Valley of the Shadow

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd,
[a]shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside 
[b]still waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the 
[c]paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the [d]valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no 
[e]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 
[f]have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
[g]Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will 
[h]dwell in the house of the Lord [i]forever.

Growing up in the Presbyterian and Methodist church, I learned the 23rdPsalm by merely repeating it over and over again during Sunday Services. Everyone knows the passage – even unbelievers can recite it from memory at funerals. We did so at my mother’s Celebration of Life last month. I know the words, but His Spirit is making the Word known to me in the valley of the shadow of death. 

It seems as if everything in my life is dying. I am surrounded by:

The death of my mother.

The death of our church community.

The death of our ministry. 

The death of relationships with family and friends.

The death of our home in North Carolina.

The death of unmet expectations as offers are rejected on homes we’ve bid on in Florida.

In the valley, there are shadows of death. In the shadows, we are surrounded by darkness. In the darkness, our vision is limited. And what we cannot see, we will fear. 

I’ve discovered that when I react to fear, I will either dismiss or deny pain. If I choose to dismiss the pain of death, I will rationalize my feelings by comparing myself to others, thus determining that I shouldn’t be depressed, angry, or disappointed. In that headspace, I belittle my suffering when stacking it against those that, from my perspective, are enduring greater hardships. If I chose to deny the pain of death by pretending it’s not happening, I will suppress my feelings, or try to avoid them altogether. The strain of carrying such a heavy burden will inevitably lead to a collapse- physically or emotionally.

With each passing day, I realize more and more that I cannot go through this valley alone. God has been faithful. He has never left me. He will not forsake me. He is with me, walking me through it. Although there are times I want to, I know that If I try to run, I’ll miss the green pastures and still waters. So, He is making melie down in the grass to receive rest and rejuvenation. He is leading me to stillness; to drink, so that I may be refreshed and restored. 

My friend, I was made- YOU were made for intimacy with the Lord. But let’s be honest. In our busy, distracted, self-important lives, we rarely take the time to pursue Him. Heck, we barely devote any time to genuinely pursuing righteous relationship with others! But isn’t it interesting? When someone dies, our calendar miraculously clears. We’ll take the time to be with friends and family in their grief. We’ll spend the money on airfare. We’ll rent a car. We’ll book a hotel. We’ll take a meal. We’ll sit and talk and laugh and weep with those who weep. Death causes us to see, if only for a moment- the reality of life. It’s in the shadow of death that we ponder- and perhaps ask the hard questions. It’s in the shadow that our ego is revealed. It’s in the shadow that He uses the rod and staff to discipline us. It’s in the shadow that we feel the loving sting of His correction. It’s in the shadow that we feel His comfort and care for us. It’s in the shadow that the things of this world grow strangely dim. It’s in the shadow that we are redeemed. It’s in the shadow that we are restored. It’s in the shadow that we see the Shepherd. It’s in the shadow that we realize that we, like sheep, have all gone astray. It’s in the shadow that we are prepared to face our enemies. It’s in the shadow that we are anointed with the oil of joy. It’s in the shadow that we learn how to dwell in the Father’s house- forever, and ever. 

Amen.

Parents, Do Not Provoke

Ephesians 6:1-3

Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord,[a] for this is the right thing to do. “Honor your father and mother.” This is the first commandment with a promise: If you honor your father and mother, “things will go well for you, and you will have a long life on the earth.”[b]

Another parenting failure.

I’ve had a few (thousand) in my tenure as a mom.

Recently, I ignored anotherwarning from the Spirit about one of our children. As a result, I failed to intervene on their behalf, again. So, the Lord spoke through two of our other children to get my attention. Hello!? Did you hear what I said? He pursued and corrected me through our kids!!!

Humbled.

Grateful.

Thankful.

Ephesians 6:4

Parents, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.

I used to think the above-mentioned verse meant that parents only provoked their children to anger by commission. As a kid, I often erupted when my parents disciplined, said “no,” or restricted me from what I wanted. And I’ve experienced the same backlash from some of our strong-willed kiddos. But today I saw this passage differently. I realized children can be provoked to anger by omission.

In the midst of this latest parenting episode, our child was lashing out in anger because of what I didn’t do. I ignored the Lord, neglected to intervene, and justified myself in being passive. In so doing, I failed to see what was happening in the unseen. Our child was battling, unsuccessfully, against an enemy that is continually trying to steal, kill and destroy their life.

But, God.

GOD!!! 

God, our helper – the One who knows all and sees all, gave dreams, wisdom and discernment to several of our family members. The result? Difficult discussions and a willingness to admit failure, but not defeat. God was faithful! He provided a way of escape for ALL OF US! 

Now before we go blaming the enemy for everything, let’s get one thing straight: Satan and his legions have no authority unless we give it to him. Our child was not some innocent bystander (neither was I). And this particular onslaught was not a result of us advancing the Kingdom- thus, ticking off the enemy’s camp. No. Repeated rebellion against authority resulted in an invitation to torment. Deliverance and discipline (boundaries) was needed- and has been implemented. Boundaries guard the heart! An unguarded heart is open to all forms of attack. And an unguarded heart is easily provoked to anger. 

I gotta tell ya…

Every failure I’ve endured as a parent is a result of a childish heart that rebels against the Father. Every success I’ve enjoyed is a result of a childlike heart that bows to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. And every triumph is a result of a humbled heart that obeys and overcomes by the power of His Spirit.

My fellow parents,

I plead with you, for the sake of future generations. Throw out your self-help books. Ignore the educated experts. Reject the advice of the world. Stop making behavioral excuses because of labels (I have a child on the Autism Spectrum and one with ADHD. I understand the science- but the Spirit trumps all in the training of our children). Seek the Lord. Fear Him. Obey Him. He alone is the creator and sustainer of family. He alone is the One who beckons prodigals to return home. Let’s get to know the Father. Let’s train our kids to know Him. The eternity of their souls is at stake.