It’s been roughly a week and a half since our previous update and for the most part, just like the weather, it’s been bright and sunny with the occasional rain cloud! As I write this I have my back to the sun, determined to avoid the distraction of gazing outside into a sight that betrays the narrative of our recent Olympic opening ceremony: in our neck of the woods, out there is still a very green and pleasant land (not a smoke stack or tall-hatted man to be seen!) But one way or another the sunshine relentlessly vies for my attention; whether that is by it starting to burn a hole in the base of my neck or by making it just barely possible to see what I am typing on the screen of my laptop. The sunshine is great for lots of stuff but it can be a hindrance too!
I always think that summer is one of the most spiritually dangerous times for us as Christians. The same sun brings beauty and decay on the earth. In my experience, it’s during the summer that I’m most tempted to drop my spiritual guard and it’s all too easy to reach the beginning of September physically bronzed and spiritually arid; and as we recollect our memories and pictures of August we soon realise that Jesus wasn’t in any (or many) of them. We face the beginning of August with so much anticipation and opportunity; it’s not that we really tell ourselves we don’t need time with God – but by the end of that month that’s exactly what can happen. It’s during the season of vacation when we most easily accept the very myth we spend eleven months of Sundays fighting against; the myth that begins ‘You deserve…’; the myth that tells us that we’ll be better after a little ‘Me time’; the human heart is rarely satisfied with ‘a little’ and we’re more likely to be worse for the indulgence.
Some experts say it takes 28 days to break a habit (good or bad). I’m inclined to agree; 31 days of August is all it takes for a Christian to exchange good doctrine for bad. Taking God out of the picture doesn’t make life more joyful and more restful. Many of us know that now, on those July 30th moments of life, but will we know it through good or bad experience by the beginning of September?
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” – A promise Jesus made, Matthew 11:28
Annie and I have really enjoyed the coming together of better health and better weather over the last few weeks – it’s been amazing; but perhaps even more amazing is just how quickly normality settles in. For the greater (by far) part of our journey since September ’11 it’s been physically, emotionally and spiritually a tough road but with the succession of just a few uninterrupted days, it’s easy to forget about life with cancer all together. And like a kid that just left the dental surgery for the M&M store, it’s easier still to exchange the important lessons from the past trials for the sweetness and colour of the present.
Annie has literally been back on her feet. She’s been baking, driving and singing – not at the same time but give it another week and she might attract the concern of local Traffic Officers! But seriously, just those three things alone are activities and abilities that she has felt cancer rob her of over the last year; too nauseous to cook; too breathless to sing; too weak to even stand – let alone push the pedals of the accelerator or walk around a grocery store. I’ve heard folks use the expression ‘Make a bucket list’ to describe the list of things they wish to do before they die. Annie has no such list but if she did, I’m certain that the most outlandish things on it would be as simple as ‘Singing in the car’, ‘Playing the piano again’, ‘Baking banana bread’ and ‘Making it around the grocery store by myself’; all of which she’s been doing over (and over again) the last couple of weeks!
As easy as it is to forget about cancer, it is easier still to allow good health, routine and normality to temporarily push God out of our lives. That’s not just a theory; in recent weeks that’s something Annie and I find ourselves working harder to guard against. Just the other day Annie and I were having a devotional time together – a time that we really did have to make the effort to carve out – and we read these words from Psalm 73 which were so relevant and refreshing:
But as for me, it is good to be near God. – Psalm 73:28
It’s that kind of phrase that might make you think of the Psalmist as a pious kind of person who is so ‘heavenly’ that you wonder if he even lives in the real world; but actually when you read the beginning of that Psalm you’ll see how wrong you were. He begins by telling us how envious distraction had almost caused him to fall away from God:
But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills. – Psalm 73:2-5
It’s not that health, prosperity and vacations are synonymous with evil – or that all poor and unhealthy people are by default more holy – but what resonates with us personally is how much health and prosperity makes it easier for us to feel we have no need of God.
Our prayer has been that we learn to enjoy the good things WITH God – not without Him. In that way, our joy is actually maximised! The words of Jesus in John 15 are starting to resonate within us more and more:
“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” – John 15:11
Jesus wants our joy to be complete; not lacking, not less, not limited, not restrained: complete – as full as it can possibly be! As I write this, I pray that, along with us, you too would joyfully remember this: keep Jesus in your pictures this summer!
With all that said, Annie and I have felt in a better position to receive the news in the last few days and face the uncertainty of the coming week. On Thursday, last week, the doctor came to visit Annie and after looking at the swelling in her leg she has suggested that Annie goes for an x-ray this week as she suspects that there could well be a tumor somewhere around Annie’s hips. It’s a reality check for sure; we’re not surprised so much or even shocked; but to quote Annie on my behalf the other day: “I’m not worried…but I am sad.” The following day we received news that Annie’s Mom’s chemo course over the last couple of months had not only failed to attack the cancer but that the cancer had now also spread into her lungs and bones – just like Annie’s.
Once again the timing of this brings another dose of that negative assurance I wrote about in our previous post. Just last week an opportunity had surfaced for us to go and take a week-long break near the south-west coast at a Christian conference with some friends. Naturally any plans we make beyond one day are simply sketched in pencil but as we get nearer and nearer to this coming Friday (the planned day of departure and the eve of the eleventh anniversary of our marriage) excitement and expectation unavoidably builds up! Will we still be able to go? I hope so; but time and circumstances will tell. Either way the true location of rest, peace and joy is not something we’ll find on a map, near a beach or anywhere else on this planet. Wherever we will be on Friday – whether in time or eternity – one thing is for sure: all things will be better than they could ever possibly be when we are near to Jesus.
Nearer, still nearer, Lord, to be Thine!
Sin, with its follies, I gladly resign,
All of its pleasures, pomp and its pride,
Give me but Jesus, my Lord, crucified.
Give me but Jesus, my Lord, crucified.
Nearer, still nearer, while life shall last.
Till safe in glory my anchor is cast;
Through endless ages ever to be
Nearer, my Saviour, still nearer to Thee;
Nearer, my Saviour, still nearer to Thee!