HOPE OVERFLOWING

stories of grace, hope and life beyond cancer


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Everybody needs a cheerleader

It has been two weeks since the October Yay Mail! Project ended and I’m really missing it. I was so humbled and touched that about 50 of you lovely people chose to take part in it with me which means that around 1500 pieces of lovely post were sent and received in October. What a joy!

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I’ve been thinking a bit about why I enjoyed the project so much and here’s what I came up with:

1. I loved how easy it was to bless and bring joy

Writing someone a card is such an easy thing to do. Probably the most time consuming bit is finding their address (I really do need to get an address book!) But despite it being easy for me to do the responses I have received from people I sent a card to have been truly humbling. So many people have gotten in touch to say what a timely encouragement receiving the card was.

I think the world would be a far better place if we all had our own personal cheerleaders (skimpy outfit not necessarily required) but sadly most people don’t have many people regularly saying, “Keep going! You’re doing a great job!” So to be able to be that for people even in just a small way is a wonderful thing and a great joy.

2. Encouragement feels great both to give and to receive

I genuinely think that everyone I wrote a card to is special and has something wonderful to offer the world and it felt great to tell them so. We can be so British about both giving and receiving encouragement and feel so awkward about it when there is really nothing to feel awkward about as encouragement is something that builds up both the giver and the recipient.

As I was typing that last paragraph my phone pinged and I received a text message from a WhatsApp pen friend that I have (slightly long story but we met briefly over the summer and I thought she was great but we don’t live near to one another so we WhatsApp one another and pray for one another – what a joy). The sole purpose of this morning’s message was to encourage me in whatever I was doing today and it has totally lifted my soul! It was so lovely to receive and has brightened my morning. Encouragement always feels great!

3. It’s so much fun to do fun projects that bless others together

I loved it so much that so many of you joined in with me on this project. As the month passed I loved chatting with those of you that I knew about how it was going and sharing cool encouraging stories. I think that there is something powerful about the community aspect of choosing to do something positive together. We could encourage one another to keep going and I found it helpful to know others were doing the project to keep me on track with it (although I wasn’t as organised as I would have liked and did have to write 9 cards on the 31st in order to finish on time – see the below picture!)

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I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds the world a bit of a scary place to be right now. There is political and civil turmoil in so many places and it feels like a spirit of division in so many communities. There is also a lot of fear. Fear of the future, fear of people who are different, fear of politicians, fear that our peaceful lives will somehow be interrupted. It is easy to feel overwhelmed and completely powerless to be any sort of positive change in our communities and it is so easy to feel afraid.

But there are many things we can do to break this spirit of division and fear, and to foster stronger senses of community and love around us. We can be kind. We can make an effort to get to know our neighbours/colleagues/other mums on the school gate/dog owners in the park. We can greet people and smile at them. We can look for opportunities to be encouraging and to speak life to others and call out the gold that we see in them. We can do be the blessing in our face-to-face and online lives. I’m sure you can think of other ways too.

I was listening to a talk by Nicky Gumbel on Sunday and he said something which really stuck with me. He said, “Encouragement is like verbal sunshine. Just like sunshine warms the body, encouragement warms the soul.”

That is who I want to be. I want my words to build up and not tear down. I want to only speak verbal sunshine. I want to be that cheerleader that everybody needs. I want to fight fear with love.

There is a great passage in the Bible that talks about love and one of the verses (1 John 4:18) says: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” Love drives out fear. Love is stronger than fear. As we show love and compassion and kindness we will break down walls, strengthen our communities and that is a wonderful place to start.

Whether you were able to participate in it or not I hope that the October Yay Mail! Project has encouraged you to be the cheerleader that everybody needs and to seek to live a life of intentional love and encouragement.

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(PS. I’m hoping to put together a few thoughts about things to do for advent which you may like to join in with. Please do drop me a line if you have any awesome advent ideas that are a tradition in your home that I could include on my enjoying advent post. X)

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Why we have moved house AGAIN: choosing to participate in the adventure!

Recently I have been working through a course called Storyline with a group of friends and together we’ve been looking at the story of our lives so far, the ups and downs, the themes as well as looking for the redemptive perspective – the gold that comes as a result of the bad stuff in our lives.

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(Storyline ladies on a recent night out)

It has been really interesting to reflect on what has happened but also to think about how do I live a great story going forward? How are the choices that I make building into this story or am I always choosing the safe option, the easy way out? Would my choices and my life make the most boring book known to mankind or would there be some good stuff in there; some adventure, some conflict that was overcome, some struggle, some fantastic relationships?

 This slight shift in the way I think about my own life and decision making has really helped me to deal with some of the huge change and upheaval that have come in the past few months and as I have sought to live a great story courage has risen within me in a surprising way. 

When I wrote my last blog post 5 months ago (I really don’t know how it has been five months already!!) I wrote about feeling a call to be brave. It was such a strong sense at the time and the message was everywhere I looked. But when I wrote that blog post I honestly had no idea what that would look like at that point in my life. What would being brave at home with two little people actually mean as my life didn’t contain anything that required much bravery at all?

A week or two after I wrote the post, an opportunity came up for Joel workwise which would mean a new everything… New job for him, new house, new school for Jonty, new community. Not only this but this opportunity also meant that all of this would be temporary and that we would most likely be moving again next summer (which we were always due to be doing anyway). So it meant an additional house move, an additional new community, an additional mountain of hassle and admin tasks for me! It was quite honestly not that appealing a prospect!

This was not what I had in mind when I was feeling that I needed to be brave! I was thinking something a lot more low key and involving a lot less paperwork and time spent on hold sorting out bills and direct debits (and I now seriously wish the council would get something other than Vivaldi’s Four Seasons as their hold music!!) 

But this was an amazing opportunity and very quickly we realised we had a choice to make: Do we participate in the adventure or don’t we? Do we move with where we feel God calling us, embracing all the upheaval that it entails or do we stay put where it is safe and comfortable? 

At the end of the day, I don’t think that it was really all that much of a difficult decision because I don’t want to miss it. I don’t want to miss out on the adventure or the blessing or the calling because I was afraid or because I couldn’t be bothered with the hassle.  

I want to be part of the adventure. I want to live a great story with God!  

So, I put my big girl pants, got out my book of lists on and we just got on with it!

We moved just over a month ago, from the suburbs of London back in towards the city, which seems to surprise everyone we meet. We always get the same response, “Oh! Why have you done that? Everyone at your stage of life always moves out, not in!” But we have moved in because it felt like the right thing to do, because it was all part of the adventure!

We have been blessed with a wonderful house in a great spot (and I discovered recently that it is five doors down from the house where my great-great grandparents lived over 100 years ago! How strange!). Last week Jonty got into an amazing local school and he started Reception there on Friday. Joel began his new job on Monday and so the new season has well and truly begun.

(First day of school fun)

So, the story continues. The adventure continues and I am excited to be part of it!

It is my prayer for myself and for us all that we never get stuck, that we never pass the adventure over because we are afraid or we think it will be too hard or we can’t be bothered with the hassle of change.

Let’s embrace the adventure and may our lives always tell a great story! 


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Ordinary Joy

This morning whilst I was scrolling through Instagram and listening to the ‘We will not be shaken’ album by Bethel, I saw this image, a lovely painting of a Brene Brown quotation:

Every day joy

It reads:

Joy comes to us in ordinary moments. We risk missing out when we get too busy chasing the extraordinary.

I thought it was beautiful. And so true.

I loved the caption that the lady that did the painting, Brianna Showalter, posted below… In case you can’t read it in the photo it says:

Sticky fingers. Loud sibling play. Countless dirty dishes. Rain boots scattered by the front door. Ordinary moments that represent the joy I can choose to grab. What are your ordinary joy moments?

What a great question!

Sometimes I think that we think that we can only know full joy when things are perfect, when they are extraordinary, like on an amazing holiday or after the perfect Christmas meal. But I have found that this is such a lie and that this belief steals so much from us. Joy is so much easier to find than those few moments when all the planets align and everything seems just perfect.

Rather, the potential for joy is all around.

For me it is in deep breaths of fresh air, watching the leaves swirl around in this very gusty weather. It is in the quiet of a solitary place but also in the laughter of friends and the chatter of my son. It is everywhere.

A friend posted this photo on Instagram this morning.

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(Photo credit: Hannah Carter)

It is of the River Thames, just down the road from where we live, and it was taken on her walk to work this morning. I love this view and walking over the Thames on a crisp morning is one of my favourite things and is a real point of exhale for me. When I do this walk and see this view it is almost as if I can feel my soul rise and my heart sing. It is a very ordinary moment, but nevertheless a moment of deep joy.

However often with everyday joy, we can miss it. As easy as it is to find, it is perhaps just as easy to miss.

Sometimes we just choose not to see it. Sometimes we become so overwhelmed and life seems so heavy that finding any sort of joy in our day seems an impossibility. The pain facing the world looms too large or we are facing what seem like insurmountable obstacles that finding simple joy seems at best frivolous and at worst just plain wrong.

But yet it is still there to be grabbed. Recognising the ordinary joys of the everyday can coexist comfortably with the larger struggles that we may face and recognising these joys is one way of fighting darkness and of not allowing it to win. It is a great way of keeping perspective and of making a place for a thankful heart.

At the moment, I am just a few weeks away from my baby’s due date. Increasingly I am finding my mind turning to what happened when I had my son, Jonty almost four years ago… Let’s just say that the labour and birth didn’t go very well and I have recently come to the realisation that this experience was actually quite traumatic and as a result I have found myself becoming quite fearful about what could happen this time round.

This has been a real struggle over the past few weeks as I have been aware of some of the joy of this miraculous pregnancy being stolen and replaced by the fear of labour. I have found that recognising and enjoying the everyday joys of this pregnancy is one effective way (there are others too!) that I can fight this fear and so I am doing that consciously and I am choosing joy over fear.

Because I don’t want to allow this to happen. I don’t want my ordinary, everyday joy to be robbed by fear. I want to experience every last drop of joy that I can know.

Because I know that not just choosing joy, but grabbing the ordinary, everyday joys with all that I have is the most wonderful way to live.

I hope that you find some beautiful, ordinary joy moments in your day today. I would love to hear about them!


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From fear to freedom (the story of my little ditty)

Some of you may have seen a song that I shared on YouTube earlier this year called “I choose Freedom”. It is a song that I wrote to mark my second cancerversary in April (and had great fun recording thanks to some studio time given to me for my 30th birthday by my amazing husband). It is a song that means a lot to me and I have wanted to share its story for a long time, so here goes…

One of the things that has struck me time and time again when I visit the online cancer chat groups that I am part of is how many people live in fear… Fear of the future, fear of the present, fear of recurrence… It takes many guises. Cancer has struck fear into their hearts and they just can’t shake it. I know about this first hand, as I was absolutely one of those people.

The speaker Christine Caine recently wrote about her cancer diagnosis and what she says about fear really hit home for me:

Fear cripples, immobilises and paralyses us… Fear simply shuts us down, and when we are shut down we cannot fight the good fight of faith. I had a faith battle ahead of me, and the real enemy was not cancer, but fear.

That is how I felt, crippled, immobilised, paralysed by fear. The fear of recurrence coloured my every decision and filled up so much of my headspace there was little room for hope and even less for dreams. It was a place of captivity and certainly not freedom.

One Sunday about a year ago, we were visiting the church where my husband now works. We went along to the evening service and it happened to be about healing. The sermon was about the woman who had been bleeding for many years and who came to Jesus pushing through the crowd. When she got to him, she touched the bottom of his cloak and she was instantly healed (Mark 5:25-29), It was a lovely service, but nothing particularly remarkable happened to me as I listened.

After the service the children’s worker came up to me and said, “Cath, I feel the Lord has shown me that you are like that woman. You have come to Jesus and he has healed you. Now it is time to let go of the heavy burden of fear that you are carrying.” This really spoke to my heart and she prayed for me and then we went on our way.

About two days later I realised that something had happened, that everything had changed. I realised that in that moment, on that unremarkable Sunday evening, something truly remarkable had happened. I realised that the burden of fear that I had been carrying for so long had been completely broken off me and I had been set free. I literally felt like I was no longer carrying a heavy weight, and this dark, heavy burden had been replaced by hope and joy and this completely changed my life!

It was amazing!

Since then, the fear hasn’t returned although I do still have to choose to walk in this freedom. I have to choose not to allow myself back into old thought patterns if I feel them creeping back. I choose to stand on the truth that in Christ I am free and that is truly a wonderful thing.

Here are the lyrics to the chorus of the song and a link to the YouTube clip in case you haven’t seen it. I hope you enjoy it!

And that’s where life is in the freedom of His grace
And there I find joy and rest in his embrace
And I’ve let fear go, it’s a choice that I have made
And I choose freedom, every single day.


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One year on

This time last year my world changed forever.

11 April 2012 was a warm sunny day in Cape Town. We had been having such a wonderful holiday seeing my parents with our new baby. That day I had what I thought were just more routine tests following difficulty with breast feeding… But as I had yet another ultrasound, I could tell that something wasn’t right… From the changed demeanour of the doctor, from the big dark patches on the screen. This was followed by a mammogram, which was excruciatingly painful on the side with the malignancy and then finally confirmation of a reality that I had not dared to speak.

It was cancer.

And it was in this moment that everything changed and the bottom fell out of my world. It felt like all of my hopes and dreams had been robbed from me in that instant and they had been replaced by something ugly and difficult, something unwanted, so horrible that some people won’t even say the word. Cancer. In that moment the world seemed a very dark and hopeless place and as I faced my own mortality for the very first time I was terrified.

Following my diagnosis we kicked into survival mode, and getting through each day was an achievement in itself. The months that followed were a blur of treatment and tests, countless visits to the hospital and time spent on the sofa. It was gruelling both physically (chemo in particular does nasty things to your body) as well as mentally (the battle against fear is one that I have had to fight with every ounce of strength I can muster).

But here I am. One year on. Since my diagnosis I have turned 30, had two haircuts, celebrated my baby’s first birthday, and seen my hope rebuilt. I am now beginning to dream again and that is truly wonderful.

I have learnt many things this past year. One of the things I have come to realise is just how much I want to live! And I don’t mean just survive or go through the motions every day. I want to REALLY live! I want to savour each day, take time to be quiet, to enjoy nature, my boy’s development, to pursue my dreams with reckless abandon, to sing at every opportunity, to love my husband and family fiercely, and to run after God with everything I have in me.

That is what having cancer has taught me. To really live and to seek the John 10:10 reality of the abundant life that God promises.


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No Signal

Last night Joel and I were watching TV when the heavens absolutely opened outside and it poured and poured and poured. This was some serious rain. (and it made me rather nervous for our camping trip coming up!) As the rain got particularly hard we lost signal on our TV. We were busy watching the final of a cooking competition that I had been avidly following when the signal went out… (Joel was graciously watching to keep me company as he is not a fan!) It was only when the rain subsided that we got the signal back, first just for a second or two and only the sound or the picture. But eventually the signal was restored and I could continue watching cooking to my heart’s content.

To me this is what life is like sometimes. Sometimes just when you feel you are getting to the good bit then the storms come. Sickness turns up, or a job is lost or a loved one passes away. Struggles and challenges ‘rain’ so hard that you feel like you have lost signal and you might not make it at all.

When I was first diagnosed with cancer I was absolutely terrified. I wasn’t really scared of the treatment or even of dying particularly. What I was scared of was that I wouldn’t get to see my baby grow up, that I would die and he wouldn’t have a mummy or any memories of me, and that I would leave Joel to raise him on his own. And that absolutely terrified me and broke my heart at the same time.

It felt like the rain was coming so hard that I could barely stand and signal was definitely lost. But God didn’t leave me in this place and as I have journeyed I have known His comfort and in fits and starts my ‘signal’ has been restored.

In this place I have been reminded of Isaiah 43:1-2 which says:

But now, this is what the Lord says –

he who created you, Jacob,

he who formed you, Israel:

‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;

I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

When you pass through the waters,

I will be with you;

and when you pass through the rivers,

they will not sweep over you.

When you walk through the fire,

you will not be burned;

the flames will not set you ablaze.

For me, this is such a comfort. I know that in everything, through this rainy season, not only am I known to and loved by God but so is my family. He knows what I, my husband and our son need and he will not leave us as we pass through this water and I look forward to the day when my ‘signal’ is restored in full.