“Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
…famously asserted Benjamin Franklin in his letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy (no idea who the latter is but I do know the URL for wikipedia).
I think Ben’s (now famous) quote on certainties in life could have lost the last two words and he’d still have made his point poignant. Nothing is more unequivocally certain in life than death. Statistics reckon one in three people will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime. But three in every three will face the end of their life some day – no statisticians required.
Today Annie and I were assured and blessed, meeting around God’s Word together and reading from the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth:
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. – 1 Corinthians 15:20-22
Paul takes the one thing that you can be absolutely sure of in this life and uses it to illustrate and enunciate a second factual event, equal in certainty and yet surpassingly, supernaturally greater and wonderful. Paul says as sure as you can be that a person dies, you can be as exactly sure that if Jesus is your Lord, you will live again with Him beyond the grave. As inevitable as death is for every human being, every true follower of Jesus Christ will experience and enjoy a wonderful eternal life because…?
Because Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead! Because that uniquely and actually happened in history. And now death, sin and satan have no hold on those who are held by God the Father.
Later on this afternoon we read these words together from John’s gospel.
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” – John 10:27-30
It filled us both with great assurance at a time and place when life’s natural foundations wobble and crack.
I got a call from Annie this morning at around 8:30am. I love listening to Annie’s voice on the phone. She has the sweetest phone voice. And the sound of her voice in the morning is more refreshing than the smell of fresh coffee. It’s especially sweet because it tells me that she had a much better night last night. Mom Ruth and I (plus Milo) did however arrive about 30 minutes later and Annie had just thrown up, but it hadn’t taken too much out of her.
Milo receives quite the welcome and is always greeted by a chorus of ‘Awwww’ and ‘Aaaaah’ as we make our way through the doors. I just do my best to keep him from anything that looks like an upright post. As a dog, Milo has learned – or at least observed – that it’s not customary for him to be allowed indoors in large public spaces. What he hasn’t learned is how to treat those open spaces differently when the occasion arises. If anyone knows how to teach a dog the trick of not peeing in a new place whenever there is a ceiling above its head, please let me know. For now, I rely on carefully pulling back on his leash in order to keep him over one rear leg’s reach away of any inanimate (or momentarily static) objects. As we make our way to Annie’s room he pulls at a rate of 1 horsepower down the corridor, almost choking himself on the lead as he does. I made the huge mistake of letting him run out into the garden that backs Annie’s room. In less that 60 seconds he had carefully located and subsequently lathered himself in a pile of fox poop. Oblivious to our distaste of his choice of perfume he proceeded to come back into the room, stamping his new fragrance on anything that moved, or stayed still, or appeared hygienic, or ran away from him. During the day I did take him back home for a courtesy wash!
As Milo’s presence filled the room so did another entourage of doctors. This time there were no faith probing questions – although we rather wished there would have been because this time we felt more in season! The leading doctor said that they had been looking over Annie’s history for the last 6 months and were not only amazed at the amount of medication that Annie had been put through but painfully aware that there had been very little cohesive action in the way the medicine was prescribed. This isn’t a complaint at our doctors; it’s just the way things are. We’ve often encountered and journalled how difficult it is to keep emergency doctors, GPs, and the range of different shift nurses up-to-date with regards to the medication. Often it has been a case of just trying something else until that wears off. An example of this was the current anti sickness cocktail Annie was on (Ondansetron and Cyclizine); they were surprised Annie was still taking this combination which was actually more designed for cancer patients experiencing sickness during chemo. What the hospice doctor offered was to start again from scratch. Then gradually introducing the medicines logically and methodically, they would keep Annie under close observation and monitoring with each stage. This made sense to us and we were really thankful that these doctors had taken the time to review the last six months and respond more cohesively.
This of course would mean prolonging Annie’s stay. There was definitely a time when both Annie and I felt that the hospice would be the very last place we’d like Annie to spend any time. We had no problems with the hospice services, I guess we just felt like that place – as lovely as it was reported to be – had some stigma attached as the last staging post before the grave. We no longer feel that way about it. In fact, just yesterday Annie was talking to one of the staff about the prospect of staying a bit longer; our concern was that we would be taking up the space for someone that might need it more than we do.
It isn’t easy for me to come home alone. Last night before I slept, I just sobbed uncontrollably before the Lord. I don’t cry much. And I don’t know why that is. I’m not proud of that. I don’t feel like I am being stoic or trying to save face. But last night I guess I felt the weight of Annie’s absence a bit more; I really miss my Annie. But God has given us both a peace about Annie being in the hospice for now. And while I am sad to come home without Annie, I am thankful to God that she can be in a place where there is immediate response to her need and a more connected strategy with regards to the medical side of her treatment. The staff there do such a remarkable job.
I remind myself that we are never alone. It’s comforting and uplifting to know that when I leave the hospice, Jesus is there; and when I get home, He’s there too.
A little later another doctor – the same doctor that asked about our faith yesterday – dropped by to look at Annie’s eyes. Again he was sensitively upfront about it. They checked her eyes on the day she was admitted to the hospice but were not able to get a clear look at the back of her right eye. Today they popped in some drops to help dilate her pupil and then came back to have a look. They were checking to see if there were any signs of brain cancer. The doctor told us everything looked clear and he wasn’t too worried about that.
Later on in the evening we watched a sermon online preached by a Pastor (Britt Merrick) whose seven year old daughter is currently battling the third return of a cancerous tumour in her abdomen. Listening to the Word of God preached through suffering was of great encouragement to us. Much of the sermon was a personal testimony rooted in the first four verses of Psalm 61. Sometimes you listen to the Word of God preached and you learn new things – in fact, that always happens. When I hear or read God’s Word, I’m always learning new things and even re-learning things in such a way that it’s like they are brand new and box-fresh to my soul. Sometimes, it’s not that you don’t learn anything but it’s more like the Word of God, through the personal and painful experience of the preacher, just resonates deeply within your Spirit. Rather than writing notes and discoveries in your jotter or the margin of your bible, you just find yourself repeatedly saying “Yes, Lord!” and nodding and smiling even though what’s being said isn’t always nod-and-smile material. It’s as if God is using the preacher to give utterance and articulation to your own experience of His incredible goodness during times that seek to silence the soul.
I will post the sermon in this blog and my only accompanying statement is that there’s not much else that will make as profound use of thirty minutes of your time looking at a screen.
As the sermon finished our dear friends Dave and Fran came for a short while, filling the rest of the evening with prayer and the Word of God. A great fellowship supper!
I must apologise to any folks that planned to come and visit Annie today. After spending a lot of the day with doctors, Annie really did need space to sleep. Somebody bought in a lovely plant and some blueberries (Annie’s favourite fruit!) for Annie. Whoever you were, thank you so much. We’re sorry it wasn’t a good time for visiting. On that note, I will aim to reinstate daily updates of the ‘Visitation Status’ on the home page which will hopefully make planning ahead a lot easier for those that would like to visit.
Our love in Jesus,