It’s 10 minutes to midnight and I’ve just said goodbye to five good men. I wrestled for a few minutes with what adjective I should use to describe them. I wanted to say ‘great men’ but ‘great’ is a very subjective word – and so is ‘good’ for that matter. Perhaps I should just call them five very dear brothers.
The reason I am up so late is that I have just finished our monthly elders’ meeting and the five men I am trying to define are the five fellow elders I have just met with. I don’t know what image comes to mind when you think of what church elders (or church leaders) are but what I see in these men are shepherds – five shepherds. And as shepherds their responsibility is to care for the sheep – the flock, the church family at Manor Park: to lovingly lead them, guide them, feed them and protect them. What makes these men ‘great’ and ‘good’ (if I can put it that way) is that they recognise that the sheep don’t belong to them, but to Jesus, The Good Shepherd. And consequently, they not only take their responsibility seriously but they desire to take their direction from The Good Shepherd.
While I am an elder, like these men, I also am one of The Good Shepherd’s sheep; and one of the greatest blessings to Annie and I at this difficult time has been to come under their loving care, leadership and protection. These men, have been one of the ways that God has channelled and delivered some of His most precious promises to Annie and I:
The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
they comfort me. – Psalm 23
One of the earliest blessings we received when Annie first got the news of her diagnosis was the practical support and love of our home church and, for me in particular, our elders. I remember that one Sunday in September, after the morning service, they called me aside and shared how they wanted to practically help me, beginning with relieving me of any upcoming ministry duties that I had. Without their practical love and support I could never have been able to take care of Annie in the way that I have been released to.
In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia he encourages the church to ‘Carry each other’s burdens’ (Galatians 6:2) and that is exactly what these brothers have done. They have been prepared to make our burdens, their burdens. And in doing so God has used them to deliver many of His promises, including His promise to make our burden light.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30
We are very thankful for the support we also get outside of the church and we consider it God’s blessing to live in a day, an age and a place where we have these benefits but we also recognise that they have their limitations…they are but broken chariots.
Just last week, a very well-meaning nurse had said to me: “Ryan, I know that you have your church, but if it should get really tough, we have a chaplain who is just great at counselling people whatever their faith or background.” I wasn’t quite sure how to respond without sounding arrogant or complacent so I attempted to graciously acknowledge the invitation. But honestly, I’m not gonna be in a rush to pick up the phone; because my God is supplying all my needs and carrying my burdens. Just like God promised in Psalm 23 we are able to testify with confidence:
‘The Lord is our shepherd, we lack nothing!’ – Psalm 23:1
This isn’t me talking about having faith in something not yet received…this is something that God has done and is still doing!
I realise that in the short history of this blog this has probably been the longest amount of time that I have left between posting a journal entry. Annie has passed on to me numerous requests she has received for an updated blog entry. It’s been a very eventful and blessed week and for that reason you might have expected more blog entries. Well, one of the great blessings that has come out of this week has been the blessing of being released to serve the Lord’s people at Manor Park and that’s one of the reasons why I have chosen to take a break from blogging for the week.
It really has been a wonderful week. I’d have to check the blog to see if I ever mentioned a period of seven days being so eventful and so wonderful. But I am pretty sure this has been a unique and special week.
This period of great blessing began last Sunday (or rather two Sundays ago) with Annie being healthy enough to come to the baptism service we had in the morning. In the last blog entry we had asked specifically for prayer in this direction and so we thanked the Lord for His answer, especially as the night before Annie was not looking like she would be fit to go. It was such a wonderful occasion. We both love baptism services and this one was particularly special for us.
On Monday things got even better and Annie was able to enjoy the luxury of a ‘normal day’! We enjoyed fellowship with Phil and others in the morning and then in the afternoon both of us were able to go and visit a family in the church. Annie was continuing to manage the pain with a carefully timed routine of paracetamol but apart from that everything else was functioning really well. She had a very healthy appetite and the coughing fits and nausea were fast becoming distant memories.
Tuesday was a special day of prayer at Manor Park. Throughout the day there would be something like 9 prayer meetings taking place across the city to seek the Lord’s guidance for His people and His work through His people at Manor Park. This again was something Annie dearly wanted to be healthy for and the Lord gave her incredible strength and stamina. I mean, it really was incredible. There have been days when Annie can barely stand up; days when just 30 minutes in the company of others leaves her sapped and spent for the rest of the day; but she was able to meet and pray throughout the day without any major stamina or pain issues. On that day she also started a course of codeine tablets in place of paracetamol which has allowed her to take fewer pills for a longer duration of pain suppression.
The testing day was Wednesday, a day that we had both been trying to avoid thinking about. This was the day when we would say goodbye to dear Philippa. It’s hard to put into words what a great blessing to us Philippa has been. Once again, she has been another one of those channels through which God has delivered His promises of comfort and joy amidst difficult and trying times. The simple fact that her name appears so often in our posts will be testimony to that!
When Wednesday came, the Lord really assisted in making that day better than we dreaded! Being able to take Phil to Heathrow Airport on Wednesday evening allowed us all to squeeze every single drop of joy out of that blessing – another blessing that was given to us by God via another family at our church who arranged to fly Phil over for Christmas. While we were sad to say goodbye, there is a great joy in living each day at a time. Each day is a blessing and many of those days in recent weeks have been full of unexpected surprises from the Lord.
On Wednesday evening, with Annie’s Mom living so close to the airport, Annie decided it would be good to spend a few days there while I came back and spent some time in preparation for upcoming ministry opportunities. When every day is so precious, it’s not an easy decision to spend three days apart from your wife but again the Lord was good. Annie enjoyed incredible health for the three nights she was there. I was a bit fearful that she’d have a downturn in health but each time she called, I could tell before asking that she was just bubbling with health. On Saturday morning, during the train journey home form Hayes to Worcester, Annie called me to say: “It’s felt like three days where there is nothing wrong with me!”
On Saturday, on the train ride home, Annie finished reading another book which has become a timely blessing and by extension one of her favourite books. Over the last few months Annie has been given a lot of Christian books…and honestly…she’s not had time to even crack the spine on many of them. But you can tell when she reads a book that matters…over the next few days we’ll get deliveries of that book from Amazon as Annie orders a copy for others she’d like to give the book to. This book, ‘A Shepherd looks at Psalm 23 – by W. Phillip Keller’ was given to her by our dear friend, Debbie and the Lord has spoken to Annie through it and blessed her. Consequently, it’s the very next book on my list of books to read!
You might be expecting me to say that the weekend had ushered in a turning point in Annie’s week of blessing…but it didn’t! Sunday morning Annie was able to come along to our morning worship service and on Sunday evening she was even able to come along to our first youth discipleship meeting of the year. It was a busy day for me as I was leading the worship service on Sunday morning and then leading and teaching the young people on Sunday evening, but I was serving the Lord with gladness in my heart, especially as I took moments to glance across at Annie that evening as she ministered and fellowshipped with a group of the young girls. For those moments, everything felt just…normal. Like nothing had ever happened. And that is the basis of my prayers for Annie’s healing. My prayers for Annie are not that she could be healed so that we might just get on with normal life…but that we might continue to serve the Lord together wherever He leads us.
I am reminded again of the time when Jesus met ten lepers and healed them all. Nine of them resumed ‘normal life’ and as far as the gospel eyewitness accounts go we don’t have any reason to believe they ever met Jesus again. They were healed, left Jesus and went back to normal life; but just one of those ten actually went back to Jesus to praise Him and thank Him. And it is only to that one that Jesus was able to say ‘Your faith has saved you.’ My continued prayer for Annie is that she may be healed and restored to serve God and bring Him glory.
We had another full and enjoyable day on Monday but then like a switch had been pushed, during a quick visit to the grocery store she suddenly fell sick again. We got home and a brief spell of nausea overtook and she spent the remainder of the night resting. This morning she has awoken with visibly less stamina than she has enjoyed in the last week and right now she continues to rest. But in terms of sleep, it’s been a good couple of weeks since we experienced a bad night’s sleep.
To finish with I share one other piece of good news for which we thank God. I am not sure if I have ever mentioned on this blog that two years before Annie’s first cancer diagnosis in 2007, Annie’s Mom was diagnosed with the very same cancer that Annie would have. She too underwent a brutal course of chemo and radiotherapy. But just a few months before Annie’s recent re-diagnosis, her Mom was also re-diagnosed with a return of cancer. Annie’s Mom responded a lot better than Annie to a second bout of chemo and just last week we received the good news that the chemo has been effective in containing the cancer without signs of it spreading. This is really great news and we continue to pray for her full restoration that she might continue to serve the Lord on this earth.
Well, this has been a pretty big blog entry but I hope it helps fill in the gaps over the last week. I will aim to not let it go as long again but I do hope that you understand that my writing this blog is not something that always comes easy. I don’t have an editing team or an agenda for this blog. Our desire is simply to share as much of our journey with you as God enables us; the valleys and the hills. And sometimes the reality of life for me is that sometimes I don’t have the time, and sometimes even the inclination, to write something. Through this blog, I hope to maintain openness and honesty through 2012 in whatever God brings and wherever He leads. Thank you for your support.
In His Pasture,