top of page
  • Writer's pictureMary Nolte

The Missing Years

We were preparing for our daughter’s wedding when she called me one day in a slight panic, “Mom, I have no pictures of myself from 2009-2011! What happened?” 

“What happened” was, I was in the “desert years”- both literally and spiritually. We had moved away from everyone we knew to live in the desert of West Texas. Honestly, I tried not to think of those years as they were the years my dad was dying, the years I started having unexplained abdominal pain, the years our family business almost went bankrupt, my husband worked long hours, our oldest daughter was rebelling, and our second oldest was dealing with extreme loneliness. I often found myself curled up on my closet floor, crying, feeling alone, abandoned, and completely helpless. 

I wasn’t super thrilled with the idea of digging up pictures from those years, because I didn’t want to revisit the pain.

As I was gathering the courage to sift through those difficult memories, my husband and son were getting ready to burn the east pasture. I had always hated that pasture. It was the one place on the ranch I could not stand to visit as a dozen piles of mangled cedar and vine prevailed in the midst of it, piled there from a clearing done by a previous owner. Not only did those piles cut an ugly swath through an otherwise beautiful landscape, they also made the precious acreage useless for grazing. The burning had been delayed because of the years of Texas drought, so the piles of debris had become a sort of longstanding landmark to those driving the county road, the first thing anyone saw when they came to visit. We had a sort of party the day the piles were lit on fire, the drought finally brought to an end by a decisive rainstorm. As I watched them burn, I thought of the ash they were going to leave behind- ash that would be plowed into the ground and used as fertilizer for a future harvest. Improved grass would then be sprigged, and we would eventually realize a harvest from the missing years in that field. It gave fuller meaning to Ezekiel 36:34, “And the land that was desolate shall be tilled, instead of being the desolation that it was in the sight of all who passed by,” for the process was a long one. The desolation of that field had begun with a time of unfettered growth, when, along with the good growth, there was also the growth of weeds and strangling debris. 

The “debris” of our lives most often comes from things we hold dear, things we think we need, things that end up growing up around our hearts, commanding our attention.

I have seen fields overtaken by undergrowth. Walking through them, it is easy to be overwhelmed by their ethereal beauty. You can almost hear the enchanting whisper of Tolkien’s imaginary world and begin to think that, maybe, the undergrowth is better left untouched. I was thinking this as I walked through one recently and suddenly came across a snake, curled up and almost hidden, and I realized that the unbridled debris made a good hiding place for that which was dangerous, that which didn't want to be found out. That debris has a way of gathering onto fences, intent on breaking free and taking the important boundaries with it. Left to wildness, the fields become useless for grazing, as the moisture stolen from the grass by weeds and brush eventually kills off the cattle’s source of nourishment. Clearing that debris is a necessary step to make sure the herd has food, to make sure the boundaries stay intact, to make sure the danger is exposed. 

As I languished in the desert, God was gathering up the debris of my life, leaving it to dry in a desert of helplessness, for there was nothing I could do to fix the pain, to fix my dad, to fix my child. 

My life had been in danger of becoming “desolate,” for there were things I was holding onto, good things that were becoming ultimate things to me, tempting me away from gospel clarity. Like the cedar bushes of the Texas hill country that grow in abundance, thriving in the rocky soil, so it is with our hearts, where sin thrives and idols spring up in abundance if left unchecked. They are constantly threatening to take over- the land and our hearts, rendering them desolate once again. When I finally located the pictures from those years gathering dust in the attic and sat down to sift through them, I found myself realizing the mercy God had shown us in those “missing years.” They were the years I found myself leaning on God’s grace through pain, the years I experienced God’s comfort through the loss of my dad. 

For although the process was incredibly painful, the clearing, the drought, the storm, the burning, the plowing, and the planting were all necessary steps to the yield that would eventually come forth, transforming the desolate into something beautiful. 

And as we basked in the beauty of our daughter’s marriage, I could see it was a beauty that had sprung from the years I had tried to forget. Her loneliness had driven her to make lifelong friends in the desert, friends who stood beside her as she took her vows. The years of struggle with her older sister were fodder for the incredible speech that once rebellious teen gave as the maid of honor- a speech made richer because of the tears of those years. I did not always see it in those days, but God was in the missing years, deepening our faith, tearing down walls of stoic tradition and opening our eyes to see the widening borders of his amazing grace.  

For the painful tilling and sowing of our hard hearts will become “green pastures” as we realize that only Christ can truly satisfy (Ps. 23).

And satisfaction is an amazing state to be in. It is the picture I get when I see the cattle, lying down in the midst of a green and fertile field, for it is only in the richness of green pastures that the herd lies down, satisfied. They roam in the scarceness of rocky places and stand up under the trees and brush, but when they are fat from munching on green pastures, then they lie down, not only full but also knowing that there is enough to fill them over and over again. 

I imagine most of us have missing years that we try not to remember. Perhaps you are living them now, weeping on your closet floor, feeling alone, abandoned, and helpless. I know that so often life can feel like a ruined field, left desolate by so many heartaches, and I am tempted to think that life should not be so painful for a believer. Then I remember the cross, the tears and the abandonment and the pain as Christ died for my sin. I know the “green pastures” I lie down in are only possible because my Savior was left desolate, and one day I will fully realize the beauty of Ezekiel 36 because he rose again. When I look to the cross, I can hear his voice in the midst of the pain, reminding me, “Behold, I am for you, and I will turn to you, and you shall be tilled and sown” (Eze. 36:9). Is your heart torn up by tilling? Then know that God is for you.

“O what a blessed day that will be…when I shall review my pains and sorrows, my fears and tears, and possess the glory which was the end of all!” Richard Baxter


Recent Posts

See All

Living with the Unexpected

“I just never expected my life to be this way.” It is a common thought, sometimes voiced in the counseling room, between friends, or in a prayer circle. Sometimes it is a thought we keep to ourselves,

1 Comment

May 23

Mary! Don't ever stop writing♥️ Love this

bottom of page