Some time ago, I fractured my elbow. After being temporarily patched and despatched by A&E, a couple of days later I went in for an appointment with the specialist. Without wanting to waste his time, I delivered my succinct and accurate review of the matter, using only the most necessary medical vocabulary.
“Doctor, I’d describe the pain as incessant and unbearable. Like toothache, in the arm.”
After listening to me and looking at my x-rays, he informed me that this wasn’t something that could be plastered up because the fracture had resulted in the bone pushing down on a nerve. Instead he said that I would have to let it heal over time – which he assured me would be painful but complete within a week or so. I thought he was joking; after all, I sustained my injury skateboarding…in my early 30s; perhaps he was using his profession to make me think carefully about my choice of pass-time. But in the passing of the 10 seconds following his prognosis I picked up the signals that there was no punchline. Painkillers did absolutely nothing and the only word I have for the pain I suffered at night as I tried to sleep over those seven days was ‘agonising’.
That experience is the closest I could ever get to even beging to imagine a little of the pain Annie was experiencing last night, or rather in the early hours of this morning. She must have woken up at around 3am groaning and moaning and even through bleary eyes I could tell that she was in too much pain to even describe it. She eventually spoke of it as agony in every bone; her spine, her fingers, her ribs, her shins, her feet and toes. It was so severe that it took a good hour before her codeine kicked in, when we were finally able to sleep.
In general we’ve enjoyed a great week (as I will share shortly) but this was a painful reminder that, in Annie’s own words last night, ‘This is cancer pain.’ There have been times this week when you would look at Annie and think that either the oncologists and all their machines had misdiagnosed her or that she might be healed. But then like a stroppy child that realises its not the centre of attention any more, the cancer throws a tantrum!
At the early part of last week Annie had a few brief episodes of nausea which ended once she threw up and that was that. By Wednesday she was really feeling good and hoping to come to our home group’s mid-week fellowship which she has not been able to get to for a while. Things were looking good and we really thought she would be able to make it and we were praying in that direction, but then the nausea came with more force and she had to stay back home while I lead the study for that evening at our home group. We both found that really hard and that difficulty was emphasised by the home group bible study that we were lined up for that evening.
Since the new year started, as a church we are studying the book of Haggai, the Old Testament prophet. One of the key themes of the message that Haggai was to bring to the people of Israel was that God had a plan and purpose for His people; He had wonderful works of service for them to engage in. They were to rebuild the previously destroyed temple in Judah. Now unless your Old Testament history is up to scratch, a 21st century reader might wonder what was so exciting and wonderful about a 2,500 year old middle eastern construction project. The big deal about this was that in building this temple they were also paving the way for the day when God would send His Son into this world. This would be the very temple that Jesus would enter and so as they built this temple God was reminding them of His great promise to come into our world of sin and sickness and suffering and make an eternally wonderful difference.
The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the LORD Almighty.” – Haggai 2:9
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.” – Luke 2:25-32
Serving God should never be mundane, pointless or boring.
I worked a decade of my life in the public/civil service. I worked alongside some really fun people, got involved in some pretty big projects and got one of the best annual leave packages you could imagine! But let me tell you, apart from the fact that I saw my workplace as God’s mission field, the work in and of itself was pointless and meaningless. I worked closely on projects that collaborated with our government’s Thinktanks – those golden cauldrons in which they hoped to concoct policy prescriptions that would change society for the better – and yet, over time we would see a cycle of new (and sometimes regurgitated) ideas and directions challenge, scrap and replace all that work with something else.
It’s never the case when your primary business is serving God. It doesn’t matter how mundane or grand your earthly occupation is, if Jesus is your Lord and Master, then you can get up each day and make a greater difference in the world than the efforts of Messrs. Obama and Cameron combined; because in God’s service you will always be making differences that matter for eternity and storing up benefits in a place where moth, rust and HMRC cannot not destroy. In God’s economy there’s never any downturn. If there’s ever any unemployment in His industry it’s never because demand is slowing down. Jesus diagnosed such unemployment this way:
“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” – Luke 10:2
And therefore, I think it is biblical and fair to say that sometimes the workers are there, but they are simply too lazy, too distracted or too discouraged to get on the field!
All of this sets the backdrop for a different kind of pain Annie and I wrestled with on Wednesday evening. As I got back from home group, I asked Annie about her evening. A dear friend and relative in Christ had dropped round to keep Annie company. During their time together Annie heard about the God-granted opportunities that were being opened up in the lives of numerous broken and needy folk in our community. Annie was commensurately joyful and upset. I sat on the bed with her that evening and she cried because she so desperately wanted to work alongside this friend and serve some of these folk but just was not being granted the physical strength at this time.
It’s a tough place for a willing disciple to be when they are desperate but too weak to get out into the harvest fields. It’s a lonely place too; you can’t find company among the crowds of unwilling workers and you can’t even enjoy the fellowship alongside the few that are.
The challenge for us is to work that out before the Lord. The challenge for us is to seize whatever opportunity we can for Annie to be able to serve the Lord in new ways according to her daily and often limited strength, whether it’s writing a letter to someone or having a coffee with someone in need or something else. We do well to remember that no labour is ever too small or too insignificant when our occupation is to serve the Lord. God could use that that letter penned in weakness to inspire a change in one person’s eternal destiny and as a consequence they could be used by the Lord to reach hundreds, thousands, even millions of other lives. That cup of coffee with a discouraged disciple might refresh and perk them up to get back out into the fields to sow gospel seed and reap the plentiful harvest.
And so I use this little blog entry to challenge all of God’s people reading this; especially those finding themselves unemployed in His service for reasons other than physical weakness, so to speak. I can honestly say that if Annie could have an ounce of your strength she would run out of that bed of sickness and head straight out into the coal-face. We continue to pray for Annie’s healing so that we might serve there. There are so many opportunities open to us both at the moment and I cannot possibly exaggerate how frustrating and how difficult it is not knowing whether we will be granted the time together or the strength together to go out into those fields together.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, what are you doing with your health and your time that will make a difference for eternity?
Thursday saw the arrival of our cousin, Natania and we thank the Lord that Annie had strength to enjoy that time. We recently were able to have long-term use of a wheelchair through the British Red Cross, which meant that Annie was able to spend a bit of time outdoors with Nat. It’s still weird to see Annie in the wheelchair, and she does try to only use it if it is absolutely necessary but it is a blessing in that it enables Annie a longer excursion outdoors.
Friday was another great day. The three of us were able to join a group of ‘younger’ (we were the oldest there at the grand age of 35/36!) folks from our church for a meal at a local restaurant. During the evening, as we spent time catching up with others, I took in another one of those momentary glances at Annie as she gleefully talked and laughed with friends. It was as if we left the cancer with a babysitter! Such a precious time. The following morning was quite surprising too; Annie weighed herself to find that she had gained three pounds and was now weighing in a gargantuan 8 stones 11 pounds (123 pounds)! This was quite unexpected but warmly welcomed; another blessing to be counted in the new year when many people would lapse into despair at the thought of gaining weight in January!
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that Annie had another set of blood tests and the results of those came back yesterday. I guess the doctors’ main focal area of the blood would be at Annie’s liver and kidneys. We were thankful that the results didn’t show up anything of concern in this area. However, they did show signs of anaemia which the doctor said was expected with cancer in the bones. This means Annie’s body isn’t producing enough red-blood cells which makes it difficult for them to carry oxygen, resulting in breathlessness and tiredness. After I post this I will go and pick up a prescription of something to help with that.
It was just a short trip for Natania as Annie took her to Birmingham airport yesterday. We thank the Lord for the great blessing of family and fellowship. Since last September the Lord has blessed us with a steady flow of friends and family which has been treasure and strength to us. It fuels some of those deepest beliefs that Annie and I are passionate about, in particular the importance, the vitality of Christian fellowship and our desire to reach our own lonely and broken community with the very same. As Natania left, her brother, Ephie called up to tell us that he would be working in England in early February and would like to spend a couple of days with us! So, the stream of blessing continues to flow!
Praise God from whom all blessings flow; serve Him with gladness!