Post by Jason Kastner
This week has been a week of reflection for me.
Ellie, our oldest daughter turned 17 on Wednesday! Josie, our youngest will be 15 at the end of the month. How is it that the weeks turn into months and the months into years? Marti and I were remembering the night we heard for the first of just two times in our lives: “it’s a….GIRL!” Life changed forever in a moment.
Marti and I are coming up on our 23rd Anniversary in just a little over a month. June 17th, 1995 was unforgettable! I still remember seeing those doors open at the back of the church and her father walking her down the aisle. I remember fumbling through the vows as the minister’s words were muffled out by the beauty of the bride before me. I even remember the song the band played as we left the reception (you can ask Marti about that one). We all know that those mountaintop moments aren’t forever but it certainly helps leave the valley—if only for a short time.
Valleys can still be pretty low and hard to forget though, can’t they? The 23rd Psalm makes reference to the “valley of the shadow of death” and you can even visit a place called “Death Valley”. I’m specifically referencing the one in California although football fans might be thinking of the home stadiums for Clemson or LSU. Not all valleys are bad when you think about it for a moment. If you’ve ever seen it first hand, the Shenandoah Valley is breathtaking and there are even poems and songs that put a positive spin on the imagery of a valley. But next to the mountains they can still seem pretty low.
I guess it’s a matter of perspective. Which is why we like to preserve and reflect on all those precious memories like weddings, birthdays, baptisms, victories, awards and the like. It’s nourishment for the heart when we thumb through those old photos like a favorite story we get to relive over and over.
I don’t have very many picture albums that display my failures, my heartaches, my losses. That’s not being sarcastic or cavalier, it’s just stating the obvious. I don’t like pain. But like it or not, pain comes like that unwanted guest at the party. You try to ignore it at first but you just can’t undo the reality that it hurts. And sometimes it really hurts.
This week I saw pain firsthand in someone else that was a wakeup call to MY soul. As I watched it unfold, I had that gut-wrenching feeling like a college student who’s been hitting the snooze button over and over and then suddenly realizes it’s the morning of their final exam. Anyone else ever have that kind of experience? As I processed what was going on before my eyes, I swallowed the lump in my throat like a dry piece of meat without any water to chase it down. Gulp.
Earlier this week, I was on lunch break and went outside to catch a few rays of sunshine (and build back the vitamin D the winter had depleted). I rarely take time to go out at lunch. Between finishing charts, returning phone calls and trying to scarf down a few bites, I just don’t take the time. But it was a beautiful day. “Mountaintop” weather you might say.
As I walked across the front of the parking lot outside the medical complex where my clinic is, I saw an elderly couple sitting in their car. They were parked in the stalls where the cancer patients typically park and there was a handicap permit hanging from the rearview mirror. What immediately caught my attention was the older gentleman hunched over the steering wheel. My first instinct was: “He needs help!!! He’s having a heart attack…911…CPR!” Then I saw on the dashboard what looked like a lab report. I recognized the printout from similar lab reports we get in our office. His shoulders were bobbing up and down and then it hit me. He was crying. No, scratch that. He was sobbing. And then I made eye contact with who I assume was his wife sitting in the passenger seat. Tears streaming down her cheeks, she was rubbing his shoulder in a clear act of empathy for her beloved. Ugh. Gulp. Without knowing the specifics, I knew they had just been given information that wasn’t good. It was fresh. It was raw. It was obviously painful. Heartbroken, this was no doubt a dark valley for this couple.
A few weeks ago, Pastor Robby referenced C.S. Lewis’ book The Problem of Pain. It’s a tough read but a good one if you get the chance. In it, Lewis writes this:
“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Realizing there wasn’t a medical emergency, I kept walking. To be quite honest, the whole thing has wrecked me all week. I’ve been thinking about them often and it prompted me to pen a few thoughts.
“Broken-hearted” was the word that wouldn’t let go of me. So I started reading. The Hebrew language has a word for the “heartbroken” or “broken-hearted”:
It’s a word picture of something special being shattered, something precious dashed to pieces. Imagine your late grandmother’s porcelain vase, a family heirloom that’s been in the family for generations. When it’s accidentally knocked off the mantle and shatters, the pieces are unrecognizable and in total disarray.
Psalm 34:18 reads: “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
After my encounter with this elderly couple, this was the verse that came to mind (of course I had to look it up). But wait a minute. Isn’t God close to ALL his children? Clearly God is with us always. He’s God. He’s Omnipresent and all those other “Omnis”. He’s just a prayer or moment of surrender away. The better question that hit me square between the eyes is: “am I close with HIM?” I saw the darkness of the valley before me Tuesday afternoon and from the outside looking in I wondered if I would believe the Psalmist’s words if I was in their place. Would I reach out in the darkness and take the hand of the One who the Word says is CLOSE to those with a heart in pieces? Oh how I have hoped that this couple knows this God. I hope they trust Him as the Master Repairman. I hope they can feel how close He is—especially in their pain.
Because He IS close. Even closer than I realized.