29th of October is always a significant day for me. This day, 24 yrs ago, my dad died, quite suddenly, of a heart attack; and life changed forever.
Considering my usual vagueness, I have lots of specific, vivid memories of that day… Reading in bed on a Sunday morning; hearing mum call out to me; jumping up to phone a close doctor friend. Standing in the room with dad lying on the bed taking huge struggling breaths. Mum on the phone talking to siblings, calling an ambulance. Feeling utterly helpless as his noisy breaths grew further apart; thinking I should know what to do. Watching the colour drain away from his face.
Seeing our friend, then the ambulance guy (also someone we knew) try mouth to mouth, CPR; hearing them plead with him to “Come on, mate!”. Staring through the window, a stretcher wheeling him into the back of an ambulance.
Friends & family arriving, in ones and twos, shocked by the announcement at the end of the church service we didn’t get to. My siblings and their spouses arriving; a dear friend of dad’s taking me under his arm & promising to watch out for me (which he has done very faithfully); beautiful people bringing meals, and later even cleaning our toilets, among many other helpful things!
And I remember our family, the next morning, sitting at the table and pulling out our daily bible reading booklet, and almost gasping at the relevance of what we read: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God…(2 Cor 1).
I don’t remember much of the bizarre week that followed the clarity of those 24 hours (I was doing HSC exams, along with everything else). But I so clearly remember that bible reading. The “God of all Comfort” has eventually woven Himself into the core of my faith – though only through years of struggle. At the time, I was unable to conceive of the dimensions of the comfort and compassion I would need. I didn’t know the depths to which the loss and shock had traveled in my psyche. I had no idea of the strength of the protest which beat its fists against this momentous event, and against the God who was supposed to be in charge and to be good. I couldn’t predict other griefs that would twist together with this one, and eventually grind me to some sort of a halt… finally unable to block out the hidden pain and fury with my will and power alone. I couldn’t imagine that a time would come when the clean sadness of loss would come free of all the choking power of unbelief, mistrust, anger, control, misunderstanding and self-protection (I’m sure this list could be added to…).
Nor had I any understanding of the lengths to which God would go to unravel all of those tightly knotted cords that tangled through my soul. What seemed at the time to be a cruel and chaotic merry-go-round that whipped me back again and again to the same places of frustration and confusion, of wounds and avoidance… now appears as gentle but determined efforts to invite me to participate in my own journey of healing and growth. And there were always the whispers of hope and help: vast red plains and vivid night skies that seemed big enough for all my questions; wise and kind companions who prayed and listened and asked and cared; my own songs that urged me to grasp their meaning; slow-growing clarity in my understandings and expectations about life, God and myself.
Today I sat with some teenage girls I’ve been getting to know, who’ve experienced more pain in their years than I could imagine. I listened to some of what they’ve been facing lately, and sensed their feelings of helplessness and despair. I was glad to be able to see them on this special day, to share with them a little of my story, and something of the healing and change that God has eventually brought about. For one thing, I knew my dad would love to know that I was sharing the kindness and love of Jesus with these precious girls – that sort of thing was the passion of his life. Further, it was yet another tangible proof of God’s faithfulness to those incredibly helpful words, all those years ago: that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
When we have travelled our own paths of heartache, we are more able to share the pain of hurting ones. When we’ve discovered our utter brokenness and need for God on every level of life, we will be willing to sit with the broken and the needy. We no longer need to be able to fix things, have all the answers, or know what to do. When we’ve received the deep comfort of the Father of Compassion, we know that only He can tenderly sift through all the shattered pieces, and patiently bring to life a new creation: yet another witness to the reality of the God of all Comfort.