Empty Chairs

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“There’s a grief that can’t be spoken.

There’s a pain goes on and on.

Empty chairs at empty tables…”

Les Miserable

For three Christmases now there has been an empty chair at my table. That chair sits empty the other 365 days a year, but at Christmas time it’s glaringly obvious that it’s vacant; that my family is incomplete.

The Christmas movies, and carols and commercials tell us how Christmas is supposed to look. Tables filled with food and family. Trees covered in tinsel and lights. Presents perfectly wrapped and ribboned. Not empty chairs, or unlit trees, or presentless Christmas mornings.

How do you celebrate when the husband leaves, or arms ache for a child they can’t hold, or the bank account sits empty? How do you sing Joy to the World when your world is filled with grief?

I keep searching for the comfort. The metaphor in the midst of the missing. The thing to fill the empty chair. I think I’m supposed to say that Jesus fills the empty chair, fills the empty places in our hearts. But, He doesn’t. If He did then my heart would be overflowing, and it isn’t… it’s aching. Aching for something I can’t have. And as much as I pray and as much as I seek Christ, the empty chair and the empty heart remain.

So does that mean Jesus isn’t enough? No. I don’t think it does. Jesus is enough. He is all we need. But that doesn’t mean He fills every empty place, not that He can’t, just that He doesn’t. Some seasons Jesus allows emptiness to fill our days.

That doesn’t mean He abandons us to our grief… no, He enters in. He enters into our messy, less than, imperfect, empty places and sits with us. Not in the empty chair, but beside us as we face the emptiness. He gives us strength to face the empty places. Strength to accept the reality of the brokenness. Strength to face the injustice of this world we live in. He gives us permission to grieve our loss. Permission to be angry at the unfairness of it all.  Permission to be weak and tired and needy. He doesn’t demand that we pull ourselves together, or put on a brave face, or pretend like everything is just fine when it isn’t.

He is the God who comforts us. Who draws near to our broken hearts. Who binds up our wounds. He’s not afraid of our empty places, even when we are.

The truth is; this Christmas may not be as full as we hoped it would be. This Christmas there might be empty chairs at the table serving as reminders of prayers unanswered. The truth is Christmas isn’t always merry and bright. But if it weren’t for the miracle of Christmas and the baby that came to dwell with us, our empty places would be unbearable. Christmas reminds us that the baby who came to bring peace in the midst of chaos will come again to bring us to dwell with Him where there will never again be places of lack and longing. Until that day, I pray that you (and I) will find Him close and comforting in the empty places of life.

Emmanuel, God with us, come.

Love~

Keri

Hope Deferred

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Waiting sucks. {I’m not quite sure I’m allowed to say “sucks” here but “waiting is hard” didn’t adequately describe how I’m feeling} I hate waiting, and I’m not really good at it. Patience is not my forte.

It seems as if everyone I know is in a holding pattern right now. Waiting on new. Waiting on change. Waiting on someone, something, somewhere. Waiting for doors to open, and others to close. Waiting on pain to end. Waiting on joy to come. Some have been waiting for years, faithfully serving, faithfully trusting, day after long day stacked one upon another until so much time has gone by that you begin to wonder what it is you’re even waiting for anymore. But the heart remembers. In the dark quiet of the night the longing persists. A prayer unanswered. A desire unmet. An ache unfulfilled. Hope deferred.

It’s even harder to wait when the desire is good, godly even. A child. A job. A friend. Pain to cease. Depression to lift. Prodigals to return. We pray and wait and wonder; why would God withhold good gifts from someone who loves Him?

In the last few weeks a verse in Galatians keeps popping up in my life. And let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. I know this is truth. I know I’m not supposed to throw in the towel. I know I’m supposed to continue doing good in my waiting seasons, however long they may be. But sometimes it’s just hard. Harder still when the people around you don’t seem to be waiting for much of anything. I know it’s a matter of perspective. That it’s not true that God’s coming through for everyone except me, but sometimes it feels that way. You too?

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Hope deferred makes the heart sick… Prov. 13:12

Hope deferred makes the heart sick. {can I get an amen?} Our human hearts cannot contain the pain of waiting past the point that we deem reasonable. The longer we wait the more our hearts grow weary. Before too long they succumb to despair and desperation. How do we hold on to hope when all of our strength is gone? When our trust has been stretched past the breaking point? When the womb is still empty and the promise seems dead and the God we pray to is strangely quiet?

When the waiting persists it is hope itself that I need to cling to. Hope… not in the thing I long for, but in the God who (for reasons irrational to me) continues to say to me “wait”.

And now, Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in You. Psalm 39:7

What am I waiting for? Good things? Yes. Godly things? I think so. But ultimately it is not what I wait for that will satisfy me. Even the most holy thing longed for (a child, or friend, or spouse, or job, or ______) will disappoint us eventually. But there is one thing that will not disappoint…

Hope does not disappoint,

because the love of God has been poured out within our

hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Romans 5:5

I have been guilty of holding out hope for something less than God. I’ve been guilty of getting mad and cranky when I feel like God is withholding good things from me, when I’m growing weary in my well doing for Him. I’ve been guilty of succumbing to depression and despair when I transferred my hope from the Eternal King to earthly things. This human heart of mine simply can’t contain the pain of waiting and I often find myself in desperate need of rescue. Thankfully, the God I serve specializes in just that. He rescues us because He delights in us. Rescues us from deferred hope.

Hope does not disappoint; if our hope is in Him.

It’s hard to hold on to hope. But what if we weren’t made to hold on to it? What if hope was made to hold on to us? What if hope is the rope thrown to us when we feel like we’re drowning? The rope that we slip our arms through and tighten down around our chest… holding the rope in our hands while the rope holds us in its embrace.

Hope is an embrace. It wraps us up. Holds us tight. And we cling to it in the waiting.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick,

but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

Prov. 13:12 

Praying that our longing for Him outweighs all the other longings of our hearts. And that in the waiting we will find ourselves surrounded by hope.

~Keri

Keri Sallee’s Broken Girl Story

We are so excited to share Keri’s story with you today. Keri is a joy! She’s one of the most talented girls I know, has a contagious laugh and is beautiful inside and out. She blogs at The Creative Life where she takes bits and pieces, lots of glue and makes art that will take your breath away, her story will do the same thing. 

We pray you will be encouraged by Keri’s Broken Girl story.

Love,

Keri & Jennifer

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Crushed by Grief. Not functioning. Forcibly separated into two or more pieces. Incomplete.

These are all definitions of what it means to be broken and for most of my life, it was a perfect description of my life.

I grew up in a home many would give their lives for…a mom…a dad… and a big sister. We moved around a lot, but when you’re a kid, it seems like one big adventure.  But in the midst of my adventure, I was forced to find my own way. My parents were still there, but they were so caught up in their own issues, that I felt alone and abandoned in my own home.

I soon realized that the only way I would get noticed was if I made good grades, so I put all of my effort into doing that and tried to be the “good girl” and fade into the background the rest of the time.

When I was 12, we made our first big out of state move to a small town in Texas where, if you hadn’t lived there your entire life, you didn’t stand a chance. My parent’s marriage was rapidly crumbling and so I didn’t add to their stress, I kept everything bottled up. I bottled up my loneliness. I bottled up my hurt. I bottled up the fear that consumed me, when at age 12, the thought of suicide first took root in my mind and seemed like an actual option.

Our next move took us to West Virginia and took me deeper in to the cycle that would be my go-to act for many years: I would be fake happy at school, be the typical vague teenager to my parents and I would lie awake at night hating myself for not being stronger.

I became very easily influenced by others at this time. I had my first cigarette. My first drink. I became so easily influenced by others that I let a friend talk me into running away from home. And when I came home and my parents asked me why I did it, I wanted to SCREAM at them “I’m just so unhappy and I just wanted you to notice me.” But…I didn’t. I told them I don’t know why I did it, they believed me and we moved on.

Upstate New York was our next move and it gave me something I had never had before: friends. It was so much easier to pretend to be happy, but I still couldn’t shake the depression and the feeling that something was missing from my life.  So, I started searching. I began to read my horoscope daily. I began to read tarot cards. I read books on crystals and how they were supposed to bring me love and hope and friends, but no matter how many rocks I wore around my neck or carried around in my pocket, the war inside my head would NOT cease.

By now the war had become a series of battles that played on a loop: I would think about ending it all and when I wouldn’t have the “guts” to do it, it would only add to my feeling of inadequacy and loneliness which would lead me back to suicide.

It was truly a painful, sadistic cycle I lived in.

The battle caused me to loose so much of my life; so much of my childhood. So many experiences that I should have had as a teenager but I was too scared someone would find out my secret and label me “the freak” that I never stepped out and experienced.

Then came Faith…

Faith was the first girl we met when we moved to a small town in Missouri. She was our tour guide at our new school and Faith invited us to church.

For six months, I sat through sermon after sermon and didn’t believe a word of them. God didn’t love me and He sure didn’t have a plan for my life. I sat there waiting for it all to be over so I could have social hour with my friends.

That is until one night in April of 1997 when we had a traveling show come through called Heaven’s Gates and Hell’s Flames.

The basic premise of the show was it showed people who did and did not believe in Jesus and what happened to them after they died. And like most other church things, I sat through it, but didn’t really listen. That is, until about three quarters of the way through the show.

The scene came up and it consisted of a girl sitting on a chair on a completely dark stage, except for a single spot light on her. And as she began to talk, I felt like she was telling my story.

She began to talk about how lonely she was. How no one loved her and how no one would miss her when she was gone. And from behind her back, out of the shadows, she pulls a gun and as the lights go out, the sound of a gunshot reverberated through that small church.

That night I realized that I didn’t want to end up like that girl on the stage, where she felt her only option was to end her life and for the first time in a very long time, I cried. I cried for the years I had lost and I cried for the person that I knew I would never become if I didn’t choose to make a change in my life.

So that night I gave my heart to Christ and for the first time in my life, I felt put back together. I was still fragile and I knew I couldn’t hold it together on my own. Only with God as the glue, could I keep the pieces of my life whole.

A few years later, I moved to attend Central Bible College and I thought that I had everything together, but during summer break, my life was, once again…broken.

It was the Saturday before Memorial Day and like any college student on a Saturday I was still sleeping when someone knocked on my door around 10:00 that morning. I opened the door to my little apartment to find my dad standing on my doorstep. .

I asked my dad where mom was and he told me she’s down in the car with Leslie (my sister) and Andy (my brother in law.) I told him to have them come up and he said no, he needed to talk to me first.

We sat on my little thrift store sofa and he said, you and your sister have always joked about being adopted…..and the truth is you are.

And I remember looking at him and asking “IS THIS A JOKE?”

He said “No.” and he hands me a letter and tells me “Your sister got this letter in the mail and you’ll be getting one soon, too.” And I start reading this letter and I always joke that it sounds like an after school special from the ‘80s because it says:  “MY WIFE AND I GAVE UP TWO DAUGHTERS IN 1981.” Gave a name and my sister’s birthday. Then gave another name and gave my birthday. “I think you’re my daughter.”

And in that moment, my perfect bible school world was gone… all of those feelings I had struggled with as a teenager came crashing back on me. I was once again that lonely, insecure and self-destructive girl. And now I had evidence. Look…even your own parents didn’t love you enough to keep you. They gave you away. You weren’t meant to be alive anyway.

That summer…I was shattered. Pieces of my heart and my soul were flung so far and wide that I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt I would never find them all, let alone be whole again.

Trying to ignore my brokenness, I began to fill my life with self-destructive distractions. I began to drink and party. I put myself in a situation with a guy that I almost didn’t get out of.

I was lost and lonely and I didn’t have any one to turn to because I was so angry. At my biological parents for picking drinking and drugs over us. At my adoptive parents for lying all those years and for not loving me the way they I felt they should have.  And honestly, I was mad at God—I gave my heart to Him…wasn’t it supposed to be safe from this kind of heartache?

Anger and fear colored my everyday life for a long time. It colored my marriage. How I treated my kids. How I made friends.

It colored my healing process three years ago when my sister and I finally opened up about abuse that had happened to us as young teenagers by a relative. In all honesty, I had shoved those memories away, under lock and key. But when my sister decided to open her vault and told me what had happened to her, the lock on my secret box broke wide open and those memories became Technicolor. I remember thinking as a teenager “At least someone is paying attention to me.” For that brief moment, in my messed up, lonely brain, I wasn’t alone.

That is my heritage…I’m a product of abuse…abandonment…depression…anger…suicidal thoughts…hurt…neglect… unworthiness… COMPLETE BROKENNESS.

So why am I still here and how can I call myself an un-broken girl?

I found HOPE.

Being an un-broken girl is as much a journey as being a broken girl. An un-broken girl is not perfect or loved more by God or “has it all together.” The only difference is an un-broken girl has HOPE that a broken girl does not.

Those of us who call ourselves the un-broken have battled the same loathing, depression, pain, hurt, abandonment, abuse and so-on in our lives and the reason we are here and are able to say “I am un-broken” is that we looked up from ourselves, past our issues, and away from our past and current situations and found HOPE in Christ.

Psalm 31:12-14 & 24 says this (bold added by me):

I am ignored as if I were dead, as if I were a broken pot. I have heard many rumors about me, and I am surrounded by terror, My enemies conspire against me, plotting to take my life. BUT I am trusting you, O Lord, saying “’You are my God” So be strong and courageous, all you who put your HOPE in the Lord.”

Those verses are my life in 67 words.

I still have cracks…I still have noticeable flaws, but that’s OK because in my eyes now, when the light of God shines through those cracks, it’s even more beautiful.

You don’t have to live broken…God’s life for you has you whole…strong…and courageous.

It will not be an easy journey to un-brokenness…trust me…I’ve walked it, but it can start with just the one small step of HOPE.

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Keri Sallee is a lover of all things creative…from cooking and scrapping to mixed media and music to reading and writing. You name it…she loves it (well…except for sewing). You can join her on her journey of daily creativity at The Creative Life. Or follow her on Twitter @creativelifear

National Suicide Prevention Week

September 9th – 15th is National Suicide Prevention week. I am all too aware of the pain and hopelessness that comes from depression and suicide. I’m so thankful for the two women God sent to me when I was at my breaking point.

If you feel hopeless tonight, please know that there is hope! You are loved. Can I beg you to do something brave? Reach out and ask for help.

Perhaps you have a friend you’ve been worried about. Tonight will you pick up the phone and call them? Get in their business. Ask the hard questions. Walk with them through the valley. You won’t regret it.

There is hope! Praying for you!
Keri

If you’d like to read about my journey into The Great Sorrow links are below.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

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Monsters in the Closet

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As a little girl I was scared of monsters hiding in my closet. Then I got older and learned that six eyed, clawed, sharp teethed monsters aren’t real. Then life turned cruel and I learned that monsters are real, and they’re deadly. Real monsters don’t have sharp teeth and claws, but they do hide in closets. Not because that’s their natural habitat, but because that’s where we put them.

At least that’s where I put my monsters of shame, and anger and hurt. That’s where I hid the whispering monster that said I wasn’t good enough. That’s where I placed the loud monster that told me to be afraid. That’s where I hid the ugly monster that convinced me that I deserved to be angry and bitter and unforgiving.

The monsters we’re too big and too scary to face, so I did all I knew to do… I tucked them away behind closed doors and locked them up tight.

It was much better that way. As long as my monsters were in the closet I could pretend like I was okay. I could smile and act like my life was “just fine, thank you”. Until it was dark and quiet. Then I could hear them scratching on the door to get out. I could hear their muffled voices, smell their rancid breath. Or if you were getting too close to me, if you were pressing in and truly interested in my heart and not just my image. Then I would hear them again, beating and pounding against the door. Frantic to get out. In the dark night and in the intimate conversation my heart would race and panic would grip me. I was desperate to keep those monsters locked away.

It was exhausting.

But it was the only way I knew to coexist with my monsters. Keep them locked away, hidden, out of sight. What I didn’t realize was that as long as I kept my monsters in the closet I was the one trapped.  That as long as they were concealed behind closed doors I was bound to them, bound to hide them, bound to fear them, bound to check on them.

Finally, I got so sick of the monsters that I decided to do something brave, and perhaps a little crazy. I opened the door and let them out. Not all at once. One or two at a time I released them. And never alone. Always there was a brave companion by my side. A counselor, or trusted friend, or spiritual mentor. Together we would stand and face that beast.

A funny thing happened when we opened the closet door… when those monsters stepped into the light of day they became a lot less intimidating. When they stood before me, with the Sword of the Spirit in my hand and the King of Kings standing beside me and a trusted friend praying on my behalf, they lost their power.

I know they would have overtaken me and killed me had I faced them on my own. I’ve seen it happen before to people I love. When they faced their monsters without Christ they were the ones who lost. I also know that they would have killed me if I’d have left them in the closet. Slowly but surly they would have drained the life from me. I’ve seen that too. Seen friends slowly shrivel up and die because they’re too afraid to face their monsters. But when we stand empowered with the Word of God and the victory of the cross, the only things that die are the monsters that haunt us.

“The pain is real

You can’t erase it

Sooner or later

You have to face it down”

JJ Heller (song is below, so worth 3 minutes of your time)

Monsters can’t be tamed and they can’t be silenced. They can kill you or they can be killed, but they cannot be ignored. They are real. The pain is real. The hurt is real. But as long as you ignore it, it has power over you. You can lock it up, but it will not die. And eventually, it will get out of that closet and come after you. The only way to not live in constant fear of that day is to finally, once and for all, face the monster and put it to death.

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And you can! Yes, really! You can face the monster. You can defeat the monster. It might be a long hard battle, you’ll need to be vulnerable and ask for help. It will require you to know and stand on the Word of God. It will demand that you pray and trust Jesus like you’ve never done before. But the silence that comes after the battle… it’s worth enduring the fight.

“Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them.” Eph. 5:11

“Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.” Eph. 6:10&11

Over and over and over again the Word of God commands us to be strong and courageous (see Joshua 1:9). Following Jesus isn’t easy or safe or sweet. It’s a battle. It requires courage and strength and sometimes blood and tears. But girls, we have to fight. It’s when we run from the battle that the enemy runs over us. When we turn and face the enemy, when we stand our ground with Jesus, our enemy cowers in fear.

It’s time to pick up our swords and fight. It’s time to kill the monsters.

When All is Not Jolly & Bright

She would have been ten.

I just assume that I only make girls. Being a self-professed girly girl, I soak in all the sugar and spice. Fairy tales and make believe, chasing after dreams like clouds thinking if I jumped high enough I would hold them in my hand.

I haven’t thought about her in a while. But, for years thoughts of her consumed my waking moments and my dreams.

It was Christmastime; all was jolly and bright with the gentle mixture of fear. What would motherhood be like and would I be good at it? All I knew was that strong desire to mother was within and we would figure it out together. I would grow into motherhood with each breath she took.

Three days before Christmas something happened. I knew something was wrong, I began to miscarry a dream, and a fragile life. I could see it every time I looked in the mirror, fear staring me in the face. I spent a few hours in an ER room longing to hear a heartbeat that was never meant to beat.

I pulled myself together, packed our gifts in the car, and said goodbye to my mother. All I really wanted was to stay there with her, but there was more family to be seen with Christmas days away. I tried my hardest to celebrate the birth of the baby that changed everything for me. And yet all I felt was heartache tinged with anger and questions. Why me?

A tiny cry that all of heaven celebrated, the God-child. Immanuel, God with us, and even as my heart broke He was with me unafraid of my questions. Never once did I feel Him condemning me. I just felt His all-consuming love.

I opened maternity gifts and cradled the tiny, new additions to our family with a sting in my heart. Then I slipped upstairs to grieve without watching eyes. I curled up  in the bed, pulled the covers over my head, and fell apart.

My mother-in-love followed me upstairs, sat next to me, and cried with me.

“It was our baby too.”

I’ve never forgotten that moment or that feeling, but at times I have returned that same gift of just crying with those who are hurting.

I don’t know what you are experiencing right now, but I know so many of you are dealing with a loss of a loved one or maybe even a death of a dream. I pray that you find joy, deep joy, in the season and know that God-child came wrapped in flesh so that we might identify with Him. His love caused Him to leave the comforts of heaven to die for our sins.

Because of the baby in a manger I have great joy and hope.

I have experienced the pit of depression and have been awakened with greater joy in knowing that through the pain, God alone has a purpose in forming us into His likeness.

I have experienced healing and restoration in my body and received the joy of two beautiful girls. But, I haven’t forgotten that Christmas filled with tears and how God met with me and cradled me through it all.

So many this season have experienced loss and I just wanted you to know that I am thinking of you, and if I could I would sit beside you and carry that pain with you and just cry. My prayers and thoughts are with you. If you have a prayer request or maybe a testimony like mine, leave a comment and we will be praying with you.

May the God of all comfort cradle you this holiday season. You are loved.

~Jennifer

The God With Wounds

Sometimes we think that God is cruel for allowing suffering. We reason that if He is good and if He is sovereign then suffering, loss, grief, sickness or poverty should not have to exist. If He were truly good, if He were truly to be trusted then He should save us from such things.

And yet, He is the God with wounds.

He is the God who chose suffering for Himself. Who chose danger and torment for His own Son so that we could be redeemed. He chose the bitter cup of suffering so that we could taste freedom.

It didn’t have to be this way. Redemption could have come at a much smaller price. The barrier of sin could have been destroyed by a single word from Him who sits on the throne. Jesus didn’t have to come, didn’t have to suffer, didn’t have to die.

The suffering of Jesus was a choice. Knowing full well the extent of the anguish God gave the order, and the Son of God became the Son of Man.

“He was despised and rejected by others, a man of sorrow, and familiar with grief. Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted. He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth. For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people He was punished. Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer.” Isaiah 53

We know that Jesus came to ransom us, to be the Holy, spotless sacrifice. He was the payment for our transgressions, but at what cost? We often think of the physical sufferings of Jesus, and they are overwhelming, but what of the emotional sufferings of Jesus, and of the Father?

Despised, rejected, familiar with grief, separated from His home, separated from His Father. Jesus was a man of many sorrows. And the Father? To see your child abused. To see your child cry and beg you to make it all just stop. To see Him tortured knowing that you could stop it all with just one word.

What anguish He must have felt.

Why?

Why would God allow Jesus to endure what He did? For our salvation? Yes! But I believe it’s for more…

“The spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” Isaiah 61

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us so that He would know, so that He would understand. When we cry out in the darkest of nights, He knows. When we stand beside graves weeping over those we love, He understands. When we look around and realize that we are all alone, He identifies. There is no suffering, no sorrow, no loss that we face that He cannot honestly say “I know just how you feel.”

He is the God of sorrows.

 Who understands your tear filled eyes.

He is the God of suffering.

Who knows how it feels to be overwhelmed with circumstances.

He is the God with wounds.

Who longs to bind up your broken heart.

I don’t know why God allows suffering. Why He allows us to walk through the Valley of the Shadow of death. I do know that He doesn’t ask us to walk where He hasn’t first gone. I do know that He never leaves our side, no matter how difficult the road we travel. And I know that on the other side of the valley there is great reward!