Tag Archives: valleys

On fullness

Fall in Guangdong province, China.
Fall in Guangdong province, China.  Click for photo credit.

Psalm 23 (NRSV)

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 
   He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
   he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
   for his name’s sake. 

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
   I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
   your rod and your staff—
   they comfort me. 

You prepare a table before me
   in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
   my cup overflows. 
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
   all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
   my whole life long.

 Psalm 23 is so short and sweet and familiar that for many of us the words tumble off our lips without a thought.  But it’s no wonder that so many have clung to it over the ages, repeated its promises in the darkest hours and been comforted by its imagery in the depths of despair.  Its simplicity and eloquence are timeless and poignant.

And yet, there’s more to it than comfort and consolation.  There are practical assurances that we will walk through dark valleys in this life despite our faith, that we will encounter enemies, and that these hardships are not mutually exclusive from goodness and mercy.
Red Beach, China.
Red Beach, China. Click for photo credit.
These past few weeks I’ve been a little overwhelmed by the busy-ness of my life: childcare and feedings crammed between preparing for classes, editing my dissertation, and applying to jobs.  And since I’m so averse to busy-ness, somewhere along the way, it occurred to me that framing that stress and pressure not as busy-ness but as fullness allow me to better see and experience the wash of blessings, difficulties included, in my life.
In the psalm’s narrative, it is following the darkest valley that the table is prepared, the psalmist’s head is anointed, and his “cup overflows.”  Therefore, when our cup overflows it doesn’t necessarily speak to the ease of life or conventional happiness, but a life well lived, a deep, resounding, and mature joy, and a conviction that God has been and will be there despite the valley, the enemies, and the fear.
Fall in gorgeous Jiangxi, China.
My favorite season in gorgeous Jiangxi, China. Click for photo credit.
There is so much comfort for me in sleepless nights and rushed days to trust and believe that this season is not simply busy, but wonderously full. Full of hard work and deep joy, full of hard decisions and deep love, and full of uncertainty, but filled with grace.  I take heart and solace in the fullness of life and the promise that goodness and mercy are not fleeting, but that I shall forever dwell in the house of the Lord.
Amen.
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Provision

So if you’re like me, you have a pretty public blog, where you post about your mountaintop moments in life and in faith, and where you (rather subconsciously) try to minimize the doubting that goes on in the shadows, because that’s not really so compelling, nor is it the stuff that good, religious folks are all about.

Princeton in the fall. Looking forward to this!

But, as it turns out, we live in the shadows, rather than on the mountaintops, and I’m pretty sure nobody’s good and religious and faithful all the time…

…except God.  And thank God for that!

Valleys and mountains all wrapped into one in Guangxi, Zhongliu village. Photo by Evan Schneider.

You see in the midst of the missing-China-blues, the listlessness that I can’t quite explain or shake, the doubts that did make the blog, and the ones that didn’t, God’s been working  silently, heroically, and with a sense of humor, like only God does and can, to squash those doubts to pieces.

Because it just can’t be a coincidence that in only two weeks of moving into our housing complex in the US that I’ve met an amazing couple with a baby with special needs, another neighbor couple just moving from Hong Kong, and yet another neighbor couple who is…Chinese!

Do you ever feel just totally ridiculous for making your fears larger than life, larger than God, for feeling paralyzed, for doubting for a hot second that God isn’t all in this and through this life with God’s hands down in our muck in a powerful, powerful way?  And isn’t it just the best feeling, to be so, so wrong about a God that is so deeply faithful?

A view of the Princeton campus nestled between trees.

Okay, this is another mountaintop post, and I sort of apologize for that.

But if you hear anything today from me, hear that I’m a mess and God is faithful, and that’s the stuff of shadows shot through with light and meaning in the madness.

And praise God, with me, for God is faithful!