Today would have been my Annie’s 37th birthday. She’s been gone 236 days but whenever I think about her age, it never fails to shock me.
I always loved surprising Annie for her birthday. With a little help from our friends, very early on in our marriage – probably within the first two years – I managed to pull off my most sophisticated birthday surprise operation. It involved stealthily coordinating the arrival of a large group of Annie’s friends from London, to our home in Worcester. It was even complete with a special decoy surprise because as a young husband I was beginning to learn that my Annie’s great love of surprises was only surpassed by her uncontainable excitement and anticipation of them which developed within her an astonishing – and quite frankly, annoying – capacity to sniff them out before the moment of their launch.
I suppose one blessing of only having had eleven and a half years of marriage is that I have a great concentration of vivid memories that didn’t have time to be replaced. I can picture that early birthday surprise as if it were only a few years ago. Everything was going perfectly to plan as I hid the whole group, bound with one large white ribbon, standing in the lounge, awaiting Annie’s return from the decoy. Within seconds of my Annie walking into the lounge from where the ribbon-cinched gang lurked and sprang, she burst into tears, and ran upstairs.
A bit awkward.
I was but a young husband and still had a lot to learn about my wife – and, perhaps more appropriately, the subtle similarity yet substantial difference between shock and surprise. Thankfully, Annie’s brother, Tim, was one of the guests; and while I stood like a rabbit in the headlamps – or rather – as it felt – like the husband who had just elaborately planned to make a public spectacle of his wife, in front of all her friends, on her birthday – I recall having enough peripheral vision left to see Tim run upstairs to deal with a situation that only the experience of an older brother could restore. Which is exactly what he did. Annie came downstairs smiling, apologising, laughing and giggling – and I even got a big hug.
Last year’s birthday surprise is no more and no less vivid. I even remember Annie’s words to me as I took her downstairs and told her that there was a surprise waiting for her in the lounge. She paused, smiled at me and said: “Ry, it’s not all my friends again is it?”
That old antique roll-top desk – my last ever birthday gift to her – still sits in the corner of the lounge where my Annie would exercise and administer the ministry of encouragement that God gave to her, as her strength waned. When she wasn’t sleeping, throwing up or sitting at the feet of her Saviour, she would spend hours and hours pouring out her heart and the love of her Saviour into the ink of that blue fountain pen, as she penned hope to so many people during what would be the last few months of the last year of her life.
Like so many memories of my Annie, that old roll-top desk fills me with so much joy and yet so much sadness. I see it and I think of her and I think of her Saviour. But she is not there and her hands will never touch it again. Never. I wish that I could tell you that the joy I get from memories like these outweighs the sadness and the hurt. Actually no; that’s not right. That’s not what I want to say. Now I could edit that last sentence but I’ll leave it and rephrase it. Perhaps there are many fellow saints reading this, waiting for me to assure them that the joy I get from these memories outweighs the sadness and the hurt.
Well, it doesn’t. The joy doesn’t dilute the sadness. It doesn’t replace it. It doesn’t overwhelm it. It doesn’t outweigh it. Honestly, the joyful memories don’t even come close to outweighing the hurt.
This same fact applies to other past experiences. Annie’s death. Mom Ruth’s death. Their last years, months and days had some incredibly wonderful, special moments. They also had some horrible, horrible hours. In my Annie’s very last hour, I saw a single tear well in the corner of her eye. She had lost all ability to communicate, such was the weight of the pain medication and the extent of the cancer and the encroaching shadow of death. To me, that single tear was as mysterious as the deepest depths of all the oceans. I will never forget it. I will never fathom it while I am on this earth. Eleven and a half years of good, vivid memories, will never be enough to absorb that last, single tear that welled up in the corner of my beloved’s eye.
That awful, mysterious tear never fails to oil the wheels that transport me to the Word of God and the comfort of His promises. I’m often left feeling just like Simon Peter when he faced something that he couldn’t understand:
From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” – John 6:66-69
No personal past memory and no earthly experience – past, present or future – can ever absorb that tear. That single tear may no longer sit in the corner of my Annie’s eye, but it occupies a corner of my mind. And for as long as I live on this earth, that tear will remain, unwiped.
But with eyes of faith, I see a day beyond my days on this earth, when that heavy tear will be both outweighed and wiped away.
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. – Hebrews 11:1
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 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. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Sunday, November 10th 2013 will be a wonderful day. This morning I’ll be preaching around the communion table. I’ll be remembering a day when God dealt with my sin and with death – and with my Annie’s. I’ll be remembering His Son, Jesus. I’ll be remembering His death and His resurrection on the third day. And as I reflect it will be both a time of sadness and of celebration. I will rejoice that He conquered death and sin and ascended into heaven where He went to prepare a place for me and for my Annie. I will rejoice because one day, He will personally, wipe away every tear.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. – Revelation 21:4
In His Arms,