Lessons from the Shadowy Valley


Some wandered in desert wastelands,
    finding no way to a city where they could settle.
They were hungry and thirsty,
    and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
    to a city where they could settle.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
for he satisfies the thirsty
    and fills the hungry with good things.  Psalm 107:4-9 (NIV)

Mike and I are beginning to come out of a LONG trek through the wilderness, a journey without much light or clear vision. For the past 4-5 years, Mike has felt stymied in finding enough satisfying, suitable and value-adding work.  His original business plan when we moved to western North Carolina in the summer of 2013 aborted.  Another enterprise got off to a good start and then stalled one year later.  The door that God DID keep open these years of desert wandering has been as the tech reporter for World News Group.  But the work, as God-glorifying and useful as it was, left him with unexercised analytical skills and isolated from incarnational, face-face-face community. He grew depressed and increasingly beset by some irrational fears.

But thanks be to God, who provided a good biblical counselor and subsequent understanding and clarity to both of us.  The result? We are leaving western North Carolina shortly, something neither of us envisioned when we moved to these beautiful mountains.  But our good Shepherd, our constant guide and driver along the meandering ‘straight’ path He calls ‘good’ (see underlined verse above), has brought us within sight of a new city where we can settle.  The next God adventure awaits.

What have we learned in this God-appointed long trial and trek in the Valley?

  1. God gets our attention in adversity.  Neediness forced us to plow beneath the surface of His Word, unearthing treasure.  We grew hungrier for our daily reading through the Bible, year after year. We each started writing down in a notebook what we noticed in our readings and then sharing them at ‘Happy Hour’, while I was fixing dinner.  Discussing each other’s observations, unanswered questions and insights drove Scripture further into our hearts.  We now know experientially that man does not live by temporary food and comfort-providing stuff, (those good gifts God provides that come with the potential to become what we most value), but by God’s living Word.
  2. We each individually battled daily temptations to WORRY and FEAR.  We still do, but we have grown quicker to repent and remind ourselves of the Truth about who God is and what He says in the Bible.
  3. We practiced enunciating specific, measurable God-requests.  So many people prayed for us on and off these past 5+ years.  When you ask others to lift up your needs before God, you have to articulate well just what you do need.  Why? So you can recognize God’s provision when it comes and so you and the ‘pray-ers’ can properly THANK God for hearing and acting.
  4. Since early December 2018, we began keeping a prayer notebook.  We set it up like this: one page per day with a vertical line to make two columns:  Mike’s needs and Maria’s needs.  We each articulate and explain what is on our heart and our mind, for instance, a dreaded task to do, a burden or a fear.  I write each of them down in measurable detail.  Then we take turns praying out loud for one another.  My favorite part of this process is to look back to yesterday’s needs and see which ones God has already answered!  Then we praise our good God.
  5. A final lesson that we want to retain is this:  wilderness paths along which the Spirit leads us are prescribed by God as His good plan to conform us to His Son.  The trials are part of God’s curriculum designed to make us like more holy.  For what purpose?  to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the Beloved One. Eph 1:6 Berean Study Bible.  Why do we want to hold fast to and not forget this fact about struggles, this truth, this component of God’s School of Discipleship?  So the next God lessons don’t catch us by surprise or alarm us.
  6. We also want to continue this habit of daily praying together.  Not only do we see tangible documented evidence of God at work, but that sacred space with Him has provided a safe place for Mike and me to invite the other into some of the dark corners of our hearts. Our marriage benefits from that practice.

Providentially as I meditated on how to record my thoughts for you, this timely meditation by 19th-century the famous English pastor cycled through again:

Charles Spurgeon’s morning devotion for 8 March

“We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”
Acts 14:22

God’s people have their trials. It was never designed by God, when he chose his people, that they should be an untried people. They were chosen in the furnace of affliction; they were never chosen to worldly peace and earthly joy. Freedom from sickness and the pains of mortality was never promised them; but when their Lord drew up the charter of privileges, he included chastisements amongst the things to which they should inevitably be heirs. Trials are a part of our lot; they were predestinated for us in Christ’s last legacy. So surely as the stars are fashioned by his hands and their orbits fixed by him, so surely are our trials allotted to us: he has ordained their season and their place, their intensity and the effect they shall have upon us. Good men must never expect to escape troubles; if they do, they will be disappointed, for none of their predecessors have been without them. Mark the patience of Job; remember Abraham, for he had his trials, and by his faith under them, he became the “Father of the faithful.” Note well the biographies of all the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, and you shall discover none of those whom God made vessels of mercy, who were not made to pass through the fire of affliction. It is ordained of old that the cross of trouble should be engraved on every vessel of mercy, as the royal mark whereby the King’s vessels of honour are distinguished. But although tribulation is thus the path of God’s children, they have the comfort of knowing that their Master has traversed it before them; they have his presence and sympathy to cheer them, his grace to support them, and his example to teach them how to endure; and when they reach “the kingdom,” it will more than make amends for the “much tribulation” through which they passed to enter it.

Vitamins and minerals against anxiety

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You will keep him in shalowm shalowm* whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in You.  Isaiah 26:3 (*Hebrew for perfect peace)

Years ago, in our 20s, Mike and I sold Amway products.  One item that we whole-heartedly promoted was their top-of-the-line vitamin and mineral supplement named Double X.  I’m not sure what the X stood for, but whatever it was, twice as much good stuff was packed into those green little shapes.  Double X was pricey, even back then. We grew accustomed to budgeting for vitamins.  Daily exogenous micronutrients still form part of the healthy way we cook and eat.

With school starting this month, I’ve engaged in the ‘good fight of faith’, pondering how to resist the temptation to worry.  For me, it’s always about ‘having enough time’ to give to those extra-curricular activities important to me like writing this blog, reading and creating my ‘English without Fear’ videos.

One of my go-to-verses to battle fear and worry is the one above from Isaiah.  Original Hebrew or Greek words always draw me in.  So, when I read that ‘perfect peace’ is really shalowm shalowm, I rejoiced!  You all know that shalowm is far more than peace and tranquility; it includes welfare, contentment, soundness, health, quiet and safety.

Who doesn’t desire all that?

So, what’s the catch?

Oh….just the habit of keeping our thoughts FIXED on God.  That’s all.


But just as the Spirit of God brought my Isaiah fighter verse to mind, so, too, he brought a devotional that same night. The author penned almost as an afterthought that for every thought we invest in regrets or excitement or discouragement concerning earthly, transitory details, we ought to commit 100 times as much of our thought life to ALL WE HAVE IN CHRIST!

I have to confess that I don’t even apportion 2 to 1 of my thoughts and emotions to what Jesus has given me!  The writer’s exhortation not only pulled me up short but has stayed with me all week long.

So how do we DO what he recommends?

One technique I’ve used in the past, occasionally, is to go through the alphabet, letter by letter, and just praise God out loud for all the words I can think of about Him.  I do this on hikes with Mike when we can go for long stretches of time without talking.

For example:

A:  Father, I’m so glad that you are always available, that you have adopted me into your forever family, that you are always the same, that you have altered my reality by giving me new life, that you adore me, that you arrange all the details of my life, that Jesus argues with the accuser that He has taken care of my sin problem.

I just point out as many things to God as I can think of beginning with that letter.  And then I move on to the next letter.  Sometimes halfway through the alphabet, I’ll add another deed or characteristic that I’ve already prayed about. No matter.

What other ways can you think of that we can think about God’s good eternal gifts to us?

Of course, I haven’t mentioned ‘the trust you’ part, but I see my praises for his deeds and attributes as ASSUMING a trust in him.

Father, may you give us your grace to rejoice and be glad in who you are and who we are because of you.  Thanks to Christ, Amen!

What do our needs tell us?


‘You’re so needy!’

“Yep, and your point is?”

Why is it that we think something is wrong with us if we can’t do it all?  I can only speak for Americans.  It seems as though being needy is un-American.  Since our pre-founding, we’ve grown up imbibing the ambient atmosphere of:

  • pull yourself up by your own bootstraps
  • you can be/do anything you want in life
  • if it’s going to be, it’s up to me
  • plan your work, then work your plan
  • follow your passion

Actually all that rah-rah positive motivation denies the FACT that God has designed and created us AS creatures with needs.  Before the fall when He created man, He called His male and female creation VERY GOOD!  And they were needy, ON PURPOSE!  They required human companionship, food and productive work.  And they had to sleep.

As I learn to depend more on God each day, I am embracing and even liking my neediness. The Father is teaching me to request His protection, strength and wisdom in the ordinary and not just to call on Him for the ‘big things’ I can’t handle on my own. Somewhere I read that if we don’t invite God’s covering and help with the ordinary routine activities (such as cooking, driving, taking a shower without slipping, hiking/walking), then in effect we’re announcing to the Creator and Sustainer of the universe:

  • I’ve got this, God!

Besides, when we DO ask Him for help in writing a blog piece, or shopping for groceries, we re-awaken ourselves to His presence and gain an occasion to thank Him, to praise Him for His grace.

A couple of weeks ago, I read this quote from a sister blogger:

“If you’re meeting your own needs, it’s quite possible you’re not meeting the right one.”  (Quoted by Pippa in her blog, linked here)

That wake-up call to humility connected with an experience I read in Joyce Huggett’s book, Listening to God.  Seeking spiritual counseling to deal with fearful thoughts of suicide, she staggered into a new reality. Her guide led her through a confession of the sin of wanting to kill herself and prayed for her to believe and receive God’s sure forgiveness. Then he added this:  (I’ve paraphrased)

  • Now that you’ve confessed to trying to meet a very real need in a sinful way..
  • Let’s look at this underlying emotional need and see how we can address it in a way that is healthy and God-reliant.

That extra step turned out to be a turning point for the author and eye opening to me! It fit right in with the FACT that God has designed us as dependent, needy creatures. Dependency is woven into the fabric of life.   God created us incomplete and unwise without Him, cracked jars of clay requiring His support.

As Paul boasts in 2 Cor 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

Notice also that God intends to MEET our needs, Himself!  The inadequacy, or lack of confidence I feel is SUPPOSED to be the norm.  Insufficient on my own, I have been created precisely to live moment by moment, dependent on God.  And grateful.

So what does that look like in everyday life?  I’m finding a new quality of contentment in my days.  I tend to reply to myself more and more, “Well, what do you expect, Maria, from a clod of earth?  Trust the Master Gardener and rejoice that HE has written the divine Plan. He has just what you need for THIS, so fret not!”

How is embracing your neediness going for you?


This baby bird got fed!


Baby bird gets fed   Psalm 86:4    Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.

I felt like crap Friday night.  And I woke up feeling the same.  In a complaining, whiny mood, not content.  Why?  just the same ole-same ole reason – ‘not enough Maria time’ to satisfy me. (yes, school is back in session)

When I went to bed, I wisely made the decision to forgo exercising in the morning. I reasoned that just MAYBE I needed more time with God.  If I could start my quiet time earlier, then maybe I could find refreshment for my soul before we headed out the door with our planned Saturday’s activities.

Providentially, I had noticed the above verse from Psalm 86 the previous day and written it down. God used my hand-copied Psalmist’s plea to revive me.  It occurred to me – If the writer was begging God to give him joy, then he obviously wasn’t feeling enthusiastic about anything.  Why would he ask for what he already had?

A very weak, half-hearted request formed in my mouth.  No fervor or confidence accompanied this prayer.  It wasn’t mixed with strong faith.  It was all I could do to THINK the words.  No sound waves left my lips.

Praise be to my good Father who has planted His Spirit in me! For one of the happy jobs of the Spirit of Christ is to intercede for those saints in whom He resides.

Here’s what happened:  the Lord DID gladden my heart.  Just like the baby bird in the nest who can do nothing but open his mouth (thereby blocking sight of mom and dad arriving with food), I lifted my soul to the One who could fill it.  The invisible but real supernatural and almighty Sovereign Lord of the Universe filled my emptiness:

  • Our dreaded ‘change-the-water-filter-under-the-house-all-the-while-praying-the-seal-holds‘ bi-monthly task proceeded stress-free.
  • Our hike along a section of the Appalachian Trail out of Hot Springs turned out to be delightful.  The incline worked our bodies but didn’t punish our calves or thighs.  God provided a beautiful summer day.  The vista views and the close-up trees and bushes together with the pine straw smells and QUIET, all worked together to calm and renew our souls.
  • Grilling pork chops and spotting examples of grace in a Downton Abbey episode blessed us.
  • Coffee and reading on the deck as dusk approached and the mountains darkened quieted us for the night
  • A solid 8-hour sleep brought us to a new morning, thoroughly equipped with new soul and body strength.

And this morning, during my quiet time I gave thanks to the Lord who showed me mercy yesterday when I didn’t deserve it and hesitantly asked

Matthew 12:20a – He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle.




God’s been busy in my life


God at work




  • God – 1

  • Spiritual Forces of Discouragement – 0


There was a school contract for next year in my box on Thursday.

No other doors for jobs have opened up.

This is a no-brainer.  God directs us by shutting doors and opening doors.

Whoever boasted with confidence:  “You can do ANYTHING you set your mind to….” should get a grip on reality.  Nothing thwarts God’s plans.  And if He doesn’t want you doing XYZ, then you won’t do XYZ.

  •   I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure – Isaiah 46: 9-10


So THANK YOU ALL for your faithful prayers this school year as I have been battered multiple times by discouraging setbacks. I do believe my cousin Terry who has affirmed all along that God must have plans for me to shine light on Him at this school.


You can also pray as I prepare to give the commencement address at my old school in Yorktown, Va next week.  I was invited in February for this Saturday, 17 May at 3 pm.  During Spring Break and then over Easter, I leisurely finished up my talk.  I forwarded it to my husband who is a good editor and his comment was, “This feels more like law rather than grace!”


Law v. Grace




So now, closer to the wire, I started over to write THE TALK, version 2.0, this time HAVING to TRUST GOD and not my resources. Darn!  (Just kidding)

This is one of those times I suspect God has been enjoying a good chuckle at my expense – He has me right where He wants (relying on Him)!

Actually, I’m grateful to God for a grace-dependent husband who tells the truth in love.  I do think this talk will be better.  It’s blessed me already.



When you pray this coming week, ask God:

  • that the message He has will accomplish His plans and purposes
  • that the ‘tech’ works (slides and sound)
  • that my delivery not be a distraction to anyone
  • that we all may see God as able and willing to handle the big and the little events of our lives
  • for our safety on the road (8 hours there and 8 hours back)
  • for good care for our cats while we are gone





God was faithful to answer your prayers – a report.

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Do not fear, for I am with you:  do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  Is 41:10

Last week I reported how God had opened up the door for me to present two workshops for second language teachers interested in the language acquisition method I’ve been using for 8 years: TPRS® (teaching proficiency through reading & storytelling).  I was not necessarily anxious about sharing the thinking, research and techniques.  That was to be in English and I had the power point slides and had prepared notes.  What frightened me were the two demos in French that I needed to sustain.  I was afraid that I would not be a credible poster child for using the TPRS techniques.  I often compare myself to those TPRS personalities I watch at national conferences who demonstrate the skills with great ease & success.  By nature I am an introvert who extraverts for time-certain periods.  I don’t always think of clever story possibilities, on my feet, in French!

The other details that made me nervous were the tech and logistics of the conference room set-ups.  Finally, I had no control over what the attendees would think when the founder of this methodology, Blaine Ray, did not show up and instead they had me, a mere practitioner from the field!

Well, it’s no surprise that the God of the universe who does more than we can ask or imagine took care of me.  I love Psalm 23 because of God’s promises.  ‘Goodness and mercy’ actively followed me all 5 days!

  • At one point my iPodfell out of my purse at lunch and one of the teachers picked it up.  I had a play list of French music on it I was using during breaks.
  • My mind was on other matters so I wasn’t paying close attention to the envelope containing checks/credit card info for book sales.  Another teacher tucked it out of sight when we left the conference room for lunch in the lobby.
  • The attendees at both workshops were VERY nice and encouraging.  I felt I could be myself.
  • My day 1 of the first workshop left me feeling poorly about that challenging French demo.  I spent a lot of time that night in the hotel getting coaching from Blaine and another French teacher, Donna, who presents at workshops.  The next morning when I was out walking early in the morning, I recited all the verses that I know and drew encouragement from them.  Nonetheless, I was resigned that my skill level was just not where it should be yet!   What a JOY-ful surprise at the end of that 2nd day of the Washington, DC workshop when it all came together and my French TPRS skills moved to a higher level.  I felt like I had achieved a new competency.  On top of that, the satisfaction those attendees communicated was heart-warming.  I felt that I had given them something of value over the two days.
  • God was faithful to keep me awake driving through summer afternoon traffic back down to Newport News.  That had been a prayer request because I knew I was running on less sleep than normal.
  • The next morning was the local workshop in Newport News.  I found myself ‘angsting’ as I was driving to the hotel.  It was only a 5 mile trip, but my mind started thinking, ‘What if I get into an accident and am late to set up for this workshop?’ That’s when Isaiah 41:10 came back to mind and I just affirmed out loud ALL the parts :

Lord, I WILL not fear, for you are with me.

I will NOT anxiously look at all the bad things that might happen.

You ARE strengthening me in this situation.

You ARE holding me and you will uphold me in all the possible situations over the next two days

My spirit relaxed.

  • THIS 2nd workshop went even better.  The changes that both Donna, the other French teacher, and Blaine had suggested worked very well.  I felt that I fairly showcased the techniques.  These mostly Spanish teachers got to feel what it is like to be taught a foreign language using TPRS.  Their energy built me up and I was able to give it back to them.  God enabled me to think on my feet and together we created a story about a lady who wanted to dance the tango.  The two men in the group were good sports and played the game well.
  • God revealed a surprising thought to me yesterday as I was relaxing into a very welcome nap:  Now that I have presented two regional workshops, I no longer have any grounds for thinking I can’t do TPRS well.  I am competent.  Of course I will continue to work on the many skills that go into making a good TPRS teacher.  But I have barred the door, forever, to indulging in negativity.

I CAN do all things through Him who strengthens me.  It’s okay to be a jar of clay, a cracked pot, when you have the God of the universe upholding you!  Thank you, Lord.  And thank you dear faithful friends who prayed and encouraged me.

Gushing about God

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Ever since the day we heard about you, we have been praying that …..you would ….joyfully give thanks to the Father…….So then, just as you received Christ Jesus, continue to live in Him……overflowing with thankfulness. Colossians 1: 9, 12

Joyful and overflowing thankfulness?  What does that look like? I picture an unceasing, bubbling fountain, abundantly gushing.  Now apply that image to a state of human thankfulness.  My everyday attitude doesn’t even come close.  The problem is that if we are not in the practice of overflowing with thankfulness, then we can’t just rev up overnight our thankfulness quotient from 0 to 60.  If it’s not yet a habit, it’s going to take time to build up speed.  When we do have days free from pain and sorrow, we ought to thank God intentionally.  A good place to begin is when we rise in the morning.  If we don’t start on a ‘good day’, the days of sorrow will overtake us with no preparation for praise.   So beginning on the problem-free days will give us opportunity to build up this habit.  Practicing thankfulness in the mornings will hopefully spill over throughout the day.

I started a small notebook where I now jot down my thanksgivings.  I write down 3 or 4 obvious ones:  Wes and his buddies made it safely to Florida.  My friend’s marriage is growing stronger.  My husband found his blackberry. But I also try to include one that has lasting value and connected to the Gospel, for instance a) the hope stored up for me in heaven is sure and secure or b)  I have access to all the grace I need.

I was challenged the other day, reading some Spurgeon.  He offers some practical help in making thankfulness a habit.  He suggests we use our memory to recall and then rehearse God’s mercies.  When we share with others God’s blessings to us, our memory grows stronger.  We need to ‘abundantly utter’ God’s favor to us.  He goes on to say, “Do not imitate some people, who, if they are prospering, make a point of not owning to it.  They will say, ‘Oh, I am doing pretty well, or…it is a fair crop.’  What robbery of God.   We talk as if we were to be pitied for living; as if we were little better off than toads under a plow or snails in a tub of salt.  We whine as if our lives were martyrdoms and every breath a woe.”

Wow!  Does that convict me!  “How are you doing, Maria” – I am likely to answer, “okay or fine”.  According to Spurgeon, we should be rehearsing and talking about God’s lovingkindness, ( ‘chesed’ in the Hebrew).  Only if we practice recounting the specifics of how His lovingkindness blesses us, will it flow out of our mouth.  This is how we are to bubble over with thankfulness.  We need to repeat and remind ourselves OUT LOUD, just like we would be working on lines of a play or preparing for a test.

Spurgeon encourages us to be perpetually cheerful, not because of our circumstances, but because of God’s innumerable mercies.   That takes care of times when circumstances ARE negative and one is feeling depressed.  Spurgeon counsels Christians NOT to show when they are down.  He quotes Matt 6:18 ‘Don’t let men know when you are fasting’.  When we pretend that showing sadness or seriousness indicates sanctity, he calls that hypocrisy!  “To conceal one’s own grief for the sake of cheering others implies a self-denying sympathy that is the highest kind of Christianity.”

However, in defense of being real, I once read about a woman dying of cancer.  When friends and family would visit and ask about her condition, she would share for one minute because they truly were interested.  Then she would shift the conversation to them, her visitors.  I think we can combine both.  If life is currently harsh, admit that, but be sure to add how God is showing His mercies, strength or wisdom.   This truly is the ‘sacrifice of praise’ as opposed to the ‘indulgence of pity’.   And I do believe we have to prepare to gush a bit regarding God’s loving kindness.  Gush?  Isn’t that too stong a verb?  Not really.  It’s only because we’re not used to gushing over God.   I don’t think it comes naturally, but we should practice it!  And think how much our neighbors will benefit if we talk abundantly of God’s goodness.  It’s not bragging on us, but on God.  And they will be correct to think, ‘If God has been merciful to my neighbor Maria, then maybe He’ll help me!’

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