What is it like when an illness, serious enough to confine the sufferer to a hospital bed, disrupts the normal routine of daily life? Furthermore, it is not me who is unwell, but rather a wife, lover, partner and soul-mate who has always been there for the last fourteen years of married life. And suddenly, the house is empty and quiet, bar my own presence. Visiting Alex in hospital in the evenings following a full day's work makes the day long and tiring - not to mention daily train fares draining our resources; but I cannot go through a single day - workday or weekend - without spending some time at Alex's hospital bedside.
At the time of writing, the medical team has not been able to diagnose the problem. Her symptoms are severe backache followed by her loss of ability to stand up, let alone walk. At first, our G.P. thought it was just a strained back, and prescribed some medicated gel to be rubbed in at the affected site. When the condition failed to improve, but rather deteriorated, I called for the medical doctor to pay us a home visit, as Alex was no longer able to make her own way to the surgery. The doctor at first was reluctant, as he thought her ailment was not serious enough to warrant a visit. But by pleading with him to make the call, he finally agreed to visit the next day. When he arrived, a quick examination convinced him that she should go straight to hospital, where she was admitted.
At the hospital, MRI and CT scans were carried out on her spine, but have found nothing amiss with either her spinal cord or vertebrae. This is in itself good news, as had there been a problem, it might have been too late to operate, so the nurse informed me, as there might have been a risk of permanent paralysis. Instead, a sample of her blood had been dispatched to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford for analysis if my wife has an undiagnosed disease. The two weeks it could take before the result comes back would make the wait seemingly long.
Through out these past two to three weeks, I felt vulnerable, afraid, worried and fear of the future, these combinations of thoughts and emotions causing depression, intense at times. These fears were a reminder of a series of identical dreams during sleep I had in the past months when Alex's health was okay. Those were dreams of myself returning to a life as a single person, even moving back into my former bachelor pad I lived in for more than twenty years before I met my future spouse. Those dreams were identical with each other, or very nearly so. Prophetic dreams? A hint of permanence was suggested in all of them. They reminded me of the dreams I had in the early 1990s that I found myself in the United States, and also another dream, a few years later while still free and single, that I was near Haifa in Israel with an unrecognised female partner, looking across the Bay of Acre. In 1995, I did backpack across the USA, from New York to San Francisco, and in the year 2000, Alex and I stood near the summit of Mt. Carmel overlooking the Bay of Acre as we celebrated our first wedding anniversary.
Last Sunday, I testified of these dreams at our church open meeting. Recently I received a phone call from someone in our congregation informing me that at present, I'm very vulnerable to the devil's tricks, and therefore I should resist the fear these dreams have brought. If those dreams were to be a lie, then this should be a source of relief and assurance that we will be together as normal again. But having already experienced what looked to be prophetic dreams fulfilled in real life, I admit my confusion over the source of those dreams - were they from God? Or was the devil playing games with me?
I accept that those dreams might have been a warning from God, to prepare me for what is to come. On the other hand, they may be from an evil spirit, or looking from a scientific point of view, they could be nothing more than a psychological hunch. But there is one truth I can assure myself. God is in charge, and Jesus Christ of Nazareth, risen, is Lord. As I always assure Alex whenever doubt or fears arise, every evil spirit is more terrified of God than we are of them. Even Satan must get permission from God before he can act, as the first two chapters of the Old Testament book of Job so affirms. If those dreams were from the Adversary, then their ability to act were the result from God's permission, and only because we know that all things work for the good for those who love God, and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28.)
Satan tried to tempt Job to curse God for his sudden misfortune. Chapters one and two gives an amazing insight of what goes on in Heaven, in God's realm, where the Adversary has access. When the Lord pointed out Job as an example of God's own righteousness imputed into him, Satan threw down the gauntlet to put God's own righteousness to the test, by removing the shield of protection surrounding the man and making him subject to the most testing trials a man can endure; not only the loss of all his sons, but the loss of all his possessions, and soon afterwards falling ill almost to the point of death, and suffering physically. Then when he was in such a state, even his wife encouraged him to curse God and die.
But Job was well familiar in his relationship with God as depicted in Romans 8:28, and he even declared with enough conviction that in his flesh he shall see God. In Job 19:25-27 he says:
I know that my Redeemer lives, and in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes - I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!
If this wasn't a promise of Eternal Security of the believer, then what is? This is the wonderful truth of imputed righteousness. The fact that Jesus will return and he will stand on the summit of the Mount of Olives, facing Jerusalem, is a cast iron fact promised throughout the whole Bible, and particularly highlighted in Zechariah 14:3-4. Job saw this as a fact. But equally, he assures his friends in the tent with him that just as his redeemer will one day stand on the earth (the Mount of Olives) - so likewise in the flesh he will see God, that is, in a resurrected body like the one Jesus has now. The point is; his salvation was as sure to him as the coming of the Lord. No ifs or buts. Imputed righteousness, God's own righteousness in him, as in all of us today who believe. Once saved always saved!
This is the kind of faith which acts as a bulwark during times of testing and being subject to so much depression, that I could easily crawl under the carpet. To know the love of God, his goodness and mercy. And no matter how bad things might go, I'm utterly convinced that God is on our side and his goodness cannot be denied. After all, what is this power of love that sent his Son to the cross, to redeem such as I who is but dust and ashes?
Her present time spent in hospital has allowed me to reflect on our fourteen years of marriage. This included all the foreign holidays we had taken together - Rhodes, Kos, Sicily, Malta - all Mediterranean islands, together with Lanzarote of the Atlantic Canary Islands, along with Israel on our first anniversary. Alex back then so wanted to visit the Holy Land, and see for herself the places Jesus was so familiar with. At the Garden of Gethsemane, east of the Old City of Jerusalem, I recall her suddenly slipping to her knees and praying, giving thanks to God for his goodness, and particularly for giving us to each other. I got to admit, I stood there and wished to have moved on, as I was so familiar with this particular site going back to my first visit as a backpacker in 1976, and having visited the area so many times since. Then that extremely rare moment we both stood alone inside the Holy Sepulchre, the traditional site of Jesus' burial, and normally crowded with visitors and pilgrims, and she knelt at the tiny altar and gave thanks to God there.
I also recall a year earlier, on our honeymoon at the Greek island of Rhodes, Alex and I strolling alone at the shingle beach, and later into the night we looked up into the black, starry sky and watched shooting stars streaking across the sky as they burnt out before hitting the earth. And the countless times we were alone, embracing each other tightly as the waves of the Mediterranean lapped gently near our feet.
And when we were at home, she was always there for me, as God originally intended, as a "helper meet for me." As with all marriages, there is no such thing as perfection this side of the grave, we had our ups and downs along with disagreements. But she was always there for me. So finding myself alone in the house day after day for weeks on end is quite a shock to the system!
But God is with us, and this makes quite a difference! Last night, after returning home from visiting in hospital, I had a long conversation over Skype with a lifelong friend whom I met at a London college in 1969. He being much stronger emotionally than I ever was, with wisdom of life's experiences to match, I felt assured when he said without doubt that Alex and I will be together at home as normal. I am sure that God can, and does use anyone he chooses to deliver a message.
Proverbs 18:10 reads:
The name of the LORD is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe.
It's good to know that during troubled times, there is a strong tower we can run into and take refuge.