It’s only been three weeks since my Annie’s thanksgiving service, but it feels longer. Much longer. I feel the same way about the passing of time since the Lord called my Annie home. And in answer to the most common question I am asked, I’ve narrowed it down to three word responses: “MIssing my Annie!”, “Grieving with hope!”, “Loving my Jesus!”
I miss my Annie so very much.
Cancer occupied half of our married life together and the first half often seemed to us both as if it was another lifetime ago. As if it were a dream. But Annie’s absence has resulted in me spending much more time mentally dwelling in that first half of our married life together. My perception of time shifts and shapes as I do and those first six years are beginning to feel as if they were just yesterday.
Sitting here on the couch I can picture what our lounge looked like twelve years ago, our first night in our home together, the night we returned from our honeymoon. We had no furniture. All that we had was borrowed from or unwanted by others – including the Ikea futon which served as our couch for half a year. We had returned to a gaudily wallpapered room full of unopened wedding gifts. Annie lay down smiling on the couch’ette’. She was really beautiful. Stunning. Radiant and twinkling and lush. Lustrous long hair, caramel and sun-kissed by the Floridian summer we had enjoyed for the previous three weeks. I was still at that stage where I could not keep myself from gazing at her. ‘She. Is. My. Wife.’ Even though she was my wife, I felt weird for wanting to gaze at her for so long.
But in the peripheral of every memory there is always the memory of those last three days. That last day. Those last few hours. Still beautiful. More beautiful. Rare beauty. Incomparable beauty amidst terrific trauma and agony and heartache.
I believe that the Lord has given me to continue this blog.
I do not know the shape and form it will take. I do not know for how long. I do know that He has given to me the talents of a testimony forged in suffering. I don’t want to bury those talents in the earth. So long as I might use them for His glory, I shall. All I desire to do with my life is to serve Him and honour Him without shame. The power of the testimony that God gave to Annie, not only continues with me but within me. The Lord has wrought a profound change in my life with Him over the last couple of months. I have no visions of grandeur. I know myself as I really am before God. A simple man. A sinful man. An undeserving sinner loved and saved by the grace and mercy of God through His Son, my Lord Jesus Christ. I profess to be no more than that and I desire to know more of Him.
I want to know Christ–yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, – Philippians 3:10
If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; – Philippians 1:22,23
I desire to use this blog to continue to testify of the very real grace and goodness of God in this very real and broken world in which we live. I don’t see this blog as being my sole ministry but rather a window into the life of a young(ish) widower, serving His Heavenly Father imperfectly but willingly.
But there is one thing I will not do on this blog. I will never share the physical details of the trauma that Annie suffered in those last days. I could not. I should not. I will not.
Perhaps, when I am prompted, I might like to share the incredible examples of the love and Presence of Jesus that Annie demonstrated and radiated in those last days. A handful of people were there to witness it and honestly, I do wonder if that’s just the way that memory will remain. Witnessed, experienced, cherished yet unpublicised.
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, – 1 Peter 1:8
Any attempt to describe either the pain or the peace, the trauma or the testimony of the reality of Jesus in those final days would not only fail but I feel would some how spoil the memory.
In single file, smiles and tears accompany my memories which I sometimes purposefully trigger; and at other times I have no control over what will trigger them. Just the other day I was continuing work on the filing and administration – which will also accompany me for some time! – and I came across a ‘Declaration of Health’ statement that Annie and I each had to sign prior to obtaining our mortgage before we were married. Seeing Annie’s signature below that statement declaring a clean bill of health prompted me to think how innocent we were back then to what would come to us in less than six small years; the surgery, the chemo, the hundreds of injections, the radiotherapy, the nausea, the sleepless nights…the tears. Tears and tears and tears. Tears that now continue in and from me today.
For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:52-57
When I was reading that passage of scripture from the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, I was struck by just three words that made me think again about the verse. The three words were ‘…then the saying…’.
Christians say words from those verses a lot. They appear in a number of the lovely cards that I have gratefully received over the last month. They sing them sometimes. You may have heard those words in the Easter hymn ‘Thine be the glory’.
Let the church with gladness, hymns of triumph sing;
For her Lord now liveth, death hath lost its sting.
Nobody who ever lived, is living or is yet to live, will ever have the authority to say of death – and to death – “You have lost your sting!” save for those people who know and serve and love Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. That is because Jesus has conquered the grave and nobody else ever did that. My claim that Christianity is the only way to God (a claim that runs through every past and future post in the life of this blog) and subsequently the only way to heaven is not a statement of arrogance or intolerance. It’s simply founded on the fact that Jesus alone has conquered the grave. As I said at Annie’s thanksgiving service, it’s not that I consider myself or my beliefs better than you or yours; I simply consider what Jesus has to say about death of better and greater authority than what you or I think about death without His input.
When He died on a cross 2,000 years ago, He took my punishment for my sin, He took my Annie’s punishment for her sin, He took the punishment for all sinners who would hear His voice and receive His love through repentance and faith by His grace and mercy. Therefore, when I die, death has been disarmed. The grave will not be my eternal prison; death will release me to be with my Lord and King, Jesus Christ. As conqueror, He has supreme authority over death. Death has been overruled in its quest to keep me and conquer me and will be obligated to usher and release me to my King, Jesus Christ and to then again flee from His Presence forever more.
While the Lord’s people are on this earth, “Where, O death, is your sting?” is but a saying. A wonderful saying. A true saying. A saying full of wonderful truth. A saying that is true and will be true. But still the Holy Spirit – through the Apostle Paul – makes the point of distinguishing this truth as a saying that will one day come true. One day the truth of this saying will be finally fulfilled for true Christians at the event of the second coming of their Lord, Jesus Christ.
Ponder that thought for a while.
As Christians, should we be glib or smug about death? From a distance, should we imagine the process of dying or death in us or a loved one to be an easy one?
I believe through scripture and experience that the answer to that question is ‘No’. Jesus did not promise us a smooth passing from this life. He didn’t say there would be no grief for those of whose loved ones are called to be with Him. Don’t just take my interpretation of scripture, my word or my experience. Spend a few evenings with John Foxe and let the blood of the martyr’s through church history present their case. Death hurts. Dying is painful in more ways than just physically.
I know that one day I will see Annie again. But from this side of heaven and this side of the Lord’s return, death hurts. The earthly finality of not being able to see and hold my Annie again as my wife is a bitter and sometimes agonising memory. Memories good and memories difficult are but dreams of vapours.
You are just a vapour that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. – James 4:14
You might consider that whatever I write about how I feel right now is still me in the early days; too soon to be of any worth. With respect, unless you’d worn my watch and walked through the silent empty spaces of my home, over the last forty days then you probably wouldn’t know how long and how absent of Annie and how painful those days can be. And yet, this I can testify: there is nothing in life more real than Jesus Christ. I am not trying to be poetic about this. My Lord Jesus’ Presence is more real to me than the reality of my Annie’s absence. And the greater my sense of His Presence, the more assured I am that though Annie is absent from me, she is present with Him! I don’t know what she is doing, how it feels or what it looks like; it’s just enough for me to know that she is with this same Lord who is absolutely with me!
Each new morning, if I have the breath of life in me, I open my eyes and after thanking the Lord I say just three words “14 waking hours”. All my Lord Jesus graciously gives me and commands me to live for is today. 14 waking hours of life.
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. – Matthew 6:34
My desire is simply to make myself available for His service for those 14 waking hours. I have and desire nothing more real in my life than Him and His purposes. When I am with Him: hope and love and joy and peace are more real to me than anyone or anything. I can testify that every hour since He called my Annie home, He has filled with His Presence. He has not left me lacking any good thing. Yes, there are moments of grief; but as tears flow, so hope grows within me and greater joy lifts me and carries me.
In His Arms,