HOPE OVERFLOWING

stories of grace, hope and life beyond cancer


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How pausing changed my life

Yesterday, the morning dawned bright and early with a little boy who did not want to go to school anymore and a baby who was cross for no discernible reason. My big boy had decided that he only wanted to attend school on the first and last day of each term and my little boy had just decided that he would be cross and so cross he was! The house was a total disaster area and as I woke up still tired after a full on few days the day loomed long and hot and sticky before me. Joel was due to be working late and I was only expecting him home at about 10pm and so as the day began I felt the misery levels rise at the prospect of a day filled with housework and crying children. Especially the crying children! They are hard to deal with for a whole day.

As I said goodbye to Joel I very ungraciously bemoaned to him what I expected my day to look like. I was angling for some sympathy and did receive some but not the bucket loads I felt I deserved! I begrudgingly waved him off at the tube station and trudged home muttering to myself about how lucky he was to be leaving the mess and the crying for a whole day.

As I got home from the school run I realised that I needed to make a choice about how this day was going to go down. I knew that I wouldn’t get through the day in any manner of which I would be proud without a reality check and an attitude adjustment. I seriously needed some perspective.

There is only one way that I know that consistently helps me find perspective and so I parked all the chores and stopped, sat and let my heart be still.

For me what that looks like is turning on some music (United Pursuit is my choice of the moment – I have put a link to my favourite of their songs below), reading some scripture and pouring my heart out in my journal or just sitting quietly and praying or letting the music wash over me.

So this is what I did. I sat on the floor, in amongst the baby biscuit crumbs and Happyland people with a small little guy crawling around and using my legs and a climbing frame and I paused. I rested and poured my heart out and let beautiful music wash over me and I read some truth and it began to restore my soul and melt my hardened heart. As I wrote and thought and prayed my perspective began to be realigned.

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I was able to give thanks for the mess in the house as it was mostly generated preparing for the funeral of Joel’s lovely Nan who passed away last week at the age of 95. Her funeral and celebration of her life had been the day before and as part of the celebration we all baked the food that she had been renowned for. The mess was as a result of honouring the life of a wonderful woman and I think that is a mess worth having!

As I paused I had some really special time with my little guy, playing next to me on the floor. And I was more able to enjoy his clinginess as it meant extra cuddles (which I don’t get as many of anymore now that he can crawl).

As I rested and stilled my heart I was able to give thanks for our lovely home and that it is filled with love and laughter.  

My perspective was truly realigned. What a sweet gift!

These times of pause are always sweet but it they are never perfect and are frequently interrupted. Most often, at this point in my life, these times happen on the floor. Sometimes they are cut short with a knock at the door or a baby that cries. Sometimes they are very short and sometimes I get the luxury of a longer pause.

But in spite of their imperfections these times are sweet and sacred and vital and they are without a doubt a completely key part of my day

I have learnt to embrace the mess and the imperfection of these times and not to worry about them. In the past I would only have “quiet time” if I felt that I had enough time, could go somewhere quiet, had the correct pens for my journal etc etc. The list of restrictions I put on myself were extensive and as a result the times I had were limited and I felt frustrated if they weren’t quite right.

These days if I imposed any of these sorts of restrictions it would mean that these times would literally never happen. I now snatch them on my own or with my little ones at my feet. The housework can wait 10 minutes. It will still be there, believe me!!!

Yesterday, more than ever I was reminded of the huge value of coming away from the frenetic pace of life and pausing for a few minutes with God. It is a beautiful, humbling and perspective altering choice and it can truly transform the shape and trajectory of each day.

What a beautiful thing to begin the day with a thankful heart and a peaceful soul and it is my prayer that even in the chaos and mess of life that we all make moments to be still, to allow our souls to be restored and to rest with Him each day.

 

 


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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!

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Crabbing with Oupa

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Joel’s priesting

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#phantomselfie


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Farewell Kara Tippetts

Yesterday, this world lost a beautiful soul. Her name was Kara Tippetts. She was 38 years old.

I didn’t know Kara. We had never met. She lived on the other side of the pond, in Colorado, USA. Although I didn’t know her she allowed me into her world through her beautiful blog, Mundane Faithfulness. I first encountered her writing late last year when she wrote an open letter to Brittany Maynard, the young lady who chose to end her life due to a terminal brain cancer diagnosis.

I started reading Kara’s blog regularly, and despite our thoughts on suffering being a little different, over and over again I found myself moved, encouraged and challenged. Even the blog’s title spoke straight to my heart as through my own cancer journey I found myself valuing faithfulness more and more as even when I had nothing to give, I could be faithful with what I had. I could be faithful in the mundane parts of life. This was all that I could offer.

Through the blog and a few short videos I watched Kara come to terms with the fact that she was dying with amazing dignity and grace and it was a privilege to witness this from a distance.

I think that one of the reasons that Kara’s life captivated me so was that, other than geography, many of our circumstances were really similar… We were both diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, both mums of young children, both married to pastors with a heart for church planting, both desperate to stay on Earth… not afraid to die, but not ready to leave either… Kara described how she felt about dying as feeling like a little girl at a party whose Dad had come to get her early. She was so upset about it as she just wasn’t ready to leave. It was too soon…

And so today my heart aches. Why is it that I am well and thriving and she has left this world? Why is it that tomorrow I get to celebrate another birthday but she won’t get to celebrate again? Why is it that tomorrow I get to cuddle my baby and walk hand in hand with my guy and she doesn’t anymore?

I don’t know.

I don’t know why she was taken so soon and I was given more time.

I will never know.

But, I am so thankful for the life she had. She lived it well. It was so evident that it was full of love, friendship, grace, forgiveness, peace and kindness. She ran the race well and was faithful to the end.

Yet again, I am reminded that life is short and life is precious. As I enter my 33rd year I rejoice in growing a little older as it means I am still here! I am still at the party. This year, more than ever I choose to live my life well.

Farewell, Kara Tippetts. You blessed more people than you will ever know.


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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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Be kind to yourself

The last few weeks since my surgery have been filled with special family time, days out in Cambridge, enjoying little man and the last of the summer and Joel’s last few weeks of holiday. But they have also been filled with lots of physiotherapy and adjusting to my new normal post-surgery.

Like each aspect of this cancer journey these weeks have been a bit up and down. My general recovery was remarkably quick, as predicted by the doctors (not believed by myself) and just a few days post-surgery, on a sunny Saturday, I was strolling round a national trust property! That certainly took me by surprise!! Regaining the movement in my arm on the other hand has been somewhat slower and more tricky… But each day is a little better and movement is slowly being restored.

I have been desperate to get back into exercising but I continue to be really tired and unable to do all that much physically. This has been a great source of frustration to me as I am sick and tired of being sick and tired!!

On Tuesday at a hospital appointment I was chatting to one of the lovely nurses, telling her the grand plans of my exercise regime and she gave me some wise words that I have been thinking about since then… She said, “Be kind to yourself.”

This got me thinking, how often are we our own worst enemy and harshest critics. How often do we expect unrealistic things of ourselves or do we not extend the grace that we would to others to ourselves.

For me, how this looks is giving myself proper time to recover, accepting the continued help from others, building up my strength slowly and trying to be ok that there are many things that used to be so easy that I still can’t do… and probably slowing down my exercise grand plan! 😉 I’m sure it looks different for you, but the principle is the same.

God is such a kind God and He shows us so much grace. As we are called to emulate Him, let us not only be kind to others and show them grace but let’s be kind to ourselves too.


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Where is my hairbrush??

I love the show Veggie Tales! For those of you who don’t know it is is basically Bible stories told by cartoon vegetables with other funny sketches thrown in the mix just for kicks. One of my favourite songs that they do is called the Hairbrush song (and no it is not related to any Bible story whatsoever. I have posted a link at the bottom of the post – it is really sweet).

In the hairbrush song Larry the cucumber is lamenting the loss of his hairbrush following his shower. Bob the tomato comes in to tell Larry that he has given Larry’s hairbrush to the peach as the peach has hair and Larry does not. Larry finally makes peace with this situation and waves farewell to his hairbrush.

This song got me thinking about the holiday that I am currently having from my hairbrush due to my lack of hair (although unlike Larry no-one has physically given away my hairbrush)… The loss of my hair has been another area where I have really seen God’s faithfulness. Losing one’s hair is supposed to be one of the most traumatic parts of the cancer journey but after I shaved mine off (the falling out bit was a bit traumatic, rather uncomfy and seriously messy) I quite enjoyed sporting the GI Jane do and no tears have been shed over the hair! Don’t get me wrong, I am very much looking forward to my hair growing back and Joel and I have decided to have a race when my hair starts to come back to see whose can grow the fastest… But I feel that God has given me the grace and strength I need to deal with my hair’s summer vacation!! (I hope it has gone somewhere sunnier than the very rainy UK! 😉 ) I have been reminded that my identity is not found in how I look but in who I am as a much loved daughter of the King. Just another example of his never ending and abundant provision…

I have never posted a picture of me sans hair online but here is one of me with my little man and of course the link to the Veggie Tales! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtHr7gluh08