Meditation on God’s grace through His People (Part 1): Walking through the valley of the shadow of death

Posted in From Al & Libbie, Reflections at 11:59 am by Al

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” I first heard these words when I was perhaps four years old, living in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. My maternal grandparents were visiting and my grandmother was helping me learn Psalm 23 by heart. I believe it is the first text I ever memorized. I can still recall the sunny room where she was reading to me and the feeling of accomplishment that I felt in learning the entire passage. The central part of the psalm, the part about walking through the valley of the shadow of death and fearing no evil for “Thou art with me” seemed pretty distant in that sunny room long ago. In fact, I hardly could have told you what death was. Notwithstanding, these words somehow comforted even then. Shadowy valleys of whatever were banished in the warm sunlight of the moment.

Fifty years later these words address me in a more immediate way. And I am learning something new about how the Lord walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death—He comforts me directly through His Spirit and His word. But He also uses the visible expression of the body of Christ, his people, to put hands and feet on his love for us. The Lord walks with me and He brings his people to walk with me as well.

God has used each and every one of you to comfort, love and encourage my family and me. You are the visible expression of the resurrected Christ expressing to me the love that has the power to raise the dead. I don’t walk in the valley of the shadow of death alone. I walk with the Lord, and he has sent you, his people, to walk with me. I am sorry to have (unintentionally) invited you along on this journey. It is my fervent prayer at this time that all of you will see the Lord when you walk here and that you will have others who will walk along with you and comfort you as well.

To that end, let me introduce you to one another (not by name), you who are overwhelming me by your love and pointing me to the savior who keeps and leads us all.

Prayer warriors:

  • The four year-old daughter of a former student prays for me every night. I had the opportunity to meet her yesterday (her parents live 10 hours from here). It was a gift from the Lord that I could tell her thank you in person.
  • 40 Dartmouth College students recently gathered for an hour and a half on a Saturday night to pray for me. (My oldest daughter is a senior at Dartmouth and my son and daughter-in-law do student ministry with Navigator’s Christian Fellowship at Dartmouth. Such an encouragement to my children, reminding them afresh that though they are walking through the valley of the shadow of death, God is with them.)
  • A women’s group in Ireland prays regularly. I have not met them, but one of them wrote a lengthy note to tell me of their prayers. Their pastor is a dear friend of mine—fellow classmate and former colleague.
  • Current and former students from 25 years of teaching have written in by the bushel basket-full. It is impossible to acknowledge each and every one. Notes come from all over the world, including people from their extended webs of relationships.
  • People I have never met have written to say they are praying—the mother-in-law of one friend; the brother-in-law of another; people in churches that have heard about our situation. I am humbled and beginning to learn that I could do better in communicating with others in similar situtations.
  • Churches, seminary faculties, scholarly friends are praying.
  • Most touching are the family and close friends who have known me well over so many years and who should know enough about me to know better than to be so kind!
  • And there are SO MANY more. This is but a sampling. Thank you one and all.

The bottom-line: I/we are overwhelmed by the outpouring of love we have received from each of you. It teaches us afresh of the love of God, for surely he is showing his grace and love through his people. To him be the glory and honor. May he grant each and every one of you the joy of experiencing his love through his people.


  1. Angelo said,

    March 21, 2006 at 2:59 pm

    Brother Al,Libbie and Family,

    Thank you for opening your hearts and thoughts to us in this time of trial, your words have brought encouragement and inspiration to my heart and a strengthening of my faith.

    I have been praying through the truths of Psalm 84 for all of you. I wanted to share a few of Spurgeons words from Morning and Evening on vs.7; “they go from strength to strength till each appears before God in Zion.”

    “You will never find a bundle of affliction that has not been wrapped in sufficient grace. God will give you the strength of youth with the burden allotted to full grown shoulders.”

    “Even youths shall faint and be weary. And young men shall utterly fall. but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint.” (Isa.40:31-32)

    May the joy of the Lord be your strength, Angelo

  2. judi said,

    March 21, 2006 at 4:33 pm

    al… a line from an old song comes to mind… “And when you stop and think about it, You won’t believe it’s true.That all the love you’ve been giving
    Has all been meant for you.” You and your family have been a beacon of grace and love for the many years that i’ve known you. You have sowed much, and now you are reaping. It seems fitting and right that you benefit from the love that you’ve showed to so many people.

    it is an honor to walk with you and your family during this time. You are truly one of my most favorite people ever.


  3. kae eaton said,

    March 23, 2006 at 1:23 am

    Dearest Al and Libby,
    Your comments about the prayers of people all over the world remind me of a time almost 30 years ago, when I delivered twin girls 3 months prematurely. 1’13oz, and 2’2oz. The tiny one went to Jesus two days later, and the letters came. Also from all over the county, and even in Europe. I am so blessed, again, to hear how God is sustaining you, much same way He did us during that time.

    I’ll never forget coming to the realization, though, one day, as I thought about the tears and the pain others expressed for us during that time. I remember suddenly realizing that God had promised grace, and peace beyond understanding to those whom He takes through such trials. Yet, not really the same grace to those who look on. And yet, the fact that we hurt for you so, somehow, I hope, lets you know how dear you are to us, how important, and what a priviledge it is to help you bear this burden. Al and Libby, and children,… it is a priviledge. I’m sure someone has brought this up, but just in case: II Cor. 1:3 ff “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affiction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too….. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.”

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