I remember, once I was asked to have a conversation about quite a sensitive topic with the wife of a patient who had cancer secondaries in his spine and had become paralytic. Before I went into the room, kindly the nurses pulled me aside, to warn me that the wife can be… just a little difficult to deal with.
When I went in, I immediately knew what the nurses meant. Even bringing up the nature of the topic I was asked to talk about gave me shivers. The wife was cynical and sarcastic in her speech, almost rude, and somewhat condescending about the level of my training and experience. It was very difficult to have a gentle conversation with her and come out not too negatively affected! As she rolled her eyes and shot off random remarks, I could even see her husband cowering in fear of his wife. I must admit, as I was watching him react to his wife’s actions, I was asking in me, why did you even marry this woman!?
Yeah I could see that she was very stressed, and overwhelmed with the whole situation. Surely their lives as one couple, united as one unit, have been completely overturned (I mentioned that sometimes I don’t appreciate just the enormity of the impact on people’s lives) — and she now had to fully care for her paralytic husband regarding almost everything, from medications, food, to personal toileting, transport, and finances. She had so much in her mind. And they were only a young couple, in their forties.
I survived, with much stress (these things stress me out), the two times I had to talk to her that week without dissolving into mush enduring her glares. The third time I went in though, his wife was not there. I let off a sigh of relief to myself.
I had a quiet, little conversation with the patient himself this time. I caught a quick glimpse of the name cards of counseling, legal and social workers on the tabletop beside. But then I had the time to realise and look at the decorations in his room. There were photos pinned up on the walls of his otherwise sterile room, and they were actually quite lovely, even as he laid paralysed on his bed.
I glanced through a few of the photos. They were photos of him and his wife together — on their wedding day, on some holiday trip, and from various parts of their lives. In all of them they were beaming happily — and yes, his wife too.
To be honest, it hit me so hard, and I had to think twice, is this the same woman? And I was being serious!
At the time, I found it difficult, almost impossible, to reconcile the two images of his wife — it could never have crossed my mind that she could be smiling so beautifully and sweetly, when she was in front of me being so aggressive (and defensive too) the last two times I talked to her; and it could never have crossed my mind that she could be so aggressive, when I was looking at the photos of her smiling so beautifully and sweetly.
And I felt disgusted. Not at her, but at our hearts. Our hearts are corrupt. I catch glimpses of the same reality in me — of being so impatient, critical, unforgiving, unkind (for example, I wrote about an instance here), when I am “caught up in the moment” and all I think of is myself. I am scared of the deceitfulness of my heart. And who knows, when someone sees the two sides of me, I would also be perceived as how I perceived this patient’s wife at the time, maybe even worse. Unlovely. Two-faced. Of loose principles. Wayward.
Oh this gunk hidden in our hearts beneath our superficial face — how do we know how thick, and how dark, it is! And when our hearts are prodded and the offensiveness flows out, how do we deal with it?
… That story happened a few years ago. I have wanted to write about it, but like many other things, I never got around to it. Oh well.
Recently, I was reading a Christian book (Christians talk about the realities of sin but also the good news of God addressing it, which is the gospel), and I came across this story which struck me so hard:
A pastor friend of mine was visiting in the house of a couple who were founding members of his church, a couple who were greatly respected and loved and who had consistently invested their lives in other people. At the time of this particular visit, the husband had terminal cancer and did, in fact, die a few months later.
In the course of his visit, the pastor asked the couple, “How are you doing spiritually?” With tears in her eyes, the wife responded, “We’re doing well as far as the cancer is concerned. But what I can’t handle is our sin. After all these years, and especially in this situation, you would think we wouldn’t still hurt and wound each other, but we do. And this is what I can’t handle. I can handle the cancer, but I can’t handle my sinful flesh.”
As someone training to be a cancer doctor, the reality of this story is even more poignant for me. I feel like shedding a tear together with the wife (this one!). I think, I know a little of what she meant and how she felt…
I don’t know what you think. I suppose our worldview shapes how we approach situations like this. Let me know your thoughts though.
So another year has passed. Here are some things I learned over the past year, about, well, random things in life.
Let me know if you can relate (or would like to disagree with anything), and please share any tips of wisdom too!
Happy new year 2014! I was reading through some of my previous “new year’s day writings” (all penned either on new year’s eve or new year’s day). How nostalgic they are! I share excerpts from them here for amusement…
Pardon the lax grammar, and somewhat weird musings too.
Wow it’s the new year. I walked out from my apartment into the little backyard. Crunchy gravels on the ground, and little shrubs lining the fence. The sky flashes from a distant. Sounds of fireworks… but I couldn’t see any. People celebrating too. The breeze that blows is warm. The night is pleasant.
Such a familiar feeling — I totally recall the nights during camping in the NT. Sitting on the make-shift chair, gazing out into the dark. Our land-cruiser parked in front. Clouds hovering up ahead. They look so different at night.
And then not knowing what lies out there — not knowing what lies across the darkness. And not quite remembering how the day is like in the bright anymore. Not knowing how things can work out (at that stage was thinking about rad onc, career path etc) …
I cherished the feeling of me traveling around. It seemed good to be carefree. Yet can Christians be carefree? My heart is called to care for what God cares for. And again it feels somewhat similar, tonight. …
What does this coming year year hold? A new place. A small town. Oh well. But in times like this, really, people turn to God — and why only at times like this? …
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
I went to CrossCulture’s New Year’s Eve service at 7pm. A quiet one hour reflection and prayers of adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication.
Then I sat a little while in front of the State Library of Victoria, basking in the warm winds, in the setting sun, watching the many people — groups, couples, individuals — lying in the garden, sitting on the benches.
It was only this year that the great earthquake affected Japan — and in my comfort I worried about the future of anime (hah) — and later Christchurch was scarily shaken and partially destroyed too — yet only a few months down the track, here in December, they are already faint in my memory!
Similarly, only 2 years ago I was in New Zealand — in Tauranga having just moved from Palmerston North, dreaming about the prospect of crossing the Tasman Sea to move to the big happening Melbourne. Many things have happened since when I laid foot on Tullamarine airport and drove around alone in Clement’s car — and I marveled like a kid every time I was in the train looking out at the passing cityscape. Here I am — and they all seemingly fall comfortably into a quiet corner in my mind, and I barely remember them unless I prod.
And so here I bring to mind where I have come from, and I praise God and acknowledge Him in my ways. … God has brought me this far — surely He will bring me home. In this busy metropolitan Melbournian culture, I want to remember my God who has helped me all this while.
During the church service we were invited to write down the regrets and confessions on a piece of paper to be shredded. Although the symbolism does not reflect some complexities, I wrote down some things I feel God has convicted me this year. …
And as I look forward — where do I go from here? Truly only God knows — but as I grow a little older and find a little bit more of my identity — I realise my identity is in Christ — the God-centredness, the focus on the kingdom of God, the cross, the life for people.
All the other little pleasures in life are indeed blessings from God — good and new music to taste, good headphones to soak in them, good food to eat, good fragrances to smell (not that I have any), a myriad of clothes and fashion to ponder over — but they are ephemeral and are not who I am.
Went again to the church watch-night service at 7pm. Then had a walk around town.
How happening Melbourne is! Is this what I left the small towns in NZ for? The seas of people flooding along Swanston street (closed for people to walk on). Yet as I look in amazement at just how many people can flock around the Flinders Station junction, part of this feels familiar… the loneliness perhaps.
I was reminded of the times when I walked Mindill market by myself, didgeridoos playing and incandescent light bulbs flickering, also wide-eyed, or when I passed by the market in Amsterdam that chilly morning, everything feeling so surreal with European architecture and the canals, how beautiful.
It is also always interesting to take note of the different people. The Asian families. The tone-deaf person beside me in church – God bless him. The party goers, the girls all dolled up (if I can just say — if you have a “belly”, please don’t wear skin-tight tube dresses!!).
Sitting in the train on the way back, it was uncharacteristically noisy and happening. Then I plugged in my earphones and soul music seeped in. The guitar serenaded, and I shrunk comfortably back into invisibility. Slowly people left the train to the family park to watch fireworks, and things quietened down.
Amos Lee continued singing through the earphones, and it was good. I thank God for technology. I thank God too that I was hungry (and quite so too) — many cancer patients waste away and don’t even feel like eating (or young nervous girls too perhaps, for that matter).
It has been a while too since I just sat and watched the world around me, and took note of the thoughts that came to mind. I really struggled to even recall what has happened in 2012… for good or bad. … But what has happened elsewhere, and around the world? Some things happened that shook our family. What about other things? Gun massacres in the US. Financial cliff. Surely some are far-removed from minds of many at this point in time, as us humans look to hope for a better new year? I certainly haven’t even kept up, busy in my own little bubble.
But God is good, and He knows best.
I just thought they captured some sentiments well, maybe some of which you can relate with during this new year period (maybe check again next year too for this year’s thoughts, haha).
May we continue to walk and grow in Him in the coming year. And if you don’t yet know God personally, please take some time to ask some questions.