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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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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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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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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A new term and a new beginning

Today my little boy started nursery, just two mornings a week, but it is the start of a whole new era for us… For example, I am sitting on my own in Starbucks on this sunny Tuesday morning writing this and listening to the Starbucks selection of Christmas songs (already!!) That is a drastic change from my usual Tuesday morning which usually involves something thrilling like a trip to Aldi!

I am full of a huge mixture of emotions today and dropping him off was truly a bittersweet experience.

I am so excited for him, for this new chapter which I think he is going to love. This morning as I was getting Jonty dressed he started jumping around and said, “I am just so excited Mummy!” When I asked him if it was because today was his first day at school he replied that it was and started telling me about what happens at his little nursery (which he learnt at his settling in sessions). He has been so excited by his new Superman lunchbox ever since we bought it a few weeks ago and he carried it with pride into nursery this morning.

I was a bit concerned that we might have some tears when I dropped him off this morning, but there were no tears. His parting question to me was, “who is going to help me when you go Mummy?” which totally melted my heart. I hope that Jonty always sees Joel and I as the people who help him be all he can be!

While I was thrilled that we didn’t have any tears his morning, I was also a little bit sad that my baby is growing up so fast. Each day I have to come to terms with the fact that he is less and less of a baby and more and more of a little boy and that is harder than I expected! This new found independence is a little disorientating for me as a parent.

Today as I said goodbye, I was reminded even more of the things I love about Jonty, his sweet, gentle soul, his love of music, making jokes, somersaults and laughing. He is such a blessing to us!!

But in amongst this mixture of emotions, on this milestone day, I am thankful beyond belief! When I was diagnosed with cancer when Jonty was 8 weeks old, still being alive by the time he started nursery seemed an impossible dream. I was so frightened that I wouldn’t get to see any of his milestones and so now as each one rolls around it is just that much sweeter. I am still standing, full of scars, but still standing and blessed beyond measure!

Here’s to many more milestones!

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