Many years ago, three men rode their camels through the desert as they went from one bizarre to the next to sell their wares. They rode at night, in the cool of the darkness, with just the stars and the moon to illuminate the way. One night, storm clouds blotted out the night sky and the men could not find their way. It was too dark.

The camels wandered into an old riverbed. Their hooves hit many pebbles and rocks and they stumbled. Lost in the barren landscape and frightened, the men prayed for God to help them find their way. God sent an angel who told the men to get down from their camels and pick up just one pebble from the rocky riverbed and put it in their pocket. The angel told them to ride towards the west, and not to look back. If they followed these instructions, they would arrive at the next town, safe and sound. The angel warned them, “When you arrive, you will be happy but sad,” then left the men to ponder those words.

The men got down from their camels and picked up a pebble and placed it in their pocket. They mounted their camels and rode all night towards the west. As the sun poked her fingers over the horizon, the men could see a large town, sparkling in the early light.

When they arrived, they began to set up their tents, but then remembered the angel’s words. “Why will we be both happy and sad?” they asked one another. There is nothing but good things here. There are plenty of people to sell our wares to. There is plenty of food and water for the camels and us. The men shook their heads. Surely, the angel was mistaken about this town.

The men worked all morning. At noon, it was time to finally rest. One of the men reached into his pocket to remove the pebble before he went to sleep. He looked at it and shouted to the other men. “Look in your pockets! We are rich, my friends!” Each man had picked up a rare and valuable gemstone! The men were so happy, they did a little dance inside of the tent, shouting thanks and praises to God.

“We were standing on top of gems! We must go back and get more!” one of the men exclaimed. They hurried to their camels. They rode a short way and realized that their tracks had been covered by the wind. There was no going back. The men were seized with a great sadness. “We were right there! Gems were all around us. We could have picked up hundreds, yet we picked up only one. Now we can’t go back,” one of them lamented. They turned their camels and rode slowly back towards their tents.

As they dismounted their camels, one of the men said, “The angel was right after all. We are happy and we are sad.” The men agreed. “We were standing amid gems but could not see them. We thought they were pebbles. In our fear, we couldn’t see what was before us.”

That’s exactly how it is for many of us. We feel we are lost in the desert.  We see only our suffering. We see only our fear, our grief. We don’t see the gems that are all around us.

It is only when we are out of the desert that we look back and realize that we could have picked up so many gems along the way. In times of adversity, it is wise to seek the gems. They are there. They are often right under our feet. Instead of feeling like a victim, we should look for the gifts that God is giving us through our hard times. They are always there, if we look for them.

No matter how dark our journey, God provides for us. He gives us good things.  Don’t be like the three salesmen. You don’t have to be happy and sad. You can search for the gems while you are in the desert. You can bring as many back as you like! You don’t need to regret that while in the darkness, you didn’t seek the gifts that were waiting all along for you there.