Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear…Psalm 23:4
Rocking my youngest child to sleep, I sing Psalm 23 over her. I just read “The Gospel Comes with a House key” (highly recommend by the way!) and it stirred in me a longing to sing Psalms over my children, and this is one I know by heart, so I sing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures, he restores my soul… my cup overflows…Psalm 23:2, 3, 5
Each night I sing and she breaths soft baby breathes and gulps at her bottle. Though over a year and half, she still feels so baby, so round and snuggly. I breathe her in and breathe God in and sing.
Just before Thanksgiving I took her in to the ophthalmologist for what I thought would be a simple visit. For months one of her eyes had been dilating differently than the other and we had set this appointment. It all seemed routine to me, so we made it a day out with the family, my husband dropping us off and taking our older girls to play Pokémon and eat ice cream.
The doctor came in after an initial exam and dilation and said frankly and briskly, “She has Horner’s Syndrome.” Horner’s syndrome is a condition caused by damage or disruption to the sympathetic nerve. She explained it was probably due to some sort of birth trauma and that we could come back to check it again in 6 months.
Eisley’s birth had not been traumatic, anything but, really. However, as I walked out of the office something in the back of my mind gnawed at me. Why did I know this diagnosis? We quietly got in the van and I pulled out my phone to look it up. Then it hit me, I knew Horner’s Syndrome because I have written about it on here, on this blog.
Years ago I had the privilege of interviewing and sharing the story of Micah Ahern and specifically his mother, Linda, a powerful woman of faith who walked alongside her son as her superhero battled neuroblastoma. His diagnosis was discovered as an infant because of a diagnosis of Horner’s.
I emailed Eisley’s doctor, who was as concerned as we were, and we began testing my daughter for cancer.
The tests were simple enough for an adult, urine sample, some scans. For a child under 2 however, it was tricky. Just getting a urine sample was a feat. We began testing one week before Thanksgiving.
Now, I am going to stop here and say this: Eisley does not have cancer. Rejoice with me! My daughter does not have cancer! The phone call that told us this came the day before Thanksgiving. The doctor herself was shocked that the tests came back so quickly. I explained that we had many people praying and that God was so good and she said, “Yes, we will be praising Jesus this Thanksgiving!” I called Joe and we both wept over the phone.
I could easily go on and talk about those days between finding out and knowing for sure. About the terrifying thoughts I had to think, about the strange plans that you make when simultaneously clinging to hope and preparing for the worst. I could write pages about the fear of it all, about the intense emotional breakdown I had in the bathroom of Luna Grill- and subsequently a work meeting, or about the mental fall-out even after the relief of clear tests. But that is not Eisley’s story, that is not mine.
No, our story is this: the Valley of the Shadow of Death is where suffering and worship collide and come to coexist. While there, Jesus sets a table before us, our enemies watching, and on our heads he pours abundant peace and joy that makes no sense in context but total sense in light of the bread and wine sacrificially laid before us.
I would never claim to understand the heart of a woman who has walked this road, or others like it, for years. I cannot tell anyone, let alone a parent walking through unimaginable suffering, how to walk that road well. The people I have seen walk this valley, draining it’s pain to the dregs, have taught me many things, some of which I was able to recall when staring down into its darkness.
- Share your story. Not only do we invite the power of prayer and the support of the body into our suffering, but we share with them the glorious things God does. Someday, they may find themselves in a similar place and look back on all that God did today and find faith to trust him tomorrow.
- Do not pretend. The Church does the world a deep disservice by pretending the Christian life is about comfort. That is a lie straight from satan’s mouth, one that will cripple the faith of many when they follow Jesus in His suffering as says will happen.
- Accept help. There is no shame in being unable to carry your burdens alone. Let that sweet lady from Bible study make good on her offer to clean your house. Send your grocery list to the friend who offers. Ask. For. Prayer.
- Dance. Dig into the deep well of the Psalms and practice worship in the way they emulate. Lament as you cry out to God and remember his goodness and mercy. Preach what he has done in the past over yourself and remember that he has not changed. Let your soul sway and lurch with the storm, keeping one eye on the One who can still it with a word, even as you cry out to him to save you. Be real. Be broken. But don’t stop worshipping.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.Psalm 23:6
Featured photo by Matt Hoffman on Unsplash