I started the New Year speaking at a place that is close to home. West Cabarrus Church is located just outside Charlotte, North Carolina and is the church that my family has attended for the past several years. I felt honored to start the New Year sitting in a row with people I love, who have lived life with me, and who have known the journey that I have been on. There was nowhere else I’d rather be than to begin 2011 with family.
“Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage” (Psalm 84:5). This verse makes me think about baggage claim at an airport. Travelers stand next to conveyor belts watching various pieces of luggage pass by until they identify their own. They claim what is theirs and once they arrive at their destination they begin to unpack the contents that make up their baggage. This image of baggage claim causes me to contemplate the perspective this psalmist must have. “Who have set their hearts on pilgrimage” is a phrase where I perceive the act of traveling as something that is daunting, but the psalmist references the journey as a blessing.
Psalm 84 is a reflection that recounts where this psalmist has been in comparison to his destination and arrival. Through his personal journey, he focuses upon his hardships and while it is probably easy for him to celebrate his mountaintop experiences, it is interesting that he takes care to document the desert place of his existence. It is actually through the importance of him talking about the Valley of Baca where he realizes that such a place is his biggest blessing; it opens his eyes and teaches him about what matters most in this life. The baggage of his journey sparks the due recognition for just how great God is. “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty. My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord” (Psalm 84:1-2). Better is one day than a thousand elsewhere! (Psalm 84:10)
After praying about what message I could possibly give at West Cabarrus, I was prompted to speak about this psalm of pilgrimage. This process started to come to fruition a week earlier as I sat on my parents’ front porch on Christmas evening bundled in winter apparel. I watched the snowflakes settle on rooftops, outline the tree branches, and accumulate on the roadways. I felt like I was in the midst of a snow globe that somebody had tipped upside down and shaken. It was a beautiful winter storm and the seasonal change of snow falling became symbolic to me because it generated a sense of expectation: the white landscape was a picture of hope that gave me a fresh start.
“As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools” (Psalm 84:6). With the journey, there comes responsibility. What about the baggage we must claim? We each have our baggage that we drag through life, and depending on the seasonal changes that we weather along the way, there are those times where it feels extra heavy. My challenge is to claim my baggage as an instrument to be used while the contents within are put where they belong. Where is my focus? My weaknesses can actually be seen as a place of springs and a blessing for somebody else. I do not want to be a desert dweller and let the Valley of Baca consume me, but rather I desire to be one who goes “from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion” (Psalm 84:7). I want my peace in Christ to propel me onward!
My first speaking opportunity of 2011 turned into a sentimental Sunday because I was close to home. I was so grateful to be surrounded by family because they have helped carry my baggage those times it seemed too heavy for me. May 2011 become a time we have the courage to claim our baggage and all the while be a blessing for others as we help carry theirs along the way!