When God has other plans
I was awoken by the phone on my bedside table ringing loudly. Bleary-eyed and semi-conscious, I looked at the time, 5am, and saw the name of the caller as ‘Addenbrookes’, the main hospital in Cambridge. For a brief second, in my sleepy state, I was confused as to why they would be ringing me at such an early hour, but almost instantly, everything came flooding back and a sense of dread filled my stomach. Answering, I heard the words I’d been terrified of hearing for the past two days, ‘Mr Wicks, you need to come in immediately.’
In September 2003, I met Rachel for the first time. I was encouraged by my pastor to always carry my Bible visibly when walking to church, and that first weekend at the University of Sheffield was no different. On this occasion, however, I was followed by a young lady who knew roughly where Wycliffe Church was, but upon seeing my Bible, had decided to follow me through the winding streets in the hope I was headed to the same meeting. I was!
Over the course of that first year, I was increasingly drawn to her kind, gentle character and love for the Lord, so by June, I finally plucked up the courage to ask her out – well… via text at least! Somehow she said yes, and in September 2007, we were married and began serving the Lord together in my home church of Whittlesey in Cambridgeshire.
The next 12 years were full of love, joy, adventure, heartache and often, hard work. Through career changes, leading youthwork together, a miscarriage, the birth of our three boys and wrestling over where we should be, there was one constant – and it wasn’t Rach’s ability to beat me at tennis over and over again! It was God’s utter and complete faithfulness, love and care for us, his children, through both the mountaintops and valleys of life.
By July 2019, we had three boys: Harry was 5, Josh was nearly 3 and Jude was 4 months old. We were praying through and pushing doors as to whether we should move to Cheshire, where Rach’s family lived, but God had other plans.
On the evening of July 10th, Rach, who was very rarely ill, was taken into hospital with a severe headache. After numerous tests it was discovered that she had suffered a brain aneurysm. For the next two days she came in and out of consciousness as we awaited the right time for her to receive an operation to remove the bleeding.
As I sat with her on that Friday, I opened my Bible to Romans 8, a treasured passage to many in times of trial, and found myself circling just two words, found in verse 28, ‘all things’. The whole verse goes like this:
We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.
As I circled those words and cried out to God, he was reassuring myself and Rach that once again, whatever happened, even the very worst I could possibly imagine, was not outside the bounds of those two little words. He would use this situation for our good – we just needed to trust him.
Not worth comparing
Early the next morning I heard those terrible words on the end of the phone: ‘Mr Wicks, you need to come in immediately.’
When I arrived at the hospital I was shown into a small side room where a nurse and two doctors broke the news I was dreading. Rach had suffered another aneurysm and had passed away an hour earlier.
Through the agony and tears, I tried to comprehend never seeing Rach again, never hearing her laugh, or seeing her weary but contented face as she cuddled up to her boys at night; never hearing her whisper ‘I love you’ as she went off to sleep. My mind raced about the future; the days and weeks ahead. How would I cope? How could I even go on? How would I raise three small children on my own? How on earth would I tell them that Mummy wasn’t coming home?
As a thousand thoughts spun through my mind, each one sinking me to new depths of despair, I noticed a Bible on the shelf opposite. By God’s grace I asked the nurse to open it and read Romans 8 to me, from verse 18. It begins:
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
As I sat weeping in that small room, my eyes were suddenly lifted upwards. Upwards, to see the glory to which myself and all believers are called; the glory to which Rach now not only knew, but was part of and experiencing. The glory of being safe, with her Saviour, Jesus, for all eternity.
That’s not to say the following days, weeks and months weren’t incredibly hard; many tears flowed, and many times I found myself once more drawn to the pit of despair. Raising three young boys as a single father is challenging. I’m so dependent on the Lord’s daily outpouring of mercy and grace to have the patience and love to be the kind of father that I want to be. Even then, I often get it wrong and need forgiveness.
As I look back on the last two years, what I see most clearly is a Father of my own who has demonstrated time and again the all-encompassing value of those two little words ‘all things’. I am liberated from living a life of regrets or what-ifs, because I can trust in a God who is using even my very worst moments for my own good. In fact, my journey isn’t about me; it’s about a Saviour who loved me so much, he gave his own life to bear my just punishment, that I might know the joy of living with him even through the darkest night.
On Rach’s grave are written these words from the City Alight hymn:
Mine are keys to Zion city,
Where beside the King I walk
For there my heart has found its treasure
Christ is mine forevermore.
It’s such a great joy to know and share with Harry, Josh and Jude, the value of those words. As they remember their Mummy and all we miss about her, we know that because of Jesus, she is where she always longed for her and them to be, with him forever.