When You Walk Through a Valley


When You Walk Through a Valley

Images courtesy of Pixabay

Who doesn’t love Psalm 23? For three verses it’s all smiles and peace, all dancing through flowers.

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.

We read this and we’re like, Woohoo! Christianity means I get to be happy, happy all the time! “Green pastures, quiet waters, restored soul”? Sign me up! “He guides me in paths of righteousness”? Yes please!

But then we hit verse four, and our happy dance skips a beat: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.” Wait, what? Valleys and shadows and evil? That doesn’t sound very Psalm 23-ish. I don’t feel like dancing anymore.

We back up and read verse four again.

            Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…

Yep, we read it right. What’s Death Valley doing in the middle of Happy Land?

How does this:

when life is hard for Christians

turn into this:

barren-field-mountain-view

???

If the Good Shepherd Himself is leading us on paths of righteousness, how can we end up in the valley of the shadow of death—the dark place where evil lives? Did God’s GPS stop working? Did he abandon us mid-journey? Confused, we are tempted to hurry past verse four, eager to get to the “my cup overflows” part at the end.

But let’s pause here for a minute. Let’s take a good hard look at the phrasing, the way verse three leads into verse four (I’m using the NIV, 1984):

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.

So we start out in verse three with God leading us. We’re cavorting down paths of righteousness. Life is good! We’re godly and happy! And then something goes wrong…or does it?

Notice that the psalm writer, David, doesn’t say, “And then we wander off the path and abandon God’s righteous ways, and that’s how we end up in the valley of the shadow of death, being punished for our sins.” No—one minute we’re following our loving Shepherd down paths of righteousness; the next we’re in the valley of the shadow of death.

Do you get what this means? Sometimes God’s righteous paths take us to the dark places. Sometimes God Himself leads us into the valley. We’re still on the path, still being righteous, still in the loving care of the Shepherd, but His righteous path is leading us where we don’t want to go—so close to death we feel its shadow.

It’s big, the valley of the shadow of death. Mile after mile of barren wilderness. The path through stretches long—no shortcuts across. The path of righteousness may wander around dark lands for days, weeks, months—even years.

Perhaps you’ve walked those dim paths before. Perhaps you’re walking them now. It goes something like this:

You’re graduating from college, faithful to God. It should be the best time in your life—the future stretching wide, so many options—but you? You have no plan. Not only are you jobless and date-less, you’re also directionless. Everyone else has a Great Life Plan—how they love revealing those plans in epic social media announcements—but you? You just feel lost. Lost and alone.

You’re sad. Endlessly sad. You don’t know why, and you can’t pull out. You pray, you work on yourself, you try to get help, but the sadness remains.

Your biological clock is sending off insistent daily alarms—BABY TIME BABY TIME BABY TIME—but every month, your own body betrays you.

Or maybe you have a family, but your family is struggling. You’ve tried to instill faith in your kids, but they’re fighting you, fighting God.

In times like this, fear rises. Confusion reigns. You start doubting God, doubting yourself: What did I do wrong? Is God mad at me? Does this suffering mean I’m being punished? Did I accidentally wander off the path of righteousness?

Psalm 23 says no. God says no.

There is more to Christianity—and life—than quiet naps by gentle streams. There’s deep comfort for dark times. Living under our Shepherd’s protection and care doesn’t mean we will never wait, never suffer, never experience disappointment, decay, or delay. God doesn’t promise us an escape from hardship; He promises to guide and protect us as we go through hardship, all the way to the other side. No matter how dark the path. No matter how long the journey. That’s the real message of Psalm 23.

 

The more I think about this truth, the more beautiful this psalm becomes. Because who lives beside quiet waters all the time? Who experiences a life of constant peace and endless blessing? Not me! Sometimes I have, sometimes I do, but not always. Not today.

Psalm 23 doesn’t promise a life of never-ending peace and happiness; it promises strength and help and hope through all life’s ups and downs. We have a Shepherd who loves us and meets all our needs. He knows when we need rest, and He knows how to provide it. And when He leads us down into the valley, He does not leave us alone. His rod and staff—His presence—are there to comfort and guide us all along the way.

We may have times when we’re wandering, but we’re not wandering alone. We may have times when we’re sad, but we’re not sad alone. We may have times when we’re waiting, but we’re not waiting alone.

He is for us, He is with us, and if we will just keep to the righteous path, He will guide us all the way across the valley, however long it takes. Eventually, He will help us find our footing as the path climbs back up the mountainside. We may be out of breath when we reach the top, homesick and road-weary, but He’ll urge us to rest beside a bubbling mountain stream. He’ll ask if we’d like some water, and we’ll hold out our cup and say, “Yes please.”


Want more from Lizzy Life? Sign up for my quarterly newsletter, and you’ll be the first to preorder my new book, When God Says, “Wait,” releasing from Barbour Publishing in March, 2017. New subscribers also receive a free download: 7 Two-Minute Devotions to do around the breakfast table with your family! 


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Flawed Yet Called: an Interview with Author Andy Lee


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Flawed Yet Called: An Interview with Author Andy Lee


Author Andy Lee

Today I am thrilled to introduce you to my friend Andy Lee, author of A Mary Like Me: Flawed Yet Called.

Author Andy Lee

Isn’t she the cutest? And I have serious typewriter envy.

Andy is humble, honest, insightful, compassionate, and funny—the kind of woman you want to have deep talks with over coffeeI loved reading A Mary Like Me. Andy dives deep into the lives of the Marys of the Bible: Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary of Bethany, and Mary Magdalene. Andy’s fresh insights into their stories and personalities cover such modern topics as women’s role in ministry, mental illness, grief, messy motherhood, and strategies for in-depth Bible study. In her interview, Andy shares more about who she is and why she wrote this book. I know you’ll love getting to know Andy (and the Marys!) as much as I have.

A Mary Like Me book cover

You wrote this book in part to inspire and empower women who have been called to ministry. What are some of the inner obstacles women may have to overcome when choosing to answer God’s call for their lives? What obstacles have you had to overcome?

Andy: Oh my, so many obstacles! The enemy of our lives is threatened by us, and loves to discourage us in our calling. A huge obstacle is comparison. That’s why I wrote this book. If I compare my speaking, teaching, writing, mothering, cooking (which I’m not a fan), decorating, gardening (which I don’t do), cleaning (which I don’t want to do), etc. to my friends’ and virtual friends’ cooking, writing, speaking, mothering, etc. I’m sunk. Comparison throws a blanket of discouragement over my soul, and I want to quit. I fight comparison by admitting my imperfectness and thanking God for the opportunities He puts in front of me everyday, and I ask for grace to do my best for Him, not for Pinterest or Facebook or the Mother of the Year Award.

For women called to preach and teach and perhaps pastor, there will be many obstacles. All I can say is, “Trust God.” Trust that He will open and close the doors. Go where He leads. Know that He is creative with His calling. It may not, and probably won’t, look like you envisioned when you first knew He was calling you into full-time ministry.

Finally, don’t despise small beginnings, the hidden places. God’s economy is not ours, nor is His timing. Live and serve right where you are with the people He has put in your life. They may be smearing jelly all over your television with chubby fingers. Pray for grace. Kiss those fingers. Thank God for today, and use the hidden places, the small beginnings to grow deeper into Him. Practice His Presence. And practice your calling right where you are now.

We tend to read Bible characters as flat, unrelatable characters, distant from us because of time and cultural differences. How do you hope your book helps modern women to better connect with the Marys of the Bible?

Andy: Oh . . . this is such my heart. Yes, they were from a different culture and spoke a different language, and they lived so long ago, but I am convinced that all of the biblical characters, men and women, dealt with the very same heart issues we do today. We see it easily with Peter and Paul, but for some reason, the “good girl” biblical characters have a holy glow when we read their stories. This detaches them from us, which distances God from us in our hearts because we don’t think we could ever serve Jesus as they did. It’s that comparison thing again. But when we find someone who can relate to our struggles, we are no longer threatened by them. Camaraderie encourages us and draws us closer. I also think that once we connect with the Marys’ human hearts, the thousands of years, language, and cultural barriers disappear, and the Bible becomes more real and applicable for today.

I love the way you incorporate the Bible’s original languages, Greek and Hebrew and even Aramaic, into your study of these women. Your book gives great pointers on simple, non-intimidating ways anyone can add this kind of study to our own Bible reading, even without a Bible degree. What does it add to our Bible study when we explore the original languages?

Andy: Oh my gosh! It adds LIFE to our Bible study when we study this way. It is incredible. My husband says that my goal is to turn everyone into a Bible nerd. It’s true, but only because digging under our translation has brought so much excitement and joy and life into my walk with God. Nuances have been lost in translation that can be discovered by word studies, and exploring the ancient language also brings a fresh understanding into familiar scripture. If the Bible seems dull or hard to understand, you’ve got to try studying this way. You’ll never read the Bible the same, and you’ll find the truth of Hebrews 4:12, “The Bible is alive and active . . . .”

You use the Marys’ experiences to address deep topics like grief and mental illness, with stories from your own life and ministry. How can an encounter with the Marys in the Bible help Christian women who are grieving a loss, or wrestling with mental illness?

Andy: It goes back to camaraderie. You aren’t alone. We find comfort when someone shares what we’re going through. It also takes out some of the power of the grief or depression when we realize someone else knows our pain. But what I really hope the reader sees in these stories is how Jesus interacted with these grieving, mentally ill women. He was loving, caring, and desired to heal them. He cried with them, and He understood their human heart. What kind of God does that?

I love what you wrote about Mary the mother of Jesus: “Mary wasn’t a perfect mother. This gives me hope. . . . My mommy failures won’t wipe out my kids’ destinies either. And neither will yours.” What advice can you give to moms like me who are painfully aware of our own shortcomings—we are striving to grow as Christians and moms, but sometimes we long for perfection and feel overwhelmed by Mom Guilt?

Andy: None of us are perfect mothers. None. Of. Us. We each have our strengths and weaknesses. I knew I’d be a better mom when my kids were teenagers than when they were babies. (And I was.) It’s probably a miracle they came out as good as they did. I prayed a lot. I prayed for God to redeem my mistakes. And He has. Comparison gets us here too. If Pinterest makes you crazy and depressed, don’t do it! I remember watching a friend get up from where the mommies were sitting and walk across the yard to whisper into her son’s ear, and that day I thought, “Oh! What a great idea. Instead of yelling at my kids I should get up, walk over to them, and talk to them.” It took energy. Everything about being a mom takes energy. So, I prayed for energy and creativity in the discipline department, and I did my very best to enforce quiet time in the afternoon so that I could do my Bible study while they were resting. The kitchen sink was filled with dirty dishes, but I was a much better mama when I had my time with the Lord.

 

See? I told you Andy was amazing! I know you’ll love reading A Mary Like Me as much as I did.

To stay connected with Andy, visit her website and find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. (Tell her Elizabeth sent you!) Andy offers a free chapter of her book here after you sign up for her newsletter. You can purchase A Mary Like Me on Amazon and at your nearest Lifeway Store.


Other posts you might enjoy:

When Life Poops on Your Party

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13 Back-to-School Scriptures 

Freeze-Frame


When Life Poops on Your Party


emotional control during crisis

Adorable guilty dog photo (my dog-nephew, Huckleberry) courtesy of my sister Alexandra, of A Loves J

 

The minivan smells like French fries.

Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome looks at me from the driver’s seat and pulls into our driveway. “Home sweet home! Are you ready to unpack?”

I grunt. (Translation: No. Eight hours of road-tripping have left me too exhausted to unpack. But seeing as our household servants only exist in my Downton Abbey dreams, I have no choice.)

Mr. Positive grins. “If we hurry, we can get them all in bed in an hour, and just… sit on the couch. Doesn’t that sound amazing?”

Yes. Yes it does sound amazing. Amazing and impossible, considering all the unpacking and laundry-ing and removing-of-gas-station-bathroom-grime-from-children’s-bodies that lies ahead. But we can fantasize. I take a deep breath and match his grin. “Let’s do it. You. Me. Vacant expressions on the couch. One hour.”

He punches the button that opens the minivan doors. Four children, eighteen suitcases, and thirty-seven empty Happy Meal containers explode onto our driveway.

A tornado of luggage and flip-flops, we stumble into the garage. The children are giddy: “Let’s go see Cole! He’s missed us so much!” Cole, our graying black Lab, has had fun with dog sitters in our absence, but even so, he hates it when we leave.

The kids sprint ahead of us into the house. Their supersonic shrieks make me smile as I wrestle with suitcases—Aw, they’re so happy to see Cole, how sweet—and Kevin goes in ahead of me. I hear more shrieking, but now it’s Kevin’s voice: “No no no no nooooooo!”

Kevin never shouts. Heart thumping, I drop my bags and race inside. Kevin heads me off in his office, boxing me out, blocking my view. “It’s bad—the dog—it’s so bad. You don’t even want to look.”

Horrible scenes flash though my mind on fast-forward: What’s so awful I can’t even look? Disemboweled couch cushions? Vomit? Gore? Has the dog chewed off his own paw in despair?

For a moment Kevin just stares at me, mouth working, eyes huge, trying to find the words. It’s Avery, the extremely loud and descriptive seven-year-old, who bursts in, shrieking: “Poop! Poooooooooooooooooop! There’s dog poop EVERYWHERE!”

I’ll spare you the details, because Avery has told you all you need (and want) to know. (I’ll just say this: Avery chose the word everywhere for good reason.)

Kevin and I have a longstanding deal: He handles pet poop and vomit; I handle human. I have never been more thankful for that arrangement than right here in this dark moment.

So poor Kevin quietly shuffles to the laundry room for a bucket and rags while I sprint past the Disaster Zone, shielding my eyes, trying not to see. (If I don’t see it, maybe it didn’t happen.) I start unpacking and de-gas-station-germing the children, while he sets about de-poop-ifying the carpet.

An hour later, as I’m in the bathroom scrubbing the youngest child, I hear him announce, “Well that was awful, but it’s done.” I shout an encouraging yay. I hear the door squeak open and the dog gallop back inside. Two point five seconds later—I am not exaggerating even a tiny bit—I hear Kevin shout again: “No no no no stoooooooooop! Coooooooole!”

I don’t ask.

I don’t want to know.

But Kevin calls the update through the house: “Cole just threw up on the carpet I JUST CLEANED! Aaaaaaahhhhhh!”

I shout something sympathetic back at him, close my eyes, and dream of Downton. Where oh where are Bates and Anna when we need them? I wait, expecting more shouting and moaning, but all is quiet from the Disaster Zone. Poor Kevin has shut his mouth and gone back to scrubbing.

Somehow, an hour later, all the kids are in bed and Kevin and I are sitting on the couch as planned. The carpet is hopelessly stained but semi-clean—as clean as carpet can get without professional help (which, by the way, we called the next morning).

As we prop up our feet, Kevin starts chuckling to himself. He is laughing—laughing!—about the absolute horror of the evening. At first I just sit there twitching and trying to breathe only through my mouth—my house’s new aroma, Eau de Bleach with Lingering Hints of Poop, has my head spinning—but then I sit there pondering what an amazing man this is, sitting beside me on the couch.

I learned something from Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome that night. A lesson he’s taught me a thousand times in our marriage, but I still never seem to master as beautifully as he does. What’s the lesson?

When life hands us a mess, we can choose how we respond. We can choose how we respond.

Me? My first response to mess is not pretty. It usually involves some kind of emotional mess of my own: frustration, anger, self-pity, catastrophizing (What’s catastrophizing, you ask? This poop on the carpet incident is the worst thing that’s ever happened to anyone anywhere. No human has ever suffered like this. Moreover, this moment represents my entire life: all my life, every day of my life, people (and dogs) have been pooping on my party. But wait! It gets worse! It’s not just me! It’s everyone. Whenever any poor soul on this rotten planet tries to be happy, look out, here comes poop! Life stinks. LIFE IS POOP.)

I know. It’s sad, this brain. Probably the worst brain, ever, in the history of—wait, there I go again.

Kevin? Well, he pretty much thinks the opposite of the way I think. Kevin assures me that he feels most of what I feel in any given life crisis, but he chooses not to act or dwell on those feelings. Sure, some of our differences come down to personality, hard wiring, and—ahem—hormones, but most of it is a matter of perspective, attitude, and choice.

Perspective. Attitude. Choice.

Three things we can control, no matter how our brains are wired.

Kevin’s example shows me that when we face a mess, we face a choice. We can freak out, stomp around the house, wail, shout, and abandon our Christianity for a period of temporary insanity. Or we can choose a better way.

When life poops on our party, our initial emotions and thoughts will be all over the place, because we are normal human beings and we hate poop and we feel things. But with practice, we can learn to maintain control even in the middle of a crisis. We might not be able to tame our feelings at first, but even in the heat of the moment, we can tame what we say and what we do.

A simple strategy that helps me mid-crisis is to find one simple truth and repeat it to myself until I calm down. It could be a Bible verse, like Be slow to speak or Love is patient. Sometimes I need something more convicting: Don’t say something you’ll regret. Don’t say something you’ll regret. Or this humdinger: Your children are listening. Your children are listening. (That one always gets me.) Sometimes I choose something that gives me perspective, like, This will be funny later. THIS WILL BE FUNNY LATER.

When it’s all over, we get to choose how long we dwell in darkness, how quickly we start climbing toward light. What perspective will we hang on to? What attitudes will we allow to linger? What will we dwell on when the dust settles?

Maybe one day, if we practice long enough and gain enough big-picture perspective, we can find a happier viewpoint even before the crisis ends. Maybe we can learn to laugh our way through the mess: at the mess, in spite of the mess, in the middle of the mess—even kneeling there on the carpet, up to our elbows in filth.

I don’t think I’ll ever be as even-keeled in a crisis as Kevin is, but I’m working on it. So far, I am learning to shut my mouth when I want to say very un-Jesus-like things. To recognize those moments when I should not take my own roller-coaster feelings seriously. To give all the poor people in the potential blast zone fair warning: Hey, I’m having a MOMENT here. Let me go hide in a corner and get this thing under control.

Kevin makes me laugh when I want to cry. He makes me want to be better, and shows me the way. I’m not all the way there yet—I may never reach his level of self-control—but with his help and God’s help, I’m making progress.

P.S.

The next morning, our wakeup call went like this: four kids storming into our bedroom shrieking, “Cole threw up! AGAIN!”

Which just goes to show you: Do not leave your dog home when you go on vacation. The dog will get the last poop vomit laugh.

Want some scriptures on this topic? Try Philippians 4:4–8, James 3:1–12, and Proverbs 25:28.


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When Life Is Uncertain


When life is uncertain

 

Some seasons, life is boring, predictable, uneventful: all the same things, all the same people. Same familiar road we’ve traveled a thousand times before, the view never changing.

We complain about monotony.

Dream of excitement and change.

no bends in the road

Photo credit: Marcelo Quinan, Unsplash.

And then…and then: A sudden bend in the road, a detour. The path unpaved, the future uncertain. We’re off-roading, exhilarated and terrified in equal measure. All in a rush, life takes us somewhere we’ve never been: New stages or roles, new places or people… Unfamiliar, intimidating territory. Situations and difficulties we’ve never faced before, in myriad forms.

curve in the road

Photo credit: Orlova Maria, Unsplash.

During times like this, I cling to Isaiah 42:16: “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.”

Light to my path image

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Let us find comfort in this:

Where we are blind, God can see.

When our path is unmarked, He knows the way.

When the road is uneven, He can carve a smooth path.

When ankles turn, legs burn, and lungs cry out, He can grant strength.

Where shadows gather, our God—world-spinner, star-maker, light-giver—can shine sun.

And no matter how long the journey, no matter how winding or perilous the path, He never forsakes the ones He loves.

“Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God” (Isaiah 50:10).

Wishing you safe travels, friends, wherever He leads you, now and always. 

(Want more from the Bible on this? Read Psalm 121, Psalm 23, Psalm 18:36, Isaiah 40:28–31, Psalm 119:105, Psalm 18:28, Psalm 33.)

A lamp to our feet

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

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The Promise I Can’t Keep


letting go of our children

This post originally appeared on Coffee + Crumbs

“Don’t let me fall, Mommy,” my two-year-old says, trying to muster the courage to let go and come down the slide. Her eyes are wide, her fists tense on the rails.

“I won’t,” I promise, holding my arms out with an encouraging smile. “I’ll never let you fall.”

Down she slides, nervous and squealing, my hands holding her steady and safe, all the way down. At the bottom she leaps up, cheeks pink with pride. “Again!”

Again and again she slides; again and again, I don’t let her fall.

Slide pic two slides

I think about it on the ride home, my promise: I’ll never let you fall.

Because even though I meant it, it’s not entirely true. It’s not a promise I can keep, not a promise I should make. As much as I fight it, the day is coming when I’m going to have to break that promise. Let her try, all by herself. Let her take a risk. Let her take a fall.

I think about it at bath time, as I scrub the sandbox sand out from between her ticklish toes.

One day she’ll want to learn to ride her bike without training wheels, and at some point I will have to let go. For a few glorious wind-in-her-hair seconds, she’ll ride—she’ll fly—and then she’ll fall.

One day she’ll procrastinate so long she doesn’t get her homework done, and I’ll have to let her face the consequences of getting a bad grade.

One day she’ll try out for something, give it her best, put herself out there. They’ll post the list of names, and her name won’t make the list.

One day she’ll give a piece of her heart to a boy, and come home with puffy eyes and a broken heart.

One day she’ll leave home for a life of her own, making her own choices—some right, some wrong.

I think about it that night, when I tiptoe in to watch her dream. I want to keep her here, safe in her bed, safe near my arms, safe from the world. I want to swaddle her body and heart in bubble-wrap, so she’ll never get hurt. But I know I can’t. I remember my husband the quarterback once telling me, “Great athletes know how to take a fall.”


Want more from LizzyLife? Click here to sign up for my quarterly newsletter, and you’ll receive a free download: seven two-minute devotions to do with kids!


Resting my hand on my daughter’s back, feeling the rhythmic rise and fall of her breathing, I rethink my promise. My role. The gifts I want to give her in our precious few years together.

The gift of knowing that everybody falls.

The gift of knowing it’s okay, maybe even good, to fall.

The gift of knowing she needs to fall, because falling is part of risking and growing, of living and loving.

The gift of knowing how to take a fall; how to fall in such a way that she’s hurt but not broken.

The gift of knowing how to get back up after a fall. How to wipe away the dirt and blood and tears. How to stand once more on shaky legs, take a deep breath, and give it another go.

The gift of not wasting her falls. Of letting them make her stronger and better, braver and wiser.

Maybe the best promise I can make my daughter is that if she falls—when she falls—for as long as I live and as long as she lets me, I’ll still be there at the bottom, waiting. Still loving her. Still liking her. Still believing in her. When she’s young, I’ll be there with bandages, with tissues and shoulders she can wet with her tears. When she’s older, I’ll be there with stories of my own falls, so she knows she’s not the only one. At every stage, I’ll be the one cheering loudest when she picks herself up and tries again.

I lean down and whisper a new promise in her dreaming ear, “When you fall, you won’t be alone.”

She sighs and blinks up at me, bleary-eyed. I sing lullabies until she falls asleep.

When you fall quote v1


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