17 December 2017

Some Party in Heaven

THE WISE SHEPHERD

Immediately after leaving Tom’s house, Hertford and Phyllis returned to Craigavon Hospital.

Although Hertford was now rejoicing in his newly-found faith and Phyllis, in turn, was happy for him, their hospital days weren’t over.

Wendsley was still there, and they wanted to be with him. They considered it most important to be near him, helping and comforting as much as they possibly could.

During the afternoon a doctor came into the ward. “Wendsley is doing well,” he informed them.

“He is ready for home anytime.”

The parents considered this proposition carefully. Although he was probably ready for home they decided that perhaps they weren’t ready to have him back so soon.

They were both physically and emotionally drained after the experiences of the previous week. Besides that, the weather was still very cold and foggy, not ideal conditions for a sick child with a weak chest to be outside. Wendsley was going to be with them for a long time to come, so they reckoned it would be advisable to postpone bringing him home for another day or two. He would then be fully recovered and they would be in better spirits to receive him.

When they told the doctor what they had decided he understood. Everyone agreed that Sunday would be a suitable day to have Wendsley home, and this was arranged.

However, when Hertford and Phyllis arrived at the hospital on the Sunday morning to collect their little son they received a terrible shock. Things had changed drastically, and for the worse.

As they entered the ward a doctor met them. He had a sombre look about him.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “but I’m afraid Wendsley won’t be able to get home today. He has picked up some kind of a virus and has been very sick during the night. This morning he will not eat a thing for us here. We just wouldn’t be happy to allow him home, at least for another day or two.”

The parents were dumbfounded. They thought that with all they had passed through they would be beyond being stunned. They weren’t.

Again came this incredible feeling of disbelief.

“But he was all right last night when we left,” Phyllis replied. She was struggling to take it in. “He was smiling and playing like he always did.”

“I know that, Mrs. Arnold,” the doctor continued, sympathetically. “This has happened so suddenly it has taken everyone by surprise.” His countenance matched the conversation. He looked genuinely startled, too.

Hertford and Phyllis spent Sunday and Monday in the hospital. It was distressing to watch the  deterioration in Wendsley’s condition.

On Tuesday morning his breathing became laboured. He was wheeled away to have a chest X-ray. The parents met the doctor in a side room off the main ward to be given the results in the afternoon. It all seemed so horribly familiar. What were they about to hear?

“The X-rays show that both Wendsley’s lungs are clouded over white,” the doctor said. “He would appear to have viral pneumonia on both lungs.”

There was that dreaded word again. A dazed silence followed the doctor’s statement. There was a sense of having seen it all before, of being practically able to predict the next development, possibly even the next word.

Hertford and Phyllis didn’t speak. They couldn’t, having been rendered speechless once more.

The doctor broke the awkward hush. It was a different doctor, a different room and a different set of X-ray plates, yet what he had to say was almost exactly the same as they had heard about Thomas less than two weeks earlier.

“Wendsley has just deteriorated so fast that we can’t believe it,” he told them. “Every time I leave the ward and return maybe half-anhour later he has gone downhill even more. We will continue to do all in our power to keep him here, but he is really now in the hands of God.”

Again it was so familiar.

Beyond the touch of tender loving care.

Beyond the scope of medical science.

Into the hands of God.

The hospital vigil continued all through that Tuesday night. Doctors and nurses moved silently to and fro in the ward, checking the monitors, adjusting the drips

Wendsley had lapsed into a semi-conscious state by mid-morning on Wednesday. Phyllis craved seclusion, solitude, isolation. She felt she had to close herself away from all the goings-on in the ward.

So, leaving Hertford sitting with their very sick son, she fell to her knees at the settee in the little room reserved for the relatives of patients. She had spent many hours of heart-searching misery in that room over the previous few days.

Now she was in total desperation.

“Lord, You couldn’t take Wendsley on us too! This just can’t be real!” The devastated mother had taken to pouring out her pentup emotions to God once more. “Lord heal him, please! Get him better! Don’t let him die! Don’t let him die! Please, Lord. Please!”

Rising from that settee, on to legs still shaky from sleepless nights and stressful days, a strange realisation enfolded her. She knew in her breaking heart that God was in control.

Somewhat calmed in her soul, but still dreading the coming hours, perhaps days, Phyllis joined her husband bedside Wendsley’s cot.

Shortly after three o’clock that afternoon, the ward door opened.

It was Norrie Emerson, a friend, to see them.

“I was working in the yard there after dinner-time,” the visitor explained, “and I just couldn’t get you out of my mind. I had been praying for you both all morning, and felt compelled to come and see you. I hope you don’t mind.”

“We don’t mind at all,” Phyllis replied. “It is very kind of you to take time off your work to come and see us.”

Norrie’s care and concern for the crushed couple was demonstrated in his next action. Opening up his jacket he produced a piece of folded paper from an inside pocket. “I have a poem here for you,” he said. “Read it over a few times when I leave. It will help you both to see a meaning in all of this I’m sure.”

When he reached forward and handed the paper to Phyllis her heart skipped a beat. She was conscious of a shake in her outstretched hand.

Another poem! A third one.

The previous two had been given to her, one before, the other after, tragic events in her life. Could this be an omen, a sign of things to come?

Sensing that Phyllis was probably scared, but certainly at least uneasy, Norrie enquired, “Do you mind if I pray with all three of you before I leave?”

“Not at all, please do,” Hertford responded immediately. He had a high regard for the out and out sincerity of a busy man who would leave his work in the middle of an afternoon to come and try to comfort them. In addition to that, he had also learnt over the few turbulent days since his conversion, the vital importance of prayer in the Christian life.

When he had prayed with deep feeling, Norrie but his arms around both Hertford and Phyllis. They were all weeping.

Then noiselessly, almost reverently, as he had come, he made his exit from the ward, leaving the heartbroken parents and their very sick son to each other and to God.

Phyllis unfolded the piece of paper. Her husband watched her from across the cot. Blinking away the tears, she read the poem;

The Wise Shepherd

The story is told of a shepherd wise

Who, when the day was done,

Needed to cross a stream to get home.

He led, but the sheep wouldn’t come.

So he gently turned to the flock once more

Knowing that this was the best

He stopped and lifted the tiniest lamb,

Holding it safe on his breast

While he waded the troublesome stream again

In the light of the setting sun.

This time there was no hesitation at all

For they followed him every one.

Oh I wonder if Christ our Shepherd Divine

Doesn’t work in the selfsame way,

By taking the dear little lambs to draw

The sheep that have gone astray?

Oftentimes He has tried, yes so very long,

To get us to follow His call

And when everything fails, He takes to Himself

The tiniest lamb of all.

To punish us? No! He loves us so much

That He died for our sins to atone,

But He hopes when the lambs are all safe in the fold,

That the sheep will follow Him home.

After she had read it a few times she handed it across the cot in which her ‘tiny lamb’ was battling for life, to Hertford, who was emotionally shattered as well.

He read it in silence, making no attempt to comment.

Phyllis reclaimed the poem and read it yet again. God was really speaking to her, convicting her.

So this was the message. God, in His infinite wisdom, had removed one of her lambs into His fold of joy and peace and freedom from pain, and He was in the process of carrying a second one home as well.

Could she, would she, follow?

Although she had been saved years before in Moira, she had lost her joy, her peace, her sense of direction. She was going round in spiritual circles. That was when she went anywhere at all.

Her Shepherd had called her once and she had followed Him gladly then. Now He was asking her to rise up and follow Him again. The Shepherd was taking her lambs, and in the process lovingly leading her home.

She found the first line of the last verse comforting. It dispelled a long held belief, a sneaking fear.

How easy it had been to convince herself that God was punishing her for a lack of commitment, and for her backslidden life.

This was not so. God wasn’t punishing her! He was tenderly calling her. There was a tremendous difference!

That evening Phyllis was frightened. It was horrible to feel so helpless, wanting to do something, but knowing there was nothing could be done.

Wendsley’s condition was deteriorating rapidly, hour by hour. It seemed even minute by minute.

She knew in her heart he was going to die.

Nothing could prevent it now.

MY WEE SOLDIER

Not only was Wendsley’s condition so distressing for his distraught parents, but it also affected the whole wider family circle. They just couldn’t believe it!

A steady soundless stream of relatives poured into the ward all that Wednesday night and early Thursday morning. They stood struck dumb, helpless with grief, watching the medical staff as they nursed little Wendsley, attending to his every need.

An ominous silence settled on the ward. It was like the muffling, smothering, all-pervasive fog outside.

Hertford and Phyllis were totally shattered. They were too upset to think about anything and absolutely powerless to do anything.

If only they could do something miraculous, or buy something marvellous or contact some mighty healer.

The reality was stark, they couldn’t. Much as they would do anything they could, they were unable to alter the situation. They couldn’t for one second stay the ebbing tide of their little one’s life.

How true it was what the doctor had said. Wendsley was now in the hands of God. They had no choice but to leave him there.

The only things they could do now were the small and tender things. These included wiping his brow, combing his hair, holding his hand and straightening his bedclothes.

They performed these loving touches over and over again.

Four o’clock came and Phyllis was almost at breaking point. She left the ward to go back and seek solitude in the relatives’ room.

Her mother called in to comfort her a number of times.

Hertford joined her about forty minutes later. He was out of his mind as well and geared himself up for what he was about to say next by putting his arms round his weeping wife.

“I think you had better come in here now, Phyllis,” he whispered, in a dry croaky voice. “The doctor says his pulse is getting very shallow. It won’t be long now. Come with me, and we will go in together.”

With that Hertford took Phyllis’s shaking hand in his strong one, and they returned to the hush of the ward.

It was almost four forty-five, nine days to the minute from their eldest son had died, when the parent’s approached their youngest son’s bed, hand in hand.

Suddenly Wendsley gave a short sigh.

Then there was stillness. There was a monotonous hum from the heart monitor. The line was straight. The heartbeat had ceased.

Wendsley had passed away.

Simultaneously, Hertford and Phyllis both screeched, “Wendsley! Wendsley!”

Hertford lifted the body of his little son into a sitting position in the bed.

“My wee soldier! My wee man! Mummy and daddy love you! Oh, my wee man! My wee soldier!” He was unaware, in his anguish, that he was repeating the same phrases in quick succession.

A doctor came forward and removed the drips so the traumatised parents could spend some precious final moments with the frail earthly body in which their Wendsley had once dwelt.

The ward filled up with silent, sobbing relatives.

The only sounds were the sounds of grief. Some of this was open public weeping, and some of it was more muted. This was interspersed by a series of sighs and the rustle of paper handkerchiefs.

Wendsley and Thomas were together once more.

They were safe in the arms of Jesus, secure on the shoulders of the Shepherd.

It was marvellous for them. What a relief!

It was tragic for Hertford and Phyllis. What a catastrophe!

This utterly devastated mum and dad had lost two children in less than two weeks.

How could they ever cope with THIS?

‘YES, JESUS LOVES ME.’

The bewildered parents drove home without a word. The only sounds to be heard above the whirr of the engine were deep heavy sighs and an occasional vigorous blowing of the nose.

There was little left to say.

As they sped along Phyllis found that a verse of the poem, which had been given to her the previous afternoon, kept repeating itself in her mind. She couldn’t seem to escape it.

“Oftentimes He has tried, yes, so very long

To get us to follow His call…” These words struck like a dagger into her heart. They were so true. Her whole thought pattern became dominated by these words, ringing in her brain.

Even the fuss they had left behind back at the hospital was out of her mind now. Something dramatic was happening. God was speaking directly to her.

Hertford was saved now. That was a blessing. She was glad about that, having prayed for him so earnestly when she was younger.

Now the tables were turned. Phyllis was suddenly the one in the throes of spiritual conviction.

There was no doubt she too had been saved, that night in Moira twelve years before. She had lost interest in the things of God, though, and carelessly and callously turned her back on Him.

The Good Shepherd was now graciously calling her again.

“And when everything fails, He takes to Himself The tiniest lamb of all.”

Phyllis was heartbroken it had to come to this. God wanted her to return to Him so badly that He had taken to Himself her youngest child, her ‘tiniest lamb of all.’ This was not to punish her, as she had once imagined, but to lead her back to the fold.

They were both overwhelmed by grief when they drove up to the front of their bungalow. Everything was so still. There was an awesome, almost frightening, hush.

Nobody was around. Ford was being cared for by other relatives, and no one else had arrived. They were on their own.

Phyllis stood on the doorstep, weeping inconsolably.

Nine days before, when she had come home from hospital, grief stricken, and looked through the glass door and up the hall,

Wendsley was lying there, rolling over and over.

She had been devastated then. Her big problem at that time was to know what to say to him about Thomas, his brother, playmate and friend. Now the hall was empty except for the cold, unsympathetic furniture standing around.

There was no sound.

No movement.

No life.

No Wendsley.

He had gone too.

Standing there shaking on the step, a voice seemed to say to her, “And what about you? Thomas is at home with me. Wendsley has joined him, at home in heaven. What about you? The lambs are both safe in My fold, Phyllis. Are you going to follow them?”

As the broken-hearted mother pushed the door open to enter the hall, her soul was drawn to God. She realised again this wasn’t punishment. This was love. Caring love, patient love, Divine love.

Her Heavenly Father so much yearned for her return that He was drawing her gently to Him.

When she stepped into the empty hall of their echoingly empty bungalow, her legs left her. Phyllis was physically weak, emotionally distressed and spiritually shattered. Collapsing to her knees on the floor, she cried out in anguish, “I have had it, Lord. I can’t go another step until I am sure I don’t miss out on heaven.”

Then came the tears of repentance, the deep remorse.

“Lord, I’m really sorry that Thomas and Wendsley had to give their lives to bring Hertford to You for salvation, and to bring me to my senses so that I would come back to You,” she wailed. Hertford had gone in past his wife by this time. He was in the kitchen, searching for something which he would never have dreamed of opening a month before. It was a hymn book.

“Lord, please give me back the joy of my salvation. I know You have never left me, but I have left You, let you down, made a mess of my life.” Still the pathetic figure in the hall was praying passionately.

“Lord, I cannot go on another minute without You. It is only You has brought me to this point, and only You can help me from here on in. I will need You every day, every hour, every single minute of my life until I see Thomas and Wendsley again. Please, please, help me, Lord.”

As Phyllis struggled to her feet a sense of the presence of the Lord enfolded her. She was absolutely certain God had heard her plea.

He was answering already.

During her outpourings to God, she had noticed Hertford crossing from the kitchen into the living room. When she went to find him the scene that met her was both touching and reassuring.

Her husband was sitting on the rug in front of the fire. The firelight made dancing patterns on his face. A hymn book lay open before him.

Flopping down beside Hertford, she put her arms around him. He stretched out an arm and pulled her towards him.

When she looked down at the open page of the hymn book Phyllis’s eyes fixed of words she had once known off by heart, but hadn’t sung, or heard sung, for years. They reminded her of childhood and rekindled childlike trust.

“Let’s sing that, Hertford,” she suggested, pointing to the hymn that had attracted her attention. “We will sing it for Thomas and Wendsley, for Ford and for us. How true it is.”

With tears of deep sorrow, mingled with tears of genuine relief, they sat close together in the firelight and sang huskily.

“Jesus loves me, this I know, For the Bible tells me so, Little ones to Him belong, They are weak but He is strong.”

This proved a tremendous boost to Phyllis and acted as a tonic to both of them. It gave them a definite sense of purpose, combined with a strange sense of peace.

They were united in grief.

They were united by human affection.

Now they were united in their desire to live for Christ and rejoice in His wonderful love.

No matter what could happen in the days ahead they were prepared to face the uncertainty of the future in the absolute certainty of the truth of the chorus,

“Yes, Jesus loves me,

Yes, Jesus loves me,

Yes, Jesus loves me,

The Bible tells me so.”

Noel Davidson