Psalm 23 “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
When King David wrote Psalm 23, he wrote about how God was like a shepherd guiding his sheep. He used this analogy because of his experience being a shepherd as a teenager. Since I was a girl who grew up on the Jersey Shore I do not relate as well to the shepherd analogy in the Psalm, even though it is beautifully written. I do, however, have my own analogy from my childhood of what God’s comfort feels like for me when I am needing to experience Him more deeply and to have my soul restored.
The year 2020 was rough for every single one of us. On the day of my brother’s sudden death in December of 2020 I wrote the following journal entry. Since he died at the end of the year, it had already been a long haul of stress and difficulty. For me, I had worked the entire year improvising and adjusting since my job provided essential services. I had also spent two months out-of-state with my daughter who had just had twins 10 weeks early. She needed help with her almost two-year-old while she went back and forth to the hospital to visit her preemie babies every day. Without ever seeing my new grandsons because of Covid restrictions in the hospital, I returned back to Alaska. I had only been home a week or so before receiving the news about my brother’s death. At the time, I thought writing this entry was just for me, but I share it with you now because the effects of 2020 are still tossing us all about in various ways and we are still needing more comfort and guidance and provision from the Lord. Through this more personal analogy, I can see how He provides comfort and rest to me in the midst of shock, sorrow, and exhaustion. Just for the record, I’m still on the “blanket” a lot, but I’m getting ready to run back in. You’ll understand in a few minutes…
---------------- — December 15, 2020
When I was young, I loved to swim out as far into the ocean as I could on the Jersey Shore. The rougher the better. Fighting the water while being knocked around by it was exhilarating...until I realized how powerful and relentless those waves could be and that I wasn’t as tough and strong as I thought I was. Sometimes they would hit again as soon as I was able to feel like I knew which way was up. As I was tossed around so forcefully, I can remember wondering whether or not I would be able to make it back to shore. I called on a stronger strength, conquered the undertow, and worked with the waves to push me back in to shore. Once there I would crash on the beach blanket by my mother and rest for a while. Eventually I’d take off with a friend to go buy french fries and a hot dog at the concession stand to re-fuel for the next bout with the ocean. The wild and dangerous experience I had just gone through had begun to morph into a benign memory of fun. I’d settle back in to that safe and happy inner experience because the danger was over and I was fine. How I long to return to those feelings after being knocked around by the violent waves of this year. It’s been so hard and so strenuous that I don’t know if it’s possible to return to inner well-being.
The ocean is quite stirred up today. How am I supposed to get back out there? I think I’d rather just watch. Is it ok to just lay in the sun, dry off, and head home in the back seat of my mother’s car? Is it wrong to just want to stop get an ice cream cone and finish out the day in the sheer joy of summer? Do we always need to run right back into the struggle?
Often, I feel like I wrestle the waves, crash on the beach for a bit, and before I’m ready, I’m back out there battling the undercurrent of the world that has a strong but unseen undertow. That pull from beneath that swirls around you, underneath you, threatening to hold you under until you drown. I just want air. Sun. Warmth. Safety. For a longer time.
When I do return to the ocean, I want it to be less menacing. Exciting and exhilarating, yes, but not a threat. Not dangerous. Not potentially life-ending. Not able to take away the joy of family, the thrill of fun, the comfort of safety.
The threat and reality of death and separation is so much more palpable these days. Isolation. Fear. Loss. Risk. I just can’t handle the ocean for as long anymore. I need to pull away to my ‘blanket on the shore’. I need to be near the Lord. I’m dripping salt water from my body and unsuccessfully trying to untangle my sandy, salty, long, wet hair that has been whipped around my face. I’m a mess and can barely see, but He’s right where I know He always is. He’s there waiting and ready to receive. He welcomes me with a familiar warm, dry towel and a loving smile. He gently repositions the long, snarly, messy hair. He has remained faithfully available, ready to provide comfort and whatever is needed in this moment.
God now is like my mother in those early years of my life. I am truly grateful for this memory that fuses into an analogy of who God is to me during this wave-tossing experience. I just need to rest, allow the exhaustion and shock to run its course, maybe fall asleep for an hour on a soft and well-worn beach blanket with the hot sand radiating its heat from underneath; Enjoy His welcoming presence and His love that washes over me to remove the salty stings of inner wounds; Experience His patience and gentleness that untangles my confusion and doubt; Receive the goodness of small blessings that nourish me; Rest in the comfort of how well we know each other.
When should I get back into the waves? I’ll know when it’s time to get moving…when it’s time to run back toward the ocean. I’ll be fully comforted and refreshed because I returned to Him as the restorer of my soul. He’ll send me off when I am ready, to experience new adventures, strengthened and equipped for the challenges to come.
Kim Ford is a resident of Wasilla.