I think one of the hardest things I ever did in my life was move from Chico, California, a small university town that I loved, to live with a relative in Eugene, Oregon. Some people might consider a move out of state after college to be a welcome adventure, but I desperately did not want to go. In hindsight, I clearly see the Lord was calling me out of a virtual prison with my spiritual life at stake. This dramatic leap of faith was the true start of my committed spiritual journey with Christ.
The hard part for me was moving away from my serious boyfriend. I naively thought I would temporarily move to a bigger city to get more job experience and maintain the long-distance relationship until I could move back to Chico. It wasn’t until I was living in Eugene for a while that I learned much of Oregon was in a deep recession with high levels of job loss, in part due to a housing crash and restrictions applied to the timber industry. In the early 1980’s, jobs were very hard to come by, and Eugene’s relatively small advertising market supported a limited amount of graphic design jobs.
As part of an agreement with my relative to live rent-free until I could get a job, we attended church together at Eugene Faith Center. This was not easy, because although I accepted Christ years before as a High School freshman, the pull to return to my non-Christian boyfriend warred against my growing desire for more of Christ’s healing peace and love in my life.
In less than a year, the predictable thing happened; my long-distance relationship ended abruptly. My boyfriend and I broke up over the phone when I realized he was dating someone else and failed to tell me. I hit rock bottom emotionally. I had a job by then, but I hated everything about Eugene. And most of all, I missed my lifetime collection of friends and extended family in northern California. Moving back with my parents in Sacramento was not an option, so I stayed in Eugene.
Around this time, I started reading a book titled “Hinds Feet on High Places”. It is an allegorical story of a disabled orphan named Much-Afraid who has difficulty walking and talking. Still, she is determined to make a long and possibly dangerous journey away from her foster home with the Fearing Family in the Valley of Humiliation. She works for the Chief Shepherd, and at his invitation, she longs to live with him in his mountain “High Places” of unconditional love, joy, and peace. After her escape from her loveless home environment, the Shepherd starts Much-Afraid off along a path He gives her. The path takes the main character through places with symbolic names such as the Forest of Tribulation, the Valley of Loss, the Furnace of Egypt, and the Precipice of Injury.
I read the “Furnace” chapter repeatedly which described Much-Afraid’s emotional struggles while traveling through the barren desert, with its burning wind and stinging sand. I felt an unexpected comfort when reading these pages and closely identified with this experience. Much-Afraid met the Shepherd in the desert and learned important lessons there. The story gave me an example of how to not hate the desert journey, but instead let it teach me to focus on following the path before me to Christ.
My first years in Eugene led me through a figurative desert in which I felt like a foreigner and fought feelings of isolation. I am most comfortable in the company of people-friends or strangers. In my youth, time alone was a trial to be endured. But for a time, God placed me in His desert crucible and it was completely empty and very quiet. Initially, the deafening silence shouted at me, calling my constant attention to the emotional pain I felt. As I focused on putting one foot in front of the other, by living daily life, I was motivated to walk out of that barren desert. I realized that my feelings of isolation were a lie because the truth is that my good Shepherd is as close to me as my breath and I only need to call out and He is there to comfort and guide me. I gained momentum in my walk on the path, and I finally “heard” the quiet and felt its calming power. I realized Christ had plucked me out of a harsh and danger-filled existence. I was now safe in the desert because He was with me. And Jesus gave me His spirit of peace and completeness, Shalom, which destroys chaos.
Ironically, the desert experience that I hated became my place of protection. I could hear Christ’s voice there without the distracting and confusing opinions of friends and family. Each day, Christ translated the lies of my emotional injuries from work and family arguments into His healing truths. And most importantly I began to learn to filter my thoughts and feelings through scripture instead of swallowing the raw lies. It spared me a lot of emotional indigestion.
Years later, at a Ladies’ Retreat sponsored by my church, the keynote speaker, Jody, was a highly experienced teacher and Biblical counselor. As an exercise, we split into groups and were assigned to write our life story in 5 chapters. Each chapter described a different set of life events and the corresponding lessons we learned.
I reviewed my life and shared with the group that I had experienced the majority of the important life-shaping events and lessons by myself. And these lessons usually involved a physical or figurative journey away from what I was comfortable or familiar with. I explained that at first, I went through the experiences alone, out of desperation, and as a last resort. But I learned that God met me during those times and blessed my efforts abundantly. He was always with me, guiding me, regardless of what I saw and felt.
With knowing eyes reflecting a deep, personal knowledge of God’s faithfulness, Jody thoughtfully said: “Ah, the life of a pilgrim.” My immediate thought to myself was ‘But I don’t want to be a pilgrim!’ My silent response made me chuckle, but it was true. I left my home and was willing to wander through an uncomfortable and lonely desert because I ached for a better life on the other side. The home I grew up in was not an emotionally safe place, and the lies I heard there preyed on my thoughts. I now see that Christ called me to come out of the hostile environment I lived in for so long. And I followed Him because I craved His unconditional love. My pilgrimage towards Jesus became my healing journey. I am now, so very thankful Christ led me through His desert because I got to know more of His true character there.
At the end of the book, the character Much-Afraid reached the High Places to live with Christ. Through her journey, she was transformed in body and spirit and received the new name Grace and Glory. She traveled back to the valley with the Shepherd to share Christ’s good news with those she left behind and free them also.
About the Author
Sara has attended CitySalt Church since 2004, the year it was founded. She studied Journalism, wrote for her college newspaper, and is a member of Oregon Christian Writers. Sara also enjoys singing hymns with friends: “there is a sermon in every hymn waiting to be discovered and enjoyed.”