If it’s all right with you I would like to tell you a story. A story that I have, as of yet, never been able to tell anyone face to face but it is my story and it is a story of God’s great comfort.
It all begins in 1999, I was seventeen, and, as any stubborn TCK would do, I convinced my parents to allow me to spend my senior year of high school in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I had a great deal of confidence and conviction and I volunteered part of my time at an orphanage for children with HIV/AIDS.
This is where I met a little girl named Om-Am. She was five years old and was a rather mischievous and active child. She was one of the older children and while the majority of my time was spent with babies, toddlers and preschoolers, she always made me smile. She was quick to laugh as she played and I thought of her as the little ringleader.
After a few months, she got sick. It all started with an eye infection but before long she was no longer running or playing or smiling. Instead, she would curl up on the floor mats and rest. I had never experienced sickness like this before but I was drawn to her pain and longed to provide her comfort. Those next few weeks I would pick her little body up off the floor and hold her. We would rock together on the rocking chair or swing together on the outdoor bench. I held her tight, stroked her hair and sang to her. My favorite song to sing was “Jesus, lover of my soul. Jesus, I will never let you go…” As I felt her warm little body get weaker and sicker I petitioned God to heal her. In my heart, it felt like Godly injustice that a young, innocent child ought to pay so dearly for the sins of another.
One Wednesday, early in the morning when I had just arrived to work, I found Om-Am asleep on the couch and I smiled. I had the fleeting urge to kiss her forehead but didn’t wish to wake her, so I passed her by quickly and quietly. That morning moved rather quickly. We had a standing appointment to meet and I was busy feeding, dressing and ushering kids out the door into the vans. I did not say goodbye to the little girl asleep on the couch and soon after leaving we received a phone call that Om-Am had passed away.
I’ll never forget the shock in that moment I saw her, lying in a crib, dressed in her favorite dress. No more smile, no more laughter, her eyes unable to close. I sat down against a wall in the corner of the room and willed myself not to cry. The grief came in rushes over the next weeks, two more children passed on soon after, and I was wrecked.
My nights were especially hard. My soul wrestled with God and with sadness and uncertainty. I was seventeen. What did I know about God and his goodness? Giving into my grief one night, I yelled at God while in the same breath I asked him to hold me. I have yet to experience another night like this one. No one else was in that room with me, of that I am positive, and yet, I would swear to you that I was held. It felt so physical and so real. God held me as I grieved. I grieved the loss of children I had loved and also the loss of innocence in my own soul.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Our God is not like other gods. Our gospel is not like what other religions teach. Our God does not tell us to ‘suck it up,’ he does not tell us to suppress grief, he doesn’t even equate grief and mourning with a lack of trust, contentment or faith. Our God says, ‘feel the pain’ and he promises to bless us through comfort. He always delivers on his promises.
Both western and eastern cultures have their own way of coping with suffering. Western cultures tend to try to fix grief and look for methods and words to alleviate it. Eastern cultures (that I have seen) have a tendency to brush off grief, sometimes denying it even exists. Biblical culture offers us something so much more precious and true. Biblical culture allows for the pain of grief and suffering while still clinging to the truth that blessings are abundant in the midst of it. God is still good and he does not work out this goodness distant from us, but he works it out within us and around us. He holds us. He catches our tears. He breathes life back into our souls.
The more I understand the cultures and religions that surround me, the more confident I am in the awesomeness that is our God. He alone promises us comfort in the midst of our pain. He alone allows for the full expressions of grief.
Do you know the power of a hug? The biochemical response to physical touch is amazing. A simple hug will release oxytocin, the bonding hormone, it serves to bring both soul and physical healing. Hugs alleviate feelings of loneliness, stress, anger and isolation. God created hugs to heal and comfort. He created us to both give and receive his comfort through touch.
I hope that the hours that I spent holding Om-Am before she died brought her comfort and alleviated any fears she may have had. At the very least I hope she knew that she was not alone, that she was loved and continues to be remembered. I know that I am forever bonded to her and that she forever changed my life.
As God held tightly to me that night I was comforted in a way that I have never felt before and the words he spoke to me continue to bolster my faith. He is good and he is present.
“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle.You have recorded each one in your book.” Psalm 56:8
Do you allow yourself to grieve? How have you experienced God’s comfort? How have you been a comfort to others?