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.
Psalm 23: 4
But now, this is what the LORD says –
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
And when you pass through the rivers,
They will not sweep over you.
When you walk though the fire, you will not be burned;
The flames will not set you ablaze.
Isaiah 43: 1 – 2
For years, I wore a small charm on a chain around my neck. On one side it said, “I have called you by name, you are mine”, words taken from Isaiah 43:1-2. On the other side were two tiny, silver baby feet. A friend who understood gave the charm to me after our son, William, was stillborn four days past his due date on January 11, 2007.
I had read Psalm 23 countless times. It spoke to me of God’s kind provision as my Lord and Shepherd. After that Thursday in January, I gained a terribly clear understanding of verse four of that psalm, of the valley covered in shadow and how long and dark and rocky a road grief can really be.
I heard this morning that bells would be tolling in Newtown today, one week after the terrible tragedy that put each of those parents and family members and townspeople on the path through the valley. 26 times the bells would toll, in remembrance and grief, longing and sadness. Countless times in the past seven days I have thought of the parents of the children who died last Saturday, of the slamming reality they have faced this week, waking each day to the separation of death that now exists between them and their children.
Last Saturday, I heard Scott Simon on NPR’s Weekend Edition interviewing a rabbi in Newtown the day after the shootings, and he asked the rabbi, “What do you tell the parents when they ask why? Where was God?” I waited with bated breath to hear what he would say to this most important of questions: what do you as a person who has faith in God and in his Goodness, what do you tell a parent whose child has just been gunned down? Tears flowed down my cheeks as I heard him answer, “I don’t talk about theology at a time like this. I comfort them by standing with them, being with them and weeping with them. That is what I can offer, to be right with them during this time.”
I was reminded of the verses Isaiah wrote telling us exactly where God is during those horrific times in our lives…he is with us.
God came to us. He came into the deep waters and burning fires of this world and we celebrate Emmanuel at Christmas. God with us. God comes to us as the waters of grief close over our heads. He is with us and He never leaves us. He is with us in the valley, as we walk in shadowed grief. He is with us as we burn and rage at the Whys? Why? Why? Why? We burn and rage and the fires don’t burn us up because He. Is. With. Us. He is our Emmanuel, even in the most terrible reality that can be in life, the death of our child.
I have prayed all week for those dear people in Connecticut that the presence of God would give them the ability to wake each day and take one step, and then another. That they would know somehow that He is there with them, in the times of wailing grief and in the mundane realities of life that uncomprehendingly still go on even when your own life has completely shattered to pieces.
I knew before my labor was complete that our son had already been born, not here into this place where children can be shot in their elementary school, but into heaven, into the arms of Jesus. I sat in the hospital bed holding my son’s body, longing to hear the lusty wails of a newborn infant and hearing only silence. “No, no, no,” I whispered, I wailed, I shouted, “Not my baby!”
Five years have passed since that day, and it is in the looking back that I can see the truth in those words penned by Isaiah so long ago, and I pray for the families in New Town now,
O Lord, may they find as they look back on these horrendous days,
that You were there, in the valley, in the cold, deep water, in the fire.