Those that follow me, know that even though you may not read it every day in my writings, the foundation of my life and the motivation in my words is in what and WHO my center is. That core, is faith in an awesome God that I can't see with my eyes, but Whose fingerprints are on every inch of my life. Today, I was having my quiet time, meditating and reading scripture. I had some special people on my mind and heart when I came to one of the most familiar verses of scripture known - Psalm 23. I can quote this ancient Biblical "song," but I wanted to take the time to read every single word carefully and squeeze out all the wisdom, hope, comfort, encouragement and promise possible.
I confess, slowing down to read today was a chore because of the holiday "to do" list running through my head. This is my favorite season. From Thanksgiving through New Year's I find myself in my "element," and even though the activities and preparation are exhausting, I find a strength bigger than me from the joy that the season brings. I love baking, helping family, decorating and reflecting on all that truly matters in my life.
With that said though, I know for many the holidays are less than joyous. Some are dealing with chronic illness which tends to be like a lead balloon attached to your hot air basket holding you down. Others are dealing with loss of a job, and the pressure of gift-giving or even gathering supplies for baking is an added stress to your already daunting situation. Maybe there is a loss of a relationship that you thought would last forever, and twinkling lights on a tree or the smell of cookies in the kitchen are a painful reminder that you are no longer sharing these moments that once delighted you. Perhaps the most challenging of all, is for those facing the holidays without one who has been there for the bulk of your life but has passed away and you feel an immense void that is unspeakable.
I am among those in the illness and financial category, but today as I think of my special friends who are dealing with the loss of their sweet Papa and the first Thanksgiving with his seat at the table empty, my challenges seem quite small. Still, I know that the "Shepherd of my Heart" sees each of our struggles equally and guides us through the tough terrain of our lives. This is what I read about in my devotional today - Psalm 23. As I perused this ancient psalm, I found myself in "sheep territory." I identify with sheep. Sometimes I feel rather clueless and naive navigating life's path. I don't think it is a matter of being as "dumb" as sheep, but rather as trusting sometimes! I am most grateful for my patient Shepherd. So where does the God of All lead me and how does He help me (and you)?
Because I am his, "I have all I need."
"He leads me" in lovely green meadows of provision and beside peaceful streams that both quench my thirst, nourish me and bring me moments of stillness and rest. I have seen this characteristic of His care in my life just this week with unexpected provision and opportunity.
"He renews my strength." When mine is gone, when my heart is broken, my body is weak, my mind is tired, He picks me up from that stony path that is hard to walk on, and not only gives me strength but becomes my strength. I know of this firsthand too - dealing with illness, the struggles of being a single parent in the midst of that illness, and loss of a job forced me to look beyond my own strength for help and care.
"He guides me" to the right paths in my life which give Him honor because it is His doing and certainly not mine when I don't even has a clue! When I thought abuse, abandonment, divorce, illness and lack was a dead end, it became a detour to a new path in life I would've never dreamed or chosen but am most grateful for.
When the path I am on takes me away from those green meadows and peaceful streams to a frightening dark valley, as I walk through that valley "I am NOT afraid!" Why? Because He is "close beside me." I am never alone no matter what I face. I know of this too. When I sat alone in a hospital waiting room for new parents, wondering if my preemie baby would live or die, an invisible set of arms wrapped me up tightly and reminded that He was there.
My Shepherd "carries a big stick" as they say. His "rod and staff" both "protect and comfort me." He fights off the enemies of my soul both seen and unseen, and I know I am safe. I know I am loved because He has gone before me to prepare the way and has already experienced what I am now facing. This is something I know of also. Those who've tried to harm me, hinder me, stop me or silence me were beat back with God's care for me. Those who dug a pit to bury me, fell in themselves! When I veered to close to the edge of the pit of demise myself, my Shepherd patiently grabbed me with the hook of His staff and rescued me!
"He prepares a feast for me" - not just in safe places or good times, but "in the presence of my enemies!" When I can't quite bring it all together myself - either from exhaustion within, enemies without, critics around, and painful memories behind me, He lays out His blessing on the most abundant table of Thanksgiving possible! It is at that moment that He "honors me" by "anointing my head with oil." I sense His ointment of healing and comfort pouring over me through those friends and family around me, and feel honored and blessed even in my darkest hour. It is then - in moments of thanksgiving for His presence and support of those around me, that I realize "my cup overflows with blessings."
Finally, no matter what I face, I come to understand that both His "goodness and unfailing love pursue me" - even when I don't deserve it! HE LOVES ME. I find comfort, joy, gratitude, hope, strength and motivation not just today but every day because of His love for me that chases after me "all the days of my life." He is there on easy days and on the most difficult of days. One day, I will actually see Him face to face and be "in the house of the Lord forever." Guess who else will be there with us? Those who are no longer with us here.
I don't know who will read this - whether you are a person of faith, or not... whether you believe there is Someone bigger than you walking through life with us. If you do, then you understand the "whispers of my heart" today. If you don't, and question why those of us who do believe in God still face difficulty, loss, pain, loneliness, illness, grief etc. - my answer is this. We are frail human beings living in an imperfect world filled with good and evil, happiness and sadness. We all have a journey mixed with joy and pain. Knowing and loving God, for me, means that I don't walk alone through anything I face.
I challenge you. Reach out to Him and see if you find Him near to you during your dark valley or through the "sheep territory." He is there waiting and ready and loves you. You might be surprised where you find Him this holiday season - in the embrace of a child, the smile of a stranger, the hand of a friend, the chatter of your family around the table or the comfort of sitting close to a person you love without saying a word as they choose to simply "be there." You might find Him in a meal prepared by a local church or community center, through the care of a nurse on duty at the hospital, in the warmth of glowing lights lining your neighborhood, or the melody of a song that plays at just the right moment as you listen to music on your morning commute. Somehow love, comfort and peace finds you and you realize once again...YOU ARE NOT ALONE...