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  • Debbie Cowles

Grief and Gratitude/Pain and Praise: holding both

Last October, I was in Estonia for a conference with Thrive for women who are Christian global workers. Through Thrive, I now have a (free!) spiritual director and we meet via video calls. She helped me see I can hold two stories together: pain and praise, grief and gratitude. Jesus will help me process between them. This is the best I can do to describe the two:

· It’s being held and prayed for in the middle of the night when I’m scared. Incredible comfort. A rollercoaster of emotions. Grieving new layers of cancer and chemotherapy. Then comes COVID-19 and the official letter stating I have to “stay at home at all times and avoid all face-to-face contact for at least twelve weeks…except for medical care” as I am “considered to be very high risk” on active chemotherapy. So we are both on strict household isolation to protect me. The only other option I was given was to literally isolate myself from Steve in the same house!

· Since we qualify as a “vulnerable household”, we are able to get groceries delivered to the door. What a blessing at this time. When I couldn’t get laundry soap, our Christian landlords’ oldest daughter’s colleague, whom we have never met, found a box and would not let us pay for it!

· It’s not being able to get together with friends for support and encouragement. I thought we would do this cancer journey in a physical, not virtual, community. Besides Steve, it’s only being touched by two nurses with gloves. Even the oncologist apologises that he cannot shake our hands.

· It’s watching my husband thrive. Thrive! He’s taking such good care of me, learning how to do the things that I normally do and can’t, plus sorting through the attic and garage. He has shredded mountains of old taxes and receipts. He’s getting the stuff done he normally doesn’t have time for. He’s also resting without any guilt.

· It’s feeling prompted by God to write a letter to the police, explaining to them why Steve isn’t in stations and what our life looks like now. I wanted them to know he “walks the walk” at home that he "talks" in the station. It was put on the main inter-office blog and the response has been phenomenal. Officers are writing such encouraging comments. Some are moved to tears. They are contacting Steve, offering to help in any way possible, and reminiscing about the times he helped them. One brought medication for me. To our amazement, Steve has a new wide-open ministry right here from home. He can’t get together with them in person, but he phones and messages them.

· It’s group Zoom video calls with the international women’s Bible study. Each of us has her own burdens to bear. At the same time, it helps to share the load.

· I’m staying in contact with “my” dear international ladies all over the world. Quite a few Chinese are leaving here and going back home. Goodbyes are hard, but especially when they happen online. I’m having new opportunities to share about my faith and hope and the very real comfort Jesus truly wants to give us in all of these hard times.

· Current rules don’t allow us to drive anywhere to exercise, so we are abundantly grateful for a fabulous location, surrounded by hills, pheasants, new lambs, and deer. The only reason I can leave the house for local walks is due to our isolated location. We either don’t see anyone at all or they are a long ways off. Steve has access to 3 parcels of land within walking distance to provide fresh venison for us. (Deer season for roe is all year here, but there are relatively few hunters.)

· I will soon need to give Steve a haircut and, unfortunately, it will mean he will shave my head when my hair starts to fall out (by day 14, this Sunday) because my hairdresser can’t do it. This is a big hurdle yet for me.

· It’s remembering with such fondness Kristy’s visit, but at the same time grieving deeply that the boys cannot come. Jonathan had just gotten permission to work from here for a week. Josh and Sarah, his girlfriend, had just bought tickets to come for the first two weeks in May. She’s never been to England and we were going to show her where he grew up. I just want to be held by our sons.

· Working through the reality of the different ways Steve and I process things and make decisions. Being abundantly thankful for the counselling we’ve had in the past that has given us the skills to navigate these new waters and work things out as they come up between us so there is harmony. Sunday, we had communion with apple juice and a communion song on Spotify.

· It’s time. In the Word for His perspective. On the recliner with little energy. Music. Books. Fun family calls. Self-care and soul-care. Watercolour painting when I’m able; a great distraction and relaxing.

· It’s no nausea at all so far. (I haven’t taken any nausea medication after the first 3 days of mandatory medication.) But on day 4, I was hit with really painful body aches: feet and back/neck most affected.

· God doing a deep work in both of us. He’s meeting me in the broken places, like fear and anxiety. Grateful when I realise that, overall, for a fair amount of the time, “it IS well with my soul”. And when it is not, I know Who to turn to.

“The object of your greatest pain can become the source of your greatest blessing when you offer it to God.” Terry Wardle quoting Corrie ten Boom

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