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I didn’t think including a photo would be appropriate, but if you are like me and curious, and I should warn you a picture of my emaciated body with 34 staples in a 7-inch cut, punctures from keyhole surgery and a stomach drain, and an ileostomy pouch, is not a pretty sight (you have been warned!), you can see it by clicking here.

He Brought me out of a Horrible Pit *

Les Sherlock

NOTES

* Psalm 40:2

In the summer of 2014 the third bowel cancer screening test I had taken came back positive; so after all the usual tests, on Wednesday 8th October, I had keyhole surgery by the consultant, Mr Clark, in Poole Hospital. It had been caught at a very early stage, so I was told it had all been removed and no further treatment was required. However, when by the following Wednesday morning I was still in as much pain as the day after the operation, we rang our local surgery to ask what we should do.

INDEX

Miracle of the ring

Six months later

There followed a series of delays, so it wasn’t until after midnight that the registrar,
Mr Wood, examined me and after an x-ray confirmed that a large, infected haematoma* had developed, at 3.00 a.m. Mr Wood performed an emergency operation lasting six hours. The result was a seven-inch cut down my stomach, an ileostomy,** three days in ICU (the first half-day under sedation), one week in hospital, and I lost one and a half stone in weight in three weeks. I walked into hospital for the first operation a fairly fit person, and came out a doddery old man, looking like someone out of a concentration camp!


*A localized swelling that is filled with blood caused by a break in the wall of a blood vessel.

** Similar to a colostomy: a part of the bowel is brought to the surface of the stomach (called a stoma) and a pouch is fitted around it, which then needs emptying 10-12 times per day (at least, it did for me!).


* Matt 22:37–39; Mark 12:30–31; Luke 10:27

I must make it clear that I am aware my experience fades into insignificance when compared to the sufferings millions of people face around the world throughout their lives. Most of this suffering is due to man’s inhumanity to man and would end overnight if only everyone obeyed God’s instruction that we should love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love our neighbours as ourselves.* However, I am here describing what happened to me from my perspective.

That week in hospital was arguably the worst week of my life. I have no memory of the three days in ICU apart from the last few hours before transferring to a normal ward. The first few nights I do remember were spent wide awake the whole time. I am not saying this is what actually happened, but what it felt like was Satan coming to me time and again, saying, “I have you in my power now and I’m going to destroy you!”





* Apart from one occasion when I managed to read a bit more than I had done at other times and did then feel ‘picked up’ a little.


* 10-15 times per night!



** I have no memory now of anything I saw, except I know it was horrifyingly awful!


*** it was four or five months before this fully returned to normal!

I knew that everything I had believed in and stood for throughout my life was useless and if I came out of this alive, life would never be the same again. Each day I tried to read my Bible as I have done throughout my adult life, but got no comfort from it.* It seemed that if God did exist, He had abandoned me and I was left alone to suffer the constant pain.

Everything seemed to go wrong. I had canulars in both arms but they kept coming out and having to be replaced, leaving a lot of bruising; fairly early on my catheter malfunctioned and had to be removed, which meant every night I was constantly waking up needing to use a bottle * and then not being able to get back to sleep again; the stomach drain was held in by stitches supported by dressings, but the dressings kept coming loose, which meant the stitches were constantly pulling on my skin; I had a button to press that delivered morphine through one of the canulars and the nurses kept telling my to use it to relieve my pain, but every time I did I had hallucinations and could see the most horrible images and events before my eyes that my mind has now blocked out;** I struggled to cope with the ilesotomy and had great difficulty in understanding the nurses’ instructions on how I would manage it when I left; my nose was constantly blocked up and because of the pain in my stomach I couldn’t blow it to clear it; I couldn’t understand what food I was now allowed to eat and three times the meal I ordered was taken away from me because it was wrong, and twice it was not replaced with anything else; the breathing tube inserted while under sedation had damaged my throat, so my voice was now significantly weaker and I had great difficulty in swallowing *** - I nearly choked on a cheese sandwich; and more problems too tedious to mention.

All this may sound very trivial, but at the time to me it was like a foretaste of Hell! I felt completely crushed, emotionally, physically, spiritually and mentally.* I have no complaints about the treatment I received in the hospital: the staff were all very kind and professional and I know how blessed I am to live in a country where such incredible care is freely available. My ‘hell’ was in spite of their efforts, not because of them.


* Toward the end of November in my daily readings I reached Job 33:19–26, which seemed to describe my experience perfectly - along with the promise of restoration to come.



* My body needed this time to recover fully from the operations because there was the possibility, in view of the problems they had had with me, that I would need to be fully opened up again as in the emergency op.


* I’d worn it for over 48 years! It had become loose because of all my lost weight and I’d tied string round it to tighten it up; but this was a cold day and with cold fingers had become loose again and I didn’t feel it move.

After an eternity I was allowed home, and began the long process of trying to recover. At the beginning of December I saw Mr Clark who had told me he would reverse the ilesotomy; but to my horror I discovered this could not be done for another three and a half months!* I was devastated and couldn’t bear the thought of having to cope with the ileostomy for that length of time. However, two days later I realised that if I had to wait so long, I must try to get my life back together and start doing something. So the very first thing I did was to go outside to sweep up all the leaves that had blown into our drive and take them to the local tip.

Gill, my wife, came with me to the tip; but after we had poured all the leaves into the 35 cubic yards skip that was three quarters full of garden rubbish, I discovered my wedding ring had slipped off my finger and joined the rest of the rubbish.* This was the last straw and I completely fell apart. When we got home I collapsed in a heap of wails and tears, knowing it was impossible the ring could be found again and seeing that the series of bad events was going to go on and on. Gill prayed for me that God would restore my peace and that the ring would come to light. I couldn’t do anything other than cry!

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Then the miracle happened. Within an hour the phone rang with the message that they’d found my ring. When I put it back on my finger in their office I fell apart again and had to rush to the car, leaving Gill to explain to the men what it meant to me. On the way home I realised that my ring now was not only a symbol of Gill’s and my love for each other, but of God’s love for me, who had worked such a miracle to restore it to me.* A day or so later I realised that if God would work such a miracle for a comparatively trivial thing like my ring, then He must also be working in the big things in my life - including my week of ‘hell’, whether I was aware of it or not.


Photo by Sally Adams


* This is not to diminish the efforts of the four men who spent 30 minutes on their hands and knees searching through all the rubbish; but when people obey God’s commands (and in this case whether they knew it or not they were obeying His command to love their neighbour as themselves) they put themselves in line for God to work miracles. After this I wore an elastic band on my finger in front of the ring to ensure it would not come off again. The Council publicity department asked our permission to give the story to the press and it went viral! The interview for BBC TV South Today can be seen here and the video interview and report for the Bournemouth Daily Echo can be seen here.

Once again, I am not saying this is what actually happened, but looking back, what it feels like is that the moment I put my ring back on my finger God said, “So far and no further. You’ve had your go, Satan; now it’s my turn!” Slowly but surely I started to put weight back on and regain my strength; but more importantly the blackness of despair in which I had been submerged was now gone.

Starting at about day 75 I began counting the days down to the day of my next operation, and it seemed to take forever; but finally the day arrived. I had to wait nearly all morning as I was second on the list; but when around lunchtime the anaesthetist put the mask over my nose and mouth to put me to sleep, not knowing if I was about to have another seven-inch incision in my stomach, keyhole surgery, or even be left with the ileostomy because they couldn’t reverse it, I held the ring on my finger between my little finger and thumb and said, “I know You are with me Lord to take care of me: thank you for seeing me through this and bringing me back to normality.”

It wasn’t a major cut in my stomach, or even keyhole surgery: Mr Clark simply cut around the stoma to free it, joined the bowel back together and put it back where it belonged. I woke up a couple or so hours later, knowing I was different. Obviously there was a degree of pain from the operation, but otherwise I felt wonderful and could have got up and walked out of hospital. I hardly needed to see that there was just a plaster where the stoma pouch had been; I knew I was back to normal again and it felt WONDERFUL!


Because of the nature of the operation they couldn’t sew me up again * - the wound was stitched right at the deepest part, but the rest was left to heal naturally. This meant it had to have daily dressing changes, with packing in the wound to ensure it healed from the bottom upwards. I had to stay in hospital for one week, rather than the two or three days they had originally expected, because they were being very cautious after all the previous problems; and gave me a five-day course of intravenous antibiotics. Additionally they would not let me out until my body had started to perform normally again, and it took a full week before it remembered how to do that!*

* Because of the risk of infection getting into the wound.



* As our Rector said when I told my story to our Church: “Too much information!”



* Rom 8:11
** Gen 1:1–31

Fairly early on after returning home, one of the nurses, when changing my dressing, remarked how well I was so soon after the operation. When I was in hospital, Mr Wood, who had performed the emergency operation, came to see me three times and each time, with some intensity, said, “I am really impressed with you!” I said, both to him and the nurse, “There are a lot of people praying for me.” There is only one thing impressive about me: God! Like all Christians, the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead lives in me:* that is very impressive! The One who brought the entire universe into being by the power of His word ** walks with me, holds me in His arms, loves me with a passion beyond anything I can ever understand, and cares for every detail of my life. That is very impressive!

Just before my third operation, Mr Wood came to talk me through what was about to happen. At one point he said, “You have a very high pain threshold.” I said, “Did you say ‘very HIGH’?” He said, “Yes!” I said, “Can I have that in writing please? Because my wife and family all say I’m the world’s biggest wimp and have a very low pain threshold!”


His reply was: “When you came in last time you were really poorly, but you didn’t make any kind of fuss about it at all. So you must have a very high pain threshold.”


It was only some time later when I realised the only possible explanation. At the time when I thought God had abandoned me * and I was alone under the onslaught of Satan, He was shielding me from the barrage that was coming at me so much that the specialist who was monitoring my progress was fooled into thinking the world’s biggest wimp had a very high pain threshold. Now that is VERY IMPRESSIVE!

* 2 Chron 32:31 …God withdrew from him, in order to test him, that He might know all that was in his heart.

While God clearly had not abandoned me, could this be why He stopped me sensing His presence? Whether or not this is the case, I know I can trust the God who loves me and never changes or fails to do what is best for me.

* 1 John 4:16
** Rom 8:31

The rate of progress when I came back home was amazing - within three weeks of the operation I was back at work and able to function normally once again. It has been perhaps the most difficult six months of my life; but now I can look back, I thank God for an experience that perhaps more than any other has demonstrated to me that no matter how bad things may appear to be, He is there. His love for us is immensely greater than anything else in the world.* And if God be for us, who can stand against us?** Truly, with the Psalmist I can say:

 He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps. He has put a new song in my mouth— Praise to our God; many will see it and fear, and will trust in the LORD. Psa 40:2–3

In June 2015 the BBC reported * that one in ten patients dies within 30 days of undergoing urgent, unplanned bowel surgery. It would seem that I had an even closer call than I realised at the time! I am so grateful for the care and expertise of the staff of Poole hospital, and for my Shepherd,** who was with me as I walked through the valley of the shadow of death and brought me out the other side into sunshine!

* The report can be seen here.

** Psa 23:4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me…


*If only on the day we die - an event that by definition takes us out of any ability of our own to control.

Christianity is not merely a set of beliefs, but a personal relationship with our Creator who went to the extreme length of an agonising death on the cross in order to make it possible. Everyone of us sooner or later will come to a time when we meet experiences too big for us to cope with ourselves;* Jesus Christ is the only One who is able to carry us through them victoriously, and I strongly commend Him to you. All it takes is to get on your own and say to Him something like:

If you are God, then I want a relationship with You. Please forgive me for ignoring You in the past and doing things against Your will. Become Lord of my life and give me the power to be what you want me to be.


I pray that everyone reading this will come to know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour,* and enjoy the same degree of God’s love and care that I have experienced.

* See here for a more detailed explanation.



Six Months Later…

Six months after I was lying on the operating table for the third time, my wife and I travelled to Mbale, Uganda, to visit our daughter and son-in-law who are running a charity, providing free education and welfare for 416 children living in a slum area who would otherwise not have it. So we were able to see the official opening of their three-story building shown above.



Do look at Child for Hope’s web site.

Of course, I had to test the new playground for them… and then… (Click on the white arrow below and keep watching - there are two video clips)


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