The shadow of death

psalm 23There’s a saying that claims bad news comes in threes.

It’s baloney. Bad news comes in threes, or nines, or nineteens, or fifty-sixes. It comes whenever and however it wants. It can be unrelenting. It can be overwhelming. It can cover you in a dark shadow surrounded by fear.

This was supposed to be a year of celebration for my family. A wedding in March, a high school graduation in May. Two of my children are writing new chapters, and I know I should focus on these wonderful blessings. But 2016 has decided to sprinkle my ice cream sundae with broken glass. It’s been delicious and painful. One day is soothing and sweet. The next day, I’m bleeding inside.

Life’s toxic temptations have spilled into my inner-circle. It has taken a relative I love dearly to the brink of death. It’s been going on quite a while, and I thought she was getting better. I was fooling myself. Instead, she’s found a new rock bottom. A major downturn happened the night of my daughter’s wedding, right under my nose, with me blissfully unaware. The peaks and valleys were blending together.

So my heart was already heavy when we lost Halle Scott, a member of my church youth group whose parents worship in my Sunday school class. It was jolting and tragic. Her loss had nothing to do with those toxic temptations, but was instead the result of an innocent adventure. It reminded us all that we do not know what will happen tomorrow. Love your children. Hug your wife. Love your neighbors. Put pettiness aside. Don’t put it off.

It would not be 2016’s last jolt to my church, to our youth group, to our Sunday school class. Far from it.

Those toxic temptations I spoke about have buried their teeth in the child of dear friends, also members of our Sunday school class. It has sent them spiraling into heartbreak, and when they hurt, I hurt. These people are like family to me. I consider their children to be my own. Their son is smart, talented, and full of potential. His future is now in serious jeopardy. His parents have raised him much they way I’ve raised my kids. The struggle they face could just as easily take place under my roof.

“Enough,” I told my wife and friends over dinner this past Saturday. “This year has been difficult enough. No more.”

Eight hours later, I would wake to another low blow.

While I slept, a young man I had not seen in two or three years took his last breath. I’d joined him and his sister on youth mission trips, but he’d stopped coming to church. His sister confided that he’d chosen a dangerous path, and I came to understand that those toxic temptations lured him there. On Saturday night, he was on the back of a motorcycle when a car veered in front of him. He was 17-years-old.

I hurt immensely for this family. The departure of this teenager leaves a mom who is legally blind, and a 19-year-old sister who has faced more challenges than some people do in a lifetime. She lost her father just five years ago, and I clearly remember her tearful struggle. It’s encouraging to see how much she’s grown since then. She’s handling the loss of her brother with incredible strength that is emboldened by the friends and church family that has surrounded her. She is not alone, and she knows it.

So much darkness in such a short period of time.

This past Sunday, as we gathered in that Sunday school class that’s been rocked by 2016, we looked to a Bible verse that speaks of darkness:

 

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. — Psalms 23

 

There is light in every situation. Somewhere. I’m trying to find it. I’m working hard not to miss those opportunities to comfort, support, and love. I’m afraid there have been opportunities that I’ve missed in the past. I’m more awake to them now.

I’m committed to taking every opportunity to provide appreciation, acknowledgement, compassion, and care.

Tomorrow, I could wake up to more bad news.

I don’t want it to arrive with regret.

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