Finding A Safe Place

I’m writing in to you to thank you again for your thoughts and prayers during what has proved to be the most turbulent and terrifying year of my life. I, like many of you, have had to endure trials and hardships this past year, but I’ve come to find that along with trials always come blessings if we only notice them. For me, with my trials of a failed heart came a new, healthy heart. And I’m happy to report my strength is gradually returning. Along with that has come the bonus of being forced to perfect a virtue that makes life so much more enjoyable – patience.

I hope you’ll consider this meditation I’m writing to you as my way of showing you how much I appreciate your thoughts and prayers. I confirmed an awful l lot about life this past year that I thought I already knew but maybe didn’t. In fact, no sooner had I finished patting myself on the back in congratulations for what I learned did I happen to open my Bible by chance to the book of Psalms. There, in the 16 th Psalm I discovered a song written some three thousand years ago that lay out so clearly, and much more succinctly, than I could ever hope to duplicate. I only wish that I had read and comprehended its meaning before having to learn these secrets through my own experiences. My hope is that you will read it, comprehend it and apply it in your life long before you come upon the next life-shattering calamity that is bound to meet you sooner or later. This Biblical expression of hope will fortify you for your next bout with life-God Bless!

I can’t think of a more encouraging and inspiring affirmation than Psalm 16. Written by a man named David who was destined to become a king, he reminded us that life is not always easy. There would be a pile of troubles, near-death experiences, and disappointments before he met his destiny. The driving force that allowed him to press on through the mire of difficulties was his faith. Listen to his confession in Psalm 16:1-2: “Keep me safe, O God, for in you I Take Refuge. I said to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; apart from you I have nothing good.” He learned early what I had to learn later in life. Namely, I can’t do it on my own! “Keep me safe, O God, “David pleads. I learned this the hard way. There is no security on my own. Once upon a time, for many years in fact, I felt subconsciously that I could get through anything with perseverance, ingenuity and the strength of youth. My plan seemed to work well. When I wanted something (to get a good education, to provide well for my family, to start a business, etc.), I’d pray and then proceed with determination to see the task through to fulfillment by using the resources at my disposal – my energy, contacts and abilities. In most cases, I was successful. Then something happened for which I wasn’t prepared. For some reason my energy and strength began to wane. I found I had heart problems. “No problem,” I thought, “I’ll go on a strict diet, I’ll lose some weight, and I’ll exercise more. I can do it!” It didn’t work out that way. I guess if I’d had an issue with cholesterol or clogged arteries, that may have worked but I came to find I had cardiomyopathy. My heart muscle was degenerating, with no immediate explanation of why. But I persisted in the fantasy that if I worked hard enough, if I researched the problem thoroughly enough, I’d prevail.

I thought that way till I reached the end of my rope when I found myself flat on my back in a hospital bed with the doctor waking me up from a sleep of complete exhaustion to say, “You’re not going to be able to leave the hospital, you’re too far gone!” At that moment, my bubble burst. My delusions of stubborn optimism went “poof”. I had met my match, I couldn’t do it anymore. “Try harder” was a meaningless option. After three days of utter desperation, the feeling of losing everything, I came to the identical conclusion as David the songwriter. I confessed on my own, not as eloquently as David but, essentially the same idea, “Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge,” I confessed, ” I finally admit without reservation, I can’t do it on my own. There are some things too big for me to handle by myself. I need you, Lord”.

As many of you know, I later had a heart transplant but that’s a story in itself to be saved for another time. But as if to indelibly impress on me my revelation (“I can’t do it on my own”), I went through a host of life threatening experiences, just like King David, just like many of you. Shortly after my operation and while still coming out of a hallucinatory state, I caught pneumonia. What could I personally do? Nothing. Yes, I was learning already. Next, the muscles in my throat stopped working and I had to be fed intravenously. What could I do? The doctors’ answer was, “Nothing. You can only wait and hope.” Yes I got it I needed help outside of myself and I acknowledged as much. It came to be a little easier for me to say, as David did, “O God, for in you I take refuge”. Happily, within 4 weeks my throat muscles began to work again. All I could do was HOPE, WAIT, and PRAY. I didn’t (and couldn’t) do anything but follow those 3 rules! Oh, but that wasn’t enough, next my kidneys began to malfunction; I had to spend hours a day hooked up to a dialysis machine. “What could I do?” I asked the doctors. Their reply, “Nothing. Sometimes your kidneys may revive, sometimes they won’t, we don’t have an answer, all we can do is keep you on this machine and hope for the best.” “Ok, I get it, des ja vous,” I muttered to myself. But, you know, it got easier to accept. I just had to follow my new rubric (not the old me, myself one I used to employ). I’ll hope, wait, and pray. I also furiously searched the internet for answers but found the doctors were right, there was nothing more I could personally do. “I can’t do it alone, I need your help.” It’s been no fun being tied to a machine for eight months every other day. But guess what happened? After eight months, my kidneys seem to be awakening from sleep. Why, there was nothing I did, nothing I could do on my own. “What’s happening?” I asked the doctor. “I don’t know and I can’t explain it but you may be one of the lucky ones.” Well, I think I know what’s happening finally, though most people won’t believe me, I believe there’s something to this ‘taking refuge in God’ stuff. (I use that term advisedly and not disrespectfully).

When David learned the lesson about trusting in God, he was being hunted by his enemies on death’s door or as he said in another Psalm (Psalm 23), “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me.” My own ‘valley of the shadow of death’ was first encountered in a hospital. I know others have encountered the ‘valley’ in a car, a car accident, and still others tell me their encounter with the ‘valley of death’ was when they lost their jobs and couldn’t find work no matter how hard they tried. The “lucky ones” (again, I use the word advisedly for effect) have learned to say, “Keep me safe, O God”.

I can only appeal to some of you who haven’t learned this lesson of life. Be determined to open yourself up to the possibility of God keeping you safe. Experiment with the possibility that it could be true in your life. I’m writing you with the same invitation that Jesus offered to all of us. The challenge of Jesus from Matthew 11:29 “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Learn the lesson the easy way before your next encounter with “the valley of the deep shadow of death.”

Now from Psalm 16 permit me to recount some of the insights David discovered (and I discovered 3,000 years later) after he learned that first all important lesson (of hope, wait and pray). He proclaimed (Ps 16:5) “Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure.” First David recognizes and is grateful for his “portion.” He reminds us that each person has a “portion,” a place in this life; David could feel that in his life. I, too, feel that each of us has a destiny in this life. But again, I feel, take it for what it’s worth; each of us was born with a purpose, but also being born with “free-will” we have a choice to act or not act on the Lord’s imperatives to us. How gratitude inspiring it is to think, “Lord you have given ‘little me’ a part, a portion in your grand scheme. I can play a small “bit” part but I’m going to be on the winning team in the end- I might be just another “water boy” or “bat boy” to take a simile from sports, it doesn’t matter since I have a “part,” a portion, a place on the winning team, God’s team.”

Not only a portion, but David imagines that the Lord gives him a “cup.” As if he were invited to a banquet and God personally offers him a “cup.” What an honor to be given a cup or an acknowledgement at God’s celebration feast so to speak. Other places in the Bible speak of “the cup of salvation (Ps 116:13) or the cup of blessings. I don’t know about you, but when I became a Christian I didn’t take Jesus’ invitation as being a motive given all the blessings I might receive along the way, I didn’t think it was right to presume for as much. I thought, “I’m appreciative for what Jesus did for all humans, the least I can do in appreciation was to show my solidarity with Jesus’ cause, God’s cause. Little did I realize then that I would be able to say along with the Psalmist, “Look you have assigned me “my cup,” my “own cup of blessings.” The psalmist realized not only was he getting a “cup of salvation” from his enemies who were obsessed with killing him but a “cup of blessings” he didn’t even realize came with the bargain. I’m sure that you who are Christians can testify as I can, “I accept you, Jesus, as my benefactor because I feel grateful to you and that offer of salvation into an eternal life is too good to pass up”. But I never dreamed that the welcomed cup of blessings God assigned to me was going to be filled with so many blessings. I expected this hope of salvation would take faith and it might take many years of faithfulness to attain but it doesn’t take much faith to “count the blessings” I’m getting now, right now. I acknowledge, like many of you who are Christians, the Lord has given me a cup of blessings including a wonderful wife, a loyal family, a measure of security, salvation from a deadly disease and many, many more such blessings. That reminds me that David in the most famous of all Psalms (Psalm 23) exclaimed, “My cup runneth over”, my blessings from the Lord are more than I could ever imagine. My hope for you is that you, too, will realize you have been offered a cup of blessings from your Father, your Lord. Accept and enjoy!

As if this weren’t enough, being God’s friend comes with another valuable consideration, far better than a buy-one, get-one free offer popularized in the consumer world. In fact, I’d go so far as to say in my opinion this consideration from God is the number one possession all humans want but they don’t even realize what it is they’re searching for. People run helter-skelter looking for the one thing that will finally make them happy, but they don’t know what it is or where to find it. My studies in psychology and sociology have convinced me that what people want most, but don’t know it, is security. What I mean by security is referred to in the Bible as “peace of mind” or “the peace of God that transcends all understanding” (Phil. 4:7). That sounds too simplistic, doesn’t it? But it’s true. People just want to feel good about themselves. They want that relaxing, calming feeling of peace of mind. “I’m happy, I’m secure”. While this notion didn’t escape the perception of David, he says, (Psalm 16:5) in speaking to God, “You have made my lot secure”. He learned the lesson I learned the hard way: there is no security unless it’s attached to the Supreme Being of the universe. That’s the beginning and end. Every one of us sooner or later has to admit that there is no such thing as security in this world. You can’t count on financial security or even the security that friendship and family can offer (I lost one of my two peer best friends, a friend I had most of my life just this last year). I found, and I’m not claiming anything you don’t already know, that, yes, there is such a thing as security but security only comes if it’s connected to the most powerful force in the universe, no other source of security can be imagined. David knew with confidence “you have made my lot secure”. I now ask you, think about it for a moment, isn’t it true that what you want is security. Isn’t that what you most want, to be happy? You might say, “I want salvation”, but isn’t salvation just another way of saying ‘security’? The Psalmist says you can have what you most desire now, not just in eternity.

I’d like to highlight one final verse from this Psalm that is really inspirational. In the way of summary, the Bible writer affirms, “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand”. That first part about “the path of life” is one of the things I’m most appreciative of in my walk with the Lord over the years – direction. Living in a rapidly changing world where ideas become obsolete overnight, I find myself questioning where I’m going, why I’m going, how I’m going. Is there anything that hasn’t changed? I’ve found the “path of life” hasn’t changed. The Super Highway is not an improvement over “the path”. The values espoused in ancient sacred writings are as relevant as ever. I don’t know about you but I need a stabilizing force in my life, something I can count on. Through my training as a sociologist and by my own research and observation I’ve verified the Biblical moral code and a grounded set of values are more crucial than ever. We can have something in common that binds us as a community, yet since each of us is unique from all others, God promises a customized “path of life” for each of us if only we ask. So many choices – what career, what education, what friends, what pleasures, what direction? I remember in my 20’s and again in my 30’s, begging the Lord for help. “Just point me in the right direction”, I begged. I’d always get an answer, even direction on starting a family has proved satisfying and successful. I can aver,”I wouldn’t change any major aspect of my life. He showed me the path, my path of life”. I concur with David, we are shown the path to a stable, satisfying, secure life as long as we have faith and are patient and observe the signs along the path. What comes with following in the path of life is “joy” according to the Psalmist. “You will fill me with joy in your presence”. Joy, happiness, satisfaction, all the positive emotions that humans were created to seek are fulfilled when we trust our Heavenly Father. He offers true joy, lasting joy, genuine happiness, the real thing, when we finally resolve to accept God’s direction. This stipulates it’s in “your presence”, God’s presence, we feel good about ourselves. I’ve discovered being in God’s presence means allowing the Lord to befriend us. He doesn’t force anyone. I’ve learned, personally happiness is missing when I don’t feel intimate with God. Something is missing and that something is God’s presence. I’ve learned I’ve got to let him into my inner circle, so to speak. Rather than try to solve problems my way, I ask Him for His help and I look for signs along the way indicating the direction on my path in God’s universe. What a fantastic sensation to know I don’t have to do it all on my own. As another Bible author, Paul, put it, “and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). Many of you know exactly what I’m talking about and for those that don’t, those who haven’t yet personally experienced God’s presence in their lives, I beseech you to open up, asking for God’s help, try living that way for just a week and see what a difference it makes.

As I started at the outset of this meditation, I’m writing you as a “thank you” for your support during my walk through “the valley of the shadow of death”. The last year has brought physical pain, mental anguish, the sapping of every ounce of strength I had, worry, not knowing if I’d survive, multiple diseases manifesting themselves in my body (I didn’t bother giving you all the details), on top of all these, the death of a best friend, a business betrayal and more. Through all this I learned an awful lot about myself, an awful lot about God and an awful lot about needing friends like you. I learned I’m not unusual in all this grief and trial. The Bible writer, David, went through worse suffering. He survived and he lived to write about it as have millions in the past thousands of years of recorded history. Those millions somehow, some way, learned the secret of survival and joy, the secret I learned, the secret David learned and the secret you’ll learn if you haven’t already. I pray for you to repeat the same words, the same prayer of David.

(Psalm 16:1), “Keep me safe, O God, for you are my refuge”.