Valleys can be quite beautiful. I remember hiking in the Sawtooths in Idaho a few years ago with a friend and there were steep striking valleys with trout-filled streams funneling through epic slopes on either side.
While in Ecuador nearly 20 years ago I remember hiking through the picturesque foothills around one of the tallest active volcanos in the world, Cotapaxi. In that case, hiking through the valley was a beautiful approach to a difficult and strenuous climb.
But currently, the valley we are experiencing is one of death, sorrow, and mourning. The Psalmist refers to the valley of the shadow of death in the 23rd psalm which could be a metaphor for any sort of pain, adversity, gloom, or doom. Debbie and I are experiencing this valley due to what she has often referred to as “stupid cancer!” Both my older brother and my mother-in-law were diagnosed with some aggressive cancers back in July. My older brother, Bill, died December 10, 2018. My amazing mother-in-law, Alice, just died a few days ago…January 9, 2019.
That is a lot of loss to experience in such a brief time. And if you factor in the unexpected death of Deb’s older sister in February 2015 at the age of 44, it just compounds the grief. Perhaps you have gone through a similar “valley” of death’s shadow. Perhaps you have been spared the experience of deep loss so far in your journey. Chances are, we all pass through this valley sooner or later.
Even before my brother slipped across the veil of death, Psalm 23 was being reimagined for me. Several times I prayed the Psalm over my brother as he slept or rested or just suffered in silence. Now, what was once a churchy sounding irrelevant passage of scripture (it never seemed very relevant since I had no personal experience with sheep-herding) has become a heart-felt meaningful piece of biblical poetry. It has become almost a daily part of my prayer liturgy (I owe some of that influence to Dallas Willard as well). And I occasionally play this old version by Keith Green which was sung at my brother’s funeral.
Exiting this valley of sorrow and grief will not be a quick, easy process. We just celebrated my mother-in-law’s life yesterday (some call that a funeral). So today is the first day of what some might call our “new normal” and it is tough to figure out life without her, honestly. But we are learning to trust the Good Shepherd…and continue anchoring ourselves to that “hopiest of hopes” I mentioned last time. The encouragement received from so many friends, along with the family that we cling even more tightly to these days, is certainly a big part of what gets us through.
Cancer, death, and grief is a crappy way to start a new year.
We are hoping for much better days ahead. It’s just painful to move forward without these crucial loved ones.
Above all we are clinging to the Hope (elpida) of the resurrection and a future reunion with those we love in the new Creation.