“’For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back from captivity.’” (Jeremiah 29:11-14a)
I have lived in the desert for 22 years, and in many ways, it was my own personal Babylon. Having been born and raised in Washington state, living in Arizona felt very much like exile. The barren landscape, the dryness, and the fierce heat were not only physical realities, but often metaphors for my spiritual life as well. Yet as the time to leave and return home began to grow ever nearer, I sensed a need to reflect on my time in exile and acknowledge the gifts of the desert.
As with the desert experience of the Israelites thousands of years ago, I learned that even in the most dire circumstances, God was with me. Time after time, when my soul was at its lowest point, desiccated and sere, God’s abundant love provided the replenishment I needed, not just to survive, but to grow. I learned the absolute truth of Paul’s statement of faith – God’s grace is sufficient. In looking back, I became aware of the many oases that God had provided me, people and events that fed me and gave me rest for the journey. I was reminded of the prophet Elijah who was tended by the angels as he fled across the desert to escape the vengeful Jezebel. For me, these angels took the form of mentors on the spiritual journey, people who encouraged and challenged me, helping me to develop and use my spiritual gifts in new ways; soul friends who listened and understood; and communities that welcomed me and led me to a new understanding of what it means to belong. I am a different person than the woman who came to Arizona 22 years ago, and I firmly believe that this growth could not have happened anywhere else.
And so, I have returned home. It is a joyous homecoming to be sure. As we drove through eastern Oregon on our journey, there was a point when the landscape began to feel familiar – the forested hills, the streams, the verdant farmlands – and I was overwhelmed with gratitude. My return from exile became real to me, and tears flowed. Every day since then has been a revelation. We live in a beautiful valley surrounded by two creeks and an incredible view of the Cascade Mountains. Evidence of the Creator’s bounty is everywhere – in the golden mornings, the sudden flight of bluebirds, a full moon skimming the pines on a nearby hillside, and the quiet babbling of the creek. I am captivated by the clouds that suddenly boil over the mountaintops on a sunny day like a rogue wave rising from a calm, blue sea. My soul is stirred by summer storms, foggy autumn dawns, and the watercolor of fall leaves as they turn red and yellow and orange before drifting slowly to the ground. I understand why Monet felt compelled to paint his beloved water lilies again and again in every season and every kind of light. Each moment, each scene reveals God’s hand. Each element of nature speaks of the Creator and draws me nearer.
I believe that each of us has experienced a desert of one kind or another in our lives, and many of us are seeking to return to a spiritual homeland. As Jeremiah wrote so eloquently, God is eager to be found by us and to deliver us from captivity, whatever that might be. It is my deep desire to be a “tour guide” to those who are on this spiritual journey to a deeper relationship with the Divine, through spiritual direction, retreats and clergy wellness events. I pray that my lessons in the desert will become nourishment for others and that through my ministry, you will come to know a God whose grace is sufficient, every single day. May it be so.