Before Leah & I left N.I. to go to Bristol, a friend contacted me to say that her son was at university in Bristol and he could put us in contact with a good church there. I was delighted to hear this as it was really important to Leah and I to have spiritual support locally during our time in Bristol.
I gave my friend’s son an outline of the kind of church where I would feel comfortable and he put me in contact with K from Pip n Jay Church. K was ideal as she worked part time with the church and part time in Bristol Children’s Hospital.
At our first outpatient appointment in Bristol, K strolled into the consultants room – while we were with Dr C – to make our acquaintance. I thought how different this was from N.I. where everything seems so formal and NO-BODY would ever wander uninvited into a consultants office – I thought it was lovely actually.
During Leah’s five weeks in the bone marrow transplant unit K couldn’t visit her, as visiting was very restricted. However the days that K was working in the hospital she arranged to drop off sandwiches for me and anything else that either of us needed. Once Leah and I moved to the Adolescent Ward K used to come visit us, which we really appreciated. On one of the occasions when Leah’s boyfriend Nic was arriving, K offered to drive us to the airport to collect him.
Leah travelled in the car with us. Although she wasn’t allowed out of the car at the airport, it was an enormous treat for Leah just to have a car journey and to actually see around her. Other than when arriving in Bristol and leaving, that was the only time in 14 weeks that Leah got to see around Bristol – she loved seeing the suspension bridge and she longed to visit the zoo, as she had seen it signposted.
The day we travelled to the airport K was just back from ‘Momentum’ in Somerset, where Rend Collective – Leah’s favourite group – were the resident band. K told us that Rend had launched a new song and she played it for us on her iPhone – it was called “My Lighthouse”. Leah and I instantly loved the song and listened to it a lot after that. It was subsequently played at Leah’s funeral.
On the Sunday mornings that Leah was well enough for me to leave her, I went to church at Pip n Jay. Either K or another church member always came and collected me. The church building is very old and traditional, but the church services are quite modern with a lively style of worship – reminded me of when Leah and I used to visit Coleraine Vineyard Church at home during the summer. I was made so very welcome at Pip n Jay, members of the congregation always assured me of how much they were praying for Leah and I. I felt so at home there and I always felt blessed and encouraged when I went.
When I got back from church Leah often asked me what songs we sang and what I had learned from the sermon. Sunday 11th AUGUST 2013 Greg preached on the topic “Praying when God is silent.‘ He quoted from C.S. Lewis “The Problem of Pain”
“Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be—or so it feels—welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away.”
That’s where I was that morning, but I couldn’t voice that, however God knew exactly what I needed to hear that Sunday morning and every Sunday that I made it to Pip n Jay. Greg went on to share helpfully from the Scriptures about how God’s silence purifies us in so many ways and produces humility and perseverance. He encouraged us to read Psalm 22 which predicts Jesus’ suffering and death. Greg said that ultimately God’s silence points us to the cross where Jesus was temporarily separated from his Heavenly Father while taking the punishment for our sins.
Mark 15:34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?)” NIV
I probably haven’t explained Greg’s sermon very well but all I know is that God met with me through it and in a sense said to me “It’s ok Vicky, I know where you’re at and I’m with you in all of this.”
Leah kept saying that she wanted to come to church with me before we left Bristol. I told her that this wouldn’t be possible as she was severely immuno compromised and couldn’t mix with people. However Leah was insistent that she wanted to go to PipnJay just once. So I discussed this with K and we figured out how to facilitate Leah while minimising her exposure to risk.
On our last Sunday before leaving Bristol, Leah & I went to the Sunday morning service, equipped with alcohol gel to clean her hands every time she touched something. No hugging or handshakes allowed. Leah and I sat separately from the rest of the congregation. It’s a big old church building and there’s parts that aren’t used. Leah was so delighted to visit this congregation that had been loving us and supporting us for the duration of our stay, especially as she knew that once she got back home, attending church would be out of the question for months.
I took this photo that morning at PipnJay. Leah was on mega doses of steroids at the time so she has puffy “hamster cheeks”! She had been extremely unwell in the weeks preceding this. I don’t usually publish photos taken October 2013 as Leah always said that was the worst month of the entire 12 months of her illness. I actually find it difficult to even look at photos of Leah taken in October 2013, knowing what she endured that month.
The Sunday that Leah was with me was the 20th October 2013. Tim was preaching from Matthew chapter 5 and he also quoted from C.S. Lewis from the book ‘Mere Christianity’ –
“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
Early on in Leah’s illness, when I saw how amazingly well she coped with everything, I said to my father-in-law “You know Billy, I don’t think Leah was made for this world.” Needless to mention, he started crying when I said this! In reality, I think that God was working in Leah’s life to prepare her for all that lay ahead.
I remember that morning at church in October we sang “In Christ Alone” by Stuart Townend. Within three months it was sung at Leah’s funeral. The words are powerful.
“No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand:
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.”