I don’t really know if I need the hot-chocolate I am currently in the process of warming the milk up for, but it’s a cosy routine that I am rather fond of each night I return from the hospice without my Annie. If anything, it’s a warm hourglass for the duration of this post. I’ll push the ‘Publish’ button either once I’ve taken the last sip, or the surface cools to form that nasty skin rendering it (in my opinion) undrinkable; whichever comes first!
Last night (Friday) my routine was broken following an overnight stay at the hospice. On this occasion my reason for staying had nothing to do with what was going on inside Annie’s room but rather what was going on outside. As the song goes, the weather outside was indeed frightful following a full day of heavy snow and rather than risk the icy roads I took the greater risk of attempting to stay a night at the hospice with Milo. I didn’t see Annie share her evening pills with him, but he went out like a light and without so much as a bark or a snarl all through the night. Well done, boy!
Since our last post we’ve heard back from the hospital following the x-ray and I guess that’s been the main news for us recently. It’s fairly good news. The doctor told us that the left side of Annie’s chest looks good following the recent procedure; it’s still early days but it looks like the lung has expanded to fill the gap and so far, the glued void appears to be sticking. It will take some time and further monitoring to ensure that the pleural cavity has closed and prevented any more fluid build up. As for the right side, at this point, they feel that there isn’t enough fluid to warrant a drain. They had initially estimated that there could be another 1.5 litres but following the x-ray they have re-estimated that it’s only about 200ml. So for now, they won’t be sending Annie for a pleurodesis on the right side. Although Annie was keen to have something done there, this does mean that she may come home sooner. There’s talk of Annie being discharged on Tuesday.
It feels strange to say it but the prospect of Annie coming home leaves us with a comforting sense of ambivalence. Everyday I leave for the hospice, I find myself importing something else from our lounge, or kitchen or Annie’s wardrobe. Lamps, sewing kits, candles and a cafetiere have all made it into ‘Hanley Swan’ (the name given to Annie’s hospice room) recently; when the doctor dropped by this morning she said “Wow, it feels really homely in here.” I kept myself from responding “Well…we like it. Can I get you a coffee?” In Annie’s own words today: “This place has really been a blessing…I feel like we’re on a long-stay break.” Of course, there is no place like home but home is not just the place where the heart is; it’s also where the washing machine is, the laundry bags, the telephone, the vacuum cleaner, ‘that cupboard’ beneath the kitchen sink, the growing pile of half read mail that has not yet made it into the various home administration box files, the view out to a tired garden…the flight of stairs.
Nevertheless, as much as we love the hospice – it’s no health spa. A couple of days ago we had a sad reminder of that.
SInce our arrival, the room opposite Annie’s had been occupied by a middle-aged guy whom we first were aware of by his groaning which echoed through the corridor. Once or twice his door was open so that we could see in. Occasionally, on my way to the kitchen, I’d catch a glimpse of him – gaunt and still. I wondered what his sickness was. He often sounded in pain; but there was one moment, in which he accompanied his groans with the words of a song. As I type, I struggle to remember what the words were, and although they were barely noticeable, they lasted long enough for us to filter out the weary groans and smile. Both Annie and I felt great compassion for this man and I told myself that if I caught his eye next time, I’d go and introduce myself.
I did not get that opportunity, but Annie did.
On Tuesday morning Annie had been moved to tears for this man. She went back to her room to compose herself and ask God to help her respond to what she knew was the compassion of Christ within her. She told me that she was scared when she walked into his room; not so much by the things she saw but scared about what to say; what could she say? She told me that he reminded her of a picture of a sick man from an illustrated bible she had as a child. She reckoned to have had about 5 or 10 minutes with him and although he struggled to say much, she introduced herself and understood that he was trying to tell her that he was feeling warm and wanted the window opened. He indicated to her how much he wished to go outside sometime. As well as opening the window and bringing in some fresh air, Annie made other attempts to bring inside the outside and told him about a robin that was bouncing around near the feeder. Shortly after, he grew tired and her appointment was over.
A couple of days later, as Annie and I were getting ready for our brief outdoor adventure to the hospital for an x-ray appointment, one of the nurses dropped by into our room and asked if we could stay put while they moved a bed through the corridor. Annie immediately interpreted the euphemism. There was a respectful and orderly operation taking place in the room directly opposite. As we waited silently, we realised that we hadn’t heard the familiar groaning; and Annie was making sense of what she thought was an audible burst of sorrow in the very early hours of the morning that day.
I’ve never been more sad to not hear groaning.
As we walked to the hospital our thoughts and conversation were only about this man who had now passed on into eternity. While we had both prayed for him, I regretted missing the opportunity to sit with him – to share a smile, open his window, describe the outside, talk about robins; meanwhile Annie wondered if she had missed an opportunity to share the hope of Jesus with him. By no means glibly, but ultimately, we rested in the comfort of the grace, mercy and justice of God. Wherever this man was, God would be glorified.
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? – Romans 10:4
There’s still a niggling sense in which occasions like this make you think what you would do if you had the opportunity again. Annie’s question still remained: “What could you say?” This was no time to reach for a book of evangelistic tips and tricks – I’m growing to learn quickly that there is never an appropriate time for that. This man was not some conversion project for us; it was the compassion of Jesus that drew us to this man and his sickness. If we had years to shape, balance and express a message of truth, hope and love to this man, we still could not do better than a few simple words of honest testimony.
“My name is Annie. I don’t know your name. I don’t know the pain you are experiencing. But I know someone who knows you and your pain and cares about you intimately and I talk to Him about you. His name is Jesus and He’s always been there for me and comforted me through pain.”
The opportunity to testify always exists. Every day, there’s an opportunity to bear witness to Jesus and share testimony with the living – in sickness or in health. But as far as this man was concerned, there were no such further opportunities and not even learning to do something better next time made up for that loss.
This week I was reading something Jesus said which brought further comfort into this past situation.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ – Matthew 25:34-40
Annie and I never want to miss an opportunity to testify the gospel of Jesus Christ. If He uses us to share His compassion with others, we don’t want those folks to leave us thinking “What nice people!” What difference does it make for eternity if some stranger just thinks fondly of me or Annie? In a sense, if that’s all we achieve, we’ll have simply left complete strangers believing a lie about us; we are two selfish sinners saved by the grace of God through Jesus Christ, His Son. We desire that the Lord gives us opportunity to speak His Name and let His Name and His grace and His compassion be the Name by which folk identify and remember us; and more importantly be the Name by which they receive new life. After all, how can they believe, how can they repent, how can they trust in Him, if they don’t hear?
And yet, Jesus also says these words: “I was sick and you visited me.”
I am not suggesting for one minute that acts of kindness replace preaching the gospel and proclaiming the hope we have in Jesus – both demonstration and proclamation are vital and compliment one another. But I am comforted and assured of this: that when Annie went to visit that sick man, it was the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ who prompted her and lead her and she was obedient. Who knows how many times that man may have heard the gospel proclaimed? All we know, was that on this occasion, the Lord had granted Annie an opportunity to demonstrate His love with a visit.
Brothers and sisters, there may be multiple lessons to learn from encounters like these. For us the lessons are mingled with varying measures of sadness and comfort. Among the lessons, don’t just rely on your pastors to visit and help the sick; don’t just rely on your missionaries or your long-distance donations to feed the poor and clothe the naked. Don’t underestimate the importance of those natural means of giving time to demonstrate the love of Jesus to the sick and needy. Seek the Lord not only for the opportunity to demonstrate and declare His love but also for the discernment to know what and when He wants you to do or say.
To His Glory,