I love you, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.(v1-3)
I have never been much for reflection and I have never been much for Psalms. Both seemed a bit too Needy® and Emotional® for me, though I never would have admitted that out loud at the beginning of 2018 because I like being perceived as brilliantly thoughtful and inspirationally spiritual. Spoiler alert, I’m not really either of those things and I have never been more convinced of my own innate fickleness and inadequacy than I am now, at the beginning of 2019, looking back on 2018.
I am not going to reflect on 2018 here, at least not directly. 2018 was, unquestionably, the worst year of my life for numerous reasons, and that’s all the background needed to talk about what I really do want to reflect on, which is God, and Psalm 18, and what He did in my fickleness and inadequacy.
See those verses listed above? For the majority of 2018, I would not have agreed with a single statement made in them. I did not love the Lord. I did not consider the Lord my strength. The only rock I would have related God to is one thrown by a pharisee and the only fortress a terrorist encampment. He seemed to only deliver evil people to glorify himself while utterly destroying good people. He was not a shield, a horn of salvation, or a stronghold.
So I never called on him, I never praised him, and nothing appeared safe or saved.
The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction assailed me; the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me. (v4-5)
Right before the summer began- a summer during which I was supposed to serve with City Project- I threatened to leave Christianity. Not because I disbelieved it. I absolutely believed that God was real, that he was the God of the Bible, that Jesus was his son who came to earth and lived a perfect life and then died the death that I deserved, rising again so that all those who believe in his sacrifice would regain a relationship with God. But that was the problem, I wasn’t sure I wanted a relationship with God. Looking at the circumstances surrounding me, I wondered if maybe hell was preferable to heaven. At least in hell I could be spiteful and cruel, which is all I really wanted to be. At least in hell, I wouldn’t have to fake a smile and lie and say joy could be found anywhere or pretend that this world is anything other than absolute absurdity.
In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.(v.6)
The thought of leaving Christianity terrified me. I had abandoned Christ before, when I was in middle school, but even then, in the back of my mind, I still kinda considered myself a Christian. I still kinda had my family as a godly buffer. I still kinda clung to Jesus even while I feigned pulling away. But now? There’s no kinda about decisions made in desperation, and I’m beginning to realize that those are the decisions that count the most. I had to either choose Jesus, utterly, or run.
I told one friend about everything, and she told me to read Psalms.
I partially took her advice, but I also did something she definitely did not tell me to do. I gave God an ultimatum. I decided to flip open Psalms to a random passage and if that passage could not convince me to stay, then I would leave. If it did convince me to stay, then I would stay. And that would be that.
Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry.
Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him.
He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet.
He rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind.
He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him, thick clouds dark with water. Out of the brightness before him hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds.(v.7-12)
Let me be perfectly clear- I did not deserve an answer to my ultimatum. Regardless of my problems, regardless of my feelings, regardless of my past faith, if God is the God of the Bible then that means he is the God who spoke the universe into existence, who carefully and purposefully made humanity and then renewed promises with his fallen creation again and again and again. He would be a God outside of time, outside of space, outside of the capabilities of my mind, outside of any emotion or concept I could ever possibly feel or think even if I had eternities of lifetimes spent in total reflection.
And me? I am a human- finite and incapable of accomplishing anything meaningful on my own. I am a sinner- someone who desires to inflict pain on others and unleash my justice upon the world, finding pleasure in the suffering of others while vindicating myself by my own personal gospel. I am absolutely absurd.
I did not deserve an answer to my ultimatum because I did not have the right to make an ultimatum in the first place. I did not deserve an answer.
God came swiftly and gave me one anyway.
The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice, hailstones and coals of fire.
And he sent out his arrows and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings and routed them.
Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of your nostrils.(v.13-15)
I slammed open my Bible to Psalm 18. I must have read it prior at some point, because the translator’s title for the Psalm, The Lord is my Rock and my Fortress, was circled in hastily scrawled black ink, but I didn’t remember it. I read it, and it was perfect. It addressed everything I had managed to articulate in my mind and it addressed everything I hadn’t yet thought to articulate. I can’t adequately describe what happened or what I felt, so I won’t bother trying. Some things are better remembered in the heart, anyway, than in words. Suffice it to say, I decided to remain a Christian. I decided to continue with City Project. I decided to try to trust. Absolutely nothing got better, in that moment. I did not feel comforted, I did not feel joy, I did not feel the strength to trust. All I knew is that I had given God an ultimatum, he had given me a good reply, and if I wanted to retain any shred of self-respect than I needed to stay. So I stayed.
He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters.
He rescued me from my strong enemy and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.
They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me. (v16-19)
City Project began a few days later and I read Psalm 18 at least once every day of it. It would not be entirely true to say I loved Psalm 18 at that time. Some days, I woke up and was so overwhelmed with anger that I would read it to try to convince myself that it was inadequate and that I should leave God. Other days, I woke up and was so sad that I would read it just for the chance of feeling that there was a God out there who loved me. Most commonly, I felt nothing, but Something made me read it anyway, and, Somehow, I always found what I needed for that moment. Sometimes, I needed strength to convince myself to go to the dining hall and eat food. Sometimes, I needed wisdom for a discussion about joy when, in my head, I found I didn’t even believe in joy. Sometimes, I noticed a phrase or made a connection that awed me in that moment, and in those moment, I always needed to believe that there was Someone deserving of awe.
Whenever the Bible talks about rescue, I’ve noticed that a lot of American Christians- myself included- seem to think of it as a climactic, instantaneous moment. Why do we think that? In observable life, rescue is not immediate. Children aren’t adopted in a singular moment. Cancer does not vanish in an instant. Terrorism won’t be destroyed on a whim. True, each of those events may have a moment that could be described as climactic, but those moments do not exist in a vacuum. The greatest rescue of all time- that of Christ for his fallen creation- did not happen instantaneously either. It was thousands of years and words and lives in the making. Why do I expect my life to be any different? And where did I get the idea that rescue would be better if it were instant?
The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.
For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God.
For all his rules were before me, and his statutes I did not put away from me.
I was blameless before him, and I kept myself from my guilt.
So the Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight. (v20-21)
This is all very grim and emo, so let’s have a little fun and laugh at baby Kaycee. This is one of my earliest memories. When I was around 5 years old, my family lived in a house with a room that I absolutely loved. I now realize it was probably a storage closet added last-minute by the architect because it was inconveniently wedged between two of the upstairs bedrooms with the roof sloping awkwardly into it. There was no place in that room where an average-height adult could have stood. I haven’t asked them, but I imagine my parents probably hated that stupid room. I know I would, now. But at the time, it was a Kaycee-sized room and I firmly believed that all rooms ought to be Kaycee-sized rooms. Even better, all of the toys I and my 4 year old brother Kyle shared were in there! I never bothered to wonder how all my toys ended up in there. The Universe was at my disposal, after all. They were probably just there because I wanted them there.
One day, I came up with a brilliant plan. Mom had specifically told Kyle and I not to do something, but I really wanted to do that something. I’m not trying to be vague by referring to the Something as the Something. I genuinely don’t remember what it was- it probably involved robbery since robbery was one of my pastimes during that phase of my life- but it’s unimportant. What’s important is the Plan.
Dragging poor Kyle into the hall, I whispered the Plan to him. We would do the Something, then, we would run into the Room. We would close the door, push all of the toys against it, and then we would hide in the now-empty cabinets. It was foolproof! Mom and Dad were simply too big to get into the room, but even if they tried, the toys would stop them.
The Plan went swimmingly, up until I realized that Dad had this really annoying thing he could do called crouching. Despite the absurdity of the situation, I distinctly remember thinking, “OH! So that’s how the toys got here!” Kyle and I were apprehended and taken to the bathroom for spankings. Those never bothered me much, so I nobly volunteered to go first. Anything to get away from Kyle’s pitiful whimpering, which had begun the moment Dad opened the door and knocked over our toy barricade. Dad denied my request. He told me to wait outside the door so that I would go after Kyle.
Kyle sobbed tearfully, and even though I knew the spankings did not hurt and even though I knew they didn’t bother me, hearing his distress made me cry. I didn’t regret what I had done, I didn’t even regret getting caught, but I regretted dragging Kyle into this whole mess. Hearing him get what he deserved felt wrong because I knew I deserved it more, and I also knew it would bother me less. I didn’t quite know what to make of this at the time, but I think I do now.
Grace is a funny thing. As I have described multiple times now, I kept trying to find a reason to leave God. I made no effort to be blameless in his sight, I made no effort to keep his rules before me, and I made no effort to keep my hands clean. I did not care about any of that. But God, in his mercy and grace, kept me saved. My blamelessness was not my own- it was Christ’s. My adherence to God’s law was not my own- it was Christ’s and his provision (During City Project, I was surrounded by Christian community with wonderful Christian mentors available at all times. The only reason I did not do anything drastically sinful during that summer was because of the time and space I happened to exist within). Finally, my hands were not clean. I was actively looking for a way to rebel against the God of the Universe. I was actively searching for my own Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but God kept putting gates and cherubim in my way, many in the form of Psalm 18. Now, on the other side of 2019 looking back at the closed door of 2018, I feel deep and poignant regret. I do not deserve to call myself a Child of God now, and I would not be calling myself one right now if God had not stepped in and barricaded the paths away from him. I’m so glad that God proved a better Enjolras than I.
I am blameless before God, but that is only because Christ gave me his blamelessness and because God has given me his ongoing grace, keeping me blameless in his sight.
With the merciful, you show yourself merciful; with the blameless man you show yourself blameless; with the purified you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous. (v25-26)
These verses were the ones that I recall catching my attention during that very first reading, so I think they deserve at least a bit of lingering. A lot of people- Christian or otherwise- dislike the passages in the Bible describing God’s wrath and judgement. I never had much issue with it, but that probably has more to do with the undeniably atrocious amount of arrogance I continue to find buried in my psyche than any spiritual superiority I possess (lookee here, more arrogance! what a shock). It never bothered me because I never really thought of myself as deserving of wrath, but I could hand over a list of people I felt did deserve it, hence, I was unbothered by it’s existence.
Case in point, I liked the thought of God being tortuous. Even if the most harsh punishment would be issued by the U.S. Justice System- which I knew that it would not be- it still would feel utterly inadequate. People say torture is an antiquated thing, and good little liberal 2017 me would say the same, but hell, in 2018, I understood the impulse. So I liked the verse for that reason at first.
Have you ever thought about torture for weeks in a row? Don’t. It hurts.
I can’t think of anything much more worthy of the term “crooked” than a curly-haired, geeky Christian sharing the Gospel and espousing grace and hope and joy in the daylight while dreaming happily about torture at night.
These verses quickly shifted from my go-to for misinterpreted glee to the verses that caused me to pray for mercy, even though I knew I was not one of the merciful.
For you save a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down.
For it is you who light my lamp; the Lord my God lightens my darkness.
For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall.
This God- his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. (v27-30)
At some point in the summer, I wrote some thoughts about these verses in the margins of my Bible. My handwriting resembles that of a mad scientist, so I’ll simply provide a transcription:
“The word of the Lord does, indeed, prove true. His way is perfect. I was literally looking for a reason to leave, but his word still proved true and I could not go. ‘Where else can we go, Lord?’ I feel like Peter. Perhaps a bit begrudging, but it’s a shallow feeling. I’m angry. I’m confused. But I’m still his child and he’s still my dad and he has never lied to me which is more than I can say for most- and he has gone so far beyond mere honesty for me. He’s given me grace, love, emotion, hope, purpose, escape, home, relationship, community, change, everything. He’s given me Jesus and that is enough. I love him because he first loved me. His way is perfect. The word of the Lord proves true.”
Have you ever thought about grace for weeks in a row? Do. It heals.
For who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God?- the God who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless.
He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights.
He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great.
You gave a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip. (v31-36)
In the odd semi-chronological narrative I have constructed for this blog post, we have now arrived at the end of City Project and the end of the summer. And look at everything God did! He gave me strength to consistently eat food, to do everything I had promised to do as an intern, to share the Gospel with believers and non-believers. He gave me the wisdom to talk about joy even when I didn’t know how, to read this passage over and over again and continue to find him, to consistently find myself at a loss for how to prove God inadequate. He gave me the blessing of new friends, of new experiences, of new ideas, of new awe for him. Rocks may not be comfortable, but they are better than feathers when it comes to war. I might be afraid of heights, but I’d rather be there than elsewhere. I went through my middle school Katniss phase, I know archery is not easy and a bow of bronze? Impossible. A shield implies projectiles, a supporting hand implies stumbling, and how does gentleness make someone great?
I don’t know. But I know that all of it happened. I know I was given a wide, wide path of grace and I know my feet did not slip, even though, for all the help I was, I may as well have been meandering in circles throughout my wide path, scouring for metaphorical banana peels.
(Jokes aside, it is difficult to write about the summer without mentioning Psalm 18 and what was going on with me. So if you supported me in any way and were wondering why you have not heard from me, I’m so sorry, but this is why. It seemed feeble to try to write a thank-you explaining that my biggest takeaway from the summer involved highlighting Psalm 18 into an ugly rainbow in my Bible through rereadings. I hope this helps explain some things!)
All in all, God was good and it was a good summer.
I pursued my enemies and overtook them, and did not turn back till they were consumed.
I thrust them through, so that they were not able to rise; they fell under my feet.
For you equipped me with strength for the battle; you made those who rise against me sink under me.
You made my enemies turn their backs to me, and those who hated me I destroyed.
They cried for help, but there was none to save; they cried to the Lord, but he did not answer them.
I beat them fine as dust before the wind; I cast them out like mire in the streets. (v37-42)
What? You thought this post would be over because I resolved my City Project story? Okay, one, I rarely shut up, so I’m going to keep writing until I run out of words or until my fingers fall off, whichever happens first (spoiler: it’ll be the finger thing). And two, spoiler again, there is no real resolution to this story because it’s a true story, and true stories don’t have resolutions yet, but God did more, and I need to talk about it.
Here’s an adorable little quirk of mine that I had for almost the entirety of my Christian life. I loathed David. Absolutely despised him. I hated his story, I hated the way I heard pastors and teachers talk about him, I hated the fact that Jesus came from his line, and, most of all, I hated the phrase man after God’s own heart.
My thoughts deserve some explanation, I think, because they were not entirely irrational. When I was in Sunday School, I remember teachers explaining the early kings of Israel like this: “The first king, Saul, was all bad. The second king, David, was all good. And the third king, Solomon, started good but ended bad.” I’m sure they meant well, but this extremely simplistic, and thus, incorrect, interpretation of the Samuels and 1 Kings were some of the factors involved in my abandonment of Christianity in middle school. I remember reading through Samuel prior to deciding that God wasn’t real and found Saul to be the most relatable of the trio. I found it offensive that he was reduced to “all bad”. And sure, I could see the downward trajectory of moral degradation in Solomon, but his “badness” didn’t seem nearly as abhorrent to me as David. What kind of a pervert has 700 wives and 300 concubines? How fucked up as a father do you have to be to let your rapist son continue to live as your heir while you let your victimized daughter exist in desolation? How evil do you have to be to have sex with your friend’s wife and then murder him to cover it up?
After becoming a Christian, I never opened Samuel. I would have said it was because I’d already read it, but really, it was because I was afraid of finding myself godless again.
Well, take a wild guess as to who wrote Psalm 18. It was only a matter of time before my hatred towards David became a problem. After all, I could only pretend that the above passage was metaphorical and about me for so long before admitting that I have, in fact, never thrust an enemy through and ground them into dust, as awesome as that would be. I have also never cast anyone out like mire in the streets, in case you were wondering.
You delivered me from strife with the people; you made me the head of nations; people whom I had not known served me.
As soon as they heard of me they obeyed me; foreigners came cringing to me.
Foreigners lost heart and came trembling out of their fortresses. (v43-45)
Early in the semester, my now-familiar frenemies named Anger and Confusion were throwing an absolute rager in my mind, so through the headache, I pointedly told God, that no, I was not going to read that stupid Psalm ever again because it was written by stupid David and there was nothing on this stupid earth that would make me change my mind. In fact, I said, (because I’m stupid) I’m not going to read the Bible at all. So I closed my Bible and went on Youtube.
The very first thing in my feed was the summary of 1 and 2 Samuel by The Bible Project. I’ll link it at the end of this post. I clicked it and watched it. Outside of God, I don’t know what compelled me to do so.
I love learning about literature, so the explanation regarding the narrative structure drew me in and caused me to watch both videos. As ridiculous as this might sound, especially if you don’t know me that well, but to hear a man’s voice acknowledge David’s sin, especially in regards to Tamar, caused Anger and Confusion to pack up their party and left me crying alone in the comforting stillness. It wasn’t a happy cry, but it was a relieved cry.
It was enough to get me to grab my Bible and flip Samuel open randomly. I was too tired to search for the beginning.
Let’s make this a bit interactive, okay? Go find a Bible and open it to 2 Samuel 22.
Got it? Read it a bit.
Can you imagine my shock?
According to my newfound knowledge through The Bible Project videos, the last few chapters of 2 Samuel are supposed to work as a “snapshot” of David’s life, to summarize the message God was sending through David by piecing together non-chronological stories and writings from David at the end of the book.
73 of the Psalms in the Bible were written by David, and he probably wrote hundreds more throughout his lifetime that were not included in the Bible. And out of all of those, out of everything this man wrote, Psalm 18, my Psalm, was the one that was not only written by him, but chosen for him.
Have you ever read a poem, watched a movie, or heard a story that struck you in your heart? Have you ever felt an inexplicable connection to a character or a person, someone unknowable, but somehow, you know them and they become Something to you? I have, multiple times. When I was a little girl, it was Belle from Beauty and the Beast. My aunt introduced me to the movie on a car ride to Florida when I was seven, and I insisted on watching the movie over and over and over until we arrived because I discovered that I loved Belle so much. Later, it was the Lord of the Rings movies. The intense, unfulfilled yearning for a past that will never return and the courageous journeying towards a murky future- all against an aesthetic of vulnerability, honor, and loyalty- deeply shaped my view of the world, in ways I am still discovering. Most recently, Jane Eyre and Victor Frankenstein have me enthralled, along with their authors, Charlotte Bronte and Mary Shelley.
I have never, in my entire life, felt a connection to someone unknowable as intensely as I felt my connection to David. I spoke earlier of rescue not being instantaneous, and I stand by that, but any and all hatred I felt towards him vanished instantly. How could I hate him, after everything we’d both felt? We’d both experienced the Lord as our strength, as our fortress, as our rescue. I know what Sheol feels like, I know how desperate you have to be when the sight of a flaming and dark God brings you joy, I know what it’s like to find thunder comforting, I know what it feels like to be saved again and again and again and I know why David continuously attributes everything good and everything perfect to God.
You can’t hate someone who is just like you. You can’t hate someone you understand.
The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation- the God who gave me vengeance and subdued peoples under me, who delivered me from my enemies; yes, you exalted me above those who rose against me; you rescued me from the man of violence. (v46-48)
I read 1 and 2 Samuel, and then I read them again, and then I read 2 Samuel a third time and I can’t wait to read them again. They have very quickly become my favorite books in the Bible, and I could write endlessly about what I have learned in them, but I’m worried my fingers will fall off, so I’ll save it for another time. Suffice it to say, like everything, it’s all a bit more complicated, a bit more confusing, a bit more real, and a bit more about God than I had made myself believe.
I am so glad that David was a man after God’s own heart because that is very good news for me. God is a just God who makes himself seem tortuous to the crooked, but to the merciful he shows himself merciful, to the pure he shows himself pure, to the blameless he shows himself blameless. There is no one, no, not even one, human being who is merciful and pure and blameless. David was crooked, and he deserved torture and death, but God, in his grace, lead David to look forward to a perfect King, one who would defend the defenseless, uplift the oppressed, and be worthy of the fealty, love, and worship of his subjects. I am crooked, and I deserve torture and death, but God, in his grace, lead me to look back at a perfect Carpenter who lived a perfect and sinless life, who was merciful and thus deserved God’s mercies, but instead, took my wrath upon himself so that I might forever and always be blameless in God’s sight, a woman after God’s own heart. Jesus rose again, and so we all, myself, David, believers past and believers future no matter how crooked, can have life and have it abundantly.
I look back on 2018 and I am tempted to dwell on the fact that it was the “worst year of my life”, as if years mean anything and as if I don’t have eternity. That’s absurd. There were abundant blessings in the form of a truer understanding of the Gospel and a release from anger that I have been holding on to for far too long. Rescues take time, but they happen all the time. 2018 was good, even if it did not always feel that way.
If you made it to the end of this post, thank you so much for reading. I hope you found some encouragement. Whether or not reflection is Needy® and Emotional®, I have found that this has been necessary and cathartic.
I think it is only right to let Psalm 18 have the final word of my reflection. Hopefully, God-willing, it contains a spoiler for what comes next in my life.
For this, I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations, and sing to your name.
Great salvation he brings to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his offspring forever. (v49-50)
The Bible Project: 1 and 2 Samuel
I didn’t have time in the post to mention them, but here are three books I read throughout the past several months that have been incredibly helpful.
A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis
In His Image by Jen Wilkin
The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament by Sandra L. Richter
If you are not a Christian, or if you have any questions about the Bible or Christianity or something that I said, please feel free to message me. In case my verbosity hasn’t clued you in to this fact, Jesus is kinda my favorite discussion topic, so I’d love to talk!