After spending the best part of the evening working through a carefully prepared list of things to do and pack, there’s just a little bit of time to squeeze in a quick blog post before, Lord’s willing, we leave for Devon tomorrow morning. It’s exciting!
Almost ten years ago to the day I was getting increasingly and simultaneously excited and anxious about the execution of my first anniversary surprise for Annie. According to wedding anniversary tradition, the gift you give your loved one on celebration of your first anniversary should be the easiest one to deal with; in fact you have roughly twenty five years before tradition dictates great expense. If you’re an American couple, it’s even easier still, with tradition suggesting paper for the first year and cotton for the second compared with the exact opposite in the UK (cotton on the first and paper on the second). Given that the obvious interpretation of cotton is clothing, it seems to me that the American anniversary gift tradition is smart enough to appreciate that a husband will require at least two years before he is anywhere near successfully attempting to surprise his wife by buying her clothes that she has not first spent eight hours interrogating in a fitting room before purchasing!
But ten years ago none of that really mattered. In fact, it took a few anniversaries before I even realised there was an annual tradition. The only inside information I had came from that small allocated section in greetings card shops which gave me the impression that this tradition kicked in after a few decades!
Well, our first anniversary was one decade ago but we remember it as if it were just yesterday. Not only had I booked a table for two at a very nice restaurant in a picturesque village in the Cotswolds, but it was actually called ‘Annie’s Restaurant’. With a name like that, it could have been a diner and I’d have still ran with it! Cuter still, it was run entirely by a husband and wife; Annie ran the front of house and her husband was the head chef. One thing I remember very well was the signed framed photograph on the wall of quintessential british actor, David Niven dining at the restaurant. Arriving in our 1994 Honda Civic, we had every reason to feel out of place but our hosts treated us so well that we wondered if our photograph would later feature on the cobbled stone wall! But, alas, we would never be able to physically confirm that outlandish thought. Unable to better the experience of our first year, on the occasion of our second anniversary, I did attempt to enquire about a booking but learned that the couple – and their restaurant – had retired that year.
Ten years on and the recollection of that first anniversary celebration continues to occupy legendary status in our collective memory and so with our eleventh anniversary drawing nearer, I really felt like it would be cool to revisit the area. I made a few enquiries and found that the premises was still functioning as a restaurant albeit a curry house – not quite what I had in mind! So instead, I booked an evening meal and overnight stay at a hotel just around the corner from that very place we first celebrated year one as Ryan and Annie.
On the evening that we were due to leave for the hotel Annie decided that we’d first swing by the hospital for the long overdue xray. So, we loaded the car with our overnight luggage and headed to the hospital. Visiting the xray department is usually a very quick appointment. You go in, they position that gigantic robot arm over you, insisting that you keep still and relax; they then disconcertingly run for cover behind the armoured glass cubicle; there’s a mechanical buzz, you get zapped and then you’re out again. Annie was in there roughly twenty minutes when the radiographer called me in. Annie was still lying down on the platform and the nurse asked me to take a seat. In my head, I figured that they were going to tell me that they had found a tumour. In fact, Annie and I were sort of prepared for this anyway. But instead she shared with us that they had found a hairline crack deep on Annie’s pelvis. I guess this was good news – or at least that’s how we perceived it. Sure, a cracked pelvis isn’t good, but it trumps a tumour! They explained to us that the crack is probably a result of the bone cancer which weakens the bones and therefore makes them susceptible to crumbing, cracking and breaking. We’ve been aware of that possibility for a long time but haven’t yet had to experience the reality of it. Nevertheless, we still weren’t phased by the news. In fact, it has helped explain a few of the mysteries of pain in the last few months. You may recall me journalling a very painful moment which lead to Annie being prescribed morphine. The location and intensity of pain she was experiencing back then most likely points to the moment her pelvis cracked. Of course, since then she’s continued to walk around which certainly wouldn’t assist the healing process. We’re not even sure that bones heal normally with bone cancer but I can’t imagine they’re given a fighting chance if you’re still walking about!
So, what was the reason for the delay and calling me in? The nurse went on to tell us that she thought Annie might need to be hospitalised for rest with immediate effect. As the nurse spoke I could almost read the one word on Annie’s mind: ‘Typical!’ Just as we plan to celebrate and take a break, we face an altogether different kind of break!
The nurse left the room and we prayed.
Actually, that’s not the right word. No…we praised. We just thanked God that we knew He would satisfy us whatever happens. We knew we would never be lacking, nor wanting, nor disappointed when we were near to Him. I assured Annie that I wouldn’t be gutted if we weren’t able to celebrate our eleventh anniversary in the way that we had planned nor be frustrated if we didn’t get away as we had hoped. And that’s exactly how Annie felt after we’d just lifted our praise to God. If we were to spend our eleventh anniversary in the hospital canteen we’d still have so much to celebrate and thank God for.
Awaiting the nurse, the windowless grey box we were sat in was the nearest we would get to the Apostle Paul’s Philippian jail cell environment; it had the perfect conditions for breeding frustration, sore disappointment and bitterness – after all, Annie had probably been dealing with this fracture for months, why should one more day or one more week be a problem? But instead, we experienced peace and contentment in the Lord’s presence. Eleven years on and we are so thankful for the way God’s Spirit is changing our attitude towards this world. Moments like these test how precious the world is to us.
As it turned out, we did get away! The chief surgeon got back to us after about an hour of waiting and recommended relaxation instead of hospitalisation; our hotel made an apt pharmacy to exchange that prescription!
Driving to our hotel in Moreton-on-Marsh really increased the decade-old memories. Although it was the very same journey, what really struck me was how different life was then. Ten years ago we were completely carefree; recently married, bursting with health and ambition. Life’s radar blipped with exciting things as significant as planning a family and as insignificant as where to spend our next vacation or which part of our home to decorate next. Little did we know that five years later life would be very…very different. Restaurants are not the only things that have changed in the last ten years! Life has changed during that journey, and we have changed. But God hasn’t changed and that’s awesome! And for the last eleven years His great unchanging grace, faithfulness, mercy, love and power has met us and carried us every single step of the way.
We love each other because he loved us first. – 1 John 4:19
Below…a few photos of our eleventh anniversary including a photo outside the curry house that was once ‘Annie’s Restaurant’!