day 26: psalm 23

It’s day 26 of chemo.
And it’s the first day of true snow, snow sticking to the Ohio ground, piling up. It is truly a beautiful view from the hospital floor window.

Must listen to: Mumford and Sons’ Ghosts That We Knew. I am always compelled to listen to it whenever it snows. Certain weather, certain seasons bring certain songs and artists to mind for me: a weather soundtrack.
When it’s raining: James Taylor.
When it’s sunny and the perfect temp to roll down your windows instead of using the AC: country music.
When autumn winds hit: Temper Trap, Young the Giant.
When it’s snowing, like today: Mumford and Sons.

Listen with me:

So give me hope in the darkness that I will see the light
Cause oh that gave me such a fright
But I will hold as long as you like
Just promise me we’ll be alright

But hold me still, bury my heart on the coals
And hold me still, bury my heart next to yours

lyrics from Ghosts That We Knew 


 

You ever experienced when God brings you back to something over
and over
and over?

That happened this past week.

SATURDAY.
During my time of break downs, tears, fears, Amy reads to me Psalm 23. As she reads, I instantly know it. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…” Yes, the old hymnal. Yes, the psalm I had to memorize in middle school. I’ve heard this before, and my mind is shielding itself from listening, from hearing, from understanding because of my arrogance, my pride.

MONDAY.
Attend my church’s college Central Teaching. Powerpoint goes up; you guessed it, Psalm 23. Hahahahaha very funny God and you must really want me to listen to this specific psalm God and I plead silently in my chair God help me in my weakness and overcome my arrogance in understanding this Psalm, give me new eyes to it Lord and I listen. Write write write. Listen listen listen. Eyes and heart opening simultaneously. Yes, He is my shepherd, bringing me and circling back to this psalm, as I am the dumb and stubborn sheep.

TUESDAY.
Attend my church’s high school Central Teaching. Powerpoint goes up; you guessed it, Psalm 23. I surrender! Yes, I understand! Help me to lie beside the still waters of this psalm and drink in its water-words of wisdom. Write write write. Listen listen listen.

psalm 23
[a psalm of David]

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

Yes, I am but a mere sheep, who really knows nothing. The Shepherd knows all.
Yes, I am but a mere sheep, who is defenseless. The Shepherd, with his rod and staff, is all-powerful and strong.
Yes, I am but a mere sheep, who is directionless. (I sense this more and more.) The Shepherd is sovereign and knows every terrain of life, of my life, of where He is taking me and leading me.
Yes, I am but a mere sheep, who is easily timid and fearful. The Shepherd though promises to be with me, always.

Recall, look deeper—

Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me

How had I not noticed this before??!!

Perhaps maybe the wording of other translations (“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” ESV), or the mantra of recalling to demonstrate I had memorized this at a young age had my eyes blind and my heart covered again in steel-arrogance. But really, what on earth is a “shadow of death” I think my young heart tried to ponder and understand; all I could think of was death itself, that fellow sheep-David was going to die. After 3 times hearing this psalm (1 for every diagnosis I have had it seems), “the darkest valley” / “the valley of the shadow of death,” although dark at first, is illuminating itself with a Great Light.

THE DARKEST VALLEY.

How quickly I let its phrasing left to be in the shadows, hidden from my understanding, dark and mysterious. And yet, this phrase may be one of the most hopeful and full of light passages!

The darkest valley, yes, could be simply referring to when we do die, when we pass through this valley of our life to go on to the next one but it also refers to the darkest moments of our lives. Loss, confusion, depression, suffering. And this passage illuminates for us that as sheep-human-beings, it’s not a matter of “oh, if you go through dark days, difficult times but when you have them.” Suffering is inevitable in this human earth life. His Words are the mirror of our lives, our souls reflecting back deep and deeper realities of ourselves and understandings that we at times refuse to acknowledge.

But notice, dear heart, when we have these darkest moments of our lives, He will walk us through them. There is an ending to suffering! Here is the promise! Go down the valley and you must eventually come back up. Be it here on earth you experience earthly pastures on the other side of the valley, or because you are with Him, have his Son by your side you are now in the heavenly pastures, the darkest valleys have ends. They are not infinite tunnels of darkness that reach and go beyond further than you can ever imagine. There is an end. 

How easily and quickly I forget this!

Sometimes it seems like there will never be an end to all of this, the doctors visits, the chemotherapy, the 3-week cycles, the cancer returning even after this 3rd time, the isolation, the saddness. And on this earth, there might not be an “earthly” end to all of this, I am not guarenteed that. But I am promised that there is an DEFINITE, CONCRETE, INFINITE end that my Shepherd who is with me will bring me to because He is with me always.

matthew 28:20
Jesus: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

revelation 21
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Oh yes, there is an end to the dark tunnel I am in, that I do not currently see the end or lights toward the end with their teasing-encouragement. But I do see The Light, and I see His Shepherd very close next to me as we together are walking in this tunnel (How quickly in the darkness do I think I do not see Him, that the shadows absorb Him!)

Oh yes, the shadows can absorb Him it seems—

psalm 88

You have put me in the lowest pit,
    in the darkest depths. 

I call to you, Lord, every day;
    I spread out my hands to you.
10 Do you show your wonders to the dead?
    Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
11 Is your love declared in the grave,
    your faithfulness in Destruction?
12 Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
    or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

13 But I cry to you for help, Lord;
    in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 Why, Lord, do you reject me
    and hide your face from me?

15 From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
    I have borne your terrors and am in despair…
18 You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
    darkness is my closest friend.

Darkness is my closest friend. Oh yes, swap Shepherd for darkness. Stray away and walk further away from Him and see the darkness engulf you, engulf Him, the girth of the valley becoming wider. And yet—

“…in unrelenting darkness we have the greatest opportunity to defeat the forces of evil. In the darkness we have a choice that is not really there in better times. We can choose to serve God just because he is God. In the darkest moments we feel we are getting absolutely nothing out of God or out of our relationship to him. But what if then—when it does not seem to be paying or benefiting you at all—you continue to obey, pray to, and seek God, as well as continue to do your duties of love to others? If we do that, we are finally learning to love God for himself and not for his benefits.

And when the darkenss lifts or lessens, we will find that our dependence on other things besides God for our happiness has shrunk, and that we have new strength and contentment in God himself. We’ll find a new fortitude, unflappability, poise and peace in the face of difficulty. The coal is becoming diamond.”

from “Weeping” in Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering
Timothy Keller

O heart, recall the only reason why this is possible does not come from yourself at all, a directionless, fearful, defenseless sheep. The Shepherd is with you—

psalm 23:4

Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

He is with me! Armed for protection—a rod—and for saving me as I wander in the darkness and get caught in bushes of doubt, in rocks of pain—a staff.

I am not alone in this, as so easily and quickly my heart can think and feel and believe that to be true (which how could I not with the phsyical world of cancer to be so present all around me when He is so spiritual, unseen?) Faith and confidence in Him twine and bind and are a sure, strong braid to hold onto, and the people around me and seeing the moments He uses them to move towards me, to love me in the phsyical ways He cannot currently are the moments I also hold onto to remember and give active thanks to.

Hold onto the knowledge that you are a mere sheep, and are not expected to know the future, to defend yourself, to provide for yourself, and your nature is to be afraid.
Hold onto the stronghold of your Shepherd and you are to expect from Him that He knows all things, is the Protector, the Provider, and knows all your needs—both present and eternal—and works all things to meet them all, even the Cross itself.

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