Saturday, January 30, 2010

Even Though I Walk Through The Valley

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters
he restores my soul
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
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 goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
~Psalm 23: 1-6

Just over a month ago Jeff and I found ourselves with a totaled car, due to being rear ended while visiting his family the weekend before Christmas. I feel it is necessary to preface this story with some information.

1) While we were still pregnant, I was praying fervently that God would provide us with a new (new-to-us, really) car that would be safer and more practical for our new family. A car with more room for the car seat and that was in better condition. I told God I did not care how He brought it about, but that I knew He would provide.
2) This accident happened about 6 weeks after we lost the baby. It was, in many ways, the straw that broke the camel's back in my own life. It prompted a cry of "Really?? Could anything else possibly go wrong right now? I just want this season [of grief and setbacks] to be over!"

The other driver admitted total fault, and their insurance had us set up with a rental car in no time. We had medical bills, and they are also being taken care of by the insurance. Jeff's brother offered us his car. A 1995 Dodge Neon, this car was 2 years older than Tetra (yes, I had named my car. I am not ashamed to admit it.), yet it was in much better condition. The Neon has 44,000 fewer miles on it, and the body was still in good condition, as well as the engine. From what we knew, all that needed fixing was that the clutch needed to be replaced.

Well, Jeff drove back down to his mother's to swap out the tires from Tetra to the Neon (we had just put new tires on, as well as just had it aligned and just changed the oil. Talk about the best laid plans..), and discovered that the tires had an inch difference in size, he would not be able to swap out the tires after all. Now there is added expense for tires, and I was already feeling frustrated that this whole car-switch was not as easy as it was supposed to be. Then we also find out that not only did the clutch need replacing, but basically the whole brake system, as well as a few other additional details. After a process of trying to get in touch with the mechanic and figure out what would cost how much, when it could be finished, we had to leave town on a business trip for a week. The week of reprieve from all of these details was nice, but instead of coming back fresh and ready to face it all...I really just wanted it to be over.

The end was in sight. Jeff headed down to get the car, and then called me to tell me that when he picked it up, he'd made it to a town about 3 hours from here and one of the cables connecting the gears popped off. He had to wait for the mechanic to come back and re-tighten that. But that was it for me. I was finished. I had had it waiting for all of this to be over. I knew God was going to work something beautiful out of our circumstances, but I was sick of the circumstances.

In speaking with a friend about it, she gently pointed out that it was not like we were going through this alone. God was carrying us.

Something struck me in that. I was wanting life to be easy enough for me to "do it by myself." How very like a two year old, exclaiming to her parents in frustration, "ME do it my OWN self!" Yes, I wanted things to be simple enough for me to handle on my own, and that is what so many of us want, but it is a lie.

Just what are we capable of, outside of the grace of God? Is not God's grace what wakes us up in the morning, fills our lungs with breath all day long, spurs our muscles and bones on to move and bring us through our days? I depend on the grace of God for my very survival, even when lying in Green Pastures! How, then, is the Valley of the Shadow of Death any different? Grief is more apparent in the Valley, I can see and feel threatened by more harm; but God is carrying me there, just as God carries me along the still water in the Green Pastures. God is protecting me in both cases, from the evils I cannot see in the pasture and the evils that surround in the Valley. As far as my dependence on God's grace is concerned, the Green Valley by the Quiet Waters is exactly the same as the Valley of the Shadow of death. All that has really changed is that I do not like being so frightened, frustrated, and thwarted at what I perceive to be all my best opportunities; and I do not seem to comprehend just Who it is who carries me.

What I was longing for, really, us just to be in control. And I have seen how far "me in control" gets me. It is not very far. When not being ruled inwardly by the wisdom of Christ, I do not make choices that are wise at all.

This realization did an amazing thing. It ushered in this incredible peace. Peace. Realization that even though I was not in control of things now, neither had I ever been in control during the Green Pasture moments. Peace because I realized it was far better to be in the Valley of the Shadow of Death with the comfort and protection of God's rod and staff than it Could ever be to be in the pasture without Him.

This peace, and the sharpening of our faith and our character through these turbulent moments, is what Isaiah spoke of when he prophesied that the Lord would "provide for those who grieve in Zion - to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of morning, and a garment of praise instead of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor (Isaiah 61:3)." This is what James talks about when he says, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything(James 1:2-4)."

Things are settling down the the vehicle situation, everything is falling into place. I feel like this chapter in our life with the loss of our baby, the loss of Jeff's job, and the loss of our car is finally coming to a close. It is coming to a close with our realization that God had always known that the miscarriage, the layoff, and the accident were going to happen (I am not saying He caused it, but that in being both inside and outside of time God knows these situations ahead of time), and the loss of all these things (baby, job, car) was very literally the valley of the shadow of death for us. But God in His faithfulness as the Good Shepherd walked through that valley with us, and used these situations to draw us closer to Him, and even to meet our needs (of a better car), and to strengthen our relationship in the face of situations that tear many couples apart. What this fallen world and the enemy of our souls has meant to work for our destruction in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, The Lord - in walking through the Valley with us - has worked (and will continue to work) to our good and His glory.

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