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Three P’s….

There were lots of really kind tributes paid to my dad when he passedadd away on 5 August:

A gentle giant who impacted my life….

A true elder and a man of God. To know him was an honour….

A true friend, counsellor and encourager….

We all were blessed as a result of knowing him….

There was healing for us as people shared their memories of the man dad was – because in the midst of the dementia of the past few years, we had almost forgotten that man.

We heard from people who remembered him as a bible teacher; others who shared memories of his care for them when they lived in the home for missionaries’ children which my parents had for several years in Belfast; others who described dad as their mentor.

But for me, he was my dad. Simply my dad. But completely my dad.

Someone reminded me today that there is a special bond between a father and a daughter.

Here’s why the bond between my dad and me was special.

He was a Provider

(Of course I have to start each one with a ‘P’ – dad was famous for the Seven P’s of Bible Study which he taught to all of us who studied with him at El-Nathan!)

Growing up, I took it for granted. Whatever I needed, dad would provide for me. Not always what I wanted – but certainly always what I needed. Sometimes I wondered how much he earned, but I never asked – probably because I knew better and probably also because it didn’t concern me – I knew that, whatever I needed, he would provide. That could range from everyday needs of food and drink to special needs like pots and potions when I was sick (how he loved to prescribe home remedies for us all!) to more exciting things like Christmas or birthday presents.

I have very fond memories of Christmas morning growing up. Dad would make us all breakfast, which we had to eat before anything else happened; then he would line us up according to age (I was number three!); then we could all go into the room where the presents were and start opening them.

He was a Protector

The instinct to protect their offspring is powerful to more than the human species – but I saw it beautifully lived out in my dad.Image 006

One vivid memory is when I was a schoolgirl of about 8 or 9 years old and suffered from hives which were all over my body, including the soles of my feet. They were incredibly itchy and grew into blisters, necessitating bandages to cover them up. I remember my dad carrying me into school so that I wouldn’t have to walk on those itchy feet.

He was a Pastor

Dad had a few different jobs but one of them involved him working as a salesman for an animal feeds company.Image 037.jpg

That meant he travelled all over N.Ireland, visiting farmers and getting to know them and their animals. He loved animals and I remember him taking us to the zoo as well as to farms, encouraging us to touch and feed the animals. Here are my 3 siblings and my mum – I’m not sure where I was!

 

dad and lamb

This photograph was taken during the last stages of dad’s life when he was practically unable to communicate in any meaningful way because of the dementia. The nursing home had very creatively introduced animal therapy to the residents. They told us later that dad caressed the lamb for a long time and when eventually they took it away, he patted his chest as if to say he had felt its heartbeat.

I wonder if that experience evoked memories for my dad of times when he would have held a lamb for a farmer? For me, the photo evokes the nurturing side of dad – the fact that so many people have talked about how he cared for them, nurtured them, counselled them and encouraged them. He cared for many sheep – not just the 4 in his own little flock.

The Pain of Losing a Baby

Following my blog about miscarriage, I have heard from several friends who have very courageously shared their stories with me. I’m sharing parts of them here, to help us all learn more about this whole topic. It’s clear that the loss of a baby – at whatever stage – is a profound experience which these mums recall today as if it were yesterday.

What helped you through your experience?

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A 12-week old fetus

At first, what helped me was encouragement and care from my friends, most of whom were church friends.

The thing that was most helpful was the encouragement I received from other moms who had experienced miscarriages. Most of them had lost the babies early in the pregnancy and not as late as I did. But their empathy was precious.

One nurse helped just by rubbing my back as my body shook from shock.

It was helpful to have friends around.

My sister’s words “I just wish I was there to give you a hug” brought comfort and validated my experience.  That was the key…. I just wanted someone to say it was ok to feel sad.  I wanted my pain to be recognised and validated.

The knowledge that many people were praying for me gave me great comfort.

The experience of feeling that God was in control. Theologically I had always believed this, but this time I also experienced it in my feelings. I knew I was dying (they later confirmed this, saying that it was a miracle I was still alive) and yet I began to look forward very much to being with the Lord.

Previous to (this experience) I had been very ill and had had to lie in bed a lot. During that time I filled my mind with the Word of God and listened to quite a few sermons. I recommend filling your mind with the Word of God …. In crises like this He will bring it back to your thoughts. It helped me in bearing the pain.

Visits from dear Christian friends who came and prayed. Some just sat quietly by my side. Helped to make me comfortable, plumped up pillows, adjusted the blinds, asked me where they would like me to sit so that I would not have to turn my head uncomfortably to see them. Didn’t talk too much…. just came and sat quietly, a comforting presence. Not asking too many questions.

I was in a lot of pain and after the major abdominal surgery I wasn’t allowed painkillers because my liver couldn’t take them. Every cough, every movement, every visit to the bathroom was agony. Some of these friends were a great help with all of that, especially the trained nurses, and other sensitive people.

It was a great help that (my husband) kept so calm throughout the ordeal.

The…surgeon was quite a compassionate man. He visited me briefly every day to check on progress, and had just the right kind of reassuring touch, which helped to heal me further. The staff around you can heal you or hinder you. There is no doubt about it.

What helped me was eventually sharing what I had gone through with someone I trusted as I had kept it a secret initially. She encouraged me to grieve for my baby. I found this helped me to release all the pent up feelings I had kept hidden.

 

What was not a help to you?

A …nurse took it upon herself to pronounce that I must have sinned greatly for God to put me through such an ordeal. I responded that while I certainly wasn’t without sin, I wasn’t aware of any great deliberate disobedience. Needless to say I didn’t find her contribution to my recovery in any way helpful.

What did not help was when I told someone about losing my baby who had also had a miscarriage they said my loss was not the same as theirs as I had lost my baby at an earlier stage. This made me feel that my loss was not as significant.

Were there things that the medical professionals could have done differently?

Been more sympathetic, they were very matter of fact and clinical. They actually told me it was a good thing as it showed I could get pregnant as we had been trying to have a baby for three years. Even though I miscarried they said I should be pleased I had been pregnant.

When I lost the baby, I felt betrayed by the medical staff who couldn’t anticipate what was happening and didn’t prevent my miscarriage. Also, they had no answers….ever for WHY I lost the baby, and what I could do to prevent it happening again.

The medical staff were not attentive duing 12 hours of labor and delivery….Finally, after 12 hours, the baby was born … into a bedpan. And that is how she was presented to me a few minutes later….in a bedpan. When I returned to my room, the nurse aid walked in to give me a bath. She cheerfully asked me “Is this your first baby”? I told her I had lost my baby. She apologised. I was on the Obstetric ward with all the new mothers and babies…in a room with another woman who had miscarried. It would have been helpful to put us in private rooms isolated from the crying babies and happy mothers and guests.

The medical staff …. were really good. They kept me living in hope. Which in a sense was good but really not good. I think being real in love and truth would have been better for me. You see I knew by my loss of blood that it was really not going to be. It broke my heart lying in there for six days and then the following day I was taken to theatre for a D&C.

I was put into a side room – a kind gesture, but unfortunately it was in the maternity suite.  The nurses were more used to dealing with happy outcomes and, sadly I felt, ill-equipped when things did not go well.  Comments such as: “Sure you’re young, you have plenty of time to try again” , while maybe true, did not help. I couldn’t wait to get home.

Were there things that your friends and family could have done differently?

One thing that was NOT helpful was a comment from (someone who warned) me that ‘others would be watching’ me and how I handled grief…. that I should take care to keep it in check! Or that I should consider the effect my behavior might have on others.

I only had one visitor who wasn’t helpful. She immediately launched into all the medical problems of lots of other people she knew, her own medical problems, on and on she gabbled, couldn’t enter into my situation at all, and I wasn’t sorry to see her leave. But she was the one and only visitor in all that time who affected me like that, thankfully. Most were brilliant.

I kept it a secret which I now regret. Only my husband knew but I think he found it hard to really identify with how I felt. Perhaps I should have been more open so people understood why I was acting differently. It was my way of coping but I don’t feel it was the right way.

A church member, on my return to church after the miscarriage, quoted a verse to me: ‘Be thankful in all circumstances’. That was clearly not the time to quote a verse like that!

I hesitate to say this but some of the deepest hurts came from family.  I know my mum struggled to see me distressed but her comment “well I’ve had (x) miscarriages; you just have to get over it” didn’t help, in fact it made me feel that my feelings of deep anguish were abnormal.  This, together with a comment from another family member, “I’ll come and see you when you pull yourself together”, only made me withdraw and feel ashamed that I felt so bad.

What was the hardest part for you personally?

At the time I lost the baby I was one of 11 ladies in my circle of family and friends who were expecting babies. I was reminded, with each of their births, of my grief.

My hopes, expectations and plans I had already formed were all shattered. I had longed for this baby for three years and was ecstatic when I found out I was pregnant and subsequently devastated when my pregnancy ended.

Probably the hardest comment I heard/hear is that it was a miscarriage. It wasn’t. It was a baby at 36 weeks who should have lived. I think having a miscarriage must be way more painful than many people think, but carrying a chlid 8 months is a different experience (in the same way, losing a child after he is born must be still more excruciating.) Time is the healer, although I suspect the pain of loss is always there…

I feel the worst thing about losing my wee baby was the fact that I love children and she was mine. Emptiness. No grave to remember her by.  The worst thing was my sister who had a baby around the same time.

It was hard that my husband experienced grief much differently than me. Because he didn’t go to the funeral, he didn’t have any relationship with this baby and his own grieving was much quicker. Even today, it doesn’t affect him a lot, whereas I think of (the baby) when I see (a child of the same age)….. I felt quite alone through it all.

How did you deal with the loss from a spiritual point of view?

I felt that God had let me down.    I remember cooking supper in the kitchen and suddenly weeping. I put my head down on the counter top and was crying. My husband walked in and asked me what was wrong. I said, ‘I just lost a baby’!?! He said, ..’but that was 2 weeks ago’! I really was surprised how quickly he had moved on and how I was alone with this grief.

I did not know why the Lord had allowed this to happen. I knew that these things happen all the time. But 5 months into the pregnancy, the baby had personality for me. We named her. I am happy when my children, now, remember that they have a sister waiting to greet us in heaven.

I know my baby was a girl only cause I was so emotional one night and I prayed to God to show me what I’d lost  – a boy or girl. And in the dream that evening was a baby girl in a pink blanket on my knee.

I know my grief was compounded by the belief that it was not acceptable to feel so bad.  I had to hide my tears and pretend that I was ok.  I felt shame, for my tears but also for the thought that maybe I had inadvertently caused the miscarriage.  I found it difficult to pray.  I didn’t feel angry at God but I felt ashamed that I felt so bad.  I would have liked to to talk to someone who understood the mix of emotions and who could gently and sensitively direct me to God’s truth, love and acceptance.  I have learned so much from this experience and I hope it has made me more empathic.

I am grateful that all of that happened. I have understood better what others go through, I have understood what people suffer with anxiety and panic attacks as well as chronic pain. The whole experience has certainly not, in the goodness of God, been a wasted experience, and I have never regretted it. 

The only thing that helped me finally resolve the question ‘why’ was that I would be specially qualified to encourage others who would experience the loss of a baby through miscarriage.

A grave or burial?

I have one regret. It was not proposed to me that I could have had a private memorial service and arrange for a dignified way to bring this life episode to a close. I am sure my baby was incinerated without ceremony. But in my defense, I had never done this before. I wasn’t prepared for the decisions I should have been making. And the medical staff never offered me an option.

The fact back then there was no burial services left me with no grave. They just D&C you. Family went silent on me, except for my mum who said it wasn’t meant to be. My husband felt it but it is different for a man; we women carry everything and never forget dates and times; men think differently.

The surgeon came with a little jar holding the foetus. I was sleeping at the time, and I wish I had taken a better look when he woke me up. I especially wish I had asked if it was a boy or a girl. Even so, it helped it to sink in that we had just lost a wee baby, and I often thought back to that afterwards. He told me there had been ‘a lot of infection’ which they had now removed. That is quite a clear memory which has remained with me afterwards, even though I was dozy at the time. I think that is a helpful thing to do.

Memories

Going through it 20 years ago seems like yesterday.

I remember my experience of my miscarriage as if it were yesterday.  In reality it was 25 years ago.

Memories of this time of my life don’t preoccupy me unduly or define me. But it certainly was an extremely difficult time for me. It is difficult to revisit it, but I am quite happy to share my experience. I am fairly certain my experience is being repeated many times. If what I share of how I lived my experience can be helpful, that pleases me.

You can see how 25 years later it is still all so vivid in my mind. I still cry when I hear of miscarriages, and i still cry when I hear of abortions. Though I think I am over the grief of losing this little one.

Thank you for the opportunity to reflect on this Pauline.  The tears are close to the surface as I write this but as I read your experience it has helped me to know that that is ok.

We need to be there for one another, to let each other know that our grief is OK.

I would just like to thank all of these friends who have shared their stories so courageously. This is holy ground. And it demonstrates what a profound experience the loss of a baby is, as well as how personal a thing it is to each mum. Just as there is no ‘right’ way to grieve any loss, there is no right way to grieve the loss of a baby. And one thing is sure: the passing of time does not erase the memory of the loss. 

Jacque Watkins, a nurse who works with newborns and their parents, has written very sensitively about the experience of sitting with a woman who is losing her child through miscarriage. Jacque says this:

To grieve with another in the silence of their presence, THIS is holy work.

 

 

Miscarriage – what’s the big deal?

I lost my first baby at 7 weeks. So I was barely pregnant, certainly not ‘showing’ – so what was the big deal? Wasn’t it just like a late period?    weaned child

Miscarriage is one of those subjects which some people shy away from; others would rather not think about; and still others don’t understand.

The NHS defines it this way: ‘A miscarriage is the loss of a pregnancy during the first 23 weeks‘.

Why, at only 7 weeks, was it such a big deal to me?

  1. It was my first pregnancy and I had experienced quite a bit of difficulty in conceiving so my Big Question was ‘Will I ever be pregnant again?’
  2. I believe that life begins at conception so, although I was only 7 weeks pregnant, I did consider my miscarriage the loss of a baby I had longed for.
  3. The circumstances of my miscarriage were traumatic. I had gone for a scan and there didn’t seem a to be a heartbeat so I was admitted to hospital.
  4. I was put in a ward with women suffering from all kinds of things. The woman in the bed next to mine was actually waiting for sterilisation and I could hear the doctor talking to her, ensuring that she understood that she wouldn’t be able to have any more children – while the life of my first child was ending.
  5. My husband wasn’t called; the hospital was short-staffed; occasionally a nurse checked on me, but no one was with me while I passed clots of blood – while I lost my baby and my dreams.
  6. The clots of blood I had lost were treated as ‘clinical waste’ – in fact, if I remember correctly, they were referred to as ‘the products of conception’. I heard them being incinerated while I wept alone. This is not so much the case nowadays, although it may still be the practice in some hospitals – see this link at the Miscarriage Association. But my baby was not just clinical waste – he/she was already a human being. ‘Around the eighth week of pregnancy…you may be able to find the sac and enclosed fetus….There is evidence of eyes that are sealed up and buds forming for arms and legs.’ (http://www.newkidscenter.com).
  7. My husband arrived at visiting time and was still not told what was happening – it was only when he came around the screens and saw me that he knew we had lost our baby.

How did I recover?

  1. Physically, I had a D&C (dilation and curettage) to ‘clean me out’ afterwards.
  2. I had a good gynaecologist who explained that often miscarriages of first babies are as if the body is having a trial run – that gave me hope for the future.
  3. Emotionally I grieved the loss of my baby but that was helped considerably by the fact that my husband called him/her ‘our baby’ – it wasn’t just that I had miscarried; we had both lost our baby. By the way, I think society needs to recognise the sense of loss for husbands as well as wives.
  4. Spiritually, as a Christian, I believed that my baby was now in God’s presence and that gave me hope that I would see him/her again one day; I was also filled with a sense of peace as I reasoned that, if God is a God of love, then nothing – not even a miscarriage – could change that. That gave me peace.

‘For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a]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.’ Romans 8:38.

 

At home

This is my favourite photo of my mum, who died 5 years ago today.head and shoulders

We lost my mum and my mother-in-law within 9 weeks of each other and, as I say in an article I wrote at the time, worry was their love language.

My mum worried if there was something wrong with us; and if there wasn’t, she worried that there would be. She worried if we were home and she worried if we weren’t home – when Alan and I were going out together, she would have fallen asleep before I got in, then wakened up and burst into my room at some unearthly hour of the morning to check that I was in.

 

She’s home now – and waiting for us all to get there.

I’m sixty?

I’m sixty! How did that happen?

IMG_0110It’s one of the Big Birthdays. It gives rise to jokes like this one.

I enjoy the banter, the banners, the balloons and the bubbly. We celebrate birthdays because we celebrate life. Life is such a gift.

Turning 60 has set me thinking….

Looking back…

‘”For all thy blessings, known and unknown, remembered and forgotten, we give thee thanks,” runs an old prayer, and it is for the all but unknown ones and the more than half-forgotten ones that we do well to look back over the journeys of our lives because it is their presence that makes the life of each of us a sacred journey.’ Frederick Buechner.

My life, like yours, has been a sacred journey, filled with blessings, some remembered and some forgotten. As I pause to reflect on the past 60 years, I remember some of the blessings and I am thankful:

1. For the friends and family who have shared my journey

In 2011, Alan and I both lost our mothers, within 9 weeks of each other. They are representative of the godly heritage we have enjoyed. You can read about ‘the two Bettys’ here. My life has been rich because of them and lots of others – both friends and family members – some who have been there most of my life, some just for a season, but all of whom have enriched my life.

2. For the experiences which have made up my journey

There have been great ones – too many to mention, so I will just highlight the most recent two – the weddings of our two daughters.

Children are a wonderful a gift from God and it has been one of our greatest joys to raise our two daughters and watch them develop their own gifts and choose their own journeys.

There have been tough experiences too – and I am more than ever convinced that it is the hard times which make us strong. As John Ortberg says in his book Soul Keeping, ‘If you ask people who believe in God when they grew most spiritually, the number one answer will be suffering.’ (You can read a review here.)

My own depression was a real ‘dark night of the soul’ (you can read about it here). But I learned important things in that dark night and when I came out of it, I wanted to help others who were suffering in the same way.

3. For my best friend who has shared a lot of my journey

Alan and I married in 1984 so I have been married to him for longer than I was single. To have a true soul mate, one who shares your life in all its ups and downs, is a gift of inestimable worth. Not only does it add zest to life, marriage also shapes us, rubbing off the rough corners as we learn to live with another human being. I often say that I didn’t know how selfish I was until I got married. I have learned so much from Alan. Together we have enjoyed the grace of marriage.

4. For the one who has been my constant companion on the journey

I have had a relationship with God since I was a child. Through the years it has developed and grown but he has always been there, through all the vicissitudes of life. I can’t imagine life without him. As I grow older I’m wanting to learn to ‘practise the presence of God,’ to relate all the circumstances of life to him – to thank him for the good things and to talk to him about the bad things. For the good things are made even sweeter when we pause to thank God for them; and talking to him about the bad things brings his perspective….and his peace, even when we don’t understand.

cakeLife is such a gift. Here’s another quote from Frederick Buechner:

The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.

Looking ahead

I think it’s fair to say that I have travelled further in my journey than I have left to travel.   I don’t know what’s ahead. Life is uncertain for all of us and we are reminded of that almost daily. I want to finish well. I want to nurture my relationship with God; I want to nurture my marriage as well as my other relationships; I want to make a difference in some other lives; and I want to keep my eye on the finishing line. Good friends of ours, Douglas and Alison Mark, who have lived with cancer for more than 10 years, pray that at every stage they would recognise and understand and see clearly the faithfulness of God. ‘Death is not a termination – but a transition into his presence.’

best is yet to come

available from Brown Paper Packages

 

Scott and Kiki’s wedding

Claire-Lise was married on Saturday 5 September. Scott referred in his wedding speech to having been ‘mystified’ by the girl who wore foot socks on her arms.  Kiki (or Claire-Lise) has always expressed herself in an individual, independent way – another word which Scott used was ‘quirky’. So their wedding was set to be different.

The location was Switzerland, actually in the town where Kiki was born. Instead of a church, Scott and Kiki chose to be married outdoors –  in the Place des Marronniers in Nyon, with the Lac Leman as a backdrop.

k&s at roman columns

Scott wore a very smart navy suit, accessorised by a gold tie and beautiful waistcoat, and his groomsmen picked up the gold theme in their bow ties.

wedding k&s groomsmen and scott

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Once the guests had gathered, the bridesmaids strolled in one by one, down the long ‘aisle’ made by the guests’ chairs, each wearing their own version of the colour blue, and each carrying sunflowers and gypsophila. Claire-Lise came last, escorted by her proud father and carrying the same flowers with just a splash of red carnations.

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The ceremony was simple, with family and friends participating; yet it was profound as we worshipped God in such magnificent surroundings. A good friend of Scott and Kiki’s – Andy Fearon – presided over the vows and preached the sermon.

As Andy pronounced the happy couple man and wife and they set off down the aisle, the guests blowed bubbles in joyful celebration – for this was Switzerland after all and one could not litter the place with confetti.

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After a few family photographs, the guests were free to wander through the streets of Nyon. Most meandered down to the lakeside where they were able to get a delicious ice cream or a frozen yoghurt with berries as they relaxed in the sunshine. Even the bride and groom enjoyed an ice cream, the colours of which blended perfectly with the flowers.

Kiki and Scott ice cream Hotel Real

Then they were whisked off by a family friend, Ted Talbot, in a boat on Lac Leman which took them from Nyon to Founex, where they were welcomed ashore by some of the guests.

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The reception was in the garden of another family friend, Pam Walsh, who hosted the event with her usual mix of sparkle and exuberance. IMG_0314wedding fondue chinoiseFondue Chinoise was the menu of choice and once it got going, all fears about the strange menu melted away and everyone seemed to enjoy the food, as well as the accompanying wine from a local vigneron.

The wedding cake was probably the most quirky part of the reception. Modelled on the well-known ‘carac’ which had been a favourite childhood treat of Claire-Lise, the pȃtissier had been asked to make 3 gigantic caracs and instead of icing them with the usual green icing, to ice them with blue and gold, tying in with the wedding colours. He had excelled himself, producing 4 tiers, alternatively blue and gold, interspersed with sunflowers. Never before (or since!) was there a wedding cake quite like it!

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The evening drew to a close with a few dances and then the young couple left for a honeymoon which would start in a chalet (of a another family friend) in the Swiss Alps and then proceed to Italy and one or two other European countries.

Wedding K&S at night

We began with a reference to Scott’s speech and we will end with another. He said that he and Kiki had dreamt of such a wedding but never thought they would see their dream come true. How wonderful it was for us all to be a part of that dream come true.

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You may have picked up on the number of ‘family friends’ who have been mentioned already. Some family friends hosted bridesmaids and groomsmen; others helped set up for the wedding reception; one provided the cake; another provided the fruit platters; others provided transport; and when everything was over and the bride and groom had left, all the guests pitched in and cleared the tables and chairs away, ready for them to be picked up by the Commune of Founex. Many, many thanks to all of the people who contributed – in so many ways – to make the day the fulfilment of Scott and Kiki’s dream.

Heart surgery

My husband had just had heart surgery, there were tubes going into him and coming out of several parts of his body, machines were gently whirring, nurses constantly checking all of his vital functions. It was 9 May 1997.banniere-professionel-sante

Just 5 days before, we had gone to a clinic for him to be assessed, as he had been having a little bit of pain while walking up hills and, given that there had been a history of heart disease in the family, our doctor wanted to be cautious. But no one really thought he was going to need heart surgery. In fact, the day before the tests, we had asked the doctor what he expected to find: he said probably one artery that needed blown up a bit – he would do angioplasty.

On the day of the test (an angiogram), I accompanied him to the clinic and went for a coffee while he was taken from the ward. I was reading a book by Max Lucado at the time and I remember reading something like ‘You may be sitting in a hospital right now and the cold, icy fingers of fear are gripping you as you wait for news…’ How apt that was. I felt like God was saying he was there with us, in that hospital and, no matter what the news was, he would be with us.

I returned to the ward and, while I waited for Alan, was chatting to the other patient in the room. A nurse came in and started packing Alan’s clothes into his suitcase. Feeling slightly panicky, I asked her if I could help. But she didn’t need my help and continued packing until she came to my coat which had been hanging in Alan’s cupboard. When I told her it was my coat, she looked aghast at me and asked, ‘Are you his wife?’ She must have seen the look on my face, as in those few seconds I wondered if Alan had died, for she quickly said, ‘It’s OK. Your husband is OK. Come with me and I will take you to him’. Off we went and I found Alan hooked up to the machines, where the doctor had found, not one artery slightly blocked, but one artery completely blocked and two others very badly blocked. He should have had a heart attack. The doctor said he was very lucky. We all realised it was more than luck – God had protected him.

But time was of the essence so we were whisked off in an ambulance to the CHUV – a university hospital in chuvLausanne – where Alan was kept under constant care until he had his surgery 4 days later. How thankful we were that we were living in Switzerland at the time, where private health insurance was compulsory which meant that when something like this happened, there were no long waiting lists to add to the nightmare.

A triple bypass was what was needed and we were thankful for the skills of the surgeon, doctors, nurses and everyone else who cared for Alan at that time. Maybe he was not just so keen on the frequent injections into his stomach, or on the dinner of horse meat which he was served one day!

After a week in hospital, Alan (like all patients of heart surgery in Switzerland) was then able to go to a clinic for 4 weeks of rehabilitation. The exercises started with gentle armchair aerobics and by the time he was leaving, he and his fellow-patients were cycling through the surrounding woods. There were talks about all kinds of self-care following heart surgery and they even had the spouses in to talk about diet. The clinic – la clinique la Ligniere – was in a beautiful setting ligniereand I remember our daughters and I spending pleasant evenings sitting in the sunshine with Alan as he recuperated. The rehabilitation helped patients regain their confidence because, after all, they had  been cut open right down the middle of their chests and had left hospital feeling very vulnerable and fragile. Little by little their confidence was rebuilt as their bodies mended. Heart surgery – like any major surgery – is also a stark reminder of our mortality and it was not unknown for patients to be a little emotional as they recovered from the trauma. In the clinic, all kinds of staff members were available to help with every aspect of recovery and Alan left after a month, feeling stronger in every way.

During all of that time, we were very well supported as a family by the church we were working with at the time, Westlake church in Nyon. People made meals for us, visited Alan, looked after the girls when necessary, did our ironing for us and helped in all kinds of ways. It was a blessing to be part of a community of people who cared. During Alan’s surgery, the annual church retreat was going on, which meant that most of the church were together and so they prayed often for Alan and followed his progress closely. One church member had a flat near the hospital which she gave me the key of, so that I could come and go without having to go home after each visit.

We had so much to be thankful for at the time. God saw us through it all: the wondering and waiting for results; the bad news; the surgery; the recovery. Since then, Alan has taken his diet and exercise seriously, as anyone who knows him will know (mind you, his aversion to custard has nothing to do with his health!). The heart is a muscle which can be strengthened through exercise, just like any other muscle. Likewise, as AW Tozer said, ‘Faith, like a muscle, grows by stretching’. It is in the hard times that our faith is stretched. It is in the hard times that we also see God at work, assuring us of his presence and providing all that we need, often through communities of his people.faith is a muscle