How we are doing and Psalm 23

Posted in From Al & Libbie, Reflections, Updates at 1:46 pm by Libbie

Many people have asked, “How are you doing?” and I have been wanting for some time now to write an answer to that question.

Throughout this experience since January there have been times when the grief has been intense and other times when things have seemed relatively peaceful. An example of the former is the weekend that Al was in the hospital with a blood clot (which was very painful), then learned he could be released in time for a very special wedding (which was wonderful!) only because they had discovered a mass in his brain (which signified the spread of the cancer and possible awful results) and therefore couldn’t treat him with blood thinners (which meant enduring the pain for longer), at the same time that other members of the family were going through various sorts of crises (which were emotionally draining for everybody). Another happened the day of Al’s Gamma Knife procedure. We learned that same day that a friend of ours had had a serious heart attack and that his (the friend’s) long-term survival looked unlikely, and that Becky’s summer job had fallen through. Also, one of our kids was weighed down by the knowledge that the leukemia of one of their teenage friends was not responding to treatment. At such times we just had to hold on to God and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

I began to feel as if I were on a big rock in the middle of a stream. For most of my life the stream had been flowing peacefully by looking serene and lovely. But suddenly a flash flood had hit and made the stream deadly. Water was up to my neck, rushing past, occasionally whacking me with debris. But my back was pinned against the rock, and that made all the difference. While the blows from the debris might hurt, as long as my back was against the rock, I was not in danger of being swept away. I couldn’t move out of the raging current; sometimes (like the times I mentioned above) I couldn’t so much as lift a limb to try, only face forward and take whatever came next, yet I was secure, because the rock wasn’t going anywhere, and therefore neither was I. I began to appreciate in a new way the many times that the Bible describes God as our Rock! The weight of events, while heavy, was not crushing. Paul talked about being “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor 4:8-9). Of course he was talking about being persecuted for the gospel, not just about dealing with sickness, but the experience of finding inner strength that comes from God in the midst of challenging times is something we resonate with.

Other times life can seem almost normal, other than Al being so weak and tired (and even his being tired has been normal for years; it’s just worse now). The stream is relatively quiet, although we know it will surge again. In those times, too, God is with us; it’s just easier to forget him and trundle along on our own, which I have to admit is too often my default mode as I “do life.”

So the answer to “How are we doing?” is: “By the grace and presence of God, we’re doing well.”

Some thoughts on Psalm 23, which I happened to read last week, that are related to the above:

1. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

In the past when I’ve read this sentence I have pictured a bare survival scenario: “The shepherd will not let me altogether starve; he will see to it that I have enough to stay alive” sort of thing. But all through the psalm are pictures of lavish abundance: green pastures, still waters, restored soul, righteous paths, a banquet table, anointing oil, a cup overflowing, goodness and mercy pursuing… There is no bare-bones-survival about it. This is about an incredible shepherd who provides richly, abundantly.

We have enjoyed such abundance in these past months. The Lord has sent people to love us in so many ways—bringing us meals, praying for us, encouraging us. We have felt thoroughly surrounded by his love at all times. This past week is an example. Becky arrived home last Monday (6/26) and was going to move into an unfurnished apartment on Saturday. We were looking forward to the adventure of slowly furnishing it, knowing that that would require time, and patience, and for Becky and her roommate a certain amount of stress while they had only mattresses on the floor to live with. Well, on Tuesday we got an email about a student dorm that had been sold and had tons of furniture that needed to be removed immediately and was available for anyone interested in hauling it away before the end of the week! So within the hour Becky had all the furniture she needed for her apartment—beds, desks, dressers, tables, chairs, a couch, etc. Amazing! (Of course moving it all was another adventure, but friends came by to help, which was another blessing.) What an abundant provision.

Alasdair and Lauren moved down from New Hampshire on Friday so now all the family is nearby. We never pictured that happening, but we are so glad. Plus, it means we’ll get to see Becky’s and Alasdair’s and Lauren’s friends too, whom we haven’t seen as much of while they have lived far away. Alasdair’s college roommate Andy and one of Alasdair’s high school friends, Will, both of whom we consider part of our family, have now moved here too, and Becky’s roommate is coming soon. So Sunday we had 12 for dinner, and it was so nice to see all those dear people around the table again. Monday, Will and his wife hosted 10 of us for a Dutch dinner. Last night Becky hosted 9 of us for dinner in her newly set-up apartment. It’s been terrific.

And there have been other blessings of smaller kinds. The hydrangea we planted a number of years ago is not only blooming, but in 3 or 4 different colors. It’s absolutely beautiful! We have all been enjoying it, even a baby bunny that lives in our yard and was sleeping under it one day last week. And here’s another: when Alden tried to mow the lawn the other day and the mower would start but wouldn’t keep running, I actually figured out what was wrong with it and fixed it! Of course it wasn’t anything too complicated, but still, in a situation where I would ordinarily depend on Al it was encouraging to step up to the plate and find that the Lord helped me solve the problem.

So we have been enjoying the Shepherd’s overflowing, intimate provision.

2. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”

Can you picture a group of people within sight of—who knows, maybe even surrounded by—enemies, sitting down and eating a meal at a table? That’s bold. It’s gutsy. It says to the enemies, “You are so little to be feared that we can sit down and have a nice meal in your presence and not be afraid.” If you will allow the analogy, it’s almost like trash-talking on the basketball court. In our modern culture that may almost seem a little show-offish, but in an honor/shame culture like those of the ancient near east, it was perfectly appropriate. Life was all about exalting your god above others. The Lord was so mighty, so far above all other gods, that he could set a table for his people right in front of their enemies and protect them in safety and peace while they feasted, The enemies couldn’t do a thing about it but look on in frustration and shame. It flaunted the enemies’ impotence. If Veggie Tales were doing an animation of this scene, the growling, boasting enemies would shrink down to miniature size and suddenly feel unsure of themselves.

Again, it’s all about the Lord providing lavishly. The whole psalm is about not being needy or afraid, because the Shepherd is with you. Even in the Valley of the Shadow of Death there is no need to fear, because of the Shepherd’s presence. In this psalm’s original setting, I don’t know precisely what the connection was between verse 4 about the Valley of the Shadow and verse 5 about the table in the presence of the enemies, but certainly now, in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection, it’s easy to see a connection between the two. The Bible describes Death as our ultimate enemy (Genesis 3:3; Isaiah 25:7-8; 1 Corinthians 15:55; Revelation 6:8; 20:13-14), and Jesus has defeated Death. He broke its power over himself, and as he unites us to himself its power over us is broken as well. We simply don’t need to be afraid of death, because for those in Christ death is only the transition to an indescribably fantastic life with the Lord himself. It will be a life beyond the wildest kind of wonderful that our imaginations can dream up. Death, rather than being terrifying, has been robbed of its power, just like the impotent enemies of Psalm 23. It really has lost its sting and been swallowed up in Jesus’ victory (1 Cor 15:55).

So we live these days in the presence of Death. We are very aware that Al’s days are numbered. (Of course all of our days are numbered, but we happen to know that, barring a miracle, the number of his days is short.) We do not deny or ignore that truth. But as we live in the face of imminent death, it doesn’t scare or intimidate us. It is always there, a constant wanna-be menace, but it has no power over us. Its teeth and claws have been removed. This is not to say that there is no grief as we contemplate life without Al—the grief is keen—but we grieve with an absolutely real and concrete hope that he will be with Jesus in heaven, and that eventually we will join them there. And that takes all the fear out of Death. Like the author or Psalm 23, we feast on the abundance our Shepherd provides—from the joy of family and the love and support of friends to the beauty of hydrangeas and baby bunnies—and enjoy that abundance in peace and security even as our enemy Death looks on impotently, unable to frighten us or make us despair. Our amazing, omnipotent Shepherd is with us, looks out for us, provides for us, guides us in his paths, and anoints our heads with the oil of his Spirit. We are confident that his goodness and mercy will be with us all the days or our lives, and we look forward—Al sooner and the rest of us whenever—to dwelling with him in his House forever.

Hoping you are finding the Shepherd good too—



  1. Abby said,

    July 9, 2006 at 4:01 pm

    Thank you, Lib, for taking a few minutes to sit by the well and share such GREAT wisdom and insight with us!!
    Love you!! — Abby

  2. Fred said,

    July 17, 2006 at 8:50 am

    Thanks, Libbie.

    I needed that.

    And (another abundance) goodness and mercy don’t just “follow”, they “pursue” or “chase” me (v. 6), much like Thompson’s “Hound of Heaven”, who never gives up, until, naked, we can only await Love’s uplifted stroke.


  3. judi said,

    July 18, 2006 at 12:41 pm

    hi libby! just got back from south africa last night and am catching up with the groves’ family. i’m delighted to hear that becky has her new apartment so furnished so quickly and that alasdair and lauren are moved down as well. it will be a delight to be seeing them in church!

    thank you for your insights into this psalm, i’m not sure i’ll see it the same way again. for some of us to take things for granted, it’s a lesson to learn that it truly is God that takes such good care of us.

    hope we are able to see you all soon

  4. donna b said,

    July 21, 2006 at 6:48 am

    wow–thank you for the encouragement. Keep pointing us all to the Truth. Continuing to pray. much love to you all. db

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