This week yet another one of the ‘young people’ in our church fellowship, passed their driving test. It makes Annie and I feel very old as we remember them as seven and eight year olds in the Sunday school class we taught over a decade ago! But what a great privilege to get to see these children become young men and women of God – serving in our church fellowship, serving in their college and university Christian Unions, following Jesus and driving cars!
It doesn’t seem that long ago that Annie and I were driving around, picking them up from their homes so that they could attend our discipleship bible studies and recreational social events. But times, they are a-changing. Just yesterday I was having lunch with one those young men who picked me up and dropped me off, door-to-door (in his car, you understand, not physically – although some of them are of such stature that they probably could do that!). We love them all dearly and not only consider them as past blessings counted but regularly and presently receive new and fresh blessings from them.
It’s wonderful to see how they change and develop over time but one young woman stands out in one particular way. For the sake of preserving identity let’s refer to this young woman as ‘K’ and let’s just say that she might look a bit like the person closest to the camera in the heading image above…
K is one of those people who has managed to simultaneously mature and still maintain the joyful and innocent exuberance that she has had since childhood. Both Annie and I can testify we know of no other person as consistently positive as K. I first met K when she was four years old and she was as remarkably joyful then as she was the last time we saw her (which was probably a few days ago).
In her pre-teens, from time to time (and by that I probably mean always), K would have something to get especially excited about that she wanted to share with you; and given her joyful disposition, it could be anything from a planned trip to the movies, to what she was going to have for supper that night – or sometimes, just the fact that you’d dropped by was enough to trigger it. If you happened to be there when that was unfolding you’d have quickly learned that her 10 year old vocabulary was completely insufficient in content and fluidity at keeping up with what she was wanting to communicate! She’d talk so fast, that you just had to try and fish out a few nouns and verbs – in between the chuckles and gasps for air – and attempt to interpret the news-story yourself with the option of interviewing her parents and siblings afterwards – or sometimes during – K’s breathtaking narrative. And whether or not you accurately interpreted her news, one thing was always for sure, no one could communicate exuberant excitement has delightfully and effectively as K. In that area she is contagious. Sometimes Annie and I would be smiling and laughing with K, shaking our heads because we hadn’t got the first clue what she was talking about – but it just didn’t matter!
It’s perhaps a long-winded introduction, but I feel a lot like K right now!
Ten days have passed since our last journal post and so much has happened that I don’t have the lung or word capacity to effectively communicate it. I’ve given it some thought and I can’t think of a better way to summarise it than to quote twenty words from the Psalmist in Psalm 16:
As for the saints who are in the land, they are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight. – Psalm 16:3
The Lord’s people have been an incredible source of His amazing love and grace to us. Their prayers are the spiritual backbone that keeps us standing firm when we are just too weak to pray. They always are a source of great blessing and they have been especially so in the last couple of weeks. I am so overwhelmed in heart and speech that right now I would go toe-to-toe with the most hardened and outspoken critic (or critics) of the church.
On Sunday evening I was involved in another one of our Life and Latte Q&A sessions which we hold for seekers and skeptics. One of the questions (or rather, statements) that surfaced was: “The church is full of hypocrites!”
We could easily respond: “And so is the world!”
Just this morning the headlines have been dominated with the story of a famous british comedian/satirist whose involvement in a tax evasion scheme has left him accused of hypocrisy, especially in the light of him recently lampooning bankers and politicians on a popular late night TV show.
Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
Yes, there are hypocrites in the church. The difference between the church and the world is that by the grace and power of God, repentant hypocrites, liars, thieves, drunkards, gluttons and sinners of every kind are welcomed, forgiven by the blood that Jesus has shed on the cross and empowered to change by the indwelling power of God’s Holy Spirit.
And yes, not everything that labels itself ‘church’ or ‘Christian’ is truly ‘church’ or ‘Christian’ according to what God says His people ought to be. But where God is among His redeemed people, there exists the single most beautiful and wonderful body of people in all the world. No one is more loving than them; no one is more caring than them; no one is more sacrificial than them; no one is more charitable than them; no one is more sincere than them; no one is more joyful than them; no one is more peaceful and peaceable than them; no one has or brings as much hope as them. Why? Because the church is the body of Christ and where the risen Lord Jesus is, accusers are hushed, skeptics are silenced, opponents drop their case and drop to their knees, heads are turned and bowed, hearts are transformed, hypocrites desire to stop pretending.
Annie and I, love the church.
Over the last couple of weeks God has blessed us greatly through the loving service of our Christian brothers and sisters. We’ve had folks travel great distances to bless us with their fellowship and service. One brother that I recently met via our blog came across from Bath just to have a short fellowship lunch and time of prayer with me; another dear sister from Bristol came over for a few hours yesterday to be with Annie; and we’ve had Christians from a number of other local churches come over to help us out practically.
When it comes to practical help I struggle. I struggle with and without the offer of practical help. Filling Annie’s shoes is hard. Filling Annie’s shoes while trying to do all the other stuff I need and want to do – including taking care of Annie – is really demanding. As Annie gets weaker there’s less and less that she can do and more that I need to learn to do. I have to make more decisions alone or try to write as many of them down so that we can discuss them together when she has the strength to do so. Nine months ago most of this stuff was an unknown quantity and because of that it overwhelmed me – probably unnecessarily. Since then I’m getting to know more of those quantities which are otherwise known as ‘Doing the laundry’ or ‘Knowing when to do the laundry’ etc.
While I am getting much better at navigating the dials of the washing machine, the cells of our accounts spreadsheet and the aisles of the supermarket, the seemingly simple process of writing a shopping list still fills me with dread. I don’t want to rely on simply going into the store and buying as many ready-meals as there are meals in the week. I want to be able to buy the things that can help make up a healthy meal. I want to do it as Annie would do it; I just don’t know how to do that right now which continues to make grocery shopping a lonely event. And even when I manage to do that part somewhat successfully I can still find myself opening a fridge or pantry and just seeing ingredients where I know that Annie would see options for meals.
When folk offer to help I struggle partly because I am still in the process of working out those unknown quantities for myself and so long as they remain unknown quantities, I continue to feel overwhelmed – even if somebody else is doing them for me! I feel like I have written paragraphs like these before in an earlier post but a few weeks ago, I was starting to feel overwhelmed again by this stuff. Sometimes life feels like spinning plates and I hate when it gets that way. Life is always full of responsibilities but when it feels like its about spinning plates I know something isn’t right. Most likely, it’s just been the effect of physical and emotional tiredness without the prospect of a break and without the luxury of being able to plan ahead even as far ahead as one day. For the most part, living each day one day at a time is a great blessing; but sometimes – especially when I focus too much on this world – it feels like a burden.
Philippa’s arrival had been a timely blessing to say the least!
It really did feel like the Lord had restored some domestic peace with Phil’s visit. And I consider it the providence of God that her visit coincided with another visitor, namely Annie’s appetite!
Just before Phil arrived, the doctor had suggested that Annie might be hooked up to a second syringe driver containing a small dose of a drug that, in the past, Annie has had a very bad reaction to. The drug, Dexamethasone, is a steroid and Annie had tried it (in a pill form) multiple times in the past only to experience a horrible psychological side-effect. For that reason we have always avoided it but we were willing to trial it – at a very low dose – in the driver, knowing that the drug would be delivered gradually rather than in one hit. What made accepting this trial easier was the fact that we really have been moved to pray that God would specifically give the doctors wisdom in drug choice. For so long, Annie’s medication course has felt experimental and temperamental with doctors admitting that it was just a case of trial and error. However, since that one drug addition via the driver, Annie has experienced almost two weeks of unusual stability.
For a start, her appetite has swallowed her nausea whole! It’s been a good week since there was any vomiting and right now, she could eat for England! This has created the added responsibility of ensuring that Annie gets at least three meals a day. Yes, it’s an added responsibility but a joyful one; I’m just so glad to hear the phrases “I’m hungry!” and “When’s lunch?” back in Annie’s vocabulary! When just over three weeks ago the doctor told us that she thought Annie was nearing the end, the return of Annie’s appetite was the very last thing we thought we would see! In fact, what we expected was the gradual shutting down of Annie’s internal system – not the rebooting of! We never know when her health might dip again and each time it does we naturally wonder how she could possibly bounce back being so frail and so weak. We are so thankful to the Lord that we have this opportunity to put strength back into Annie’s body – even if it is just for a short while. She hasn’t stood on the scales in a long time but I’m sure that she’s putting on at least a bit more weight.
And it’s not only her appetite that’s returned, she’s far less tired! Don’t confuse this with Annie being physically stronger, I still have to operate as the human Stannah Stairlift, carrying Annie upstairs each time she needs the bathroom or wants to go to our bedroom. But she’s now up for most of the day and seizing every opportunity to minister with the strength God allows her. That iridium tipped fountain pen of Annie’s is really being put through it’s paces – as is our local Post Office. Her ink consumption might be on par with William Shakespeare as daily she writes pages and pages of letters to so many people. Our visitors are commonly asked by Annie “Will you be passing by a post box on your way home?” and then handed a colourful pile of embellished mail, stamped and addressed to places all over the globe!
There have been a few recent and new health issues for Annie. A couple of weeks ago I started to notice that Annie’s feet felt swollen. Annie didn’t seem to think so but one morning it became very apparent that they were indeed swollen and discoloured. We were concerned about edemas and blod clots but the doctor believed that it was more likely to be a result of Annie’s long term lack of leg exercise. A few days later the swelling developed in Annie’s legs and with it, fresh concerns. It was late at night and Annie was frightened in a way that I haven’t seen in her for a very long time. Before the emergency nurses arrived we prayed and asked the Lord for peace. The nurses’ assessment of the situation was that this was due to the sudden transition of being bed-bound for so long to spending more time seated now that she was feeling less tired. The recommendation has been that Annie sits down with her legs raised, stretched out and supported. For now, that seems to be reducing any swelling as and when it arises again.
In the last couple of weeks, Annie and I have enjoyed the great blessings of ‘normal days’. Last week we invited Pearl and our other neighbours over for the afternoon. Phil had prepared a very British and highly calorific cream tea as we enjoyed the company of our elderly neighbours. In James 1:19, we are reminded to be quick to listen and slow to speak. Both Marg and Pearl made for easy obedience of that verse during our time together!
It’s hard to believe that for the first six years of our marriage both of these neighbours made us feel very unwelcome in our own home and neighbourhood. Curtains constantly twitched as we held our youth bible studies in the lounge, walls were furiously bashed whenever we so much as switched on the vacuum cleaner and abuse was often hurled across the dilapidated garden fence. I recall one day going into the lounge and seeing Annie with her hands literally laid upon the adjoining wall, sobbing and praying for peace.
But one Saturday afternoon in 2010, God built a bridge as we rebuilt a fence! Together with the young people we offered to replace and improve our neighbours’ fence and overgrown garden; and rather than create a barrier, God actually tore one down that day and answered our prayers for peace.
We continue to pray that God would now tear down those barriers that exist between our neighbours and Him. Please continue to pray for Pearl and for Marg, her husband, Dave and their older son, Steve, who lives with them. I had hoped to finish off some work in Pearl’s garden last week but due to the weather conditions that’s not yet been possible. When I get that opportunity, Annie would like to invite Pearl over again and find a way of sharing a few stories about pearls in the bible.
On Monday, our time with Philippa once again came to an end. We enjoyed a routine lunch (with copious amounts of a certain branded soft blue cheese which is presently Annie’s new craving!) together and then thanked the Lord for sending Phil to us at just the right time. Annie has always dreaded the departure of good friends and that is especially true at times like these. Phil plans to be back in Worcester in August but that feels like a lifetime away. As I expected, Tuesday was emotionally a bit wobbly for Annie but with the blessing of Skype, a fountain pen full of ink, an appetite the size of North America and more energy than she has had in months, God has once again provided Annie and I with much to rejoice over as we serve Him. Yesterday evening, for the first time in many months, Annie was able to join in our mid-week home group which met at our home. And this evening we welcomed, Jakob – another Czech farm worker whom I met on Sunday evening at the Q&A event – into our home to watch the Czech v Portugal european quarter final soccer match!
Suddenly life seems to be back to some normality for now.
Thank you Lord for the normal stuff in life which often passes us by without remark or rejoicing.
In His Hands,