As all the sights, sounds and sunshine of a Devonian summer increasingly surround us, our lives are affected by an amalgam of emotions as we live in this strange new land of loss that we’ve never occupied before. Normality carries on around us as Josh and Lydia sit A-Levels and GCSEs respectively. Tom has arrived home, fresh from exams and his first year at Cardiff and Simeon’s finding the gym a great place to be. Catherine carries on at work in school while we both prepare for our house move. We enjoyed four precious days with old friends Phil and Sarah Baskerville on Guernsey just two weeks ago, and then, within a few days of arriving back, we said farewell to the five churches of our ‘Mission Community’ at the end of May and received a good and generous send-off. In these last few days, we’ve been so excited to finally and suddenly exchange contracts for both the sale of our flat in Crediton and then, an hour later, for the purchase of our new home in Exeter. The flat’s sale is due to complete this Friday and our new house next Tuesday. The excitement we feel is palpable – that after all these many months of hoping, wondering and daring to pray for a place for the family to call home, it’s now within sight, thanks to Father’s provision through many who together have made it possible. But it’s been a story of many chapters and one part of it I want to share involves our insurance company.
In 2000, I took out a Critical Illness policy which, back then, was worth a significant £X. 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. And so I completed the paperwork in March and waited. In the meantime, we applied to ‘port’ our current mortgage across to the proposed new property and were initially told we could. All seemed to be going smoothly until we hit a bump in the road with the mortgage company – on May 13th we heard that they wouldn’t be party to a purchase where friends had contributed. 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. Deciding we couldn’t delay, we went to see our own bank. 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. As soon as she’d gone, my phone rang. It was the insurance company. The call left me speechless and Catherine in tears. Having both received reports from my doctors and considered my case, it had been decided that they were going to pay me out as if it was 2002 – the year I had my first brush with melanoma – when the policy was still worth £X – plus they were going to refund all my monthly premiums since 2002. It was the amount we were, at that moment, seeking from the bank as a mortgage. Just as we were in Luci’s office – not too soon, not too late – the phone call had come. 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. I’d dared to ask Him months ago in prayer, “Lord, would you provide us with the right place to live, and could I even ask that we could be free of a mortgage?” Here now it seems was His response. 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. No mortgage needed. And now, with so many family members & amazing friends behind us and offering to help with the move next week, we’re full of excitement as we face this new chapter moving in.
Yet all this is tinged with a pall of sadness. Ben. Gone. Dabi, now returned to Brazil. There’s a strange sense of wrongness I occasionally feel in going about the everyday things in life, as if I shouldn’t. Our precious son has died. Nicholas Wolterstorff puts it well when he writes,
It’s the neverness that is so painful. 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.
“As a cloud vanishes and is gone, so he who goes down to the grave does not return, he will never come to his house again; his place will know him no more” (Job 7:9-10)
Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son
I find myself sitting on the sofa regularly, staring at a freshly mounted photo of Ben on the side table, or listening to the sound of his voice in a recording he sent me last year, my mind doing somersaults as it’s confronted with the seeming violence of this new reality. But at the same time, I also find myself gently confronted by Father who, when I was struggling even to open my mouth in church recently and feeling so overtaken by Ben’s death, I sensed quietly spoke deep into my heart saying, “Jeremy, my gospel, my story, my purposes overarch everything in this world, in life, in your lives, in your life…they catch Ben’s life, his death, your grief and all that you feel up so that nothing is lost, nothing is without meaning…and so, will you simply hold onto me? Will you trust me?” My only response? “Of course Lord…where else can I go? You and you alone have the words of eternal life”
But nonetheless, it’s right to lament. The scriptures remind us in this way…
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Thessalonians 4)
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. I grieve holding onto the certainties guaranteed by Christ, by his death and resurrection. That because he died and rose, those who’ve placed the weight of their life’s trust on him, even though they die, will one day also rise bodily to inhabit the very real new heaven and new earth that scripture promises. And that in the meantime, Ben’s there before the wonderful throne with Christ, amongst the “spirits of the righteous made perfect” (Hebrew 12:23) having an amazing time. So it’s HOPE writ large I have…not some wishful, baseless ‘pie in the sky when you die’ hope, but the sure and certain hope wonderfully provided by the ever precious Word of God. Yes, the days can be varied. Some moments, I sit tearful, disbelieving it’s all happened, but then other times I experience a strange euphoria that causes me to smile, knowing that Ben is ecstatic, more fully alive than me…safe and punching the air with joy and a jubilant abandon. He’s there with Jesus, living the dream – Jesus, whose hands and feet still bear the scars of the nails that remind us how it was all made possible.