Have you ever heard of a place called Exmoor National Park? Probably not. I caught a segment about it on the radio and was equally fascinated by what I heard and disappointed that I’d never heard of it before.. Exmoor is a national park in the UK and is touted as being one of THE best places on earth to stargaze. According to its website, “Exmoor National Park has been designated an International Dark Sky Reserve, the first place in Europe to achieve this prestigious award and only the second in the world.” Huh….who knew??? Seriously, I encourage you to Google this place. The pictures are beyond description. Exmoor was given the “International Dark Sky Reserve” designation by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA). The IDA is, according to their website, the “only non-profit organization fighting to preserve the night.” In short, the IDA educates citizens and government leaders and also petitions for certain places to be protected stargazing locations.
So, how does one preserve a night sky? Well, the first thing, as I understand is to try to set up local rules and ordinances to combat artificial light. You see, artificial light, like street lights, industrial lights, car lights, even home and landscape lighting all affect our ability to see the stars and sky at night. Have you ever stood in a large city at night and tried to look at the stars?
You may see some of the biggest and brightest, but you won’t see a fraction of what you’d see if you were standing in the middle of rural Montana. The IDA refers to artificial light as “light pollution.” If you want to read more about it, feel free, but for my purposes, the lesson is this: You cannot view and fully experience the natural light of the stars, moon and other celestial bodies, if you are standing around sources of artificial light. Period.
If you’ve followed along, you know I’ve been on a journey the past few years. Since we moved to Franklin, I don’t think it has been any secret that I’ve struggled. We left jobs, beloved friends and a church family that I absolutely adored. We downsized in a major way, into a townhouse, where we had a much bigger house on a relatively big lot before. We had to adjust to a new cost of living and we had to quickly adjust to a new lifestyle. Whereas I used to be surrounded by people and coworkers all the time, I started working from home. My job(s) were a combination of several part-time gigs that were HUGE blessings but were also somewhat unpredictable in terms of hours or pay. Blake’s job required irregular and longer hours and because of that, we were basically unable to have a normal predictable schedule.
During this time, we endured big-time stress in pretty much every area of our lives. I felt grief. I felt sadness. I felt overwhelmed. I felt emotionally, financially, mentally, and physically wiped out more days that not. It was rough. I felt like I was wandering alone and lost. I wasn’t sure where I was supposed to go or what I was supposed to do. I wasn’t sure if we made the right decision. I felt, on some days, that God had led me into a desert and simply forgot about me.
As I sit here today, I can tell you that I’m glad we battled and continue to battle through it all. It hasn’t always been fun. There were days when I felt like it was all just a big mistake and I wanted to throw in the towel, but I’m glad we didn’t.
You see, over the years, I slowly, painfully, and begrudgingly (at times!) became a different person…a deeper person….a lighter person…a better person…a better wife and mom. Frankly, I wasn’t really given a choice. And maybe that’s why it was so hard. I’m stubborn. Give me choices and I’ll make a decent decision. Force me into a position and I will resist until I break. And I almost did. Thankfully, God gave me blessings where the wounds had been. Blake and I stretched our relationship and our marriage, but in the struggle, we grew and bonded stronger than ever. Out of a lack of professional direction, I applied for jobs and opened myself to opportunities for which I would never have even considered before. As a result, I met several lifelong friends, regained my confidence, and landed some of the best professional opportunities I could have imagined. In my emotional exhaustion, I had to let go of certain things to just take care of each day. To do that, I had to let go of some baggage like guilt and caring about the judgment of strangers. Whereas my focus before had been outside, my focus turned inward. I was given the double-edged sword of the gift of time…time to think….time to look at myself….time to make decisions. Time to deal with my own “junk” for once.
I like to say that if you look at it like a house or a building, I didn’t just take myself down to the foundation. Rather, I burned the house down, moved to another lot, dug a basement with a tornado shelter, constructed a new foundation and rebuilt something new. Again, it was mostly a result of survival and God’s not-so-gentle direction, but it happened. I’m still a work in progress.
Without the distractions of things like home maintenance (renting ROCKS!), yard work, and a big giant house, I was able to spend more time with my boys. Without a built-in group of friends, I was forced to meet new people and they are some of the best I’ve known. Without a comfortable path and predictable timeline, I was forced to rely on God in a way I don’t think I ever had before. In my times of need, I focused on blessings. In my times of want, I focused on the treasure of a healthy family. In my times of stress, I found that running is great therapy. In the waiting, I found myself….and more importantly, re-found God.
The years have been a time of darkness, for me, for sure. But, it has been in this time that I have been able to see the brilliant light of God and His faithfulness like never before. Without some of those lonely times, I don’t think I could truly appreciate a kind invitation to lunch or a simple unexpected phone call. Without the questioning and confusion, I don’t think I would have been able to perceive God’s hand literally connecting several KEY “dots” along the way. Without the stretch in my marriage, I know our relationship would not be as strong as it is today. Without being forced to just “give it to God,” I don’t think I would be able to fully understand the everyday miracles along the way. He will send friends into your life, when you least expect it. He will comfort you. He will put words in your mouth. He will provide for you. He will grow you. He will encourage you. He will push you. He will hold your hand.
I don’t think God delights in our times of suffering, but I think if you’ll let Him, He will use those times to show off. Our God is light. He owns the darkness and He overcomes it and defeats it every time. When we’re in darkness, our God hears us and He will reveal some of the biggest and brightest plans for us. We just have to look up and see it.
Here’s something I’ve learned the hard way: When you’re in a time of darkness, you cannot experience God’s light if you don’t let go of your flashlight. I’ve always been one of those people who felt strong in my faith, but I’ve also always felt the need to “help” God. “God, tell me what I should do here, but oh, by the way, I’ve already decided.” “God, I need your help, but I’m going to do what I want to do in the end anyway, so if you’d just make that turn out the way I want, that would be really cool of you.” “Hey God, if you’d just tell me how this will all turn out, I’ll trust you.” “God? Are you even listening? I’m sure you’re busy…I’ll just handle this one myself….” “God? So…I gotta tell you….This isn’t working for me. I didn’t anticipate this. Let me know when you decide to follow my plan. Otherwise, I’ll see you at Christmas I guess.” I’m embarrassed to say these aren’t far from my actual thoughts at times. God doesn’t need my help. There’s freedom in letting go of the illusion of control.
This time of darkness taught me invaluable lessons. Most of all, it revealed God’s incredible love and power. It taught me to believe. It taught me to have faith. It taught me to let go of myself and to let go of my flashlight. It taught me to clear out ALL that artificial lights in my life. That stuff is all meaningless and burdensome. The real light comes from above. Guess what? You cannot rely on the artificial lights of pride or busy-busy-busy to get through the darkness. There isn’t enough alcohol or prescription drugs or gambling or shopping or flirting or internet surfing that will illuminate your path when you’re wandering in unending night. Those lights might keep you distracted and entertained, but they won’t light your path and what’s more, they only serve to dim your view of God’s spectacular plan for your life. Stop looking down. Stop carrying that flashlight. Stop relying on artificial lights. Look up and fix your eyes on Him, ESPECIALLY in the Dark and what He reveals will change you Forever. Trust me.