Walking Through The Valley of the Shadow

liFear will blind you from the light. Faith will reveal it.

“When the Lord knows that good health is necessary for our soul’s welfare, He sends it to us; and when we need sickness, He sends that too. Sickness makes us discover who we are.” St. Teresa of Avila

I was on the phone with my old friend Kandi yesterday, discussing the latest turn in my health problems. I had yet another MRI scheduled for the evening, pre-Admission testing for tomorrow, leading up to a nerve biopsy that will take place on Monday the 5th. She admitted while she had never experienced anything like what’s going on with me health wise, she had gone through much emotional and personal pain over the past year. I said, “You know it seems every 5 years or so, something crazy comes and hits me… five years ago I had the botched knee surgery and the car accident, and was working part time making no real money. Five years before that, I was a freshman in college with no money trying to figure how’d I earn enough for bus fare, let alone books. With each instance, before the storm hit, I felt like I had everything set. Things were all good. Then boom, a crisis that really tests me. Really builds my faith.”

If I were to rewind to October 2008, my life was totally different. I had just married my Knight, and although I felt some back pain and leg pain, was outgoing… we shared long walks in the park, I did a 5 mile Breast Cancer Walk, slid on heels to look pretty for work. A year and a half later, I sit in the park, struggle up ONE flight of stairs and am confined to flats (luckily, they are in again this season, lol). I have seen so many doctors at this point if it weren’t for my Outlook calendar (Oddly, I keep the doctor’s visits labeled in the purple category I titled “Sicky”, despite, or maybe because its my favorite color… at this point, my 2009 Year view looks like Barney), I would have long ago lost count. What a difference a year can make.

Last Fall, when one of the many doctors carelessly threw around illnesses like “MS” and “ALS”, I had my first real melt down. So like any mature, married woman… I drove immediately to my Mommy’s house. She told me she’d pray, that the doctor’s didn’t know yet, to calm down. Unhappy with her surprisingly rational advice, again, like any grown, professional lady… I went right to my Daddy’s arms. I cried, like a baby. And my father began to say “We’ll believe by faith in your healing”… and trailed off. With watery eyes, he said, “Read Job, Baby.” And hugged me and prayed. My fear quelled, I decided to calm down (like my Mother said to begin with, but, eh…).

I wouldn’t actually crack open the woeful tale of Job until January, though, when fear had once again crept back in, and even took out a lease on a nice little section of my brain. Concerned that this most evil little emotion would buy prime real estate in my heart, I flipped through the Old Testament and reread the book I had skimmed through a number of times in childhood. This time, I found myself reading aloud Job’s laments, talking to God the way he had. I became a one-woman play, asking why, refusing to curse God but wishing I hadn’t been born. Tearfully I became angry at Job’s well-meaning friends- didn’t they understand this wasn’t his fault? Why would they claim it was because of some secret sin? Didn’t they believe me… uh er, him?

While I acted out Biblical monologues, I was also acting out at home. Lashing out at work. The world had become so very small. Fear, that ugly thing, seeing how I was travelling in the shadow of death, magnified the darkness, blocking out the light of my faith. I became disoriented, and instead of holding fast to the knowledge I was walking in the valley, I began to reside in an abyss. The shadows of death, became the grave itself. Fear had migrated to my heart, which is lethal, since “it is the well-spring of life.”

The professional, adult, mature woman was slipping away. I questioned the honesty of writing this blog with it’s title since I felt far from being a Proverbs 31 woman. Like the protagonist Esther in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, I was trapped in my head, viewing life through distortion and uncertainty. My Knight, armed with love, cracked through. Unlike Esther Greenwood, he reminded me that I was no mental patient, but a queen like that Esther from the Bible who stood on faith when it all mattered. “You read through the end of Job, right? You know what happens. Job’s health, possessions, life, they were all restored. Why are you focused ONLY on the trials?” He pointed to a plaque I have hanging up in our little galley kitchen, the first picture I hung in the apartment when I moved there alone in 2007. It reads, “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. Romans 5:3-4″. Ah, touche. That little picture I brought on sale at Target- funnily hung over the sink, as if doing dishes could be equated with the “sufferings” that St. Paul was referring to- had hit home. And cracked through the fear-built menagerie in which I was encased. “The world, ” K said, “is far too large for you to live in your head.”

With Lent approaching, my self-pitying cries of “Why” turned to prayers of “God, I feel useless, but I know I’m not. Use me. I humbly ask that You help me to help others.” I repeated the prayer constantly, and to my surprise, friends and acquaintances came to me, sharing their hardships. I prayed for them. We prayed together. I shared Scripture. And on some days when I felt low, they surprised me by being strong for me. I mentioned in a previous post how a pastor on TV spoke on Jesus performing the miracle of multiplying the fish and loaves to feed 5000. The pastor mentioned how Jesus first broke the bread, and how in our lives, we go through seasons of brokenness. Then Jesus, thanked God. We should do so, thanking God, rejoicing through our suffering. Then the miracle occurred- the multitude was fed, having their needs met. One boy’s small offering to Jesus, broken and thanked for, became a blessing through the power of God to thousands.

As hard as being sick has been, I honestly believe that like St. Teresa’s quote, it was needed. Needed to reveal that despite my job, clothes, friends, family and amazing husband, I need God. I need Him above all else. So I thank Him now, not in spite of the pain, but because going through this trial, I have grown closer to Him. Fear no longer resides in my heart, although the sneaky devil does make annoying reappearances in my mind. But I think about my husband’s admonition to not linger in the dark shadows. I continue with the Psalm, knowing that even though I walk in the valley, I will fear no evil. For He is with me. His rod and staff give me comfort. He prepares for me a table in the presence of this illness to nourish me through this, anointing me for His purposes, to the point I am blessed with more than I need. I know with no uncertainty that goodness and His mercy shall remain with me every day of my life, and I will remain with Him securely forever.

A special thank you to everyone who has sent little messages, prayed for and supported me through all this. A big thank you to K, Gi Gi, Clarissa, Mommy, Tony aka Shaun, Danielle, Kathy B., Kathy S, Kandi, Robyn, Lori, Don. And to Dawn Eden, thank you for your kind words and encouraging emails. God will bless you all.

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