Psalm 23

My oldest son came home from school a few weeks ago with a typed up version of Psalm 23.  He said his teacher told the class they had several poems and Bible verses to choose from to memorize for the upcoming Speech Meet.  My husband standing next to him set down his backpack and threw the keys on the counter, “Tell mom why you choose Psalm 23”, he asked, already beaming since he knew the answer.  My son replied, “Because it was the hardest.”

“Do you know it mom?” he continued.  I told him I did.  And I proceeded to look him in the eye and say the entire Psalm verbatim while he stared at me aghast.  I didn’t feel the need to assure him that I didn’t have the entirety of the Bible memorized as he most likely assumed. And in fact that was the longest and one of the few actual chunks of scripture I have memorized that I could quote.  I have the rest of his life to fall off the pedestal; I am in no hurry to jump off it now.

I hadn’t recited Psalm 23 in its entirety in years.  The writer of Hebrews was right about the penetrating nature of God’s word.  It is living and active, sharp and divisive.  Its razor-like barbs embedded themselves into the ventricles of my heart.  Thank God- it will not let me go.

I forced myself to memorize Psalm 23 when I was preparing to go into the first of several cancer surgeries.   A friend suggested that I have something to recite to myself to calm anxiety and help take my mind off the pain.

I recited it when I was strapped to a table, freezing and afraid.  They injected hot contrast dye into the lesion on my back that was now a biopsied mole.  They hoped the dye would lead them to the right lymph nodes to remove in surgery.  It felt like an extreme prolonged bee sting during which I could not move.  They did this 4 times into the area around the old mole site.  I gasped in pain and whispered, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

When the results came back positive that the cancer had indeed spread and I felt the floor fall out from beneath me, “He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside still waters.”

When I left that summer to go on a mission trip because I couldn’t stay in my parent’s house for one more second feeling like a patient instead of a college student.  When I felt alone and different; misunderstood amidst a sea of tanned and smiling faces, feeling death breathing down my neck, “He restores my soul.”

When I began to realize after 6 months, 1 year, 2 years that the cancer may stay in remission, I may get to plan for the future, I may outlive this disease and the surprisingly crippling fear that came with that, “He guides me in paths of righteous for His name’s sake.

When they drew my blood every 3 months and the nurses would blink hard when they called my name and I stood up to go in. When I sat next to the same wheelchair bound bald heads in the waiting room next to me. When I was ordered an MRI for a headache, a chest X-ray for a lingering cough. Every visit where I told myself, This is it, This is where the other shoe drops.  “Yea, 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.”

When God’s faithfulness stood the test of time. When my broken body birthed child after child after being told I could be barren. I recited this psalm when the birth pains were strong or the night watch was long. When I served them mac n cheese and kissed their wounds and read them the same story 15 times.  When they spilled milk and made me late and fell asleep clutching one of my fingers.  When they learned a new word or a new concept and my pride swelled until I nearly burst.  When they forgave me quickly for being too harsh and when they help tie their siblings shoe.  As I look at them across the dinner table, a lump in my throat I cannot swallow, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies, you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”

And then this minute right now. Watching my oldest walk up to the front of church, all arms and legs and nervous pride, scanning the crowd, taking two deep breaths.  I hear his high-pitched voice speak into the microphone, I ask myself, Where did that confidence come from?  When did he get so tall? When did he get so sure? And I breathe in this moment of him preaching to me, the mother who whispered these same Truths to him as he nursed at my breast and collected seashells at my feet, who carries the record of his whole life in her heart.  “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”