Abigail Faith Rhodes at 1 month
The photograph above, of our daughter Abigail, was sent to me on December 23, 2011. I was in a hospital room in Augusta, GA where my dad was near the end of his battle with cancer. My wife Lori and our daughters were three hours away at our home in Dawsonville. As life slipped away from dad, and the walls of the hospital closed in, Abigail's picture arrived. It represented life, even as death lurked nearby.
Abigail was born on November 14th and my dad died on December 25th. Our daughter Rachel's wedding was December 31st. Almost immediately after preaching dad's funeral on the 28th, I returned home for a dinner to meet Rachel's soon-to-be in-laws. Three days later, I conducted Adrian and Rachel's wedding service. Abigail's birth brought fresh life to our family. Dad's death reminded us of the fragility of life. Rachel and Adrian's wedding service was the start of their new life together. Poignant pictures are etched on my heart as I reflect on those days.
My father's favorite passage was Psalm 23. Fittingly, that psalm was a part of my Bible reading this morning. What a wonder it is that when life is hardest, God, our Shepherd, has "green pastures" and "still waters" and "paths of righteousness" for us. However, he must make us lie down in those pastures. He puts us to bed, sings us a lullaby, and restores us before setting us on our way again. From dark woods deep in the valley, surrounded by troubles that threaten to undo us, we come to the place of rest. God leads us there. If he doesn't, there is no peace.
If we could, we would flank every valley and perpetually live in lush fields. We would build our house near calming waters and from there we would never venture out. What then? Most certainly we would grow soft, lazy, and turn inward. Instead of finding rest, our restlessness would intensify. God's gifts cannot sustain us without God himself. God must lead us to rest if we are to truly rest. God must give us peace or there is no peace. It is tempting to run from the valley and seek to hide from trouble. For too many folks, "peace" is sought through pills, liquor, recreation, or just by checking out and avoiding tough duties. Left to ourselves, we will seek our rest in places that leave us empty. There are simply no shortcuts to rest.
How are we sustained in the valley and how can we be restored "beside still waters?" How can we have peace when all around us a war is raging? There is only one way. Into a world of darkness, God came. God brought peace for broken people who are just as dependent as Abigail was on December 23, 2011.
Today I am reminded of a hard valley five years ago. It was sometimes difficult to see then, but God gave rest. One of the ways that he sustained me was through the baby in the photograph. It reminded me that there was new life, just a few hours away. She was waiting for me. Yes, God came near through a baby. That's the way it has always been. A baby was promised in Genesis 3. A baby was born in Luke 2. Life came. Hope arrived. Peace was delivered to Bethlehem's manger and was solidified when Jesus died and was raised. Peace is offered to those with whom God is well pleased.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 5:1)
Ray Rhodes, Jr. is president of Nourished in the Word Ministries. He is the author of several books including, Family Worship for the Christmas Season. Send a message here to schedule Ray to speak for your next event or to order one of his books.