Wow, what a great couple of weeks!
If I try to document everything in the passing of what is now almost a fortnight, it’ll be another fortnight before I have enough words with which to construct another post.
I’d just like to begin by thanking all of you who have lifted us in prayer before God, through the Lord Jesus Christ. Among some of our last posts, I listed a number of specific requests for prayer ahead of a busy mission week and we can testify that God has richly blessed us with not only health and strength but with what we both consider even greater: the opportunity to serve God.
On Saturday, July 7th Annie was in good health and the new medicine regime was in stride. I can’t remember whether I had posted what that new regime was but just to bring you up to speed…
Annie is now (for now) no longer attached to any syringe drivers. She is taking three types of pill orally; cyclizine for the anti-sickness, morphine for pain management and dexamethazone (steroid) which seems to do a number of things including heightening the efficacy of the other two drugs (in fact it’s hard to tell whether the morphine and cyclizine are actually necessary at all but that’s a pill-puzzle for another time). The problem with the dexamethazone is that over time it starts to effect Annie mentally, bringing on a sudden chemically induced feeling of depression. The nurses and doctors have met together to discuss and design a new schedule that they have described to us as something that they have never ever tried before; in fact it seems so unusual and experimental that on two separate occasions Annie’s hospice nurse has reminded us that there is no documented prescription for the use of the drugs in the way that Annie takes them; she asserted: “This shouldn’t actually work…but it does!?”. Annie basically takes the steroid for about three days and then stops taking them for at least another three days. This way she’s getting the best out of the steroids without having to bear the full brunt of the negative side effect. The slight trade-off is that in the transition she experiences a day or two of mild sickness and tiredness.
And so far, it’s been working very, very well.
You might remember that towards the end of June, Annie got on the scales for the first time in months and weighed in at 6.5 stones (91 pounds). Well, since this new schedule she got on the scales again and weighed one pound shy of 7 stones (98 pounds). She looks and feels a bit fuller and a bit stronger and for now I am relieved of my stair carrying duties; which is just as well because there’s probably at least 10 more pounds of Annie to accommodate!
We thank God for these answers to prayers. Within the range of prayers I know that many (myself included) have been praying that Annie would gain some weight and the doctors would be given wisdom to prescribe a schedule of medication that would bring some much needed stability. For the first time in months – perhaps we could even extend that period to last October – the doctors and nurses feel like they have a better handle on stabilizing Annie and her medication prescription; and strangely (or perhaps not so strangely for you prayer warriors) the solution for now is one that is beyond their collective wisdom and experience. I can’t tell you how many times my prayer has been “Lord, please give the doctors and nurses wisdom and skill even beyond their own natural ability and experience.”
Just prior to all this, when Annie started to first experience the acute side effects of the steroids on her mind, she had a few blood tests and in the last few weeks the results have come back clear; kidney and liver function are fine and calcium levels are good. And the cherry on the cake is that she continues to enjoy a very good appetite.
Of course, there are still moments where we are reminded that the cancer is still both present and unpredictable. Although the medication schedule is working well, there are still momentary low ebbs which include occasional tiredness and foot swelling.
On Sunday July 8th we were both looking forward to beginning the week of mission by both being at the Manor Park worship service together on Sunday morning and then at our Life and Latte Q&A session that evening. Seemingly out of the blue, that very Sunday Annie plunged into sickness again. It was discouraging almost to the point of distraction but, as a dear brother reminded us, there’s a ‘negative assurance’ that comforts us in those difficult times. Somehow, the bad timing of it all bears evidence to the spiritual battle that is taking place ‘behind the scenes’. One pattern that we have noticed in our lives is whenever we are about to take a step of faith or embark on a step into gospel opportunity, almost without fail, something ‘bad’ happens. We are reminded that we have an enemy who desperately seeks to discourage, distract and disarm us when we prepare to serve the King of kings.
But that’s not the end of the pattern; absolutely without fail, as we continue to trust and seek the Lord in those difficult and disorienting times and keep our focus on Him through faith, what follows is tremendous gospel opportunity – often greater than we could have ever expected.
This was true on that one sunny Monday afternoon of July 16th, 2007; five years and three days to the very day I write this post and one week before we were due to board a plane and spend a year at bible college in the US. That very afternoon, Annie received the first thread of a long string of bad news relating to the discovery of cancerous activity in her body. I remember that day as if it was just three days ago. I remember what I was doing, what I was wearing. I remember putting down the yard brush and answering the phone as I swept finishing touches over the driveway of our home which we were preparing for the folks who would be renting the property from us for that year. I remember the enigmatic phone-call from a subdued nurse asking if I could come to the hospital to pick Annie up from what I thought was just a routine appointment. I remember the immediate sense of complete disconnection from reality, from feelings, from time, from thoughts as my friend, Larry, drove me to the hospital. I remember the simple prayer I uttered over and over in my head “Lord Jesus, I know You know already and always have known. Please be near and lead the way. Please be near and lead the way.” I remember walking into that small windowless room and seeing my Annie, her eyes red-raw, sobbing. I remember her words “It’s cancer, Ry. They think I’ve got cancer.” The saddest part of that day was hearing Annie attempt to make a broken-hearted apology for disrupting our pursuit of the exciting adventure of life and ministry preparation in America. And I remember my response that moment as clear as it would be recorded on film and replayed right now; not then and not once did I ever feel disappointed about the change of plans. I was most certainly never disappointed with Annie! And just as certainly never disappointed or upset with or at God. Years later we learned that some Christian friends were wondering if this was God’s way of telling us that we were wrong to pursue bible college in America; but the peace and assurance that we had during that time even kept us from a bitter reaction to bad theology. While others made an attempt to comprehend and articulate God’s mind with broken and partial logic and doctrine, we were experiencing the supernatural embrace of our loving Lord and Shepherd every step of the way.
“And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may be with you for ever,” – John 14:16
Jesus promised His disciples that when He left the earth and ascended to heaven, He would send The Comforter, The Holy Spirit, to help us. And I can testify that on that very dark and difficult afternoon of July 16th, I never before felt so much assurance and comfort and peace and hope. It was there that God began to weave a very different future to the one we expected – but all according to the wonderful plan He had been weaving ever since we were born. The following year was very different, very difficult and yet simultaneously, a time of incredible opportunity to invest in things that matter for eternity. God still trained us and used us – He just had a very different type of bible college in mind! In the years and months that unfolded we had the opportunity to learn lessons that few learn their whole life, many know in theory and others yet require a lifetime to accept:
That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:10
Somebody once said “Travel is glamorous only in retrospect.” And I appreciate that it would be easy to sketch a spiritually romantic vignette of the beginning of our journey with cancer some five years into the past. However, while I was recollecting and piecing together the above flashback I found record of an email that I sent out to our church family on the first Saturday (July 21st, 2007) that followed Annie’s news. Annie and I are especially keen that this blog would be an opportunity to testify whatever it is, how it is, as it is; and while we weren’t so comprehensive with our documenting back then, you can read that email as it was written by clicking here.
Fast forward five years (and three days) and this pattern of life continues to follow the promises of God’s Word. We were really disappointed that the mission week didn’t start the way that we had hoped but we continued to pray and seek the Lord’s help to accept and serve in whatever capacity He allowed. By Monday night Annie was back on her feet and well enough to spend the evening at our church plant fellowship gathering and was able to make not just one or two of our farm work outreach evenings but all three!
Honestly, I never imagined Annie would be at those events. A few months ago when we began planning the week, I was trying to mentally prepare for what it would be like without Annie even being on this earth with me. Every which way I tried to think about that week, I honestly never pictured Annie being there. During the mission week I found myself pausing to take mental praise polaroids! We were (and still are) so very thankful to God that Annie could be well enough to be there!
The week saw some 100+ Czech and Polish farm workers come through and we had great opportunity to demonstrate and declare the gospel of hope through Jesus Christ.
It was consequently a very busy week at home too! Each night we had a number of Czech farm workers at our home and we also enjoyed the company and assistance of our dear friend and sister Anna – a former farm worker who began her journey with Jesus last year. Annie and I can’t fully describe how special it was when Anna agreed to stand up and read the scripture I was teaching from, from her own bible, in her own language – the language of the large crowd that was sat in front of us. Click! Another mental praise polaroid!
Last Thursday we said farewell to one of the farm workers, Jacob, whom we have come to know and share our lives with over the last month and a half. Jacob stayed with us overnight on Wednesday so that he could have a good night’s sleep, hot shower and breakfast before the long coach trip back to his home country. Once again, we have been given incredible opportunity and just last Sunday he called us to tell us that when he returned, he had gone to the library in his home town to get hold of a bible in his own language. Needless to say, we ask that you would continue (or begin) to pray for him and that the Lord would speak to Him and lead Him to faith and eternal hope in Jesus!
Other than to tell you that Annie is currently very well, I could go on and share more about the last week, but nothing could be more wonderful and more important than the last paragraph.
Yours by the grace and faithfulness of God through Jesus Christ,