Jenni Lutton Pack reveals how her relationship with Jesus became real to her through her husband’s illness.
I was born into a church-going family. My three younger brothers and I had it instilled into us that keeping the 10 Commandments was the aim, and going to church every Sunday was mandatory. I knew Jesus loved me, even though I was a sinner.
I always knew God was there. I believed he existed, but I knew there was more to it than that. I knew going to church didn’t make me a Christian, nor would I gain salvation by doing good works. By the time I was an adult, if I was asked if I was a Christian, I replied, “Well, obviously, I’m not doing a real good job if you have to ask me.”
I felt the church upheld an 11th Commandment.
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I did all the ‘right’ things. I stayed in a church hostel for student women when I went to uni and teacher’s college. By the time I got my first teaching appointment at a high school in a coastal Queensland city, I was engaged to one of the boys from the equivalent church hostel for males.
I helped with the Interschool Christian Fellowship, taught Sunday school in a nearby suburban Methodist church, and was involved in the ladies fellowship after we were married, until our first child was born and we moved cities for my husband’s promotion.
We had three children by the time our marriage broke down and we divorced. This was a challenge because I felt the church upheld an 11th Commandment – Thou shalt not divorce!
When I went to visit the couple we’d travelled to New Zealand with soon after we were married, I found they’d separated a few months after we had. We’d all met as uni students, staying at the same church hostels. They had a daughter by the time they separated.
There had never been anything between Peter and me previously; but we soon found great companionship, which developed into a loving, caring relationship, and then to marriage and a child together.
Other people I’d known for longer would say to console me, “We’ll pray for a pain-free 1990.”
We had a very full couple of years. Peter was one of the founding members of the Capricornia Bushwalkers Club, and we continued to go bushwalking, even with a baby as well as the four older children.
Then when our son was about 18 months old, Peter got ‘classic’ appendicitis. When he came out of the operation, the doctors said there was no appendix, just an abscess which had formed after it had burst.
During one of Peter’s many hospitalisations, the mother of one of the boys in my daughter’s class, who I barely knew, came over to me and said, “I’m so sorry to hear your husband is so sick. Would you like me to ask the Sisters of Mercy to pray for him?” Her faith really struck me, and I accepted the offer, though I wasn’t sure about having Catholics praying when I’d been brought up in a Protestant Church. Other people I’d known for longer would say to console me, “We’ll pray for a pain-free 1990.”
I realised those prayers had been answered in the only way possible.
I knew God loved me, but I’d never had it tested before. When Peter’s condition dramatically deteriorated one Sunday morning, only a couple of weeks after returning from six weeks of radiation in Brisbane, he was taken for emergency X-rays in a Christian hospital.
While in the waiting room on my own, I picked up a brochure, “Turning Pain into Gain”. After reading some amazing testimonies, these words leapt out at me: “Any pain can be turned into gain when we are willing to thank God for it. As God’s word says,’ Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.’ (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)”
Those X-rays revealed that there was cancer throughout Peter’s whole abdomen. Maybe it was that Scripture, but I came to terms with the fact that we’re all here just for a short time in the course of eternity and that this was about eternity.
So when Peter died on the 31st of December 1989, I realised those prayers had been answered in the only way possible – the only way Peter was going to get a pain-free 1990.
I’d known God loved me, but I had to feel it through another human being before it was real.
I had an overwhelming feeling that God was real, and I found a joy in knowing that Peter didn’t have to suffer any more. I knew it was better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. I’d experienced oneness with a fellow human being, and it brought me closer to God. I’d known God loved me, but I had to feel it through another human being before it was real.
A week after Peter died, one of my grandmother’s friends told me her mum was widowed after five years of marriage, left with three children to raise on her own, but she always had a smile on her face. She said she’d had more happiness in five years than most people experience in a lifetime. I realised that’s what I’d had with Peter. We’d had five years together, and I felt that whatever happened, from there on, nothing could take away the memories and the love we’d shared.
There was a huge black hole in my life, but because of what I had experienced, I knew God was right there. He knew what I needed. He was real and I could thank him for those five years. I could thank him for the fact that I had my children and that I had a career that I could go back to.
When I needed help, God knew, and it was there!
I had people I barely knew offering to bring me meals, and I found myself accepting. Because I lived on acreage, I didn’t have next-door neighbours to talk to. I’d never asked anybody for help because I’d never needed it, and suddenly, when I needed help, God knew, and it was there! I just felt like it was ‘God with skin on’.
Christ became real to me during that time of darkness, and he keeps doing ‘mysterious’ things that I never dared to ask for or imagine were possible. Growing closer to Jesus as he made himself real to me has led me to worry less about ‘keeping rules’ and, instead, desiring to be ‘God with skin on’ to those God puts in my path through chaplaincy, Crossroads and Kairos Prison Ministry, in my church’s Op Shop and English Classes for migrants. He’s grown me through the experiences.
It reminds me of Isaiah 64:8. The Lord is our Father. We are the clay, and he is the potter. I’m being moulded to become more like him. I can praise him in all circumstances because he knows the beginning from the end.