His Character is Always to Have Mercy

July 03, 2024

This month’s OOO is running late, for good reasons. June has been an unusual month with events and activities that absorbed 25 of its 30 days, leaving no time for anything but the business of those days. But before I dig into those matters, I do want to share one story from the field that has particularly blessed me.

On June 8, I had occasion to have a Zoom call with DCOH presbyter and Diocesan Council member, Rev Martin Rhodes, at 8:00 am EDT. That was 7:00 pm for Martin, who was in Phnom Penh, near the end of a three month gift to another DCOH presbyter’s family, Rev Will & Becky McLaughlin and their children.

The McLaughlin’s have been in Phnom Penh for two+ years, planting a vibrant Anglican Church through the power of God’s Spirit. However, Becky’s mother was diagnosed with thyroid cancer a few months ago, and they desperately wanted to get back to Roanoke for a solid visit with her family. Martin got word of it and realized he could serve them by taking his own upcoming sabbatical by covering Will+’s responsibilities in Phnom Penh. 

Before you think, “Well, that sounds like fun,” it meant Martin was separated from his own family for 10+ weeks, preached and served pastorally throughout the time, and spent substantial time completely alone. There was significant personal cost to our brother. But what especially impressed me as I talked with him was his unfeigned joy in being able to serve Will+ and Becky in this way. (Now to be sure, I caught him about 5 days into a reunion with Sylvia and his children, but nevertheless, the faithful, kind, wise Martin+ that I have known for years was fully in gear after ten weeks of serving the McLaughlin’s. 

Within the body of Christ, sacrificial love flows freely. But in a world where people are obsessed with their own personal fulfillment, it’s worth pausing to remember that this is the design of Christ for his Church, and to reflect on a remarkable example of sacrificial service. Thank you, Martin+, Sylvia, and the whole Rhodes family!

Now back to the month of June: I have not written before now to note the election of the next ACNA archbishop, Bishop Steve Wood (Diocese of the Carolinas). You’ve all heard the news. (An Anchor Lines message just went out with all the details.) I fully join the celebration of gratitude for God raising +Steve to this office. I am particularly grateful because +Steve has been my monthly prayer partner since 2014. The trust and friendship between us is high, and I commend him to your prayers and hopes for our Province.

Now – why the delay in throwing my support on the table? Many of you may know that June was a difficult month for Sally and me. On June 9, I was on the first leg of a trip to Cairo (for the GFSA meetings) when I got the news that Sally had been taken by ambulance helicopter to a hospital in Eastern North Carolina. She had had a brain bleed (subdural hematoma). I turned around in Toronto, and for the next week, we were in and out of hospitals and doctors’ offices. I focused fulltime on caring for her as she recovered for what was a significant crisis. 

We were grateful that by June 18, the doctors gave her the green light for driving with me to Latrobe, PA, for the Conclave, Provincial Council, and Provincial Assembly meetings.

Additionally, Sally and Rev Sue Currie shared the platform for the Assembly’s first plenary on June 26. It was an anointed presentation, and the response was full-hearted gratitude to God. For me, it was especially wonderful to see Sally using her gifts in the strength of the Spirit.

However, by that night, fatigue and exhaustion took over, and it continued for the duration of the Assembly. She got weaker and weaker, and more and more confused. By Friday, I was becoming alarmed and decided to leave before the final Eucharist to get her back to Chapel Hill (where all her records and doctors are). We went directly to the ER, and a CT scan revealed that the brain bleed had grown from .9 cm (June 9) to 2.6 cm. It had become a major medical crisis, and by 8:00 pm, she was in the operating room for surgery which required opening up a fairly large window in her skull to resolve the immediate pressure and its causes. 

We were powerfully carried by the prayers and love of God’s people and the surgery was successful. We cannot say enough how thankful we are. Nevertheless, Sally’s recovery will involve lots of therapy, focus, and time. Another providential gift is that July was already vacation month for me, so I have time and capacity to help her.

One specific testimony: On Saturday morning, I woke up at 4:15 in a hotel in Winchester, VA, on our way home from Latrobe. Sally was in the worst shape she had been, unable to walk and barely able to put together coherent sentences, All she wanted to do is sleep. I wanted to get on the road but decided to let her sleep a bit more. I spent that time nearby, in prayer and reading psalms. Psalm 116:17-19 jumped out as God’s word of assurance directly for Sally:

I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the Lord, in your midst, O Jerusalem.

In answer to the specific prayer I was praying in the dark, God had promises that Sally would be able to give praise and testimony to him in this life, on this earth. 

Scroll forward to Sunday morning: we have been carried by the Spirit and the prayers of his people through a gauntlet, and she was waking up, groggy from anesthesia after major brain surgery. Before drifting back to sleep, literally her first whispered words were, I’m here. I will offer God the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on his name. I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the Lord.

Praise be to God! We have seen the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. He has been merciful to us, for it is his character to always have mercy. 

God’s mercy takes different shapes at different times in our lives. This time, his mercy has been to spare my wife. Another time, another situation, it may look very different. Years ago, he chose to take Beatrice Rose, our granddaughter, at age 90 days. But the sure word of God is that he is a God of mercy.

My encouragement to myself, and to all of us, is to ALWAYS ask God to reveal his mercy that stands behind his providential love and will for our lives. Whatever the tears and difficulties, whatever the deliverances and delights, his character is always to have mercy. 

Servus servorum Dei,

Bp. Steve 

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