Gary and I looked at lots of homes when we were house hunting here in the Wichita area over 17 years ago. Has it been that long?! The house we are in now was the second house we looked at during those rushed few days. We at first dismissed it because the inside of the house needed lots of work. No other houses were right, though, and so we were pulled back to this house for a second look. I remember standing in the upstairs window in what became Aaron’s bedroom, looking out over the back yard. At that time there was a large, beautiful pool in the back as well as the big yard. I was so surprised when I was told that the whole area out back was part of the house’s yard. And for me, that was largely what sold me on this house. That yard……
That yard has offered us room for running young children; for walking and playing with our dogs; for endless hours of swimming with family and friends before we covered up the pool; for our vegetable garden; for parties and fireworks; for ball throwing and bean bags and even boomerangs (we ended that idea pretty quickly!); for enjoying wildlife; and for a measure of privacy that we have enjoyed.
The look of the yard has changed with time, just as we have. The pool is gone; dozens of dead pines and other trees have had to be cut; fences are not there now; and once young trees are now tall and strong. But our back yard, despite the changes, is still a place that is home to us. That yard beckons us, whether it is to work or to play; to sit or to walk……our yard is home and is a place of comfort to us.
There are two big evergreens at the back of our yard, visible from our house but not too near. I sometimes think of our yard as ending there because you can’t really see around those big trees. You must walk around them to see what lies out there in the very back part of our back yard.
There is simply a small area out there that is our property, where Gary mows and where more trees grow to both sides. And it is there where a finger of the neighborhood lake weaves in a curve. This part of the lake is dry for a good part of the year, but is full of water when the rains come.
It is this section of our yard that is, to me, fairly creepy. There are some trees there, one especially, that is wild and untamed. Its branches are tangled in a mass of knotted wood and long thorns that threaten if you get too close. It’s a dark place, especially in the summer when leaves and underbrush are growing. I feel cold in this area, even though this is still our yard. It isn’t warm and welcoming like the rest of our yard, but is a little ominous and foreboding. I like to walk back around those large evergreens where I can see our house and the rest of our yard, safe and welcoming.
I was standing in this area of our yard a few days ago while Aaron and I took our Great Dane, Jackson, for a walk. Aaron was having fun exploring the dry creek bed, and Jackson was sniffing everywhere and everything. I still didn’t want to linger long here, but as I did stand there I was reminded of one of our favorite Psalms and of the very wonderful lesson we learn from it.
We often think of Psalm 23 as the one we read at funerals. But David wrote this Psalm from his life as a shepherd, before he became a king. He compared our God to a shepherd, a life that David knew well. Our Shepherd makes us lie down in green pastures and leads us beside still waters. But…..He also is with us during those times that we must walk through dark valleys.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me. Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
Often shepherds in Bible times found themselves in desert areas, where there were deep valleys. Those valleys were full of danger. Danger could come from bandits, from sudden raging floods, or from wild animals. The valleys were frightful…..a place of threat to the sheep. But the good shepherd kept a close watch, using his rod to beat off wild animals and his staff to gently guide the sheep away from danger. Sometimes there was no other way to go but through the desert valley, but the sheep knew that they could trust their shepherd to guide them through the dangers.
So it is with you and I as we live this life. Honestly, if left up to me, I would have chosen some different paths than those that God has chosen for me. But God knew best for me, and He continues to know where I need to be and what circumstances need to be around me. He has proven Himself undeniably faithful and loving to me, even…..and especially…..in the very hard times. He has a reason, a purpose, for every dark valley and every unwelcome event in my life. He may choose to let me know the reason now, and He may not. That’s where trust comes in…..the trust of me, a sheep, for my loving Shepherd.
I have dear family and friends who have been in, or are still in, one of those dark valleys. To each of you I say that God, your great Shepherd, is with you. He will protect you and He will comfort you as only He can.
To Paul and Goldie whose daughter, Jennifer, went to heaven only a month ago after such suffering. To Janet, my dear friend who is fighting cancer. To Nancy, whose sweet father was just put on hospice. To Steve and Dona, whose lives have been radically changed when Steve suffered a massive stroke over a year ago. To Dan and Wendy, who face untold stress and grief as they watch their precious Elijah suffer from severe seizures. To Sarah, Anna, and Kyle, who have had more loss this year than I can fathom. To Linda and Laura, who will always grieve the tragic death of their son and brother. To Kurt and Jill, whose son Nicholas just endured yet another infection and brain surgery. To my sister, Mary Beth, who somehow goes through each day with a smile as she struggles with a muscle disease. To Karen and Bill, who have heartache that just can’t be told.
And to so many more of you, each with your own battles……your own valleys…..your own dangers and fears. Let God be your Shepherd. Know Him and trust Him. Know that He has a reason for every path that you take, and His reason is one that is born out of deep love for you. Someday we will understand. And in the meantime, we need to trust our Shepherd to have our good nearest to His heart. For he truly does.
“Surely goodness and mercy (lovingkindness) will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”