Mountain and Valley Days

If there’s anything I’ve learned in life thus far, it’s that things sometimes have to get messy before they become beautiful.

Dirty rooms have to become even dirtier–clothes and objects strewn across the floor in order to dust off furniture, beds stripped to their bare mattresses to wash sheets, items tucked away into closets so the vacuum can reach every area of the floor–before they look sparkling clean. Beautiful.

Kitchens have to become cluttered with pots and pans on crumb-coated counters, sinks have to become towers of dirty dishes, and dishwashers must transform from empty to full vessels before the place can look sparkling clean, homey, cozy–with maybe a perfect platter of chocolate chip cookies laid out for all to enjoy.

Daily routines, weekly routines, monthly routines, yearly routines–sometimes they have to be thrown into confusion. They must be knocked off track, leaving you cast off-balance as well, maybe your breath knocked from your lungs as you scramble to find any sense of normalcy, any sense of order and organization among the chaos that now coats your life like a well-worn blanket and blankets your bones with utter exhaustion.

And I don’t know about you, but when it comes to my routines being knocked off-balance . . . I get tripped up so easily.

I’m not the type of person who can just have the same routine, day in and day out. Year in and year out. I get bored easily with doing the same things over and over again, so I have had to learn how to change up my routines in the tiniest of ways to bring in new perspectives and enjoyment. Maybe one week, my nightly routine will include an extra five minutes of reading before bed while I stretch out on the floor of my room. The next week, my morning routine might include making breakfast while listening to a podcast. And the next week, I could tire of both of these things and substitute them with different things–little things, really. But they make a big difference. They inject new life, new pleasures into my daily schedule that, for the most part, follows the same path.

But just because we walk the same path doesn’t mean we can’t change the way we walk, now does it?

But what do we do when even our paths change? What do we do when we can’t even create new ways to walk because we had to take a sharp turn to the left or right, or ascend or descend a steep hill?

Over the past year, I’ve come to call these different times in life “mountain days” and “valley days.” Mountain days are those days that you can tell have such an inherent and prominent sense of beauty. The sun is shining, its golden streaks filtering through your window. You’re listening to great music, you have a great day planned, and there’s something that’s going on later in the day that you’re looking forward to–maybe it’s a dinner with friends, maybe it’s a bath, maybe it’s watching a movie with the family.

On these days, there’s no dirty rooms or cluttered kitchens. Everything is right in the world, and you feel such a great sense of peace. Calm. Love. Contentment. You feel like you’re exactly where you need to be–like you’re on top of the world.

But then you have those valley days–because at some point, the mountain must recede from its significant heights. And on these days, the contentment and excitement and happiness you felt in the mountain days–the desire to live each day to its fullest and enjoy your daily routines, even when these routines are comprised of those activities that are not your favorite (like cleaning rooms or cooking)–are suddenly cast in the shadows of unwillingness and exhaustion. You become apathetic, and find that your body and mind cannot move. Cannot return to the tremendous heights it once reached.

Valley days last different amounts of time for different people. Personally, I have known valley days that have lasted a day or two. But I have also known valley days that lasted two weeks.

And it’s in these times that our lives seem like the dirty room and cluttered kitchen mentioned at the beginning of this post. Our routines are cluttered, scattered, dirty, messy. And as much as we would like to sit down and just clean and reorganize them, those shadows that darken our contentment and willingness make it hard to even want to get up from wherever we’re lying down. Even sitting down in a chair to even start on cleaning up our lives is difficult–like moving through molasses.

The valley days will leave you feeling like you will never again know the warmth of the sun beating down on you as you stand in the mountain days. They will leave you feeling hopeless and alone, in despair and in desperate need of repair. But in these times, I have found it helpful to remember this one thing:

the valley days do not last forever.

Just as the night gives way to dawn and the storm gives way to calm skies, so will valley days give way to mountain days. I can’t tell you how long your valley days will last. I can’t tell you when that one moment will happen that sparks your contentment and joy once again–that one thing that breaks a path among the shadows, enough of a path for the sunlight to come filtering back in.

For me, that one moment has been as simple as watching a video from one of my favorite lifestyle vlogs on YouTube. It’s been as simple as listening to a song I knew from the mountain days and wanting to go back. It’s been as simple as laying in bed in the mornings and being so tired of being stuck in the valley days, stuck in my own hopeless despair, that I just say to myself, to the air around me, “Enough.” And I swing my legs out of bed, not necessarily landing directly on the mountain–but not landing in the valley either. Just an in-between place.

So I encourage you today . . . if you feel like your life is dirty, messy, chaotic and will never know beauty or order again, please know two things.

  1. Beauty can be found in the messy and complicated too, if you have the eyes to see it.
  2. Your life won’t be like this forever.

Whenever you’re stuck in the shadow of the valley, hang onto the vision of the sun warming you on top of the mountain. Hang on until that vision becomes sensory–until you actually feel the sunlight kissing your skin.

And all the messes you are in, whether you remain there or know order and organization once again . . . somehow, someway, you will find the beauty in them, too.

And finding the beauty in any stage of life . . . that’s how you truly live this life we all have been graciously given!

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