backhanded compliments

Following my lengthy period of convalescence after my surgery in February I am now back at work full-time. I was blessed by being able to phase my return slowly rather than jump straight back in. And this has led to some very interesting comments from people who saw me early on in the process and have seen me again recently.

complimentary nutsWith the intention to encourage me and generally be upbeat about my progress people have been making comments about how much better I am looking. They don’t mean that I have grown more handsome, but that I am looking healthier. Some have been even more specific and have commented on how I have much more colour in my cheeks and generally look a more ‘normal’ hue. And some have gone even further by suggesting that they were rather worried when they first saw me because I looked pale and ghostly, but now I looked well. One colleague even suggested that when she first saw me I wasn’t so much pale as translucent but I was now looking better!

Now I know that these compliments are meant to be positive and making me feel good about the extent of the improvement that they can see in me. And I do receive the comments in the spirit with which they are offered. I am grateful for people’s love, concern, encouragement and prayers. But there’s a little part of me that asks myself just how ill I must have looked a couple of months ago. I didn’t think I looked that bad, but (bearing in mind that these conversations take place on a very regular basis) I must have looked more poorly than I realised.

I am going to try to take the positive aspects of the comments on board much more and not allow the negatives to bother me because I know that my health is much improved, my stamina is better and I am far more capable of living normally (not the same as ‘being normal’ – my wife will testify to that!) than I was previously during my convalescence. I am so grateful for that: grateful to the medical staff who have been brilliant, to my family who have been wonderfully supportive and encouraging, to the many of you and those in the churches I serve who have been praying for me, and to God who has sustained me and created bodies in such a way that they can recover from trauma.

But (and this won’t surprise regular readers) I had another thought. If we are willing to comment on someone’s physical health, why not their spiritual health too? How often do we take the time to say encouraging things about people’s spiritual growth and health? Do we take the time to speak positively to someone after they have preached – more than just, “Thank you” – and share how God spoke to us through them? Or do we take the time to reflect on the way someone has show spiritual maturity through difficult circumstances and encourage them about that? How about finding someone who has prayed for us and sharing how we have seen answers to those prayers? What about simply encouraging someone because we have caught a glimpse of Jesus through them?

Be blessed, be a blessing

a series of remarkable events

I am incredibly grateful for some chest pain that I experienced recently. Yes, you did read that right. The chest pain turned out not to be heart-related but when you talk to medics about having chest pain the first thing that they want to do is check out your heart to make sure you’re not having a heart attack. I wasn’t. Once the doctors had worked out what was going on and changed some medication I was taking the chest pain went away.

However, because I had seen a doctor in the hospital about this pain they referred me to their chest pain clinic. At the chest pain clinic the nurse practitioner confirmed that none of my symptoms looked heart-related and none of the ECGs I had had showed even the slightest problem with my heart. But in order to be absolutely certain (and maybe also confirm that the other problem had caused the pain) . I was referred for a scan.

About a week later I was sat on a train on my way to attend a meeting in London when my phone rang. A very pleasant lady on the other end of the line told me that she was ringing to make some appointments for me to have some scans and X-rays on my heart. I thought that she must have the wrong patient number and queried this, but she triple-checked and confirmed that yes it was me that needed these tests because of the heart problems that had shown up in the initial scan. At this point she realised that I hadn’t been given the results of my initial scan and said she would ask the doctor to call me later in the day, and she would then call me to make the appointments.

Later in the day the doctor did call and explained that the initial scan had shown some underlying problems in my heart that needed treating and that yes I did need these further tests. He was so reassuring and gave me the confidence that he was on my case.

So within about 10 days I began a series of tests at our local hospital which just happens to be the cardiac centre of excellence for the whole of our county. The tests were fairly unpleasant but were designed to show what was actually going on with my heart. (I did have an allergic reaction to the dye used in one of the tests but even then the doctors I saw were able to resolve the problem after a couple of days).

The following week we met the surgeon who showed us video footage of what was going on inside me (quite a surreal experience) and explained what he needs to do in order to fix this problem. He explained a series of options including one procedure that he thought was most suited to me, and (modestly) said that he was one of only a couple of surgeons in the country who is able to do this procedure.

And the day before the appointment with the surgeon I had had a long-standing appointment with the brain hospital in London that has helped resolve my migraine problem. I mentioned to my neurologist that I was expecting a heart operation and he told me that there were certain things my heart surgeon would need to know and gave me contact details to give him.

So, in the near future (we don’t know when, exactly) I will have an operation performed by this excellent surgeon. It will mean a couple of months’ recovery afterwards but then everything will be back to normal.

I have had to tell people about this because of having to cancel or postpone commitments and I am almost overwhelmed by the kindness, encouragement, love and prayers that people have shown in response. I have been so supported by my colleagues. It’s really humbling. I feel absolutely fine in myself and when I think of that I realise how where I am today is as a result of a series of remarkable events:

I was (and still am) feeling quite healthy, but unknown to me there was a problem with my heart which would have gone undiscovered, so I am really grateful for the non-cardiac chest pain that led to me being seen in hospital (the centre of excellence in our county that is only 15 minutes from home); that led to me being referred for the initial scan and the scan being seen by a doctor who recognised the problem; that led to me having the further tests which clearly showed the problem; which led to me being placed on the list for a surgeon who is one of only a few in the country who is able to perform exactly the operation I need to sort out the problem.

About 4 weeks ago I was blissfully unaware that anything was wrong. I feel incredibly privileged that this series of remarkable events has led me to this place.

The good news for you is that the flow of bloggages may be interrupted for a while. The bad news for you is that once I am feeling up to it I will have a number of days when I will be looking for things to do and writing lots of bloggerel may be one thing I turn to.

Be blessed, be a blessing.


Hello dear Bloggists, did you miss me? Did you even notice the lack of bloggages? A lot has happened in the past couple of weeks and some of those things may form the basis for some blogging in due course. In fact, the most recent incident got my blog juices flowing…

We were driving back from Devon (where we had been on a week’s holiday) yesterday, happily pootling along the motorway at 70mph (yes, I do stick to the speed limit). I had overtaken a vehicle and was pulling back into the inside lane when, as I went over a cat’s eye*, there was a loud bump. I wondered whether the cat’s eye was coming loose, and then a car that was coming past me beeped and the passenger pointed to my front tyre.

I pulled off the motorway and discovered that my tyre was completely flat. There had been no warning and my car’s steering didn’t feel any different. If the car had not beeped I may have carried on for a while longer. We called out a rescue truck because my car does not carry a spare tyre and waited on the hard shoulder of the motorway for an hour – even resorting to playing ‘I spy’.


the view from behind the safety barrier

The truck arrived eventually and took us to a well-known speedy car tyre replacement emporium nearby. They had a bit of a queue so we went to get some lunch while we waited and eventually I got a call to say that actually both front tyres needed replacing and the tracking needed correcting on the car to get all the wheels pointing in the right direction.

When I got back to the tyre replacement emporium I asked if I could see the old tyres and was alarmed to see that the ‘puncture’ had been caused by the car tyre having worn out on the inside and the rubber had actually given way! The other tyre was similarly worn.

I do check my car tyres relatively regularly as I do a lot of driving and had no idea that this was happening. There looked like there was adequate tread on the tyre when I looked at it. However, because the wear was on the inside of the tyre it was not easy to spot unless the wheel was turned and (with hindsight) I realised that I used to check when the wheels were pointing straight ahead.

Do we cruise through life assuming that everything is okay when actually there is something important that needs attention? Do we think that everything is okay when actually our tyres are wearing dangerously thin on the inside? What about that neglected relationship? What about neglect of our own spirituality? What about that secret ‘sin’ that has stopped bothering us?

UK Cars have an annual Ministry of Transport Test (unless, like mine, they are less than 3 years old) that looks at all of the major (and minor) safety issues to ensure that the car is roadworthy which should pick up issues before they become serious problems: what’s the equivalent for us?

  • Going on a retreat can be a valuable experience to stop, pause, reflect and consider.
  • Of course it’s much better to be carrying out regular maintenance rather than leaving it to once a year: going to church can provide moments when we are more open to what God is saying to us.
  • Meeting with friends with whom we can be honest and whose wise counsel we trust is helpful.
  • Reading the Bible regularly is another way in which we make ourselves open to what God may be saying to us.
  • Not squashing that nagging little voice that is telling us that something’s not right is a good thing to do – it’s often God trying to get our attention.

I’m going to be checking my tyres all over much more regularly in future (personal and on my car). What about you?

Be blessed, be a blessing

*the guides embedded in the road, not a genuine feline eye attached to a moggy

checking in

I am currently on a train, on my way to London to a hospital appointment. It’s a routine check to monitor how well my cyber-brain is working.

As part of the preparation for these appointments I have to keep an hourly headache diary for the preceding two weeks. This means rating the pain levels on a scale of 0-10 on the hour. It’s a bit of a bind but will provide evidence of the improvement.

It has challenged me to think about how frequently I monitor my spiritual health. Do I leave it for a few months at a time or am I constantly monitoring it? I have found that if I am following Jesus closer the spiritual health is better.

So how do I monitor my spiritual health? For me it is being conscious of how often I pray, how often I think of Jesus and what he would want me to do, how I feel about singing worship songs / hymns, and how often I read my Bible. But doing these things for me, not as a professional Christian.

And when I am out of touch? Praying helps (but if I am honest it doesn’t always come easily). Books help me (if they are about feeding my soul). Friends energise me. And the remembering of how good it is when I am closer motivates me in the same way that I look forward to spending quality time with my wife, our children and my friends.
That only scratches the surface of possibilities. Feel free to share what blesses you.

Be a blessing. Be blessed.

There is now an atheist helpline. You ring and ring but there’s nobody there to answer!