HOPE OVERFLOWING

stories of grace, hope and life beyond cancer


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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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There is always room at the table

Last week was my birthday! I turned 33. Woo hoo!! The day was mostly spent at home in quarantine as my big boy had chickenpox which we had only discovered the previous afternoon via a high fever and lone spot behind his right ear (in spite of him complaining in the morning that he had a bump on his back, which I informed him was just his spine and packed him off to nursery – oops!)

One of my birthday gifts from my sister and brother-in-law was a voucher to a local art supply shop. I was so thrilled to receive it and in the afternoon of my birthday my mum looked after the boys for a few hours so Joel and I could head into Kingston to run a few errands and of course to go and spend my art shop vouchers!!

I browsed and browsed for ages and finally settled on some watercolour brush pens (with a cartridge you fill with water and then use with paints), a set of 6 fine liners and a pad of watercolour paper.

As soon as I returned home I had buyer’s remorse about the watercolour brush pens. Were they actually any good or just an expensive gimmick? Surely a paintbrush would be as good? Should I just take them back and get something else?

The next day, I decided to give them a try and boy was I wrong! They are brilliant! I absolutely love them and I have been sitting at the dining room table doodling whatever pithy (or indeed not so pithy) quotes I can think of for the past week. What a joy!

This week as I was spending some quiet time alone I was reading a Bible story about a great banquet. After I read this story the phrase “there is always room at the table” came into my mind and so I doodled it (with one of my new fine liner pens!) in my journal.

As the week has passed and I have found myself sitting at my dining table, this phrase keeps coming into my mind… ‘there is ALWAYS room at the table’ and I have doodled it with my watercolour brush pens over and over thinking about its meaning.

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Last year I bought a 12 seater dining room table on a Facebook buying site for £10. It was the bargain of the year for me and even though it was in a pretty bad way I was so pleased with it. Over a weekend I sanded it, made a stencil then painstakingly stencilled a herringbone pattern onto it, stained it and varnished it and after it was complete I was absolutely over the moon with the results.

My table has a sort of uneven patina (as a result of the damage to the wood before I started) that I absolutely love. I love the herringbone pattern and how it looks like an inlay even though it is just paint. But most of all I love the size of the table. It is big! It can comfortably seat 12 although we have squeezed 14 round it once! The size is so wonderful because I love doing life with people around the table. There is something special about sharing a meal with others and I love welcoming people into my home. The size means that there is pretty much ALWAYS room at my table.

This got me thinking that even though practically this is the case I hope that people know that there is really ALWAYS room for them at my table. I want my table and my home to always be marked by love for others no matter who they are, by an open door and a warm welcome, and real life shared around the table. And I want my table to be a symbol for how there is ALWAYS room for us at God’s table, no matter who we are, whether we think we are worthy or not, he welcomes us in just as we are. He longs to do life with us and hang out round his table and that is a truly amazing thing.

Come and visit me sometime! I’d love to show you my dining room table and do life with you round it. There is always room.


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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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Hey baby!

Five weeks ago our lives once again changed forever as we welcomed another precious little boy into our family. Little Aaron Gabriel, our Christmas miracle baby arrived on 21st December! What an amazing gift he is to us!

To be honest, that he was a boy came as something of a surprise as I was absolutely convinced we were having a girl. I was so convinced that we were having a girl that I wasn’t the least bit fussed that we didn’t have any boys names picked out before going into hospital… seriously not even one. We didn’t even have a shortlist! After he was born we set ourselves a deadline to name him before his big brother arrived the following day as we thought it would be confusing to introduce 3-year old Jonty to a nameless brother! It’s amazing how a deadline focusses the mind and despite months of name debate we settled on Aaron Gabriel quite quickly.

Last week a friend told me that there was a Michael McIntyre sketch about the name Aaron so of course I had to look it up… In the clip he says that Aaron is the worst name as it is the name given to children of really lazy parents. They open the baby name book, see Aaron as the first name and say, “Yip, that will do!” close the baby name book and get on with their lives! Despite not having a name before he arrived I promise we gave it a bit more thought than that and didn’t just pick the first name we found!! 😉

Although I will spare you all the details of the birth, it was lovely (well as lovely as childbirth can be!!!) and a really redemptive experience following the trauma of Jonty’s arrival. There were so many answers to prayer, but most specifically, for me it was an experience free from fear which was a total gift.

Little Aaron arrived one day early, which was another answer to prayer as I was really hoping that he wouldn’t arrive on Christmas day… Being due on 22nd December people kept saying to me throughout my pregnancy, “Ooh, I bet the baby will come on Christmas day”, which to be honest I stopped finding amusing after perhaps the 10th time it was said to me (although I think I always managed to smile politely). When your Dad is a vicar as Joel is and always has to work on Christmas I thought sharing your birthday with Jesus might be a bit difficult growing up so was desperate for this little one to have his own day.

The last five weeks have gone by in a blur or Christmas and New Year, and all the busyness that goes with that season, late night/early morning feeds, moments of feeling total euphoria and moments feeling totally overwhelmed, Joel’s return to work, and now starting to figure out what normal looks like for us in this new chapter.

For me re-entering the realm of babies has been mostly lovely. We are so much more relaxed about everything this time around and I no longer sit holding a thermometer in the bath to check that it is the optimum temperature before popping him in (to be honest I can’t even remember what the optimum bath temperature is for a baby although I definitely knew last time around).

Already, having the opportunity to parent this little chap feels like a redemptive experience for me and so much of the trauma and the memories of pain and anxiety that I associate with the early days of Jonty’s life are beginning to be healed. In this I am reminded of the truth of Philippians 1:6 which says that he who begun a good work in you will carry it on to completion. For this, and the many other gifts that God has so graciously given us, I am so thankful and I know that this is all part of God is putting me back together one piece at a time.

Here’s a picture of our newest little guy taken yesterday. Happy (belated) new year to you all!

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A Christmas miracle

When I began treatment for breast cancer three and a half years ago, one of the saddest conversations I had with my oncologist was about my already begun regime of chemotherapy. He said something like,

“This treatment was developed in France.” (Great! I love France. Lots of good stuff comes from there)

“It is so strong that doctors didn’t give it to anyone for a few years as they were concerned that it may kill them instantly.” (Ummm… Ok… Less good)

“It can have all sorts of long lasting effects and we don’t know how it will affect you but it may well make you infertile.” (Whhhhaaaaaaatttttttt???)

It was that last bit that got me and sent me reeling. I wasn’t too worried about the first bit, as people had been having this treatment without instantly dropping down dead (well to my admittedly limited knowledge anyway) for some time. My heart was strong and I reckoned I could withstand the poison.

But to be told that your dreams for more children may be over, was not a curveball that I was expecting cancer to throw at me and I was so heartbroken by this idea. My oncologist said that there was no way to know now what would happen and only time would tell…

It was too much to process all at once, so we put the possible baby/no baby situation to the back of our minds, and I ploughed on with my treatment.

About six months after my diagnosis I had a mastectomy as planned. When I went to get the results from the surgery, the doctor I saw (who I had never met before) said that I was in luck! My cancer was slightly different to what they originally thought and it was actually estrogen positive. What that meant in practice was that there was another line of treatment available to me, a tablet called Tamoxifen which I now needed to take for five years. Oh, and by the way, that means that you can’t try to have another baby for the next five years. When questioned by us about this the doctor (who incidentally I never saw again) said that we shouldn’t even discuss it. That was a conversation for another day.

We left the hospital that day feeling a bit shell shocked

This was supposed to be good news, and in my head I knew that it was, as it meant another line of defence against the recurrence of cancer, it meant a better shot of survival. But somehow I couldn’t see that, all I could see was a baby that was not to be and that made me so sad.

Again, I put it to the back of my mind and carried on with treatment.

About six months later I saw on the news that the recommended course of Tamoxifen for Breast cancer patients had changed from five years to ten years. TEN years!!! I couldn’t possibly wait that long to try again…

I saw my oncologist and he confirmed this to be the case and that I was an excellent candidate to take the drug for ten years. I couldn’t believe it and was so sad at what felt like another huge blow to my future dreams.

But in end that ten year timeframe was just too long and we couldn’t accept it. It caused us to go back again and ask if they would support us in taking a break to try for a baby as I had read online that this might be possible (thank you Dr Google!). My oncology team confirmed that I could take a break and that they would support my decision to do so, but that I should be aware that it was not without some risk and I would need to take the drug for at least two years before even considering stopping.

The decision to take a break from the drugs was one that we thought and prayed long and hard about. I frequently swung between deciding yes I would stop and no, what a ridiculous suggestion. I experienced guilt over thinking of stopping, questioned myself as to whether I was being irresponsible by stopping, ran through countless possible scenarios in my head, but in the end we made the decision to go for it, to try for that much longed for baby.

And once the decision was made, I knew it was the right one for us and I had such peace about it.

We were given a very short window in which to try to conceive by my oncology team and we hoped and prayed we would be able to.

And that is where we are.

I am now 22 weeks pregnant with a much longed for, much hoped for and much loved little miracle of a baby. This baby is due just before Christmas and we are so excited and thankful for this new life. Jonty is so excited to be a big brother which only adds to the joy.

Both me and the baby are currently doing really well. Please do pray for continued health for both of us.

I can’t wait to introduce our little Christmas miracle to you all!

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(Sorry about the lack of “bump” shot! It is still quite small and I just look like I’ve been eating too many pies, which to be fair I probably have! Instead here’s a photo of me and the excited big brother whilst on holiday in France this week)


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June – madness or fun? Sometimes it’s hard to tell!

They say that time waits for no man, and as June has rolled around – and almost ended – once more I have been reflecting on the huge changes that our family has seen over the past few Junes.

Here’s a brief snapshot:

June 2011: We were living just outside of Bath, I was expecting Jonty and we were both working full-time. We found out towards the end of the month that Joel had been accepted for full-time training for vicar school.

June 2012: We had moved and were living in Cambridge. Jonty was four months old. I had been diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer in April and by June was half-way through a gruelling season of chemotherapy.

June 2013: We had moved house again and were living in a village just outside of Cambridge. I had finished my active treatment and we were celebrating with a six week road trip around Europe. On this exact date I think we were busy enjoying sunny Spain!

June 2014: Joel finished his ordination training mid-June and we moved (again!) this time to leafy South West London. Joel was ordained a deacon in St Paul’s Cathedral and started his current job.

June 2015: We didn’t move house!!!! Joel was ordained a priest last weekend. There are so many exciting things in the pipeline at the moment and we can’t wait to see how the next year will unfold.

I feel exhausted just looking back on these Junes – what a whirlwind few years! What a total rollercoaster!

When I look back on these Junes written down like this the first thing that stands out is, boy have we moved house A LOT (there were another two house moves in the couple of years preceding the years I have outlined that I haven’t even included)!!

I was so pleased to write that we didn’t move this year, although Jonty does keep asking when we are moving house again. He says that he doesn’t like the shower at this house and would like to move to Jericho!! Thankfully, at 3 years of age, it is not his decision to make, especially as I am particularly fond of the shower at this house!

Aside from all the moving, the key thing that stands out for me when looking back is both how crazy it has been but also how blessed we have been through all this craziness. The blessing and the grace that we have known have come in so many different forms and I am so thankful for all of it. Here are just a few:

In each place we have lived, we have very quickly found ourselves surrounded by communities that have loved us, have both wept and celebrated with us and that have encouraged and challenged us to be our best selves.

We have always had access to brilliant healthcare, particularly at the time when we needed it most.

In our season in Cambridge, in particular, we were given the space and time to grieve for what was lost through cancer, but also to celebrate life and all its blessings.

We have added to our family and have gained a beautiful, completely hilarious character of a son.

Through it all we have known the peace and joy that only God can give. He has been our bedrock, our very present help in times of trouble. This is what has made sure we haven’t been taken out by each curveball that has come our way in all these crazy Junes.

So here’s to many more Junes! I am excited to see what the next few hold! Fingers crossed for lots more amazing adventures and not too many house moves!

Here are a few snaps from this June. It’s been a good month!

legoland june 2015Legoland

crabbing

Crabbing with Oupa

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Joel’s priesting

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#phantomselfie


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The Minionettes and the Moonwalk Marathon

Late on Saturday night, five friends and I joined 17,000 other walkers, all in fancy dress, on Clapham Common in London to walk a full marathon, through the night, to raise money for breast cancer charities.

Our team was called the Minionettes, we were dressed as minions and I, for one, was feeling really nervous. The atmosphere was buzzing, we were ready to go but we had a long wait as our group only got to set off at 11:45pm… way past my normal bedtime!

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Once we started, it was slow going. The roads weren’t closed and the pavements were very congested with walkers. But the mood was high and we cracked on! The route was great and we really did a tour of the London sights, walking past the London Eye, over Tower Bridge, past Buckingham Palace and St Paul’s Cathedral and finally going round what felt like endless loops of South Kensington.

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The slow pace and congested route started to get me down a little as after 3 hours we had only walked 9 miles which was so much slower than the speed we had walked in training and by about 3am I was starting to feel tired and frustrated, and we weren’t even half way there! For me, from about the half way point completing the walk became a case of mind over matter… I know I can walk one just one more mile, and then just one more and then just one more… Oh look there’s the sunrise… Just one more mile… Until eventually…

We reached the finish line.

Nine hours later!

Hallelujah!

By this point my body was objecting strongly to both the lack of sleep (the last time I had stayed up the whole night I was 15 years old! Seriously!!), and the 9 hours of walking but it was an amazing feeling crossing that finish line.

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I didn’t expect to feel particularly emotional on this walk, particularly as my Peru trip had really felt like my comeback moment, and for the most part I really didn’t feel emotional at all. But just at that moment, crossing that finish line, I once again felt overwhelmed and so thankful and grateful to still be standing. I felt thankful to be able to challenge myself, to push harder, to be stronger, to keep going. I felt so thankful for my friends and family that joined me in this slightly bonkers challenge and for all the love and support they, and so many others, have shown me over the past three years.

No tears were shed, but my heart was full and glad.

And in spite of not being able to walk for several days thereafter I am looking forward to doing it again and have already started planning my outfit! (Next time it will definitely involve lights and way more glitter!)

Doing the Moonwalk also challenged me in other ways… It reminded me of the power of determination, and how when we fix our eyes and hearts on something we will get there. But it also reminded me of the call in Hebrews 13 to run (or in this case power walk) the race marked out for us with perseverance, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.

In life, as in the Moonwalk, we are called to keep going, keep moving forward with purpose, not worrying about others’ costumes or the fact that they got an earlier start time or that they didn’t have to press the green man button again because there was so much traffic that they were getting slowed down… Rather, we are called to run our own race, that has been marked out for us, whatever that looks like. We are called to keep going and to run it faithfully with our eyes looking up. And when we are done, when we have completed that last ‘just one more mile’, how sweet will that day be when we finally cross that finish line.

I don’t know about you, but despite all of the distractions, at the end of it all I want to know that  ran focussed and ran well!

Thanks Moonwalk. See you again next time! I will be coming for you armed with glitter!

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