My next challenge

In May I was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus. 

22nd June 

Today I spoke with the doctor from Edinburgh who is going to oversee my course of chemotherapy which will start in July. She went through a list of all the side effects of the various drugs that I will be given over two months and then asked me if I had any questions. I asked her if she had left any out to which she replied that she had not. I suspect that they are going to use everything they have in their cabinet and check at the back of shelves in case they've overlooked something useful.

I am facing six months of chemotherapy and then intensive surgery. The good news is that they are only doing this because they think I'm up to it and for the increased chance of cure.

One of my upsets has been that I have just started a new ministry here in Kirkcudbright and then I fall seriously ill. But now I am beginning to think that even in my illness I will have Good News about the Lord Jesus to share. I have received so many messages of kindness from the Christian community.

23rd June


Last night as I was looking out the kitchen window I saw a hedgehog. There were no hedgehogs in Colvend which was always a disappointment to me as the sound of one snuffling about in the evening is one of nature's delights. I was thrilled to see it and will enjoy looking out for it in the summer evenings.


Many years ago as I came out of a Glasgow hospital after visiting on a dreich, wintery afternoon I saw up in the sky what appeared to be a slow moving seagull. I was going through a hard time in life and was feeling dreich myself.  I then realised it wasn't a seagull - it was swan struggling against the wind. It was a sight I'd never seen before and it brought me determination to keep on going, not to give up. 

So here's the question. Did some mighty, unseen power send that swan just for me? Or are there countless messages all around us waiting to be discovered like buried treasure? Perhaps it's a case of keep on searching and you will keep on finding. I'm sure Jesus' teaching about knocking on the door involves a continual knocking and a continual opening.

24th June

This morning was a lovely sunny day in Kirkcudbright. I've noticed that the seagulls often sit on chimney pots in pairs where they complain about the injustices they've encountered and then have a laugh together.

I have not at any time wondered 'why me?' There seems to be no rhyme nor reason to this type of cancer. It's part of the chances and fates of life that everyone lives under. That I am in the top 5% of the wealthiest humans that have ever lived has meant first class medical care and treatment.

C. S. Lewis once spoke with a new intake of young students at the start of the 2nd World War. Everyone assumed it would be as dreadful as the 1st War and these young men and woman expected to be called up. They were scared and Lewis wanted to encourage and strengthen them. He pointed out that life for everyone is a constant struggle against adversity; that even when we look at our best days trouble was never far behind. So do not worry about the future - be glad for today and do your best now. It's all in Jesus' teachings and promises - 'give us this day our daily bread', 'do not worry about tomorrow', 'come to me and I will give you rest'.

Call upon the name of the Lord Jesus morning, noon and night'. That is what I am going to try to do. Today and the next day and every day.

25th June

This evening as I was looking out from an upstairs window I saw our hedgehog trotting down the garden path closely followed by our cat Poppy. She will have never encountered a hedgehog before there being none in the three acre grounds at Colvend. Goodness knows what she thought of it. I expect that throughout history cats have never known what to make of hedgehogs while the hedgehogs ignored the cats.

I've now been given a date for the chemotherapy - Friday 3rd July. Letters are coming in almost daily about appointments, treatments, and warnings to self isolate. It's all becoming more real and less vague.

I have told just about everyone in my life about it - some going back many years. My eldest brother has always been there for nearly sixty five years. My other brothers for sixty three and sixty years. I have often said that younger siblings cannot help but look up to their older brothers and sisters simply because they have always been there. My two oldest friends James and Iain have been there for fifty six years. We've been a threesome for a long time. I have two other lovely friends going back forty five years and more - Sue and Fiona. I think we have all reached the stage when there is no one left of our parents generation.

The promise of the Lord Jesus that has been lingering in my mind and heart for a few days now is from Luke 12 : 32 -

'Fear not, little flock,

for it is your Father’s good pleasure

to give you the kingdom.'

26th June

Yesterday evening there was a beautiful sunset over Kirkcudbright followed by a long storm of thunder and lightening and torrential rain in the early morning.

A letter came from a lady in the congregation wishing me well and sharing with me some of her own burdens so I sat at my desk and wrote her a reply. When I realised that she lived just down the road I walked down and delivered it by hand. I will look forward to the day I ring her bell and sit down with her. We'll have a lot to talk about.

Letters from various health groups are coming in daily warning that I am in the 'high risk' group. But there are also cards and messages from friends old and new and I am trying to reply to them all. 

The passing of time has been very much on mind. It is forty years since I left Edinburgh to begin the journey into ministry. My few years in Aberdeen seem a life time away and yet the changes I've seen in the church are not a surprise. Back then there was the odd voice crying in the wilderness that the Kirk was facing storms, that now was the time to change.

Thirty years ago this morning I became a father. My dear Peter was born and my deepest prayer for him is that he will find spiritual treasures. He has a beautiful wife in Alyssa and Catherine and I have a lovely daughter-in-law. No parent could ask for more - she has brought sunshine into all our lives.

Yesterday is gone, tomorrow will come in it's own time and today is the day to be grateful for; the treasures we have no thieves can take; I am to seek the Presence and Kingdom of the Lord every day and not worry about tomorrow. He will give me everything I need.

28 June

News about my illness is travelling far and wide. I'm receiving calls, letters and cards from old friends I haven't seen for many years. Their kindness means a lot. I am glad that good days from the past are still valued.

In our online service this morning we had 57 households logging in including folk from my first congregation in Dalmuir; it was lovely to see people I used to worship and work with thirty years ago. The ties that can bind followers of Jesus together can be very strong and deep - there really are invisible cords that bind us together and even when you think they might be broken they can reappear when they need to. 

I heard this morning that when the new Pope met with Christian leaders from churches around the world visiting him for the first time in Rome he took them all aback when he asked them to pray for him as he takes up the mantle of being head of the Roman Catholic Church. They all thought that the Pope would pray for them instead he told them he needed their prayers. He came over as Christian who needs help from others to fulfil his duty. 

It is so important that we find that we are brothers and sisters together and that it is the Lord Jesus, and he alone, who can bind us together.

Do look up Sam Robson on YouTube. He sings hymns and gospel songs and we closed this morning's service with him singing O Happy Day.

1st July

Three phone calls today from various medical and support services. One asked if I had a social worker. It sometimes feels that I am sliding down the path from fit and healthy to decrepit and dependant or maybe it should be from young to not young anymore. All told things are creeping up.

Today I joined up with folk from the Community of Aidan and Hilda. It's over twenty years since I made my Long Voyage vows inside the ruins of the chapel on St. Cuthbert's Isle, Holy Island. It is a dispersed community of Christians drawing inspiration from the Celtic Church. I make mention of it elsewhere.

2 July

I leave Kirkcudbright tomorrow morning at six o'clock to go up for my first treatment of chemotherapy in Edinburgh. I received a lovely email from some folk with whom I was in a small Christian house church for over eight years. We still keep in touch, those of us who are left. It was a lovely fellowship group - good peace among us, true harmony and togetherness - we were a real Christian family. Those days do not disappear. Where there has been a lasting and true commitment over time a real Christian fellowship grows and lasts. But it takes a great deal of personal commitment - no giving up; no looking for something better; being glad what we have and being true to one another. This is the Way of the Lord Jesus. He gives us the opportunity to do what he ask us to do - 'love one another as I have loved you'.

I heard recently that the New Testament uses only three nouns when describing the nature of God - Love, Life and Light. It would do any of us a great deal of good to understand that in the Lord Jesus there was a new revelation; everything changed when he came into the world, walked through it and blessed it. And what changed above all was how his disciples imagined what God was like.

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