HOPE OVERFLOWING

stories of grace, hope and life beyond cancer


9 Comments

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.

img_2498

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.

 

 


2 Comments

Finding a voice in the pain of the beaches and October pink washing

Shouting

It has been nine weeks since I last wrote a complete blog post. That is a long time and the holiday in Spain where I wrote the last post, with its long, lazy days spent on the beach couldn’t seem further away from England which has suddenly turned grey, autumnal and very chilly!

It hasn’t, however, been nine weeks since I have started a blog post and my computer and iPad are littered with half-written, unfinished and abandoned posts, given up on with yet another frustrated sigh. If I wrote on paper my wastepaper basket would surely be overflowing by now!

It’s funny how sometimes I feel that there is so much to say, but yet it is so difficult to get it all out in a way that truly conveys how I feel. It feels like trying to put a bowl of cooked spaghetti into a logical order. It is hard and messy and doesn’t always go well. 

I find it particularly hard to write anything or convey how I am feeling when I see a lot of pain around me and this summer has witnessed a lot of pain both globally and closer to home. What could I possibly add to the conversation that would seem anything other than at best, irrelevant or at worst, self-indulgent nonsense?

 So, as a result, and to my shame, the horrendous events of dead babies on beaches, the advancing diseases of those around me, as well as the untimely deaths of members of online forums of which I am a part, have gone on with me largely standing silent. My voice crying out against all this pain has remained unspoken and unheard. I have instead found myself crying on the side lines both at the tragedy of it all, as well as with the frustration that comes from not knowing what to do to help and how to stand up and be counted in a meaningful way 

More recently I have been faced with the pink washing that always appears at this time of year. October is breast cancer awareness month and each year I watch with interest at what will be shared via social media to educate and raise awareness of this horrible disease that kills so many each year.

This year the Young Breast Cancer Network UK (YBCN), a network of young women with breast cancer of which I am a part, is sharing a member’s story each day of the month. Many of these women are living with secondary or metastatic cancer for which there is no cure. All of the stories hold great pain and sadness and I have found myself once again being so broken by seeing this pain and yet also carrying a strange sense of guilt that I am so well and my future is looking bright.

The unfairness of it all is not lost on me and I know I am one of the lucky ones on so many fronts. I can find no words to add that would lessen the suffering of those living with cancer as part of their daily lives and so I find myself, once more at a loss for words.

So now that you have waded with me through my internal mental turmoil (thanks for sticking with me through that) what is there left to say?

Earlier this summer I met up with a friend who writes a brilliant blog which I love to read and which is such a blessing to me. I was expressing this mental turmoil to her and she gave me this advice. She said, “Cath, this advice is going to change your life. Just be yourself.”

Although said with a smile and a joke, these simple words really struck me and challenged me. They helped me to realise that it is ok if I don’t have anything useful to say or if I can’t fix all the problems of the world in 800 words or less. Being present and being honest is enough.

So where that leaves us is… I still don’t have anything particularly useful to say on any of sadness that I have seen either on Europe’s beaches or closer to home with those facing illness or bereavement. 

In some senses, I still stand silent on the side lines crying with sadness and frustration.

I wish I could make everything better. But for now, even though I have nothing to add to the conversation and my voice is largely silent, I do still STAND with you.

I pray and I stand on the truth of Revelation 21:4 that this too is temporary and that there will come a time when:

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain for the old order of things has passed away.”

As the harrowing images of the summer recede in our consciousness as the media moves on to new stories, and as the pink washing of October begins to fade as the month passes, it is my prayer that I may continue to be moved by these stories. May the cry of my heart still be for justice and for healing and may we all stand in solidarity with the broken and the hurting trusting in the Restorer and the restoration that is to come.


8 Comments

The highs and lows of Andean trekking

Since returning from Peru on Saturday, I have been asked so many times, “How did it go?”, What was it like?”, “Did you make it??”

It is hard to describe quite what trekking in the Andes was like. For me I think the best way to describe it is that is was wonderful and yet so very hard at the same time. Like many things in life I suppose, and especially things worth doing… Wonderful and so very hard all mixed together!

First, some of the hard bits… The altitude absolutely and literally took my breath away! I found breathing so tough at altitude and I was surprised at how little things left me completely out of breath. Things like brushing my teeth or getting dressed. No wonder you have to walk so slowly!!

The walking was gruelling (maybe not for everyone, but let’s face it I am not all that fit and on the walk I regretted every slice of chocolate cake I had ever eaten!) and consequently (and coupled with jet lag, general lack of sleep and altitude) I felt absolutely flattened every evening! Oh my goodness, I was usually in bed by 8pm… Completely unheard of for a night owl like me, but by the time dinner rolled around I usually felt like I could barely string a sentence together!

But in amongst the challenges there were some beautiful gifts too… One of these gifts came as something of a surprise for a raging extrovert like me. Despite going on this trip in a group of 28, for some time each day I would find myself walking alone (usually because I was slower than most). This time was so precious to me, I soaked in the beauty and complete stillness of the surroundings and I relished in the opportunity to quiet my soul and enjoy God’s glory. What a gift this was and what a contrast to the constant noise and busyness of my daily life.

Probably the most amazing and emotional moment for me was reaching our highest point on day three of the trek. We had steadily gained altitude since starting the trek and the third day was the pinnacle and saw us reaching an altitude of about 4,450m (about 13,500ft) above sea level (to give you a feel for how high this is, people sky dive at 11,000ft).

As I walked that morning I knew this moment was coming and for about half an hour before reaching this point I found myself walking by myself. For this half an hour I kept welling up just thinking about the road I have walked over the past two and a half years and by the time I reached the top I completely dissolved in tears…

But they were not tears of sadness, they were tears of gratitude.

I remembered how this time two years ago I was in the middle of active treatment, I had just had a mastectomy and axillary clearance and was waiting for my radiotherapy to start. I was so weak and tired and could barely walk around the block. I felt like I was hanging in there for dear life, fervently praying for a brighter day. At that time, if you had said to me that I would trek in the Andes just two years later I would have probably wept for different reasons and I would never have believed you!

As I ascended that hill on that third day, the words, “I am back! Thank you Lord that I am back!” ran through my mind and I was overcome with gratitude. Our guide, Mayra invited us each to choose a rock and to put all of these rocks together into a pile (which reminded me of this similar imagery in the Bible of people piling up stones as memorials and as thanksgiving). As we put our rocks in that pile we were encouraged to say a prayer. That was a really special moment for me and I thanked God for his faithfulness and for my restoration so far and I prayed for my family for the future. It was such a special moment, one I was privileged to share with others and one I shall always cherish.

There is so much more to say as it is impossible to reflect on all that has happened and all that God has spoken to me about in one go… But I will say this! Wow! What an experience! Thank you to all of you who have sponsored me, supported me and cared for Joel and Jonts while I was away. I am truly grateful!

I know I haven’t said anything about climbing Machu Picchu itself, but I will. 🙂 Look out for that post coming soon!

X

IMG_0845.JPG


5 Comments

From fear to freedom (the story of my little ditty)

Some of you may have seen a song that I shared on YouTube earlier this year called “I choose Freedom”. It is a song that I wrote to mark my second cancerversary in April (and had great fun recording thanks to some studio time given to me for my 30th birthday by my amazing husband). It is a song that means a lot to me and I have wanted to share its story for a long time, so here goes…

One of the things that has struck me time and time again when I visit the online cancer chat groups that I am part of is how many people live in fear… Fear of the future, fear of the present, fear of recurrence… It takes many guises. Cancer has struck fear into their hearts and they just can’t shake it. I know about this first hand, as I was absolutely one of those people.

The speaker Christine Caine recently wrote about her cancer diagnosis and what she says about fear really hit home for me:

Fear cripples, immobilises and paralyses us… Fear simply shuts us down, and when we are shut down we cannot fight the good fight of faith. I had a faith battle ahead of me, and the real enemy was not cancer, but fear.

That is how I felt, crippled, immobilised, paralysed by fear. The fear of recurrence coloured my every decision and filled up so much of my headspace there was little room for hope and even less for dreams. It was a place of captivity and certainly not freedom.

One Sunday about a year ago, we were visiting the church where my husband now works. We went along to the evening service and it happened to be about healing. The sermon was about the woman who had been bleeding for many years and who came to Jesus pushing through the crowd. When she got to him, she touched the bottom of his cloak and she was instantly healed (Mark 5:25-29), It was a lovely service, but nothing particularly remarkable happened to me as I listened.

After the service the children’s worker came up to me and said, “Cath, I feel the Lord has shown me that you are like that woman. You have come to Jesus and he has healed you. Now it is time to let go of the heavy burden of fear that you are carrying.” This really spoke to my heart and she prayed for me and then we went on our way.

About two days later I realised that something had happened, that everything had changed. I realised that in that moment, on that unremarkable Sunday evening, something truly remarkable had happened. I realised that the burden of fear that I had been carrying for so long had been completely broken off me and I had been set free. I literally felt like I was no longer carrying a heavy weight, and this dark, heavy burden had been replaced by hope and joy and this completely changed my life!

It was amazing!

Since then, the fear hasn’t returned although I do still have to choose to walk in this freedom. I have to choose not to allow myself back into old thought patterns if I feel them creeping back. I choose to stand on the truth that in Christ I am free and that is truly a wonderful thing.

Here are the lyrics to the chorus of the song and a link to the YouTube clip in case you haven’t seen it. I hope you enjoy it!

And that’s where life is in the freedom of His grace
And there I find joy and rest in his embrace
And I’ve let fear go, it’s a choice that I have made
And I choose freedom, every single day.


12 Comments

One year on

This time last year my world changed forever.

11 April 2012 was a warm sunny day in Cape Town. We had been having such a wonderful holiday seeing my parents with our new baby. That day I had what I thought were just more routine tests following difficulty with breast feeding… But as I had yet another ultrasound, I could tell that something wasn’t right… From the changed demeanour of the doctor, from the big dark patches on the screen. This was followed by a mammogram, which was excruciatingly painful on the side with the malignancy and then finally confirmation of a reality that I had not dared to speak.

It was cancer.

And it was in this moment that everything changed and the bottom fell out of my world. It felt like all of my hopes and dreams had been robbed from me in that instant and they had been replaced by something ugly and difficult, something unwanted, so horrible that some people won’t even say the word. Cancer. In that moment the world seemed a very dark and hopeless place and as I faced my own mortality for the very first time I was terrified.

Following my diagnosis we kicked into survival mode, and getting through each day was an achievement in itself. The months that followed were a blur of treatment and tests, countless visits to the hospital and time spent on the sofa. It was gruelling both physically (chemo in particular does nasty things to your body) as well as mentally (the battle against fear is one that I have had to fight with every ounce of strength I can muster).

But here I am. One year on. Since my diagnosis I have turned 30, had two haircuts, celebrated my baby’s first birthday, and seen my hope rebuilt. I am now beginning to dream again and that is truly wonderful.

I have learnt many things this past year. One of the things I have come to realise is just how much I want to live! And I don’t mean just survive or go through the motions every day. I want to REALLY live! I want to savour each day, take time to be quiet, to enjoy nature, my boy’s development, to pursue my dreams with reckless abandon, to sing at every opportunity, to love my husband and family fiercely, and to run after God with everything I have in me.

That is what having cancer has taught me. To really live and to seek the John 10:10 reality of the abundant life that God promises.


2 Comments

Tombola

On Saturday the family and I went to the garden centre. (I know, very middle aged, but it was raining! 😉 ) We had our lunch and had made our purchases and were on our way out when we spotted a charity tombola stall. 3 tickets for £1… We had to have a go!

There were other people playing too and one of them won a huge bucket of fish blood and bone plant food!! I seriously hoped I didn’t win one too… Yuk! My mum-in-law played first and won an Emma Bridgwater address book and a book on chauffeurs’ etiquette. Not bad! Joel played and won an embroidered bookmark… Less good. I played and won a brand new massive terracotta plant pot… Awesome! 🙂 £3 well spent we felt!

I often think that life seems to be a lot like a tombola. Things happen, good things to “good” people, or good things to “bad” people and the same goes for bad things. There doesn’t seem to be much sense in who gets what circumstances.

Quite a few people have asked me whether I feel angry with God for allowing me to get cancer. The honest answer is no. I have never felt angry with God. I have felt very sad and heartbroken, but never angry. I was thinking about why that is and I think it is because I know that we live in a broken world where there is sickness and suffering and death and things that happen that break God’s heart. I think that my being poorly breaks God’s heart, as do all the horrible things that happen to each one of us. But… I also know that one day everything will be restored. When thinking about this I was reminded if Revelation 21:4 which speaks of this restoration. It says

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

This is such a beautiful image to me and I love that this passage goes on to say that He will make all things new and everything will be restored.

In the meantime, while we wait for this day and as I allow Him, God can use this experience to make something beautiful and I trust that as He does this my life can still glorify Him.


3 Comments

No Signal

Last night Joel and I were watching TV when the heavens absolutely opened outside and it poured and poured and poured. This was some serious rain. (and it made me rather nervous for our camping trip coming up!) As the rain got particularly hard we lost signal on our TV. We were busy watching the final of a cooking competition that I had been avidly following when the signal went out… (Joel was graciously watching to keep me company as he is not a fan!) It was only when the rain subsided that we got the signal back, first just for a second or two and only the sound or the picture. But eventually the signal was restored and I could continue watching cooking to my heart’s content.

To me this is what life is like sometimes. Sometimes just when you feel you are getting to the good bit then the storms come. Sickness turns up, or a job is lost or a loved one passes away. Struggles and challenges ‘rain’ so hard that you feel like you have lost signal and you might not make it at all.

When I was first diagnosed with cancer I was absolutely terrified. I wasn’t really scared of the treatment or even of dying particularly. What I was scared of was that I wouldn’t get to see my baby grow up, that I would die and he wouldn’t have a mummy or any memories of me, and that I would leave Joel to raise him on his own. And that absolutely terrified me and broke my heart at the same time.

It felt like the rain was coming so hard that I could barely stand and signal was definitely lost. But God didn’t leave me in this place and as I have journeyed I have known His comfort and in fits and starts my ‘signal’ has been restored.

In this place I have been reminded of Isaiah 43:1-2 which says:

But now, this is what the Lord says –

he who created you, Jacob,

he who formed you, Israel:

‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;

I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

When you pass through the waters,

I will be with you;

and when you pass through the rivers,

they will not sweep over you.

When you walk through the fire,

you will not be burned;

the flames will not set you ablaze.

For me, this is such a comfort. I know that in everything, through this rainy season, not only am I known to and loved by God but so is my family. He knows what I, my husband and our son need and he will not leave us as we pass through this water and I look forward to the day when my ‘signal’ is restored in full.