The Valley of Baca

October 8, 2010 | 28 comments

Shadows stretch long, quiet against half-bare fields. A pickup crackles up the gravel driveway, stops by the back door.

I hear voices outside. The neighbor farmer talks to my favorite farmer, just home from the fields. I open the door, and the two farmers are shaking heads, looking out past darkening fields to lights that swirl yellow and pulsate red. There are no sirens, only slow, rotating lights.

My farmer scuffs feet at the gravel. My heart quickens.

I go inside, lean my head against the wall of the laundry room, wait for the men to stop talking. The girls don’t see the lights, and I am grateful. In our home we welcome the questions, but I’m afraid of the answers to the questions rotating outside my back door.

He comes in. His eyes are wide, and they catch mine. He holds up two fingers. He mouths the words: “Two people are dead.”


Wasn’t it just hours earlier that I parked by the barbed wire, to climb up the half-naked hill? Didn’t I just call these the jubilant fields? Didn’t I just compare the soybean field to the sanctuary? And wasn’t I just singing the doxology, because the natural response to grace is gratitude?

Meanwhile, down here in the valley, two people parked a half-mile from my house to die.

While I sang at the earthen altar on the hill, a man and a woman with two guns drove across the state line, parked on the gravel road and stepped to the front of their car.

The police report said this: “Evidence at the scene shows both victims were at this scene willingly with a plan to end their lives that day. Both victims died from a fatal gun shot wound to the head.”

(The county sheriff called this afternoon to tell me that the couple had left lengthy notes regarding their plan to end their lives.)

Yet, I know nothing of their pain. I don’t know why they chose to die on roads traveled mostly by farmers — or why they chose to die at all.

Their last moments were witnessed by an ebony herd of cattle, on a narrow strip of road near a bubbling brook. Half-lived lives were cut short alongside half-harvested fields.

And I know — from reading the online funeral-home guest book — that the woman was a “bright spot” in the life of a friend. I know that she liked Hershey’s special dark chocolate.

And I know that when she was born 50 years ago, her mama gave her a name, Robin. But when she grew up — old enough to decide for herself who she wanted to be — she picked a new name filled with optimism and expectancy:

She named herself Faith Hope.


I sit here at these keys three days later, wondering: “Dare I share this story on a blog with a smiling Jesus at the top?” This is so raw and painful and despairing.

And I sit at these keys, weeping for people I did not know.

I weep for those who despair.

The man at the convenience store’s cash register spoke these words to me yesterday: I wonder what life would have looked like if they gave it just 12 more hours. Maybe they would have found a little bit of hope if they’d given hope one more chance.

And I weep for the ones who wear Faith and Hope on the outside, but who die on the inside anyway. I weep for those who think Hope has been given enough chances, and that Faith has failed them entirely.

All around us — while we worship and sing — the dying are among us. They despair. Do I see them?

Father, I will continue to praise Your name on the hilltop. I will sing of your great faithfulness, Lord. But, Father, I beg you: Keep my eyes open for the pained ones suffering in the Valley of Baca, the valley of tears.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.

by | October 8, 2010 | 28 comments


  1. Krista

    So heartrending. So hard to process that the enemy won that round. I named my own daughter Larkin Hope because of the hope I carry in my own heart that the enemy will not win the war. This we have been promised.

  2. S. Etole

    so many questions … such a loss

  3. Doug Spurling

    "Dare I share this story on a blog with a smiling Jesus at the top?" This is so raw and painful and despairing." YES.

    Luke 4:18
    “ The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor;He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed;

    Keep singing, and writing. There are those who will hear your voice from this place where smiling Jesus is on top and it will give them hope!

  4. Michelle Cox

    Thank you for having the courage to share such a difficult and dark story…rather than allow it to discourage you.

    There are many people out there who come dangerously close to that kind of despair, and need to hear about the hope that can be found in Jesus.

  5. Maureen

    Sharing this story is the right thing to do. We witness on this earth not only the joy, which is bountiful, but the pain and suffering, which also are all around us.

    By telling this story, you give these two individuals' lives a memory as old as earth itself.

    May peace be with you. . . and with them.

  6. mari mayborn

    "…I weep for the ones who wear Faith and Hope on the outside, but who die on the inside anyway. I weep for those who think Hope has been given enough chances, and that Faith has failed them entirely.

    All around us — while we worship and sing — the dying are among us. They despair. Do I see them?"

    Jennifer, my heart hurts for the couple and the people who love them. Your sharing their story calls all of us to live for lives for what's truly important.

    Oh, let us see people as Jesus does…and as Doug wrote, may it compel us to lives in which God writes and sings and speaks His love and hope into the hearts of people desperate for a Savior.

  7. Jennifer @ Getting Down With Jesus

    Your comments here are bits of Light in a dark and broken world.

    My prayer is that a hurting person would enter the comment box to find these words of truth and hope.

    God bless you all.

  8. Julie


    Thank you for sharing this story even though it may be raw and painful. We, as God's hands and feet, need the reminder that while we are singing His praises there is still a world out there of dark and hurting people that need to know the hope He offers.

    I was at a service last week where the pastor asked us to think of ourselves as firefighters. Delivering water to the thirsty and extinguishing the flames of the devil. We should be so close to those people that we leave this world smelling like smoke. (Jude 23).

    I have no doubt in my mind that you smell like smoke…because the words you write, speak of our Savior who offers that hope and faith to our hurting world.

    No, stories like this aren't nice and pretty but they are needed…to shake us to our core so we get off our butts and do something to show this world that our Savior offers that Hope and Peace that they are searching for.

    Absolutely beautiful!


  9. elizabeth

    Jennifer, your heart echoes mine. Just finished a week long conference of minister's and their wives filled with messages of faith, hope and dreaming. I sat there knowing that there were hurting people in that room that hope deferred had made their hearts so sick they could no longer hope. I pictured some of us cutting a hole in the roof and lowering them down through, in their hopeless paralyzed state, to Jesus. I pictured believing for them when they couldn't believe anymore. I just didn't know how to…so I just sat there and prayed, God in this room, show me the paralyzed ones, so I can at least show them I care.

  10. jasons

    It reminds us that there is so much to do. That we can stand on the same earth, in the same places and corridors, while one faces overwhelming pain and hopelessness while we embrace peace and grace and praise–it should wake us up. The restlessness increases, but the word of peace we carry is bigger and well able to calm it.

    A horrible tragedy, but this is an important reminder, Jennifer. We have to respond to the Holy Spirit and the heart of the Father. Thank you.

  11. Angel

    I read your words and feel the weight of them. The weight of truth they carry. I have known people who have crossed over the line into hopelessness. The earliest in memory was an uncle. The last one, just a few months ago, was the ex-husband of a niece. And there have been others throughout the years, each one leaving me dumbfounded, stunned, wondering why. Your question is a good one – "Do we see them." I think it is hard to recognize those who are hiding in despair so we have to share the hope of Christ with everyone. Thank you for this important reminder.

  12. Nancy

    Thank you for honoring the lives of these broken people, ones who were unable to withstand the pain from the thorns that infest the ground. While you were right to offer a hymn of hallelujah for the fields you walked, this post reminds that all of creation groans, waiting to be restored. No more thorns, no more pain, no more loss of Faith & Hope.

    And the smiling Jesus reminds me of a line from Cowper's hymn–God Moves in a Mysterious Way. This line, "behind a frowning providence he hides a smiling face." Thank you again for this post. We need to see His smile beyond the ugly.

  13. Sandra Heska King

    And it's in that jubilant field and soybean sanctuary that your tender heart is softened and you gather light for those whose lives are darkened by despair. Gather that grace grain into the storehouse and use it to feed the starving. Your words are food for the weary. And dessert to my heart.

  14. jaybird7

    The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
    We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
    Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish.

    John 1:14 – The Message

  15. Duane Scott

    I have no comment. I hurt too much to write. But I will do my part and share your story.

    I want to give hope, and others… one more chance.

  16. Cassandra Frear

    He is a song in the longest night.

  17. Deidra

    It's so hard to know, isn't it? What to share here. Where Jesus shines so bright.

    He shines here now, too, in the tears. In your heart. In your words to me – face to face – as I stood there with tears spilling down.

    His light shines through you, right out into the world. Even in this dark story, I see Jesus shining because you've shared your heart…

    Yes. Let's keep on keeping on. And pray for those who struggle with the keeping on…

  18. Megan Willome

    I think this is the best piece you've written on your blog.

  19. Natalie

    Wow, what a painful yet beautiful post. I am also praying for the strength to "look pain in the face" as Beth Moore put it at an event I recently attended. Lord, give us eyes to see and boldness to act!

  20. Melinda Lancaster

    This post shines with the compassion of Christ.


    Wow! Powerful and poignant and touching, and so important to share with a world often too busy to bother, too harried to see, too self-absorbed to get involved. I love the line, "I wonder what life would have looked like if they gave it just 12 more hours. Maybe they would have found a little bit of hope if they'd given hope one more chance." Thank you for beautifully pouring your heart into words the world needs to hear. May God use this to touch hearts and live with true hope and deep, abiding faith in Him, the One who never fails. God Bless!

  22. Kathleen Overby

    "Hope floats" it really does, but sometimes it feels like
    it gets caught under a boulder in the current. I'm going to remember that store man's words forever…..what difference would 12 hours bring…..

  23. Jennifer

    Heart breaking for these families. We just passed an anniversary of a boy who took his life several years ago. I never even suspected. It doesn't get easier.

    12 more hours–good way to look it.

  24. lynnmosher

    So sad. Such a loss. And yet, if someone had told them, they would have known that faith and hope had awaited them.

  25. Amy Sullivan

    Many questions, but really are there answers? I prayed for comfort for their families.

  26. K. Duane Carter

    Thought of this blog post when I read this out of my journal:

    The Call
    I can hear the call of God to step into His River
    I can hear the call of God to leap out into His Sky
    I can hear the love of God beckoning for the fall,
    The fall that in His wind turns to flight.
    I can’t tell if I’m in water or in wind,
    Floating in the depths or falling to the ground,
    All I know is God is all around
    And I just don’t care about anything else, yet all the while
    I care about all, the one.
    I care about the one that has never seen the sun,
    Whose eyes are blanketed by darkness,
    The one that has never seen the Father’s smile,
    The one who thinks that life is not worthwhile,
    But just keeps walking anyway.
    I can’t tell if I’m in water or in wind,
    Floating in the depths or falling to the ground
    All I know is that God is all around
    And this is simply what I was created for

    K, Duane Carter 5-21-10

  27. thesavingmomparents

    WOW. I can't form any other words for this right now. Thankyou for your viewpoint. Very humbling. ~Jessica

  28. DenaDyer

    Jennifer, you write so beautifully and I can feel your pain…thanks for sharing this story and reminding me of those who despair. They're all around us.


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