I love the people in this photograph and I always will. I love where this photograph is located, too.
If I remember right, this was taken at a restaurant close to where I live, back in January 2007. We were celebrating Mom Ruth’s birthday. At this point, Mom Ruth was – I think – roughly two years into her cancer diagnosis. Her hair was growing back after the chemo – a welcome relief to her itchy and scratchy wig. It was really unusual to see her with shorter hair but we both thought it made her look younger! And Annie – well, cancer wasn’t even in her wildest dreams at this point; this picture was taken probably six-months before the initial diagnosis. We had no clue. At this point in time, as far as we both knew, we were six-months away from spending a year at Lancaster Bible College, Pennsylvania, USA – a year-long plan that ended abruptly with the unexpected test-results that showed Annie had pre-cancer cells in her body, no more than one-week before we were due to leave our home and board the plane.
But that’s not the location I am referring to. I love where this photograph is physically located. I’ve just taken this off Mom Ruth’s refrigerator at her house in Hayes. Her refrigerator is literally covered with photographs and memory verses; apparently it’s also a good place to store milk and butter!
Mom Ruth’s house is such a special place. And such a peaceful place – always so peaceful. Spend a few minutes there and you’d forget that you were a few minutes away from one of the busiest airports in the world and one of the busiest stretches of motorway in the UK. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if many of you reading this had already spent some time there! So many people have passed through, and enjoyed the blessing of her hospitality. Take a look at her guest book and you’ll learn that Heathrow Airport is not the only place in town popular with international sojourners. When her husband, John, was suddenly taken to be with the Lord, over twenty years ago, Annie told me that Mom Ruth utilised every room in the house – including the loft – to accommodate a large gathering of family and friends during that time.
But without doubt, what makes this house special, is Mom Ruth, the lady of the house and Jesus, the Lord of her life, her house and everything within both.
I’m currently sat on that cosy green couch which hugs the far corner of Mom Ruth’s lounge. Over thirteen years ago, one very early morning in the summer of 2000, I sat where I am right now as I asked Mom Ruth for her daughter’s hand in marriage. It was a morning I will never forget – not least for how very nervous I was! As ever, Mom Ruth settled my nerves with her permission and gracious words of encouragement. This place has been the home of many wonderful, treasured memories of my life with my Annie.
I’m sat here on this couch this evening because I’ve come to see Mom Ruth before she goes home. Yes, before she goes home. Last Wednesday, was the last day that I’ll get to spend in this house with Mom Ruth. Over the last few weeks her health has declined suddenly and rapidly, so much so that on Friday, October 18th, 2013, she left this house, one last time, for the nearby hospice/care-home.
The care home is a lovely place and we’ve already met a number of Christian nurses there. I just got back from spending a couple of hours with her there this evening. Physically, she is frail and fading and it is hard to see her so weak. And yet, like mother, like daughter, like Christ. Being at Mom Ruth’s bedside has been like being at my Annie’s bedside in many ways. The only way that I can describe it is that it’s the nearest thing I can imagine to being at the empty tomb of Jesus; a place of death and yet a place of life. Or like that Philippian jail in which the Apostle Paul and Silas were in chains; a place of darkness and imprisonment and yet a place of rejoicing and peace and hope. Mom Ruth has known great suffering and adversity in her life. She has seen the loss of her husband, her daughter and now she faces her final battle. But she knows Jesus as her Shepherd and King – and it shows. This evening we began singing hymns around her bedside. Although she is too weak to talk much and too weak to move much, as she heard the name of her Saviour being praised, her foot tapped out perfect 4/4 and 3/4 timing, and her lips moved, mouthed and even sounded out the words of those old hymns without the need of a hymn book.
I don’t know how long it will be now, but it might not be too long before she is eternally reunited. Reunited with so many loved ones – with the father, and husband and daughter she had and enjoyed here on earth. So many photographs on that refrigerator will be replaced with a reality so much better than any of those past moments captured in time and fading ink. She’s ready and headed for a place where there will be no more cancer, no more dying, no more loss, no more pain, no more tears. Those two long decades without her husband, those eight long years with cancer, those six long years watching her daughter suffer and die, those six long months without her daughter, will – for Mom Ruth – soon be far outweighed the moment – the very smallest unit of timelessness in eternity – that she sees, the darling of heaven, her Saviour, her King, her Lord, her Shepherd, her Jesus.
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4:17-18
In His Arms,