'We had so many plans for our new house and retirement. This wasn't what we expected'
Helen’s story | Suffering is never for nothing.
“My husband, Max, and I moved out of our family home in February, 2018. We’d lived there for 45 years and raised our four children there. It was time to downsize. We were in our late sixties and we wanted somewhere smaller, to spend our retirement. We found a place in Springwood [Blue Mountains, New South Wales], close to the shops and station. It was perfect. We put our house on the market and we sold it and moved in. It was a lot of hard work, but we eventually did it.”
“Then, just three weeks later, Max woke up and he was in intense back pain. He couldn’t walk. It was a Friday morning. I thought he’d pinched a nerve, so I took him to the doctors in a wheelchair. The doctor wrote a script for pain relief and we managed to get him back home. But as soon as we got inside, he lay down on the carpet. I thought he was exhausted. Then I took another look at him, and decided to call the ambulance.
“They took him to the hospital and the doctors said he’d had a huge bleed. They didn’t think he’d make it through the night. They said, ‘You can sit with him till he goes.’
“I sat there with him. I sent messages to our family. Max survived the night. Then he went to another hospital and he was in palliative care for two months. We were able to spend time with him, which was a blessing, but I don’t think he knew who we were. He died two months later.
“It wasn’t what we were expecting. We had so many plans for our new house and retirement. But perhaps God often leads us into situations we haven’t chosen, and he always goes with us, to guide, strengthen and comfort us. One of my favourite phrases is, ‘Never forget in the darkness what you’ve learnt in the light.’
“If we’re close to God all the time, then we’ll be close to him in trials.
“On the Friday morning that Max collapsed, the Lord gave me a verse from Genesis 41:52 – Joseph named his son, Ephraim. He said, ‘It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.’
“Joseph experienced the full gamut of suffering, but he was still able to trust God’s purposes and character. He was fruitful in the land of suffering. God is holy and almighty. He is perfectly just. He is all wisdom. And we are not perfect, but at the cross, Christ did it all for us. We are recipients of grace. How can we doubt that he’s not in complete control? As it says, ‘Underneath are the Everlasting Arms’ [see Deuteronomy 33:27].
“Also, when Max was in the hospital, I read a lot of Christian books … by Elisabeth Elliot, Helen Roseveare, J.C. Ryle. All of them wrote about how God used the authors [of the Bible’s books] during their personal times of affliction. As I read, God was saying to me, ‘I’m going to bring people into your world whose pain you can understand.’
“That’s what he’s been doing since then. Of course, we can’t always see the fruit. But I’ve made it my prayer, ‘Lord, as I spend time with you, please make me an encouragement to others.’ Suffering is never for nothing. And it’s not that I haven’t struggled. Even closing the bank accounts and changing the car over was hard. I kept on presenting the death certificate and having to say it again – my husband has died. I cried every time. Then Covid hit us all and I felt isolated.
“But it drove me into the Lord’s arms more and more. Psalm 73 says, ‘Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.’ (verse 23) That’s been precious to me. The morning after Max died, I awoke thinking, ‘I don’t have my husband now, after 50 years,’ but God immediately reminded me of his promises. It is he alone who comforts. And we can comfort others by the comfort we’ve received from God. We can point to the Lord, in everything. As Joseph said and realised, God will make us fruitful in the land of suffering. May God be glorified.”