A few years ago H.M The Queen spoke of her “annus horribilis”. In human terms, for we two, 2011 was somewhat similar. The year began with family gatherings, fun, much love and hope. While many church services had to be cancelled because of the extreme weather conditions we still met and sang:
“another year is dawning,
Dear Master let it be
In working or in waiting
Another year with Thee.”
How true those words were to be. As a church fellowship we were looking forward to the possibility of being in partnership with the local Anglican Church. We felt that, together with diverse strengths and weaknesses, we could become an active community Church rather than two entities working separately, achieving very little in outreach and mission. Whilst daunting was the task before us there was quite an enthusiasm. The Church officials and leaders of both denominations met together in prayer and began to delve into the “nitty gritty” and minutiae of the project. As time progressed we did not seem to be making much progress and the few elderly members at the “Nook” (Cleckheaton I.M. Church) were beginning to feel the future held more responsibility than they could manage.
A chronic heart condition took Arthur into hospital on Maundy Thursday and through the whole of the Easter period. We managed a cruise holiday in June but his condition deteriorated. The staff were great. A wheelchair, with attendant, was always at hand.
The right person, in the right place, at the right time.
In July a very sad and traumatic meeting with the Connexional Admin. Secretary, was held at our Cleckheaton Church which concluded with the Mission project being abandoned and the proposal that the fellowship should disband. Shortly after the Connexional Annual Meeting (where we were encouraged through prayer and the Word concerning the Cleckheaton fellowship) Arthur was back in hospital; but this time our treasurer’s wife was very ill in an adjacent ward. The Lord was very good because it allowed the Church secretary, treasurer and minister to hold ad hoc meetings concerning the closure of the Church round beds of sickness or in the corridor outside!! I am reminded of Ecclesiastes “There is a time and a season for everything” knowing that God never lets anything stand in His way and in our adversity we have Hope through Jesus – and a sense of humour can be a blessing!
A second heart attack had Arthur hospitalised for almost five weeks waiting for surgery which proved to be far more complicated and invasive than had been envisaged. It was a time of deep anxiety but through all of it we knew that God was there. Hospital staff from every level of nursing and care were involved with Arthur’s care and these proved to be some of the nicest people we have ever met.
On that day after the operation I visited him, he was in a coma in what seemed like a space age capsule. Nothing had prepared me for that even though, as a minister, I had experienced similar situations with other peoples’ loved ones. The nurse put her arm around me and having noticed the little lapel Cross I wore just simply said “Let’s pray”. The power of the Lord filled me and I knew that all would be well.
Just the right person in the right place at the right time. How great is our God.
A chain of prayer was set up through the Connexion, Circuit, Churches Together and with friends overseas. It reminded me of one of the verses in my Dad’s favourite hymn:
“As o’er each continent and island the dawn brings another day. The voice of prayer is never silent nor dies the strain of praise away”
Through those first few days we walked through the Valley; yet feared no ill. Psalm 23 was ever in my mind. Arthur arrived home very weak and needing much care on the 25th September, the day of the final service and closure of “The Nook”. Arthur was left in the care of brother-in-law while I joined the service. Doreen led a wonderful service of Praise, joyful thanksgiving and remembrance. It was good to see so many folk from the local churches and an excellent representation from Independent Methodist Churches. Our friends from Dewsbury IMC willingly and lovingly provided refreshments relieving us at Cleckheaton of the extra workload.
I had found those weeks quite physically, and mentally, debilitating. With the church secretary and the treasurer out of action and the daily trek into Leeds to the hospital I was feeling quite tired and a “bit out of sorts.”
The right people were in the right place at the right time, answering God’s call.
Monday was “clearing day” so I went along ostensibly to organise but really did feel quite unwell. Margaret from the Anglican Church, who had come to help, drew herself up to her full four foot ten and said “Go home girl and get some rest. You look dreadful” Who could possibly disobey a retired A&E Sister!
Just the right person in the right place.
The following day the GP came to visit ‘him indoors’ and I asked to have a word concerning myself. Within minutes our son arrived. “So what?” you may ask. This was a very rare occurrence. Stephen had been to a meeting in Atherton, finished early, so on his way back along the M62 corridor to his office in Leeds he decided to call and see how Dad was. The doctor gave me a very quick “once over” and said that I had to go to Cardiology immediately. Stephen took over; arranged for neighbours and family to stay with Arthur and for our daughter to come up from Wales to look after Dad.
Again God had provided the right person at the moment of need.
He took me to hospital and stayed with me. Because of the length of time that Arthur had been in the Coronary Care Unit the staff seemed more like old friends and they all wanted to know how he was. After 48 hours and medication I came home feeling rested and fighting fit!
Four weeks later I was recalled for a routine echocardiogram and in the space of two minutes it seemed as though the world had fallen apart. There was a tumour inside my heart. I would have hoped that there was only the Holy Spirit there! But we couldn’t laugh. Yet through the shock I knew that we were not alone and remembered the words in Psalm 55 “Cast your cared on the Lord ….. as for me I trust in You”. O yes, there was great fear and more than a few tears, but God had his plan for me still.
Within 24 hours our daughter had, again, left her family in Wales to stay with Dad who still needed full time care. Family and friends were here offering every kind of help.
Wonderful people, all there, in the moment of need.
As there was no bed space in cardiology while I waited a few days for a transfer to the heart unit in Leeds, I was put in a four bedded bay in the geriatric ward!! Martha, on my left, told me her life story; frequently! The ward had a wonderful view over Mirfield, the Calder valley and across the Pennines. Martha came from Mirfield but she did not have the ability to recognise her surroundings. I persuaded her to join me at the window and we talked about the area; and some recognition returned along with many little stories about her youth which seemed to liven her up. Dorothy at 98 had a badly infected leg and was on high doses of antibiotics. Her daughter visited her every day but the old lady was very weak and lonely. I had the opportunity to sit beside her and help her reminisce or just peel a banana. The third patient only had three words “nurse” can’t” “Won’t”. the Lord was not going to let me sit idle.
The cardiology nurse/counsellor came to talk with me about my medical condition and the possible outcomes. She didn’t pull any punches! Yet through all this I felt calmness beyond understanding and I looked for a particular Psalm. The specific words evaded me until I reread Psalm 27. Arthur often sang this a solo “The Lord is my light and my salvation whom (or what) shall I fear”.
The closing verses (13 & 14) say “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the LIVING. Wait for the Lord; be strong take heart and wait for the Lord”.
There was still much work for me to do for Him. I was transferred to Leeds and prepared for surgery. I do not deny that there was an element of fear; words failed me. I could not pray other than to say “Lord we are BOTH in your hands. Your will be done”.
Surgery was completed by the same consultant cardiologist who had operated on Arthur! It was like meeting an old friend again” he commented that it was very rare for him to operate on both a husband and wife particularly in such a short space of time! Once more loving, kindly, professional people were caring, even if they did not know it, as God’s angels.
After Intensive Care I was transferred onto the ward which had a huge window wall. It overlooked Leeds city centre with St. George’s Crypt “centre stage”; and for those folds who have watched “Helicopter heroes” the ward was just below the helicopter pad but very well insulated against any noise.
Being there at the right time for someone in need.
A fellow patient turned out to be a devoted Catholic foster mother who had cared for more than 600 children over the years. On the first day there were just the two of us; both feeling somewhat groggy but able to have some conversations. That night a young prostitute was brought in. she was in great pain from all the abuse she had suffered and also inflicted upon herself through drugs. The staff were working with her for a long time. Eventually she settled down but was obviously very wary of these two older women as we tried to engage her in conversations. Over the next two days she began to tell us a little of her lifestyle and I’m sure she expected us to “judge” her. What she had o say opened my eyes to the world in which she, and thousands of other, live. In hospital she was away from that environment and had a desire to “get out of it”.
Her mother came to see her for the first time in years and the mother love was there just wanting to bring her daughter “back home”. The story of the Prodigal Son was unfolding before us. Even so a couple of her male “friends” managed to seek her out on the ward. My foster mother friend and I suspected what was happening, and with the help of the call buttons and Sister, they were very quickly removed and Security informed.
That night she had terrible withdrawal and ulcer pain. It is difficult to sleep in hospital under the best of circumstances but that was a long night! I was consumed by her suffering and I felt so helpless. But not without hope I prayed.
The following morning she apologised for all the disturbance of the night before. “Did I keep you awake?” “Yes” I replied “but I prayed for you through your pain”. There was no reply. A little later she took herself off, in a wheelchair, down to the coffee shop. She was gone a long while and we were feeling a bit worried; however, she returned armed with pots of Oat-so-simple, biscuits and some chocolate which she shared with us. Then she said quietly to me “I’ve been down to the Chapel and I’ve written a prayer card for you”. What more can I say other than I was overwhelmed. God moves in the most mysterious ways his wonders to perform. I still remember her and wonder whether her life has changed.
Not everyone was happy to be associated with her but on the day when the foster mother was being discharged our young friend told us that she was glad to have been in “our ward” because it ws the first time she had been treated like a human being and not like……… ! !
I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living; every time I looked to the window there before me was the Cross on St. George’s ever shining, encouraging and strengthening the knowledge of the presence of Jesus in the centre of suffering, pain, hardship and being the Hope in recovery. On the Saturday before I came home the Hospital Chaplain (a beautiful young lady of Japanese parentage) came to pray with me. She arrived just as my immediate family arrived and the ‘two to a bed’ rule was broken three times over! We all held hands as she read Psalm 46 and offered prayer. I have been a Christian since my teenage years but it was in those few minutes that the full power of the Gospel and the love of God filled me with such unspeakable joy that I was, for the first time, through all this experience, emotionally broken.
I came home just before Christmas and the folks from the local Methodist Church came to sing for Arthur and I. I don’t remember the last time so many people crammed into our house – but we had a great sing and shared prayer and I was able to tell them of the Power, the Love and the peace beyond understanding found in knowing that, in spite of all the problems we could Trust in Him and know that all was well; I was able to tell them of the lovely people who were there at the right time in the right place and above all tell them of that Cross which shone through the day and all the night.
There were many times when I had no words to pray, None, Blank. But I knew that very many people were praying and interceding for us. Deep in my heart I KNEW, without words or thoughts, without pictures in my head, with no tangible way of expressing myself, I KNEW that all would be well.
The new year of 2012 has not been without its medical problems, some of which are “on going”. There still are times of fear, depression and worry but through the Grace of God and the love and friendship of many “ordinary” people who would not consider themselves to be “angles” we have been able to count our many blessings and have faith for the future.
The right people were in the right place at the right time answering God’s call even if they were not aware of it.
“Bringing all my burdens, sorrow, sin and care; At Thy feet I lay them, and I leave them there.”
When I really think about it 2011 was not an “Annus horribilis” but an “Annus mirabilis”.