. I will give you something hot to drink.”
A steaming mug of tea was placed in my hand. I sipped; it tasted of berries, the forest, and the sun.
“Now, tell me, why are you in my valley?”
“I wandered off the road.”
“I don’t know. I’m looking for answers.”
“Ah, and what are the questions?”
Her piercing blue eyes, wreathed with wrinkles, bore into mine.
“I want to know who I am.”
“This is not so difficult. You are God’s child.”
I sighed inwardly. Of course, that is the right answer. I struggled with being a daughter, wanting to be a mother, being a wife, and suddenly, not being a wife. I tried not to think of the empty bed at home, the painful emptiness in my life.
“You are always His child. The other things are seasons. They will come and go, and sometimes, return again. They are not who you are.”
I pondered that in the silence.
“Another question, perhaps?”
“Where is God in suffering?”
“Ah, an old question. Have you found your answer?
“No. There’s suffering everywhere I go.”
“But you want to know why God has allowed you to suffer.”
Tears burned. I thought of the long months of keeping vigil at the hospital, and the tortuous time of endless prayer that ended in a shaded glen beside a gaping, raw hole in the ground, as deep as the agonizing wound in my heart. I am the Resurrection and the Life… He that believes in Me… he shall live…
“Do you think God has left you in a valley? Forgotten and abandoned you?”
I resisted the urge to hurl the mug. Gently, knotted fingers enfolded my own. The woman took the mug and filled it with more of the sweet, aromatic brew. I swallowed, welcoming the scald on my tongue.
“You’ve had a difficult time, but you’ve not been abandoned. You must realize a valley is more than a place of shadows; it’s a place of shelter and restoration. You will journey through it and beyond it, after you have rested. Now you must sleep.” She took the mug from my limp hand.
My eyes were heavy from the effects of the hot tea, the embers on the hearth, and the soothing voice of the ancient woman speaking words of peace and comfort. Lethargically, I unrolled my sleeping bag before the glowing coals, and I lay down, not even undressing. I was asleep in a moment and dreamed of a silver moon, dancing leaves, and wild berries.
I awoke to birdsong and warm sunshine caressing my cheek. A soft breeze ruffled my hair, and I opened my eyes. A canopy of aspen branches fluttered overhead, making dappling sunbeams on the dew-drenched ground. I sat up in alarm. Where was the cottage? The old woman?
A circle of rocks enclosed cold ashes nearby, an earthenware mug sitting on one of the stones. It was mine, damp tea leaves clumped in the bottom.
The trees closed behind me as I left, concealing the tiny valley again. Restored in body and spirit, I felt God’s peace surround me with the contentment that exceeds understanding.
I walked on.
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