Time is a fascinating and frustrating thing for us human beings. At the beginning of each new day we are each apportioned exactly the same amount and yet at the end of each day many of us feel short changed. There’s never enough and when we look around at one another we can often feel like some received much more than we did!
It’s been almost two months since my last entry. So much has happened in the world in those two months. And yet I am sure that elsewhere, relatively so little has happened. For me, the last sixty or so days have been life-changing. For a myriad of reasons I have purposefully remained quiet on this blog. I’d like to use this post to update you. However, due to the vast amount of behind-the-blog communication that I have had with family and others close to me, I am almost spent in words and therefore, this will have to be an abridged post.
Back in January you may recall that I wrote of a painful but necessary transition that God was taking me through. From the moment that Annie passed away I had decided that I would remain a widower for life. This was a decision I had made without Annie’s blessing. In the last few years of her life she would, from time to time, talk to me about life without her and prepare me for the idea of being with somebody else if the Lord should call her home soon. Quite naturally I would immediately recoil from such a thought and do my best to change the subject entirely. I only wanted Annie. I only wanted to grow old with Annie. And when we made our wedding vows I suppose the way I understood ‘until death do us part’ was ‘the only way I’ll stop being with you is when I am dead and gone.’. I didn’t expect Annie to die young – or first. But Annie was never one for glossing over things she cared about deeply. She cared about me deeply. And – a reflection which continues to blow my mind – she cared so much for me that even while she was alive, even while she knowingly faced the grave, she was selfless in her love for me. I have never known of such an example of the sacrificial love of Christ in another human being as that. And in the last week of her life she sat me down on her hospice bed to talk about this very matter again. And though there were but days of life left in her, I held her in my arms like she would never die and told her – once again – “…we don’t have to talk about this because I have you right now and I don’t want anybody else.”
And when she had gone, I didn’t stop telling myself the same thing.
Week after week, day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute, I slowly and painfully began to accept that I didn’t have Annie any longer. She was never going to be in bed next to me when I woke up. She’d never walk through the door again. She’d never be there to soothe me with prayer on those Saturday evenings when the burden of preaching the next morning was overwhelming me to the point of fear and tears. My wife, my lover, my greatest supporter, my encourager, my helper was gone.
While grief would smash me in waves, it was still the ocean which surrounded me. Sometimes there would be hours of ‘normality’ and then sudden nights of bitter sobbing and loneliness; desperate grief that I could even feel like a tearing in the pit of my stomach and a bruising of my heart. Only Jesus could calm those storms. But my vessel was still at sea. Even the mundane was mournful; going for a walk, deciding what to eat, listening to music – every day and every moment has been a process of working out my grief – of coming to terms with the fact that Annie is not here any more.
But Christ remains in this vessel. And in this ocean of grief, we have spent much time together as He calms the storms, captains the ship and navigates me to the next stage of our journey.
As I begin to report to you the next stage, I realise two things. Firstly, there is simply not enough time to journal the degrees by which the Lord set the bearings; secondly I appreciate that for some of you, your grieving for Annie is perhaps still raw and the amount of time that has passed is still short. The same amount of time has passed for us all but for me, the mass of that grief has been far greater in the same period of time. This does not mean that I no longer grieve. It does not mean that I am ultimately healed of grief.
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. – 1 Thessalonians 4:13
However, at this stage in my journey, the shores of hope are ever nearer. With increasing joy, I can rejoice, that Annie is with Christ which is better by far. Where she is, she experiences no grief, no fear, no worry, no regrets, no jealousy, no sadness, no doubts, no frustration. She doesn’t worry for me or yearn for me. She now experiences eternal rest and joy and peace in the arms of her truly Beloved One.
Over the last four months, God has directed my path to meet someone. Her name is Sarah. She is a fellow saint at Manor Park Church – the mother church of the church I now pastor.
When I began to be open to the idea of possibly being with someone else after Annie, I still couldn’t imagine that it could actually happen. For a start, I’m a widower. And when I would talk to God about the possibility of Him joining me to another helper, I would almost want to apologise to Him for asking and then give Him reasons why I didn’t want to bother Him. I felt that if there could be someone interested, it wouldn’t be long before my widowhood became baggage to them. I wouldn’t have wanted them to have felt like Annie was the third person in the relationship, but at the same time, Annie’s testimony and love is an integral part of who I am today. While I was open to the idea of being with someone, I was closed to the actual possibility. In spite of this, I would often thank God for the inheritance of Annie’s past blessing on this pursuit of my future with someone else…
“…Ryan, I just want you to be happy.”
I could write chapters of books describing Sarah to you! But I will condense this precious and beautiful gift from God in one sentence: Sarah loves the Lord, loves me and receives my widowhood not as baggage, but as heritage and I love her.
A few months ago, following much outpouring of prayer to the Lord for guidance and focus, Sarah and I took a long walk. I talked and shared openly about how I felt about her. I initiated this conversation entirely by faith and knew I was taking a huge risk because I hadn’t picked up any notable indications that Sarah liked me in that way. But in our conversation, Sarah reciprocated those feelings for me. I was completely (and wonderfully) surprised by this! We talked about Annie. We talked about the past year. We talked about our mutual love for the Lord and His mission. We talked about His Amazing Grace. And at the end of that long walk, we held hands.
In the few months that followed we kept talking, kept praying, kept listening, kept learning, kept holding hands (with intermittent breaks for being apart from one another, of course!).
On Friday, May 16th 2014, I took Sarah’s hand and asked her if she would marry me.
And Sarah said “Yes!” And we are preparing to commit our lives together before the Lord, on Saturday, August 9th, 2014.
Wow! What a wonderful reaction from our friends and family!
At this point I must stop to thank all of you who – upon hearing of our relationship and then the announcement of our engagement – have overwhelmed us with kind words, joyful affirmation and encouragement oiled with tears and rejoicing. We are so grateful to God for you and look forward to sharing the next chapters of our lives with you.
There has been much prayer and much support and encouragement and guidance from our family, from our church family, from those who knew Annie and me, from our church leaders and from those who know Sarah and me individually. Perhaps one of the most memorable testimonies came from a close friend of Annie’s who said:
“It’s good to see Ryan with someone that I know Annie would love!”
It would not have been right for me to have journaled openly the past few months on this blog. Our relationship blossomed gently through the spring and I did not want to be presumptuous about where it would go; only prayerful. To commentate each moment and stage on the blog felt inappropriate as well as presumptuous. However, I appreciate that for some people this news, in this way comes very suddenly. There have been 35 posts on this blog since Annie’s passing. This will mark the 36th. Is that a small number or a big number? It will no doubt vary from person to person. 426 days have passed since Annie’s passing. Is that a big number or small number? That too will vary from person to person. However, for me, I can tell you that almost every one of those 10,000 hours – including my sleeping hours – has borne the weight and endured the pain of my loss for Christ’s glory and for Annie’s gain. For me, it’s been a very long time.
Some people say that time heals. I believe it assists in healing. But it is not the only balm that helps to soothe grief. Time is ‘an’ agent of God’s healing – one of His many channels in which He pours out His love. And certainly, time is medicine that is prescribed in various doses and measures. The dose that soothes one may require a double-dose in another – or more or less in others still.
I am careful in choosing my vocabulary. I am reluctant to consider myself ‘healed’ of grief. I am reluctant to consider any source on earth as a remedy for grief. Ultimate healing comes in heaven where there will no longer be any pain and where every tear will be wiped away. Tears and pain will always be par for any course this side of heaven. For every miracle of healing that Jesus performed on this earth, a funeral eventually followed. Even Lazarus died again.
Sarah has been another wonderful agent of the process of God’s healing in my life. She neither comes to replace nor erase Annie and the spiritual inheritance, memory and blessing that she left me. Sarah didn’t know Annie – she met her once – and enjoys asking about the past chapters of life that Annie and I shared together.
I want to make this clear. Sarah is neither a replacement for Annie, nor a remedy for – or distraction from – grief. I love Sarah. And I believe that she has been placed in my life by God – and I in hers – to walk the path that God has set before us. God has brought us to one another, to continue the next chapters of our lives together according to the wonderful story that He graciously authored, faithfully continues and gloriously concludes into eternity.
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. – Hebrews 12:1,2
Time on this earth is very brief and I realise that perhaps more acutely than some others. However, this very fact is something that God assures us of, irrespective of our individual experiences and observations. Following and serving Jesus may sometimes feel like walking through treacle but God reminds us that it is also a race we need to run. I desire that my life is set to the pace of God’s stopwatch and the rhythm of His baton as He graciously conducts.
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. – Psalm 90:12
We so often live life like the years ahead are ours by right. We make decisions based on units of years. But God doesn’t tell us to number our years, He tells us to number our days! Jesus said:
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. – Matthew 6:34
Jesus taught us not to take time for granted but to invest each day and hour in His service and for His glory.
For these reasons, Sarah and I do not consider our journey so far to be too much, too soon. God has given abundantly that we might serve Him joyfully and wholeheartedly. And I pray that you will know His Presence in the vessel of your life as He captains and navigates through still and choppy waters.
We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll,
Fastened to the Rock which cannot move,
Grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
Yours – undeserving but overwhelmed – in the Able and Gracious Arms of the Giver of ten thousand blessings beside,