In my occasional teaching and preaching on heaven over the years, I’ve regularly identified from the scriptures that a wonderful characteristic the friend of Jesus can one day look forward to is the unending happiness and everlasting pleasure that’s described in the Bible’s scattered ‘jigsaw piece’ references to heaven. Unending happiness and lasting pleasure. We can hardly perceive what that looks like from where we all stand at the moment because normal life, whilst it provides times of happiness and pleasure, often sees the good times followed by things that, in the least, temper or steal our happiness, our pleasure – a relationship becomes difficult, you lose your job, our ‘toys’ lose their shine, break or are superseded by a better model, the car breaks down, someone precious to you dies, your children ‘sow their wild oats’ leaving you feeling heartbroken, you find a lump on your body and think….the list can go on and on.
But for the one who’s placed the weight of their life’s trust on the risen Jesus Christ, they’ll find heaven has nothing that steals the perfect away. It’s the place, in Christ’s immediate presence, where that old order of things that we experience in this life, has gone. Eternal bliss – not eternal snoozing – and pleasure in the face-to-face presence with the Saviour. It’s so inspiring. It’s something that can keep our heads lifted up even in the face of life’s often chewy, painful times. The hope of glory.
The normal ‘human life’ experience of happiness, however, has very much been ours in the last few days. Let me tell the story.
I know I’ve been there before, but earlier this week until Wednesday, I really thought I was starting on a downhill slide with my melanoma. My temperature started rising and falling, my chest/lung area were feeling increasingly tight and uncomfortable, a cough which had only been intermittent, had become more persistent and troubling. It was a rough few days which left me listless and largely wanting to lie down all the time. With its effects continuing for more than 36hrs, on Wednesday I rang the hospital and, describing the symptoms, was ordered to come in for a check up. After an X-ray, blood and a battery of other tests, I was told there was nothing untoward going on. If anything, it was considered to be a prolonged or late reaction to the ipilimumab. I was able to find out however, 24hrs ahead of my official appointment for CT scan results, that both the X-ray and the scan indicated no change in my tumour – no growth or proliferation. Seeing my doctor Ayman Nassar again on Thursday for the official results, he felt it to be a positive response to the drug. Yes, he’d like to see the tumour shrink, but finding it unchanged, felt indications are that it’s being held at bay. Bearing in mind that it’s only 20% of people who respond to ipilimumab and have their lives extended for a time, his exact words to me were, ‘It’s not the usual response we see, but it is stable for the second month in the same manner’. A friend of mine commenting after the previous scan showed the same result, said, ‘Hhhmm, this sounds like something of God’. When I mentioned this to Ayman, he smiled and reacted in recognition.
It’s been good news for us, and allowed a peace and sense of relief to fall across the family again.
But, as I’ve said, happiness and pleasure in this life are so often imperfect and not unending. Continuing our ‘normal life is often stranger than fiction’ existence, we heard early Thursday afternoon, just as I was about to drive in for my results, that our son Ben had had another series of seizures. Not able to be controlled by medication at the Neuro Rehab Centre, the ambulance was called and, given a further lack of response to their meds, Ben was taken over to main hospital and was placed back on the ICU. Cast back into the raw emotions of the Intensive Care waiting room, we found ourselves dealing with a clawing sense of déjà vu, recognising the familiarity of the place from Ben’s stay there in late December/January. He was placed in a side room where he was initially sedated, unconscious and on a ventilator. STOP PRESS I’ve just phoned the ward this morning (Friday) and the phone was passed to…Ben. Such a surprise for me. We had a quick chat. He’s feeling very tired, a little confused, quite groggy, but OK. All tubes have been removed and they’re hoping to send him back to the Mardon Neuro Rehab Centre today.
I suppose the next few days will indicate whether all that’s happened yesterday is going to impede his ‘progress’ or not. As I think about all this though, I can’t ignore the fact that on Monday, so many people around the world joined us in a day of Prayer and Fasting for Ben. Perhaps we can see this latest incident as a response, a ‘flushing out’, an unearthing of what’s really going on, something that may contribute to either a full diagnosis and recovery…..or simply just a recovery. We watch and pray and thank those who’ve said they’re standing with us in prayer.
We continue to feel for our daughter-in-law, Dabi who’s had such a tough path to walk over these past three months – in a strange land and away from her family and natural support systems. We’re so grateful to those who’ve befriended her, accommodated her near the hospital and been Jesus’ arms around her. Her immigration application seems to have been met with a positive response as she’s now been invited by a particular special department of the Visa & Immigration service to put in a specific application. Being handled by one man in the department who’s given us his direct line contact details, it feels like things are going in the right direction.
Regarding our house buying ahead of my now early retirement, we’ve been so grateful for what seems to be a snowball slowly starting to roll as a small number of friends have both humbled and amazed us, sending gifts towards the shortfall in our intended house purchase, particularly after a major source of help may have closed down. With me feeling so unwell this week, the weight of it all, particularly when our solicitor wants to know all the financial information, has almost been more than Catherine and I could bear, even to the point of despair, so these reminders of the love and care of others has refreshed us so much. All things being equal, and so long as funds allow, the intended purchase date is set for early May.
Thanks for all the messages of support either through comments here on the blog or the many emails and cards to me, Catherine and our family directly. They all mean so much. While many might look at us and sneer saying, “Where is your God?”, I’m encouraged by the answer to that very question found in Psalm 42, “…my enemies sneer and ask, “Where is your God?” Why am I discouraged? Why am I restless? I trust you! And I will praise you again because you help me, and you are my God.”
We keep our heads lifted up.