In the way we count the years of our lives, he was an old man. But age no longer mattered. The fog of death clouded his view of the present. Instead, he was back in the trenches, leading his men. “Come on, boys!” the nursing staff heard him call out from his bed, “We can make it.”
From the social history in his medical record, we knew he had been a young first lieutenant in Europe in the first world war. He had faced Death then, just as surely as Death hovered nearby, now, finally ready to claim him. He had walked through the valley of the shadow of death at least twice in his life.
In the merry month of May we celebrate Mothers’ Day. It is the season for new life: everywhere the green of Spring and fragrant flowers bursting out all over, remind us of God’s new creation. But, May is also the month we observe Memorial Day. In the most lively time of the year, we remember those who have died. What a strange juxtaposition!
Or, perhaps it is not so strange. Growing up in a large extended family, I overheard a lot of woman-talk as a child. What I heard would make a girl-child wonder why she should want to grow up and risk motherhood. “She went through the valley of the shadow of death, bringing that child into the world!” Almost every mother, it seemed, had done that at least once in her childbearing years.
And then there were those stars. Blue and gold ones hung on a red-bordered banner at the front of the church. I saw how the blue ones turned to gold, when my beloved uncle, home from the second world war, did the honors at the memorial service for his friend, a cousin from the other side of our family. Smaller banners hung in the front-room windows of homes along the streets. Riding with my parents in the car, I would hear my mother say, with a soft moan, “Oh, there’s another Gold Star mother!”
In recent weeks, we have wept over the young faces portrayed on the nightly television news. I have wondered, Lord, are these Your new recruits for the hosts of Heaven? These were their parents’ pride and joy, with lives full of promise, sacrificed for the welfare of others. The price paid for freedom, not just for ourselves, but freedom for others whose tongue we don’t even understand, rips out the hearts of those left behind to grieve.
Life can be very painful! Around our house, my husband used to say, “Life is hard, and then you die.” We’ve changed that phrase. Now we say “Life is hard---but God is good!” My secret for keeping things in perspective is this: If the wages of sin is death, and all of us are under the curse of death, which we brought on ourselves through our sin, then the bottom line is we have earned nothing but death. But, thanks be to God! By the blood of the Lamb, Christ Jesus our Lord, He has paid our penalty. When we realize that fact, then we can appreciate every little thing around us as a gift from a loving Father, who gives us mercy when we deserved only the wrath of judgment.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord, for ever. (the 23rd Psalm)
Copyright 2003---Edy T. Johnson
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A really touching tribute to those who have given their lives in the service of their country. Far be it for me, a lowly PFC to tell a Colonel about quotation marks around the 23rd Psalm... (Smile), but I loved the way the Memorials were brought to light and written for us to read.