I’ve Always Loved Mountains06.26.12

My husband eats almost anything gratefully, which makes life a lot easier for both of us. One exception is persimmons. Family lore has it that one fall day long ago he hastily ate too many sweet, juicy persimmons only to violently regret it later. Most of us have had experiences like this which decisively change our feelings or thoughts about a thing, a person, or an activity.

I’ve always loved mountains, and by association, Psalm 121 with its rhetorical question: Where does my help come from- the mountains?!? Though beautiful to look at and exciting to climb up or ski down, mountains can’t help with most of my problems. Only the Lord who made the mountains can truly help. Though I know that, I had a bad experience with this psalm about eight years ago and have been almost unable to read, listen to, sing, or “eat” it since then.

It was 2004. Our church had just learned a new children’s song using the Japanese words of Ps. 121:7-8. The Lord will protect you from all harm. He will protect your life. The Lord will protect you in all you do, both now and forevermore. The music was cute; all the church kids as well as our own four really enjoyed singing it. And then our eight-year-old daughter died of a sudden viral heart infection at the start of summer vacation.

This summer it will have been eight years since she died, and somehow thanks to God it’s okay. Not great, but okay. We are surviving, and in some ways even thriving. Buckets of tears (of all kinds) and the amazing support of friends all played a part, but that’s another book. What I want to write about here is how God reached me through this psalm I’ve been deaf /allergic to for eight years.

Recently I’ve been reading the same psalm each day for a week within my prayer time- read it silently or aloud, think about it, breathe in and out in rhythm to its phrases, pray it, talk and listen to God through it, or rephrase it in my own words and images. Again this week was Psalm 121. I found myself gritting my teeth (not conducive to prayerful breathing) and trying to skip over parts. I didn’t feel like arguing with God, and was tired of all the mental gymnastics needed to affirm God’s care while remembering dark stretches in the felt absence of it.  Yet the pain was still there… not a raw, fight or flight kind of pain, more a dull ache: a healed wound which reminds us of an old injury from a stage of life now past.   Both the joys and trauma are history but somehow they still reside within our tissue, mind and spirit.

Pain makes me tense: using energy to block it out or box it in, I have less energy to perceive or respond effectively to anything or anyone else. So I dove in and instead of tensing, tried to relax and let the breathed words be prayer even if they didn’t feel like my prayer yet. I lingered a bit on verses 5 and 6, The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. Perhaps I was dragging my mental heels as I approached the song words coming up in verses 7 and 8, or perhaps it was lightning, but it happened. A mental picture of Karisa and I at the beach on a perfect summer day appeared. She was five months and perfectly beautiful and very much alive though sweating slightly from the effort of wrestling and losing against sleep. Her eyelids twitched occasionally, and her finely arched eyebrows hinted at who she would become. Her tiny mouth relaxed in an expression rarely seen when awake. I sighed with relief, as tired moms occasionally do, and slowly shifted my weight. I looked at the sun and readjusted my position to block the sun from her tender skin and began to read, pausing every few moments to chase away an ant or align with the moving sun to keep her in the shade. The wind rustled the intense green maple leaves above; all was right with the world.

Just as quickly, a picture of 10 year old me appeared, suddenly awakened by the full moon’s eery path of light across my bed. Unable to sleep, unsure why I was awake, fear and wonder mingled with a gaping, lonely ache.  My heart beat in terror of the unknown cold universe and I longed for…something.

Somehow, the gift of these two pictures filled me with gratitude in a way that no amount of words could have done, a gratitude for the presence of God surrounding my life, my daughter’s life, and the world. Tired and often grumpy mom that I was and am, the memory of that moment of watching over Karisa to protect her from crawling creatures or an overabundance of ultraviolet rays made me gasp at the heart of God toward us all. The second snapshot, of fearful aloneness in the presence of night, mystery, and the vastness of the universe did the same, but in a different way. I had only known my aloneness, my shame at feeling fear while being unwilling to wake someone to ask for comfort. Yet as I look now, I see the loving arms of God around me in that picture too, and my breathing deepens, steadies, and turns to praise.

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Posted by Andrea Johnson under Scripture.

2 Responses to “I’ve Always Loved Mountains”

  1. Thanks Andrea. I lost your blog for a while and found it on your new family website. God is near.

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    Posted by Kristine on 12/13/09 June 29th, 2012 at 12:04 AMReply

  2. When my sister was dying of cancer my daughter shot a picture of tulip fields with mountains in the background. We framed the picture with the Psalm 121 opening-“I lift my eyes to the hills–where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth”below. My sister loved it so much she got out of bed and took down another print hanging over her dresser and put it up so she could see it from her bed. Her daughter was 8 when she died but now almost 20 years later her daughter is a college graduate and walking with the Lord. God was her helper when she couldn’t be one for her daughter.

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    Posted by Bobbi on 12/13/09 June 30th, 2012 at 3:32 AMReply

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