A New Post from Back of the Choir:

Meditation through the Devotional Method of Scripture Reading

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Crucified with Christ

A new post from Back of the Choir

The Devotional Method of studying the Bible

Valley of the Shadow of Death Part Two

My story ended with an admission that I was still suicidal, but that I desperately wanted help and was dedicated to getting better no matter what the cost. I knew the first thing I had to do was to become completely honest about every aspect of my past and my life if I were to ever have a shot at pulling out of this death spiral. At the time of my telling I was an inpatient at the VA hospital psyche ward in Iowa City, Iowa.

But let me step back for just a moment to bring some perspective to what not only happened then, but before that and even now. The post titles are from the 4th verse of the 23rd Psalm, which says “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”. Note that it says I walk THROUGH the valley of the shadow of death. I don’t stop there and pitch a tent. And I’m not and wasn’t at the time alone, for the verse goes on to say “for Thou art with me…”. I may have felt alone, and may have felt I was going to end up in the valley of death forever, but I wasn’t. God had my back. He’s had my back since I gave my life to Christ on August 28, 2005. To be honest, (irony intended) when I gave the Sinner’s Prayer at the altar that sweltery Sunday morning, I had no idea what kind of effect it would have on my life, and that change wasn’t made manifest fully until I went from the milk of the Word to the meat of the Word. You see, shortly after becoming a Christian I got a job that required me to work on Sundays. I had absolutely no chance of being properly discipled. Oh, I read the Bible on occasion, and offered up a perfunctory short and elementary prayer when I thought of it – which was rarely – but I never grew. I never learned that even though I was ‘saved’, I still carried around a bus-full of false beliefs and profane thinking, believing I had that “Golden Ticket to Heaven” and that was all that mattered. The Holy Spirit was virtually ignored because I didn’t attune my spiritual ears to Him. Jesus promised in John 16:13 that the Holy Spirit would come to “guide you into all truth, for He will not speak on His own, but He will speak whatever He hears (from God the Father).” I still smoked weed and cigarettes. I still swore like a sailor. I still did whatever I wanted. I was one whom the apostle Paul talked about in Romans 10:3 when he said “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.”

I want to stop short of saying that I was a Christian by name only, because He was doing a great work in me, despite my being a mess. Did you know it took Moses 40 years before God told him he was ready to go free the children of Israel? God works on His time, not ours, and works at His pace in our lives, often letting us trip and stumble and fall and bruise ourselves before we finally turn to Him for help. He let me have a massive heart attack in 2010 as a warning, but other than giving up cigarettes I didn’t choose to lean into Him. Since I couldn’t work anymore I did start going to church on a fairly regular basis, but didn’t do anything more than sit in the pew and try to absorb what the pastor preached on Sunday morning. Oh, to be fair, I did join the church choir, I took over making the weekly bulletins, I rang the church bell after service and even tried my hand at being a Sunday School teacher. But I was in essence trying to establish my righteousness through works instead of surrendering myself absolutely to the Lord. Works without faith is futile. The best fifteen minutes of my life doesn’t compare in the least to the slightest amount of God’s splendid grace. For the sake of time, I believe this subject will be best expounded upon at a letter date. The bottom line is that I may have been moving, but I wasn’t getting anywhere, just like a hamster on a wheel.

Then in 2016 my sweet granddaughter Lulu came down with neuroblastoma cancer, and it rocked my world. I prayed more in those first six months than I had my entire life. Hundreds of churches around the world prayed for Lulu. Thousands lifted their voices to God, begging for my little 3-year-old grand baby to be healed. Now, two years later, with the help of those thousands as well as God guiding the minds and hands of her many doctors, Lulu is finally cancer free, although it and her treatments ravished her little body. I lost my way when Lulu became ill, a crisis of faith that would cause me to impulsively fly to the west coast and then to Iowa, plunging me into a deep depression that almost cost me my life. Yet unbeknownst to me, He was with me all the while, and he wasn’t done with me yet. There on the 8th floor of the Iowa City VA hospital the Holy Spirit was finally able to break through to my active consciousness, and lead me to the truth that I not only had to take on the mantle of honesty, but that the next phase of my life was to take place back in Alabama where I began my journey. I really didn’t know why, but I knew I had to go back. Knowing what I know now, I’m so glad I did.

 

When I was finally discharged from the hospital, I spent some time in the Quad Cities saying my goodbyes to my dear Aunt June and my cousins Monte and Dana. The most difficult parting was with Dana, because he is so dear to my heart. I’ve got tears in my eyes now from missing his precious presence. A part of me was ripped apart when I left him that late June day in 2017, and it won’t heal until I see him again, hopefully this August when I return for a visit. I went on to Kalamazoo to see my daughter Sandy (nee son Andy) and grandkids Chance and Skylar, then back to Alabama and found a one-bedroom apartment in Sheffield. I adopted my incredible companion Hacksaw

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and began counseling and group sessions through the VA.

Now here is where the trajectory of my life changed forever. I met an incredible African-American woman Margaret Green who invited me to her church group called the Fellowship of Christ, part of the Stephen Gray Ministries. I started going and haven’t looked back. The first thing I learned was that in order to be a functioning and growing Christian, I had to be properly discipled, which first and foremost involved being able to have an active and vibrant relationship with God, able to hear from Him and follow his loving direction for my life. Key Term: Agape Love. With the help of a more mature Christian (Jay Eastland, may God bless and keep him in His grace!) I started identifying and removing the multitude of false beliefs and misconceptions that had been clouding my spiritual growth, and in doing so began to grow closer to the Lord – I wish I could say by leaps and bounds, but more like baby step by baby step. The fellowship of saints that we have are without exception the most loving, Christ-minded and God-centered people I’ve ever known.

For now I’m going to turn my website into a journal, an open meditation, an active prayer, and devotion to Jesus Christ, my Lord. I’d like to end this post with my favorite Bible verse, which through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I’ll be expounding on. It is Galatians 2:20, which reads:

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.