No, my title is not referring to Death Valley, the legendary Tiger Stadium at LSU.

One of my favorite Biblical passages is the 23rd Psalm. Every single verse is meaningful on its own – and I seem to find a different meaning each time I read them, depending on where I am in life.

When the Pandemic began, our church Life Groups couldn’t meet physically, so we met each Sunday morning on a Zoom call. So weird to attend Sunday School in my p.j.’s while sipping orange juice from a Solo cup!

When our state’s restrictions were loosened a bit, we began to meet every other Wednesday evening in the home of one of our members. We have a potluck. We get to talk to grown ups. It’s pretty fantastic – especially after spending several months at home. And then, we have a wonderful Bible study. We have been involved in a study of the 23rd Psalm in the past months. It has been a wonderful in-depth investigation of each verse with a practical life application for each one.

As a teacher, I am facing a lot of uncertainty right now. My district has made a preliminary plan for the start of school. I get a headache just reading the plan. I know that, as a music teacher, I will not have my own classroom for a while, since the district is mandating that students stay in a static environment and teachers will move to different classes. That means that I will be teaching on the go and visiting every single classroom on campus. I teach everybody from PreK to 5th grade, seven classes each day, situated all over our sprawling campus, so I will have quite a trek each day. I know plenty of art and music teachers who teach “on a cart.” I admire them, but I’m worried about how that will work for me.

Your girl is old.

Your girl is tired.

Your girl is wondering exactly how each day is going to look.

All of my instruments are in my classroom – and I really don’t see a feasible way to transport enough for a whole class.

I am also a creature of comfort. I like being in my own space, with my own stuff. I know how all of my technology works. I know where my little fridge in the back of the room is so I can grab a bottle of water whenever I need one. I know where my books are in case I have extra time and I can read to the class.

I know what temp I like my thermostat set on.

I’m also a little nervous about the whole mask thing in a classroom setting. Our district is mandating masks for students in 3rd grade and up. Teachers have to wear masks regardless of the grade level they teach.

PreK and kindergarten really need to see their teachers’ faces. At that age, they’re still learning appropriate facial expressions and what emotions can be assigned to each one. And every age is accustomed to looking to their teacher for that sweet, silent smile of approval and acceptance. And I worry that some kids may find the masks disconcerting. Kids have enough things today that cause anxiousness. Social media makes sure of that. A constant stream of information – some true, most NOT.

And – P.S. – I teach music. SINGING! That’s going to be hard to do with masks. I already have that little handful of smart alecs who don’t want to sing so they sit in the back and don’t even move their mouths until I call them on it. They will be able to sit and smirk behind those masks and I will never know.

And I can just hear myself: Are you chewing on your mask? Wait – did you seriously write the test answers inside your mask? Do you have food in there? Stop talking! I can still hear you!

Our school is well-known for our annual Veterans Day program. 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders usually start working on their songs on the first day of class so they are comfortable singing them in front of our big crowd of visitors in November. First of all, I don’t think I can adequately teach them their songs when we’re all covered up. Secondly – and this is the big one – at this point, we will likely not even get to offer our sweet program to our wonderful local veterans.

My own children are also facing some unknowns. Christopher travels 40 miles each way, every day to his college campus. We are hopeful that all of his classes will take place as scheduled. He despises online classes and isn’t a student who thrives in them. Elizabeth is in high school and we have been advised that high school will operate on a rotating basis. Students with certain last names will attend on Monday and Wednesday. The other last names will attend on Tuesday and Thursday. The two groups will alternate who goes on Fridays and all students will engage in online learning on the days they don’t physically attend school. Guess which group most of her friends are in? Not hers.

Michael’s job – which has always relied heavily on in-person meetings – has become almost solely virtual which no hint at when or if it will return to normal. Michael is a people person. He is SO good at customer service because he believes he should treat everyone he encounters as if they are his family. He really misses seeing the people he’s working with.

So much uncertainty. So much we don’t know. So much we can’t foresee. So much that’s more than a little scary.

Verse 4: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me. Your rod and staff comfort me.

If ever we have walked through the valley of the shadow of DEATH, it’s now. The numbers of people who are sick or who have died from this virus are staggering. How many people can say that they DON’T know someone who has tested positive? How do we know that these crazy masks are even going to help? How do we know that any of our precautions are going to protect us?

I will fear no evil for You are with me. Your rod and staff comfort me.

He is with us. Does that mean I won’t contract this virus?

No. It doesn’t.

But it does mean that He will walk beside me whatever I’m going through.

Does not having fear mean I shouldn’t wear a mask?

Absolutely not. He gives us tools to protect ourselves. We have to be smart enough to use them.

Your rod and staff comfort me.

What does that mean?

When the shepherds of Biblical times were out with their sheep, they carried with them a rod and a staff.

The rod is a short, heavy club-like stick. It is used for exactly what it looks and sounds like. The shepherd used it to beat away predators who often stalked the sheep. The Bible mentions bears, lions, wolves, and panthers. They beat these monsters away WITH A STICK!

The staff is what we usually picture a shepherd holding. The inspiration for the shape of a candy cane. Yes, the shepherd would use the straight end to jab at the predators, but he would also use the crook (the curved end) to nudge the sheep and encourage them to go where they should – or to loop around them and pull them away from danger.

Think about that. The image of God wielding that stick and beating away things that come to harm us. The image of Him jabbing them with the end of the staff. The image of Him pulling us away from danger – that we so often seem drawn to – and then pulling us close to His side.

You got that?

He is with you. He will protect you. He wants you to stay close to Him in times of trouble.

It doesn’t mean bad and scary things won’t happen. It just means that we shouldn’t fear them because as big and bad as things get, God is bigger and greater. You really think the God who created this whole world – every animal, every plant, every drop of water, every cell in your body – can’t protect you? Can’t work out my scheduling anxieties or my issues with masks? Can’t make sure Christopher can get to his classes? Can’t help Elizabeth stay connected with her friends?

Can’t make this virus obsolete any time He wants?

For whatever reason, He is allowing this virus to exist. I don’t understand why. And that’s okay. Maybe it’s to remind us to rely on Him. Maybe it’s the crook, pulling us closer to Him.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me. Your rod and staff comfort me.

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