“Shirley, Goodness & Mercy” by Brad Jersak

Psalm 23 (NKJV)

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

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

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord

My Three Angels

As a child immersed in our family’s faith story from infancy, I was introduced to the words and imagery of Psalm 23 well before I could read. Bible storybooks combined David’s famous song with illustrations of the Good Shepherd from Jesus’ parable, pictured rescuing lost and entangled lambs or carrying them home on his shoulders.

My imagination filled in the gaps, visualizing green pastures, quiet streams, dark valleys, and sumptuous banquets. With my mind’s eye, I pictured bears and lions in the gorge of death, and overflowing goblets and angelic waiters at a wedding reception. So far, so good.

But I also saw three angels, following me wherever I went. Two appeared as matronly bodyguards, the guardian angels who take care of children. As Jesus said, “Beware that you don’t look down on any of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels are always in the presence of my heavenly Father” (Matthew 18:10). And although they were intent and maybe even intimidating in their commitment to my care, I knew they were good because their names were, after all, Mercy and Goodness. And, as promised, these ministering angels have indeed followed me all the days of my life, serving my best interests, I know not how (Hebrews 1:14), and obeying God’s commission to take care of me (Psalm 91:11-12), despite my worst efforts.

My third angel

But I mentioned three. Remember, I hadn’t learned to spell yet or understand commas. Remember, I had a vivid imagination. And remember, my mind’s eye pictured every word of the Psalm. With that in mind, let me introduce you to my third angel… less solemn than the others, seemingly less stolid than Goodness and Mercy in her assignment. Of course, I am referring to Shirley.

Shirley seemed more like my fun aunt by the same name… playful, far less serious, who let me away with shenanigans and may have even incited a few of them. Lord knows I needed her to pull me back from pensive bouts of childhood worry over the Armageddon and hellfire messages of early 1970s revivalism. She knew better. And she knew me.

That’s how I knew her, for as the Good Book promised me, “Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy”—my three angelic godmothers—shall follow me all the days of my life.” Such was their task, as authorized by the Good Shepherd himself.

And the funny thing is, as I grew up and learned the correct spelling and found out that “surely” means “truly,” that information hasn’t changed a thing. I wasn’t a literalist then, and I’m no longer a literalist today. I’ve learned a few things about biblical symbols, puns and personification. “Shirley”/ “Surely,” as in “truly” or “certainly,” represents for me the faithfulness of God’s covenant promises.

So today, I join the angels in guarding the heart of that little boy in me who knows “Shirley,” is sometimes embarrassed by her watchful gaze, but also gives her frequent nods and a wink of appreciation. Whoever or whatever she is, even a figment of my imagination, to that boy and to my adult self, she’s still good ol’ Auntie Shirley… and her smile reminds me that some promises are “truly, truly.”  

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