Since our last, post much has been endured and much has been enjoyed; all – we hope – to the glory of God.
On the enjoyment front…wow…where to begin!?
We’ve experienced the wonderful blessing of spending time with family who have flown in from both the east and the west. Last Friday (November 2nd), our Uncle and Aunt Karl and Charlotte from Pennsylvania ‘dropped by’ to spend the weekend with us as part of their stay in London with Mom Ruth. On the Sunday morning of that weekend, the Lord blessed our church family as Karl shared the ministry of God’s Word (‘Love is patient’ – 1 Corinthians 13:4) at our Sunday morning gathering. I believe it was the first time that Karl had preached this side of the Atlantic which was fitting in some way; the first time I had preached stateside was a few years back when I preached at the church Karl pastored at Ark Bible Chapel, Pennsylvania (a fellowship very dear to Annie and I and although small, a church family God had used to shape us in our preparation for ministry). Staying on the subject of things being fitting, both Karl and Charlotte fit so well into our church family gathering that I don’t think Annie and I were the only ones reluctant to say goodbye to them on that Sunday!
Following our fellowship meal we headed back to Hayes – not only to hand K&C back to Mom Ruth for another week and a half but also to collect our Swiss import: cousin Natania and her daughter (‘cute’ in every definition of that word) Camille. That seemed a fair exchange – two American pearls for two Swiss diamonds! Before heading back to Worcester with our treasured visitors, we seized the rare opportunity to spend another day enjoying the wider international family gathering (pearls, diamonds and other precious gems alike!)
The past week flew by very quickly, it seemed that Natania and Camille had only just put their bags down before they were packing them, picking them up and getting ready to depart once more; this time round the exchange rate would seem a lot less favourable to us! The trouble with ‘Hellos’ in this world is that they are always followed by ‘Goodbyes’ at some point down the line; and one day those goodbyes will have an earthly finality to them. I guess Annie and I feel that acutely in these times.
But…one day in heaven this will no longer be the case.
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. – 2 Corinthians 4:17
As co-heirs with the King of kings and children of the eternal, gracious and Almighty Father, even our raw deal experiences on this earth are sweetened by the very real and wonderfully hopeful eternal perspective we have as followers of Jesus our Lord. One day God’s eternal family will never need to worry about (or even ask!) the question ‘When will I see you again?’ In heaven, our ‘Hellos’ will be forever, never our ‘Goodbyes’! That is one of the many certain blessings that will far outweigh anything we experience with reluctance while here on this fallen earth. And I love in that verse, that God gives us the adverb ‘far’ to further define the outweighing that will take place. It reminds and assures me that in heaven, our new experiences of former things (including good things like relationships, work, leisure, family, joy, service, worship…) will not only be greater and better and purer and higher…but all that ‘by far’! Hallelujah!
Despite that, Annie and I still squeeze every bit we can out of the joy we have while here on this earth! On the journey back down to Hayes last night we made our car-stereo redundant as we filled the air with song. This time our duet became a trio – and at times a quartet – as Natania (and sometimes Cammille) added to our ensemble. Singing is another one of those blessings we could not have expected at this point in Annie’s health trajectory. Seeing Annie sing at this time not only makes the car-stereo redundant but also a few pages of a biblical commentary on Psalm 150!
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD. – Psalm 150:6
Watching Annie sing songs of praise gives me all the illustration and application I need for that verse.
The last few weeks have not been without their physical trials and difficulties.
Annie has been experiencing a growing increase of nausea, fatigue and pain. I don’t think it’s near as bad as it has been. For much of the past year, she certainly has experienced it at measures and for durations that even the health professionals considered far beyond what she should have expected and have been able to endure. But all the same, any measure of it is never easy – and most certainly never welcomed! People around us notice how well she handles it. One moment a horrible wave of nausea engulfs her – sometimes in the most public of spaces and inappropriate times – and the next she just graciously and joyfully carries on with the measure of strength she has left, often giving time to others as she does so. I suppose although the sickness is not as concentrated as it has been, we are much further on in time (and beyond the initial duration of life expectancy) and Annie is physically not as strong as she was 6 – 12 months ago. ‘Bouncing back’ is much harder to do – we simply look to God for the grace and peace to endure what lies before us.
Yesterday morning we celebrated Annie’s birthday one day ahead of time. Far from being presumptuous this was simply a practical measure because the following couple of days looked to be so full. I have not yet looked at the blog entry for Annie’s birthday last year (although I borrowed its header photo for this post!); but whether or not we articulated it, we were both mindful that it might be the last year we had to celebrate the occasion of Annie’s birthday.
Somebody recently reminded me about the account of the Old Testament King, King Hezekiah. The bible tells us that he became mortally ill unto death but he cried out to God in prayer…and the Lord responded:
“I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord. And I will add fifteen years to your life…” – 2 Kings 20:5,6
The Lord hadn’t finished with King Hezekiah and although he was at death’s door, the Lord heard his prayer, saw his tears and supernaturally extended his life for period and for a purpose.
Hezekiah’s prayer and experience resonates with us. God is able to do more than we can ask or even imagine (Ephesians 3:19). We always believed – and still believe – that God can heal Annie but at the same time – living one day at a time – we rarely stretch our imagination past the day that the Lord had given to us. We’re now living in the days well beyond what doctors and oncologists expected or imagined; the Lord surely has done more than they or we could have imagined! Meanwhile, our daily encouragement is that the Lord still has things for us to do and we are just thankful to be in His service each day.
The past week ended yesterday afternoon with me preparing for and conducting the funeral for ‘S’ (mentioned in our last post) following her passing away last week. It was only the second ever funeral I had conducted; strangely, the first funeral I conducted was on my birthday a few years back. Stranger still was receiving the ‘Well dones!’ afterwards. It’s not exactly something you want to have opportunity to get better at; as Annie reminded me yesterday ‘Isn’t it weird that funeral has the word ‘fun’ in it…?’. It was another sad reminder of those earthly goodbyes. At the same time it was an honour and blessing to serve our sister in Christ – ‘C’ – and her family as we participated in the funeral for her mother. Please continue to pray for ‘C’ in the coming days and weeks.
Well, I am writing this from the dining table at Mom Ruth’s with just a couple of hours left to have supper with Mom Ruth, Uncle Karl and Aunt Charlotte before another ‘Goodbye’.
Thank You Lord for giving us this day. Thank You for allowing us to celebrate another year of Annie’s life. Thank You Lord for being with us every minute and every hour – the bitter and the sweet – of the last year. We love You and desire to honour You and serve You with the loving grace and mercy that You pour out abundantly upon us.
Our love in Jesus,