Among my treasured memories of our wedding day is a photograph. It’s not a photograph that made our official wedding album – but the best ones rarely do; and it’s certainly not one that would make the gallery of this blog! Its not even my own memory – it’s a memory I borrowed – but it belongs to Annie and thus belongs to me.
“What on earth is going on in that photo?” I remember asking Annie as we spent the hours, days and weeks after our honeymoon squeezing out and reliving every possible moment and angle of our happy day. Four laughing bridesmaids eagerly head out to one of the four corners of the photograph, taking an edge of Annie’s wedding dress (which fans out and floods most of the frame!) with them as she sits cocooned inside. “I desperately needed to use the bathroom just before we left for the church…but there was too much dress to go alone!” she answered. The bridal party appeared to have had a far more adventurous time than me and the groomsmen on the morning of our wedding day (get a bath, get breakfast, get ready, get to the church building on time…don’t forget the rings and the speech!) but nevertheless, each of us wanted to know and share in every minute detail, whether farcical or functional – or both.
On Wednesday evening at around 5:00pm, memories of that special morning came flooding back to Annie and I as we prepared for her baptism. Her feet and legs were swollen and hard following the warm shower and she sat breathless and motionless as I dried and brushed her hair. The sound of the hairdryer muffled and dried our sobbing and tears which were mixed with ten-thousand parts joy to one part sadness. Eleven and a half years ago we could never have imagined that “in sickness and in heath” would be experienced and distributed in almost equal measure over the course of our married life. But then again, as I clutched the hairdryer and brushed Annie’s hair, one day before I could never have imagined that I’d experience another public occasion to celebrate and share in something so significant in our lives with Annie actually by my side.
When she was 15, just a year after her Dad had suddenly been taken to be with the Lord a day before his 50th birthday, Annie was baptised. In the tradition and practice of Annie’s church family, she was sprinkled with water as an expression of baptism. But for some time after – even before we were ever married – Annie felt a growing sense of personal unsettlement about her baptism. Two things unsettled her. On reflection she looked back on that turbulent time in her teens and wondered if she had entered into baptism too soon; and simultaneously she personally felt unsettled about the physical method and expression of baptism she received. Annie was absolutely clear that her feelings of discontent were not regarding her present assurance of salvation – that is, whether she was/is saved or not – but rather (and I am struggling for the right words here) regarding her personal conviction and conscience about her motives and expression of baptism when she was 15. At times, Annie would ask me for my opinion on the matter. I would always maintain that while I held a biblical conviction for ‘full immersion’ believer’s baptism, what mattered to me most was firstly, that I already knew and was confidently assured that by her faith in God’s loving grace and mercy through His Son, Jesus Christ, Annie was forgiven, saved and through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, guaranteed life eternal with Jesus Christ – a new life which was already being evidenced and experienced in her and through her; and secondIy, that Annie should seek the Lord to settle her conscience and grant her the peace that follows. On the instance of the latter – like a good donut! – I would support Annie whether sprinkled or dipped!
One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. – Romans 14:15
On Tuesday morning I got a call from a very breathless Annie. “I have something to tell you and it’s important.” Annie went on to explain that during the previous day, the Lord had helped Annie to settle her conscience. Her decision to be fully immersed in the waters of baptism was not at the criticism of the act of being sprinkled. This was simply something that she had privately worked out with her conscience before the Lord and she desired to act upon it with some immediacy. And it was with quite some immediacy!
Annie has always been one of those people who acts with immediacy on those things that she is passionate about. Once she is convinced of something, the process of conception to actualisation is swift! As far as Annie is concerned, deciding equals doing! I recall the day she decided that an old white cabinet in our kitchen would look good in a shade of green; that thing turned green quicker than the incredible hulk at a public sector committee meeting. But it wasn’t just Annie’s internal wiring that was triggering a quick turnaround on this one. Once she had settled the matter before the Lord she needed to talk to the staff at St. Richard’s Hospice. You could not meet a group of more dedicated, accommodating people in the professional world than the staff and volunteers at St. Richard’s Hospice and they were ready to do whatever it took to help Annie with this; however, once the nursing team heard of Annie’s desires, they had to sensitively suggest that Annie really acted with far greater urgency than she might have imagined. The part of the phone call where Annie was most teary was when she said “The nurses said…that if I want to do this…I need to do it sooner rather than later…soon like…tomorrow.” Reading between the lines – and perhaps we shouldn’t have – we interpreted that time and health were now both even more precious and waning.
But…one part sadness to ten thousand parts of joy is the Great Physician’s remedial solution for a heavy and broken heart.
We were told by the staff that the ‘full immersion’ baptism was a first in the history of this hospice and so they seemed to be as excited as we were! Being the wife of ‘Wonderwoman’ and serving in a missional church plant setting for almost six months had prepared us and our church family for turning public worship occasions around in almost a heartbeat! Superb staff and willing servants alone, this occasion was still the workmanship and orchestrating of the Lord. There were lots of hazards and problems to overcome, but within 36 hours we had a large meeting room, musicians, a gathering of friends and family, staff nurses, chaplains, tea, coffee, cake, a message, a testimony, a live video feed, a baptism candidate and most importantly, a retainer of water sufficient for fully immersing someone at least twice the size of my dear Annie! To quote the last words in Annie’s written testimony “So, let’s get on with this then!”
Although I read the testimony Annie dictated to me, the Lord gave her breath to pray during our time of worship before the actual baptism. For me, that was one of the many memorable occasions of the night. Another was being able to baptise my wife and yet another was witnessing how Annie emerged from the water giggling! I’ve had the privilege of baptising others before and I’ve brought up out of the water, beamers and smilers many times…but I’ve never brought up ‘a giggler’ before – that was a first for me!
He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy. – Job 8:21 (I love the fact that this reference to laughter in the bible is set in the context of suffering Job)
I wish that I could tell you that once everyone had gone home we had a miraculously peaceful night. Wednesday night was a very hard night. From about midnight Annie began to experience acute breathlessness and the natural physical panic attack that follows. It was a very restless night and I left the hospice near 4 in the morning, physically, spiritually and emotionally drained. This episode has introduced a whole new wave of drugs to assist in dealing with the breathlessness and the incessant nosebleed.
Last night was even more difficult. The nosebleed tends to dry up a bit in the day but then comes back heavy during the night, perhaps due to the pressure that builds while lying down. The nurses assured me that though it looks like a lot of blood, it isn’t that much. But blood is blood and any amount that leaves our body is rarely pleasurable! There would be brief respite when her right nostril was stemmed with a wad of tissue paper, but this would then result in a nasty glob of gelatinous, coagulated blood which would either cause Annie to blow her nose or hack and cough. The nurses made the decision last night to let the nose bleed in favour of trying to get Annie some medication-assisted sleep; and while it was messy, I was certainly in favour of it. An hour later Annie awoke in horrible discomfort with blood in various stages of consistency leaking out and around her.
Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? – Hebrews 1:14
Each room in the hospice has a portable alarm system. Whenever I push that big orange button I thank the Lord for the provision of those hospice nurses who come to us like guardian angels, mopping brows and blood and changing bedsheets and generally bringing calm amidst a sea of sleeplessness and discomfort. Last night I watched them change a crimson soaked bed and remake it with fresh linen while Annie was still in it – all with less effort and half the time it takes me to change and make an empty bed! And if you were to see their interaction with Annie, you’d think she wasn’t being nursed, but mothered complete with kisses and prayers.
I decided to stay with Annie last night. It was a hard night. I spent most of it just lying silent before the Lord leaving broken and unfinished prayers before Him, scattered with the name of Jesus and cries of “Father!”. My eyes were raw and burning at dawn and I just couldn’t begin to imagine how Annie felt. The right side of her face looked tender as a result of the congealing blood and regular tissue-mopping that took place. Finally between 9am and midday we both got a little sleep.
I don’t know why the Lord wouldn’t stem the bleeding. I know that He could. I know that He had already done precisely such a thing (Luke 8:40-48). But these mysterious paths and trails always lead me back to the cross of Jesus. The Father knows what it was like to behold His own dear and precious blood-soaked Son, given to bear the wrath of the Father for the sins Annie and I – and sinners like us – have committed.
Because of what God did on the cross, I never doubt the Father’s love when heaven seems silent; I never doubt the Saviour’s commitment to us; and I never doubt the power of the Spirit to sustain us.
Following this post, I’ll start uploading videos of Annie’s baptism. I must add firstly an apology that we couldn’t make this a larger public event. The folks at St. Richard’s Hospice did above and beyond, above and beyond to make that evening come together. We appreciate that we are not the only ones in the hospice and there was no way we could extend the gathering that evening to a larger number of folks given the environment and the 24 hour turnaround! I want to also say a huge thank you. Thank you once again to the staff and volunteers at St. Richard’s Hospice. When we first came into the hospice back in April 2012 they said “Whatever you want, we will do our best to make it happen.” They were not kidding! And thank you to our families and church family who prayerfully and practically served us and served the Lord with their gifts and support. May He Richly bless you. And thank you to friends and family who came out at very short notice! As Annie testified, if you do not know Him already, we pray that one day He would bring you to the place where you realise He is not an idea, not a legend, not myth, but that He is alive and He is Lord!
Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. – Psalm 103:1