The Wilderness of Cancer

I don’t know what it feels like to have cancer. For some its short, for some its long, for some sadly its terminal. Observing my dad, family, and others in hospitals over the last 18 months has taught me a lot.  One thing I’ve learnt is that the journey can be long and lonely.

Even in my own journey of being the ‘daughter’ there have been times when it’s felt long and lonely.  My relationship with God means I have this promise that I’m never alone, and I know that, but there can be times when you’re physically alone with God and you’re aware of that.   It’s been in those times that I’ve dug deeper than ever into God and my Bible.

Back in March I was having a ‘down week’. We all have them right?  Everything feels too much, life feels like a drag, you try to lift yourself up but you can’t.   My husband Mel was going out to speak at a youth event that Friday evening.  He really wanted me to go with him.  He just wanted me to get out of the house, be in a different place, do something different.  I love how he’s cherished me during this time.  I agreed with him that it would be good for me to go out, but for that night I’d already planned to have a devotion time with God.  A devotion time with God is when I set aside time, and it’s just me, my Bible and an expectation to hear God speak to me.  That might sound strange to some, but it’s become a normal thing I do in my life, something I look forward to.  On this particular evening Mel was going to be out with Malachi and I intended to put Judah to bed early, so I could make the most of the time I had.  I lit a candle – only because I like candles and started reading Isaiah 43.  As I read, some words literally popped out at me.  I love it when this happens!  This is how God speaks to me, it’s happened many times before.  I knew those were the words I needed to focus on that night.

Isaiah 43:19

I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

That word ‘wilderness’ just grabbed me.  That was what I felt cancer was like, it was like a wilderness.  It felt like a wild, uncultivated land we were in, like a desert.  There weren’t always clear roads. There weren’t always lots of people around.  The beginning of the journey looked very different to the middle of the journey.  Its often in the middle of your journey that you feel most alone.  It can be the messiest, and most painful time.  Lovely people may begin the journey with you but because the journey is long they can’t always stay with you.  The middle can be the most frustrating part because you long for the end.

This doesn’t necessarily just apply to the journey with cancer.  It could be the journey of marriage.  That wedding day, the start of this new adventure begins with beauty, extravagance, fun, laughter.  But for so many within a few weeks of marriage, the middle of that journey can look so very different.  There may be conflict, differences of opinions, clashes, and again you find yourself in a wilderness, a place you’ve never been before.  More than anything you just want resolve, you just want to get out of that wilderness into ‘happier’ place.

The funny thing is, it’s in your ‘wilderness’ where you learn the most.  As I read that night I sensed God say ‘I will ALWAYS make a way in the wilderness.’   That was it, that was all I needed to hear.  In those nine words, He had me.  He had my full attention and the heaviness I felt that week just lifted.  He was always going to make a way in the wilderness for me.  The next morning I called my dad and told him, ‘Dad, God’s going to make a way, He always has and He always will.’  Next I called my brother and I told him the same.  ‘We don’t need to worry about the future’ I told him ‘God’s going to make a way.’  In my heart there was this confidence that rose, as I began seeing all the ways God had made a way for us already.

The time mum and dad were feeling lonely and their friends called and said they were bringing over breakfast for them – God made a way!

The time dad needed fluid drained from his stomach but the hospital had no beds available.  We prayed and within 10 minutes a bed was ready – God made a way!

The time friends from New Zealand ordered fresh scones to be delivered to my house because they heard my pain – God made a way!

The countless number of people who have turned up at my parents house to pray with them, to encourage them – God made a way!

The friends and family continually asking how I’m doing, the encouraging songs, messages, verses people have sent  – God made a way!

The 76 year old man who woke up and prayed ‘Lord send me someone because I’m lonely,’  but then thought of my dad  and decided he’d been the one to make the home visit that day – He walked into the house, barely able to walk properly himself, but sat with dad, encouraged him by reading from the Bible and praying for him – God made a way!

The time I sat at Colour Conference with 10,000 ladies, yet feeling alone and heartbroken with what was happening around me and then I got a text from a friend saying ‘where are you? Are you here? I need to see you and pray with you.  She ran towards me, baby in tow and we just sobbed together and cried out to God!  It was messy, there was snot everywhere 😂, but there was unity – God made a way!

He always makes a way.  In that middle of the journey, He makes a way.  Sadly instead of looking at all the ‘ways’ God provides, we focus on the result.  The result of resolve, the result of healing, the result of completion, the result of ‘happiness’.  Could it be that the ‘middle’, this wilderness is more about revelation?  It reveals who you are.  It may reveal insecurities you have that you never knew you had.  It may reveal deep hidden fears.  It may reveal a real need for God and community, and in turn you may see God revealed to you in ways you never imagined.

Could we be someone’s way in the wilderness?  If we know someone experiencing cancer, or some other kind of wilderness, maybe we could make a huge difference in their lives.  Here’s some ideas I thought of that most people could do:

• An encouraging phone call

• Visiting that friend or family member and just listening them.  Your presence can be worth more than you would imagine

• Baking them a cake or any other type of food   – food does bring happiness!!  Find out what their favourite food/ drink is!

• Offer to help in practical ways

• Don’t wait for the person to tell you what they need, try to think about that yourself.  They have enough to think about

• Take the person out for a coffee, or a night out, or even just a walk in the park.

• Bring laughter into their life – a funny card, watch a funny movie together, tell them a funny story

Whatever we do, we need to do something. There are too many lonely people out there that need us to be used by God to make a way in their wilderness.

Deep Calls to deep

It’s not easy writing about something so personal.  I initially thought it would be straightforward but it’s not.  This blog has taken me so long to write.  There’s been times when I’ve felt motivated to write but then sat in front of the lap top not wanting to type the words you’re about to read because it was too painful to process.

The last six to seven months have been tough. Towards the end of September dad’s health got worse.  He’d just had a great 6 weeks of good health, riding the buses in London, going to fruit and vegetable markets, riding a bike at Center Parcs.  It seemed like everything was going so well.   But then in a matter of 7 days we began to notice that some things weren’t right and dad began to feel really unwell.  He had noticed his stomach begin to enlarge and it felt heavy to walk around.  It soon began to affect his breathing too.

Upon a routine visit to see his Oncologist, she noticed how much discomfort he was in and sent him straight to A+E.  Those calls are the worst.  When you’re far away and you can hear that someone you love is in pain and struggling to breathe.  I can’t begin to describe how I felt.  Sick, is the only descriptive word I can think of.  I felt sick that my dad was suffering, sick that there was nothing I could do to help.  I felt like every recent call had indicated that dad was deteriorating, quickly.  While at hospital they drained 7 litres of fluid from his stomach.  Can you imagine carrying 7 large Evian bottles of water in your stomach?  All of us were shocked that dad had been carrying this much fluid.  The cancer was now causing irritation in his stomach causing this accumulation of excess fluid and it needed to be drained.

The next day after work I crashed on the sofa. I’d had enough, my head was full, my emotions were frazzled, I couldn’t function. My eldest son, Malachi (12) came over to me and just held my hand.  He didn’t say a word. In that moment he knew, mum didn’t need words, she just needed someone to hold her hand.  His sensitivity to my needs during this time has been unbelievable.   That weekend we had been praying together with dad and Malachi told dad that as we were praying he saw a picture of an umbrella.  He said he sensed God was saying to dad that He would protect Him from the rain.  He even picked out a verse from the Bible about God’s protection and told his Grandad ‘you see, this is what God is saying to you.’  I’m seeing this adversity shape my son into a young man who is confident in God’s love for him, regardless of the circumstances.

For a few weeks it felt like wave after wave of sorrow and despair.

Psalm 42:7 

Deep calls to deep

    in the roar of your waterfalls;

all your waves and breakers

    have swept over me.

Deep within me I knew I needed God and that was what my daily conversation with God sounded like.  I need you God, I need you God, I NEED you God!  It was crystal clear to me that I couldn’t walk this journey without Him. From the depth of my heart – I hoped it would connect with the depth of God’s heart and cover the depth of my family’s pain.

I’ve seen mum and dad cry out from the depth of their hearts.  I think sometimes when we cry out to God we also become sensitive to hearing his voice.  I’ll never forget the very first appointment we had with Dad’s oncologist.  They had told us to come prepared with questions.  That morning was a sombre one.  We were still just getting our heads around what was happening.  As I put breakfast together Dad walked in and said, ‘listen, I’ve got something to tell you all.  This morning I was praying and I asked God whether I should ask the doctor how long I have to live.  God told me ‘ I’m the one who breathed life into you, so I’ll decide when its time for you to come home. Why ask the doctors?’

We all stood there amazed with what dad was saying. He spoke with such confidence, trusting in the words he had just heard.  The depth of God’s heart had reached the depth of his heart causing a deep courage to rise. This meant even if wave after wave was to crash against our hearts, there was an impenetrable connection with God that kept us anchored in hope.

Deep calls to deep.

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 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.