Archive for the ‘Challenge’ Category

Making an obstacle an opportunity

This picture captures a moment when I counted my blessings.

My journey through treatment for breast cancer is about so much more than what is happening to my body. The very many obstacles of my treatment create opportunities for deep growth and personal development.

I started this blog quoting Lance Armstrong in his book It’s Not About The Bike. His mother’s words to him to make an obstacle an opportunity helped him to believe he could survive anything – even testicular cancer.

His second book, Every Second Counts, recounts his post-cancer perspective on life. Every second counts as he returns to training for the Tour de France, and also as he recognises how precious and fragile life itself is.

Every moment is significant.

Nothing is wasted.

Lance found that ‘the experience of suffering is like the experience of exploring, of finding something unexpected and revelatory. When you find the outermost thresholds of pain, or fear, or uncertainty, what you experience afterwards is an expansive feeling, a widening of your capabilities.’ (p222)

I am listening to a series of podcast from Mosaic called Reality Check. The talks cover topics such as Making Your Life Count, Is This All There Is? Eternity in Our Hearts. You can download the podcasts here.

The speaker, Erwin McManus, talks about digging deep to find beauty in tragedy.

When we step back and see our situation differently, taking the perspective of eternity, our vision and understanding expands. We begin to glimpse an interconnectedness.

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’

Every experience and every second counts.


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10 days of prayer and repentance. Would you dare to even start?

Straight away you might tell yourself this is not for you. Like me looking at a masterpiece of hand knitting, your mind will tell you ‘You cannot do that” and “You would never finish it

. . until now?

Meet Kelly Needham – a young christian woman who finds herself at home alone for 10 days. She has a choice of being resentful or of accepting this as a chance to do something special.

10 days of prayer and repentance – turning an obstacle into an opportunity.

She set herself the challenge to use the time to reflect on Psalm 139.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139: 23-24

As I cross the bridge toward my life beyond breast cancer I join Kelly on her journey.

Meditating on these two short verses will be part of a good ending for me.

How about joining us and praying for Kelly?

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That’s right – keep me scared.

Use aggressive language that makes my heart stop. Remind me that I am in trouble. Dig up the fear that I have faced over the past year since I was told I had the killer – breast cancer.

Provoke the anger that some of those who grieve struggle to manage.

After all we are meant to LIVE, not die. And more life is always better.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. As I waited for the result of my biopsy last year I saw PINK everywhere I looked – and I hated it. It seemed so frivolous to have tee shirts and bags decked with comments about breast cancer when I was confronting the reality of what it might mean for me. The last thing in the world I wanted to do was wear anything that was PINK.

In this morning’s Telegraph the leader article in the HEALTH section shouts:

Breast Cancer: How to fight off a killer.

Cherrill Hicks reviews the research to give a list of evidence based advice on what you can do to reduce your risk of breast cancer. You can read her article here – she tells you to:

  • Stop smoking
  • Limit your use of the Pill
  • Weigh up the risks and benefits of HRT
  • Breastfeed
  • Have babies early (before age 35)
  • Cut down on alcohol
  • Take regular exercise
  • Keep to a healthy weight
  • Eat less fat
  • Be ‘breast aware’

Her final point is . . . And don’t worry about  . . . coffee, stress, food additives, pesticides, antiperspirants, underwired bras, abortion, or trauma to your breast. There is no evidence that any of these increase the risk.

Well, Cherrill, your reassurance means nothing to me. I merit a gold star in all your categories. Clearly I am very low risk for breast cancer.

In my own lifetime I have seen ‘no evidence’ turn to ‘clear evidence’ about the links between smoking and lung cancer, the HPV virus and cancer of the cervix to mention just two areas of research.

No evidence means simply that – no evidence.

Buried in her first paragraph is the most important comment of her whole article: “A woman’s individual risk is largely down to factors beyond her control, such as genes, family history and, to some extent, chance”.

Last week I overheard someone speak of the trauma of ill-health in their 40’s, commenting “It’s not fair”. And I remember my struggles with ‘How long have I got‘. There is some research that shows EVERYONE agrees that 500 years is too long to live.

One of the most useful pieces of advice I found on my own journey through breast cancer was that first of all you need to give up any thought of having a right to a certain length of life.

How simple, pragmatic and helpful.

Killers are everywhere – and I am more aware of the risks to my body when I am driving on the M40 than when I am drinking a cup of coffee.

But there is one enormous benefit of having confronted a killer disease with my body. I accept the evidence that I have 100% certainty that I will die one day. This clarity brings with it an awareness that the highest stakes I face are in the battle for my soul. There are questions I must ask and issues I must address  . .

. . . because none of us knows how long we have got.

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

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Yes, decluttering sounds like a good idea.

But where do you start and how do you make all the decisions that will open up?

You can easily get stuck in a classic knowing-doing dilemma. You know you want to change, you might even know WHAT you want to change, but you just don’t know what to DO or where to START.

Keeping the status quo feels safer.

Well the good news is that many people have walked this path before us and have left some useful tips.

Here are three powerful questions to ask in any situation where you need to clarify your position and make a decision: you want to bridge the knowing-doing-gap.

What?    So what?   Now what?

WHAT? – is your chance to look objectively at the facts.

You can ask more questions here to paint a full picture – What exactly is it? What exactly happened? Where did it come from? Do I like it?

SO WHAT? – takes you deeper and leads you to explore what this means to you.

You can ask more questions here to explore what is really going on. How do you feel about it? What assumptions are you making? What do you care about? What upsets you? What are you proud of?

NOW WHAT? – here you take the information you learned from the first two questions and use it to see your situation from a different perspective.

You apply your new insights to ask more questions about the bigger picture, exploring different view points. What would happen if I did nothing? What would happen if I changed . . . ? What do I contribute to this situation? Can I make a change? What needs to happen for me to . . . ?

Here is a simple example from decluttering my home.

I have three glass bowls from my grandmother.

WHAT? are they – lustre glass, orange, old-fashioned. I don’t use them. I don’t like them very much. They have no monetary value (I checked).

SO WHAT? – They remind me of my grandmother, and the times we spent together. They help me to remember her life and her qualities. I value remembering her. I loved her.

NOW WHAT? – Do I need all three? Can I remember her in other ways? How would I feel if I gave them away?

My decision? – I gave two to the charity shop and kept one. And funnily enough, the one that I kept seems brighter and more shiny than before – I like it 🙂

Next time you find yourself puzzled about how to change the things you know you need to change, try asking yourself three whats . . .

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Never give up

Staying on the subject of coping with life’s challenges and changes, this spunky frog inspires me.

Some challenges are huge, the odds are stacked against you, and you are running out of resources.

And yet because you want to win through you fight on.

This frog is not allowing himself to be overwhelmed by the problem – he has found a way forward and is taking hold of it with all his strength.

Never give up!

I love it 🙂

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My father used to say that God sometimes has to put people on their back to get them to look up.

When the horizon you always held in front of you is taken away you have no choice but to see things from a different perspective.

Change happens.

You can fight it, but you will not win. To go forward again YOU have to change.

This can mean changing how you think, how you view things, how you interpret things and how you do things.

This year is completely topsy-turvy for me. I feel everything has changed.

Some of my new perspective is very cerebral, and some is beautifully practical – like DE-CLUTTERING.

As I climb out of round 3 of my treatment, I am energised in a relentless quest to put away, give away and throw away. Nothing is safe.

I want to create an environment that supports me and does not tie me down. I want to make space for what is really important to me and make time for what I really want to do.

Of course lots of people have done this before me. Like this young entrepreneur who got out of the cubicle – a rigid (office) environment. He asked himself some challenging questions before his life became entangled with responsibilities.

He talks about lifestyle design:

it’s about choices, about you, about a design, about a plan, about action, about dedication, about passion and about change.

In essence it takes positive effort and no-one will do it for you.

His plan and choices will not be the same as yours, and yet you can learn a lot from his courage in being true to his values.

Choosing to change is about thinking outside the box and asking some challenging questions.

Join me if you can – take time, be curious and explore what is or is not precious to you?

Maybe lying on your back for a while will help to focus your mind . . .

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If only . .

Have you ever found yourself lost in the maze of your thoughts where every sentence begins with “if only”?

If only I had left on time . . if only I hadn’t been speeding . . if only I hadn’t said that.

You can wear yourself out exploring how things might have been different. And the scenario you imagine can be better or worse than what actually happened.

The trouble with this is that you lose touch with the reality of what did happen. You put yourself through the roller coaster of emotions that go with each scenario . . regret, shame, fear, guilt, anxiety, blame.

This is a common trap for women with breast cancer – and maybe you recognise it in yourself in other situations.

If only . . if only  . . if only . .

A colleague of mine told me what his mother said about her breast cancer – “How is it that the worst thing that ever happened to me turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me?”

What she learned from her experience, and the choices she made, changed her life for the better.

Have you heard the story of the burning hut?

A guy is shipwrecked at sea and washes up on a deserted island. He waits to be rescued but no one comes. Eventually he builds a hut to keep him out of the elements. He is off trying to gather food when his hut catches fire.

He curses God, crying out “How could you do this to me?”

The next day a ship arrives to rescue him. “How did you find me?” he asks of his rescuers.

“We saw your smoke signal.”

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