We are often told that God is with us, that we should not be fearful, but secure in His love for us. Those are comforting words that we have heard often, but when trouble strikes us they can seem no more than words. The verses that make these promises are wrapped in stories of sacrifices that the saints endured. How can the promise of protection be truer for us than it seemed to have been for them? How could the awful tragedies that we read about or perhaps, even experienced, have happened? Was He not with us, there to protect us? These are difficult questions that I cannot fully answer. Job and his friends wrestled with these questions and so must all of us. Words can only accomplish so much. I can however, tell you my story.
A little more than two years ago I lost my companion to AIDS. Peter was my life; simply walking beside him was magnetic. We had five years together during which we shared almost every moment and so many blessings. His loss was of course, devastating beyond my power to describe. To go from having someone there for all of your problems and triumphs to a place where no one can share your pain is an awful journey. God did not take my pain from me, nor did I ask Him to. Grieving is something that one must do.
Through my pain, however, I was aware that I was being Watched Over. I felt that there was Someone who was there to protect me during a most vulnerable time. There were tangible signs of that Presence as well. Things that could have gone wrong did not; protective things that were unexpected did happen. I had been a member of the Cathedral of Hope, a gay and lesbian church in Dallas, for several years but my work schedule had not allowed me to attend on Sunday mornings. When I needed the presence of God around me most I was suddenly able to attend services on Sunday mornings. Sermons seemed targeted at me and the comforting presence of God’s people gave me a safe place, a new home. This was a blessing whose magnitude I cannot describe. A year ago would have been Peter’s fortieth birthday, an anniversary he never expected to celebrate. He told me that should he reach that age that I must throw him one truly exceptional party. That week arrived and the loss hit me very hard once again. A physical sign appeared that announced, “I love you.” It appeared twice that same week. God was with me.
Some may ask how this philosophy can be valid. If God was capable of being with me during my need, then why did He not save Peter? That was a question that I asked as well. After his death I found that I could not pray: I had prayed for him every day and yet he is no longer with me. It seemed that prayers were not answered but the truth was more complex. Peter had been sick for a long time. He was tired of the treatments that he had to endure. His joy had gone and he was ready to go. He had a prayer as well. God answered one of our prayers.
Problems of many kinds happen to all of us. All of us may well face illness, the loss of loved ones, economic hardships or some other difficulty. God has not promised to “take this cup from us” but has promised to be there when we must drink. He was there for me when I needed Him most. He brought me through the pain and has given me a new reason to go on. Peter’s birthday is upon me again. I miss him terribly of course, but I can now celebrate the fact that God gave him to me for five wonderful years. I was able to be there for him when he was sick, which was a great privilege. He gave me all the love that he had the strength to give and he is watching from above, safe in the arms of God. “Emmanuel” — God is with us.