BEYOND THE VALLEY
I never planned to have valleys on the topographical map of my life. My map, as I saw it, would always consist of the high road. The smooth road. The pathway lit up by God’s love and decorated with His gift of the abundant life. It was to be the journey of the trying-to-be-godly-but-appreciating-aforgiving-God Christian. The walk of the trusting believer.
Yet here I am, still surprised and shocked to be walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
The way I figured it, my wife and I would raise up our four kids in the way they should go, and when we were old they would all be there to take care of us.
We were thirty years into this marriage-and-family thing, and we were enjoying God’s continued blessing.
We loved the stuffing out of life. Not that every day was always easy and full of smiles and laughing, but for the most part, our direction was still heading securely toward the road to blessedness. Up on the mountain. Far from the valley.
Take Thursday, June 6, 2002, for instance.
It was a typical day in the light of God’s grace. In fact, it was a bright, sunny, warm day that reminded us that the good times of summer were about to shine across our lives. And since it was the last day of school, our kids were enjoying the lightheartedness of impending vacation.
At home on that evening, my fifteen-year-old son Steve and I had settled in to keep an eye on the Detroit Red Wings’ hockey game. We weren’t huge hockey fans, but this was the Stanley Cup playoffs and these were our Red Wings, so we were tuned in.
Julie, our second-oldest daughter, had just come home from her summer job at a grocery store, reminding us again that this job made her extremely thankful that she had just graduated from college and would soon be heading for her first teaching job at a Christian school in Florida.
Indeed, the sisters—Julie, Lisa (our oldest, who lived in Ohio with her husband Todd and was a schoolteacher), and our youngest daughter, Melissa—had already purchased plane tickets for an all-sisters vacation in Orlando, Florida. The sisters (born strategically four years apart, each in July) were to take in the wonderful world of Disney, and then the rest of us would show up at Pompano Beach to move Julie and her stuff into her place near the Christian school where she would be debuting as a teacher.
The summer looked bright enough to call for sunglasses.
But back to our June 6 evening. Sue, my wife, was reading the paper, winding down her day and preparing to go to bed. She had to be on the job early the next day at the nursing home where she was a nurse—and where Melissa worked part-time. Mell, too, would be working on Friday.
Sue didn’t want to go to bed until she knew Melissa was safely home. Mell was at a cottage on Lake Michigan with some school friends where the parents hosted an end-ofschool party of pizza, jet-skiing, and just good times. Melissa had called her mom at eight o’clock to tell us she would be on her way home with her boyfriend Jordan at nine.
The path of our life had been so direct. Four kids. Four kids who had trusted Jesus and made us proud. The pathway of a family with its eye on loving each other and honoring God in life. We could see the valley, but it seemed so far away as to be inaccessible.
Yet at just after nine p.m. on that gorgeous Michigan spring night, our lives veered off the path we thought would be ours for the rest of our time on earth. We careened off that pathway and went straight into the valley—an unfamiliar, dark, and deep ravine of near hopelessness.
While Jordan and Melissa were on their way home that evening, traveling on an unfamiliar road, Jordan pulled his car into an intersection—where it was hit broadside by another teen driver.
Melissa, our seventeen-year-old daughter and sister—a girl who loved to cook odd concoctions in the kitchen, who never liked to be idle for a minute, who played varsity softball and volleyball, who had a solid though not flashy faith in Jesus, who was a bright light of joy and love to her many friends at school
and church, and who had grown from a frightened little preschooler into a self-confident teen—was killed instantly.
Our family was plunged into a new existence. Now the mountaintop was so far away we couldn’t see it.
Suddenly, and without warning, we found ourselves walking numbly through the valley of the shadow of death. We were thrust into the place where we had to test the Psalm 23 promise that God’s presence will make sure we “fear no evil.”
We found ourselves in a far different place than we had ever been in before.
A place where life is not as much fun as it used to be.
A place where harmless words from well-meaning others can turn into unshakeable irritants.
A place where hearing other people harmlessly laughing often seems completely incongruous with how we feel.
A place where the God we knew and loved and served sometimes seems more mysterious than knowable—and we realized this just at the time we needed Him the most, when we first arrived in the valley.
Have you ever been in the valley? The valley that comes with life’s troubles and pain?
If so, or if you have ever walked with those who dwell in its misty atmosphere, I invite you to walk along with me for a while. As I journey, I am continually seeking the help of the One who promised never to leave me. I’m begging the One who said not to fear to give me peace. I’m pleading with the God of all comfort to explain what that word means to the uncomfortable. I’m clinging with all my might to the One who said I could never be plucked from His hand. I’m struggling to trust completely the One I trusted with my daughter—knowing that she now dwells in His presence and not mine.
Walk with me, won’t you? Together, we can find hope, solace, comfort, and sometimes even joy—while seeking to go beyond the valley.
This excerpt was taken from Beyond the Valley: Finding Hope in Life’s Losses
©2010 by Dave Branon
All rights reserved.
Discovery House Publishers
Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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