On a cold January morning, the day after a new year had begun, I sat beside my Dad’s bed. Mom’s nearly constant presence was missing in these quiet moments. Without speaking the words, she had decided to give me a few hours with this precious man whose birthday I shared, “the June 30ths” we called ourselves. She instinctively knew I needed time for my own private “goodbye” to this humorous, loving man who’d been brought down by a slow, debilitating neurological disease, an illness that through the years had stolen his ability to walk, swallow, speak and laugh.
I held his hand and gently told him we’d take care of Mom. He was free to go. I didn’t know if my words had power over life and death, but I was willing to tearfully speak them just in case his hearing would grant freedom from his suffering. Then I picked up my Bible and read Psalm 23 to him. What had seemed trite to me previously – reading these Holy Words to a dying person – became life-giving. Perhaps not to Dad who lay expressionless, but to me, the one who would soon face the rest of my earth days without his presence.
Dad died that January 2 day, now twenty years ago, and I had my first experience with a death so close – an experience that leaves its fingerprints on a soul.
A couple years later I received a call while at work from a woman at a local church. It was April and she asked if I’d be the weekend retreat speaker for her women’s group in May. Honored by her request, but surprised by the lack of preparation time, I doubted I’d have adequate preparation time with my work, family and church commitments. Then she clarified, “No, it’s for next May – a year from now.” She said the retreat would be centered on any topic of my choosing. I thanked her, and said I’d pray.
I hung up the phone and said a quick prayer as I refocused on my work. “Psalm 23.” That’s the strong nudge I felt in my spirit. I smiled, and whispered, “Remember, God, I don’t read that Psalm anymore. But You have 149 others You could choose!” Then I waited, boldly thinking I was giving the Lord time to consider another option. There was no option – the message was clear. I called the retreat organizer and shared the idea. Her creative juices kicked in as she began imagining a garden set-up in the lovely retreat environment.
So I began to set up my own corner for a year’s study of six verses, the most familiar passage in all of Scripture. What could I possibly say to a group of church ladies they didn’t already know about this well-known passage? A few weeks into my reading about sheep and shepherds, I read a translation that demanded a pause:
“Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need.”
The new wording of the once familiar first verse suddenly opened my eyes to a truth that changed my life.
I sensed God’s whisper to write it down and talk to Him about it, my first experience in having a written dialogue with the Lord. Yes, this was a conversation that HE began, and He asked me to stay on topic until the power of these few words began to transform me.
I wrote the words at the top of my blank paper, and quietly heard His question in my spirit: “I am Your Shepherd. What do you need?”
Every day for the next month, the Lord asked the same question. And I wrote His words, then my own…as I engaged in this two-way conversation with my Savior. One day I asked, “Really, do I need to journal the same verse today?” He answered my question with one of His own: “Do you need a Shepherd today?” Two more months of daily writing those Words, then mine, became my practice.
But that wasn’t enough. He knew I still had corners of doubt in my life – challenges, people, fears… and more, that required my admission that I had both a need and a Shepherd. Twice during the year, I led small groups of women in a study of Phillip Keller’s book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. I challenged each lady to dialogue once a week, beginning with “Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need.” And in both studies, the Lord’s whisper was clear to me: “You journal daily.”
In a year’s time I had spent nine months daily with this truth God first used as a “goodbye” to my Dad. Now these many years later, two truths remain: 1) I have many needs and a Shepherd who can meet each one, and 2) God’s Word changes me if I am willing to linger long enough with it.
TO CONSIDER: What is your need today? What do you know (or need to learn) about your Shepherd who can meet that need?