Through The Valley
I imagine I will be writing a few blogs inspired by this last weekend. I volunteered as a chaperone, and evidentially driver, for our youth group Winter Retreat. I envisioned utter chaos on the trip to and from our destination, but these students were awesome. I have to remember the last major road trip I took with a big group of teens…I was a teen and your Walkman died long before a cell phone does. In fact, the last winter retreat I attended was when Crystal Pepsi came out. I only mention that because it is back…why? Why would you bring that back…Crystal Pepsi is just wrong.
Eran Holt was our speaker for the weekend. He delivered a series of messages from Psalm 23. Yes, that Psalm. The Psalm for weddings, funerals and graduations. The Psalm that even many non-believers can recite a good portion of. For many of us our grandparents or parents have a carving or picture of Jesus with a little lamb and the Psalm elegantly scripted on a serene background. It is also my Granny Wheeler’s favorite Psalm. I never hear the 23rd Psalm without thinking of her. Mr. Holt, or pastor…not real sure of titles here, broke it down in a way that had all of us reconsidering the pretty prose that is perhaps one of the single most poetic passages in the Bible.
Though I Walk Through The Valley of the Shadow of Death…
For me, talking about the valley was perhaps the most revealing. A visual was given of the valley. A tape measure was stretched out to represent 90 years. (average life expectancy). A few individuals (young individuals) came up and took their place at the start of their “valley” experience. Mr. Holt had them look forward to how much life they would waste if they hung out in the valley. God will lead us through our valley if we trust Him.
When I approached my valley at age 18, I thought me and God were good. In retrospect I can see I did not have a real relationship with God back then. I entered the valley and lived there for many years. Almost 22 years to be more precise. More than half my life I hung out in the valley. I followed all sorts of Shepherds, but non of them were God. During those years, I abandoned my faith. I distanced myself from God…sometimes quite deliberately. Occasionally, I would try to come back into the fold, but I allowed people and situations to discourage me. I did not want to give up being me in order to be a good little Christian girl. Despite all the death around me in the valley, I did not reach out for life. When I say death, I am talking about years of insomnia, emotional turmoil, mental distress, physical illness and relationships that wilted and faded. I became consumed with surviving. I needed more education, more money, more of anything the world deemed necessary to keep and protect my children. The problem with becoming obsessed with survival is you forget what you are surviving for. You build walls, keeping those you love out. (Cause you can’t show weakness.) You push all your empathy deep down and become a cynic. You search for the flaws in relationships, in programs, in everything just so you can abandon ship before someone abandons you.
When you stay in the valley the enemy amplifies your doubts and fears. Nearly every decision I made was to resolve doubt or to combat fear. I am exhausted just thinking about it. Then I reached a point when I could not breathe in the valley. There was no water, no rest and no peace was found…not even when I slept. I reached a point where I knew I was going further down into a deep darkness that I could not handle. I knew if something did not change, I would probably not make it out of the valley…ever.
When I reached out to God, he was right there where I left him. He was not pointing fingers and condemning me, He pulled me into his embrace and flooded me with love. I felt comfort and peace. Something that was so foreign to me it took time to process that was, in fact, what it was. Imagine living life in excruciating pain and you wake up pain-free one morning. Yeah, it is kind of like that.
I think I have made it clear that I am not a biblical scholar or master theologian. That being said, every time I heard “generational curse” I had a real problem with it. The idea that I have to answer or suffer consequences for my parents or grandparents, just did not sound like God was playing fair. This weekend it clicked. Generational curses are not about me being punished because my parents did or did not do something. The curse comes from the absence of obedience to God. The Israelites disobeyed God and generation after generation has dealt with various battles. For example, David would never of had to slay Goliath had his ancestor destroyed them when God told him too. That act of disobedience caused many to suffer in the years between and placed David on a field squaring off with a giant. Since God can even use our acts of disobedience, David slaying a giant is one of the earliest bible stories most of us learn.
Another way to see Generational Curses is us repeating the actions of our family members. Think “train up child” mentality. If you train a child to follow and trust God, they will. If you train up a child to survive, that is their focus. My sons were raised in the latter. It is hard to see your child make the same mistakes you made. It is even harder to realize that their reactions are amplifications of the reactions you had in similar circumstances. I cannot change my past, but God has righted my course for the future. I am seeing changes in my children. I see them leaning in to God. It is NEVER to LATE to obey God.
The Jonah Experience
The summer before my senior year of high school I visited Southeastern Bible College with my then fiancé. I wanted to be a youth pastor or youth music and drama director. Less than a year after that visit, I walked into my Valley ignoring the Good Shepherd and following whatever seemed like a good idea.
I can’t help but feel I have had a Jonah Experience. Jonah ran from God. God said, “Go to Nineveh” and Jonah said, “I don’t think so.” God never told me to go to Nineveh, but I had a calling. At this point in life, I am not sure I was supposed to be any version of a pastor or in ministry full-time, but I know I was called to be involved and engaged. We ARE ALL called to be involved and engaged. This time last year I threw up the white flag and said, “Okay, God let’s do this.” I emerged from my valley swiftly. The big fish spat me out and my blog has become my cry to Nineveh to repent. (After all, the blog was moving in a totally different direction in the beginning.)
I have said it many times in the last few months that I know I am called. I know writing is at least part of that calling. God will reveal the next step in time. Until then I am going to bloom where he has planted me. I have the great privilege to work with multiple groups at my church and I am growing. I am growing in my relationship with God, growing in my ability to hear His voice and I am helping others grow. If this is the extent of what I am called to do, I am completely cool with that. I have teens who trust me enough to reveal difficulties they are facing. They come to me for prayer and guidance. It is an awesome responsibility to have a young person trust you in such a way. I also have the ability to help them see things from their parents point of view. (Like a parent to teen translator.) It is a delicate trust that I take very seriously.
There is more to share from this weekend about Psalm 23, but that is for another blog. I want to close with this. “Surely goodness and loving kindness will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” I guess it was about a month ago that we started closing out youth services out with the final lines of Psalm 23. Throughout the weekend, Psalm 23 was recited multiple times. There is a lot of power in Psalm 23. It puts things in perspective as you break it down and realize the impact of each verse.
I once thought my Granny Wheeler loved the 23rd Psalm because it was pretty. I no longer believe that is the reason. Granny was 93 when she passed away, her husband had been gone over two decades. She had been through valleys with her Shepherd. She spent most of her meals in the company of her Shepherd. She always had enough to take care of her needs. Goodness, love and gratitude were descriptions of my Granny. Psalm 23 was as much her life story as it was David’s. She passed down to her family a generational blessing. An example of faith and trust. Now…this is my story.
“The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
3 He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord