Six Years On

Six Years On

Barrys

Every year I take the day of the anniversary of Leah’s death off work (annual leave). In the early days, I used to save up my holidays and take the whole week off, as I used to be totally incapable of functioning around this time. Thankfully I am now able to focus on my work on the days leading up to Leah’s anniversary, although every day I am of course very aware of what I was doing at this time in 2014.

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I decided to take out Leah’s Youth Bible (the one she used most) and have a look through it. As soon as I opened it I noticed that she had cut out her daily devotional  reading for Thursday 31st January 2013, laminated it and tucked it inside the front cover of her Bible. By the end of January 2013, Leah was having weekly blood tests at our GP surgery and had already had her first appointment at the Sperrin Unit; the Haematology/Oncology department at our local hospital. While we were in the Sperrin Unit Waiting Area, waiting to be called into that first appointment, I was devastated when a young nurse bounced up to us and casually asked us if we were waiting on chemotherapy. I was already very uncomfortable with the fact that our fifteen-year-old daughter had to attend an Outpatients appointment at the Haematology/Oncology Unit in the first place, but this suggestion/implication that our teenage daughter, who was so vibrant and full of life, could possibly be ill enough to ever require chemo, was more than I could bear to contemplate. Leah, however, took it all in her stride and chatted away cheerfully to the lovely Clinical Nurse Specialist who subsequently attended to us.

Anyway, I have digressed; the piece that Leah had cut out and laminated is entitled ‘No Accident’ and I thought that I would transcribe it here as it’s very good and I can see why Leah liked it:

 Marianne Williamson said “Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we learned here.” Families, friends and life experiences can create fears and limitations that hold us back. We go about life doing the best we can in this messy mixed-up world in which we live, but if we’re not careful we can allow these fears to take over.

We can live by the labels put on us by others: ‘not good enough, not up to the task, never make it, won’t succeed:’ we label ourselves; ‘useless, worthless, a mistake.’ These labels can cause us to live believing we don’t matter, our life is irrelevant and unimportant even unwanted. Nothing could be further from the truth.

God doesn’t make mistakes. You’re not here by accident! You ‘are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He has planned for us long ago.’ (Ephesians 2:10) “I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) 

Don’t live a life of fear, receive God’s confident guaranteed hope for your life; He promises ‘Everything I plan will come to pass…’

Shake off your labels. Take time to think about what you believe about yourself. Are you walking around with negative labels attached to you? Look today at what labels God gives you in Psalm 139:14

 

Following this, I looked up Psalm 139:14 in Leah’s Bible. As I expected that they would be, these lovely verses were underlined. It gives me great comfort to think about these particular verses being special to Leah. Psalm 139 has long been one of my favourite psalms too.

Leahs Bible Psalm139

Shortly after Leah was diagnosed she told us “God has a plan for my life, we need to see the bigger picture.” Leah did not say this lightly, Leah was fully informed about the seriousness of her illness and the possibility that she might not recover from it. She struggled with many aspects of her illness, such as the loneliness and social isolation of long weeks spent being nursed in isolation, and the horrendous side-effects from her intense chemo treatment, but she sought daily to trust God through it all and she didn’t fear death.

I remember so vividly one of the occasions when Leah was critically ill on a ventilator in ICU and the doctors weren’t sure that she would survive the next 24 hours: I played “Our God is a Great Big God” on her iPad. Leah was too ill to even open her eyes but her face lit up in a big smile and her hands (despite being attached to various monitors) did all the actions (every single one) to this song – because Leah’s God truly is a great, big God.

 

The Girl’s Brigade CD

The Girl’s Brigade CD

Today I listened to this CD of worship songs recorded by Leah along with all the other girls in Kilfennan Girls Brigade in 2010.
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The money raised from sales of this CD was divided between Kilfennan GB and the NI Children’s Hospice, where Leah subsequently died in January 2014 in peace and dignity.

Every April our Girl’s Brigade finishes its year’s work with a fantastic display for parents and friends. The last performance on the night’s agenda is the finale. This is where the girls of secondary school age – the ‘Company Section’ – usually sing a medley of favourite worship songs/choruses.

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Leah is first on the right hand side of the middle row

I used to love the expression on Leah’s face as she sang – it radiated joy. Leah’s facial expression told me that she meant every word:

All I once held dear, built my life upon
All this world reveres, and wars to own
All I once thought gain I have counted loss
Spent and worthless now, compared to this

Knowing you, Jesus
Knowing you, there is no greater thing
You’re my all, you’re the best
You’re my joy, my righteousness
And I love you, Lord

Now my heart’s desire is to know you more
To be found in you and known as yours
To possess by faith what I could not earn
All-surpassing gift of righteousness

Oh, to know the power of your risen life
And to know You in Your sufferings
To become like you in your death, my Lord
So with you to live and never die

Graham Kendrick
Copyright © 1993 Make Way Music,

When Leah was three years old she came home from Good News Club and asked Jesus to forgive her sins and to live in her heart as her Lord and Saviour.

One of her favourite wee books used to be “Jesus all alone” that she had received as an Easter gift at the Parent and Toddler Group at our church. It tells the story of Jesus dying on the cross. She had memorised the words from cover to cover when she was very young.
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Early in 2012 when Leah was 14 she found herself struggling both emotionally and spiritually. That Summer she went to C.E.F. Camp (Child Evangelism Fellowship) in Rossnowlagh in Donegal and also to the ‘Livewire’ teen programme at New Horizon in Coleraine, where she met with God in a new and deeper way. This is a text she sent me that week:
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Leah stayed with friends in Portstewart for the week of New Horizon. At the end of that week I collected her and brought her home, a 40 minute journey.

Leah talked excitedly the whole way home about what she had learned about God and about what He was doing in her life. When we reached our house it was a while before she could even stop talking long enough for us to get out of the car. I was so delighted and amazed to hear everything that she was sharing with me. I remember the next night in the kitchen Leah hugging me and her telling me “Mummy I just love Jesus so much!”

In October that year Leah was asked to write out her testimony for a youth conference in Donegal.
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When Leah was in Intensive Care, on one of the days that the doctor had called me out to explain that my daughter was unlikely to survive, I came back into her room and searched on YouTube for the song “Our God is a Great Big God” and played it. Leah was on a ventilator and too weak to even open her eyes, but she immediately smiled and used her two hands to do all the actions to accompany the words.

Our God is a great big God
Our God is a great big God
Our God is a great big God
And He holds me in His hand.

He’s higher than a sky scraper
And He’s deeper than a submarine.
He’s wider than the universe
And beyond my wildest dreams.

And He’s known me and He’s loved me
Since before the world began.
How wonderful to be a part
Of God’s amazing plan.

The closer Leah came to death, the more joyful and peaceful she became.

She told Nic, her boyfriend, that she wasn’t afraid to die.

She was as sure of the truth in the words of the above songs on her death bed, as she had been when she sang them with the Company Section of the 320th Girl’s Brigade Company.

Our God is a Great Big God

Our God is a Great Big God

Leah was more sedated this morning, her oxygen requirements were broadly similar to what they have been, kidney function slightly less good & chest X-Ray no change so today’s nice doctor ( one of my favourite) has decided to go ahead with a bronchoscopy and lavage under general anaesthetic.

They hope that this will enable a more definite diagnosis of Leah’s condition to be made & then they hope to be able to take her off all unnecessary medication and possibly increase the quantities of some medication that might help her.

Results from today’s tests will take 1 or 2 days and they don’t expect to make any major changes to her treatment until towards the end of the week. This procedure is very risky in someone so ill and she may or may not regain consciousness again.

I explained to Leah what was going to happen and then I read to her from Day 5 of Rainbows for Rainy Days by Catherine Campbell. I had some difficulty controlling my emotions & Leah reached out & gave me a big hug.

Just before they put me out of the room so as to set up for the procedure I put on the song “Our God is a great big God” & Leah proceeded to smile & do all the actions while lying there with her eyes closed.

“Our God is a great big God
Our God is a great big God
Our God is a great big God and He holds us in His hands………………………………..
He’s known me and He’s loved me
Since before the world began
How wonderful to be a part of God’s amazing plan.”