Messy Thankfulness

In July we received some great news. Dad’s cancer had not progressed. It had stood still. As I heard those words I remembered what I learnt earlier that year. I had been reading about when Jesus calmed the storm and I had felt challenged to face storms as Jesus did. With calmness, authority, power and peace ( I wrote about the this in the blog called ‘Character of a Tumour’). I sensed God say He CAN stop the storms in our lives. With just one word the waves can stop crashing against the boat of our lives and the storm doesn’t need to progress. It can just come to a halt. As I heard the words ‘the cancer hasn’t progressed’ I was so relieved and I thanked God over and over again. The cancer had come to a halt. I know dad had chemotherapy and medically we would say that the treatment was effective but when you’re faced with only a 10-20% chance of it working, I couldn’t help but thank God that it worked for dad. I believe with my whole heart that He made this possible.

Over the next few days we began planning a BBQ – a small thank you get-together. For us it was the perfect opportunity to say thank you to friends and family that had supported us over the previous 10 months and an opportunity to collectively thank God. Some might think ‘why would you thank God when the cancer is still there?’ Technically there wasn’t full healing, the progression of the condition had simply stopped.

In my opinion we had every reason to be thankful. I was thankful that dad was feeling better. I was thankful his quality of life had improved. I was thankful to share more moments and memories with dad. I was thankful to see him thankful. That night dad shared his story. He talked about the dark lonely times and how God was with him and gave him hope. My dad’s face lit up as he spoke of his Friend, his Saviour who never left him, who carried him through this difficult time. He experienced a closeness to God he’d never experienced before. Dad was so happy and he wanted to everyone to hear how faithful and good God had been.

You see cancer is messy. Cancer is horrible. Cancer can be devastating. However it’s often in the mess where miracles happen (love this quote by Brene Brown). There were moments of leaning into God during this messy season that led to miracles. I think nowadays peace is a miracle. Coming to a place of being able to forgive yourself and forgive others can be seen as a miracle. Something deep that happens internally. Freedom is a miracle. To be going through a time of suffering yet being able to surrender that suffering to God knowing His ways are better than ours is liberating. It’s liberating knowing God’s got you, He’s in this with us. We’ve experienced the miracle of freedom in this time. As I watched mum and dad go through the mess of this season I saw them embrace peace, confidence and freedom. Something miraculous happened inside them. Something miraculous happened inside me!! Life became bigger, I saw the value of life, the temporary nature of life, the value of relationships, time, things I could take for granted. We often look for the big obvious miracles in life but what about the miracles that go on everyday?

We chose thankfulness because the opposite is being thankless and ungrateful. Surely all of us have something to be grateful for.

So I’ve decided, gratefulness needs to be part of my everyday life! Apparently there are great benefits to it too ( https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/ 201504/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-gratitude)

We don’t know what the future holds but we remain thankful.

Psalm 34: 1 I bless God every chance I get, my lungs expand with praise.

CONTROL

When tough times come do you run from God or do you stay and discover how you could grow as a person in those times?
The desire to run is so real though, especially when you feel broken.  When we initially heard the news that my dad had cancer, I found it so difficult to pray.  I knew it was the right thing to do but I just couldn’t do it.  The pain of what I was experiencing was just too much.  For me to pray meant that I needed to speak those words out.  I needed to speak about those things with God.  But I just couldn’t.  Instead I got people around me to pray.  To pray on my behalf, to say the things I was too hurt to say.  As I did that, the burden lightened but deep down I knew I needed to pray about this myself too.  It was like I was avoiding a conversation that needed to happen.  But still the pain of it stopped me.

One night I sat with my parents and we prayed together before they went off to bed.  ‘You pray’ said mum.  ‘Me pray?’  I thought.  This was the very thing I had been trying to avoid.  Caving inside I went for it.  You know when you’ve got to have that conversation you really don’t want to have and your heart starts beating really fast because you know you’ve got to say some things you’re going to find difficult to say?  That was where I was at.  That night I asked God to heal my dad.  I asked Him to strengthen him and us from the inside out.  I prayed God could do what only He could do – a miracle!  As I spoke to God a heaviness lifted off me.  The pain wasn’t mine to carry.  As I went to bed that night I felt relief, relief that I could talk to someone stronger than myself who could carry the weight of what was upon us.

That heaviness though, very sneakily took residence in my heart again so quickly.  Some days I would try to carry it all by myself, it would seem easier that way.  Or I would get so busy with life that I didn’t realise it was building inside me.  When I say heaviness I mean the weight of my emotions and the constant traffic jam of thoughts and questions.   Seeing dad in discomfort post chemotherapy can be horrible.   I wish I could take away the pain, I wish he didn’t have to suffer, I try to make sense of it all and then I go back and forth in conversations in my head.  I just wish it could all be different.

One week at church we sang the words to this song…..

I lift my hands to Heaven

Here my heart surrendered

I tell myself again

You are Lord of All

And though the seas are raging

You will speak and tame them

In you I find my rest

You are in control

As we sang that song the first time I stood, not singing along but just looking at the words, feeling so full of this heaviness.  I couldn’t bear to say those words to God, so I quickly went off to the toilets as I felt tears well up in my eyes and I became aware that I wasn’t going to be able to hold the tears back.  In that cubicle I cried my eyes out.  I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t give control to God.  I wanted control.  I wanted to make everything ok.  I wanted to do something so my dad would get better.  I wanted to make everything ok for my mum.  But the truth was I couldn’t.  I couldn’t take control.  I sobbed until I got to the point when I was ready to hand it over.  When you hand something over you literally surrender it.  When someone surrenders themselves to the police they lift their hands up as a sign of surrender.  When we were kids and we used to playfight, we used to have to shout ‘ I surrender!!’  to indicate we wanted to give up and we wanted the pain to stop.  There and then in that toilet cubicle I chose to surrender.  I lifted up my hands to God and asked him to ‘TAKE IT.’  From that day on I needed to make surrendering to God a daily thing, not just when it got too much or wait for it to get too much.  I had to surrender my pain, emotions, fragility, and brokenness to then rest in His promises to shine through me even on the darkest days.  Sounds easy but it’s crazy how real the resistance was in me to hand it over.  Probably because I like to take control, I like to fix things.  Only thing is there’s some things in life that are not for us to fix…….

 

Well-being and Wholeness

Over the last few weeks I had been feeling so tired!  I was going to bed at 8pm and sleeping a full 12 hours and then still tired in the morning. I knew something was wrong.  I knew my body was lacking something.  I was getting rest, I wasn’t overdoing things but yet I still felt drained.  Something internally felt off balance.

For me it was anaemia, my blood iron levels weren’t high enough.  That meant as a result I felt FATIGUE…..drained.  As soon as that iron kicked into my blood stream I started to feel the difference, I felt amazing!  It’s so interesting how imbalance can cause such a disturbance to your well-being.  It made me think about other imbalances in my life and how they can disturb my well-being and the well-being of my family. I was surprised to see how my tiredness affected the rest of my family.  It meant early nights for me, so less time for me and Mel to be together in the evenings.  Less time chatting, less time laughing, less time communicating, less time loving and appreciating each other don’t help our marriage!  With the kids I just felt like I was waiting for them to get to bed.  I was there with them but I wasn’t really there.  I felt guilty for not feeling motivated to get up and do things with them.  The tiredness affected the whole household.   I think sometimes we think our well being only affects us, when really its affects so many people.  

I know for me that worry has the ability to cause imbalance in my life.  If I allow worry to consume me or take over it affects me physically, mentally, spiritually and it affects the people around me.  Worry drains me.  Worry robs me of living in the moment.  Worry irritates me!  I wasn’t created to live in worry.  In my life there would be circumstances that would cause worries but the intention has always been for me to live light by giving those worries to God.  You see as a Christian, we’re told by God to give our worries to him.  I forget that He wants to take as much as He wants to give. But how do you give your worries  to him?  Even as I’m writing this I can see how this could sound wishy washy.

 A few months ago I was reading my Bible and I came across Phillipians 4:6 (MSG) .  It says ‘Don’t fret or worry.  Instead of worrying, pray.  Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.  Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.  It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the centre of your life’

 The idea of allowing petitions and praises SHAPE my worries into prayers really intrigued me.  I really felt as if I was being guided how to give my worries to God.  I was to allow petitions and praises to SHAPE my worries into prayers.  Over this last weekend I’ve seen and heard that works!!  I was talking to my mum the other day. The last few months have been the most difficult season she’s been through with discovering dad had cancer and obviously coming to terms with that.  A few days ago I asked her how she felt about the future.  She told me she wasn’t worried anymore and that she trusted God and she believed no-one could out do God with His goodness in her life.  Whatever happened she knew she could trust her God.

As she spoke I heard peace. I heard the transition that had taken place over the last few months from worry to wholeness.  I’d been watching my mum over the last few months.  Those first few months were not easy but I never saw her give in.  She would praise and continue to ask God for healing, for strength, for guidance. In her praise she would sing songs declaring who Jesus was, her loving Father, she would sing about His love for her and from that would flow adoration for God and a trust in Him.  I watched and listened to her and dad do this day in day out, even on the tough days.  That commitment, that consistency, that leaning in has shaped her worries into prayers that have resulted in wholeness.  Recently a neighbour came to visit their home and while she was there she mentioned that she always feels peace in their home whenever she comes over. Mum’s wellbeing and wholeness creates a happy home, a home in which faith, hope and love exists , and despite the circumstances we find ourselves in, there’s rest ❤

Hang on to hope

There was a period of time (a very short period) a few months ago when Liverpool FC were been doing really well in the Premiership and I saw hope rise in my son and husband.  After months of staying faithful despite the results, there was a glimmer of hope.  Hope that they may bring the Cup home or even make it into the Champions League! Their little faces looked so cute as they’d wait in anticipation for victory!!  They had a chance, there was light at the end of the tunnel, they did not walk alone……..Pity it didn’t last long haha! Their hope and excitement made the game look so much more appealing to me! It’s interesting how hope can keep you going, even if you feel you’re loosing in life or you’re going through a tough season. Hope can  ignite you, hope can give you life.  Hope can literally jump start a seemingly dead situation.

Hope has been a jump starter in so many areas of my life.  When married life has been tougher than expected, when I’ve wondered if we’d ever be able to get over a painful situation, when life has felt stale and I’ve wondered if there was anything more to it, when I wondered whether those early days of motherhood would get any easier!!  We all hang on to hope at some point in our lives.  We might hope for a better future, hope for a better job, hope that the following year will be a better one.  But what is hope without an anchor?  I mean what do we anchor our hope to?  Otherwise hope is just this feeling of optimism.  Surely it needs to be connected to something stronger than your desire?  Surely it needs to be connected to something certain.  Often our hope is connected to an uncertainty.  Sometimes my boys say ‘I hope daddy gets home early today.’  When they say this they’re telling me what they’re hoping for but there’s a chance it may not happen.  Trains may be delayed, dad may end up chatting with someone at the end of the day (regular occurrence) or dad may just have so much work to do that its just not possible for him to leave on time.

Most of the time, when we express hope, we are expressing uncertainty. But hope that is anchored to certainty is different.  There’s confidence connected to it.

There’s a confident expectation and desire for something good in the future.

For me my anchor of hope is God.  I’ve learnt over the years that He is trustworthy, He is reliable, His love is unfailing and He is my Strength.   He causes me to expect good for the future.  I’m not only expectant, I’m confident!  Whether its good or bad in my understanding, I’m confident in who my God is and He only does good.  So during uncertain times I have to actively remind myself of this because the truth as its easy to get down, discouraged and feel like God has left you, to even be confused by God and His ways.

I love the way the psalmists also struggled to maintain their hope in God. This is so normal.  They struggled but they also fought to keep their hope anchored.   Our fight for hope needs to remain real and active.  Keep fighting!!!

Recently with cancer being so real in our family we’ve needed to hang on to hope.  When doctors have spoken uncertain words,  we’ve had to fight back with hope.  When I’ve laid in bed and uncertainty has swept over me and caused me to wake up in a panic, this confident hope has relieved the panic and calmed my fears.  There’s been times when I’ve felt so hopeless I’ve not wanted to get out of bed.  Whilst scrolling through social media I’ve come across post after post about hope in God and ended up reminding myself that hopelessness is a feeling and I cannot rely on my feelings.  I rely on my certain hope to jump start me and keep me going.  Hope gives me confidence in the future.

 

The Character of a Tumour

I jumped in the car after doing the daily school run in a rush as usual trying to get to work on time.  The phone buzzed and I picked up, it was my brother.  For the millionth time in those last few days he had phoned to see if I was ok.  Conversation naturally was about dad.  He went on to ask me some medical questions he couldn’t get his head around.  Although my medical knowledge was pretty limited I attempted to answer his questions .  ‘I just don’t understand why the tumour has to be treated surgically,’ he said.  ‘There’s a good chance they got it all out when they did the biopsy.  Why do they have to go in and remove more?’  It was a valid question.  I paused for a moment and thought back to what the nurse had told me on the phone.  He had told me the tumour was ‘aggressive’.  That was the character of the tumour.  Some tumours are slow growing and some are aggressive.  Some tumours are well contained and some infiltrate surrounding areas. Character says a lot about a person or thing. The character of this tumour was dictating what the treatment would be. To be sure that the tumour wouldn’t continue to be aggressive it needed to be cut off, it needed to be stopped.  The character of the tumour was causing the medical experts to respond with radical treatment. To be honest the character of this tumour caused us to respond with PANIC.  It was aggressive!  That meant it could invade other spaces. That was scary.  After trying to explain the best I could I put the phone down and I cried as I drove to work.  As tears fell down my cheeks  I sensed God say to me ‘whose character do you trust?’  The character of a tumour or the character of your God.  Trust isn’t always easy to give or earn,  but over the years God had won more and more of my trust.  People could let me down but I knew I could trust God.   In that moment I thought back to when Jesus was in the boat with the disciples and they faced a storm.  The character of the storm was bad.  It was potentially fatal.  It was so windy, there were high tides and crashing waves. That must have been so scary and it definitely must have caused PANIC.  Personally I’m not good in boats so I know I would have been freaking out!  The boat would have been rocking from side to side so I know nausea would have gotten the better of me and the insides of my stomach would have been everywhere!  The character of the storm was huge and may have caused all sorts of responses but the character of the person in the boat was way bigger.  Jesus’ character was calm, full of peace, full of authority, full of power.  All He needed to do was say STOP and the waves obeyed him.  As I considered this, peace filled my heart, peace filled my mind.  This tumour may have a crazy character but the character of my God was bigger.  His approach to the storm was with calmness, authority, power and peace  This was how I needed to approach this tumour.  There and then in the car I chose who I was going to trust and what my approach to all this was going to be.  I was to calm down, know that God’s peace lived in me, that it was a gift He had given me, know that I carry authority and the same power that rose Jesus from the dead lived in me.  As much as all of this seemed huge to me……my God was BIGGER.  His character was the one that mattered the most!

The Day after Diagnosis Day

Just before I opened my eyes I wished it was all a dream.  I hoped the last 24 hours hadn’t happened.  Despite my best efforts to wish it all away, the harsh reality was that Diagnosis Day  did happen and I needed to face that.  My dad had cancer.  Sadness was what I felt but I knew it was a feeling that I needed to give to God.  I knew God could exchange that sadness for hope and He could lighten my heavy heart.  I’d experienced it before so I knew I could trust Him.  Whilst talking to Mel and unloading my feelings, he said something that made me think.  ‘Sadness is a place we all visit but you don’t have to live there.’ That’s so true I thought. If I lived there all it would do is depress me further and immobilize me.  I needed to live in the hope that God gives me.  So that morning I decided I was going to call my dad, hold back the tears and speak life and hope into this situation.  Before we talked I texted him the verse from Isaiah 43 again

‘ hey dad this is a promise from God you need to hold on to….

1 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.

As me and dad spoke he told me something that totally amazed me.  He told me that the night before’ diagnosis day’  he couldn’t sleep. So he got up and read his bible. He said he literally just opened his bible and it fell onto the story in Daniel about the three men in the fiery furnace.  A king had ordered that these men be thrown into a fire because they refused to worship him or his gods .  The King was so angry with these men that he ordered that the furnace be heated up seven times hotter than usual!!!  That was HOT!!!!  The three men amazingly and miraculously walked around in the fire and were unharmed, no single burn on their bodies.  They walked out of the fire completely untouched by it all.

Here was my dad totally unaware that the next day he’d be facing a fire of his own, reading a story about three men who were miraculously protected by their God.

Some might call that a coincidence.  I don’t.  Could it be that God, the Beginning and the End, the one who knows everything before it even happens, loved my dad so much that He would want to prepare him for what lay ahead?  Could it be that He wanted to speak with him, and reassure him that no flames could touch him?  And then for me to go and say the same words to him today!!! Wow well that just blew me away.

When you call on God and you do it in truth, He really is so near to us.  So near that you can hear Him.  So near that He’ll repeat himself.  So near that He’ll pour His strength into us to make us strong from the inside out.

The Dreaded Word

img_1085A week ago I had the FaceTime conversation that I had dreaded.  Dad had been in and out of hospital for tests on his bladder for weeks and now we were waiting on the results.  The waiting game is awful isn’t it?  Your mind races with all sorts of scenarios, your mind goes to places it shouldn’t and you end up imagining yourself in a future least preferred or even feared.  Mum couldn’t hold in the heart breaking news they had just received.  As soon as she could she told me ‘its bad news.’  Bad news isn’t what I wanted to hear.  Bad news was the last thing I wanted.  I knew in my heart ‘bad news’ meant CANCER..  The word cancer pierced right through me.  My dad couldn’t have cancer.  He’s hardly ever been sick.  I was naive enough to even think that cancer wasn’t possible in our family.  What do you mean its cancer?  My dad had been diagnosed with bladder cancer, an adenocarcinoma.  Tears ran down my face unable to comprehend what was actually being communicated to me.  As a family we were facing something that was way bigger than any of us.  Something we had no experience with, something we knew could be cured but something we also knew could be fatal.  After a few moments of silence, I managed to compose myself.  ‘Before we do or say anything else, lets pray,’ I said to mum and dad.  This diagnosis was huge and there was only one person I knew who was bigger than the diagnosis.  As I sobbed and talked to God, and cried out to Him to help us I remembered one of His promises in Isaiah 43.  God had said ‘When you walk through fire, the flames will not consume you.’  Who chooses to walk through fire?  You’d have to be crazy in my opinion.  Who chooses to have cancer?  No one.  But its a fire many have to walk through.  According to Cancer Research UK every two minutes someone in the UK is diagnosed with cancer.  This was a fire my dad was to walk through, but in that moment I sensed God with us and knew the flames would not consume him.  Would he feel the heat?  Sure he would.  Would the intensity of the heat increase?  It could do.  Would he feel scared at some points.  Probably.  Did I understand why this was all happening?  No, not at all but the bigger question was what was God going to show us through all of this?

That first day was horrible.  I felt heartbroken, deeply saddened and just heavy with this  ‘bad news.’  I didn’t really want to talk about it with anyone.  I went to bed devastated  but not before a quick FaceTime call with my dad to check he was ok.  To my surprise he was as chirpy as usual, being strong for us no doubt.  Before he said goodnight to me he insisted I smile.  ‘Smile,’ he said ‘Your daddy is going to be fine!’