The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,
He makes me to lie down in green pastures,
He leads me by the still waters, he restores my soul….
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. From Psalm 23
In the world of foster parenting and adoption, there are some valleys that are so dark and deep that the very act of passing through them leads an indelible mark upon even the most trusting and devout of souls. The pain of the journey is all-consuming, each day white-knuckling it from one moment to the next.
When at last the darkness passes and you begin to see the light again, you take a deep and thankful breath, grateful just to have survived. And in the next breath, you fervently pray that you will never have to walk that way again.
Last night, just one day after returning with the family from Costa Rica, I was horrified to discover we were heading for the valley of the shadow again. As the details emerged, I burst out sobbing so hard I could not catch my breath. “No, dear God. Please. I can’t bear it.” It wasn’t the same valley, not exactly. But another dark and frightening.
My friend Colleen and I were scheduled to go see Audrey Assad in concert that evening. I had heard Audrey’s testimony about her struggle with pornography two years ago at the Edel Gathering in Charlotte. I prayed that God would speak to me that night.
Inside the church, I took a moment to light a candle … and remembered the time, as we were crossing the first valley of shadow, when I sent my Baptist parents on an impossible quest: I asked them to go to a nearby Catholic church and light a candle for their grandson. Nervously they ventured inside, and the kindly priest explained they had recently renovated the church and taken out the bank of candles. Then he gave them a leftover candle and told them to take it home, put it near a picture of our family, and light it each time they prayed for us.
They did. Then they went back three times, each time the candle burned to a nub. They weren’t exactly sure how lighting a candle would make a difference — it wasn’t part of their tradition. But for me, they found the courage to follow through. And now, as I thought about all that had happened from the lighting of that candle to this one, I took a deep breath and thanked God that he would give us courage to face this, too.
We had arrived early enough to get a good seat, second row center. Sarah was over-the-moon excited, seated between Colleen and “Miss Kelly,” who runs our church youth group. I half-heartedly joined in the rosary that preceded the concert. My mind was numb, my eyes bright with unshed tears. Audrey came out and played a few songs, told a few stories, and suddenly … she began to play a gentle ballad by an unlikely prophet that had gotten me through many a dark night when our son was in his program.
When you’re weary, feeling small.
When tears are in your eyes, I’ll dry them all.
I’m on your side when times get rough and friends just can’t be found.
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down…
Suddenly it was as if all the air had been sucked out of the room, and I realized that I was holding my breath to keep from sobbing. Fortunately I had an escape valve in my eyes, a tiny trickle that coursed down both cheeks as I sat there in the semi-darkness, listening as God whispered consolation to my heart. He had not forgotten me or my family.
Audrey started talking about the origins of the song, how songs mean different things to different people — even the songwriter, whose inspiration may have come from a very different source. “But that is the power of music, that it speaks to people where they are, that they can find a home in a song.”
I experienced the truth of that in special way that night. As parents, we work hard to make a home for our children — but we cannot give what we do not have. When we are weary, we have a home in the Sacred Heart, which beats when our own hearts are broken … and was broken that our hearts might beat anew.
Photo credit: Picture of Audrey Assad from her website.