God is Our Shield – A reflection from Janis Iles.

The following was delivered to the Kings Baptist Grammar School staff in January 2015 by Robert’s wife, Janis:

‘Standing up here nervously, I feel a little like a student endeavouring to answer the question correctly, so I hope this is okay. You may feel like Robert felt whenever he had a visiting preacher in his pulpit – a little nervous.

God is my shield and my very great reward. The love of God is greater far than tongue can tell.  Think of the unseen not the seen.

These are all things that I have learned.

Sometimes life sucks, and if you have a really great life, with nothing much going wrong, then that’s really good, but we all know that being a Christian is not an insurance policy for everything going fine. Still, we kind of expect it to, don’t we?

In 1979, Robert and I moved to Waikerie, in rural South Australia, to his first parish as a Uniting Church minister with our beautiful three year old Susannah. She was the absolute light of our lives; the first grandchild on both sides; intelligent, perfect, and so loved.    If you have a three year old in your lives you know how gorgeous they are.

One day I said to her, “We’re going out Susi, put your shoes on.”  She said, “I’m three and three girls can’t put their shoes on.”

One day, while we were not giving her our full attention, Susannah died through epiglottis, a deadly viral throat condition, something like diphtheria. There we were, two inexperienced parents not using our heads, taking our queues from a very mediocre doctor.

Shock, disbelief. Absolute devastation.

What I am most sorry about is that Susannah did not have a life.  She did not go to kindy, or school, play netball, ride a bike, learn to read the wonderful adventures and knowledge in books, wear lipstick, fall in love, see the Eiffel Tower, have a wedding day and know all the beautiful people there are in the world.

Then in 2008, my husband Robert, after a sort of non-stop headache, was diagnosed with a glioblastoma –  a brain tumour of which only 1% of sufferers live over a year.  It was text book.

After two craniotomies, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and deterioration until he was a skeleton, he died exactly a year later.

We did not lose an ordinary man. He was a charismatic ratbag, saved by grace, with an insatiable love for life, the drums, weight-lifting, squash, learning, reading, and an intense and gracious desire to bring people into the faith. He was loved by everyone, except maybe some of the hierarchy in the Uniting Church.

When he was sick, I could see this unbelief in the eyes of everyone who knew him that it was he who had this. Robert never smoked, read every book there was on good health, exercised every day, and ate health-food that my brother called ‘weeds’ all the time. Then there was the fervent prayer embarked upon for healing that did not come to fruition.

In our family he was the lynch-pin. I relied on him, the children relied on him, his ninety year old mother, his and my single sisters relied on him, as well as an assortment of strange and wonderful unrelated needy people.

As I endlessly went through the events and my response to it all, and I think about how the the love of God fits into it, and what my beliefs as a Christian are in the context of what I have been through (although a work in progress), I have sort of come to the realisation:

What happens to us on earth is separate from who God is and how he loves us.

I did think about tossing in my faith, except I did not blame God for what happened.

To throw away that faith, planted and developed from a child, and to have nothing was not an option. Besides, the family of God, those people who loved Rob too, were hurting as well.  Knowing the Bible and all those references to the riches of heaven, straight from the mouth of Jesus and the many promises that God is with us and is our shield and protector, all bring hope and a future.

I have been listening to a pod cast by Rick Warren, who lost his son to suicide, and a lot of the things he says have been my journey. To surround oneself with God’s people, that God is sad too when bad things happen, that you can help other people in the same situation, and that good comes out of bad.

I can see all along that God was in what happened even before it happened. Rob could have taken parishes all over Australia, but he knew how I loved my job and he stayed here.  One position was at Victor Harbor, and it was astonishing that it didn’t work out.  Also, I believe God has had his hand on my other two children, Julia and Callum, in their personal and work lives, and in the nurturing of their faith.

As part of God’s people, some of you have been on this journey with me.  The other day a friend said to me, “Do you think you might find someone else one day Janis?” “Well,” I said, “He would have to be a tall, like eighties music and not classical, be an evangelical Christian but not Pentecostal, or fundamentalist, not poor and be a Liberal voter.’

Janis, he said, “You are just describing Robert Iles!”

In 2009, the year Robert died, a boy in my year four class wrote on a calico bear I was given, “Think of the positives”.  So a few of my teacher friends began looking out for them, and we compiled quite a list: I get the bed to myself, can have a messy bedroom, go shopping and buy anything I want and no one knows, I don’t have to cook and I get to control the remote. I could go on.

It is amazing how resilient one can be, but sometimes I crash. My son has been onto me for five and half years to visit a Christian counsellor;  I went last Wednesday.  From the moment I stepped into the room to when I left, I bawled my eyes out.  I am sure she thinks I am an absolute wreck and will be going to her so long she will be able to put in a swimming pool with the money!

So in your journey this year, maybe you will have the chance to grow in empathy towards others, or maybe when something goes wrong in your life you will have the faith in God to get through, knowing that God loves you, and is your shield and very great reward.  Maybe you will think of the unseen and the treasure in heaven, rather than endemic desire these days to have fun, in its many shapes and sizes.

Maybe you will think about where God wants you to be and how he wants to use you, and that when your boat is rocked, which it will be, to be secure in your firm foundation, your shield, and to be a recipient of all the promises inherent in his word.’