Updated: Mar 18
A week ago, the morning after our youngest child, Luke—our only son, my baby boy—graduated from high school, I hurriedly got into my van to head off to work. In my typical wiring, I was running "a few minutes behind," yet, I had to pause. Had to consider and reflect, if but for a moment. Even had to snap a quick picture of an image that said so much, that communicated volumes, that spoke so profoundly to my mother's heart in those few brief seconds.
In the seat next to me was our son’s high school mortarboard, which he had worn during graduation the night before. Also left in the van was the content of a large envelope that my husband had grabbed out of the mailbox before he and I headed to the ceremony. The envelope contained an 8 x 11 brochure that was issued by a company that makes the heart medication our son was recently prescribed by his cardiologist, a heart failure specialist at a UAB medical facility not too far from where we live just outside Birmingham, Alabama.
A little over a couple months ago, it was discovered that the percentage of blood that our son’s heart pumps out is significantly lower than what is deemed normal; actually, at present, it's right about 50% less than a healthy heart ejects. What began as significant, unexplained weight loss and elevated bilirubin in the early months of his senior year has now been diagnosed as cardiomyopathy, a condition that falls under the scary category of “heart failure.”
How long Luke has had this condition is still undetermined; but regardless of the cause and the span of time (which we may never fully know), our family is so grateful that God brought us to this point of discovery so that Luke can receive the best care and treatment, via a skilled doctor and modern medicine. That he can live his best, purposed life, already predetermined by his loving, oh-so-good Heavenly Father.
So when I paused to reflect that hurried Wednesday morning, my mind immediately filled with thoughts of how faithful God has been in my son’s life. . .
How enduring and loyal He has been in seeing him through so many significant life-changing experiences, primarily due to major moves—including an international one—that have encompassed many changes of homes, schools, churches, and friends.
How gracious He has been in seeing him through some extremely hard times (educationally, socially, and emotionally) that have left him and me very discouraged and extremely weary.
How kind and so very wise He has been in bringing just the right people, resources, and experiences into his life throughout the various changing seasons, in order to keep his path straight and his footing firm.
How good He has been in bringing him to the proud milestone of high school graduation when so many of the greatest hurdles in his life, to this present point, have been school- related.
In that seemingly mundane, yet profoundly holy, moment, the bright red mortarboard and the large medical brochure, juxtaposed in my minivan, represented the completion of one long, challenging journey and the beginning of what could prove to be another—one clearly reminding me of the sure, steady faithfulness of God through the hard, uncertain trials of life, as if to communicate that in this new unexpected chapter, I can and should continue to trust my faithful Father as He oversees every detail of my child’s life.
In a conversation I had with my mother about Luke, upon returning home the night of his graduation, she pronounced a Biblical statement that has since stuck in my thoughts—Jesus' final words as He breathed His last breath on the cross: "IT IS FINISHED." With bright eyes and convinced enthusiasm, she conveyed that because of Christ's finished work on Calvary, I can wholly trust God with my son's future, come what may. Because of His finished work on Calvary, I can know that the good purposes God has declared over Luke's life—the Truth from the Word proclaimed over his earthly existence—are as good as done. Not only can I trust "It is finished" over my Luke, but over my two beloved daughters as well.
And. . .over my husband, over myself.
"It is finished"—just three seemingly ordinary words—are the weightiest words with the greatest implications ever spoken by One who walked this earth.
"It is finished," the suffering Savior, the surrendered Son, declared.
Sin's debt fully paid. Death's sting fully assuaged.
An intimate relationship with the Father, Son, and Spirit made attainable.
And because of this abiding, intimate connection with my all-knowing, all-powerful, all-wise God—my good and loving and ever-faithful Lord—I have learned (and am still learning) to trust His ways, trust His heart, as He works and weaves within the fabric of my three grown children's lives. Even in the face of adversities, set-backs, and sufferings that I naturally wish to spare them from, I've come to understand that my God—their God—is right beside them, walking it through, walking it out, to bring each into His good purposes. Into His good will.
I'm thinking right now of a period of time in 2016 when our family had just moved to Greenville, North Carolina, after living and serving in Ecuador for six years. When we arrived at the little rented house on Nichols Drive, we were weary and full of uncertainties and, quite truthfully, in need of some hope and healing, following an emotionally taxing 18-month season of life and ministry.
During our two years in that quaint, serene bungalow, I would often take long morning walks through the beautiful tree-lined neighborhood, thinking, praying, and often quoting scripture in my head and, sometimes, even under my breath. One of the passages I found myself repeatedly reciting was Psalm 23. Word after word, line upon line, I would remind myself of its life-giving truths.
And so often, with the opening line in particular, I would rehearse it again and again, each time giving emphasis to a single word:
THE Lord is my Shepherd.
The LORD is my Shepherd.
The Lord IS my Shepherd.
The Lord is MY Shepherd.
The Lord is my SHEPHERD.
With each word, I would focus my thoughts on the significance of just that one particular word. For example, beginning with THE, with this 3-letter, ordinary word—nothing more than a mere article in the parts of speech—I would remind myself that THE ONE AND ONLY GOD, THE CREATOR, THE SUSTAINER, AND THE RULER OF THE UNIVERSE is my Shepherd. Not a man-made, wood carved idol, but THE LIVING GOD is the overseer, protector and guide of my life and of each family member's life. And after I would mull over that specific word, allowing the Spirit to maneuver my mind's points of concentration, I would then continue to the next, reflecting on its importance and implications, doing this until the power of all five words were stamped into my mind and heart, as my feet simultaneously stamped the pavement.
During so many mornings that I would walk, this would be my routine; and I cannot emphasize enough how this audience-of-one recitation would buoy my spirits and settle down my clamorous fears. How it would quiet my anxious mind, which was frequently battling so many uncertainties about our family's future. How it reminded me that even if life and circumstances did not go the way I had thought they should and had fervently prayed they would, that I, as well as my husband and each of our three children, would always and forever remain a much-loved sheep under a Great Shepherd's care.
This is what it means to be a child of God.
This is what it means to live so well-loved and so well-cared for.
And when we know this, when we continually choose to remind ourselves of this, it brings a tremendous sense of safety and peace, even in the midst of the very hard realities that so often make up our lives, this side of Heaven.
King David ended Psalm 23 with this declaration: "Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
I love the thought of God's goodness and mercy following me, following my husband, following each of my children. And not just on our good days, our best days, or on the days when circumstances are bright and happily blessed. No, the psalmist, inspired by the Spirit of God, wrote ALL the days. With every day of my life and every day of theirs, God's goodness and God's mercy is right there, in consuming, close pursuit.
In the original Hebrew, this word follows conveys to closely chase and follow; to pursue. Just like two sheepdogs (as I read one Christian writer descriptively pen), God's goodness and God's mercy are closely following, closely chasing, constantly pursuing each of His sheep. Right there on the heels of His beloved child.
And then, after this brief life—with its share of twists and turns, heartbreaks and heartaches—is over, the psalmist's words assure me that a glorious eternal destiny is waiting: the dwelling in the house of the Lord in the presence of the Great Shepherd. Forever.
One final thought:
It's no mere coincidence that my son's graduation mortarboard is bright red. Yes, of course it signifies his school's color, but to me, his mother (and fellow child of God), it represents the finished work of the Cross encompassing his life—that because Christ suffered, bled, and died and then rose to life, my heart and mind can continually rest in the knowledge that my Father's goodness and mercy are in close pursuit all the days of his life.
Fellow sojourner, deeply loved child of God, what a good, good Shepherd is ours.