“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of the death I will fear no evil, for the Lord is with me; your rod and staff comfort me.” Psalm 23
One of the first verses or chapters from the bible that people tend to know first and memorize is Psalm 23. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. It sounds so familiar, doesn’t it? Psalm 23 is used for most funerals, and truly, I am not sure why, but it is. Growing up, Psalm 23, has always been synonymous with funerals. Ironically, Psalm 23 became the scripture from the Bible, that in 2018, gave me so much hope and comfort. But there is one verse that resounds in my heart and spirit like no other in that chapter. To me, the valley of the shadow of death, for the first 35 years of my life, was a very, very foreign place.
Today, the valley of the shadow of death is a familiar path that I have had to walk. I thought I had been through the worst this life had to offer, but I was so wrong. I’ve been dealt my cards of hardships since the day I can remember. There comes a point, when you are like, “OK, now I’ve really reached the bottom of the pit. Surely, it can’t get much worse than this.” If there is one thing I know, it’s that you can never underestimate what could possibly be around the next corner. It could be rainbows and butterflies, or it can be pure hell. Regardless of what is on the other side of the curtain, you have got to be prepared. My mind, my heart, and my spirit have to be aligned with my purpose on this planet. We can’t just sit around and wait for life to happen to us because, the fact of the matter is, that it is going to happen, and we have to be prepared.
Do I have the answers as to why some seem to suffer more than others? I do not, but I do know that there is not one soul on this Earth that goes unscathed. Everyone has their own battles. Battles that we have no idea that they are fighting, which is why we must be kind and love our neighbor. We can either tear each other down, or we can remind ourselves that every individual that we encounter is someone’s son, daughter, father, mother, and friend. They are loved by others, and they too, love. Each person on this planet was created in God’s image, beautiful, important, and loved by the creator of the universe. Reminding ourselves of that fact every day, helps us to be kind to others even in moments when it is unconventional to.
I wasn’t ready. I wish I was. I wish I had been. There was nothing that could have prepared me for that day and the weeks that would follow. August 16, 2020: It was my oldest son’s 12th birthday, and I had the day planned out. I woke up, like every other morning, still feeling the aches and twists in my stomach, due to anxiety, but it wasn’t enough to stop me from having a great day with my boys. A week prior, I had been to UM for my routine tests and exams.
Every 3 months, I have to go through the process. The anticipation of my 3 month checkup coming up, then the process of actually going to the hospital for my exams, and of course the final step is “the wait.” Thanks to technology, all of my tests and exams are at my fingertips. I can review my medical records, email my doctors (which I’ve lost count of how many I’ve had), and have my tests results as soon as they are posted. It doesn’t matter the time or the hour, whether I am ready or not, my test results arrive at my phone with a friendly notification that says, “You have new test results.” That morning, that friendly notification came in around 7 o’clock in the morning.
This has been my normal for almost two years. Every 3 months: the tests, the wait, the results. It never fails that every time that notification hits my phone, my heart sinks a little. Mostly, because I have no idea what waits for me on the other side of this message. For over a year, I have been blessed with a report that reads, “No evidence of recurring disease.” Oh, how I wait, and look forward to seeing those words. My hands and fingers always shake as they maneuver quickly through my phone to find the MyChart app. It is this sudden release of adrenaline that immediately makes my heart pound in my chest like it wants to come out. These words mean everything to me. It means that, for three months, I can breathe. I can live my life. I can be free of worry, and most of all, it means that I don’t have to enter that dreaded valley with so many shadows.
I read in a post my cousin wrote recently. It said, “It’s okay, not to be okay.” We all have our own life experiences, and as much as we try to be strong, there are things that will trigger us. Those triggers can hit right where it hurts; right there, smack in the middle of our deepest fears.
I opened up the notification right away. I scrolled all the way down to the bottom of the report known as the impression. It read, “New 1.1-1.2cm focus enhancement.” I continued to read, just praying and panicking, looking for the words, “No evidence of recurring disease.” It wasn’t there, it wasn’t anywhere on that report. What was on the report was the finding of a small new mass that had not been there 3 months ago.
If I could describe to you the sound of what happened to my mental health in that instant, it would be the sound of 1000 mirrors shattering completely to the ground. I felt my heart sink to the ground. I’ve been disappointed by people, I’ve been disappointed when things don’t work out as planned, but in that moment, I felt so disappointed and completely betrayed by life. All I wanted and all I needed were the sweet words that reassured me that all would be well, instead I was given the bitter taste of disappointment that brought along panic and fear. It was as if a rolodex of memories began to consume my thoughts and mind. My heart was racing, my whole body began to sweat, and I started to feel so dizzy. I had memories of the Red Devil (doxorubicin) , visions of sickness, images of my face without eyebrows or lashes, and the thought that after this entire year, there could be a possibility that I would end up back at square one and in the OR for surgery. The tears just came pouring out, and I had to put my hand over my mouth to muffle the sobs that tried to escape. My little boy was just nearby sleeping in my bed (some days, he just wants to sleep with his mama). My oldest was in his room sleeping and surely when he would wake, the excitement of his birthday presents would be the only thing on his mind. I quietly went to the dining room and just wept. I didn’t realize the trauma that I had experienced over the past two years until I was forced back into that valley in that one moment. I was flooded with thoughts of sickness and death. It wanted to swallow me whole, and all I could do was pray to God to help me.
The valley of the shadow of death is a place that I wouldn’t even want my worst enemy to walk through. There are so many people walking on this Earth that have never experienced, nor will ever have to walk through this valley that I have. For some people, when their time comes it may be quick or unexpected, in the flash of an eye. Like the Bible says, our life is like a vapor, here one second and gone the next. But Lord, bless the minds and hearts of my brothers and sisters that have been touched by illness and disease, whether it be physical or mental. Imagine waking up every morning and looking into the eyes of your babies with so much love, yet at the same time, having thoughts crawl in that tell you that you probably won’t get to see them grow up.
That is the internal struggle that we face. Not just I, but so many millions of people. It hangs and looms over us just like a shadow that we can’t shake off. You can pray, you can cry, and you can hope, but those thoughts will always come with a vengeance to steer us away from our Anchor. The Bible says, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.” Every problem, difficulty, heartbreak, illness and disease are nothing compared to the greatness of God’s love and His protection over our lives. This world became a world determined to break our human spirit by any means necessary. It is in these moments and seasons of hardship that we either sink or use everything inside of us to swim against those currents trying to pull us under. Our only saving grace is His Word. When all else fails, when death comes knocking, and the spirits try to get a hold of your heart, it is God’s Word hidden in our heart that will always come to the rescue. Always.
But in that moment, in my moment, that morning, I was falling from the top of that mountain, and falling so fast. There wasn’t anything that any person could have said or done to save me from myself and my own demons.
It was between Me and God.