One day I met a woman named Portia, she was talking to our group and asking where God was while she suffered. We were giving the answers of "He's right here with you, He promises to never leave us nor forsake us..." You know the answers we're all taught in Sunday school, and know by heart. But then came a moment when she looked straight at me and said
"Have you ever lost anyone you love? Are your mother and father still alive?"
Ouch... I knew she was expecting me to say "no I've never experienced that, my parents are both alive and well..." I also know she was hoping to be able to prove that God leaves us in our suffering. But I had to be honest, and honestly this is my least favorite question to answer. I tend to answer this question very matter of factly, I think it's a defense mechanism. If I allow myself to be truly vulnerable, then the pain and hurt that still linger from my loss just might come out. So I took a deep breath and answered
"Portia I have lost someone I love very dearly. My mother was in a bad accident in 2001 that has left her disabled, and my father died unexpectedly last year in April. I know how it feels."
Silence... The truth of what I had just said to her registered on her face. I can almost imagine what she was thinking at that moment, " but you are white, how is it that you've experienced pain and sorrow? Is it completely possible that I am not alone?"
She began to share her story, and it truly is filled with hurt, anger, sorrow, and loss. Portia lost her father when she was very young, and her mother died 7 years ago. She has been struggling to get by, but along the way there have been tragedies that have left her feeling hopeless and broken. She gave her life to the Lord several years ago, but now is struggling to find Him among the pain.
There it was, the familiar heaviness, my heart was breaking all over again.
Before I knew what was happening, I was on my feet standing next to Portia. Looking into her eyes all I knew to say was "I am so sorry". Sometimes we get caught up in words, and trying to speak out of sympathy, when all people really need is empathy. They need to know that someone else feels their pain, to have another person reach out and touch them, to simply say "I'm here, and I love you".
We were able to encourage and love on Portia. And the next morning God gave us the opportunity to talk with her again. As I looked into this beautiful woman's eyes, I was reminded of Isaiah 49:15-16
"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
though she may forget, I will not forget you!
See I have engraved you on the palm of my hand,
your walls are ever before me..."
These words have comforted me so many times when I'm crying out to the Lord and I hear no response. But yet it's moments when I find a brother or a sister who have experienced the pain of losing someone you love, that truly can hear the Lord say "I will not forget you, you are not alone in this..." It's being reminded that others are fighting this same battle that often gives me hope and comfort.
I will not soon forget Portia, and the way that the Lord gently spoke through her...
You are not alone