Tuesday, February 16, 2021


For the next several weeks, Erin and I will be sharing excerpts from our book, Valley of the Shadow, published in 2014.

Prologue: Are we healed yet?


It is Thanksgiving eve, the twilight hour.  In the chill of the night, with a dusting of snow on the ground, two stealthy figures emerge from my house.  Shrouded in darkness, they come to the vehicles, and using the keys, they enter.  The interior lights are quickly doused, and the perpetrators hide within.  Both sliding doors of the mini-van are quietly opened, leaving them ajar.  Windows on our sub-compact are rolled down, and there the two warriors take up their positions.  It grows darker and colder, and still they wait, knowing that their ambush is unsuspected and of genius proportions.  Eventually, an old red jeep pulls up to the house.  Since the driveway is already to capacity with vehicles, it pulls onto the lawn.  A tall brown-haired young man emerges with a black cocker spaniel at his heels, and a second young man, with lighter hair and blue eyes, is disgorged from the passenger side.  With a war cry unrivaled in history their attackers leap from their positions, this one wearing a sombrero and the other with goggles and a pink karate helmet.  The young men know their female siblings are upon them, with a well thought out strategy and the element of surprise.  Suddenly the peace of the neighborhood is rent by the sound of electronic automatic weapons, plastic foam darts with rubber tips soar through the air.  Ah, curses! One of the weapons jams, resulting in an all out charge.  The boys, not in any way cowardly or unprepared, leap to retrieve their own weapons, previously loaded and lying ready on the back seat. For the next hour there is a barrage of darts sometimes hitting, mostly missing, as my adult children tear through my house and yard aiming at each other.   These largely innocuous missiles, many of which will lie hidden in couches and behind dressers until the next family gathering, these form one of our traditional reunion rituals. What started as a couple of gag gifts has snowballed into a highly competitive strategic game, and now the grandchildren have become corrupted. 


            I often wonder, years after the event, if we are healed yet, if we are back to normal. What makes a normal Christian family life?  Is it the way we dress, or the particular church we attend? Is it Bible reading and prayer at mealtimes? Is it the absence of certain behaviors and the presence of others?  Is it the foods we eat or the way we vote or the music we listen to?  And when things go wrong, does that mean we have failed?  Have we failed God, have we failed ourselves?  Are we no longer worthy of the name of Christian?  Is our witness for Christ destroyed?  What happens to faith when the unthinkable happens?  Where is Christ in the furnace of human tragedy?    


            I found Erin in the closet, lying on the floor.  I had stuck my head in the door to tell her to wake up and take the dog out, but she never appeared.  Tired and frustrated that I was again coercing her to take care of what was supposed to be her and her sister’s dog, I stormed into her room and grabbed her by the arm to get her up.  But her arm flopped down to the floor.  She was lying across her half-packed suitcase, the insides of which held not only her clothes but also pools of vomit.  That’s how I found my precious baby girl; that’s how the nightmare began.


            What is the worst day of your life?  Can you pinpoint it? I can. The worst day of my life was that hot summer morning, the day I became a statistic.  When you become a statistic, life is thrown into a tailspin.  We tend to quantify life in terms of percentages: 50% divorce rate, 33% of all women contract cancer, approximately 4400 teen suicides every year.  But when you experience it, it is no longer this abstract quantity out there, sanitized by impersonal percentages, all of a sudden you are the statistic, and it is raw, emotional, and fills every corner of your soul.  In the economy of Heaven numbers are not important, but we live in a world that analyzes the tragedies of life.  This is my story, the story of my family, when we became a statistic.  And it is the story of how God’s redeeming love burns brightest in the furnace, how He walks with us in the furnace.


Copyright © 2014 Elizabeth Stone.  All rights reserved.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK     1-800-273-8255

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