appreciation, change, clarity and direction, comfort, death, dying, enlightenment, eternal life, families, honesty, hope, letting go, living and growing, Love, mourning, new life, peace, perspective, spiritual growth, struggles

Living in the Valley

I moved to the valley, eleven years ago when my father first got sick.  Six years ago, he died.  I thought at some point after his death I would move out of the valley.  Instead, my mother, after years of caring for my Dad, got sick and my life in the valley continued.

You probably know this valley.  It’s the same one mentioned in Psalm 23….”Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”  Yeah, that valley.

I chose to move here years before I understood where I was moving to.  Back when I was young and had no idea of what it would cost me. I knew I wanted to stay in the same city as my parents.  My plan always was to care for them, when the time came.

The funny thing about moving to the valley is that you don’t necessarily realize you’ve moved until you’ve lived there for a while.  The move is both gradual and sudden.  Your loved one ages and you start to help in little ways.  A sudden illness or injury and you help out a bit as they recover.  What you don’t know at the time, is that sudden injury or illness is starting a chain of events that would have overwhelmed you had you ever realized your address had just changed and there was no moving back any time soon.

We all know what valleys look like.  They are low places, with shadows that hang over on all sides..  And these low places are filled with things most of us try to avoid.  Like fear and death. In the valley, fear takes on a life of it’s own…it has a form and a shape and it looks like death.  The threat of death, is always lurking in the shadows.  And then there’s the bone wearying tiredness and overwhelming and sometimes debilitating sense of loss, along with a need to always be on guard for the next problem.

In the valley you learn to fight.  Against ignorance…your own and others.  You fight against your nightmares, which threaten to become reality.  You fight to do what’s right. You fight against yourself when you want to quit and with others when they want you to quit.  The valley can be an exhausting place.

With all the lows of the valley, one might think it is a place to avoid.  Certainly anyone who chooses to live there can’t be right in the head!

But here’s the thing….there is beauty in the valley.  Beauty you can’t see anywhere else. There’s a beauty in the valley that transcends even what a mountain top view can offer. And the company in the valley is the reason for the view.  Psalm 23….The psalm that talks about walking through the valley of the shadow of death, also gives a promise.  And it’s the promise that provides the beauty.

“Yea,though I walk though the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for YOU are with me…..”.

Early on in the valley, I feared evil.  I was terrified by it.  Death was evil.  It was the enemy that you knew would win in the end, but that you would fight against with all your might.  The exhaustion that comes with fighting an enemy that is guaranteed to win is not only exhausting, it’s foolish.

I was controlled by my fears until I met Submission.   Submitting to the reality of our inability to control when someone dies moves you from a very dark valley, to a new valley where there is beauty and potential….right in front of you, that you are now freed up to see.  Submission is not giving up.  It’s not laying down the fight.  But it is recognizing what you can and can’t control.  Its choosing when and where to fight.  It allows you to see who the real enemy is.

Sometimes the enemy is ourselves…Fear is everywhere in the valley.   Left to our own devices, fear can overtake us.  But when I remember that the Psalm promises….”YOU are with me”...the fear is tamed and in the best moments, it is vanquished.

That YOU it mentions, is the Creator of Heaven and Earth.  I don’t just have a good friend or family member with me…..(though praise God when I do)……I have the God of the Universe with me!  He reminds me that even though I live in the valley, the valley isn’t all there is.  I’m choosing to live here for a time, so that the people I love don’t have to walk through this place alone.  Walking alongside someone who is in the valley, has eternal significance.

God knows how we look at death.  He knows how death and the fear of death motivates our choices.  He knows we need him beside us to walk though this valley.  When we freely and willingly go through the valley so someone else won’t be there alone, we are doing exactly what He has done for us.

And that is what love does.  It comes alongside.  It sits with us in the mess that the end of life can bring.  It is a place filled with loss and sadness.  They grieve and you grieve with them.  You grieve for the pain they feel.  For who they were and what has been lost. Their address has changed since coming to the valley and it makes them disoriented.  You remind them, no matter where they live, whether it’s in a place they’ve always known, or a dark valley or in heaven…they are loved.  You are the physical hands and feet of Jesus as they journey to what’s waiting for them, at the other side.  It’s an opportunity to bring light to the shadows and love to dark places.  And that love, makes it all worthwhile.

So these days, if you’re looking for me, you’ll find me in the valley.  I’m not sure how long I’ll be staying, but I won’t regret a moment spent here.  For although the walk is shadowed by death, the path is filled with life and love.

 

 

 

 

 

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appreciation, change, clarity and direction, Discovery, enlightenment, families, inertia, living and growing, perspective

How $25 Changed Me

It seemed so simple at first.  Give each of my (adult) kids and my husband and I, $25 at Christmas time.  $25 with a catch, that is.  We each had to spend it on someone else.  Someone who had a need.   We distributed the $25 on December 1st.  We had 25 days to find a worthy cause to give our money towards.   And we agreed that on Christmas day we would share with each other where we had given the money.

There were no rules, other than you had to see a need and give the $25 away.

Seemed simple enough.

But what I learned through this process was unexpected and transformative.

I thought I would have no trouble giving my $25 away.   I assumed that there is need all around me and that within the first week, the money would be gone.  Instead I discovered that I live a truly insulated life.  That someone with obvious need, is not constantly in front of me, just waiting to be handed money.   I live a comfortable life, surrounded by other people, who even when they struggle, do so, pretty comfortably.

The first couple of weeks went by and I was chill.  I was certain that some type of need would present itself to me.  So I waited.   But nothing appeared.  Sure there was the Salvation Army bell ringers…I ran into them every time I went to the grocery store.  But I already give to them.  I thought about dropping the $25 into the kettle and being done….it’s more than I usually give and I could be done!  But no, it seemed too easy.

By week three, I was really paying attention to the world around me.  I started to accept the idea that I would need to find a cause to donate to instead of a person to hand the money to.  An ad came on TV for the American Cancer Society.  I know too many who have lost the battle to cancer.   This could be a worthy recipient.  But online giving seemed too easy.  So I watched and waited.

During week 4, I saw a program on TV about Yemen.  The children.  The famine.  The heartbreak.  I did more research on Yemen and was reduced to tears.  This was worthy.  But $25 seemed so little.  Ineffective against all they face.  But here’s the irony.   Had I not committed that $25 to give away, I wouldn’t have given anything towards Yemen relief.  Not a penny.  In light of that, I recognized that $25 was pretty good.  It still took me till Christmas Eve day to make my decision.   Yemen would get the $25.

But getting to Yemen, if you will, was a challenging process.   This experience revealed to me how influenced I was by my early years of marriage.  With 5 kids and only my husband’s salary, we were broke.  When you are broke, giving money away isn’t an option.   When we gave, it was usually to a family member in greater need than ourselves.  We were, more often than not, the recipients of people’s generosity.  They saw our need and gave.  We were grateful.  And for that and other reasons, we gave back.  But with no money to give, we gave our time.  And a pattern emerged.   Giving my time became part of the fabric of who I was.  I was generous with my time and gave freely.  Sometimes I gave too much.  But I gave my time because it was what I could offer.

Fast forward 30 years and money isn’t so tight.  There is extra.  Or there could be.   But I still behave like there isn’t.   Extra money gets funneled towards nice things or helping my kids. Until that $25 showed up.   It opened my eyes to the fact that things have changed.   Just being able to hand 8 people $25 and say, “give it away’ is an indication that I am no longer broke.  So what to do with this new insight?

I recognized that giving to family isn’t bad, but perhaps I needed to expand my idea of family.   Those 2 year olds in Yemen, with arms and legs that were pencil thin….my tears were telling me, they are family too.  And I find myself heading into the new year with a broader perspective of need.  A deeper understanding that I could and should do more.  Not just with my time, but with my money too.

As my husband and I gathered with our kids and heard about how they spent their $25, I realized I wasn’t the only one who found the process difficult.  So with anything that is difficult, the only solution is to practice until it becomes easier.   We will be doing this again next year, though we decided Nov. 1st is a better date to start.

In only 25 days, that $25 gave me a fresh perspective.  And it enlarged my heart.  Now that’s time and money well spent!

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