Following on from the very last paragraph of our previous post, the weekend that has just passed was a very difficult one. The emergency doctors came out and as I expected, their solution was to simply rotate the list of available of anti-sickness drugs and try Annie on something that she’d had in the past, namely Prochlorperazine (branded Buccastem), which apparently is one of the oldest of the modern anti-sickness medicines. Eventually, like most of the anti-sickness drugs, its efficacy wanes with time or rather nausea learns how to outsmart it after repetition. But for Saturday and Sunday these two little pills that Annie places under her lip have helped to stem the vomiting.
Of course she was absolutely exhausted. I can’t remember how or whether those pills effected Annie’s appetite last time round but this time round she had a noticeably poor appetite. She currently weighs something like 7.7 stone (105 pounds) and it’s among the catalog of very difficult things to see in another person that you love dearly. Spending each day around Annie I haven’t always noticed the weight loss unless I look at photographs from a few months prior. But that’s no longer the case. I bathe Annie when she is weak and I feel the fragility and brittleness of her frame; I carry her in my arms upstairs sometimes, when she is too weak to tackle the staircase. Annie was never ‘overweight’ at any time in our marriage (although there was once this funny three month ‘slightly chubbier’ spell which we laugh about when we see photos – which, for the record, Annie has since destroyed or deleted!) but I personally don’t carry around a particularly muscular frame; at her present weight, I could probably carry Annie in my arms up a tower block! Seeing her this way and not wanting to eat, not only arouses upset but frustration. I asked God for wisdom and direction and three words came to mind: ‘little and often’.
Mom Ruth, Annie and I were all unable to be with the wider church family for our time of worship and praise on Sunday morning and Annie felt responsible for that. I was reminded of the way the Pharisees would try to accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath when He demonstrated love and care for the sick on that day. The fact that He healed and restored and fed others on the Sabbath was proof enough that keeping the Sabbath holy did not exclude caring for the sick and needy; serving Annie was our service to God on Sunday.
We did miss being with the Lord’s people on Sunday. Worship services are not a religious duty for us. In fact, as followers of Jesus, we don’t have any ‘religious duties’! We love to be with god and His people. I hear some people say “Just because I don’t attend ‘church’ doesn’t mean I’m not a Christian.” If that’s you, forgive the Dr Spock impersonation right now, but to Annie and I, that is completely illogical. It makes absolutely no sense biblically, relationally or any other way that I know of. I’m not talking about those who physically cannot get to a church or are having difficulty finding a fellowship at present.
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. – 1 John 5:1,2
Christians are adopted into God’s own family. And one important birthmark of born-again life is recognition and commitment to God’s family. It’s about congregation not segregation! How can you possibly say Jesus is your Lord if you refuse or neglect to be a part of the community where you can express obedience to His great commandment to all His disciples?
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” – John 13:34
I know I’m segueing off topic a little hear but it’s a passionate segueing! To see how desperate Annie is to be with God’s people, to see how sad and troubled she is when her illness keeps others from being able to be with God’s people just fills me with what I can only explain as a sanctified impatience, a loving frustration towards towards the attitude that claims to have a relationship with an awesome God and yet lives like a spiritual orphan. The day may come when you too are incapacitated and physically unable to ever be in the company of God’s congregated people. Don’t waste your health, right now!
If you have access to a bible, just spend some time reading carefully through the Apostle John’s first letter (1 John). It’s only five chapters long. Before you do, pray.
“God in heaven, please help me to hear your voice as I read this book. Please teach me what you are saying. Please grant me the grace to be humble. Please give me the faith to respond in obedience. Help me to see my need of committed fellowship in your family. I ask this in the name of Your Son, Jesus. Amen.”
You’ll hopefully see what I am getting at. Even as I write, I pray that God would challenge you as you read that portion of His Word. And by the way, you do have access to a bible. If you are reading this, you have the internet, and here’s a link to 1 John online!
We spent Sunday trying to stabilise Annie despite her poor appetite. We began by giving Annie little more than a tablespoon of food every hour. I don’t know how long food needs to be in the body in order for it to bring about some nutritional benefit; I just know that within ten minutes of a spoonful of peanut butter, I can physically go from pathetic to athletic! An hour seemed an ample passage of time to allow food to stay down and bring about some good. There was no guarantee that the food would stay down and so we covered that first hour with prayer. She made that first hour and every subsequent hour without vomiting and so within five hours we increased the frequency to every half-an-hour. Sunday day was the nearest to our culinary experience of Christmas family vacations in France at the farm of Annie’s aunt and uncle, Mary-Jane and Pierre; it seems there we ate at almost the same frequency but with great quantity – ‘lots and often’. Bon-Bon-Bon Appetite!
By Monday morning, Annie’s physical appetite was steadily stabilising; but spiritually and emotionally, Monday morning was as tough as the weekend – tougher I would say. The sun was shining brightly through our bedroom window but a dark cloud was hanging over Annie.
Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly. – Psalm 102:2
As a Christian, there are harder things in life than cancer. One of the hardest things in life is when it feels like God is hiding His face from you. Sometimes we are the cause of that experience. Living in unrepentant sin can keep us from experiencing the blessing of the Lord’s ‘face shining upon us’ (Psalm 67). But it’s not always that clear cut. Yesterday morning, that was Annie’s experience. She was weak and weary and she awoke in pain and discomfort as her bones begin to lose their muscular cushion; all she had the strength for was sleep: and even sleep hurt. As painfully inviting as sleep was she hated the idea of wasting away and wasting the day that the Lord had made. She had pleaded for the presence of the Lord to draw near but she just felt as if her prayers were not even making it outside the four walls of our bedroom. And as for the enemy in moments like that, he doesn’t just wait in the distance booing and hissing and laughing at you. His quiver full of fiery, salted darts, his bow loaded and bent, he aims at your weakest spot.
I can deal with lots of things, but it’s probably the hardest thing to watch my wife in moments of spiritual weakness.
In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. – Ephesians 6:16
Like Moses watching the battle between the Israelites and the Amalekites from a distance (Exodus 17) all I knew to do was to lift my wife up to the Lord in in faith and in prayer and seek wisdom. That wisdom came in the form of insisting that Annie get washed, dressed and that I take her out for a walk in the wheelchair. It seemed like the very last thing she would do but the Lord gave Annie strength and humble compliance and after I bathed and changed her we were outside and it was amazing how the Lord was able to turn around that day. Later on in the evening Annie was even able to join the nucleus of brothers and sisters gathered in our home to seek the Lord’s direction for the church plant in our neighbourhood.
The dark cloud was dissipating but it hadn’t disappeared.
Annie awoke at 2am in need of food which I was pleased (if just a bit disoriented) to go downstairs and deal with. But then she awoke again about an hour later in floods of tears. In fact I don’t think she did wake again. I woke again but she had not slept. She had spent that time just praying that the Lord would draw near and also take away the nausea she was experiencing again. She laid her head on my chest and with 3am grammar and theology I just pleaded for the Lord to listen to Annie’s pleas and allow her to sleep. It couldn’t have been five minutes later and she was asleep before I was!
This morning we woke up and I read the chapter from which I shared God’s Word with our brothers and sisters last night.
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” – Isaiah 43:1,2
We meditated over that together and we just gave that promise back to God in earnest prayer.
“Lord you have promised to be with us when it gets tough! And its tough right now but where are you? Lord, I don’t know why Annie is not experiencing you right now. If it’s sin, please show us so that we can repent and receive your forgiveness. Otherwise, please give us the faith to continue to trust in You. We do trust You. And no matter how hard this is right now, we know You are faithful to Your promises!”
God tells us ‘Strength will rise as we wait on Him’ (Isaiah 40:31)
Just after Annie had got showered we got a call from the doctor. Following Annie’s recent blood test, they found something which they think might explain her nausea. They noticed that the calcium levels in her body – which they normally are concerned about getting very low – were actually very high. They think that they are so high that this could explain much of the nausea. Their immediate recommendation was for Annie to go and spend a few days at the cancer hospice where she can have an infusion to help reduce or at least deal with the effect of high calcium levels.
So within 10 minutes of receiving that call we were packing short stay bags for Annie to go and spend a few nights at the St. Richard’s Hospice which is only 5 minutes away from where we live (I know, it seems like I am always saying that stuff is 5 minutes from where we live…but really, it is!)
We arrived at the hospice at about 2pm and to say I was impressed with the place is a great understatement. The thought crossed my mind “If there were hospitals in heaven, this is what they would look like.” But enthusiasm is no excuse for bad doctrine. There will be no hospitals, no doctors, no nurses, no hospices and no cancer in heaven because in heaven there will be no sin and no death.
However, the hospice does have some heavenly founding.
The hospice is a free independent, charity-run organisation that provides free-of-charge palliative care to people with terminal illnesses. The modern hospice movement itself was pioneered by a Christian, Dame Cicely Saunders; although today while the hospice has a Christian ethos I don’t think it’s exclusively Christian – at least this one isn’t. This isn’t our first connection with the hospice; the personell we have encountered so far have been sympathetic of our faith but not believers themselves.
We arrived and they took us to the room where Annie would be staying. Honestly, it’s nicer than some hotel rooms we’ve stayed in! The view outside of Annie’s room was idyllic enough for me to take a photograph instead of trying to describe it to you with words. Once we got settled, a grandfatherly looking volunteer introduced himself to me as ‘Dave’ and asked if I would like a tour of the place. It’s not often you get offered a tour of a hospital by the staff so I was pleased to accept his invitation – and he seemed so desperate to do so! And I was glad that I did. He told me that the place is open 24/7 and there’s no restriction on when I visit. He took me through plush corridors adorned with beautiful art work leading to a large lounge with a grand piano in it; “You can play it if you like,” Dave said. I have a few piano party pieces – none of them tailored to the tranquility of a hospice! He almost insisted that we bring Milo along too because the place is completely pet-friendly; a fact he illustrated with the story of a patient whose horse even stayed within the grounds so that she could enjoy its company!
Once we returned from my tour and he left us alone I said to Annie: “I would not be surprised if that man was a believer.” It was more than his joy and kindness. It was beyond and deeper than that. No kidding, he came back in two minutes and said: “You’re both believers aren’t you!?” I said “Yes, we are,” and somewhat nervously I asked a seemingly redundant question “Are you?” He said with tears “I am! And I just knew you were!! I went and asked at the desk if they knew anything about you and they told me that you were known to be deeply committed Christians. I just had to come back because you’re my family!” We were able to share joyfully with him how we had the very same feeling in our brief encounter. He shared with us that he was a retired pastor from an AOG church and I was not surprised at that either, just overwhelmed with joy.
If you follow our story from Annie’s earliest encounter with cancer, you’ll hear how time after time God miraculously assured us of His presence in the flames by placing His people in the most unexpected places at the most difficult times. It first began with the nurse who (not knowing Annie was a fellow believer) dared to whisper to Annie “Jesus cares about you,” as she came round from her first surgery, drowsy in tear-drenched pain. I am not sure I have ever documented these many encounters and will aim to do so someday. Those occasions have been milestones that we look back on and remember that the Lord is with us in the flames. And after reading His Word this morning and laying His promises at His feet, in weakness and pleading ‘How long, Oh Lord? Please show up!’, once again, our God overwhelms us with a perfectly timed and placed divine hug! This afternoon He showed us again that He is with us in the flames.
Hospices are places where dying people go to die. Before we left for the hospice, we just stood at our front door and asked the Lord to go ahead of us. We thought we were just going to the hospice for Annie’s calcium infusion. But as Dave came back in that room and shared his joy, I looked across at Annie and I just saw the overwhelming joy and peace of the presence of Christ flood and infuse her soul as it did mine.
The doctor hooked Annie up to the intravenous infusion and has recommended that Annie perhaps stays for a week so that they can also monitor the effects more closely. So I will send this post and then leave again for the hospice, which I thank the Lord is but a short drive away.
Yours, safe in His arms,