As I approach Christmas next week and look back on these last 2½ months since my diagnosis, we’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and care amongst family, friends and people we’ve never met. It’s been truly humbling. In these last few weeks, we have had some beautiful times as a family. My parents, Trish and Nick, sisters Anna and Julia and brother Hamish have been with us from New Zealand, Australia and London. We were able to share a family celebration marking Ma & Pa’s momentous fifty years of marriage in a special evening event at Rockbeare Manor, a gracious and historic local house owned by our dear friend, Gerard. During the evening, we presented Ma and Pa with title deeds to small plots of land, part of a conservation project, in the Scottish Highlands, thus creating them both as Lord Nicholas & Lady Patricia….time to doff your caps! In these last ten days, Catherine and I have celebrated our Silver Anniversary – twenty five years since our twenty three-year-old selves both said “I will” to each other. Like all marriages, we’ve had our good times and tough times – times when we’ve had to remind ourselves that we said “I will” not “I feel”. In a world which is characterised by the easy ‘if it feels good, do it…and if it doesn’t, throw it away’, I’ve found something different. I’ve experienced that marriage (which in the Bible is used regularly as an analogy and example of Christ’s relationship with us) is a means of His grace and is a relationship that teaches me so much about His commitment to us – one who always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. A covenant that endures all things through thick and thin. While I can be insufferable at times, HE endlessly forgives me one more time than I will ever fall. HE never stops loving me. And I’m called into this relationship with Him, which is not about me, but about another. His best is my goal. As I think about my precious wife, the forgiveness and commitment she has demonstrated over the years, but also the agony, care and love she has shown in these last few weeks since my diagnosis, more than ever makes me see Jesus through her and I realise what a beautiful gem I chose. I’m indeed blessed.
In these last two weeks, we’ve also faced the trial of our son Ben’s illness in Brazil, a relapse and deterioration of a condition with which he was diagnosed in July. As I write, he and his wife Dabi are en route back to the UK with Dabi’s father accompanying them for extra aid, and due to arrive tomorrow. Ben has thankfully made some good improvement, but there are continuing concerns for his health and the accuracy of the diagnosis. Again, we’ve been grateful for the prayers of many.
As I face my third session of immunotherapy treatment at the end of this week, I’m feeling very well. After both initial treatments, I’ve had an hour or two of nausea and sickness, but nothing more. Small pea-sized lumps (whether tumours I don’t yet know) have started to appear in my right leg – the area considered to be the primary melanoma site – which may just be a predicted initial reaction to the drug. But other than that, I’m as well as I ever was. The long term journey however continues to take us down paths of light and dark. The family and I remain continually conscious of the realities and possibilities of what we’re facing. Whether it’s with Catherine, the children, or with my parents, with Anna, Julia and Hamish, we’ve all talked about the hard possibility of me not being here. Tears, of course, easily flow and we can hardly consider the sheer veil of sadness it would bring. It breaks my heart to think I could be ‘responsible’ for such pain. Even now as I write, I have to pause to simply sit with my feelings – there’s no quick or easy place to go with them, except to ask Jesus once again for his rod and staff to comfort and help, now and in the future. Psalm 13 has been offered as help and as a great example of what can be called the ‘hinge turning’ – when we express the depth of our anxiety and even anger to God, somehow He makes it so that trust is discovered or renewed.
But within the realm of what could be, I continue to lay myself open to the possibility of being physically healed. After a series of what seemed to be ‘heavenly hints’, I had a special time with my parents visiting the Christian Healing Mission (formerly the London Healing Mission) last week. While I was a theological student in Auckland back in 1992-1994, the then-warden of CHM spoke to our student body and impressed me with this gospel-focussed ministry. A few weeks ago then, Alison, a friend of my mother, emailed me saying that she had visited LHM/CHM from NZ in the late 1980s with a serious medical condition and had experienced a significant healing. She’d gone, she wrote, encouraged to do so by a special old mutual friend of ours, (the now late) Margaret Wiggins. Margaret, with her husband, Bishop Max, had lovingly discipled me as a new Christian in Christchurch in the mid-1980s. As I read Alison’s email, it was almost as if Margaret’s encouragement was there once again saying, ‘So, Jeremy, we pray on…and why don’t you go to the LHM too?’. And so with all these ‘hints’, we went. In a very calm environment, and within the context of a healing service with worship and gospel teaching, I received prayer with the laying on of hands and was anointed with oil. Nothing spectacular, just placing the whole situation before Christ once again with my dear parents on either side, both of whom then were also able to receive prayer.
Whilst I struggle enormously with what my illness might do to my beautiful family, I continue to remain peaceful and not fearful for myself. I know that God can heal, but I know that He might choose to work differently. Healing comes in many guises. Physical healing is one kind, emotional another, but strange as it might seem, death, for the Christian believer, is the ultimate healing. My former training vicar and now dear friend, Rob Shimwell, came to stay for 24 hours earlier this month and brought me so much encouragement. He had previously written with words from G.B. Caird’s Bible commentary on the Book of Revelation –
“The idea that life on earth is so infinitely precious that the death which robs us of it must be the ultimate tragedy is precisely the idolatry that John (in Revelation) is trying to combat.”
Rob then wrote –
“Dennis Lennon, quoting this, continues: Our name written in the book of life is what determines our eternal destiny (Rev 21:2) and anything that awakens us to that reality is a mercy, even if a severe mercy.
That’s truly been my experience. It’s had me at times savouring the thought of being face to face with the one who redeemed me, feeling excited about being in the place He has prepared in the Father’s house for all who know and love Him. The only thing I struggle with is the timing. That’s the bitter-sweet rub. Why now, Lord? The children, Catherine, my parents, siblings? But then, I don’t see what Father sees – I only view the ‘life tapestry’ from the rear where it’s largely a jumble of threads. Dark threads seemingly horribly cutting across gold ones and where there seems to be no pattern, no picture, where little makes sense. Father however, at work on the other side, is weaving the most amazing picture full of purpose, goodness and love. He’s weaving away with his ever good purposes.
It was the apostle Paul who wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit –
‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him’— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit’ (1 Corinthians 2:9)