Last weekend was mostly very pleasant. Duncan and I had spent the weekend in Perth, celebrating his birthday, and by Sunday evening we were about two-thirds of the way home. That was when Duncan's mobile rang. He struggled to retrieve it from his pocket and by the time he had passed it to me to answer, it was too late. I looked down at the missed number and saw that it was my dad's mobile. We pulled over so I could call him back, knowing that if we kept driving, we could soon drop out of range.
It was the phone call I had been dreading for many years. I know it's not healthy to panic every time the phone rings, or to have to your heart freeze when you listen to a message on the answering machine from your parents, asking you to call them immediately, but giving no explanation why.
My nan, who is 97-years-old and has lived with my parents for the past 18 months, had been experiencing some problems with her right foot. When she told my parents she had had no feeling in her foot for a few days, they rushed her to the Albany hospital where the doctors did a number of tests, and declared that her foot was almost certainly dead. The only 'cure' for a dead limb is amputation, but the Royal Flying Doctors flew her to Perth where they thought there might be a slim chance a surgeon could save her foot.
I couldn't stop crying for the whole of Sunday night. I was grieving more for her spiritual state than her physical one. My nan is not Christian. At times she has been hostile towards my faith. She grew up in the church, but later drifted away. Now, she believes she will go to heaven because she has been a 'good person' and it is impossible to persuade her otherwise. To her, sinners are murderers, rapists and dictators, and she often expresses extreme confidence that on the day of her death, God will give her a 7 out of 10 and accept her based on her works. In fact, she often states how she is ready for death. She even refuses to get new glasses, saying, "What's the point of spending all that money? I'm just going to die soon anyway."
The doctors were going to try and operate to remove the clot by making an incision in her groin and having a wire travel down her leg to remove it. Since the foot had been 'dead' for several days, they weren't hopeful. If the operation failed, she was given two choices: to have her right leg amputated above the knee, or to do nothing meaning which she would certainly die within a couple of weeks. When she was given this choice, she apparently told them, "Oh well, I'll just have to have my leg off then." My dad wasn't so sure she was understanding the ramifications of this.
He told her, "You know you won't be able to have a prosthetic leg, don't you?" to which she replied, "Well, how will I get around then?"
Dad told her, "You won't. You'll be in a wheelchair or a bed. And you won't be able to live with us anymore. You will have to go to a nursing home where they'll be able to care for you."
Nan said, "Oh," and sat and thought about it, but still wanted to choose amputation should it come to that. Several things struck me as my dad relayed that conversation to me. She might constantly say she's ready to die, but when death stared her in the face, she wasn't ready to die at all. I thought, maybe, just maybe, she doesn't have the assurance of where she is going after death after all.
I prayed pretty much without ceasing on Monday as Nan went in for her surgery. It was a success. They are almost certain they have saved her foot. I was terrified she would die on the operating table without making peace with God, but she had a far better reaction to the anaesthetic than many younger people do. She has some complications for which she will need tests for, but it looks like amputation has been avoided, and she will have to remain in Fremantle Hospital for at least the next fortnight. This is her first visit to Perth since 1991!
As I searched the Scriptures for comfort, my first instinct was to go to the Psalms. But God reminded me of Daniel 3, which may seem like a strange passage to some. For years, I have been pleading with God to work in my nan's heart so that she would be humbled enough to trust Christ for her salvation, and not her works. Nothing I say can get through to her (as much as I love her, she is a stubborn old goat sometimes). I don't doubt God can change the hearts of even the most hostile of enemies. But will he? In the book of Daniel (for those unfamiliar with the story), the kingdom of Judah is captured by the Babylonians and the people sent into exile in Babylon. Daniel and three of his friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (who were renamed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) are chosen among the young men sent to the palace of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to learn the literature and language of the Babylonians.
In Daniel 3 (part of which I quoted yesterday), King Nebuchadnezzar sets up an image of gold and commands all the people under his control to bow down and worship it. When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refuse to forsake the one true God, Nebuchadnezzar is furious with them and threatens to throw them into a blazing furnace. The three young men are not deterred and they boldly declare, "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."
The story ends with the three men being thrown into the fire, and God rescues them in what is a truly amazing miracle.
I got great comfort from reading this story again. While God did rescue the three men, they did not know that when they boldly declared their faith to King Nebuchadnezzar. They were determined not to 'sell out' on God, even if cost them their lives. They fully recognised God's capability to do more than they could ask or imagine, but they knew, in His sovereignty, He may choose not to rescue them.
As I pray for God to change my nan's heart, I am fully confident in his ability to do it. He can do anything. But I know He may choose not to, and then I am faced with a choice. Will I keep trusting Him the way Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did, or will I walk away, angry that He did not answer my prayers in the way I wanted Him to. This is when I really have to 'live my own posts' by looking back to the cross and reminding myself of God's character. If my nan dies without turning to Christ, it will devastate me. I know I cannot know what is in her heart; that is only something God knows. For years, I have pleaded with God not to take her until she has trusted in Him. But I know I cannot make those kinds of deals with God. I just have to do my bit of sharing the gospel with others, and trust that the rest is His work.
Duncan and I are going to Perth on Saturday night and we plan to spend Sunday with her in hospital. We are praying for opportunities to speak of Christ to her, and that God would be pleased to work in her. But even if He should not....I will continue to follow the Lord and trust in His goodness.
Celebrating Nan's 90th birthday. January 2003
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