My dog is sick. He caught a tic-related illness called la piroplasmose in French, and it attacks the red and white blood cells, the liver, and the kidneys. It’s pretty serious, but we brought him in as soon as he started showing symptoms. He had been vaccinated against it, and I put the tic repellant faithfully every month. And yet he caught it from the one tic that managed to latch on. Fortunately, the fact that he had been vaccinated slowed down the symptoms so it didn’t reach his kidneys before we were able to get him some help.
He’s too tired to even chew on the shoes in the open cupboard behind him.
My husband is away. He left for Minnesota on Wednesday, came back Saturday morning for the weekend, and he left again this morning for another week in Hollywood. I always feel frightened when he’s away. I always wonder what it would be like to lose him in a fiery plane crash. Or I imagine that the plane lands safely, but the crazy taxi ride from the airport will do him in – although this fear is less than the plane ride. Losing my husband is a real fear of mine, and every time he goes away, it is a reminder of how fragile life is.
And then I’ll get the text, “Just landed” and I know that all is well in the world again. I know that – if he’s away – I have a few more days before he has to take the plane again. Or if he has just landed in Paris, I know he will be home within the hour. The person who is my rock will be here to hold the fort, to share the burden, to conquer life together in love and friendship.
Friday was crazy. I spent the whole day in La Defense, barely had enough time to eat and put away the perishables before picking my kids up at school. We then spent an hour waiting at the orthodontist because they forgot about us (and apologised profusely, to their credit). We barely had enough time to get home and ready the house before the people came for the weekly Bible discussion.
I didn’t have to host it, of course. Matthieu wasn’t here and it was a hectic day. But I thought it would do me some good to have the company, and the kids would do better to play with other kids than to sit in front of their Nintendo all evening. So I agreed to host.
But as we were madly getting ready, I did think to myself – what have I gotten into? I should have canceled! I don’t have time for this.
And then the friends arrived, we sat, and Rado opened the Bible to John 10.
The Good Shepherd and His Sheep
“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
As we read this, I was reminded of a message I once heard where the minister explained that shepherds would lead their flock into an alcove for the night. The natural surroundings would provide a sort of fence on all sides, except for the opening. And that’s where the shepherd would lie down for the night. He was the gate and the attackers would have to get past him if they wanted to access the sheep.
Shepherds were (are?) fearless. King David attacked lions and bears if any of them carried off one of his sheep, which is why he was not afraid to go up against Goliath. (1 Samuel 17) I’m sure it was also why he was chosen to be king, and why he was a man after God’s own heart.
As we read about Jesus being our shepherd, Francine (Rado’s wife) remembered Psalm 23 – the first Scripture I ever learned as a child.
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
I usually think of the valley of the shadow of death (as it’s worded in a different translation) as grief. I know that valley well. And with the benefit of years of healing and retrospect, I can attest that Jesus has been there guiding me through it. I may not see the green pastures ahead. He does. I may be thirsty, stumbling on dry sand, unable to find the cool spring ahead. He can.
But what struck me this time around is the fact that I am walking through a different valley right now. And it’s not due to grief – it’s due to feeling inadequate.
I had tension with a very good friend and it’s not resolved yet. I’ve tried to make a budget and there are already unexpected expenses to derail it. We have trouble breaking even each month and it doesn’t make me feel better that all of the other French people are in the same boat. I made some headway in health and weight-loss during our 40-day fast (although that was not the goal), but the holidays did me in, and all of the sugar I ate went right to my waist. I can’t fathom finding any eating plan that I can do long-term because I’ve tried everything already.
Our house . . . oh, our house – the blessing and the curse that is our house. There are always things going wrong and I have trouble remembering this house was an answered prayer when I see the sockets coming out, the hedges that need trimming, the many projects that we will never have time for. This is my valley right now.
But Jesus is walking with me and he can see where we’re heading. He can see the frailties in my character that seem so monumental to me and he knows how to carry me through. He can see the sorrow, the guilt, the feelings of overwhelm, but he’s not worried or in despair. He knows right where he’s leading me.
By Saturday morning, Hunter’s symptoms had become pronounced. I had to wake him up to go outside and do his business and he refused food. I wasn’t sure how we were going to manage this because I had to start my English classes within the hour. But then I got the text earlier than expected: “Just landed!” and I was able to call and get a vet appointment last minute that Matthieu was able to take Hunter to as soon as he got home.
And I later had my chance to express a lot of how I was feeling regarding the projects in the house. I made the connection that – in addition to the overwhelming fear I have of losing my best friend in the world to a fiery plane crash (still talking about Matthieu here, not my other friend) – I have no idea how I would carry on without him in this money pit of a house that has more projects than I know how to handle.
But on Sunday, we were able to tackle one of the projects that contributed to the valley – our bedroom. It’s always had too much junk and too much furniture. Far from being a haven of peace, it’s a dumping ground. So we removed one item of furniture and arranged the rest so it looks more like a green meadow than a junkyard.
And then the one thing I had been fearing – Juliet getting locked in her room because her door handle had fallen off months ago – finally happened when Matthieu was right there to get her out and fix the door. Sure, Matthieu spent much of Saturday and Sunday afternoon creating the perfect neurolizer for his Men in Black costume for his upcoming company trip (where costumes are mandatory for one of the parties)
oh honey, this is exactly how I hoped we’d be spending the weekend
– but I could still see the springs of water in the midst of the frustration, and we had a great weekend despite everything. I feel recharged and ready for Matthieu’s absence again this week. We even managed to have our Sunday night family devotional in our new attempt at being better shepherds to our own kids. It was all just what I needed.
Jesus is leading me towards the meadow. It may not always be at the pace I’d like. Sometimes the visions of barren wasteland fill my sight for far longer than I would like. But he’s protecting me, and leading me to where it’s green and fresh, even when I can’t see how to get there.
And he’s leading you too, if you’ll let him.