Some see the glass half full. Others see it half empty. Then there’s Woody Allen’s version which sees the glass half-full, yes, “but with poison.” Remember the bit about the boy with never-ending optimism? No matter what he encountered he was always finding the good side to it, so much so that he drove his parents crazy. Finally, to teach him a lesson about life, they filled his room with horse manure on his birthday, just to show him that sometimes life can be bad with no upside. Later on, when they visited his room, they saw him digging and clawing in the manure and in answer to their dumbstruckedness, he looked up with smeared face and beamed, “with all this horse manure, there’s got to be a pony in here somewhere!”
It’s all about how you look at things.
On Christmas Day, 1849, one hundred and seven wagons set out from Utah en route to the gold rush hills of California. Over time the large group splintered into smaller trains, each one seeking their own path to fortune. One of these fractious groups consisted of twenty-seven wagons of wide-eyed emigrants, but because of some poorly investigated information, followed what they believed was a shortcut to the gold-laden California hills. They had been told the shortcut would carve 20 days off their journey but not everyone agreed. Captain Jefferson Hunt, the leader of the entire expedition told them as they parted, “you are walking into the jaws of hell.”
They were not convinced. But despite their unfounded optimism, this small party of gold-seekers encountered hardships they had never known. For the next four months, starvation, heat, and dehydration took its toll on the party and most lost their lives. Their journey was a study in misfortune: impassable volcanic rock, basalt mines, poisoned springs and 134 degree daytime temperatures and freezing nights. During this “shortcut to hell” they had to kill their oxen for meat, burn their wagons and walk much of the way through the desert.
Only two wagons made it across the arid valley and when the handful of road-weary emigrants made it to Mariposa on the other side, one of the lone women left among the tattered party looked back on the wide expanse and quothed, “Goodbye, death valley.”
And the name stuck.
Conversely, the Spaniards had another name for this, the harshest basin of the American desert. They called it, “Le Palma de la Manos de Dios” translated “in the palm of God’s Hand.” Not the flat of God’s backhand, mind you, but the palm of His Hand. Think of palm and what’s the first word that comes to mind? Gentleness, yes. How could two groups come away from such a place with such starkly opposite views, one seeing it as harsh and deadly while the other came to know it as gentle and tranquil?
Let’s look at this from a spiritual context. Anything that brings to death in us those things that dishonor Christ, we should welcome and ask for grace to see it through. James told his readers to “count it all joy when you encounter various trials” because of what these character-shaping holy chisels can do. The littlest things can do this.
One of the stories to come out of the Ravensbruck death camp involved Corrie and Betsie ten Boom who would read the Bible every night to their fellow inmates in Barracks #28. They could do this because of the horrible infestation of fleas in that hall, so the guards steered clear of it unless absolutely necessary. Consequently, many women came to know God intimately through His Son Jesus Christ as a result of this annoyance. God can use anything.
It’s all in how you look at things.
Those Utahans were hell-bent on finding temporal happiness and passing treasure and paid for it with their lives. The Spaniards who came before them were looking to expand horizons and witness the beauty of God. One missed God completely as they sought a shortcut to personal wealth while the other saw His handiwork in the beauties and hidden delights all about them. One couldn’t wait to bid farewell; the other couldn’t leave for missing the flowers.
One saw sand; the other, His Hand.
How about you? Got any manure in your life? Start digging! Any fleas? Perhaps they are gathered just for you and woven into a holy curtain to usher you into the Most Holy Place. Are you in a desert place? Wait for manna and hidden streams. Look for blooms. Hello, Death Valley. Rest safely in His Hand. For a very long time now, our Lord has specialized in bringing His people through the wilderness and He will bring you through as well.