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Sunday, 13 July 2014

By The Grace of God...

Summer is here, a time of the year when there is an air of a jollier mood being felt across our part of the world  - as the kids prepare to take a long break from school, and families turn their attention to the airports, perhaps feeling a degree of tension in their hope that no industrial strikes, political catastrophes, or even a natural disaster, would disrupt their well-earned getaways which had been planned and arranged since soon after last Christmas, which during the past six or seven months involved meticulous budgeting and saving. And I can attest to all that. Just a few years ago a volcano way up in Iceland blew its top. The cloud and ashes drifting south towards the UK caused all flights to be cancelled, long haul as well as short, and for over a week at least, if I remember, thousands of holidays and weekend getaways were ruined. And that was the result of a minor crater. I dread what would have been the consequence had it been its larger neighbour which had erupted, a possibility which many volcanologists hold as imminent.
But industrial disputes were the worst bane for someone stuck at the airport departure lounge. I will never forget 1978. That first Saturday in August of that year the French Air Traffic Control staff decided to strike, right at the very peak when families, group of friends, couples, and individuals, were ready to fly to European destinations, particularly Spain, in those days the chief holiday destination for sunshine breaks outside the UK. But the mid-seventies also saw the beginning of a revolution in air travel. If I recall, it was in 1976 that British entrepreneur Freddie Laker had opened the door for commoners to fly across the Atlantic Ocean on a cheap airfare. And competition soon established itself, so much so that poor Laker went bust in the early 1980s. But low-fare flights across the Pond remained established, no longer a privilege reserved for the chosen few.
But by 1978 I had already experienced my first transAtlantic flight the previous year, in 1977 when I flew to Toronto from London Gatwick. I recall the hugs I gave to my parents at the airport just before check-in, in anticipation of such a long distance to cover entirely on my own, with the nerve-racking yet exciting experience of standing at the Niagara Falls just a few days later. So by the following year, I wanted to return to North America to see the Grand Canyon in particular.
There was confusion around, caused by the strike, when my flight to New York was announced and boarding was now commencing. I made my way to the gate from the departure lounge. There was a crowd of people at the very next gate to mine, not looking too happy. Then the announcement echoed through the wide, glass-panelled corridor. Would all passengers for the such-and-such flight to Spain please return to the departure lounge. As the crowd of people at the next gate began to saunter back to the lounge, there was an eerie, spine-tingling scream. It was from a young man, about my age or slightly younger, whose pent up feelings of anger and frustration were released in a demonic- sounding vocal blast, no doubt, something very similar to be heard in a lunatic asylum. But as they made their way back to the lounge, at our gate we all boarded our 'plane on time, and take-off was on time as well, as the French strike did not affect flights to America.

As the British coastline well below us receded to make way for the ocean, I was still trembling over the young man's scream. But I could not blame him. Had I been in his shoes, I would have been equally frustrated, but most likely without the drama. What I have heard, that particular group should have taken off some seven or eight hours earlier, for a dawn arrival at their destination. Instead, they were called to the gate several times throughout the small hours, only to be told to return to the lounge. So his expression of rage was no surprise to me, after working hard and saving up for his dream getaway, his morning of departure was ruined by foreign union power. Little wonder that the Tories won the General Election just a year later with Margaret Thatcher as the nation's very first female Prime Minister, who dealt with the Unions head on!
The flight to New York was as uneventful as the previous flight to Toronto a year earlier. Except for one detail, and it wasn't the turbulence. Rather, it was the anticipation of flying across the Atlantic on my own, with no accommodation booked at all after arrival, as was the case with Toronto, as well as not knowing what might or can happen thousands of miles from home. So during mid-flight lunch, I took a roll of bread, broke it and declared that this was the Body of Christ broken for the forgiveness of sins. Then I took the red wine already in the glass, and drank, declaring that this was the blood of Christ shed for the New Covenant, and took it in remembrance of Him.
I celebrated mid-flight Communion seriously, yet back in those days, without Church authority, I had hopes that God would honour the sacrament, for I knew that because I took the bread and the wine without authority, the Catholic church would have anathematised me, and perhaps sentenced me to Hell as well. But instead, both backpacking trips were life-changing blessings, and I felt protected. As for accommodation, in both trips, I was never told, "Sorry, no rooms available," but I was welcomed off the street by reception at every hotel door I walked through.
Of all wonderful chances, I had the privilege to not only to look in to the vast, imposing Grand Canyon, but a chance to hike into it as well. This was because of a last minute cancellation of a bed booking at Phantom Ranch, near the Colorado River at the bottom of the Canyon. I was successful in grabbing that vacancy, making the full hike and an overnight stay possible, something close to being impossible normally, as planning to camp or sleep within the Grand Canyon National Park usually takes months of preparation. 1978 was the first of the two hikes completed at the Grand Canyon. The second was completed in 1995, for want of better photography.

Colorado River, taken from River Trail, at my 1995 hike into the Grand Canyon.

The year 1978 was a good example of one man being more fortunate than another when waiting to board a flight at an airport afflicted by industrial action. On that occasion I was the fortunate one. But much more recently, in 2013 I had booked a holiday with my wife in Crete to celebrate our wedding anniversary. But on the day of take-off, another couple occupied our seats instead, most likely on an extra cheap deal which our cancellation had brought about. While the 'plane soared into the air, my wife was confined in bed at a local hospital, where she stayed for nearly four months. Believe me, cancelling a fully paid up foreign holiday was my first ever experience I had in my life. Not only was the need to grapple with the insurance policy, but for us both it was a horrible sense of loss. Even to this day, Alex is unable to get outside the house without a wheelchair. Whether this will be for the rest of our lives or not, only God knows, as he has all things in his hands, including our future.
And I think this makes all the difference. Having our future in God's hands is a reality - this applies to everybody. But believing that God has our future in his hands seem to make all the difference. Believing this fact makes the burden much easier to bear, and there is even a sense of peace. Sure enough, I can look at all the photos taken while abroad, both first on my own and later as a couple. Together, our memories remain fresh as we strolled the beaches of Israel, Rhodes, Kos, Malta, Sicily, and Lanzarote. Not to mention the beaches and historical sites here in the UK, in the days when Alex was able to walk normally, allowing us to stroll arm in arm like any other couple. At present it is not so much in missing out on these trips, but the distress in watching my beloved sitting in a wheelchair while I push it along. If ever I need the love of God, his comforting arms, his reassurance, it is now. I don't think it's so much of a loss of foreign holidays as my wife's health. She had even suggested, more than once, that if I need to get away for a short break, she wouldn't object. But I know that within myself I don't have a heart to go away alone. Since the day I married, travel had never been the same since.

As a domestic window cleaner, having customers announcing that they will be flying away within the next week or at the following month is normal for this time of year. I have clients who even fly abroad more than once a year - Egypt seems to be high on the list, particularly with the Red Sea resorts where fringe reef corals provide magnificent diving and snorkeling opportunities within the clear, turquoise waters not unlike that of a large aquarium. Ah! This reminds me of when Alex and I visited Elat, on the southern tip of Israel, close to the Egyptian border. A reminiscence of the glory days at the Great Barrier Reef as a Round-the-World backpacker in 1997. But rather than sit and envy my clients while at the same time bemoaning our fate, instead I give thanks to God for allowing such opportunities to travel, both as a bachelor and then as a married couple. To add to this, Alex is looking forward to our coming break in Bournemouth in a week from now at the time of writing. Sure enough, compared to other places visited, Bournemouth is just around the corner, but it will offer the opportunity for my wife to get out of her wheelchair to recline on the beach while the sea laps gently close to our feet - providing the English weather is reasonable, of course!

Coral Beach, Elat, close to the Egyptian border - taken October 2000

If you think that I love looking back over my life while writing blogs, then you are right. It gives the opportunity to dwell on the goodness of God and his undeserved generosity. This is a good remedy during times when I'm feeling down or when life seems so unfair. For example, this weekend I was reading a very well composed article about a paedophile ring at Parliament throughout the 1980s. Although I'm not familiar with the author or his background, by reading his article in the Daily Mail newspaper, the way he compiled all the facts together has brought out his academic brilliance. The article looks like a result of weeks of research, but actually the only resource he had was from an obscure 200-page document at the British Library in London, and from a section not normally accessible to the public. Could he have amassed all this information over a couple hours browsing? That was how it came over to me. Yet by reading his rather complex composition with much intricate personal detail, I could not help wishing that I too was as clever as he was at school, and had passed scores of exams, collected grades and a degree at university, and then earn a living as a journalist - writing articles for a national newspaper which would have had a greater number of readers in one day than all of the 170 blogs I have written here, over a period of more than three years.

And that's the danger when making comparisons with other people, like when I was a child, we lived two doors away from a family with two boys, both a tad older than me, who were excelling well at school. My parent's mistake was that I was compared to them, and I fell way short. Ever since, I had that longing to excel academically, but my schooldays proved a disastrous failure which had a profound effect on self esteem, which most likely stem from my awareness that my parents wished for a son comparable with their neighbour's. Let's face it, I would have much rather have been a journalist than a window cleaner! - Especially as I find joy and satisfaction in writing.

But here is where the truth of the Gospel has it's effect. I found that it has the power to set me free from the nagging emotion of feeling inferior. And that's saying something - as I live in a class-obsessed country where professionals are revered by society over and above the commoner. I have come to learn, yes even over a long period of time, that as long as I have Christ, then little else matters. As the writers of the Bible so delightfully remind us: that life's longevity is like a wisp of smoke that is seen for a moment then vanishes - with Jesus Christ, life is eternal. So at present, I much rather to be a window cleaner in Christ than a professional without knowing him. As a result of this, I have a lot of admiration for this author, Guy Adams, rather than envy. He has done well and deserves his reward.

But other than salvation, I thank God dearly and praise him for giving me a wife, whom I can love and cherish. The husband and wife is an analogy of Jesus Christ and his bride, the church, and he gave up his life for her redemption. So with me, I can ask God for the power of the Holy Spirit to fill me with the same sacrificial love for Alex as Christ had for us. This includes going to Bournemouth with its questionable Summer weather than to go to Crete. It also means staying at home to look after and take care of her rather than backpack around the world. And I'm not talking merely out of a sense of duty, but rather my love and desire to remain together outweighs any desire for backpacking. That, I think, demonstrates the grace of God.

I greatly thank the Lord for allowing me to travel when the opportunity was open. But now I thank him for the greater gifts of salvation, and furthermore, for a wheelchair bound wife and companion whom I can lavish unlimited love and devotion.

Even if it rains everyday in Bournemouth.


  1. Thank you Frank - your last two paragraphs in particular are a wonderful inspiration, and far, far better than anything in the Daily Mail!

  2. Dear Frank,
    Thank you for the beautiful and inspiring post, which is such a good example of the Christian perspective and priorities. As long as we have Christ, what else matters for eternity, for He is all we need. And yet He lavishes so many blessings on us in addition to the ultimate gift of salvation, particularly on those of us blessed to have a Godly spouse. Praying for you and Alex, for her complete recovery, and for a refreshing and peaceful seaside vacation.
    God bless,

  3. Several times I have heard people say they deserve the best because they are children of the Lord. Obviously they miss what you have discovered, that what God has given is the best for us and anything else is inferior. I am so glad you are experiencing his wonderful love for both you and Alex.