“Father, we want to thank you for this food. Lord, Annie is really weak and she needs to eat this food. Please subdue whatever it is that is causing her to be sick…just for this one simple meal, please. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
I know how easy it can be to just go through the motions when giving thanks at meal time. It’s the prayer many of us pray every single day – as often as we eat a meal. It’s easy for something like that to decay into hollow ritualistic liturgy which leaves us reaching for the nearest fork quicker than we can reach ‘Amen’. There’s so much we can easily take for granted around the meal table.
Our American friends and family often refer to this prayer as ‘giving the blessing’. That’s not a phrase we often use that way here in England but it’s very appropriate. In fact, if we were to reflect on and count all the blessings of the hot meal we were about to receive, by the time we reached ‘Amen’ we’d be reaching for the microwave to reheat our food.
Sometimes we’re blindly oblivious to the obvious blessings; like the fact that we can afford to eat in our own homes, or even that we can afford the luxury of eating out, with a meal we didn’t even have to prepare. It’s easy to take these things for granted when you’re not the one in seven people on this planet that go hungry, homeless or most likely both. Other blessings may be less obvious. Annie and I often thank the Lord for the nourishment that the food gives to our body and in advance often we ask Him to help us to use that energy and strength to glorify and honour Him. It’s very easy to eat a meal, experience the nourishment and then use the energy we receive to please ourselves over our Lord and provider. But I’m thinking about something even less obvious. I’m thinking about the blessing of having our bodies actually function correctly. When I sit down to eat a meal, I rarely wonder if my body will process or reject the food I am blessed to put into it. I just take for granted that this complex and wonderful process will take place on each mouthful I consume.
In the last few days Annie has been so sick that even a glass of water has been violently and almost immediately rejected from her body as if it were venom. Since Monday evening she has spent every minute in bed only surfacing to throw up. At the moment food is far too complex and she has kept nothing down in over 70 hours. She’s constantly thirsty but is now having to resort to sipping water from a child’s bottle, in an attempt to slowly and stealthily quench an almost insatiable thirst without causing alarm and upset in her stomach. It’s never easy to watch my wife being sick even though that very thing has happened almost ten times just this week. More recently, as she has lost more weight and strength, it’s really hard to see…and even harder to hear. Just the noise, makes me cry. You can hear that she simply doesn’t have anywhere near the strength that vomiting insists on having. It’s horrendous to hear and I can only stand by helpless, pleading for the Lord Jesus to give Annie the grace to endures these cruel moments.
On Tuesday afternoon we were told that Annie’s blood test results are back from the lab and that the doctor will call us this Friday (tomorrow) at 8:45am for a telephone consultation to report those results. The pattern of vomiting and sudden severe decline makes me think that the blood test results will not be without concern. And honestly, it’s hard not to allow my mind to be drawn into the whole ‘six months’ prognosis that the oncologist gave Annie back in October. March ominously marks that final sixth month and we’re now half way through it.
I’ve shared before that we truly believe our days on this earth have already been ordained for us by our God who is truly sovereign.
You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. – Psalm 139:16
But I wouldn’t be being honest with you if I told you that the six month diagnosis doesn’t sometimes feel like it hangs over us precariously like the axe of an executioner.
In the last year there’s been a large construction project going on in our city as a new big shopping and dining complex is being built. We pass it at least once a week on our way to our Sunday morning worship service. It’s something we have unavoidably watched being built right from the first moment the old site began to be demolished and cleared in preparation for the new development. That particular area of the city was previously so dull and dilapidated that we have not only found the development intriguing…but actually…a little bit exciting. I guess it’s true what they say about Worcester being a city inhabited by a population with a village mentality! Each time I pass it I see the large green banner that reads ‘Opening March 2012’. It’s silly, I know, but as often as I pass that sign, my stomach often flips as it brings to mind Annie’s prognosis.
I am reminded that many things in this life that Annie and I are engaged in together, we might not continue together or see completed together. Some of those things are far more significant than earthly construction projects which will decay and fade. I’ve mentioned before that Annie and I are part of a church planting team which, over the last 12 months, has been prayerfully seeking the Lord’s guidance and timing in planting a church in our neighbourhood. We’re looking forward to seeing and belonging to a community of God’s people in our own neighbourhood. We want to be a part of building His everlasting kingdom; serving one another and our neighbourhood with the sacrificial love and life-transforming good news of Jesus Christ in all that we do. It’s exciting…but it’s challenging too. And I often wonder: will Annie and I continue in this work together? It’s hard to imagine it without her. And the journey between wondering and worrying is short and downhill.
In Ephesians chapter 6 the Apostle Paul reminds us that as God’s children, living on this earth and serving God, is wonderful but it’s also spiritual warfare. But he reminds us that God has equipped us to engage in that spiritual warfare. Sometimes I find my mind under attack. Whether it’s the fearful reminder of that sixth-month prognosis or the thought of not having Annie by my side, I know where the weak spot is and I need to reach for my armour.
Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. – Ephesians 6:17
God’s Word tells us to protect our minds with the assurance of the hope of our salvation. As Christians we combat our worldly worries and fears not with the assertion that God will give us what we want but rather that He has already richly given us what we don’t deserve. He has saved us. Annie and I are saved. Jesus has conquered the grave on our behalf by bearing the punishment for our sins. Death is not goodbye. And if He has conquered our greatest fear, what else is there to fear?
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?…For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:31,32,38,39
The assurance and strength our salvation gives us is not just cerebral, it’s not just knowledge in the mind. It’s a knowledge that translates into actual experiences, like peace and joy in the middle of circumstances where you wouldn’t expect to experience them. On Saturday evening Annie was experiencing a very strange breathing symptom. As she exhaled an audible rattling sound reverberated on her breath. It was another one of those horrendous sounds. She said she had experienced something like it before a few months ago, but it did make me feel a bit anxious. The following day we were both at our morning worship service, passing that ominous green banner once again. Just before communion, Annie nipped out to use the toilet. She was gone a while. I got a tap on the shoulder from one of our friends who asked me to come quickly. She explained that Annie had collapsed. I found Annie lying down on the floor with her eyes partially closed and flickering backwards. She could barely talk and as much as I could gather from what she was trying to say, she was losing her hearing. Moments later our dear sister, Zoe (also a doctor) came alongside to assist. With all that had happened in the last few days, and with it being so far into her prognosis, I was wondering whether this was when the Lord was going to call my Annie home. As I held her hand I closed my eyes and quietly asked again that we would know our risen Lord Jesus with us. The Lord gave me the peace He promised to give me – especially in times like those
Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” – Luke 24:36
As I held Annie, in the next room our brothers and sisters were remembering the day when Jesus suffered what Annie and I will never have to suffer. At the most critical time of His life, Jesus suffered not only the pain of the cross, not only the loneliness from friends who betrayed Him, denied Him and abandoned Him, not only the mockery and rejection from many He came to serve and save…but He suffered silence from heaven. He called out to God His Father – the one who had always been with Him and in Him for eternity – and there was no reply.
And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”–which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – Mark 15:34
As our brothers and sisters gathered around the communion table, remembering the price and the pain that Jesus paid and endured for sinners like Annie and I, we were able to experience the peaceful reality and benefit of His resurrection presence in the next room.
Once she returned to her feet, the afternoon turned out very different. It was a beautiful day and we went for a lovely picnic together followed by a wheelchair walk in the woods. There wasn’t much leaf coverage on the trees which meant that we could feel the sun all the more. I was so thankful to God that we were able to enjoy such a day together especially as Annie had spent the previous few days in reluctant hibernation! As we walked I was reminded of two verses of an old hymn.
When through the woods and forest glades I wander I hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees; When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur and hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze;
And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing; sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in; That on the Cross, My burden gladly bearing, He bled and died To take away my sin.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee, How great Thou art! How great Thou art! Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee, How great Thou art! How great Thou art!
The words I opened this blog entry with were the words I used in prayer before we ate last night. Annie’s meal was a simple piece of bread and some water. Within five minutes of receiving what she had before her, her body rejected it all.
Honestly, I don’t understand why things like that have to happen. We were sincere in our prayers. We prayed without doubt, knowing that the Lord was able to do this simple thing for us. But still, she threw up and benefited from none of what we gave thanks for. When stuff like that happens, I don’t have an answer. I don’t understand it. But my not understanding what God sometimes allows doesn’t keep me from trusting Him and loving Him. I’m not alone in that experience and the bible is filled with similar accounts and testimonies. Again I feel like the Apostle Peter felt when Jesus said stuff he didn’t understand:
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” – John 6:68
I don’t understand my Lord sometimes, but He’s still my Lord and loving Saviour.
Not every day (not even every hour!) is a sunny walk in the park; sometimes it’s weakness on the floor of a toilet, but when we experience each hour with Jesus, the author of our salvation, we have an underlying peace and joy because we know that He has already written the most wonderful final chapter for us.
we [still] trust in the name of the LORD our God. – Psalm 20:7
In His Love,