Safe Pasture

“Heather? Hi! Can you hear me?” I recognize the soft, blue eyes of my nurse as she speaks to me. I’m all warm and drowsy and calm. I hear the soft hum of air that fills up the warm “space blanket” that covers me (if you don’t know what a space blanket is, trust me, it’s fabulous!). My eyes fall on my husband’s smile on the other side of the recovery room.

“They only took the cyst and the ovary!” he says. I am a loopy mess, but I am flooded with peace, his words holding an enormous amount of gravity.

No cancer.

Weeks of accumulating stress start slowly shedding off me as I lay there. It’s a strange moment, when you are still feeling the effects of the anesthesia, while trying to process everything you’ve just experienced. In those few hours, time seems to have no place. I’m in and out of sleep, reveling in the fuzzy warmth of this quiet, painless time after surgery.

My husband and I have a few laughs…he recalls how I was crying as they wheeled me back and he called out, there’s no crying in surgery! Always the comedian, that one. I didn’t necessarily laugh, but I did enter the OR wearing a half-smile. I told the nurses that I’d named my cyst Felicia, and if they could please get a picture of her on her way out that would be great (sadly, I never did get that picture). One nurse told me about how she had named the surgery robot Delilah. I joked about how her and Felicia would get along just fine.

The anesthesiologist was a refreshing soul, so kind and funny. As I was about to slip off into my drug-induced sleep, he asked me what my favorite beach was, and I’m all oh no, no…I’ve got to say Psalm 23. He’s like, ok girl, you do you.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures…

And that’s as far as I got. In what seemed like two minutes later, it was all over. My first experience under anesthesia was a success. I had been so afraid of it, almost as much as everything else…I’m a bit of a control freak that wants to know everything as it’s happening. Needless to say, that’s not possible in the middle of a surgical procedure (thank the good Lord for modern medicine!). Just as everyone said…it truly was the best nap ever.

I’ve always struggled with control and trust, and the anxiety leading up to the surgery was monstrous. Each day was like climbing a mountain; every day I climbed higher and higher, afraid to look down, but knowing I had to keep pace, carefully, and sometimes reluctantly, placing one foot in front of the other. Would my strength carry me? Would there be bad weather ahead? Would I reach the top safely? No control of the outcome, only trust and faith and small, wobbly steps.

The unknown.

To completely surrender control seemed like an impossible task. I knew the cyst on my ovary had to come out. What I did not know, was what answer awaited on the other side of my eyes opening. Until I was on the operating table, there was no way to know the next steps. If there was any cancer, I would have a complete hysterectomy, which meant longer surgery and recovery, and early menopause. If there were no cancer cells, I would only loose my left ovary and the humungo growth that tried to eat her. I was nearing the peak of my mountain, climbing barefoot in a snowstorm. But there was no rerouting this time.

My friends, my family, my faith…I can’t tell you how completely surrounded and supported I was leading up to my surgery day. But I still struggled with trust. The mountain was so huge and daunting; so many rugged, sharp surfaces. It was dark and cold and horrifying.

Lord, I know you’ve got me through this. I know I’m tethered to your safety rope. So why am I so scared of this climb?

A friend of mine sent me a Louis Giglio sermon titled Even Though. I had recently read his book, Don’t Give the Enemy a Seat at Your Table; it was suggested to me by another friend who knew my walk with anxiety. However, I had never actually listened to the sermon that the book was based on. He tells the story of how those nine words forever changed his view of adversity, while referencing the scriptures of Psalm 23.

Last year, as we all spent our second year transitioning into pandemic life, Psalm 23 was one of those passages that kept popping up everywhere. I’d hear it in my favorite podcasts, it would come up in conversations, while reading articles. It is one of the most known and well-loved passages for sure, but it had definitely been in my line of sight for the past year or so. It describes the Lord as our Shepherd; He takes care of us when we are completely helpless, as sheep notably are. It emphasizes how great His love is for us and reminds us that no matter how far we stray, he will rescue us and lead us home.

So I’m listening to this sermon on my phone in my closet (my notorious quiet place), and as I’m putting on makeup, the circle of my face reflecting in the vanity mirror, I hear the next verse…

He makes me lie down in green pastures (Psalm 23:2).

My eyes close, and tears start to roll down my face. In my mind, I’m on the operating table, bright lights above me…and then all of a sudden I’m lying in the soft, bright green grass of a beautiful, lush field. I feel the warm breeze blowing across my face as I lie there, palms open. I feel the sunshine on my face and stare up at the bluest of skies. I can even sense the soft, thick coat of sheep’s wool. A smile rests across my face. I am completely at peace.

I’m right here with you, sweet girl. Don’t you worry. I’m right here. All you have to do is lie down and rest.

I hear the words and feel them all at the same time. He’s there reminding me, it will all be okay. The Lord is my shepherd, I don’t have to worry, I don’t have to fear. I can lie down and rest. I can surrender fully.

Oh, how I love these fleeting moments with the Holy Spirit. I used to think that sounded crazy, talk of these spiritual encounters (my friend and I like to call them “a little bit of woo-woo”), but now I know it’s how He meets with us when we are desperate for his presence. We just have to be willing to receive, to be open to what His Spirit has for us. The direct line to the God of wonders is always available to us, if only we would make the time and space to be still and listen.

I bask in my new super-power of peacefulness, finish with my make up, and pick up the phone to read a text. It’s then that I notice the date… February 23rd. 2/23. Just like the verse that had just breathed new life into me, Psalm 23:2. That made me laugh out loud. I mean, come on!!! Ok, God, I get it! I hear you!

From that day until the surgery, I am washed in perfect peace. Ok, maybe not totally perfect; I am human after all. But sufficient. And with all the conviction I can muster, I do just as He says. I lay down in the soft, green pasture and surrender. Because my Shepherd’s got me. My Shepherd will never leave my side. My Shepherd will lead me down that mountain.

And just like that, as my eyelids lift slowly in that tiny, muted green recovery room, I realize I’ve made it. I’m still there, resting in that lush, green field, the once ominous mountain now only a shadow in the distance.

He’s led me down to safe pasture.

Recovery is slow, but there is stillness and growth in healing. Not only does our body have to slow down and rest, but our faith needs time to sprout new off-shoots, to cultivate the beginnings of new roots. As unwelcome as they are, trials and hardships make for the most fertile soil. You may end up growing fruit to share with others, a tree for someone to lean on, or an endless field of soft, green grass for one to find rest.

Whatever you produce from your pain, His love and faithfulness will shine through you for the all world to see. Not even the tallest, darkest, most treacherous mountain can block your light.

The Shepherd will make sure of that.

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