(Continued from No Less Glory – Another Letter To Home)
I hope you have read Psalm 23 but not only read it but really looked at it as if you were looking at it for the first time. I think you will need to understand it the way I now understand it – the way I think Mark understood it at the last as he went from pain and anguish to smile.
Follow me carefully here because the good news is I’m coming home but there is some information you need to know that may be harder to grasp that makes the homecoming possible. My perspective on this psalm will need to be your perspective for their may be pain in the receipt of the news.
The psalm starts out of course with “the Lord is my shepherd,” followed by “I shall not want.” In other words, because the Lord is my shepherd, I will lack nothing. That is followed by what appears to be proof of the experience of contentment – plush pastures, gently flowing streams of refreshing water, and finally paths of righteousness, or right paths.
Then, suddenly, the words “even though.” This is the part I always glossed over before. It’s like it was a whole separate concept. I never really saw the connection. That is until I entered a valley, a dark valley of death. But it took me so long to make the connection even after that.
I was upset with God because he allowed my friend to be killed. Mark was also one of the nicest and most Christ-like persons I had ever met. I was blaming God because I know he can control circumstances. God had chosen to answer my prayer for Mark’s safety with his painful death. I didn’t understand. I cannot truly admit that I understand now why Mark needed to die.
My anger resulted in me dismissing any need for God. I stopped praying and I became reckless and I think I wanted to be killed as well as kill. If this was God’s definition of abundant life, I didn’t want anything to do with it or him.
My reckless habit was to aggressively charge and fire upon the enemy at every encounter with German troops. I didn’t care how close it brought me to injury or death. I misspoke when I said I didn’t pray. I prayed every day that we would run into enemy forces. This recklessness lead to me eventually being captured and placed in a Nazi prisoner of war camp. Somehow, it also resulted in saving the rest of my platoon from capture. I cannot explain to you how my private war with the enemy saved the others but I’m told that it did.
I spent many days and weeks in the prisoner of war camp. The German soldiers there made it very difficult for me. I had earned the reputation of being a killer, a Nazi hater. Torture got me injured and the injury lead to illness. I was miserable. Again, where was God?
Every night since Mark’s death, “yeah, tho I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” popped into my head. I would immediately dismiss it but it would haunt me again. In the POW camp, it seemed louder.
It got so loud one night that I couldn’t dismiss it. I think I had a fever. My injury was not healing. It was just a broken arm but where it broke through the skin kept getting infected and was becoming worse and worse. I remember during the most intense pain hearing this verse, or it seemed like I could hear the words being spoken.
“The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want … even though I walk through the valley … goodness and mercy shall follow me.” Just those words and in that order. I’d argue back that I’m not seeing the goodness and I’m not feeling the mercy.
That night I began to dream that terrible incident that took Mark’s life. Our platoon was on maneuvers, that’s what we call what amounts to walking into enemy territory. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, shots rang out and one of the bullets zipped by me and poked a small whole in the ground behind me. Then, another a little closer this time. Mark jumped in front of me and fired in the direction from where the bullets came. I heard an awful sound. A bullet enter something solid but the sound was more muffled than when they hit the earth. Mark fell back against me. His rifle flew from his hand and his helmet tumbled off his head. The weight and momentum of his body caused me to fall to the ground with him.
He screamed, “I’ve been hit” followed by moaning accompanied by the gasping sounds one who is fearful makes. I believe the sounds came from Mark but it could have been me, instead. There in my arms with the noise of battle fading, Mark started quoting Psalm 23, not perfectly, but the important parts.
” ‘ The Lord is my shepherd … he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness… through the valley… of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me… and comfort me… in the presence of my enemies … the Lord…,’ ” Mark’s voice became softer and softer.
I was shouting for the medic and the cracks of rifles firing echoed in all directions, so maybe Mark quoted the psalm perfectly and I heard it imperfectly, I don’t remember. Maybe that’s what I heard this time in my dream. All I know is that I remember as the medic arrives in this dream and in my recollections each time, Mark smiles. He smiles right at me and repeats, “Yea, though I walk through the valley,” then that awful sound of a life leaving the body.
I sat up this time and said out loud, “paths of righteousness through the valley.”
I know I said it out loud because the prisoner beside me told me to shut up and go back to sleep. I did shut up but I didn’t go back to sleep. I kept thinking of those two ideas right paths through the valley.
I had been wrong. I kept thinking the green pastures, the still waters, and even the valley of the shadow of death were the paths where God leads us. So, I couldn’t understand how a good God would lead us into troubles. He doesn’t. Those things represent life experiences.
I suddenly realized everyone whether a child of God or an unbeliever travel life’s journey. Sometimes we do it alone wandering about through life. We might stumble into some green pastures or find ourselves beside still waters. Sometimes we even think we know how we got there but when we try to get there doing what we did before, the waters are a little more dangerous or the pasture is not to be found.
Like me, when some of us stumble into dark valleys, we blame God or Fate or something or someone else and say, “I did everything I was supposed to and this is not supposed to happen this way.”
I think Mark thought that way at first until he recalled the verse. Or maybe he realized I was thinking that and quoted it for me. I’ll have to ask him next time we meet.
I don’t think that way any more, at least not now. I can’t guarantee I won’t make the same mistake confronting the next valley. I hope and pretty sure I will remember Mark facing a dark valley experience. I’m in one now but I know God will show me the right path through it. It starts by trusting that the shepherd will lead me through and I’ll be better for it. I don’t want you blaming God or being fearful for me, either even though I’ve lost my left arm. That’s the other news I’ve taken so long to tell you.
True, there’s a lot of things I won’t be able to do that I might have wanted to do before. I think that will only open up possibilities that I would never have considered before. One of the possibilities it does open up that I’ve been thinking about shortly after I got here is being able to come home.
I’ll be home soon.
I write about what I'm thinking or what I've imagined in an effort to regain that childhood imagination and marry with my many years of real experiences. I'm getting better at it the more I write.I am a published author of two romantic intrigue novels.My books can be found at Amazon.com or if you want a personalized copy, by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.