It’s early Sunday morning and the smell of fresh coffee fuels the air as the blessing of a new day slowly unfolds. Annie and I have been sleeping in the downstairs spare room while we enjoy having guests, uncle and aunt Pierre and Mary Jane – who have flown over from France to be with us.
This morning (Sunday) didn’t quite begin as calm as it feels right now. Around 5am Annie was rudely awakened with a coughing fit which was so bad it caused her to start retching and vomiting. I was exhausted just watching, trying to help Annie by holding her hair back; no matter how close I get or how often it happens, I still cannot begin to imagine how painfully exhausting it is for Annie. Slowly it passed and as my head found the pillow, I heard the tinkling of cups and breakfast bowls as Annie began to prepare the breakfast table!
In the last few weeks the coughing fits really have been an awful symptom of the past but from time to time we’re reminded that at best they were just dormant.
That’s not the only reminder they bring. Those occasional coughing fits remind me that for the most part, we have both been getting very good, uninterrupted nights of sleep. A few months ago this was probably our most common and desperate prayer request. In some ways, some of the hardest days were back then when we just dreaded nightfall because that was when those coughing fits began their night shift!
They also remind me of how much time we have enjoyed since. We often refer to the events of the last few months as a particular chapter in our lives, but even the events of just a few months ago, feel like chapters in and of themselves. I recall that conversation with the oncologist back in September when she hesitantly explained the bleak and uncertain news that even with chemo, Annie might only have months. Back then I wondered so many things. I wondered whether we would see Annie’s birthday; or whether we had seen the last of certain places and faces together. Each day and week was a milestone and with the Lord by our side He has taken us past many of them. It’s hard not to stop wondering and sometimes the innocence of wondering spirals downwards into worrying. The past doesn’t remind me to expect that the Lord will take us past every milestone, but that we are secure, safe, sheltered with Him by our side.
I am reminded of the plea Moses made to God while he was leading the people of Israel out of Egypt, through the wilderness to the promised land.
“If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.” – Exodus 33:15
As far as Moses was concerned even the hope of the promised land could wait if it meant getting there without God’s presence with Him. It’s as if Moses was saying: “Lord, I would rather live and die right here in the wilderness than enter the land flowing with milk and honey without You by my side.”
But you know, Moses did not arrive at that understanding overnight.
I hope that one thing has been clear from this blog journey so far…Annie and I have not worked out all the answers to suffering or unravelled all the secrets to suffering successfully. In spite of the many good things and great opportunities God has done and granted us during this time, we still sometimes wonder why. Just yesterday I lay silently with Annie as she cried: “Why does life have to be this way?”
Even the things we feel we have learned are very quickly unlearned. We have learned how liberating it is to live life one day at a time; but occasionally we find ourselves wondering and then worrying about things beyond each day. We have learned how important it is to live as heavenly minded pilgrims passing through this life; but even with the painful accompaniment of a terminal illness we still find our hearts making roots in this earth. We have learned how uplifting it is to make the most of each day with the strength, peace, joy and hope that God provides; but some days we just feel like we want to close our eyes again and wake up on a better day than the one we have to face. We have learned how comforting it is to hit the pillow each night acknowledging that we do not know what tomorrow holds and therefore entrust it entirely into the hands of the God who does; but there are days when we wrestle with the dissatisfaction that results from expecting more and better.
And yet even in the dark and lonely valley of discontent and disappointment, Jesus draws near to us – however frail and worn out we are; however pathetic we feel. When we are at our worst and weakest, Jesus finds us and does His best for us and His best never falls short. His best is not like our best – the kind of best that goes as far as it can while still protecting its own interests. His best is selfless and matchless.
We don’t have all the answers and the ones we have we don’t always like or find easy to accept. We haven’t learned all the lessons and the ones we think we have learned we sometimes forget. Speaking for myself, I am a slow learner. But we are slowly beginning to appreciate what Moses recognised: if God is close that’s all that matters. We can face the unknowns, the unanswered and the unwanteds if we know God is near; if we know we face them with Him. And whether that lesson is learned or sometimes forgotten, it is awesome to know that God wants to be near us. God draws near to His children.
I try to be as open and honest in this blog as I can. But some experiences of the Lord’s Presence I simply cannot explain with my words.
A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out, – Matthew 12:20
Jesus is the true Good Samaritan. He finds the broken, draws near to the messy, carries the weak and weary, pays for those who are spent, restores the broken. I know this because He does it on a daily basis for Annie and I.
Do you know it for yourself?
Jesus loves us so much that He would rather die than be in heaven without us. He loves us so much that while we were sinners, He was prepared to leave His throne in heaven for the mess of this world, for the pain and loneliness of the cross and the way to it, so that we might be with Him and He might be with us, forever.
Jesus is faithful to the end,
* As I posted this blog a letter was posted through our door from a sister in the Lord who is well into her years (a guess from me would put her in her eighties) in the card she wrote this verse:
God has said “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” – Hebrews 13:5