I woke with a painful, aching lower back. Of course, I knew exactly why. Seven weeks before, I had major abdominal surgery that saved my life… and made me look like I was involved in a tragic mistake during the saw-a-woman-in-half magic routine. Seriously. I was practically cut in half. A lower back ache made sense. And so did a warm bath to sooth it.
I had been fighting away the fear that came with the diagnosis of a rare genetic disease. The previous two and a half weeks had been a battle of the mind and soul. I needed something to read while I soaked in my warm, bubbly bath. I scoured my book shelf until my eyes landed on a book that I had started some time ago but hadn't finished– The Lord is My Shepherd by Elizabeth George.
Hubby helped me lower myself into the tub, and I opened to the chapter where I had left off so long ago. It was entitled "God's Promise of Healing." It seemed quite fitting. When I began reading, I quickly understood that the Father had something important to say to me in the words on these pages.
Mrs. George was talking about Jehovah-Rophe, the Lord who heals. She explained that He is the Great Physician who heals and restores those of His who are cast down. I thought I understood this phrase, "cast down," but then she explained:
There's a beautiful picture for us here. You see, shepherds throughout time have applied the term "cast down" to any sheep that's turned over on its back and can't get up again by itself. The scene goes something like this…
A heavy, fat, or long-fleeced sheep will lie down comfortably in a little hollow in the ground. Next it rolls over on its side to stretch out and relax in the green grasses. But suddenly the center of gravity in its body shifts, pitching the sheep onto its back so that it's feet no longer touch the ground! Despite the poor sheep's struggling efforts, it becomes impossible for it to turn upright.
This is a sheep that is "cast down." And, interestingly, it's usually the largest and strongest sheep that are the most easily cast down! If it's cool or cloudy or rainy, a cast-down sheep can survive in this position for a day or two. But if the weather is hot and sunny, a cast-down sheep will be in critical condition in just a few hours! It's vital that the Shepherd arrive on the scene soon or the sheep will die.
She goes on to explain the restoration process of a sheep who is cast down. First, he has to find it. Then the restoration begins. If the sheep has only been cast down a very short time, then the shepherd needs only to roll the sheep over onto its feet, and with a few stumbles and wobbles, the sheep is back on its way to health and the fold.
However, if the poor sheep has been cast down for some time, restoring it takes a great deal of patience, time, and care. First the sheep is gently rolled over. Then its legs are rubbed and massaged by the shepherd to revive circulation. Next comes the miserable sheep's head, which is propped up on the shepherd's knee and stroked and caressed and held for a time by its loving caregiver. Following this tender attention, the sheep is physically lifted up onto its feet by the shepherd. As the weak and wobbly sheep takes its first few steps, fully supported by its master. It may take a full hour to get the sheep walking again, until finally it can stagger away on its own legs circling near the shepherd, who may have to rush over and pick his sheep up again… and again… and again.
But that's not the end of it! The shepherd watches for the sheep to take its first bites of grass. That is his cue that the sheep is indeed well again. Then he follows and watches this sheep for a while until he knows for sure that it is fully restored.
That is the point where I had to stop reading. Tears met my cheeks. I was struck by the loving care of our Father who time and time again likens Himself to the shepherd who cares for us.
I was cast down. And struggling to get back up.
Since that time, three-and-a-half years ago, I have still been cast down.
In 2014, it was a rare adrenal tumor and surgery to remove it. As I was getting back up, we found a rare genetic disease that knocked me back down. The getting up and falling back down continued… rare thyroid cancer and surgery. Some of my children were found to have this same rare disease. They had surgery late in the year. Then 2015 came bringing hope, only for my mom to have two surgeries. Then some annoying little bed bugs hitched a ride home from a rented condo. The process of getting rid of those little bugs is truly life-shattering, and we still bear some PTSD from the experience. Our life still wasn't put back in order by the time December arrived and found Hubby sick. Then 2016 came– the year of finding the stupid brain tumor that was making Hubby sick, his last four months with us, and learning to grieve and live without the love of my life.
The images of a cast down sheep who is on the ground, gets up, stumbles and falls again, and repeats the process over and over definitely mirrors my life over the last several years.
I can relate to that sheep. She's not just sad. She's not just struggling to stay on her feet. She is struggling with life and death. She is struggling to get up and live. She is struggling to not be overcome. I know that life experience.
It would be easy to stop there. It would be easy to say that my life has been super hard, and I just can't stay on my feet. I can sit and feel sorry for myself. I can sit and cry and complain that life feels impossible.
But that wouldn't be the whole picture.
The rest of the picture is that the cast down sheep is not alone; the shepherd is there closely watching and caring for the sheep.
The rest of my picture– and yours– is that I am not alone; the Good Shepherd is with me. He is closely watching and caring for me. He will not stop tending me, stroking my head, and picking me up until I am safely on my feet and well once again.
That is our true story.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd taking care of those of us who are cast down. We are not forgotten. He is gently tending to us.
And it's okay if it takes a while to get up and be well.
Why, why soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.