God’s plans for us are not always apparent. Just as the strange closing of public places seemed to isolate us and interfere with our lives during the Coronavirus pandemic, sometimes there are situations that develop which we could have never seen coming that stun us and begin an overhaul of our emotions. Even in those times, God, through the Holy Spirit, is with us.
Years before the Coronavirus crisis, another moment altered my plans while I was a newlywed over twenty years ago leading to an overhaul of life as I knew it.
On the last Sunday of January in 1999, the phone rang in our home. A male’s voice, barely audible, asked to speak to my husband. At that time, my husband was in Veterinary School and played in a Sunday afternoon Intermural ball league at his university. As a teacher going through National Board Certification, I was working hard at our dining room table with my papers laying everywhere like a patchwork tablecloth.
The male’s voice on the phone spoke words that I never expected to hear: a drunk driver had killed my brother-in-law on the previous night on an interstate in Georgia. The man on the phone could not reach my in-laws by phone so I was the first family member to receive the horrific news. A waterfall of tears poured from my eyes as I stared out of our kitchen window waiting to deliver this news once my husband got back soon. As newlyweds for a year and a half, I knew that life as I knew it was about to forever change. Gripping my Bible and the kitchen counter, my knuckles turned white as he arrived. The car door slammed shut, the front door opened and he saw my red, splotchy face.
“What’s wrong?” he begged. I didn’t want to tell him. It was unthinkable. At last, I revealed the worst news. He collapsed onto my chest and we fell to the ground. In an instant, the unexpected news ripped his brother away and began a journey that we could never have planned or expected through grief.
Family and friends comforted us with cards, food, calls and prayers. I knew their intent was from the heart, but I could barely open a sympathy card for weeks because of how it opened the wound of our loss, not only of my precious brother-in-law but also of the fading of our marital bliss. I felt like my husband was slipping away from me because of the grieving that he experienced.
After the funeral, two court trials determined the fate of the drunk driver. Upon composing and reading my Victim’s Statement to the judge, I remember how hollow I felt. I shared in the courtroom that my husband became mostly silent for months. He continued his schooling but spent his mental energy away from home. Joy leaked from our hearts and marriage leaving me vulnerable because the man I married now lived shattered.
Upon arriving to our house after being at Vet School all day, the love of my life knew he could just be real and safe, even if it meant not having much to say. I knew that I had promised to be with him for better or for worse. This was truly the worst pain that I had ever experienced up until that time. Watching him and seeing his face downtrodden and sad for weeks created a drought in our souls.
In Psalms 84:5 – 7, the writer describes going on a journey through a place known as the Valley of Weeping or Valley of Baca.
Psalms 84:5-7: v5. Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. V6. As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. V. They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.
In my case, I had to go through a similar valley when faced with the unexpected season of grief. In the Valley of Baca, the travelers appear to be on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship but they had arrived in the Valley of Tears. This area was a dry and desolate place where there was no water. They had to get through this hard trip but at some point, there was a need to pause and dig until they discovered water.
There was a way through the valley by the travelers making it a place of springs. They had to dig down into the ground until they hit water to provide for their need of water and to be nourished. Sitting around and hoping for the best did not happen, instead they took action to get through the valley to get to the venue of worship in Jerusalem.
I love that the travelers made that valley a place of springs. They chose to see the land as a possible place for water then they started digging. When they found water, it refreshed them. When they decided to dig, it led to their delight.
The digging for water in the Valley of Weeping in Psalms may have seemed like an inconvenience but it produced water to save them. They had to keep living and keep the hope that one day, they would get back on their journey to Jerusalem to worship. Their detour in the valley determined their destiny.
During my emotional turmoil of the devastating loss of my brother-in-law and blissful newlywed status, I eventually made a decision. I would read God’s Word and it would provide hope, a refreshing, even if for a moment, and new insight into how to process my grief. I would focus on the beauty of the Biblical promises that became a well springing up in my heart. Where there had been parched ground, my heart could feel the peace that passes understanding filling the cracks.
Ps 37:4 would tell me to “Delight myself in the Lord and He would give me the desires of my heart.” At that moment in my late twenties, my desire involved my husband finishing Vet School then having our own children. But, it also involved just getting up each day and showing my husband kindness and compassion. He walked through the dark valley but I wanted to be there, be present and be his safe place. Because I spent time with Jesus, I could offer hope and help.
Taking delight in the Lord can involve making a decision to dig into His Word and find hope. Trusting God in a crisis and in grief requires effort and the right tools. Just as the travelers in Psalms 37 dug down for water in that parched land, I had to use my time during the grief to dig into the Bible. I would spend time reading the Word and worshipping in song to God.
The Holy Spirit would always help. When my husband could not speak much to me during his grief, the Holy Spirit would minister to my heart with Scriptures that undergirded me and held me. I knew that I had to hold on tightly to God who had been my friend since childhood, but now was becoming a friend that would stick closer than a brother.
Not only do we sometimes walk through unexpected stress, whether it be relational, financial or spiritual, but we need to keep in mind that we are on a pilgrimage, a journey. We will get through this. However, we will get through it by recognizing the power of pausing, praying and pondering truth. As we take time to let the healing water flow, His Holy Spirit will be our comfort and strength. Tears will flow but the rains will eventually come and fill the pools that we dug in the dry valley. The God who always makes a way where there seems to be no way, will help us.
The season of grief gave me the opportunity to weep alone and together with my husband and family. We prayed and waited. This pause in our lives caused us to dig deep into our life long faith in Jesus. We had nowhere else to go but to Him in prayer and in reading His Word. The Spirt of God comforted us in our suffering and in that valley of the shadow of death. He never let us go.
My brother-in-law’s death transformed my and my husband’s newlywed status but led to a trusting of God to lead and guide us through a life- changing crisis. The altar of God became my refuge when overwhelming emotions tried to alter me.
We miss my brother-in-law; his laugh, his compassion, his eyes. We will never understand why it had to happen to him or why we had to endure such emotional turmoil, but I know that God in His great mercy helped us all experience His peace. There really are not words that can explain the peace that God provides because it doesn’t make me miss him any less, but it makes me long for God to keep comforting. What looks like an impossible journey can provide a reason to stop, pray, read the Word, be refreshed and recognize that God is in control. He is with us. There is a place of refuge in God alone.
While many lost their lives during the Coronavirus pandemic, others have lost loved ones or watched as the dreams of their loved ones ended unexpectedly. When circumstances lead to a detour, know that we have a decision to make: either dig and go deeper to find springs of living water from the Lord or dread what lies ahead and allow hope to dwindle or be destroyed. Our detours define a path of discovery. Know that you are not alone if you find yourself on the unexpected journey through a valley of tears.
Sometimes out of nowhere, plans change. We do not expect it or wish it, but it happens. In life, we will have laid the best plans, organized and dreamed, then a roadblock seems to position itself and bring our original plans to a halt. Or a phone call reveals the worst. There will be tears. A feeling of missing out. A feeling of “Why Me?” and “Why Now?”. When these times come, it’s important to validate the feelings by sharing them with our trusted confidants and sharing them with God. After a season of the feelings washing over us and the loss acknowledged, there comes a time to shift into a “Why Not?” mode. If we’re going to pass through the difficulty, the path we had planned may have to look different.
Why not choose to dig for springs instead of succumbing to dread and destruction?
Why not decide to discover what the lesson is in the difficulty?
Why not depend on the One who in His great mercy will never fail us?
Why not dwell on the goodness of God even when my circumstances don’t feel good?
As I would dwell on the truth in God’s Word, I’d see Scriptures that came alive in my heart and offered comfort like I had never known such as these verses in Lamentations 3:22-23, 25 (NLT):
The faithful love of the LORD never ends. His mercies never cease. Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning…The LORD is good to those who depend on Him, to those who search for Him.
I had sung the hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” throughout my life in church and loved the version that BeBe and CeCe Winans produced which had gotten me through Graduate School on many long nights. But, when I read those Scriptures in my despair as a newlywed who now experienced grief from the loss of my loved one and the loss of what I had known as the beginning of marriage, I knew I was not alone. Every single day, every morning and night, every moment, the Holy Spirit of God became what Psalms 46:1 (ESV) says that He is: “God is our refuge and strength; a very present help in time of trouble.”
When we experience the unexpected, I want you to know that God is your refuge, your strength and a very present help in your time of trouble. We must remember that when we go through life events that leave us shocked and shackled to pain, God will come to our aid.
I experienced unexpected pain that came from the loss of my brother-in-law and survived other life events that stunned me which required a journey through the Valley of Weeping. This trek through pain and problems is not ever easy. Most recently, the journey through the worldwide pandemic led to me hiding out for months in my home.
I knew the jarring halt that stopped life as we once knew it at the start of the pandemic would one day end, but while at home, I worked, cooked and cleaned. In my trek through my home bound journey, I became keenly aware of my clutter, both physical, mental and spiritual. My choice became either to dwell in despair or dig for water, the kind that would become a well springing up to nourish my soul.
If you find yourself in a place of unplanned heartache due to your unexpected turn of events, just know you’re not alone. The Bible declares these words to which we can cling: Isaiah 43:1 – 3: But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD you God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”