When the chips are down…

“I wish I could give God a kick up the pants!”

Everyone was shocked at my words, spoken at homegroup on Monday evening. I’d just nicely returned home from a weekend in Northumberland with my 98-year-old mum, trying to resolve issues about her mobility, medicine regime and care.

Only a fortnight ago, I was almost reduced to tears as Mum lucidly shared her feelings about the continuous pain she has to bear. Added to this is the loss her physical faculties like in Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man, ‘sans eyes, sans teeth, sans taste, sans everything.’ What’s she done to deserve this? I am seeing, up front, the cruelty of extreme old age. It’s like Mum is being tortured. Where’s God in all this? Well, the timing of what happened two hours later was ironic, as if God was listening to my little outburst. You might even suggest he was putting me in my place ‘good and proper’!

“Hello John, it’s Linda”.

Did you read last week’s post, ‘The Meat in the Sandwich’? If not, then you may like to read it first, then you’ll understand the significance of these words.

Yes, indeed! The phone call sent me scurrying back North in the dead of night. Poor Mum had fallen in her bedroom, her kindly neighbours were round, and the ambulance had been called. As I arrived in the village at 2 a.m, I met the ambulance coming the other way. We both stopped, and I was able to kiss Mum before she went to hospital. I’m now staying at her house because – incredibly – there’s a visiting slot every day. The doctors have identified a further condition that they need to treat.

It’s challenging my faith to its very depths, so I am taking a risk in writing this. So, is God here? As with Job, he hasn’t responded by suddenly taking Mum to glory, nor by taking away her pain. Rather, I think he’s restoring my sense of who ‘he’ is.

On my first day alone in the house, I listened to a Ffald-y-brenin Prayer Podcast We’re ‘friends’ of this remarkable retreat centre in Pembrokeshire. There’s a talk by a Baptist minister, Rob James, in which he challenges us to believe that God ‘can do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine’ (Ephesians 3 verse 20). I won’t spoil it for you ‘cos you’ve GOT TO set aside 45 minutes to watch it. If you’re a believer, it’ll encourage your faith; if you aren’t, you’ll find it a fascinating challenge! But I will tell you that there’s a story in which Rob is seeking guidance about taking up a new appointment. An old lady in a care home with dementia, who couldn’t possibly have known his situation, provides the confirmation he needs.

To me this says that there’s no place on earth where God isn’t present, even the labyrinths of an old lady’s fuddled mind. Israel’s King David says in Psalm 139,

‘Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.’
(vs 7,8)

So, my present assignment is to dig deep and provide ways to encourage and uplift Mum in hospital, and to work together with her and the ward staff to make sure her needs are being met. Rob James’ story and teaching reminds me that God can reach right into Mum’s ward and make himself present in the middle of her distress.

I miss home so much. But so long as ‘he’s’ here, I can bear the separation. My sister Rachel has joined me, staying at Mum’s house, and provides a lot of moral support including sharing lovely country walks with me. But only I can visit her in hospital.

I’m in uncharted waters now. I’ll let you know how I get on. Wish me well…

One thought on “When the chips are down…

  1. Hi John. Thanks for those thoughts. An old Aunt of mine lived to be a 100. Before that she commented ” Old age has nothing to recommend it”. Both my God-fearing parents showed a lot of courage in their old age and I just pray I won’t be unbearably grumpy. Cheers, Ned


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