HOPE OVERFLOWING

stories of grace, hope and life beyond cancer


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You (yes you, reading this) are awesome!

One of the things that I find most difficult about being a stay-at-home parent is the lack of external affirmation. Let’s face it, even with two sweet and affectionate little dudes at home, kids don’t really think to say, “Thanks Mummy for doing my washing/ picking up my toys/ scraping sprayed food off the furniture. I really value you and appreciate all that you do in this home to prevent it from turning into total chaos.” They just don’t say it, like ever! I wish they did but they don’t and so often at the end of another day filled with washing and scraping food I find myself with my love tank feeling low and the house still in total chaos.

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I guess it says a lot about how I am wired that I frequently wake up and think, “Wow! I really need some encouragement today!” In fact, it is often a prayer that I pray as I am going about my daily life, “Lord, please show me something to encourage me today.”

I know that it is not just me that needs encouragement. I think that we all thrive under positive, heartfelt affirmation from others, just as we wither under harsh and unkind words.

Lately I have been quite challenged by this. I look around and see so many people just trying to knock one another down. It is amazing how much interaction there is, online in particular, and yet how little encouragement. Rather, competitiveness and one-upmanship seem to be the name of the game.

In our house we have a little joke, whereby if someone says something unkind, then the other one will usually say, “What kind of courager are you being?” It is always said with a smile and a wink, but it is a gentle correction and is a challenge to think, “Am I being an encourager or a discourager? Am I building up or am I tearing down?”

I know what type of courager (yes I know it’s not actually a word) I want to be. I want to be an intentionally encouraging person, someone that makes it their business to call out the gold in others. I think that intentionality is key in this as being encouraging can feel awkward and counter-cultural at the same time. I need to choose to move past that and encourage anyway, to look for and call out the gold in others.

Each of us has so much gold within us that we often don’t see. The knocks of life and hurtful things in our past can cloud our view of ourselves and we can stop seeing how amazing we are and who we have been made to be. Encouragement is a beautiful gift that we can offer one another and it is one that has the potential to set people free to be all that they were made to be.

So to each one of you reading this (and I don’t mean this for a blanket you, but each and every individual reading this), know that you are enough. Please hear the truth of that statement for yourself today. You have been made with amazing gifts and talents. You don’t need to strive to be anybody else. Be yourself. You are enough!

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Let’s be a people that look for the good and not the bad in others and actually tell one another what we see. It’s ok if that feels a little awkward and counter-cultural and it’s also ok if the person doesn’t accept the encouragement. Whether they want to hear positive things about themselves or not doesn’t really matter, they might have been so knocked down that they don’t know how to receive kindness.

Let’s embrace the awkward and do it anyway! Be kind anyway. Encourage anyway. What a beautiful gift!


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The October Yay Mail! Project

Yesterday on a trip into town, whilst in my favourite art supply shop I saw a book of blank watercolour card postcards on the shelf. The front of each postcard is blank ready for painty creativity to be unleashed all over it and the back is laid out like the back of a standard postcard. I couldn’t resist and so without a second thought popped them in my basket.
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As soon as I bought them I started thinking about what I could paint on them and about all the possible people I could send them to and I got excited at the prospect of sending all this lovely post. I love to receive nice post! It is always such a joy to receive a little card or postcard or note and even if the message is simple it always makes me feel loved and valued that someone was thinking of me enough to bother to post me something. I wanted these postcards to make other people feel how I feel when I get special post.

As I was thinking about this I had this thought, “What if I sent someone a little bit of nice post each day for a month?” I think it would bless others but also would be a brilliant opportunity to think of others and seek to encourage someone every day, which would be a blessing to me as well. As I thought more about this I got excited – this sounded like a fun project to me!

I decided I would send a card or a postcard or maybe a very small gift to a different person each day with a positive message of encouragement for a month and as October is starting next week, I would do this for the month of October.

As I thought about this a bit more I wondered whether anyone else might also like to send nice post every day for a month and so the idea of the “October Yay Mail!” project was born.

I told Joel about my idea and he said it sounded like fun and that he was in too. Yay! Two of us!

So Joel and I will be sending nice post every day in October. But, I thought there might be others that might like to join is so I wanted to invite any of you who fancied joining us to do so! It’s going to be a fun project and I think will be such a fun way to bless and encourage those around us.

In order to participate, here’s what you need to do:
Post (hand post is fine) something nice, like a card, postcard or letter with a kind and encouraging message to a different person each day for the month of October.

That’s it! Very simple!

You can send your post to anyone but if you’re stuck for ideas I’ve thought of a few categories of people that you might like to surprise:
–          Someone you haven’t spoken to in more than one year
–          Someone from your childhood
–          Someone who lives in another country
–          Someone with whom you have a tricky relationship
–          A member of your extended family
–          Someone who played a significant role in your life at a formative time
–          Someone that you know is going through a tough time at the moment
–          Someone that you wish you saw more often
–          A neighbour
–          An ex-colleague

Perhaps try and send one to each of these if you can and see what happens.

There’s a week before October starts so maybe have a go at making a little list of who you might like to send some Yay Mail! to and start getting their addresses together.

If you want to get involved on social media I would love to hear how it’s going. If you have any stories from the project that you’d like to share please do drop me an email, comment on the blog, on the Facebook page or use the hashtag #Octoberyaymail.

I am so excited to tell 31 people how loved and valued they are, to encourage them in their every day and to give them some mail to say “Yay!” about and I hope you will join me too!


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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.

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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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