Battling Anxiety/Seeking Peace: Thankful For My Shepherd

It’s no secret I have a particular fondness for biblical passages on shepherding.

For over twenty years I’ve kept goats and sheep in varying numbers and every day discover one more way I am a sheep in need of a Shepherd.

I wander, I’m afraid when I don’t have to be, I do foolish and self-harmful things, I push and shove to get that certain bit of food or space or whatever when all the while there is an abundance, and I often make it hard for the One who loves me best to guide me to the safety and rest of His fold.

That’s one reason the Twenty-third Psalm is especially beautiful to me.

But there’s another reason-hidden inside the original Hebrew-that makes it a favorite Bible passage and a very appropriate one for these frightening times: within the verses are references to seven names of God.

And unlike we who are named according to our parents’ whimsy, God IS His name.

“The Lord is my Shepherd”

Jehovah Rohi (The Lord is my Shepherd and my Guide) – “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will GUIDE you into all truth” ~John 16:13

My goats and sheep will follow me anywhere. Why?

Because they know I won’t lead them into danger and if we happen to stumble upon it, I will protect them and fight for them.

My Shepherd King is so much more trustworthy than I am.

He knows the end from the beginning and loves me more than I love myself. If I will only follow closely behind Him, I can rest assured that wherever He leads, I am in His loving care.

“I shall not want”

Jehovah Jireh (The Lord is my Provider) “My God shall supply all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.” ~Philippians 4:19

My critters are utterly dependent upon me to make sure they have the basic necessities-food, water and a safe and dry place to sleep at night. They can’t run to the grocery store if I forget to toss them grain or hay.

But they don’t pace back and forth afraid I won’t do what I’ve always done.

I waste so much energy and time worrying that somehow God will forget to provide what I need.

He won’t.

It’s that simple. I am not promised everything I WANT. I’m not even guaranteed everything I think I need. But I am absolutely certain that in Christ I have the most needful thing-forgiveness of my sins and right standing with the Father.

Image result for phil 4:19

“He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters”

Jehovah Shalom (The Lord is my Peace — my calm in the midst of a storm) – “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely” ~1 Thessalonians 5:23

Shalom is a big word.

According to Strong’s Concordance (7965) Shalom means completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord.

Peace isn’t a place or only a promiseit’s a Person.

And that Person is Jesus, my Shepherd King.

When my little flock hears something that frightens them, they run straight toward me and wait to see if I am frightened too. My presence brings them peace.

I am often more foolish than my dumb animals! I run to so many people and things of the world hoping one or the other can bring me the peace I so desperately crave. But I can only really rest when I place my full confidence in Jehovah-Shalom-the One who IS Peace.

“He restores my soul”


Jehovah Rapha (The Lord my Healer) – “And by His stripes we are healed” ~1 Peter 2:24 (and Isaiah 53:5)

Anyone who has spent time with me here knows I’m no fan of “sunshine” Christianity. I’m no “name it and claim it” crusader. So I do not believe that God my Healer means I won’t ever suffer.

That’s why I really love the phrase “He restores my soul”.

Because isn’t that really what we ALL want? Restoration of the very core of who we are? Rest in the center of our being?

Jesus has restored my soul more than once.

When I reach out and touch the hem of His garment, He heals the most broken places in my soul.

“He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake”

Jehovah Tsidkenu (The Lord is my Righteousness; in Him I have
right standing with God
) “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin
for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” ~2
Corinthians 5:21

Let’s be honest, I can always find somebody that makes me look good. There’s always someone whose a little badder than I am.

Problem is, that’s not how God does things. He doesn’t use a sliding scale or a grading curve to determine who meets the mark and who misses it.

God is holy, set apart, completely righteous, pure and good.

I am none of those things.

And there is absolutely no way I can make myself those things.

But He has provided righteousness for me through Christ’s perfect atoning sacrifice if I choose to believe.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me”

Jehovah Shammah (The Lord is There; He is our Ever-Present God) – “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” ~Hebrews 13:5

This may actually be my very favorite name of God. “The Lord is There” is an amazing concept!

“Immanuel”-God with us! The Lord Himself come down to dwell with men.

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The God who made the universe, made me. The God who counts the stars and sets them in their place, counts the hairs on my head and set me in this place at this time.

This virus crisis FEELS like the shadow of death.

It feels like some creeping thing slinking around the edges of my family, waiting to devour us. I can’t see it and I can’t stop it.

But I am not alone. Jesus is here.

HE is here.

Right HERE.

RIGHT NOW.

And I can rest in His promise that whatever I may face, I will never, ever face alone.

“Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies”

Jehovah Nissi (The Lord is my Banner, my standard, He covers me) – “When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD will lift up a standard against him” ~Isaiah 59:19

In the Song of Solomon His banner over me is love.

In Ruth, His banner is Kinsman-Redeemer, covering my weakness with His strength.

In the gospels, His banner is victory over sin, death and the grave.

You may be hunkered down in your home, wondering how we all got here- questioning whether this may be a work of evil men or the evil one and when or if we might be rescued.

I can’t answer the why or when.

But I can point you to the Who-the One who wants to love you, to give you strength and to assure you that even death doesn’t have the last word.

“You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

My Shepherd King cares for me when I’m distressed and He fills me with Himself until my soul overflows.

His goodness and mercy pursues and overtakes me!

I have spent many, many hours hunting down a lost sheep or goat. I’ve had some wander off so far in the woods we couldn’t even hear them, much less see them.

But I do not give up. I do not stop looking. I do not go to bed and say, “I’ll find them tomorrow”.

No!

I pursue them until I can bring them back in the fold. There they dwell in safety, fully cared for as long as they live.

I am worth so much more than a sheep. God will not forget me or dismiss me or allow me to wander forever.

He will come find me and bring me home to His heart and His path.

And one day-one glorious day-He will take me to my forever Home.

QUESTIONS:

  • Does the image of Jesus as Shepherd help your heart find hope? Why or why not?
  • Psalms 22, 23 and 24 are considered by most biblical scholars to represent three images of Christ (22-Suffering Savior, 23-Shepherd, 24-Victorious King). Read them together and see if you agree.
  • Is there one of the names of God included in this study that is particularly precious to you?
  • Write out each name of God and see if you can find one other verse not previously mentioned that deepens your understanding of what the name means.
  • What does it mean to say God IS His name? If you have access to an online concordance, find one or two other names of God that might encourage you right now.

PRAYER:

Father God,

You are a good, perfect and loving Father. You are my Shepherd, my Provider, my Healer, my Righteousness, my Banner and YOU ARE HERE.

Help my heart lean into this truth.

Provide the most needful thing-Yourself-as I walk fearfully through this Valley. Restore my soul and flood it with Your peace.

Thank You that You are my righteousness-I am not left in my sins to receive the punishment they deserve. Thank You for Jesus.

Spread Your banner of love over my heart. Spread your banner of strength over my weakness. Spread Your banner of victory over my feeble attempt to ward off worry.

Let me feel Your Presence and help me trust Your heart.

Amen

Things I Wish I’d Known

I’ve written before that I am oh, so thankful I had NO IDEA Dominic would leave us that early April morning in 2014.

It would have cast an awful shadow over all those years we were blessed with his presence.

But there are some things I wish I’d known.

I wish I had known how hard it is to conjure up his voice now that it’s been nearly six years since I heard it.

I would have taken more short videos, just to have his laugh, his sarcasm, his deep mellow “Hey!” handy on my phone for the moments when I long to hear it. I wouldn’t have erased the backlog of recorded messages on the landline just one day earlier.

I wish I had known there were so few photographs of us together.

I would have gotten over myself much sooner and stuck my fat bottom in every shot my family begged me to take. I would have made certain there was at least one of him and me on each birthday, at special occasions and when he graduated high school and college. I was always the one taking them, organizing something or just to self-conscious to be in the picture.

I wish I had saved more cards, notes and random bits of flotsam from over the years with his words, his handwriting, his childish drawings.

Just a month before he left us, I cleaned out two decades of home schooling records and carelessly tossed so many bits of him into the bed of my truck, hauling it to the dump. Back then it felt like I was unburdening myself of too much paper and too many frivolous memories. Now it feels like an incalculable loss.

I would have listened more often to the wonderful sound of his drums banging away upstairs.

I took a walk most afternoons and Dominic timed his practice for when I was out of the house because it was so very loud. It was considerate and kind. And I DID get to hear him through the windows as I made my rounds but I really, really wish I’d just stopped and fully appreciated his talent.

I could list so many more ways I’d have arranged life differently-if I had KNOWN.

But I didn’t.

So I make my way through another spring, remembering, remembering, remembering.

Always hungry for more.

I Need To Get It Right


There are lots and lots of things in life where the distance between “good enough” and “perfect” really doesn’t matter.

I don’t aim for hospital corners while making my bed.

I cook without recipes-adding this or that until the taste suits me.

If I walk 8,567 steps or 10,291 steps I am not going to stress about it.

BUT-there is one thing I absolutely MUST get right.

My understanding of God-Who He is, Who Jesus is-matters for ever and ever.

I want to get it right.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2017/03/05/i-want-to-get-it-right/

Celebrity and Death: Kobe Bryant Wasn’t The Only One In The Helicopter

I get it-media is looking to sell papers, get hits and make money.

But I’m oh, so tired of the only names mentioned when tragedy strikes being ones that make good headlines.

Mr. Bryant was traveling to a youth basketball tournament with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, who was also killed in Sunday’s crash. Two of her teammates and their parents also died.

The NY TIMES, Morning Briefing

Kobe Bryant and his daughter were killed Sunday in a helicopter crash.

So were John Altobelli, his wife Keri and daughter Alyssa, Sarah Chester and daughter Payton, along with Christina Mauser and Ara Zobayan, the pilot.

No one survived.

Every family that lost a member in this awful accident will have to walk the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Money and fame don’t protect a heart from the pain, sorrow, despair and overwhelming darkness death brings with it.

But public focus on only the rich and famous can add to the burden when your family member is among the slain.

No life is more sacred than another life.

Every life matters.

Sorrow Will Not Have The Last Word

If you find your heart limping through Scripture instead of gaining strength, may I suggest you try a different Bible translation for a bit? Sometimes familiar words-even the words of God or His prophets-just fall flat.

I can read them and not digest them at all.

So lately I’ve been reading and copying from the VOICE translation and it has helped me see old passages in a new light.

Here’s one of them. I think those of us walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death have a lot in common with Jeremiah.

I love to read familiar verses in different translations or paraphrases.

It helps my heart hear what I might otherwise miss because familiarity DOES breed a form a contempt even when considering the Word of God.

Recently, on my way through verses on HOPE I copied out Lamentations 3: 19-26.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2019/01/20/new-mercies/

Repost: Shadows and Sunlight

The sun streams just so

and turns my head

I’ve learned not to look too long at that wall

But today

Well today I am face to face with HIS face

I didn’t mean to linger

but I did

No remedy but to let the grief wash over me

allow the tears to fall and the hurt to run its course

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2017/01/15/shadows-and-sunlight/

The Locust Years

I’m no stranger to disappointment, disillusionment, discouragement and despair.

I have had some amazingly lofty peaks in this life but I’ve also had some terribly low valleys as well.

Some of the stories aren’t mine to tell so you will just have to take my word for it. Some of the stories I’ve already shared in this space so if you want more details you can check out old posts.

Right now I feel like I’m in one of those valleys.

In fact, I feel like I’m in the locust years the prophet Joel talks about in the Bible book that bears his name.

So I will restore to you the years that the swarming [a]locust has eaten,
The crawling locust,
The consuming locust,
And the chewing locust,
My great army which I sent among you.
26 You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
And praise the name of the Lord your God,
Who has dealt wondrously with you;
And My people shall never be put to shame.
27 Then you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel:
am the Lord your God
And there is no other.
My people shall never be put to shame.

Joel 2:25-27

Joel (his name means “Yahweh is God”) was sent by God to encourage the nation of Israel during a time of famine and judgement. Because God’s chosen people refused to follow Him and obey His commandments, they were punished. God didn’t do that to harm them. He did it to draw their attention to their sin and to woo them back to Himself.

I’ve written before that child loss is not a test or a judgement or a hammer in the hand of God (https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/08/25/grief-is-not-a-hammer-in-the-hand-of-god/).

I firmly believe that while God may discipline His true children (see Hebrews 12:6) all the punishment sin requires has been paid for by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Still, I feel like there are parallels to the famine and devastation Israel faced and the past eighteen months of my life.

One “disaster” after another. One herculean challenge after another. One hill to climb after another. And with each new hard thing, I find my reserves are fewer and fewer.

Nothing-NOTHING-rises to the level of sending Dominic ahead to Heaven.

But that one giant, life-altering, earth shattering, heartbreaking event has weakened my defenses. It has made me more prone to wearing down and giving up than I’ve ever been in my life.

My faith is intact.

I have absolutely no doubt that every promise of God in Christ is “yes” and “amen”.

I trust the truth that all the enemy has stolen will be restored. Every sad thing will be undone. The world (including my own family) will be redeemed, restored and raised to life in Christ. When I pass my son’s grave facing east, I know one day the skies will open and Jesus will return as triumphant King over all creation.

Even so I am weary and heavy laden.

I take the burden to the foot of the cross over and over and over.

Just as I think the weight is lifted, another heavy brick is added to the load.

Sometimes you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Other times you just have to trust in the dark.

Sometimes the trial is limited. Other times it goes on and on and on.

But I know, know, know God is faithful.

His love endures forever.

And even when I find myself in the midst of spiritual famine, desolation and desperation, He will meet me there.

So I wait.

Holding on to hope.

Looking for the promised bounty.

Trusting that He will redeem, restore and resurrect.

Broken Circle, Unbroken Chain of Love

I started writing because of Dominic and my family. I keep writing because of Dominic and my family and all the beautiful souls I’ve met along this journey-many who have never lost a child but whose hearts grieve for someone or something else.

I thought I’d share what I read at my sweet mama’s funeral yesterday-it was made easier and richer by all those who have walked with me so far in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Your comments, your messages, your thoughts and insights helped me express the most important lesson I’m learning in grief: Love Lives Forever.

When we walk through the graveyard or read an obituary, we almost always look for those two dates that bookend a life-for Mama it is September 23, 1938 and September 27, 2019. 

Lots of sermons have been preached about that dash in between-about that what we do or don’t do, who we love or don’t love, how we use the years we are given as either a blessing or something else. 

And that is very, very true. 

We tend to think that the last date-the date when breath leaves the body and the soul escapes the trials of this world to enter the glory of Heaven-as the end. We can hardly help it because our relationship to the one we love changes so dramatically. 

I can’t hug Mama anymore, I can’t hear her laugh, I can’t call her up and tell her, “I love you” or greet her in the morning with a “Hi Girlie!”. 

That’s hard. 

It creates a giant void for me and an unfathomably huge void for Papa.  We are going to have to find a way to live with that empty space in our hearts and in our lives. 

It takes lots and lots of work, lots and lots of tears and lots and lots of time.  There’s no shortcut through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

My Mama lost HER mother suddenly, to a stroke, when she was just ten years old.  So she lived with that giant hole in her heart for over 71 years.  She could have allowed the pain to make her cold and bitter, closed off and unavailable.  It certainly would have been an understandable response to a traumatic loss. 

But she didn’t. 

Without exception, every person who has called, written or come by to pay respects to Patty Hart describes her as gracious, lovely, kind, generous, welcoming, cheerful and bright. 

Mama chose love.

Mam and all my children, 1994

In just the past few weeks, before this last hospitalization, I got to see Mama begin to pour that love into a new generation.  She had two visits from her great-grandson.  One due to Hurricane Dorian (they had to evacuate) and one that was scheduled to give her the chance to meet him. 

I won’t fib and say that having overnight visitors in the house was easy for her or Papa with all her medical conditions, but you’d never know it by the grin on her face when I put that chubby little stinker in her lap. 

For a few minutes, she was Nanny again-singing, cooing, laughing and making eyes at him.  She even got to be the first one to see him turn over.  That tickled her! 

All the Grandmas and Captain Ryker

Truth is, that last date isn’t the end.  There’s no period after Patricia Ann Landrum Hart’s life.  Of course she lives on in Heaven with Jesus, her mama and my Dominic. 

But even here, on earth, love lives forever. 

It lives in the lives she touched and will continue to touch through her friends and family as they honor her legacy of love. 

Our circle is broken today.  Death is awful and it’s hard.  It’s a reminder the world is not as God intended it to be and we walk a broken road toward the promises of redemption and restoration. 

But the chains of love forged in our hearts are never severed.

I love you, Mama. 

Say “hi” to Dom for me.

Scripture Journal Challenge: My Good Shepherd

I have been a shepherd for twenty years.

The longer I care for my sheep and goats, the more I understand why God put His leaders through this school of discipleship.

Many days it’s a thankless job-my charges often do foolish things that place them in peril, they work hard to tear down the fences I’ve erected for their safety and they wander away forcing me to chase after them and bring them home.

But I never give up on them.

A shepherd’s heart is revealed in how she (or he) takes care of the weakest animals.

I cannot lay my head down at night without taking mental inventory to make sure they are safe, secure and well cared for through the darkness until morning dawns afresh.

David spent years and years in “shepherd school”.

It prepared him to fight Goliath.

It molded his heart to lead God’s people.

The Eternal is my shepherd, He cares for me always.
He provides me rest in rich, green fields
    beside streams of refreshing water.
    He soothes my fears;
He makes me whole again,
    steering me off worn, hard paths
    to roads where truth and righteousness echo His name.
Even in the unending shadows of death’s darkness,
    I am not overcome by fear.
Because You are with me in those dark moments,
    near with Your protection and guidance,
    I am comforted.

Psalm 23: 1-4 VOICE

I could write for days on what these verses mean to my own heart. I could tease out dozens of lessons from the picture David paints of tender care, abundant mercy, amazing love.

But the one thing I’ll share now is this: I never, ever, ever abandon my flock.

If all I had was a stick and my voice, I’d fight off every enemy.

I am never too busy nor too distracted to tend to their needs. I never forget to feed them, water them, check on them and call them home in the evening.

They know my voice.

They follow me because I am trustworthy. They allow me to tend their wounds because I am gentle. They come running to me when they are afraid because they know I am a fierce defender.

If I-a mere, fallible, fragile mortal-am this concerned about my little flock, imagine how our Good Shepherd cares for us!

Don’t rush over these verses because they are familiar.

Go back, read them again.

Know that the Lord God loves you.

He LOVES you.

He loves YOU.

QUESTIONS:

  • Do you remember the first time you encountered this Psalm? Does it hold a special memory?
  • How has the Lord given you rest in the midst of weariness?
  • How has God provided necessities for you?
  • What does it mean to you that Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd? Read that passage in John 10 and notice how He defines what a good shepherd looks like. How might that encourage your heart when walking in this Valley of the Shadow of Death?
  • I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to find an old, lame or nearly blind goat or sheep that wandered off and got lost. I do what it takes to bring them home. No matter how far you wander, Jesus is coming to get you. Can you relate a time when Jesus reached out in a special way and helped you make it back home?
  • What do you need from your Shepherd today? Ask Him for it.

PRAYER:

Lord,

You ARE the Good Shepherd. You love me. You care for me. You lead me to places of rest when I am overcome with weariness. You walk beside me and offer refuge when I am afraid.

This grief journey is hard. Sometimes I wonder if You are really here or if You have abandoned me. Help me hear Your voice. Help me run to You for safety.

Teach me to follow You always, even when You lead me in dark places and I’m fearful. Thank You for leaving us with a beautiful picture through David’s words of Your heart.

Lead on, O Precious Shepherd. Lead on!

Amen

The Penalty and Gift of Love

Love is risky business.  

There’s no way to guarantee you’ll escape unscathed.  

And a broken heart can make us oh, so afraid to try again.  

I get it.  

My heart was absolutely, totally shattered when that deputy knocked on my door and delivered the news. 

But I refuse to lock my love in a vault so my heart can be safe.  

Because life without love isn’t life.  ❤

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