The Shepherd of My Life

Last week, my Bible reading plan took me through the final chapters of Genesis. I was listening to these chapters on CD as I attempted to drive to school Tuesday night. Going 25mph on a snow and ice-covered interstate, the words of Genesis 48:15 filled the tight space in the car:

“The God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day…”

As I heard Jacob’s tender reference to God as his shepherd in his words of blessing over Joseph’s sons, I simply cried. But I also couldn’t shake the echo of Genesis 47:9 (“Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life”) and wondered at how Jacob could tell the great Egyptian ruler that the days of his life had been few and evil…and then these words about God as his shepherd?

In pondering these two things for a week now, I am wondering if it is not at all the juxtaposition that it, at first, seems to be. What if Jacob is just plainly stating how hard and sorrow-filled his life has been? Truth. And, yet, in the midst of the days and years of suffering and pain he experienced, he is also honestly saying that he has known nothing but the gentle, guiding hand of the Shepherd? Also truth.

In the many years that Jacob lived, he had more than his share of family struggles and grief. His parents each had a favorite son (Gen. 25:28), the animosity between the brothers was deep and great (Gen. 27:41), Jacob had to leave his family for fear of being killed by Esau (Gen. 27:42-45), he was deceived and treated poorly by his father-in-law (Gen. 29-31), family strife between his wives and sons continued throughout his entire life, Rachel died in childbirth, his favorite son was all but dead to him for at least twenty years, famine struck their land, and he finally came to a land of foreigners to die.

It seemed like a bitter life, riddled with loss, conflict, and deep sorrow. Where was God? God had promised to lead him his entire life (Gen. 28:15), but this was a life that hardly seemed blessed.

And yet…

Throughout Jacob’s story a ribbon of grace runs deep. Stitched through family grief, personal failings and sin, and sorrows too deep for words are threads of blessing and kindness held by the gracious hand of Jacob’s Shepherd.

Lying on his death bed, he was able to honestly say that God had never failed him all his life long. As was often the case with many of the characters in the Bible, they felt the darkness and spoke from the despondency of their souls. That may have been true of Jacob at the time he spoke to Pharaoh, but even if he were speaking from a place of melancholy, his words were entirely true.

And even if in the very next chapter, he was feeling the smile of God upon him as he prepared to die, those beautiful words about God as his shepherd were also completely true.

Friends, this is the Christian life.

Sorrowful yet always rejoicing. Crying and celebrating. Dying and living. Breaking and being healed. Mourning and dancing.

It is not an all of one or the other. It is both.

We may have been told that followers of Jesus always smile and praise God in the hardest times (even if it is fake). We may have also had our ears filled with the damaging words of “if you are going through suffering, you must be experiencing the judgment of God for some sin.” Or the words of the prosperity “gospel” have seeped into our souls like a damp basement and all we smell is condemnation because our lives are not crowned with the favor of men and showers of golden coins.

This was not Jacob’s life. Nor was it Joseph’s, Paul’s, Peter’s, John’s, or David’s. These men, among many others, lived lives that were deeply painful and yet deeply trusting in God.

Our own lives are often colored in violent shades of family conflict, broken relationships, false accusations, deaths of our dearest friends and family, sin and regret, shame, and grief. We feel burdened beyond our years with the heavy sorrows we carry.

We are dying every day.

As we look back on the sorrows that roll over our years like the waves of the sea, we may be tempted to think that God has left us. When all we feel is pain and all we see is darkness, we may want to doubt the goodness of God in our lives.

But these sorrows we face will not even be worth remembering or mentioning in light of the glory that is coming (2 Cor. 4:17, Rom. 8:18).

Because, if we were to look back, we would likely see that our very days have been held in the hands of our Shepherd. We have not lacked because Jesus is fullness itself. We have been led by refreshing streams. He has restored our souls. Even when he has led us through death’s valleys, we have not feared because he has never left us. His staff has protected and comforted us. He has prepared a feast for us in the midst of our hardest days, before the toughest people. His fullness continues to fill up our emptiness, and grace flows over. Truly, his goodness and his mercy have continually pursued us all our lives, and we know that one day, we will spend all of forever in his beautiful presence.

The days of our years may have been heavy and hard, but the joy of being forever with Jesus will make this earthy life seem inconsequential. When we see the face of Jesus, we will fully know that the Shepherd of our souls has led us all this way.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Grandpa

Grandpa
Grandpa and I

 

Jesus, You restore my soul. It is well with my soul, only because of You.

This past Wednesday, my grandpa went home to be with Jesus. It is surreal to think that never again will we see his twinkly eyes and ever-present smile. Never again will he give those hard, tight hugs that squeezed the last particles of air from our lungs. I hear his voice in my memories of him, but I’ll never hear him speak again this side of eternity.

He was the only grandfather my siblings and I had, and all our growing up years, he was our second favorite man in the entire world. He delighted in his grandchildren and positively beamed with pride over our dad—his son.

Grandpa passed down his love of dogs to me. If he knew I was going to be coming over, he would save the table scraps for me, so I could feed his dog, Rusty, and in later years, the neighbor’s dog, Sheba (who always came to visit their farm). All our years in Iowa, he was the one who took care of my dogs and cat when we took our annual trip to Tennessee. When Dad would call home, I would always ask him to ask Grandpa how Pal or Harvard was doing.

When my six-month-old puppy, Pal, was put down, Dad took me to my grandparents for a bit. As a seven-year-old, I didn’t even know how to grieve a loss that gigantic. This was the puppy I’d been praying for since I was about four, and suddenly, he was just gone. All I knew was that I ached. But the pain was soothed a bit by just being held.

At the height of my dog show craze, Grandpa would record the AKC/Eukanuba dog shows for me. I learned more about the breeds of dogs from those videos than I did from college. Grandpa would also send up newspaper clippings about animals for me, which I always loved.

Grandpa loved my sister, Keren’s, and my cats and would pet them when he and Grandma would come to the family home on Thanksgiving. Perhaps, pet is too gentle of a word—it was always more like a rub-down that you’d give a horse or a large dog. We gave him updates on their latest “accomplishments”, and whether he enjoyed hearing the stories about them or simply listened in amusement, we’ll never know.

Sometimes, Grandpa would join Grandma and my sisters and I when we’d have hot chocolate with marshmallows. He and I loved the same mug, so when Grandma gave us the mugs we’d used growing up, she couldn’t give me the one I usually drank from at her house, as Grandpa was still using it.

As an adult, it was always to Grandpa and Grandma that I’d write from the depths of my heart. The pain of loss was lessoned by pouring it out on paper to my grandparents. And the ecstasies of joy were heightened by having them share in my happiness.

One of my favorite memories of Grandpa is from just a few months ago. He nearly died in the hospital, and my siblings and I piled into cars and went down to Fort Dodge to see him that cold, windy evening. We thought we were seeing him for the last time, and hugged him tighter and held his hands longer.

Grandpa’s faith was always a very private thing, but that evening in the hospital, he spoke more about Jesus than he ever had before. Heaven was a very near thing that night and the presence of God was equally close. Tears flowed freely down faces reluctant to cry.

God pulled him from the brink of death, and allowed Keren and I another precious afternoon with Grandpa. We bought him the softest blanket we could find and he seemed to love it. Only later did Dad tell us that Grandpa said it was too nice to use, so he just kept it folded up on the arm of his chair. Every so often, he would reach over and pet it like our cats from years ago.

Then came last Wednesday. No one saw it coming, but it was Grandpa’s last. I read a text early that morning telling my siblings and me that Grandpa was dying. We scrambled to rearrange our schedules to allow us to drive down to Iowa to be at his bedside, one final time. As details were falling into place to allow me to leave early, the first song I began to sing was Bethel’s “Our Father”. It was as much a prayer as it was a song. Jesus’ famous prayer poured forth from my heart, with the depths of my soul crying out for His kingdom to come here—on earth, in our lives, in us.

We made it down just in time to be with the family as Grandpa breathed his last. I rubbed Grandpa’s shoulder as Dad held his hand. So much rest, silence, and peace as Grandpa’s soul went back to the very hands who had created him 93 years ago.

And so much love filled that space in his room. Once again, tears flowed like good wine. Hugs were freely given and received. We gathered around his bed, held hands, and prayed the Lord’s Prayer. Oh the angst of the here but the not yet in those beautiful words of Jesus.

Jesus, may Your name be lifted higher, may Your kingdom come, may Your sovereign will be done—here on earth as it is in heaven. King Jesus, the kingdom is Yours, the power is Yours, and the glory is Yours. Forever.

Yesterday, we formally gathered to remember and honor Grandpa. Psalm 23 was read, my brothers played hymns on their harmonicas, we recited the Lord’s Prayer one more time, and sang “It is Well with my Soul”.

Yes, Grandpa will be deeply missed. But because of Jesus, we do not grieve without hope. Because of Jesus, we will walk through the valley of death and not be consumed by it. Because of Jesus, our hearts will be restored. And it is truly well with our souls because of Jesus.