Ever since Annie started this healthier eating diet I’ve spent more time studying the back of food packets than I have enjoying what’s inside. On the way to the hospice yesterday I found myself deliberating over three different brands of organic porridge oats just to see which one out-organic’ed the other. Push came to shove and I crudely decided on the cheapest (FYI, Tesco’s own).
I’ve been both fascinated and flummoxed by a strange contradiction that is printed on many cereal boxes. Beneath the allergies section, the information on the packet will often boldly state: ‘NUT FREE’ and then a little further down, wrapped in parentheses, the avid allergist will also be warned ‘(May contain traces of nuts)’ I have since learned that this a legal disclaimer since if the product is made in a factory where they process nuts it is possible that tiny dust-like nutty fragments may be in the air and so it’s impossible to detect and ascertain that there are no traces of nut. So in the 0.01% chance of somebody getting an anaphylactic shock from their I can’t believe it’s not Snickers candy bar, the manufacturer doesn’t need to cough-up.
As Christians, Annie and I have blessed and eternal assurance through faith in Jesus Christ. We do not fear the grave or what lies behind it. Jesus has conquered death, satan and sin. Jesus is our Saviour, friend, Lord and King and we are safe in Him. But as I read the Word of God I find comfort in the honesty of scripture; even some of the most faithful followers of Jesus were not always doubt, fear and sadness free – even though they knew Jesus was the Son of God; at some difficult times there were traces of those things.
Today, Annie and I were thinking about John the Baptist. If there was one person who was sold out for Jesus, who just wouldn’t shut up about Jesus, it was John the Baptist. When he saw Jesus approach him near the River Jordan he just couldn’t contain himself, declaring indiscriminately to everyone within the radius of his vocal chords’ reach:
“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” – John 1:29
Baptising Jesus, John then witnessed an awesome public miracle: God the Father and the Spirit testifying that Jesus was the Son of God. Little wonder John could say of Jesus:
“I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.” – John 1:34
John could walk the talk too, even confronting King Herod with his own sin of adultery.
Little wonder than John soon found himself on the inside of the prison of a very angry and powerful man.
While John the Baptist was in prison he knew that the next thing he would probably see was the executioner’s sword. And from the inside of that dark and lonely place, even John faced traces of doubt.
When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” – Matthew 11:2,3
Some people allow doubt to consume and devour them. Even a trace, left unattended can grow quickly like a tumorous mass. John uses this trace of doubt as an opportunity to seek assurance by tracking Jesus down – who in turn, deals John’s burden:
Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” – Matthew 11:4-6
Jesus did the same with his close follower, Thomas. The same Thomas whose faith and commitment to Jesus was so sincere that when Jesus planned to make a journey to a place where he would receive a hostile reception, he declared:
“Let us also go, that we may die with him.” – John 11:16
Following Jesus’ death, the bottom fell out of Thomas’ world and he could not and would not believe the news of Jesus’ resurrection unless he experienced it first-hand, with his own eyes and hands.
So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” – John 20:25
And yet again, Jesus graciously attends to even greater traces of doubt in Thomas.
Today, Annie and I spent a good half an hour with one of the hospice doctors. His name was Toby. He had come explain to Annie what the infusion would do and why they were recommending it. I mistakenly thought that she was hooked up to it yesterday but that was only a saline drip to help prepare her for the infusion. Toby not only explained what the infusion would do, he explained what the high calcium levels pointed to. He also checked a few recent small bumps Annie had on her neck and did a little finger tapping around Annie’s liver. These three little tests and checks triangulated his prognosis. The evidence is that the cancer is advancing quicker and further now into Annie’s body. Perhaps even into Annie’s liver.
The way that he delivered the news was far better than the way it was delivered six months ago. We appreciate that oncologists and palliative care doctors can be very different breeds of medical professional. While the news was not strictly news in that it was not new to us. It was still bad news. Repeated and repackaged bad news. But bad news all the same. In our experience, hearing the bad news repeated, doesn’t make it any easier, or even any less shocking. There’s only one thing worse than bad news and that’s regurgitated bad news. I recall when we first heard of Annie’s return of cancer and how much harder it was to hear than it was the first time round.
The news left us deflated. Sadness has welled up in us. And with regards to healing, at this stage we experience traces of doubt. Not doubt that God could. Just traces of doubt that He would at this stage. We spent the rest of the day just doing what those two aforementioned followers did. Thrusting ourselves at the feet of Jesus. Turning to His Word. Reminding ourselves who He is and what He has done for us. Falling on our knees in prayer pleading with the Father to give us more. Not a plea for more time or better news. But a plea for more faith and grace to endure whatever path awaits and unfolds by His will. A plea for renewed confidence in Him with or without the prospect of healing.
If I was to detail every minute that passed after that, it still wouldn’t be able to capture the inner and supernatural peace and joy that God has brought within us both. The day has ended with praise and worship and peace and the little video clip of the end of our day and of our evening (that I will hope to post later) at least captures and expresses the overflow of these hearts of ours…
…hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair – 2 Corinthians 4:8
We know that our Redeemer lives,