Songs. Valleys. And Promises.

What I really wanted to say was, “Are you kidding me?” But I didn’t. At least not out loud.
Andy had spent the better part of the previous eight months getting thorough exams by multiple doctors in pursuit of being a kidney donor for a good friend. He was checking out perfect! (Well, let’s not give him too much reason to gloat.) Throughout the process, we laughed because if one little comment was made, the staff would say, “Well, we need to send you to this doctor just to make sure there’s nothing wrong.” Like the time I mentioned that he occasionally wheezed after mowing in the springtime when the pollen count was high. The next words out of their mouths were, time to see the pulmonologist.
We went, got his lungs checked, and everything was fine. Just like it was with the heart doctor, the urologist, and all of the others. We were set! This was really going to happen. Plans were made to have the surgery sometime in December when his classes at the college would break for the holidays.
Then, literally out of nowhere, the headaches came. It was mid-August. By the end of the month, he was walking around with a crooked neck and when the intense pain came, he’d find himself lying down unable to get up.
A couple of MRIs later and we’re sitting in his primary care’s doctor’s office only to find out he has a 3.5 inch cyst on his spine due to a malformation at the base of his brain. What?
I wanted to immediately freak out because it sounded so bad. Although his doctor had yet to see a cyst of this nature in all his 30 years of practice, we found out later that –yes his cyst is quite large—but it’s all fixable. The malformation is called an Arnold-Chiari Type 1. It is something that some people are born with and is oftentimes only noticed when it begins to cause symptoms.
His syringomyelia , as it is officially termed, is limiting the spinal fluid flow, giving him the headaches. They put him on medicine to reduce the pain and referred him to a neurosurgeon. I can spell that word with ease now because I’ve used it so many times in the past six weeks.
He goes into surgery at St. Luke’s this Friday, October 20th. The surgeon we chose studied at the Mayo Clinic where he was taught to approach this condition less-invasively. Sounded good to us. Instead of pushing the brain up, because the malformation causes it to seep down into the spinal cord which creates pressure that has formed the cyst, he will create a small ledge at the top of his vertebrate, put on some patch that I don’t quite understand the purpose of, and all of this will restore the flow of the fluid. The syringomyelia will go away on its own.
I do apologize if the details made you sick to your stomach. The first couple of times that I sat there with my husband and heard the process, I, too, felt a bit woozy.
Just like most of us do in life, we came across this bump in the road, adjusted to it and after some surfaced fears and a few tears, have settled into the next step. Now even talking about it sounds normal. We told the kids, of course, told family. We made the difficult phone call to our friends who have faith that God will bring another donor along in His timing. We have been in prayer, are resting in the Lord’s plan, and we know that there will be good that comes out of this. And because we love God and are called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28), He will be the One to get all of the glory. We will do our humanly best to make sure that is, in fact, the case.
That is why I write today.
There is a song that says, “I never promised you a rose garden.” The song is not about God or about the things of God, but the words do ring true to what we know about Him. He, indeed, did not promise us a rose garden. By the way, if you’re like me, you don’t even like dirt and gardening involves dirt so who wants a rose garden, anyways?
I’d rather be in a green pasture. Not because I’m particularly fond of cows or itchy weeds or those darned stick-tights. ( I actually grew up on a farm, however, those of you who know me well know that I’m not a true farm girl. Corn-fed, maybe, but not farm girl.) I want to be in the pasture, with my Good Shepherd. The promises He makes to me in the 23rd Psalm trump any red or yellow rose that I’d ever grow or get in a bouquet.
In the pasture with my Shepherd, I am led beside still waters, those times when all is calm and the world –and things at this household– seem right. He leads me to lie down in that pasture, because it is easy to go, go, go and try to do this thing called life and handle all of the circumstances we face on my own. Why the lying down? So that I may fully experience resting in His care.
And here’s where the rubber meets the road, or the foot meets the dirt if we’re talking pasture terms. Lynn Anderson said it this way as she sang about the rose garden, “Along with the sunshine, there’s got to be a little rain sometime.” Psalm 23 puts it like this: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.”
The rain comes. The valleys are inevitable. Walking with my Shepherd doesn’t mean we will be able to avoid these things. I’ve heard many a pastor say of those valleys, of those trials, that you are either in the middle of one, just coming out of one, or getting ready to enter one. That is so true. As I sit here thinking about my family and friends, near and far and in-between, I am reminded that valleys are experienced by everyone. Without the Shepherd with us, however, I have to tell you, these trials will overwhelm us and seemingly, be without a purpose.
It’s in the valley where we learn to trust—I will fear no evil. It’s where we truly begin to say with all of our hearts, souls, minds and strength that, “You ARE with me, God!” And the comfort? There’s no comparison. His rod and staff gently prod us in the direction to which He is leading. Sometimes the prodding comes in the form of discipline that is meant to strengthen our faith. Ouch. It doesn’t always feel good, but the end result is the greater good.
One of my friends recently recorded a beautiful song that reflects how we can walk through the trials of this life. It’s not about a rose garden; it’s based on some great promises from Isaiah Chapter 43. I’m going to post a link to it at the bottom of this blog entry. If you are walking through a valley, I pray that you will keep your eyes on the Shepherd. Go where He is leading because He truly, truly is deserving of the description good.
One last thing about a valley! It is always in between two higher parts—either hills or mountains. Both represent the victories, the times of relief after the storm. So, keep on walking. We’re planning to press forward, too, knowing that whatever the future holds for our family, we can believe in the promises our faithful God has given.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” Psalm 23:6
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