Thanksgiving and Christmas then, for us who love God, are not mere time outs from work days. They are a celebration of the gift of work itself, days on which we celebrate work by declaring our freedom. In a manner of speaking we announce that on this one day we may rest from our work, and without pressure or guilt, we may be glad. A holiday is a holy day-meant for rejoicing in God. Elizabeth Elliot
‘The bitter winds of December’. A cliché repeated every year as we go through the motions of ticking our ‘Things to Do List’ e.g. Christmas Fayre; Christmas tree; Christmas gifts. Suddenly we realise last date for posting … Christmas cards are hurriedly signed without stopping to think just how much a personal message would mean to someone who sits alone with a quiet companion called ‘Memory’. Carollers may call? Yet what sweeter melody that the reverberating sound of Redeeming Love. Around the world the resounding news of ‘God with Us’. The Darling of the world is come and he is ours, let us share this treasured gift with others making this Christmas special for someone.
The snow and freezing fog of Romania welcomed our arrival, yet in the darkness and dullness of night I could see the sky preparing to welcome another chilly winter morning.
Within a few short hours, it was morning and as planned Estera and I set off for a remote village where the fields and meadows were now frozen, children’s bicycles and toys were frozen solid in the rivers of the Roma community and children ran about with very little clothing chasing packs of dogs and the family goat. ‘Sister Shirley, it is reading minus 4, be careful where you walk’. ‘Estera, too much information’.
As I looked around the village, so quiet, so still, far removed from society, trampling the dry crisp leaves, it seemed to be the sound of sadness. They were strangers, unwelcome, without work and yet they shared from the little they possessed. Mihalia, a single Mum with three daughters was thrilled to see us and wept with joy as she received extra food provision. The girls decided to stay at home from school, as no one ever calls, this was a special day for them. BIANCA is continuing her treatment for renal cancer and will see her Oncologist next week. Inwardly I was encouraged and inspired by the courage of one so young. My friend Mavis knit miniature Christmas Puddings containing a Tunnocks Marshmallow. They had never seen a Marshmallow before and could not wait to taste – ‘thank you Mavis’ for bringing laughter and joy into this humble home.
There are other homes of child patients and the home of DAMIAN will be different this Christmas. Methinks Christmas will never be the same again for this precious family. An amazing young boy who wanted so much to be baptised before meeting Jesus. Damian has undergone brain surgery but was unable to complete his Chemotherapy. He is now in a coma, blind and unable to move. The surgeon has confirmed owing to the rate of growth of his brain tumour, Damian will not recover. His parents and siblings are devastated. His Mother never leaves his bedside. On Christmas Morning, remember the terminally ill children who for some this will be their last Christmas.
Bereaved Children have taken over my thoughts and my heart was longing to see two specific children. It was a MUST to meet with David and Diana, the children of my friend Dorena who lost her battle with cancer. A faint knock, in fact a little tap on the door of room 7, opening to find these two precious children before me. I could see the sadness in their beautiful dark eyes as we hugged, wept together, recalling memories of ‘Mum’. Diana rises with the dawn, before leaving for college she has cows to milk, three meals to prepare then take the bus to Oradea where she is studying to become a nurse. David is in his first year at High School and has the most beautiful smile. His tumour is still evident in his arm and growing rapidly. I will be monitoring carefully the progress of treatment. I have grown to love these two children as they possess a very special nature – David used to give one of his ‘chicks’ to anyone who helped during his Mother’s illness. I asked ‘how are the chicks these days? Smiling as he responded: ‘Bigger’. We laughed together as I said: ‘You keep visiting me at Campus, think it is safer for me’. Soon it was time for our ‘Good Bye’s’ and it was an emotional parting; I suppose (if honest) I love these children and wish I could bring them home. Perhaps a new project? I still hear Dorena whisper ‘please remember my children’.
My friend, Pastor David McFarland emailed a reading from the great Victorian preacher: C.H. Spurgeon. ‘He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust: His Truth shall be thy shield and buckler’. Mine was the privilege to be covered this morning as instead of my planned visit to my friend Sister Lucretia I was to learn she had received her Home Call to glory. Yes, waiting for my visit, excited students from Emanuel University were singing carols to her today. Living alone, fear filled her heart of dying alone. The Lord lovingly sheltered her in the shadow of His wings and she was content to be hidden in the hollow of His hand until he called her Home. She was covered and protected from all fear. Two precious elderly patients were eagerly waiting for my visit: Magdalena and Catalina. Both mis-matched in personality yet possessing the same talent in needlework. They love to remember their childhood days, telling amazing stories, memory is their only companion, how can I neglect this love I have in my heart for my patients?
‘You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you’ (John Bunyan). One hundred and fifty ampules of Hyoscine (butilscopulamine) are bringing comfort to the families who sit by the bedside of a loved one nearing the end of life. Their spasms have eased and their final days together can be replaced with quietness and peace until that final breath. What a loving Heavenly Father whose provision is endless and whose love can never be measured.
‘Sister Shirley, you remember us?’ Angelina, Aurilian and Ella were waiting for me in the Hospice building this morning. Angelina lost her husband recently and both children suffer from a rare form of cancer. Many of you remember our ‘Little Ella’; I could not comprehend she celebrated her nineteenth birthday yesterday. I was overcome with shock at the tiny figure running towards me. Ella has at least seventeen different forms of diagnoses related to her cancer and is undergoing tests at present for a bone marrow transplant. She is fearful owing to the weakness of her body she will not survive. Tears filled her eyes as she told me her sight is now impaired owing to cataract in both eyes. This family will remain on our feeding programme and we will offer support when needed for treatment.
I must not dwell on my feelings but I question where are the days of fulfilment? I see only days of pain and suffering. This morning another visit cancelled, I found it difficult to eliminate the questions arising in my head, questions without answers. I had been quietly preparing my heart to meet Alina and her new baby daughter. Ionuz (John) was in the care of Emanuel Hospice Care for a few short weeks, his mother was also a cancer patient. Late November Ionuz lost his battle and this morning his mother died. Although she also had cancer, we feel as a team she died of a broken heart. Her joy of bygone days had been quenched by the hot coals of the raging fire of parting. The joy of waiting with expectancy the birth of their firstborn baby to be suddenly replaced with extreme pain, anguish of a broken heart as transitory agony fills this humble home. Tomorrow will come and I need an inner strength, a courageous spirit to face whatever it may bring.
“Relying on God has to start all over every day, as if nothing has yet been done.”
(C. S. Lewis)
I have no yesterday; time took it away. I may not have tomorrow. But still I have today.
Let’s face today with confidence together –
Shirley, 10 December, 2019