In my childhood, it was reserved for the back of funeral cards. Over the past 26 months, the 23rd psalm has breathed life-giving comfort into me. Especially the part about being in the valley. Since first hearing the words “heart failure,” my husband and I have felt as if we’ve bought a house in the valley. Everyone has taken up residence there from time to time. As much as we plan and worry and try to avoid the valleys, they come, and necessarily so. Life is a mixture of pleasure and pain, of victory and defeat, of joy and grief, of mountaintops and valleys. According to an old Arab parable: “All sunshine and no rain makes a desert.” Likewise, all mountaintop and no valley makes a plain.
I grew up in the flat plains of south central Kansas. No mountains, so no valleys. But we have ditches, which are smaller but similar. And when you run off the road you’re traveling, you find yourself in the ditch. Sometimes that’s your own fault for being a careless teenage driver; sometimes it’s not. It could be a deer, or ice, or a blowout. But in the ditch is where you get rescued. Even if you get stalled on the road itself, you push your car off into the ditch before you fix it. And inevitably, someone comes by to help, even in pre-cell-phone days. Those years growing up on a Kansas farm run deep. So in my family, when we find ourselves in trouble, we usually say we’re in the “ditch,” but “valley” sounds much better.
This notable valley psalm is actually full of hope and understanding. Even the valley metaphor is a rich one for the suffering believer:
- A valley is a depression, longer than it is wide. We tend to travel it lonely and long.
- Fog settles in the valley. Most times it’s difficult to see what’s ahead.
- A valley often has a river running through it. Life’s constant busyness continues through the pain.
- Erosion creates a fertile valley floor. Amazing growth inevitably comes from the challenges.
It also seems significant that the word “shadow” is included in the 23rd psalm. It doesn’t say “valley of death” but “valley of the shadow of death.” A light must be present somewhere in order to cast a shadow. Total darkness cannot produce a shadow. God, the source of all light, has chosen to actually be in this valley with us. Rather than orchestrate from afar, he walks with us through the peril. Light is present in the valley, and help comes in the ditch.
Years ago my husband and I were traveling through some back roads on our way to a cabin we had rented when the kids were small. We passed by a little country church that had this message on the marquee: “Mountaintops are great for views and inspiration, but the fruit is grown in the valley.” We have quoted that to each other many times when we have found ourselves in a valley (ditch). Over the last two years, through hospitalizations, medication side effects, and daily complications of heart failure, we have become seasoned fruit farmers.
Recently, my interest was piqued by an organization called Hungry Harvest. Their mission is to reduce food waste by rescuing imperfect produce to feed the hungry. They take fruit that is fresh and good to eat, but is discarded before it is sold and eaten. Often the fruit is rejected because it is not perfectly shaped or uniformly colored. Since my diagnosis, I have often felt this way about my circumstance. Sometimes I’m not very hopeful. In fact, days come when my attitude and health may not be pretty and may even look quite useless. But God promises He can redeem even the parts of our lives that seem like failures, or misses. So as I continue to grasp His hand in mine, I am confident that God will use my harvest for good. After all, He’s been right there with me in the valley while I was growing it.
Jeannie Luttrell says
Lori, I have loved you and your wonderful family for many years. You have been a wonderful example to many, even before your health issues. I have had such a belief that God would answer our prayers for the return of your health. My heart was lifted with sheer joy with your improvement. May God bless you and your family.
Lori Ann Wood says
Jeannie, thank you for your sweet words, but mostly for your constant support. I remember vividly the times you have personally encouraged me throughout this journey.
Lori, you are a superb writer! But even more important than that I feel your kindness and strength as you show us your valley. You have the ability to educate, lift up and comfort us as you and your family need it just as much. I do feel God’s presence in your writings and hope that your reach grows and grows. Your message, His message, is powerful. ❤️
Lori Ann Wood says
Your kindness is so life-giving, Sally. Thank you!
Beth Pesnell says
Lori, your perspective about the “ditches” or valleys of life is so insightful. I have never thought about the idea that when we are walking in that shadow, that the only reason the shadow is there is due to His light! Scientifically that’s how a shadow is formed, but I don’t think I’d ever processed the true message in that statement until your comments.
You’re talented and blessed with the gift to write and share from your experience! This is your work in HIS kingdom!! While this has been a hard valley, the rescue has been powerful and impactful for many beyond you and your family. I’m so thankful for the words and desire to share through writing that God has placed in your heart! Thank you!!!
Lori Ann Wood says
You are a godly woman of faith that I admire greatly, Beth. Your words are such an encouragement. The realization that there is a light in the valley was a game-changer for me. I pray that it will lift others up as they walk there as well.
Carol willis says
Lori.just catching up I always look forward to reading your blog. Hope this is a good week. Will continue to pray for you. And your family. Love you all
Lori Ann Wood says
The fact that you take time to catch up on my blog is very encouraging to me. Thank you for being a faithful reader!