Everyone who grew up in an environment, particularly here in the West, that has a Christian-based constitution celebrates three special days each year: Easter, Birthday, and Christmas. While Easter and Christmas are national holidays centered on the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the birthday is totally personal, and the date random enough to fall even on a holiday, such as on Christmas day - a phenomenon which such a child would consider to be so unfair, and which he has no say in or no control over. But married couples have one extra occasion: their wedding anniversary, the date of such a celebration being fully under control the moment the date of the wedding is proposed. So it was with us.
And so we hold so dear, and I think this is because I married so late in life, at 47 years to be precise, that is, less than a month after my birthday. But as we stood that morning at the front of the church and exchanged vows, I knew that life would never be the same again. All the wonderful things I achieved as a bachelor - world travel, which I held so dear, closes for good (so I thought) and a new chapter opens, one which, after the honeymoon is over, will present challenges I sensed as I placed the ring on her finger.
So, sixteen years to the day, I pushed her wheelchair along what I consider as my favourite area of London - the South Bank Walk. This is the only area in a major city where it is totally traffic free. But it is also the area where I experienced something of a culture shock - although it shouldn't have come as a surprise to me - the reality hits home as we crept close to the edge of a large three-dimensional mural directly under Southwark Bridge. It was a wonderful work of art, so much so that it drew a crowd - tourists in particular. Everyone, including ourselves, kept to the narrow walkway surrounding the mural - except for two men dressed in pinstripe suits and ties. These two walked directly over the graphic, with not a smidgen of consideration for either the artwork or the people taking photos of it. Aware of their wrongdoing, they looked straight ahead with sheer determination. It gave me the impression of how Britons expanded their Empire within the last four centuries, treading underfoot the indigenous they have conquered, looking down at them and forcing them to submit to their rule without any consideration to their needs.
|3D mural under Southwark Bridge.|
And this took place just a week or so after someone I know well has criticized me on how negative remarks about our national culture sometimes appear in my posts. Indeed, there were many men wearing office suits milling past us, as this was during lunch period. And it came as a surprise to me that the majority did not wear ties, but had their shirts open at the neck. And in the midst of Autumn, our British weather was sunny but rather cool. Therefore I was left wondering whether all this hint of casualness was normal throughout the working week, or was it the Friday dress-down? Or maybe a combination of both? But as for these two smartly-dressed fellows who were together, I saw the epitome of our cultural attitude, and I couldn't help letting out a rebuke which I had hoped was within their earshot. And so made this anniversary as unique as all the others, which as made me ask: Does wearing a tie really bring out a sense of superiority, if not a hint of nastiness?
On the subject of uniqueness, at last year's anniversary, I found myself bathing in the sea at Bournemouth under warm Autumn sunshine, the year before that I found my wife lying unconscious on her ward bed at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, after arriving by train and bus, thus making our 14th the least enjoyable anniversary of the entire marriage. The year before that, we were at Malta, where I suffered a mild foot injury on some razor-sharp rocks, and the year before then, on our 12th, we were given a sharp rebuke for eating our own sandwiches on the beach at the Greek island of Kos, thus posing a threat to the family-owned beach cafeteria nearest to us.
Seeing my wife, the person I love most, in a wheelchair can be very distressing, especially on our anniversary. Memories of such wonderful moments we had when we fell in love with the Greek islands of Rhodes and Kos, as well as recalling a night spent at a London hotel, hiking on the Southwest Coast Trail, even standing in the rain at a bus shelter at Penzance in Cornwall, and just merely eating out at a restaurant in our home town of Bracknell. Those were wonderful anniversary memories, and also in a way, the most haunting. Because throughout those earlier years of our marriage, Alex was fully mobile - with the ability to walk, run, skip, and dance. Dancing in particular, she loved it. Now with mobility limitations, whenever we leave the house, I have to push her in a wheelchair.
And it's this which made our sixteenth a mix of both good and bad. Good in a way that our day trip to London to be by the Golden Hinde made it an exhilarating experience for Alex. The famous tall ship is a replica of the one sailed by Sir Francis Drake, who navigated the world in it during the 16th Century. How we spent some considerable time in that area, enjoying coffee at a cafe right next to the ship. Then our day ended by standing by the Palace of Westminster, which also exhilarated her.
|The Golden Hinde, London|
It was while on our way to the Palace of Westminster that I gave in to a strong temptation to visit a travel shop near Covent Garden. To get there, we crossed an area of cobbled stones which shook Alex's wheelchair and putting excess strain onto her back. The result was that she went down with a severe backache, disabling her from all household chores, on the following day (today) - something she has always been fully capable despite her current lameness. This was the spoiler of this year's anniversary, if not as bad as the 14th.
At least we are not entirely alone. Throughout my Christian life, I have known two very devoted husbands who also pushed their wives around in their wheelchairs. Different times, different churches, but the same devotion both men had for their lame spouses. I say "had" because both men are now widowers. One went north to his native Scotland, while the other went to stay with his daughter in South Africa. However, while they were both around, I had to admit how impressed I felt over their devotion to each other. In those days I was still single, not having met Alex until several years later. Therefore, in a culture where divorce is ten-a-penny, especially among celebrities and Hollywood icons, I could only conclude that the devotion these two men had shown to their wives was of the power of God in their lives. I would never have dreamed for a moment that I would suffer the same experience as they did.
It has always been a mystery to me on why God allows such situations to develop. After all, wasn't it the Lord Jesus himself who commanded his disciples to ...heal the sick...? (Matthew 10:8). How come that despite prayer delivered heavenward has brought no result? Where have we gone wrong? Could it be that our prayers were on the wrong track? Not only ours, but for the two others who watched their wives die as well? Questions. Indeed, by reading about Peter's healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate (Acts 3) - the real reason for this was to prove to the Pharisees that this Jesus is the Christ. All throughout his ministry, the healing of many were always for the same reason: To demonstrate that the Jesus among them is their Messiah they have been waiting for. And by believing, they could have eternal life, for this life is in the Son.
And this is the truth which brings hope to both of us. I am convinced that the same truth was the power within the other two husbands before me. And now we are dependent on this same power. It is God who is using Alex's disability to teach us to rely totally on Him, and not to lose heart. The offshoot of this ministry is the strengthening of our marriage. Only today, while attending a men's breakfast at a local church (not my regular fellowship), I had heaps of praise and commendations directed at me by someone who has seen us together. Such praise was edifying, but rather than make me feel proud, I was able to give thanks to God for his work in us. The glory goes to God. Even though, deep in my heart lies the distress in seeing my beloved in such a poor condition. And my foolish decision to push her over cobbled stones and hurting her back at the same time made me feel angry at myself. Perhaps a good demonstration of the well-being felt by walking in the Holy Spirit, followed by the destruction brought when the flesh butts in and we fall in to fulfill its desire. We thank God for the abundance of forgiveness Alex has in her heart which led to my restoration of fellowship with the Lord and with each other.
I don't know how I would have faced the future if I did not believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The realisation of being married to someone who is lame would have been very daunting indeed. Without the love of Christ in our hearts, would I have walked out of our marriage in favour of the airport, alone? I can't pretend that such thoughts had never entered my mind. They had. But as I look at her beautiful face, especially while asleep, and considering how her submission to me has given her that sense of security, I ask - how could I be so brutally heartless to desert her for selfish pursuits? No I could never do a thing like that! When I look at her, all I can feel is love flushing out of my heart and the desire to take her into my arms, like a mother to a newborn baby. Is the love of God like that too?
|Our 15th Anniversary in Bournemouth|
I thank the Lord for giving me such a wife as Alex. I could see that she was born just for me, as God found pleasure to direct fully in his will. Only the Lord knows how many anniversaries still remains in the future. Lame or healthy, one thing I am aware of, and that is knowing that God works all things for the good for those who love him, and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
Now that is where I can rest my case.