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On Sunday Jeremy managed a short shower with supervision and we went for a walk but 20 minutes was all he could manage. We arrived back home that evening and all could see the rapid deterioration that had taken place. It has been a tough week. We have been visited by a Hospice Nurse and an OT to try and make changes to the bed to aid getting in and out and work out a way to make showering possible. We have been at the hospital many times; had blood tests, an ECG, talked with the Registrar and the Consultant.
Jeremy has lots of drugs to take which have now been dispensed into a pill organiser to ensure he has the right ones at the right time. His parents have made the tough decision to return to NZ and we have moved down to the spare room on the middle floor. We hope this will make living easier for Jeremy and conserve some energy. We also hope that having the spare room near a bathroom and the living room we can differentiate much more, daytime and nighttime.
A double bed is the only sacrifice; 27 years of a king size makes this much smaller bed a tricky option. Jeremy has spent most of the time in bed, a great deal of it sleeping. He has needed a stick to aid his walking and have showers supervised. I have bought him a lovely new towelling dressing gown like the one I bought him two years ago to keep him comfortable and cope with sweats when they occur. If clothes are no longer the best option, a choice of comfortable dressing gown is a must.
Treatment was ceased on Thursday but as long as all tests come back positively, on Tuesday he will resume taking the tablets he was on in February until April but this time combined with another. The symptoms seen over this week are the result of swelling to the brain. Steroids have been increased in an attempt to combat this. If the swelling is a result of the radiotherapy then we should see some improvement very quickly. If disease caused then we might not see such an improvement. We have been told there is increased disease activity but not in any of the major organs, other than of course, the brain.
We remain as a family resting on the arms of the Lord. We sit in the palms of his hands but we walk a very realistic and daunting path. We face the celebrations at the end of the year cautiously. We enjoy visits from family and a few friends but with me being off school for the time being we have definitely entered a new phase.
We value your prayers and thoughts and many acts of kindness. For me to know that you are all out there helps me enormously. And that was preceded two weeks before by my other brother-in-law Kelvin coming for a few days from Melbourne to spend some time with me. We had a good time together, with Ma and Pa now staying on for a few weeks. That, combined with a conversation Catherine had with a friend very experienced in palliative care, was sobering but really helpful. She indicated that while I seem relatively active and well, she has witnessed some like me suddenly decline rapidly within even a week.
As well, my passion and love for all that the Bible describes of Heaven and my excitement in anticipating it, were as pronounced as ever. But going along, helped us reconnect and, I suppose, reintegrate those things as we spent some time with other parents. Truth to tell, it was a weekend with painful depths to confront, but gave much at which to smile, and be both still and thankful. My hair has been gone for over three weeks.
Each visit and times spent also with local friends have been heartening and uplifting. Two conversations rate particular mention, both with longstanding friends — Chris Edmondson and Jonny Elvin. At times, to my natural mind, it seems so far fetched — so amazing — that Christ has done all we need as we face life and eternity.
My head sometimes says, how so? No good works to earn it? No heavenly brownie points to gain to be safe and secure with God through life and beyond death? No, no, and no. One night, the guys from my blokes group, seeing it was a full moon, decided to head up onto Dartmoor, to Hound Tor, where we stayed sheltering next to the Tor, in the dark for an hour or two, having a laugh, sharing communion in the moonlight, praying for each other, worshipping and taking in the vast landscape of Devon in front of us, lit by the moon above and the lights of the villages and towns in the distance.
But among all these activities, Simeon, still on crutches, sat and passed his car driving test. In the meantime, in my ongoing daily Bible reading, I found some fresh encouragement from the Old Testament book of Habakkuk. I once heard a seasoned older preacher saying how important it was to make sure you knew at least something of the main message of each book in the Bible, even some of the more obscure ones, like Habakkuk. The conversation develops over the three chapters.
Nothing ever catches Him out or is beyond his ability to sort. But as this short, three chapter book comes to an end, Habakkuk simply says this —. The preceding part of book is pretty stark — life will have hassle. Problems come, and problems can remain. The list can go on. The world around us looks for ways of taking the problems away, but Father God so often allows that those problems stay and uses them to develop character in us and discover more gold in our relationship with Him. In fact, Jesus says,. In this world you will have trouble.
I have overcome the world. We can do it because we know that with Christ in us…the best is yet to come. So easily though we want to domesticate and tame Him and turn Him into some kind of equivalent to a polite English gentleman and in doing so, create God in our own image.
But on that day when so many turned away from following, Jesus turned to the disciples and said,. You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God. No one else like Him. I can just nod my head in agreement with St Paul in the New Testament and say with him,. But as many will know, reading my writing over these two years, the rub comes though when I, as ever, see and think about Catherine, Simeon, Tom, Joshua, Lydia, Ma and Pa, my sisters, brother and ….
The timing jars with my human sensibilities. We cry together, we talk, we share pain. Agony and anguish seeking to lay its head down each night onto peace. And then I found it dressed up in the hall. But arriving for my first session last Monday and then for the next four days, being screwed fast to the table, held down by my specially moulded head mask under the machine, was a strangely relaxing experience as the amazing machine using what is now a hundred year old X-ray technology but a hundred times the strength and powered by the latest technology passed around my head, irradiating my brain on both sides.
It turns out that the purple is more likely to have been the effect of the X-ray on my optic nerve. The fuller effect is expected to visit in the next few days and weeks as possible hair loss, discomfort, memory loss and difficulty concentrating. In the meantime, as James Grier arrived at the hospital for my last infusion ten days ago, I laid my hand on the drug line as James, Tim and I prayed that, if Father would cause it, it would prove to be an effective dose.
Meanwhile, so many have been regularly asking about Simeon and his broken pelvis after his motorbike accident.
O Love That Will Not Let Me Go
As wonderfully encouraging too and a proud time it was to watch Tom complete in the Cardiff Half Marathon on Sunday and then to help deliver Joshua over to Moorlands College near Christchurch in Dorset yesterday to start his degree in applied theology. Catherine, Lydia, Joshua and I had a special time of prayer on our bed the night before he left and committed him to the Lord as he steps into his next chapter of his life. Tim and Kathryn, staying here with us from NZ for the last four weeks, serving and assisting us so quietly and carefully, leave us this weekend and will be so missed.
My prayer for so many people I try to lift before Father each day has been shaped by words I read again recently from Paul in Ephesians, chapter one, that God would,. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Last week, though, had some tough reckonings to deal with. On Wednesday, Simeon had a reasonably serious motorbike accident and broke his pelvis, as well as pretty much writing off his bike. While there, I managed to spend some time with Andy Goodman, my oncologist.
It was one of those sessions where I needed to ask him some straight questions, and Andy, so helpfully and carefully sat with me. My main question was time. Now that the tumours have reached my brain, what, from his experience is the likely time left? His very gentle responses…with no radiotherapy, maybe three months. With radiotherapy hoping for palliative effects, six months.
If, though, the radiotherapy has the effect of bump starting the brain into taking the pembrolizumab aka keytruda on board, who knows. Strangely though, his has proved to be a useful distraction to allow mine to slowly sink in. That night, as Catherine arrived home from the sanctuary that school is for her, we sat and talked it all through. The tears for both of us flowed.
And then, later in the evening, I rang my sweet sister Anna in New Zealand and, again, with emotions fully exposed, shared it with her. That was for the next day. And so here…here I am. It feels great for this one who, to quote my late best man, Nigel Clarke, in his speech at my wedding,.
By the time then a written threat arrives from Sennacherib, Hezekiah is calmed and ready. See what this man is saying, insulting. St Paul writes that one of the reasons that Old Testament events were written down was that they were to serve as examples and warnings for us. And that Someone was the same One who stood in full glory after His resurrection from the dead and said,. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever!
And I hold the keys of death and Hades. It so encouraged me. The news is not good and my mind is both a-whirr and awash with thoughts, feelings and emotions. Yesterday afternoon, Clare — one of the very supportive specialist nurses at the hospital — rang and asked if I could come into the Oncology Department at 4. My MRI head scan results were back. So, taking our long-standing friends and former neighbours at college in Auckland, Tim and Kathryn Handley, currently staying with us, off I went.
Dr Goodman asked how I was. He then went on to describe that my head scan late last week showed multiple tumours in the brain, and whilst generally in the left hand side, were somewhat spread out. It seems that the pembrolizumab aka Keytruda is having little or no effect chasing melanoma secondaries in the brain. Then some ongoing, occasional inability to string a sentence together. Apparently the brain is a very good gate-keeper and works hard to keep out infections, so good that it can also keep out the drugs like pembro that can help get rid of tumours like this.
Medically, some small hope is offered by five short doses of radiotherapy to shrink the tumours. This can have its own consequences in the form of possible memory loss and an increased inability to concentrate, something which could then further deteriorate with time. As Catherine and I gathered the children around the table when I got home ironically 23 months to the day since my original diagnosis and I walked everyone through the scenario, there were plenty of questions, but plenty of tears.
Together, we considered many things, both practical arrangements and then who is getting what support from where, at least for the next few days and weeks. I could suddenly deteriorate. And His praying people. Where do I go with all this and what do I feel? The One who alone has the words of eternal life. The One who returned from beyond death. And the One who is Life, even in the face of death. That encourages me as I face today. Once for a clinic and once for my fifth infusion of pembrolizumab. I saw Dr Ayman Nassar for the last time this morning in clinic before he moves away to take to up his new immunotherapy research post.
It was good to be able to thank him for his expertise as well as his very particular care and companionship on this journey…he will be missed. To have been able to have celebrated my 50th birthday last month — something which 22 months ago was an impossible milestone to have considered — felt good. They contained both positives and some possible causes of concern. Ayman assured me that it is a satisfactory result and one which falls within reasonable and expected parameters for response to pembrolizumab at this early stage in having it. I think, having felt fresh lumps in the last little while, Catherine and I thought there might be some things for us to deal with.
My reaction to the pembrolizumab, in terms of side effects, continues to be negligible. Apart from the now-not- so-regular bouts of extreme fatigue, a funnier one has been that it turned my hair curly with no warning and without it having to fall out. It caused no small amount of hilarity in the family, Catherine loved the new look. The lessening of the fatigue has allowed a month or so of fun in the family with the great summer weather.
With it being my 50th, it was wonderful to have my parents and brother from NZ and Canada respectively there for it. Catherine and I were able to have a big joint 50th party at home with many old and local friends; Ma, Pa, Catherine sometimes and I were able to enjoy some great trips to Cornwall and London…but we also went sailing across Torbay and beyond with old friends Steve and Liz. I was able to accompany Tom to his placement in London at the Centre for Social Justice, as well as us spend time with old friends from the distant past either at home or away.
I felt better for it. I had a fresh reminder about it last Sunday at church when Mick Taylor from Citygate Church in Bournemouth listen to the whole thing here helped us consider Abraham in Genesis 18 as a pattern of how we can do that. We considered particularly when God shares with Abraham that he is planning on destroying the appalling wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. God was under no obligation to tell Abraham about this, but He appears to do so to prompt Abraham to engage with Him. And God agrees with him to relent if he finds But Abraham boldly pushes on to 45, 30, 20, 10 people in the cities.
So, for us today, an example might be for us praying for a friend, family member, or a former church member, who has walked away from God for whatever reason. We can knowing the Lord Jesus Christ who describes himself in the New Testament as the good shepherd and who leaves the ninety-nine sheep and goes in search of the missing one wrap up your concern for the person or situation in the character and promise of God and bring it to Him in prayer.
But whatever, I remain peaceful in my situation for whatever outcome. If Christ can have beaten our ultimate enemy — death — and can usher me into His wonderful eternity, He is more than strong enough to look after and meet with my precious ones left behind me. But I pray on, sensing to remain for the time being might be best…. These last two weeks have seen huge joy as we were able to spend time with many old friends as we revisited our former home in Upton on the Wirral.
Then Tom has just passed his driving test. But at the opposite side of the dial, within six days of my first dose of pembrolizumab less than a month ago, I carted myself back into the oncology department feeling terrible. Extreme bouts of fatigue which kept stopping me in my tracks, reminiscent of the Duracell bunny advert. I was tested and examined and told that everything was within usual parameters of possible side effects. But all the symptoms, apart from the fever-like feeling, have continued and are now joined by aching legs that continue to awaken me throughout the night.
But worst of all, my tumours — particularly the one on my neck — suddenly grew within days of the first dose, possibly because of the previous drug being withdrawn and pembrolizumab taking time to settle in. The response it elicited within me, Catherine and the family was one of mild alarm.
All the brakes seemed to be off and we were starting to career, out of control it felt, down the hill. Remarkably, however, in the last ten days, the tumours — particularly the one on my neck — have now suddenly reduced in size in the most amazing way. I know pembrolizumab has had some significant results worldwide, but even Ayman is impressed at the speed of response seen in this tumour.
In a curious way, it seems that the tumour is a kind of strange badge of a new ministry into which Father God has called me and Catherine as we share our story with others. And that difficult, dark seasons can perversely provide space and opportunity to know and rely on Him in even deeper ways. Jacob was the grandson of Abraham and son of Isaac. He was a sheer deceiver. Lied to his Father. But three times he pleads with the Lord to take it away from him. That suffering can be a springboard.
That suffering can be redeemed, that dirt can be transformed into diamonds. The verse from the old hymn which contains the line that gives my blog its title says…. I cannot close my heart to Thee. I trace the rainbow through the rain. And feel the promise is not vain. That through His suffering, Christ entered into our suffering. To quote Ben from his one entry here on the blog ….
Bless the Lord, my soul cries out! But here we all are. All on the level. All touched by cancer. But our reactions to my seedy state both in Salcombe and during the night, combined with periods of fatigue, indicate that our internal radars are on heightened alert as the new drug settles in and either helps produce an effect or has none. This state of alert can in itself be tiring. At the same time, I found particular fresh encouragement in words of Jesus in the Bible that stirred me the other day….
This One is the incomparable best and we can walk in His wake, safe and secure. I found myself doing just that as I lay awake in the night, unable to sleep for some discomfort, tuning in with Him again. Hear my cry, O God;. From the ends of the earth I call to you,. I call as my heart grows faint;. For you have been my refuge,. I long to dwell in your tent for ever. They impacted me afresh this weekend and I made them my own.
Drawing all that light and heat, directing it onto one spot, was enormous fun for a curious, if not somewhat mischievous, ten year old boy. But it was a day that felt like lots of events were being focussed into a magnifying glass and concentrated into one place, one day. Time gently propelled us from one event to another through the day. A walk mid-morning near Broadclyst with my parents-in-law to the spot where, on the 27th December , Ben suffered the seizure that led to his four month hospitalisation, was followed by a family pub lunch.
Lyn, Bernard and the staff welcomed us so warmly and as we sat over a cup of tea with them, so many recalled how special Ben had become to them while he was there and how they still remembered him so fondly. We were able to spend a few quiet moments alone in his old room at Mardon — and in the space where he breathed his last breath — and let some tears fall. After a visit to his grave to lay flowers, we managed to affect a change of gear and the day concluded with a good evening around the meal table with some close friends of Joshua joining us to celebrate his special day.
Me in the PET scanner…a mobile one in a lorry trailer, contracted by the NHS that moves around the major hospitals in the south-west. The scan takes 45 mins. The fact that my scan results were generally positive helped matters enormously for us all. The result is that they all appear to be increasing again to their original sizes. Consequently, the scan showed everything more or less as it was on the previous one in January.
Ten days ago, Catherine and I were able to attend a day in Worcester for bereaved parents organised by the superb UK Christian charity, Care for the Family. A piece of music. And suddenly a strong memory appears and grief just catches you out again. For Catherine a few weeks ago, it was seeing a small boy wearing dungarees. She remembered four small Clark boys, including Ben, wearing them. She was so unexpectedly tripped up. And no one would necessarily know. It was so great to be there to see them both.
Sam had been such a loyal, close friend over many years. It was a privilege to have them share with us afterwards and know a quiet understanding between us. But I also think of special family friend Carol, whose husband Neville, my godfather, died suddenly very recently. I particularly remember conversations out over coffee with him on my visits back to New Zealand over the years. I shall miss him. And what follows is a sign that points to His identity. But why the initial word from her to Jesus? Matt helpfully highlighted the sense in which it seems Mary knew. She knew whatever the situation, Jesus was bigger than it.
For a couple getting married, Jesus saved them from the social shame and stigma within their culture of a ruined wedding party. Remembering our precious Ben — husband, son, brother, grandson, God son, cousin, nephew and friend — who stepped into eternity a year ago today.
No words can truly describe how we feel. But along with a deep and ongoing sense of loss, we feel an immeasurable gratitude for him, what he showed us and what he inspired in us. The memory is such a powerful thing, with both unfathomable depths and an ability to take us back especially if its connected via an emotion or music to moments in time both precious and painful. They immediately transport me back to my late teenage years, to my time as part of the Royal Christchurch Musical Society choir, when we performed them with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra conducted by Bob Field-Dodgson.
But listening now to these works re-connects me and takes me on a journey into the heart where I find a wistfulness for those times, but a deep sense of gratitude for them at the same time nonetheless. My memories of the years spent working with them are equally significant because of the influence they had on my life.
Only He also could do the ultimate work in the hearts, minds and lives of those to whom I was ministering whether through preaching or pastoral work. Its then rector Tony Higton, and his wife Patricia with the church family, gave us a great vision as to what a New Testament church could be like. It was grand to connect with so many precious old friends.
We meet it with such a mixture of feelings. His headstone was finally installed two weeks ago after some weeks of planning and design. It marked the end of the formalities and signals a new phase of settling into the calm depths of loss, with its sometimes warm, sometimes cold currents. The anniversary for us as a couple looms with a heaviness. For each of us, for all us, there are different reasons. As with the year rounding from into , I think the most painful part is to feel that he therefore slips further away from us as the first anniversary approaches…the photos hold him in time, but time itself is moving so inexorably on.
As Jesus uttered them, he finished with a simple but profound question —. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?
- Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain.
- War and Peace (Cambridge World Classics) Critical Edition (Annotated) (Complete Works of Leo Tolstoy / Complete Works of Leo Tolstoi Book 2).
- O Love, that wilt not let me go;
- INCREASE YOUR MIND POWER: The Science of Clear Thinking.
But as we live with grief, I realise the importance of something that has been largely lost to the church…the place of lament. There I can find a wide range of emotions used that allow us to express, in those times of hardship and suffering, our own desolate feelings, a place that provides words to my complaints and questions to the Lord.
Psalm 13 powerfully expresses so much for me…. Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? I hold onto the fact that, more often that not, my encounters with God in the dark places have ultimately produced more fruit in my life than when the sun is always shining and the sky always blue.
As it seems to minister to people, sometimes through our tears, so the Lord also seems to encourage us as we recount the pain but also His constancy, even with the unanswered questions of these last eighteen months. But we walk on into what seem to be fresh challenges for me health wise. The cancer is plainly on the move again. The Dabrafenib medication I previously described has been very effective in shrinking the newer tumours on my neck and upper body. But in the last two weeks, the tumour on my neck has started to increase by small degrees again. All this of course starts to ramp up the tension levels in the family.
I knew what was going on. No need even to turn my head. There was a quiet understanding. Just when we were expecting one thing last Friday at the hospital, it all changed. But within an hour, my phone rang. So, back I went, wondering what could have suddenly happened just an hour or so ahead of my treatment. Soon all become clear. Another drug has to be used first.
Simple to take — just two tablets twice a day — dabrafenib is designed for use in metastatic melanoma to inhibit or switch off the faulty signal from the BRAF protein within the cancer cells, so preventing the cells from proliferating. It was a real privilege to share — even through tears — our story with them and once again it was encouraging to see God using it to connect with people at various points.
But along the path, I see God at work in and around us. She stood, listening quietly, continuing to cut as I told the story of the last twelve months. She then asked the same question. So how do I answer? I need to look back. My life and priorities were turned on their head, so impressed and taken was I with Him. So, for me now, living and continuing to face circumstances like this, does it threaten to drown that early sense of God and of the eternal? Feelings are so fickle, so fleeting, so affected by circumstances, and can spin round like a weather vane. But right from when I first started to organise my life around Jesus, when I first came to really know him in that personal way those thirty years ago, I was and have been so struck how the Christian message is one founded on facts.
I think of Dr Luke, writer of the gospel named after him in the New Testament, who states carefully at the beginning of his book,. The context of the conversation was one about the reliability of the bible. It was a question again of facts. Firstly, within cultures where the oral tradition was central, the accurate passing on of the stories and sayings from one village and generation to another, was vital.
It was unthinkable that they should be changed. We can perhaps insult these cultures with our modern view on how information is transmitted reliably. The fact that we have an almost embarrassing wealth of ancient manuscripts — copies of the original writings — for the whole of the New Testament from a relatively short time between years after it was originally written…. No classical scholar would doubt the authenticity of Herodotus, Thucydides, Tacitus or Livy when studying ancient Rome or Greece, yet the earliest copy we have from any of them was written years after the original and with many, many, many fewer manuscripts than we have of the New Testament.
The text has remained largely unchanged. It shows that, contrary to popular thought, the church, its councils, or various individuals with a barrow to push, have not altered it, added to it or changed it to suit whatever purpose they might have had. I often think of the disciples, a rag-tag bunch of fisherman and other sometimes dubious professions of the day. They all fled for their lives at the first hint of trouble when Jesus was arrested.
Historical Background for the Hymn: “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go”
And the one who remained nearby then denied knowing him at the first opportunity. What accounted for their subsequent transformation? What caused them to metamorphose into a posse of individuals who would together and one-by-one be responsible for changing the known world, prepared to face being disowned, abuse, beatings, persecution, imprisonment and death? Something startling in the very least.
Some have claimed the disciples just stole his body and made up the rest. But apart from the near impossibility of sneaking past a pair of Roman guards on the tomb would you die for something you knew to be a lie? Some have asserted the Jewish leaders took the body to prevent any stories of a resurrection that Jesus himself had predicted. Some have said it was a mass hallucination…they just thought they saw him because they so desperately wanted to. But these guys were robust fishermen and tax collectors. Added to that, Thomas won the prize for doubt…and even he was then finally convinced.
As well, the gospels describe how over people on eleven different occasions saw Christ, over a period of forty days. And on one of those occasions, He cooked and served a fish breakfast. Hallucination is a difficult claim to maintain. Death, the one thing that humankind has never been able to beat, conquer or avoid, Jesus came back from beyond its gates.
No one else has done that. No prophet, teacher, sage or wise guy. We leave ourselves in a dangerous position. In the very least I — we — need to take his words and deeds, what he did on the cross, recorded and passed down by reliable witnesses and writers, with utter seriousness. I place my life and death on these facts. We can stake our lives on him. The tough times come and our feelings might spin around.
It was a painful moment, thankfully picked up by a perceptive tutor. It caused a few tears both there and at home for more than just Lydia. There is no greater. And it reaches everything. Having friends to visit and to stay has been great and it was a privilege for Catherine and me to visit Belmont Chapel and Isca Church, both in Exeter, over a couple of Sundays and share our story.
The Positron Emission Tomography PET scan, identical in appearance to an MRI scanner, uses a radioactive tracer injected into the body to look for disease and shows how organs and tissues are working. The results came back late last week. I glowed in more than a few places. Briefly described, there are a whole lot of small tumours in various places click on the report alongside to see where. The great relief for us all was the absence of any sign of anything in my brain.
Maybe its just a man, mid-life thing instead. Single tiny inter-muscular deposit. Tiny avid focus within the liver could also represent a metastatic deposit and can be followed up on subsequent imaging. Comparison with the diagnostic CT demonstrates progression. Hearing the results from my ever-reassuring medical journeying companion, Dr Ayman Nassar, oncology registrar in Exeter, he was fairly relaxed about it all.
In NZ, with one of the greatest instances of melanoma in the world, Pharmac NZ has thus far refused to license it. I find that both curious and startling. Will you really sweep it away…. Will not the Judge of all the earth do right? Encouraged, Abraham went on. What about for the sake of forty five? And then King Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20, when in the face of his predicted death, cries out in prayer and weeping.
God responds with fifteen years. But who can say where it will lead? Co-incidentally or perhaps not , on the morning of my scan results, one of my Bible-in-a-Year readings was the account of Jesus walking on the water out to his friends struggling away on the Sea of Galilee, buffeted by the wind in their small boat. The gospel writers would surely hardly want to discredit their accounts by including things that would cause people to laugh and walk off in disbelief unless there was truth to it.
So the real identity being suggested for the one walking on the waters here in front of the disciples? The call was immediately plain. It was so relevant for me that morning waiting for the scan results. Peter gets out of the boat and, focusing on Christ, also does it. But then something happens. He begins to fix on the wind, the waves…and starts to sink.
Just at that moment as I was reading, I sensed something for me that morning. Will you trust me? Ultimately, not to be just a good teacher showing us how to live, or just a healer and not be be some kind of generic light bearer or yet another special guru.
Unique above all others, he came as God to seek and save us, not from waves and a watery grave, but from something far more serious. The One who walked on the waters. As Catherine and I went to bed last night, we did so with a feeling of increasingly heavy hearts and needing a renewed sense of peace. It all started last Monday. Just as we were arriving to stay with old friends Shaun and Helene in Bedfordshire for the week, I became aware that a small lump on my neck, above my larynx and present for some weeks, felt bigger and certainly more tender. To be safe however, after a phone call to the Exeter Oncology Department, I was booked in for both an ultrasound and oncology appointment upon our return.
Those appointments took place yesterday. The bad news is that the ultrasound indicated that the mass on my neck is suspicious and not a cyst. The good news is that consequently, the surgery planned for today was then, late yesterday afternoon, cancelled. It was felt to be a pointless exercise cutting bits and pieces out when it seems the melanoma is on the move again and that more cancer deposits might just show up in other places in weeks to come. It involves an infusion every three weeks for the foreseeable future. As I arrived home from the hospital last evening, phone calls to the children and our families followed.
An inner journey carries on and once again we find ourselves afresh before the Throne of Grace. Psalm 4 was among the readings. I listened and read along as David Suchet read it click here to hear it. It seems to emphasise his quiet fading into the past. His most recent photos will become those from last year, then another year, and still another. It proved to be the start of the journey into the last phase of the illness from which he would never recover.
And this last four weeks of December has been a month of precious times within our family circle. Tom had turned 21 just days before and eleven days before that, Catherine and I had celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary. We were then privileged to share our family story and testimony as Robin Vincent, pastor of the Hill Church, interviewed us for half an hour at their main service late on the Sunday afternoon. We discover further depths of His love, His forgiveness, His grace — in more ways than we could if the proverbial sun always shone.
They can be times of invitation to come into a deeper experience of trust and fellowship with God, to know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. My ongoing and sometimes intense spells of tiredness make me aware of the ongoing effects of the disease. For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Christ, once the baby of Bethlehem but who was to become the game-changer, the death-defeater, the life-giver through his death on the cross, offers us grace — simply meaning his undeserved favour. It can be inconvenient. It can be painful. But somehow, they knew it was worth it. After nearly a week of waiting, the message came through from both my Hospice consultant who can access my records at my request and then the Oncology Dept that my MRI scan results indicate that the shadow on my liver is nothing more than a harmless haemangioma. There remains though the question of the lymph node lump in my arm pit.
Like some uninvited house guest randomly wondering around causing a disturbance in all sorts of rooms, this cancer is one that seems to have that capacity. I read words so familiar to me from over the years,. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. A good friend of mine from Exeter was away this last weekend, speaking at a church in another corner of the country. As Dave and I were talking then praying together about it last week, we touched on the bible passage he was to be speaking on, one from Luke It refers to a tragedy that had taken place in Siloam.
A tower had collapsed killing eighteen people. And now, just last Friday night, news has reached us of the terror attacks in Paris with people dead, all as equally undeserving as any of us or those in Siloam two thousand years before. Another tragedy we face with no small number of questions. Good times are tainted by ensuing disappointment. Happiness by loss, even tragedy. Whilst he confirmed that my tumour has shrunk, Dr Goodman is now expressing a question.
The scan I had a month ago showed a shadowy area on my liver. It has mildly unsettled us. As I do that, there are always further depths to plumb, gold to be found, shortcomings and weakness to be exposed then respectively forgiven and strengthened. Death can catch any of us out at any time, and for whatever reason. Repentance and faithful confidence in Christ is the doorway to the joy-filled life, to the highway of deepest peace.
Over the weekend, while reading from Hebrews 12, I read —. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Among that great cloud of witnesses are the many and often stumbling men and women who feature in the pages of scripture.
Others of them surround our family at home and at church; still others are friends near and far. As I head towards my MRI scan on Friday and then wait for the results, I hold onto all these things, aiming not to lose heart. It seems to me a great place to focus. It encouraged me too. The words struck a chord that morning and have continued to resonate with me…. He took time out of a busy ministry trip in Europe to fly across to UK for two nights to pray with me and spend some time.
To spend time with them, laughing and reflecting on old times, on family life, on ministry, was a re-charge. While we were in Guernsey, after a couple of days of feeling unwell, I called my oncologist in Exeter to ask him whether he could expedite my CT scan results from the previous week. A cheer went up from the lunch table that day! Whether by ipilimumab or prayer, or through a combination of both, something is happening. A day visit from Guernsey to the tiny island of Herm was a highlight, especially as it marked six months to the day that Ben died.
We were able to spend a few quiet moments in the ancient chapel on the island in prayer and thanks, and later on the ferry, a memorial moment in our minds as we remembered the actual time Ben left us. Grief is such an unpredictable thing. Some days, I feel as if life is normal, other days it is not. The night before we left for Guernsey, Catherine and I, Joshua and Lydia were siting at the meal table, all laughing loudly over something.
Catherine looked up at me. I sat, my eyes welling. Tears flowed, as Lydia put her arm round my shoulder and we all sat in various states of undoing, once again looking into this chasm. They now find life is marred by a wound of loss that will be hard to heal. I weep for Simeon, for Tom, Joshua and Lydia. No big brother Ben to share life. No easy or slick answers. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. And through His own body, torn and scarred on the cross, He opens up the way as both our ransom payer and mediator…but also as the eternal God.
That without one who was God himself standing in my place, I am without hope. The kind, good and compassionate God. Though tears may come, nothing compares to the promise I have in Him. The different perspective on life and living that it brings is noticeable. Relationships have deepened and various friendship ties that might have become loose have been strengthened. Priorities to which I might have paid little more than lip service, have become more plain, even urgent. It feels like a fresh flowering of life.
The joy was tangible as we stood hugging each other, both struggling with our emotions. Those answers might not come as quickly as I want; some prayer might remain apparently unanswered as Jesus has something better for us. But He hears and he acts. And so we pray on, holding our lives and our broken world — including fleeing, desperate Syrians,Iraqis and others — before Christ. Nigel was, until illness overtook him last year, an associate professor in Sydney lecturing and researching neuromuscular diseases. He was my Best Man as I married Catherine. We had shared the irony of the fact that we were both now facing serious life threatening conditions having shared so many other things in life together.
Sadly, both his chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatment proved to be unsuccessful. The rather precious photo click on it for a better view shows him with Ben on his lap reading him a story at our home in Auckland in It was grace that extended to both Ben and Nigel. They were a gift to me. And in that time, our lives have been irreversibly changed in so, so many ways. The great irony of 21st century life is that despite advances in all areas of science, of technology, leisure and more — our lives are so finite and despite our wishful thinking, we have so very little idea what the future holds or any power of ourselves to control it.
What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Our lives are precious but unpredictable. We continually feel so blessed living in our new home, pinching ourselves that we can be here, with great neighbours all around us. Our church family at Grace Church in Exeter have been a real blessing to us and provide us with a place of care and enormous encouragement, as well as giving us opportunities to continue to serve in a variety of ways.
The range of emotions that I find I live with leave me with both agony and ecstasy sometimes within hours of each other. Some days feel normal, others by no means. Tom was a great counsellor and just simply assured me that he — they all — knew that I loved and grieved for Ben, that he knew I loved and would feel the same for any of them, that life had to carry on with much normality — going to the shops, laughing with friends — and that none of these things meant we were turning away from Ben and our memories of him.
I had to sit quietly alone realising that reasonableness told me something else. But despite that, I cried myself to sleep that night — Catherine having gone to bed earlier — heaving deeply as tears were streaming onto my pillow. Father thankfully brought healing sleep that quickly overcame me. Yet for all that too, I have moments of utter ecstasy.
During this week, we gathered with our church family for an evening of encouragement. I felt tears forming and my hand rising in surrendered worship as we sang…. The sense of the hope of glory, of what lies ahead, fills my tank for serving Him today. Finally, we love hearing from you all either by way of comments left here on the blog on in emails. They mean so much. My many weeks of silence since last I wrote have been for a number of reasons, but perhaps really only one.
Its noise means that there is no easy sitting in quiet without it drowning out what silence I have, making times of quiet — even to pray — feel impossible. All we could do was hold each other through our tears. So too have been times with the blokes from Grace Church in our community group as we meet regularly for breakfast to share and pray for each other. To have been able to cry with them has been releasing.
Having disseminated the histology results around the world, he asked us to meet him recently to tell us that the not-yet-proved, but likely cause of death is a new and rare virus known as Henipavirus. It is one which has, up until this point, only been found in north-eastern Australia, Malaysia, Madagascar and Ghana.
It arises from the urine of a fruit bat infecting fruit which is then ingested, or can be picked up from horses which have been infected from the fruit bat. Dr Harrower was clear with us that there is no known cure for it yet. He also shared with us that, had he lived any longer, Ben would have deteriorated physically and become increasingly mentally impaired. Again we felt a sense of relief that he was spared this. Next Friday, I have an appointment to register his death at the Civic Centre. The following day would have been his 24th birthday. But to help enhance the good flavour of the day, Josh also found out yesterday that he passed his A Levels.
And so the journey continues for us all. Dabi remains at her parents home in Brazil slowly rebuilding, while we here in Exeter also watch our changed lives take shape in a new house that feels like home already. We still pinch ourselves to think how it all came about. But the eyes of faith see something else. They recognise the presence of Christ, the hand of God, working through and with our pain to bring us to a deeper experience of His goodness and amazing grace. And that, through thick and thin, He can be trusted. Our champion, our hero. Catherine carries on at work in school while we both prepare for our house move.
Over the years, that policy has reduced in value markedly to the point it was worth only a quarter of what it was 15 years ago. It was, however, now more than ever worth making a claim and putting the proceeds towards the house.
Promoting the Riches of Christ in Regina
And so I completed the paperwork in March and waited. The mortgage could not therefore be ported. We were left dazed. Now, with only a few weeks before contracts were due to be exchanged, we found ourselves high and dry. Part way into the meeting with Luci, their helpful mortgage arranger, having shared our situation with her — my health, our loss of Ben, our need for a home — she left the room for some more information.
It was the insurance company. The call left me speechless and Catherine in tears. It was the amount we were, at that moment, seeking from the bank as a mortgage. How many insurance companies, I have asked myself since that day, give you nearly four times what you had expected and requested? It seems to this faltering and sometimes struggling disciple of Jesus that His hand was at work.
O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go
As Luci arrived back in the room, we were struggling to contain ourselves. We told her our news — she joined in the tears — and we left amazed. Yet all this is tinged with a pall of sadness. Dabi, now returned to Brazil. Our precious son has died. Nicholas Wolterstorff puts it well when he writes,. Never again to be here with us — never to sit with us at the table, never to travel with us, never to laugh with us, never to cry with us, never to embrace us…never to see his brothers and sister marry.
All the rest of our lives we must live without him. Only our death can stop the pain of his death. A month, a year, five years — with that, I could live. But not this forever. I step outdoors into the moist, mouldy fragrance of an early summer morning and arm in arm with my enjoyment comes the realisation that never again will he smell this. The scriptures remind us in this way…. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.
I can see it there in those words. The follower of Jesus does grieve, but grieves with a particular kind of hope, knowing something precious. O Love, that wilt not let me go The music cannot be played on your browser. Charlotte, NC, United States. Lord thank You only Your love does not let us go! Hephzibah Huggins Pontarddulais, Swansea. Leigh Powell United Kingdom.
O Cross, that lifts up my head. Brothers and Sisters, Do not doubt that this song will be in eternity; Sung as we go about the tasks Our KING has for us, Shared in leisure amongst HIS Children, Taught to whatever new live will spring forth - of a season long ago when darkness was given reign, and there was pain and suffering. The chorus of the Forever Family. Added to users' list. Share with a friend. Add to your website.
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