The Valley of the Shadow of Death

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Yesterday, I attended 2 memorial services. One for 2 elderlies, nonagenarians; another of someone in mid-life. These services are held in memory of the saints who died in the Lord. They are means of comfort to the bereaved families as friends and family come together to remember and celebrate the lives of their loved ones who passed away.

Their grief journeys reminded me of my own when my parents died within months of each other. 2016 was the year when I went through the dark valley of the shadow of death. Here’s an excerpt from my book: Standing Stones of Grace published in 2017, in memory of my mom and dad.

The last chapter of the book is my Grief journey. Here’s how it started…

God’s Presence through Darkness

So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.” – John 21:15–17

The last standing stone that I want to share is my journey into the pit of deep, dark depression. I felt like my life lacked meaning and purpose, and I did not have zest for anything. I felt unbearably guilty about these feelings. I asked myself: Why are you sad, Marlene? What is there to be depressed about? There are millions of people in the world who are suffering and in much worse condition than you are.

I found myself journeying further into a tunnel of darkness when my mom started getting weaker and sickly. After my mother died, I cared for my ailing father until his death four months later. For many weeks after my mom passed away, I could not sleep and felt like I was on the verge of a breakdown. I went to see a psychiatrist, and she gave me medications to help me sleep better. Then three days later, I had a bad fall and had to have surgery on my broken ankle. Yet in the midst of my physical incapacity and my father’s grave illness, I began to see light at the end of the tunnel. God showed me in tangible ways how he provided for me and my family during these critical times. I began to be aware of many blessings (not to be taken for granted): timely provisions of caregivers; understanding, kind and capable doctors; good health for my sister and her family, Andrew, the children and especially my mother-in-law.

Though I am no longer dwelling in the shadow lands, I continue to struggle with physical sickness and emotional distress as I care for our family and my aging mother-in-law. Anxiety and fear are continuous battle for me. At times, anger and grief overwhelm me, and I often feel like my emotions are on a roller-coaster ride.

In the opening passage from the Gospel of John, Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him. Perhaps Jesus asks Peter this question three times so that Peter would think about how much he really loved Jesus. Peter realized that Jesus knows all things, including his love for him (v. 17b), but he was still hurt when Jesus asked him the third time (v. 17). Then Jesus said: “Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go” (v. 18). John writes that Jesus said this to predict the kind of death Peter would face to glorify God (v. 19).

One of my concerns about writing these stories is that they will expose my shadows and weaknesses—or those of people close to me. When I was taking a soul care class at the seminary, our professor had each of us sit in the middle of the class to share some shadows from our lives. I was the first volunteer. It felt as if I was undressing myself in public, and it was uncomfortable to feel naked. The professor guided us in navigating the journey through these shadowy places, and she encouraged us to dwell and even linger in the shadows.

Like Peter, there are many shadows in my life that I did not choose for myself. Yet God uses these shadows to reveal his glory. In these unpleasant and uncomfortable places and events in my life, I experience God’s power in my weaknesses. His love, grace, mercy, and peace shine bright amidst these dark shadows and deep valleys.

As you walk through the shadowy places in my stories, I pray that you will find God’s shadow providing a comforting and peaceful shade for your story as well.

Dear Lord, you know all things. You know I love you. Yet many times, I failed you. In spite of this, you restored me with your word. May your word and your presence accompany me to go through the shadowy places of life so that people will see your glory. Amen.

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