HOPE OVERFLOWING

stories of grace, hope and life beyond cancer


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On being brave and laughing in the face of logistics

You know those times in your life where almost every picture you look at, every word you read, your social media feeds and your conversations all seem to be loudly shouting the same message at you about your life and how you are living it?

I don’t get this all that often but when I do I try and sit up and take notice. I am currently in one of those times, where everywhere I turn I seem to be hearing the same message.

Be brave.

Since having Aaron three and a half months ago I have been feeling surprisingly restless. I think this may have something to do with the fact that whilst I was pregnant I didn’t make any plans for beyond his birth – seriously nothing! (Not even any holiday plans which is most unlike me as I do love a nice trip away somewhere.)

So when he arrived and we had waded through the mostly awake at night early weeks, and I had recovered from the birth and started to feel reasonably ok and not entirely exhausted all the time, I started to have this gnawing feeling of ‘now what’?

I tried to put it off telling myself that my baby was still so little and that I should focus on the boys and this all too short season with them, but still the restlessness remained. I just couldn’t shake it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mum and I love being a stay-at-home mum in particular. It is a total joy and privilege to mother these two little dudes full-time and something that I wouldn’t swap for anything. But still I didn’t know what to do about this restlessness.

I was chatting to a friend about it a few weeks back and she said, “I get it. You are looking for something not to replace the season you are in now but to enhance it.”

That was a lightbulb moment for me. That was exactly what I was looking for. How could I be most authentically me and keep my dreams alive whilst embracing the precious and all too brief season of mothering little ones? How could I live the abundant life that Jesus spoke about in John 10:10 here and now.

When trying to figure out what steps I would need to take to be most me I met with two barriers.

  1. In order to do this I would need to be brave and actually articulate my dreams even just to myself (Yikes!).
  2. There was the small issue of logistics… when would this all actually happen?

Over the past week the name Annie Downs kept popping up on my social media channels. Eventually I thought I needed to look this lady up! It turns out Annie Downs is an author of several books, one of which was released this week (hence all the social media action). I had a mooch through her books on Amazon preview and the one that stood out for me was called, “Let’s all be brave. Living life with everything you have.”

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It seemed apt, so I bought it with every good intention of reading it (confession: I don’t read books nearly enough/ really at all). Within a couple of days I am half way through and I have already been so challenged about being brave, even if that bravery is only just enough to speak out my dreams.

Does anyone else find that hard or is it just me? I have always had these crazy, seemingly impossible dreams bubbling away under the surface that I find difficult to admit to myself, never mind anyone else. I guess because at some level I worry that if I admit to them then I might fail or others might laugh at me or whatever. I don’t know really. But whatever it is, it is hard to name these dreams.

So, possibly because he was tired of my restlessness or more probably just because he’s awesome, Joel organised a morning of childcare for me this week so that I could have some time to myself, a mini-retreat. I didn’t go anywhere, but I gave myself permission just to be, to have time to think and dream and pray.

And I decided to be brave and write down my dreams. I’m not ready to tell you all what they are but I wrote them in my journal and told Joel about it later. Silly as it may sound it was really liberating and I guess one way in which I can hold myself accountable in keeping my dreams alive even just in a small way.

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The second thing holding me back is logistics! Logistics in our house are complicated. I have a husband that works weird hours and a lot of evenings and the evening work in particular doesn’t have much of a discernible pattern. There are two kids to juggle, neither of whom is at school full-time yet. So logistics… Are complicated. I know I am not alone in this and that probably all of you face logistical challenges of one sort or another. But logistics can hold us back big time!

I watched a Shauna Niequest video on YouTube the other day that totally rocked my world (it is at the bottom of this post. Do yourself a favour and watch it.) It was called ‘What my mother taught me’ and was essentially about all this stuff… It was about embracing the season you are in whilst all the time keeping your dreams alive and pursuing them. In the video Shauna talks about not being limited by logistics and that spoke straight to my heart.

I was so struck by the idea that I could essentially and unintentionally park the dreams that I have for ten years or more just because it was logistically difficult to find time to pursue them. That idea really scared me as I want to live my best life now, with little ones around my ankles, in amidst the chaos of it all. For me dealing with these logistical challenges is probably going to look like getting up earlier before the kids to get stuff done, but I’d say to keep my dreams alive it is worth it (although I am the least morning person you’ll probably ever meet so I might not agree it’s worth it most mornings!!)

I am so excited about a new season of being brave and being more intentional about living my best life. I can already feel the restlessness lifting and that is a good place to be.

I’d really like to encourage you to take a moment to think about what dreams have been bubbling inside you that you have been too scared to even admit to yourself. Ignore the logistical challenges, the ‘what if I fail’ and ‘what will people think of me’ thoughts, you can deal with those later. Rather take one brave step and write those things down. Acknowledge them to yourself and maybe one or two of your people and see what happens next.

Let’s all be brave. Let’s not allow ourselves to be held back by fear or by logistics. Let’s live our best story and know abundant life here and now!

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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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February joy

Where did January go? I can’t believe it is already February and I have yet to put pen to paper! I love February, in spite of its biting cold and the feeling of never ending winter. I love February because it is the month of my boy’s birthday!

This time next week my big boy is turning three. Hooray!!

He is so excited! He is having a little fireman party which he is thrilled about and he talks every day about his birthday. He sadly still hasn’t overcome his dislike for cake (read more about that here!) although he did amazingly have one tiny bite of a friend’s Frozen/skiing themed birthday cake on Saturday. He said it was “ok” (which wasn’t hugely encouraging considering I had made the aforementioned cake!)

Nevertheless, he is determined to have a birthday cake of his own. A few days ago he said, “Mummy, for my birthday, you can make me a beautiful fire engine cake… But I’m not going to have any of it!” For some inexplicable reason he is also adamant that while the rest of us will eat party food on his birthday, Daddy should be provided with yogurt to eat!?! So it looks like Joel will be missing out on this fire engine cake too! 😉

Just like Jonty I am also really excited for his third birthday. But for quite different reasons.

For me, anticipating this third birthday kicks up a whole lot of emotions and a whole lot of memories.

When my cancer was first diagnosed I was so sure that it would kill me. And soon. When I was diagnosed I decided that my goal was to live until this beautiful baby, who was then just eight weeks old, turned three. Just three more years, please God! I obviously had no way of controlling or ensuring that this would happen, but still, this was my aim.

I figured that as I have a few memories from when I was three that if I could just live until then, maybe, just maybe, my beautiful boy would remember me if I was no longer around. Maybe he would remember the intensity of my love for him, how wanted and cherished he was by me. Maybe he would remember my voice or my laugh or the way I sang to him or rocked him to sleep. Maybe he would remember just one of those things…

If I could just make it to his third birthday.

And so now here I stand, just one week to go until the moment that I wished for so fervently.

Just one week to go and I am so thankful.

I am so grateful that I am not yet a distant and hazy memory in Jonty’s mind, that he doesn’t need to remember how I loved him because he still knows it in his every day. I am so grateful for each day’s hugs, laughs and even struggles, because they mean I am still here. I still get to love him and share this crazy, wonderful and beautiful life with my crazy, wonderful and beautiful boy!

Happy birthday precious boy!

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I really like parties… But I don’t like cake!

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(Photo credit: Lorraine van Nimwegen)

Most mornings when my 2 year old son Jonty gets up we have a conversation that goes a little something like this…

Jonty: What’s the plan today Mummy? (Aaah, a boy after my own heart. Just like me, he loves to have a plan!)
Me: *Tells plan – usually something like off to a group, home for lunch and quiet play then out again in the afternoon*
Me: Why? What would you really like to do today?
Jonty: *Pauses for effect* Well Mummy, I would really like to go to a party!

Every time! He always asks to go to a party.

Sometimes I say he is in luck as we have been invited to a party that day. But most of the time I explain that we can’t go to a party whenever we want to, we have to wait to be invited.

Jonty loves parties so much that I have renamed Joel’s day off. It is now called “Family Party Day” and by definition involves doing something fun together as a family. I figure that this way at least I can tell Jonty whenever he tells me that what he really wants to do is go to a party that Family Party Day is just around the corner!

Yesterday we were making pictures out of stickers together. We had a big sticker book of 1000 random stickers. Jonty carefully went through the book and picked out all the stickers that could make a party… Presents, sweets, balloons and happy faces. As he was doing it he sighed and said, “I just love balloons Mummy”.

I have been thinking about why he loves parties so much. It certainly isn’t about the cake. In fact he takes great delight in announcing to the party boy/girl’s parent at each party we go to that he doesn’t like cake, much to my embarrassment! I have been trying to explain to his that he doesn’t need to make that announcement every time, but he can just politely decline the cake, but he hasn’t quite grasped this yet!

Perhaps his love for parties is down to the unlimited sweets and consequent sugar high, perhaps it is the games (pass the parcel remains his absolute favourite), perhaps it is the balloons, perhaps all his friends coming together for a lovely time, perhaps the party bag, perhaps it is all of those things.

But maybe it is more than that. Maybe he loves parties because he was created in God’s image and God loves to celebrate too! Maybe, in his two year old delight in parties he is unknowingly mirroring an aspect of the character of God.

I think often we can just think of God as being sad or angry all the time but that is not the picture that the a Bible paints of him at all. The Bible is full of stories of God celebrating. He celebrates when we come back to him (Luke 15). He loves us so much and celebrates over us. Zephaniah 3:17 says:

The Lord your God wins victory after victory and is always with you. He celebrates and sings because of you, and he will refresh your life with his love.

Is is a beautiful image of God just celebrating just because of who we are.

I think there is much to learn from Jonty’s unwavering commitment to parties and celebration as well as from God’s celebrations…

I don’t want to have to wait to be invited to a party to celebrate. I choose celebration and thanksgiving. I want to have such an unwavering commitment to celebration and thanksgiving that I choose to recognise the blessings in each day, even in days that are hard. I want to wake up each day and know that as I consciously choose celebration and thanksgiving, even in hard times, that there will be a little bit of party in that day!

I hope that today, you too find something to celebrate!


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Sunshine and eyelashes

Two things that are very good for my soul – sunshine and eyelashes! And thankfully the past few weeks have contained a considerable amount of both. 🙂

It is funny, I was definitely more sad about my eyelashes falling out than about my hair. I think this was because one really looks very poorly if you have no eyelashes, whereas the hair situation is easier to hide. I would attempt to put mascara on in the morning but there would only be a few lashes to put it on and no matter what I tried with make up it just didn’t look right. I found this a real challenge and it would often make me feel quite down (superficial I know, but there is something about feeling that you don’t look like yourself anymore that is quite unsettling).

So, imagine my delight when my eyelashes seemed to grow back almost over night! And they are now thicker and longer than ever before!! Woo hoo! I think that is God’s grace on me quite honestly.

Not only are my lashes back but my hair is growing like made too. Joel and I are almost ready to start out hair growing race! 🙂 My arm is recovering well and on Monday I begin my radiotherapy – my last major hurdle in this cancer treatment. I can hardly believe how far we have journeyed in the past few months. I could hardly believe it when I packed my wigs away (that is a post for another day) and when I had the energy to walk the 3 miles into town as I did last Thursday.

I have so much to be thankful for and I am reminded every day of how many good things God has given us. I have been thinking about the gifts that God has given me through this journey and they are many, but if I had to pick the one for which I am most thankful, it would be joy. I feel that God has given me a joy that is quite contrary to how the world says I should be. Of course I have dark moments, but these are few. Through this season I can truly say that Nehemiah 8:10 is true – “The joy of the Lord is my strength”.

Here is a picture of little man and me with hair! 🙂

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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.