MEET MARY

Mary Tan lives in the Bay Area with her family. She was born in Taiwan, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, who first encountered Jesus Christ through missionaries in China. Though she can still recite Psalm 23 in Mandarin, she writes only in English. As a teenager, she dreamt of dancing with the Pacific Northwest Ballet, but eventually fell in love with her husband Joe in the San Juan Islands, where they’ve shared many boating adventures with their three sons.

EVEN THOUGH I WALK THROUGH THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH

A REFLECTION

Rachel Mitchell’s March Anchor at Home talk on the enduring words of Psalm 23 resonated with me. The Lord Jesus shepherded me through the valley of the shadow of death to rest in green pastures, by still water. He restored my soul from loss, grief, and disappointment. He called me to invite women to be rooted in His love.

In 2018, my first-born Caleb led his high school team, as quarterback, to their first football championship. Yet in the midst of that historic season, the absence of his grandfather was gravely felt by our family as he had died the year before. Time seemed to stand still after the sudden loss of a family patriarch. But life goes on, not waiting for mourners, as we rallied every Friday in the stands in the scorching heat of middle son Joshua’s JV game before donning layers for Caleb’s evening Varsity game.

Our first year as Varsity parents was spent watching Caleb emotionally navigate standing on the sideline. The season was over before he even took a snap under center. Though my heart was broken over his predicament, I honestly could not have handled the pressure of him leaving the sideline just then. My sister Joyce was dying. That year was a blur between trips to Southern California and mothering three teen boys. After a valiant battle with cancer, Joyce joined my father-in-law in heaven, just a few weeks after we dropped Caleb off at college. We scattered her ashes that October. A few weeks later, we celebrated another football championship with Josh in the rain.

I was most certainly still in the valley of the shadow of death when 2020 arrived, even though it started off with a girls’ weekend in the snow, followed by the biggest birthday party ever thrown for me. Girlfriends, mostly football moms, joined me for a morning hike in the hills, followed by a dim sum feast, and ending with the most delicious Princess Cake ever. It was a huge hug from my heavenly Father, surrounding me with sisters when one had gone to heaven too soon.

In March, the blessing of school closing down followed the pandemic. My grief-laden emptiness would be filled with activity again. Caleb was coming home from college! I was giddy with excitement, planning menus, grand jete-ing down the hall. After a month of cooking, we transitioned without fuss to Door Dash. I also surrendered my kitchen to be the boys’ test kitchen. Indeed, I feared no evil! The rod and staff of my Good Shepherd steered me from the kitchen to the garden, to notice “the small thing with feathers”, summed up by an estranged word: hope.

The garden is a menagerie of hope.

During the COVID valley, when the fear of death was manufactured and magnified from all angles, I felt the tug to attend to my own mounting grief. Like an earthworm burrowing out of sight, I began pecking words on a keyboard and scribbling in journals about each wave upon wave of disappointment in the losses of loved ones, changing relationships, and especially my changing role as a mother. My Good Shepherd was with me every step of the way through the chaotic feelings left in the wake. He walked with me. He carried me. He wept with me. He sat with me. He restored my soul. He was the Hidden Anchor of my soul, keeping me tethered to His heart, to receive love, and reach for life, when I was tempted to give in and drown.

The COVID valley brought its ancillary disappointments as well. Life as we knew it had changed. Churches, gyms, schools remained closed much longer than imagined. Trips were cancelled. My youngest’s long awaited 8th grade trip to Washington D.C. was lost. Caleb’s highly anticipated study abroad would be cancelled. Yet rays of sunlight dazzled the garden I was learning to tend, as the Gentle Healer tended to my spirit. We planted fragrant roses in containers to soften the hardscape. An abundance of time for quiet walks with the Master Gardener, and conversations with family and friends difficult to carve out time for before, became the extravagance we luxuriated in.

Life finds its way out of death in the garden. I continued adding material to the compost bin. New life, buried in darkness, breaks through to sunshine to delight and feed beholders who are becoming more like the One they have time to behold. The mystery of the garden is the transformation of rotten and decayed matter into the very life-giving anchor of exquisite blooms.

The mystery of the garden is the transformation of rotten and decayed matter into the very life-giving anchor of exquisite blooms.

The gift of an invitation to join a Zoom Bible study in the midst of a pandemic, expanded my family even more, with women who live all over the country, many in my beloved Pacific Northwest, where we have spent the most memorable summers. In the middle of threats on all levels to my safety and the safety of my family, through this Bible study, I continued to feast on the tried and true and life sustaining Word of God the Good Shepherd prepared for me daily. I am still thriving on His Word, my Daily Bread.

The garden has become a place of respite, refreshment, and renewal, not only for me, but for many sisters. Beyond the football stands where we once cheered for our sons, the valley of COVID provided an opportunity to deepen our roots in the rich soil of God’s love. While enduring delay after delay of a football season that kept getting pushed out, we praised our King and poured out our hearts before our loving Father. We unloaded each other’s burdens to Jesus by making space, listening to, praying for, and loving one another. Together we reflect the design of the Master Gardener. Below the surface, our roots woven together, keeping each other upright. We are His prized blooms. He is the Friend that laid down His life for us, so that we can flourish.

My cup overflows! How could I keep the Lord’s goodness and lovingkindness all to myself? After a member of my Zoom Bible study introduced me to Anchor at Home around Christmas time, I have been thrilled to host watch parties in the garden the first Thursday of each month. The Bay Area may be too far to attend the next one on May 6, but you could view Anchor at Home from the comfort of your own home and forward the video to bless others. You might even consider hosting a live watch party in your own garden with a few friends and family for the last Anchor in June!

Written by Mary Tan for The Anchor Journal

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