Between us there was significant distance in age and geography. We were seldom in the same place at the same time. In fact as a family we were only all together on, what could be no more than, three individual occasions. So the times when we were together and able to chat were limited. Often these were times when there was other issues and preoccupations or when Iain was distracted with various concerns he couldn’t share. But in those special moments, when there was space and we had time to chat and to talk about what really mattered, a precious bond was forged and these times remain as gems in my memory. It was like the girl at school who hardly ever smiled but when she did, you know it was worth waiting around for. One of those was sitting outside in the picnic bench that Iain had rescued from the tip and rebuilt on a small plateau at the front of the house in Port Glasgow. It was a warm afternoon in the early summer, drinking homemade lemonade , looking down on the Clyde far below and across to Dumbarton and the Kilpatrick hills.
I was telling him about the recent death of a young women in our church that had deeply affected me, as it had all of our little congregation in the east end of Glasgow . She had struggled with cancer for some time and we had prayed seriously, earnestly and long, believing that God could and would heal her. She was so young. It didn’t seem right or fair. Her husband was bereft and we shared something of that grief. How could you make sense of this? Ian responded in words that might at first seem harsh and uncaring but were anything but.
“..ah but you can’t tell God what to do….He is lord….He has his plan and we may never know the reason as long as we live…But it will be for good…It will be for good”.
And he told me about Herbert Dickson. Herbert Dickson came from Port Glasgow and spent his life as a missionary in Nigeria, to the people who lived in the Que Iboe valley, in what was then known as the Que Iboe fellowship (now Mission Africa). It was founded in the late 19c by Samuel Bill who responded to a request from local chiefs in the delta region for a missionary to work with them. Herbert had spoken at our small bible study group on one occasion and I had read his biography “All the days of my life”. He was highly respected and greatly thought of for his work and commitment to the Que Iboe people for almost all his life. When he was old and quite ill he returned to Scotland confined to hospital and clearly dying. He was tired and weary and longed to escape. He prayed that God would take him and let him die. He had served his lord all his life, now he wanted to die, an absolutely reasonable request, by any standards. But, to his dismay and frustration, that prayer wasn’t answered and he continued to live and suffer. His frustration turned to anger which almost consumed him until one morning, reading his bible, he was aware of God speaking “Herbert… you know that 45 years ago you gave your life to me and said that I was the lord…that I was the Lord of your life… and I still am …and the time when you will end this life is not actually your business …it is mine.” It was a moment of revelation when the blinds were lifted. His frustration and anger dissolved and he accepted whatever it was, it was in the hands of his Lord and it would be for the best.
I was with Iain briefly the night before he died. He was distant and distressed and I was helpless. When I left my final word was “see you later”. It seemed almost flippant at the time, but I meant it. I still do and I can’t wait till later.