Today would have been a good day to sell a house. Our house at least.
Last night, following our elders’ meeting, I dropped by on my dear Annie to say goodnight and then came home to do a bit of spring cleaning in preparation for Annie’s planned return home from the hospice. The house wasn’t a mess, it just had that hollow ‘not-lived-in’ feeling.
I woke up early this morning and obeyed (almost) every rule in the real-estate guide to selling. I had the heating set to 19 degrees celsius, the bread maker was kneading and humming, the iPod was poised at a carefully hand-picked playlist, candles delicately weaved their subtle scented threads through the rising warm aroma of freshly baked bread; with your eyes closed you’d situate our home outside a Parisian bakery inside a lush Norwegian pine forest in summer! The only thing I couldn’t control was beyond technology. The weather was God’s work and He was pleased to paint a stunning blue sky splashed with golden sunlight which reached through our home into the garden and brushed across the freshly cut grass. According to the estate-agents, all that I was missing was baked cookies, fresh coffee and ‘nibbles’ (a word and concept that I detest). More importantly, according to my heart, all I really was missing in our home was my wife, my Annie.
I started the morning reading from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Collossae.
And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. – Colossians 4:3
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul wrote 13 of the books (letters/epistles) in the New Testament. A third of those books (Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon) he wrote while imprisoned in Rome. Just yesterday Annie was reading through one of those books – Philippians – and she commented on how that was her most favourite book of the bible recently. I was reminded this morning that these wonderful, encouraging, uplifting epistles of joy and hope were penned ‘in chains’. God allowed one man’s season in chains in a Roman jail to bring great gospel freedom and hope and blessing to millions of lives, in every nation, until the end of time!
Recently Annie and I have been greatly blessed by the ministry and testimony of saints in the trenches; saints chained to cancer, to wheelchairs, to pain – chronic, physical pain. As I read our daily chapter from Joni Eareckson Tada’s ‘A Place of Healing’ and as we listened to Pastor Britt Merrick preach from 2 Corinthians 4 following the week he and his wife learned that their 7 year old daughter, Daisy, had cancer for the second time, we find ourselves especially encouraged and uplifted – remarkably, significantly, memorably so. The trial of suffering that Annie and I undergo at present sometimes make us feel a loneliness; Annie especially struggles with the feeling of being purposeless because she is physically strengthless. We know that loneliness and having no purpose is certainly not God’s design for His children; and so sometimes, it feels like a strange place to be as a chid of God; a really strange place to be when you want to fellowship on the front line for Christ.
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. – 1 Peter 4:12
To hear others declare the peaceful assurance and joyful hope they have in Christ, even though they are suffering the shackles of sickness, comforts us and assures us that we are not alone; it helps us put our own suffering into immediate and eternal perspective; it assures us that even though we feel like we might be laid out on the stretcher, Christ is indeed entrusting us with the very honour of being on the front line and, equipping and empowering us to testify even to this very moment:
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. – Psalm 20:7
So often in our Christian experience we want to run away, hide away, pray away, avoid, insure against, plan against the very thing – suffering – that God especially (and often!) uses to draw us and many others closer to Him. Through suffering, God richly and lovingly blesses us with His presence, His peace, His power in ways that are not experienced or demonstrated as richly when all is well.
God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation. – Hebrews 2:10
Yesterday was another hard day, and even today, even when Annie arrived ‘home’, it was painful, it’s been hard. But, by God’s grace and for His glory, we consider it an honour; as Paul penned it, in chains :
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, – Philippians 3:10
It’s been over one week since Annie was first admitted to the hospice. Over that period I have shuttled in various bags, clothing, containers, gadgets, ingredients, appliances, cables and books. Added to the collection of cards, groceries, books and balloons that Annie had acquired during her stay, I had quite a task ahead of me as I determined to fit everything into our little Clio! I felt pretty good about my accomplishment which also included a tall lampshade and Annie’s wheelchair and Annie!
Before we actually left we enjoyed fellowship with the dear brother, Dave, that we met on our arrival (and a few times in between). He had come to take us through the exit questionnaire but -even without our bibles in hand – we also managed to digress into precious fellowship around the Word of God. To have had that fellowship on our arrival and our departure just felt like the Lord was showing us He had His arms around us the whole time.
As we were about to leave the room, one of the doctors caught us and shared the results of the blood test that Annie had a few days ago. The fact that he shared the results as we stood in the doorway of the room, with doors opened, suggested that the results were not too serious. In fact, we were surprised how good they were. The high calcium levels had dropped from 3.08 to 2.01 which now made them a little lower than the lower range (2.2) but the doctor was not concerned about that. The kidney tests appeared to be good. and with regards to Annie’s liver, the doctor said most of the levels showed normal functioning with perhaps one level showing signs of a little aggravation but nothing more than that. This was the level a previous doctor (Toby) had thought might indicate some signs of the cancer effecting the liver. But as far as the results were concerned this morning, the doctor was not greatly concerned. We know that Annie is very ill. We know that the cancer is showing real signs of advancing, but those results were better than we might have expected. And Annie’s anemia levels had also improved with her Hb (doctors and nurses will understand this, I don’t!) level now standing at 10.3 which although below the lower range (11.5) is a great improvement on the levels in March (9.2) and January (9.8).
Coming home was not easy. Making the transition from the hospice to home was actually harder than it was the other way round. Annie was teary and struggled to pierce the gloomy cloud despondency. I put my arms around her and just called out to the Lord. Music, warmth and fresh-bread filled the air. I had done all that I could do to comfort Annie but we desperately needed the Spirit of God, The Comforter to come and fill us and we asked Him to especially drive out that gloom and fill our hearts with His presence. He did that in numerous ways. Moments later we had a call from Mom Ruth who was arriving at the station, ready to spend time here with us and then our blessed friends and family in Christ, Dave and Fran had invited us for a fellowship supper which was a delicious blessing to us all and a lovely end to the evening.
Annie has the syringe driver still plugged into her stomach, slowly administering the Cyclizine anti-sickness. The community and district nurses will visit each day to replace and refuel it. This evening Annie was sick again – for the first time in four days. Immediately after being sick she was back to normal, replacing her lost food with Ryvita which stayed down. I am hoping that it was more to do with the demands of the transition and meanwhile we continue to seek the Lord each day for the grace to endure the path that lies ahead.