Jeremy…husband of Catherine, father of Ben, Simeon, Tom, Joshua & Lydia. Up until the end of April 2015, he was pastor/vicar of a group of churches on the edge of Exeter in Devon, UK. In early October 2014, aged 48, he was diagnosed with advanced cancer, a stage four malignant melanoma presenting as a tumour on his lungs. The usual life expectancy is 8-12 months. Then, in late December 2014, 23 year old Ben suffered a seizure. After prolonged medical care for what was most likely to have been a viral infection affecting his brain, Ben died in April 2015. Jeremy has up until recently seemed to have responded well to pioneering immunotherapy treatments that can extend life, but from September 2016 is now facing the fresh development of brain tumours and potentially now just months to live. On January 27th 2017 Jeremy took his last breath and went to be his Lord and Saviour. The family share their thoughts, feelings and reflections as they taJeremy…husband of Catherine, father of Ben, Simeon, Tom, Joshua & Lydia. Up until the end of April 2015, he was pastor/vicar of a group of churches on the edge of Exeter in Devon, UK. In early October 2014, aged 48, he was diagnosed with advanced cancer, a stage four malignant melanoma presenting as a tumour on his lungs. The usual life expectancy is 8-12 months. Then, in late December 2014, 23 year old Ben suffered a seizure. After prolonged medical care for what was most likely to have been a viral infection affecting his brain, Ben died in April 2015. Jeremy has up until recently seemed to have responded well to pioneering immunotherapy treatments that can extend life, but from September 2016 is now facing the fresh development of brain tumours and potentially now just months to live. On January 27th 2017 Jeremy took his last breath and went to be with his Lord and Saviour. The family share their thoughts, feelings and reflections as they take this painful and unexpected journey.

One year agoIt’s a strange thing to be sitting here writing knowing that it was a year ago yesterday since I was diagnosed, twelve months since I received the news that I probably only had six to eight months to live. 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. I remember so clearly when Catherine and I moved to the UK in 1997 and I joined the staff team at St Mary’s Upton on the Wirral, my first preaching engagement at their large evening service was teaching from the New Testament letter of James, a book that they were working through on Sunday evenings. James’ words struck me then, but strike me now with even greater force –

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

Our lives are precious but unpredictable. We have no idea what’s round the corner. If someone had said to me on the morning of 2nd July last year – the day before news of Ben’s first seizure in Brazil reached us – that by May this year, he’d have died and I would be retired from parish ministry because of a terminal cancer diagnosis, I would have looked, in the very least, bemused.    

Not listeningBut in a generation that, faced with both mortality and death, quickly sticks its fingers in its ears and loudly shouts “la, la, la, la, la, la”, producing all manner of distractions –  including remaking God in our own image – in an attempt to avoid facing up to the big questions death poses, questions about what life is ultimately about, about how we’re facing up to standing before God (if we believe in a God at all), about our own shortcomings and failures, then…then I’m reminded of the sheer wonder of both the place of peace and the answers found in the man who came from heaven as God with us  saying “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them” and then, standing at the grave of his friend confidently asserted, “I am the resurrection and the life…those who believe in me, though they die will live”. And the apostle Paul, speaking about Him wrote, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. It’s just that what He says throughout the gospels, hard though some of his words are, makes sense to the human condition and why his teaching has spoken to generation after generation over 2000 years.

Hard timesSome do wonder, looking at our family thinking, “well if God is so amazing, it’s not exactly a good advert for Him that these things have happened to you”. But I can honestly say that for us, while it’s been a painful year, it’s been a precious one of knowing Father’s grace and supply in the middle of weakness and devastation in ways that we’ve not known before. We wouldn’t say that God has necessarily caused the things that we’ve experienced this year – they’re bigger questions for another time, perhaps another age – but neither has He been back-footed by any of them, as if left wringing His hands in despair, caught out, surprised and not sure what to do next. No, right there in the middle of the twists and turns of those things that happen to you and me, for anyone who’s repented and believed the good news about Jesus and placed the weight of their life’s trust on Christ, He’s immediately and already there by his Holy Spirit, using even the worst of things to bring not just glory to His name, but grace and strength for us as His precious sons and daughters, as well as an opportunity for a deepening trust and encounter with Him that no other circumstance perhaps would offer. If I consider that God’s greatest purpose and plan to save you and me involved Him using what hell and evil thought was its finest hour of triumph gained through crucifying Jesus Christ, and turned it into heaven’s greatest victory, then I’ve got a confidence that His arm is not too short to save and help us in our smaller circumstance. Quite truly, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”.

Garden changeAnd it’s from that place of peace that we continue to live with the things we face. We continually feel so blessed living in our new home, pinching ourselves that we can be here, with great neighbours all around us. The garden (click the photos for a bigger image) is now looking beautifully transformed thanks to my wonderful mother’s design, Marc & Angie’s spadework and then some careful planting. It’s also been great to have friends who’ve lately scooped us up and taken us out or had us to stay – thanks Matt & Louise, Phil & Mal. I’m generally keeping well, although regular bouts of nausea – AKA Jeremy’s morning sickness – as well as the recent appearance of marble-sized lumps, one in an armpit and one at the top of my throat, accompanieIMG_2368d by some tenderness and discomfort, have brought us up short. A phone call however to the oncology department assured us that they didn’t think it was anything to be worried about, more just swollen glands because of other things. My next scan takes place in two weeks, with results returned three weeks after that. Bouts of sudden tiredness regularly strike me, confirming that it’s been right to change tracks work-wise and be about other things. Among them, I’ve taken on a pastoral support role serving the twenty five or so ministers and pastors from across the denominations here in the city who belong to the Exeter Evangelical Partnership, visiting them, listening and praying in what, for some, are sometimes lonely and difficult situations. 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. Catherine has started back at school, this time as class teacher and being interviewed for the permanent post this Monday; Tom is back in Cardiff, Josh now living in Honiton and loving working for his church for the year (click here to see more), Lydia enjoying a fresh start at Exeter College and Simeon the rush of a new motorbike.    

Dark clouds and sunWe’ve also just passed the five month mark since Ben’s death. 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. On a break away in Oxford with Tom three weeks ago (thanks again Chrissie, Nick, Annabel & Theo for having us), I shared with Tom my angst that I was living life too normally, not showing enough grief before the children, perhaps giving them the impression that I didn’t love and miss Ben much and therefore that I don’t really love them or wouldn’t miss them much if something happened to any of them. 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. As I shared more with him, he listened as I said I was finding it hard to cope with the thought that the photos we anticipate having of them all – of Tom, Simeon, Josh and Lydia  – will over the years show them maturing, changing and moving on, but Ben’s last photos will remain unchanged, never to age beyond 23yrs old, and only to fade. It’s in those moments that I feel an overwhelming and deep heaving sense of the loss of Ben, of what has been – of hopes and dreams that we had, that Ben and Dabi had. I felt it so deeply on Sunday night two weeks ago that I found I was rounding on myself critically saying, “HOW COULD YOU’VE LET THIS HAPPEN!? YOU WERE HIS FATHER! HOW TOTALLY IRRESPONSIBLE YOU WERE. YOU COULD HAVE DONE SOMETHING MORE! 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. The ultimate aim of any Christian parent should be that above anything else, each of their children finds a personal saving relationship with Jesus Christ and that they build their lives around knowing and serving Him and that ultimately they’ll go to be with Him for eternity. And so I found myself sitting on the grass next to Ben’s grave last week, through tears, laughing and smiling and worshiping Jesus that that’s where he is – safely tucked away in that place where I’ve wanted all my children to one day ultimately be. And so moments of sheer joy overcome me as I think Ben is face to face with the One he came to know years ago – Jesus  – who Ben, with Dabi, had been building his life around.     

ApostlesCreedDuring this week, we gathered with our church family for an evening of encouragement. As we worshipped through song together, we sang “This I Believe”, a song based on the Apostle’s creed. I felt tears forming and my hand rising in surrendered worship as we sang…

I believe in the resurrection

That we will rise again

For I believe in the name of Jesus

I believe in You

I believe You rose again

I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord

…that because Jesus rose, so His blood-bought people one day will physically too. That Ben, not yet with his perfected resurrected body, but certainly in spirit, is there already with the “spirits of the righteous made perfect”…that one day, after Christ’s return when that which we proclaim in the creed – the resurrection of the dead – will take place. Then we’ll see with our own eyes, stand in our renewed flesh before our amazing Saviour, because of his substitutionary death for each of us on the cross, because of His amazing grace and forgiveness, …and “we shall be with the Lord forever”. 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.

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Comments on: "The Agony, the Ecstasy and the Everyday" (29)

  1. Thanks again for all the encouragement you share to all yout friends, Jeremy.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Brenda Cook said:

    Jeremy, your blog means so much. I find your comments both an encouragement and a challenge. You are an amazing father, and your family brings so much honour to Jesus. May he continue to bless and uphold you all with His everlasting arms. I remember you and pray for you often. With love, Brenda

    Liked by 1 person

    • Brenda, thanks so much for that. It’s a real strength to us that others are encouraged. It’s also great to be back in touch with you after all these years. Thanks for your help. J

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  3. Tanya Marlow said:

    I’ve just come across your story via Dave Bish on Twitter, and I’m really moved by it. I’m a vicar’s wife in Devon, and am really struck by how much you have all gone through and how much you have to carry.

    I have been rendered housebound for the last five years due to a chronic autoimmune illness, and have found blogging really helpful in working through some of the complexities. I had been thinking about that James passage just today – we want to pretend we are in control of our lives, and that death does not exist – but we are not, and it does.

    I’m really grateful for this note of truth today. Blessing and prayers for you all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tanya, I’ve met you on a number of occasions and know Jon. It’s great to hear from you and glad this helps. Keep in touch!

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      • Jeremy! It was only when I saw your picture on Facebook that I connected the dots and was like, ‘I know him!’ I always used to really enjoy our chats at DEF. I’m really sorry to hear your news. It sucks. In a big way.

        We both send a whole lotta love your way. Thank you for speaking the best kind of truth.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Jeremy and Catherine, once more I’m brought to tears as I read the small insight into your lives, with all the grief and pain, and yet times of joy.
    I continue to hold you all in my prayers – I wrote all your names on a stone a few months ago and it prompts me to pray regularly as i feel it in my pocket.
    Thank you for continuing to share with us and allowing us the privilege of supporting you all in whatever ways we are able
    Shalom
    Helen

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much Helen. It’s so appreciated. We’re really looking forward to seeing you next weekend for the big day. J

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  5. So glad that song blessed you Jeremy! Love it!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Lorraine Williams said:

    I thank our God each time I read your blogg. Throughout your hardship and sufferings you both bring so much glory to God. You are wonderful witnesses to Jesus and a REAL inspiration to us all .
    In the face of suffering and trials Satan would love to rob us of our faith,and the hope we have in Christ….But the good news is that Jesus who is our sovereign Lord `WILL NOT LET HIM` ..Keep pressing forward , running the race until you reach the goal set before you
    Blessings to you all

    From your loving Sis .in Christ – Lorraine the scouser

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, Lorraine…you’re such a gem. You’ve been, and continue to be, one who brings me back to what Jesus can do…the fact that He got hold of a true blue scouser and did in your life what He’s done. All those Alpha courses and Christianity Explored courses we ran and the things we saw happen as a result. I’m so thankful to Christ that you’ve been part of my journey. Bless ya, Sis!

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  7. Caroline Colin said:

    My love JC for who you are and what you mean to our family. I travel to Victoria’s wedding in Zim on Tuesday evening and return at the end of Oct. I would dearly love to share a lunch hour with you one week day before your ministerial meeting, if possible. My love to you and Catherine and continued prayers for all your family. Cas

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Jane Grassie said:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings; we are moved by your journey and think of you often. Please don’t forget to let us know when you are coming to Guernsey as we would love for you to come round and spend some time with us if you’re free. Thinking of you all Janey and Anne xx

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Karen Hayward said:

    So often I think you both especially from the loving parent lens and my heart feels the agony of soul so much for you both.
    I often wonder what is happening for you both in the silence between blogs and it reminds me of an old Christian book by Sir Robert Anderson entitled The Silence of God . I pray that in the silence you may both be able to” Be still and know that He is God”.
    Warmest love and care
    Karen

    Liked by 1 person

    • Karen, thank you for this. You are spot on – in the silent times, we find there is nothing to say because there is often simply ‘nothing to say’. It’s like learning to live in a new country, where there is a different culture, an altered outlook, where we are learning a new way of being. Thanks for your love and prayers. J

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  10. Lisa Smith-Paterson said:

    thank you for taking the time to share with us, very humbling to read and try comprehend all that you have been through & still dealing with. I will be in Zim this weekend for Victorias wedding – last time we were all together was for Ashleys – it will be a special event but also a heartsore one. Prayers to you x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lisa, it’s been great being in touch With all the highs and lows of your lives losing Ash and now with Vee’s wedding, we’ve seen God’s faithful presence. Take my love to all as you gather…I would have loved to have been there too!

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  11. Louise wilcox said:

    A beautiful written and thought provoking blog – so poignant, moving and challenging. Bless you for your witness and faithfulness xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Louise, we love you guys and so appreciate your walking with us…even if it did take us through mud two weeks ago!

      Like

  12. Mary Georgina Ann Hunt What an inspiring blog Jeremy – When I feel down about my own prognosis I think of you and your amazing faith and it certainly helps me. I have only just come out of hospital hence the lack of contact. You are all still in my thoughts and prayers. x

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Jeremy and Catherine, What a great and shining example you display of the Lord’s Prayer in John 17:20 which reads:- “Neither pray I FOR THESE ALONE, but FOR THEM also WHO SHALL BELIEVE ON ME through their WORD.” …Question?…How many oranges are there in a PIP?…..Ask Willy Orange…..Bless Him.
    The Lord bless and keep you all… Simeon and Dharamdai.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Simeon & Dharamdai. I’m so grateful for those times spent with you, learning more about Jesus, coming to love God’s word and serving Him more than 25 yrs ago in London. Bless you both. J

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  14. John & Val said:

    Jeremy your faith inspires me so much. Was so sorry to have missed you both when you came to St Mary’s we were away. BIG HUGS to you both, God Bless xx

    Liked by 1 person

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