I was particularly reminded of this several weeks ago, when cleaning out the top shelf of my cupboard (as we do in this time of lock-down), I ‘found’ a box of get-well cards and letters. These had been sent to me in late 1985 and early 1986, when I had a long spell in the ICU at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, following a bowel resection operation that went wrong and I developed septicemia. For a while, it was not certain I would survive.
The congregation at former Bulleen UC were in shock, and many still shudder these days when reminded of that time, but they rallied together, to provide assistance and meals, which were well-appreciated by our family. Val, my wife at that time, was busy each evening answering the many phone calls regarding my progress (or lack thereof). The people in the Church sent many cards and notes, expressing their love and concern and prayers for my recovery. Some cards were from people whom I hardly knew, and expressed sincere Christian greetings. My illness was also raised in prayer by our friends from the Templestowe and Doncaster Uniting Churches, and also by friends and churches we had been associated with in Adelaide. My family in their wisdom stuck many of these cards onto the wall next to my bed, to remind me of the love and concern of my friends.
My first operation was at the end of October 1985, and I was not well enough to come home until early January. Overall, I was off-work recuperating from my illness for some 11 months. Besides the medical attention and devotion and love of my wife and family, I am convinced it was the prayers of so many people that were instrumental in my recovery, and for this I am eternally grateful.
We have recently been talking about ‘mountain-top experiences’, so I would like to relate one such (unusual ?) incident from my time in the Royal Melbourne Hospital. After a long period flat on my back in ICU, it was time to commence my recuperation, and I was sat in a chair next to my bed, enduring what seemed to be an eternity (I’m sure the orderlies forgot about me!). The staff also gave me a bath, and after being cooped up in bed for so long, this was such a joy and an ‘adventure’ as they poured jugs of luke-warm water over my body and legs.
I also remember Christmas Day in Hospital – no regular staff, only relief staff. A full Christmas lunch with turkey and all the trimmings, and I had only just started to eat soft solids, so the mashed potato and gravy were very nice. No Christmas tea, as somewhere I was still deemed ‘nil orally’, no meal was left for me, and Val had to rustle up a choc-ice from the ward sister’s fridge! So much for hospital life.
So this period of illness makes me realize how important the love, concern and prayers of friends and people of faith are to the well-being of each of us, and particularly during this time of pandemic. We are God’s people, the fellowship of believers in Christ, the caring and loving community of the church. Much of our fellowship with people of the Church occurs following our worship services, when often we may shake another’s hand in greeting or give them a hug, as we share a cuppa and a biscuit. Alas, currently this is not possible. We must resort to emails or text messages or Zoom meetings or Facebook conversations, or if you aren’t into these new-fangled communications, then don’t despair, there is always the good old telephone, or writing notes or cards (even though the postal delivery may not be so prompt these days).
I am also reminded of my favourite Peanuts cartoon – Charlie Brown and his friend Linus, both well-kitted out for the cold, are walking through the snow, when they see Snoopy (the dog) sitting alone and shivering in the snow. “Look, there’s Snoopy. He looks kind of cold, doesn’t he? Maybe we’d better go over and comfort him,” says Charlie. As they pass Snoopy, they sing out: “Be of good cheer, Snoopy!”, and continue on their way, while Snoopy continues to visibly shiver with the cold, with a puzzled expression on his face. So friends, in this time of enforced isolation, let us keep up the good work of caring and praying for our friends, and making time to share our love and friendship with them by whatever means we are able, as we continue to be God’s people, the people of the Church.