For They Shall Be Comforted

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?

Photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash

10 Comments

  1. Rachel November 8, 2017

    Thank you for sharing this very moving story. It brought me tears. I am walking through the pain of a miscarriage and I can relate to some of the things that you shared. And I just think it’s beautiful how you felt God’s hug that night. I can attest to his presence and comfort through my grief. It’s there but it is hard to describe in words. He is just amazing.

    1. Joy Smalley November 8, 2017

      Hi Rachel, I am so sorry for your loss and the grief you are now walking through. God is truly amazing and gentle and sweet. I love that you said God’s comfort is hard to describe in words, because it really is a comfort outside of ourselves and is hard to describe. God is present. I am praying for you. Blessings.

  2. Joan November 9, 2017

    Beautifully said. Thank you.

    1. Joy Smalley November 9, 2017

      Thank you, Joan

  3. Esther Miller November 9, 2017

    Joy, thanks for being vulnerable. These are watershed moments in our lives, and like you said—innocence is suddenly gone and can never be retrieved. May God’s comfort ever rest upon you. ~Esther

    1. Joy Smalley November 9, 2017

      Thank you, Esther. It most definitely was a watershed, faith defining moment.

  4. Corinne November 9, 2017

    Joy thank you! This is just so tender and important.

    Just want to share this from an article by Judith Orloff in Psychology Today: “Emotional tears have special health benefits. Biochemist and “tear expert” Dr. William Frey at the Ramsey Medical Center in Minneapolis discovered that reflex tears are 98% water, whereas emotional tears also contain stress hormones which get excreted from the body through crying. After studying the composition of tears, Dr. Frey found that emotional tears shed these hormones and other toxins which accumulate during stress. Additional studies also suggest that crying stimulates the production of endorphins, our body’s natural pain killer and “feel-good” hormones.” Interestingly, humans are the only creatures known to shed emotional tears…

    Crying makes us feel better, even when a problem persists. In addition to physical detoxification, emotional tears heal the heart. You don’t want to hold tears back.”

    Grieving and shedding tears is God’s gift to His people. Not only does He gather them up in a bottle (meaning He takes each bit of sorrow we give to Him personally!), He has designed this kind of interaction between Him and us to physically minister to our grief stricken bodies as well as our souls. Blessed are those who mourn… for they shall be comforted. Rather than feeling like shedding tears over losses and the ravaging effects of sin as a sign of weakness and something to be avoided, may we all be real before our loving God who is acquainted with grief and sorrow and uses our tears to heal us.

    1. Joy Smalley November 9, 2017

      Corinne, that is amazing!!! I did not know that about tears and that information is a game changer. I’m going to cry more 🙂 God is so amazing in how he has created us in this world. Our spiritual, physical and emotional are so interconnected and the more I learn about the physical realities the more I am in awe of God himself. He’s the coolest!!!

  5. Maggie Van Slooten November 11, 2017

    My dear husband went to be with Jesus 2 months ago, rather unexpectedly. I felt God holding me through His Body and the people He surrounded me with during that one horrible week in the hospital where he died and in the weeks that followed. Yes, I am comforted but being a cross cultural worker, I had always considered “home” wherever I was together with my husband. Now I feel homeless, but not hopeless. I feel God’s embrace even stronger now. His Word, His love letter to me reminds me every day that He is near, He is watching out for me and He’s got this.

    1. Joy Smalley November 11, 2017

      Hi Maggie. What a beautiful picture! I am so sorry for your loss and the grief that you are walking through. It is faith affirming for me to hear how God has and continues to hold you up throughout your loss, thank you for sharing with us. May God continue to meet you and hold you tightly and deeply . Blessings and prayers.

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