I believe (probably to my own condemnation) that the measure of a person’s Christianity is found in how he or she responds to those in trouble. I think that the Lord’s injunction to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those in need of comfort is nothing short of the path of discipleship. It is not without significance that the one title shared by all three members of the Godhead (aside from “God”) is “Comforter.” The Holy Ghost is known as the Comforter; Christ referred to himself as “another Comforter;” and the apostle Paul designated our Father in Heaven as the “God of all comfort.” Godliness, in its simplest form, is lifting up those who have fallen.
By that measure, I have spent most of this year surrounded by some of the most godly people I have ever known.
I was in little need of comfort during the initial days after I collapsed in Dallas. During my coma, I was entirely unaware of what was happening around me. When I finally woke up, I was so impressively stoned that I was even less aware. But for my wife, the situation was much different. Esther and I do everything together, and we have throughout our 25 years of marriage. When we are apart, we both feel utterly alone. If you are blessed enough to have found someone that you can love as much as my wife and I love each other, you pay a price of pain in your companion’s absence. I say without hesitation that I do not know how to be happy without her, and she has consistently shown that the same is true for her when I am away. And this time, it looked like I was going to be alone for good.
And so came the comforters. Esther would not leave my side during my hospital stay. During my nearly three week stay in the hospital, she went as far from me as the cafeteria. Once. Outside of that, she was rooted at my side, knowing that if I woke up and did not see her by me, it would be more than I could bear. When she was not allowed in my room, she took up residency in the waiting room, refusing to leave even when they called the cops on her. (If you have a Mexican wife, you understand. The Man may have a taser and a Glock, but they don’t match the firepower of the chancla). But even as she refused to leave me alone, our family and friends refused to leave her alone with her fears.
I won’t try to name names of all those who were there to help her maintain her sanity. I did not see it myself, so I know that someone would be missed, and almost all of those of whom I am aware demanded that we not disclose their generosity to others. But our friends decided early on that there would be a regular priesthood presence with her, and they kept that promise. Even people that we did not know well brought food, blankets, even a cot for my sweetheart to sleep on. Near strangers sat with her for hours on end, not doing anything more dramatic than blessing her with their presence. They quietly lifted part of her burden and offered hope that things would get better. They blessed her and prayed with her. They laughed and cried with her. They brought money to help her tend to her needs at the hospital (the final dollar of which was spent on our last day there). They sustained her during the most difficult days of her life, and I am so thankful that they were there. Each of them was a light shining in darkness. And the light was good.
And they just kept coming. Once I was awake(ish), wonderful friends brought us Easter dinner, which was eaten around my hospital bed (not by me, as I was restricted to salt-, fat- and sugar-free hospital food, the culinary equivalent of water boarding). Another friend brought clippers to give me a much-needed buzz cut, because perpetual bedhead depressed me. A dear friend tried to smuggle in burritos, an abortive attempt to rescue me. My wall in ICU was covered with loving messages from my seminary students. A wonderful young man sang me my favorite hymn while I was comatose, to which my body could not respond, but I am sure my soul gladly did. After my discharge, our angel of a chiropractor came on a weekend to our home to relieve Esther’s tension with a much-needed adjustment. And when we were facing financial ruin, people rallied behind us, including one celestial family that replaced one of Esther’s paychecks. Another dear sister yelled at us weekly for us not giving her our complete grocery list.
It is hard for me to write about this. My memory of those weeks and months is wobbly, but the countless comforting hands that lifted our family (and continue to lift us) still bring tears to my eyes. It is a humbling thing to be completely dependent on the kindness of others. But such dependence has been our lot for longer than I would ever have thought.
In our baptismal and Sacrament covenants in the Church, we agree to take upon us the name of Christ. To me, that means much more than merely being called “Christians.” It means that we take His image in our countenances. When others see us, they see Him, because we are where He would be, acting as He would act, speaking as He would speak, and comforting as He would comfort. I am blessed to have so many friends who demonstrate just such a discipleship. You do not have to look very hard to see Christ in them.
Tomorrow: Daughters, Born and Borrowed