HOPE OVERFLOWING

stories of grace, hope and life beyond cancer


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Humbled by extravagant love

Since baby Aaron arrived 8 weeks ago I have been totally overwhelmed by the kindness and outpouring of love that we have experienced. This kindness has taken many forms: well wishes on Facebook, cards and gifts in the post, two weeks of delicious meals made and given with love by friends from church, my mom who has cleaned our house every week (you’re amazing Mom!!), and friends who’ve had Jonty for playdates so I could rest.

In this new season I have been particularly humbled by the kindness and love shown to us by those who for whom it has cost something, and for whom showing that kindness and that love has been a sacrifice – the sleep-deprived new mums that lovingly cooked for us, the well wishes from cancer friends for whom a new baby is not currently, and may never be, an option, the amazingly generous gifts we have received (one of which was so extraordinary that I was totally overwhelmed and almost burst into tears in the middle of John Lewis on receiving it). The list goes on…

These kindnesses have been humbling and have meant so much.

The generosity of spirit that we have witnessed has been particularly touching as I know that sometimes celebrating with others can be hard. When we don’t get a job we want and a friend does, when another friend gets married and we remain single, when we are still unwell and others are off having adventures we could only dream of, celebrating others’ joy costs us something. In those times rejoicing with another means that we put our pain aside and turn our eyes away from ourselves to focus on and celebrate with our friends and that can hurt. A lot.

We can know in our head that joining in the celebration is a wonderful gift to give our friends but it can also absolutely feel like the hardest thing in the world to do.

I remember well the years after Jonty was born when the deepest desire of my heart was for another baby but it was categorically not a possibility for us. It was easy to celebrate friends’ new arrivals when Jonty was little but as he grew and a new baby remained impossibility for us, each new pregnancy announcement was a little more challenging to celebrate. It cost me something and sometimes it was easier than others. Sometimes I was better at joining in than others.

A few days ago I saw this quote on Instagram from author Bob Goff and it really struck me.

Bob Goff quote

In this season so many of the kindnesses given through sacrifice have felt like real acts of extravagant love and for so many of the givers I know that, even at a subconscious level, these acts have been their faith in action. They have been declarations of the goodness and kindness of God.

Romans 12:15 says rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those that mourn. These last few weeks and months have been such a wonderful season of rejoicing for us as we have seen a dream fulfilled and I am so grateful to have been joined in my rejoicing by so many others. But our season of rejoicing was preceded by a season of mourning, and I am equally thankful for those who joined us in that season and who didn’t shy away from it, but who were present with us through it.

Sometimes we feel like we don’t know how to rejoice with those who rejoice or to mourn with those who mourn, and so we don’t. We feel awkward, or sad about our own pain or guilty about our own happiness and so we steer clear. But, even though it can be hard, I encourage you to give it a go anyway. Even if it is messy or you feel awkward or you are sure you’ve said the wrong thing, offer extravagant love in the best way you know how.

When we choose to offer extravagant love to one another in either a time of rejoicing or a time of mourning, it is a powerful thing. It is a declaration of faith and in offering this love we make earth a little more like heaven. In offering extravagant love we have the opportunity reflect Jesus and the goodness and kindness of our Father God and his extravagant love for us.

That is powerful. Even if it is messy and awkward, it is important and it is something that I want to be part of!

Thank you to all of you who have shown us this extravagant love in both our seasons of rejoicing and of mourning. I am so humbled and so grateful.

Aaron 16.02.2015

(A snap from today. I hope it makes you smile.)

 

 

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Invisible scars (and tattoos)

As a result of my cancer treatment I now have five scars and three tattoos (of dots – yes I am THAT rock and roll!) The most amusing scar is the whole way round my belly button as my belly button was removed and repositioned during my last surgery. (I know!?!) The largest scar runs across my tummy from one hip right to the other. It is huge but to most people it is invisible as they will never see it (my bikini wearing days are well and truly over!)

When I was going through my cancer treatment I steered clear of the “cancer world”. I didn’t attend any support groups, I didn’t participate in any online forums and I didn’t read anything on the internet about research/what to eat or not to eat/survival stats. I found it all far to overwhelming and I couldn’t cope with any of that stuff at all.

It is only since finishing my treatment that I have allowed myself into this world. I have tried to stay on the positive side of things (the internet is a bit of a minefield with this stuff) and late last year I started volunteering for a breast cancer awareness charity. It was through this charity that I met up with a group of young women all of whom had a breast cancer (some even metastatic) diagnosis. This was my first ever meeting and time spent socially with a large group of others in similar positions as me and I was very nervous.

As I chatted with them my heart broke at each story. I welled up a fair few times during the day and at the end of the day, although it had been fun and lovely I was emotionally spent and really, really sad. I was so sad that each of these vibrant, amazing young women were walking such a hard path, a path that they hadn’t chosen, and a path that changes everything.

And that’s the thing… A cancer diagnosis does change everything… It changed my body, my plans for the future, for children, my career… Heck, even my holidays!

And even two years down the line (and for the rest of my life), I have to live with some of those changes (you will be pleased to know my holiday plans are now back to normal). And those are the real hidden scars of this trauma.

Like my physical scars, my emotional scars have undergone huge healing, both through God’s grace and the passing of time, but as my physical scars remain weak and numb, I have areas of emotional weakness and numbness that can’t be easily seen and that endure.

And the thing is… I know we all do! We have all experienced pain and carry invisible scars caused by these hurts and traumas, perhaps a long time ago, perhaps recently. And these scars can shape our behaviour, how we respond to situations and how we view the world in often quite profound ways, both positive and negative.

Despite this, we don’t always recognise these invisible scars, these weaknesses and hurts in others, and so we don’t always extend the grace that we would like to receive but are rather too quick to get angry or be offended by others.

This is a real challenge to me. I don’t want to ever become so obsessed with my own hurts and scars that I can’t see and empathise with others in theirs. I always want to remain soft-hearted, to acknowledge others’ pain, and to reflect the character of God described in Psalm 145:8.

To be kind.

To extend grace.

Always.

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Love it!

I have been thinking a lot about love over the past few days and in particular, how we show one another love and how we receive the love that others show us. I have been blessed with lots of love in my life. I am actually overwhelmed by all the love that is around me and I feel I am the luckiest girl ever for it!!

I have also realised how deep some of the love that is in me runs. I love my husband and my son so much that it almost hurts. I would do anything for them and I feel so blessed that they have been entrusted to me and that they are in my life. I know that the feeling is mutual too! But this love is, I suppose, obvious. One is supposed to love one’s family!

The love that has caught me almost by surprise is the love that has been shown to me by my friends. In this difficult season I have been blown away by the many different ways that friends have shown us love… They truly cover the full spectrum of Gary Chapman’s five love languages… The hugs, word of affirmation and love (which I find particularly difficult – I so admire people who can tell others that they love them with ease), the countless prayers by the hundreds of prayer warriors, the time that friends have spent with us, time spent looking after little man whilst we’ve been in hospital, the meals that friends have made, the cards and gifts that we have received and the list goes on…

This love, I have learnt, is God’s church in action. We have experienced community in a way that we have never known before and it is a beautiful thing and one for which I am very thankful.

In this time of weakness I have also learnt to receive the love that friends show. In our Western culture it is often difficult to receive love as this requires us to acknowledge that we are not self-sufficient and that perhaps we need other to help us… For many of us, myself included, this can be hard… But from my experience, learning to receive love is a lesson definitely worth learning! It is such a blessing!!

For me the love that we have been shown has been, and continues to be, an out working of Jesus’ command to love one another as He loved us (John 13:34-35) and it has certainly inspired me to show others the same kind of love with as much joyous abandon as we have been shown it!


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Olympics

Last Friday was a big day for me! It has been a hotly anticipated date for many in the UK with the start of the Olympics but for me it was so much more. Last Friday I completed my chemotherapy!!! Hooray! I could hardly contain myself on Friday morning I was so excited. A friend texted me to say that she prayed my day would be filled with strange joy and it really was! I wasn’t worried about the side effects or going to the hospital or any of it because I knew that a milestone was being passed and a chapter was closing that I wouldn’t miss at all!

Since Friday I have watched far too much Olympics (we have 17 dedicated Olympics channels on our TV! A few too many I think as there is only so much fencing one can watch) and have been frustratedly waiting to feel better so that things can really get going again!

You might think that through this process I would have learnt patience and developed the grace to serenely accept what was happening in my body, but the truth is I haven’t. I still fight tooth and nail against being bedridden and regularly push myself too hard to get up and running quickly. Although I know pushing myself whilst poorly is counterproductive, I still do it as one of my greatest longings is for a normal life. Well, maybe that’s not strictly true, not really a normal life, but rather a life with normal things in it, like cooking dinner and doing the laundry! I long for a life where I can just be myself without anything holding me back and I get so frustrated when I feel like I am just spinning my wheels, wasting time trying to feel better.

This is a real challenge to me as despite feeling like this I don’t want to look back on this season and all that I can say about it is that I spent the whole time waiting for it to be over, to move onto the next thing, for a brighter day. I want to be fully present in each day, to be seeking God and remembering all the good things he has given me. As I seek to do this I am both challenged and encouraged by the truth of Lamentations 3:19-23 which reminds me of God’s presence with me and his mercies that are new every day.

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.


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Little man is five months

Yesterday my little boy turned five months old! The day was marked by much playing in his play gym, bouncing in his doorway bouncer and trying to get him to roll over again following his first roll on Sunday (it hasn’t happened again yet despite our best efforts!)

These last five months have undoubtedly been the most topsy turvy of my life but thinking about him and the incredible blessing that he is to us reminded me to stop and be thankful. I am so thankful for everything about him, from his fluffy hair and cheeky smile to the way he squeals with delight when you talk to him.

Often when things are tough it can be easy to let our struggles fill up our windshield and that is all that we see. I know in my own life it is easy to become overwhelmed by circumstances beyond my control that I sometimes just feel like giving up. Sometimes everything just feels too hard!

But… I know in my head and am learning in my heart that it is so important to develop a thankful heart that is able to rejoice in spite of circumstances. Having a thankful heart is not saying that one’s pain doesn’t matter or that it is somehow not important, but rather it is allowing things to remain in a healthy perspective. Pain is not all there is to life. I am still blessed. I still have plenty to be thankful for. I will not allow my own heart to be robbed of joy because of my circumstances.

I do not know what is around the corner, but right here and now I am blessed and I can be thankful.

Today, as with every other day, my little lad reminds me of how blessed I am. Happy 5/12ths for yesterday super sausage! (Here is a picture of him celebrating his 5/12th birthday! I hope it makes you smile!)