Friday, December 25, 2009

Genocide in Cambodia

Thoughts from the Valley Floor

If you use the metaphor of the valley floor to describe one’s situation in life, it assumes you can’t get much lower when in reality, that is not the case. If one specifies that their situational valley a floor is in Southeast Asia, then one will understand that just arriving in the valley might not be so bad and maybe even the first day or two until you run into torrential rains, flooding, leeches, malarial and dengue mosquitoes, quicksand, wild animals, disease, mines, poisonous plants, insects and staggering heat and humidity. There are many ways to continue to spiral down once you arrive on the valley of floor.

Few of us prepare for life in the valley because we don’t expect to live our lives down there so when the valleys come, we are not prepared for an extended stay. Few are prepared including the psalmists who cried out to God in complaint wondering what was happening to them.

Like I said, few of us are prepared for an extended stay on the valley floor. We didn’t bring a knife, map, compass, food, rain gear, good boots and extra clothes. We pretty quickly realize we were off the well groomed trail of life and deposited on the valley floor in the jungle without any survival gear. Most of the time, there is no way back to our groomed trail but only forward through the many dangers and hazards the lay waiting on the valley floor in the jungle.

Believers are afforded at least one resource to keep one going, such as a canteen of faith but not everyone staggers onto the valley floor with a full canteen. Some go in with a full canteen and come out with it empty while others go in with an almost empty canteen and come out with full – or all sorts of variations. Some lose their canteen in the dense jungle as they stagger around lost in the sweltering heat, trying to keep fire ants from biting their feet and mosquitoes off their neck. It is difficult to maintain the presence of mind to protect and steward the one thing that can keep us surviving a bit longer on the valley floor.

I remember a Cambodian man telling me how he fled to the jungle during the Khmer Rouge rule and how he, as a city person, was taught by the locals how to survive in the jungle. Water was the most important thing for survival. He told me about two vines that were nearly identical but one wrapped around the tree to the left and the other the right. One was good for providing life sustaining water, and the other produced poisonous water that could kill you. Surviving on the floor requires a new perspective, a different way of looking for what God will provide to sustain one in the valley. It is difficult to see what God is doing, or if he is doing anything at all, when jungle fog settles down all around us. The valley floor is also full of traps that can send one spiraling down into death pretty quickly. The floor is complex because we often stumble around in the fog trying to find our way forward and at the same time trying to avoid the pitfalls of floor. For survival, those of us on the valley floor need to change our sense of perception because God will be working outside the box of our former conceptions and expectations of the way we think he should work.

Time, when one is lost, seems to slow down, which further complicates life on the floor because one’s suffering is drawn out. If you can avoid the major pitfalls (addictions, giving up, suicide, affairs, etc.), you are bound to be worn down by all the irritations of being lost, figuring out which way is forward, the heat, insects, thirst, poor visibility, etc. My own prayer is that God will fast-forward my time on the floor to where I am coming out on the other side but knowing God’s track record, he unfortunately does not often do this. This is not the best news.
The valley floor is a place where one is isolated, lonely, and lost (confused about direction, which way is north or south). While faith often wanes as we are beaten down on the valley floor, a renewed perspective and new sense of awareness are things we can develop to help sustain what faith remains.

For me personally, it has been hope that keeps my small amount faith alive. And even as the rays of hope that God has given me evaporate, they have kept me going (barely) like a stone skipped on a roiling surface, and when God skips stones, they don’t always skip in a straight line, nor are they evenly spaced - they jig and jag uncomfortably and unpredictably.

So it is from here on the valley floor that I record these musings. Valleys are found in all sorts of terrain and geographical locations, and if any of you find yourself wandering near my valley, be sure to give me a shout.