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Through the valley

There is a bridge on the Virginia Tech campus. Actually there are a lot of bridges on campus. But one of them is a little concrete footbridge, tucked in between several dorms, spanning a driveway that leads to a couple parking lots. Nothing very significant, really. But it found significance for me my freshman year. It has haunted me ever since. (No, before you start freaking out, I never tried jumping off it or anything. Nothing drastic. Just hear me out.)

Last night, I was coming home from a friend’s house, where a bunch of us had watched a movie. I parked my car in “the cage,” the student parking lot on the far western end of campus, and started walking back to my dorm, on the eastern end of campus. I was crossing through another small parking lot near this bridge, and deep down I felt it calling to me. Like it has several times over the past year, when I’m walking across campus, alone, after dark, and I find myself nearby. Something draws me back, calling me to stand on that bridge again. To remember.

Freshman year I spent a lot of time walking around campus. Not just walking between classes and such; I spent many evenings, after dark, wandering around. There was a guy I discipled in 12th grade, who got to be a very good friend, whose family happened to come back to Virginia for a year the same time I graduated and came to Tech. We met up a few times that year, for a weekend or so, but because we had gotten so used to meeting every week for hours at a time, (not to mention all the time we spent together outside of those times) we decided to call each other every week to talk. Reception in my room was terrible, so every Saturday night, I would go outside, bundled up if it was winter, and call him. And while we talked, I would wander. Our calls consistently lasted a couple hours at a time. We would talk about how things were going, or just talk about whatever. Those phone calls may well have been the only thing that got me through that year.

Other times, when I was just feeling overwhelmed, homesick, depressed, I would drop what I was doing and go outside, bundled up if necessary, and wander around, just to get some fresh air, clear my mind, think, pray, vent, whatever.

I don’t remember when I first stumbled upon this bridge, and I don’t really know what about it drew me, but I soon found myself frequenting it, both during those phone calls and during my lone wanderings. Sometimes I would cross it and wander on elsewhere, maybe ending up at the duck pond or who knows where. Other times I would stop and just stand on it while I talked on the phone, or was lost in my own thoughts. I vividly remember standing on that bridge one night, all bundled up, watching the first snow of the winter float to the ground, caught in the light of the lamps lining the bridge, and the lights of the surrounding buildings. I remember another time, watching a raccoon dig through a garbage can next to the driveway below me.

And so this bridge has come to represent all those nights. That year, with all its emotions, is encapsulated in it. And now that I’ve found my place here, found a family here, there it stands, in stark contrast to where I am now, reminding me of where I was not all that long ago, and how far I’ve come. How far God has brought me. So you could say that just as it is a symbol of the valley I walked through, it has become a monument to God’s faithfulness through that valley. And a reminder that whatever valleys come my way in the future, his faithfulness will prevail through all of them.

The sermon today was about Joseph. The Old Testament, coat-of-many-colors Joseph. It is the second part of a series my church, [nlcf], is doing on Covenant and Kingdom. Jim talked about how God’s covenant that he established with Abram (last week’s sermon) applied to Joseph as Abraham’s descendant. As part of that covenant, God promised to walk with Abraham and his descendants through whatever came their way. And so when Joseph was sold into slavery, and then was wrongly accused and imprisoned—through thirteen years of slavery and imprisonment—God never left Joseph’s side. And while he did not orchestrate those circumstances, he used them to transform Joseph, from an arrogant, spoiled teenager to a man of God, who finally realized that he was not at the center of his own universe—God was.

What’s interesting is that I actually started this post last night, when I got back to my room after standing on that bridge for a while. I drafted the first few paragraphs before calling it a night. And now I’ve picked it up again, having just listened to that sermon.

Back in the spring, if you remember, God was talking to me a lot about surrender, abiding in Christ, and such. Now, this seems to be his focus.

It might be because, for all my good intentions in the spring, my discipline in abiding in him has been…lacking. It might be because things have been surfacing in my life that I realize still need a lot of work. It might be because of how great it felt to come back to Tech a week ago, after a summer away…and be excited about it. How awesome it was to walk into Squires for church last Sunday and see all the faces of my brothers and sisters here that I missed, to hear them saying how glad they were to have me back. And to respond, and really mean it, that it was good to be back. Most likely, it’s all those reasons combined. But whatever the reason, it seems that now he has me thinking a lot about this—the truth that he has stuck with me through thick and thin, and he will continue to. And whether it seems like it or not, he is continuing his transformative work in me. Just as Paul said: “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Philippians 1:6)

By the blood of Christ, we are participants in the covenant God offered to Abram all those years ago. He offers it to us. His terms of the convenant are this: no matter what we’ve done or will do, no matter what we go through, he will not walk away from us. He will walk us through it, and continue to transform us by it, until that day when we breath our last on this earth or the day Jesus comes back, and his work in us is complete. Once we accept the covenant and enter into it, whether or not we hold up our end of it fully—namely, to give him our love and worship, our lives, our everything—he will uphold his.

A parting thought. Yesterday evening, before I left for my friend’s house, I was listening to music, and a song came on—namely “Mountain of God” by Third Day. I first discovered Third Day—now one of my, if not my favorite, bands—in the summer of ’09. Fittingly, I discovered this song during our two-week family vacation that summer, among some of the tallest mountains on the face of the earth. It quickly became one of my favorites.

Thought that I was all alone
Broken and afraid
But you were there with me
Yes, you were there with me…

Even though the journey’s long
And I know the road is hard
You’re the one who’s gone before me
You will help me carry on
And after all that I’ve been through
Now I realize the truth
That I must go through the valley
To stand upon the mountain of God

This song, and the album as a whole—Wherever You Are—became a rally for me freshman year. Those songs kept me going. I still remember one night, listening to “Mountain of God,” when the bridge (no pun intended) hit me like a wall:

Sometimes I think of where it is I’ve come from
And the things I’ve left behind
But of all I’ve had and what I’ve possessed
Nothing can quite compare
With what’s in front of me

I couldn’t even imagine life here even being close to what I left behind, much less better. But it was something to cling to. It didn’t feel true, but I had to tell myself it was. And now…well, it’s not quite there yet, but it’s no longer an impossibility. I still don’t have all I had in high school—someone to pour into and disciple, a handful of close brothers I could be real with and go through life with—at least not quite to the degree I did there. But now I can be sure that God really does have greater things in store than I could imagine, here at this campus and beyond. The bittersweet side of finally feeling at home here is knowing that in a couple short years, it will be time to move on again, to say goodbye to everyone all over again, and move on to God knows what. But I know that he will continue to be faithful. He will have even better things in store for me beyond. And he will stick with me through whatever valleys I have to walk through to get there.