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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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I met a happy man . .

I met a happy man in the rain today.

We arrived from opposite directions to shelter under the wide overhang of a roof, overlooking the canal.

Me on my way to hospital for treatment, he on his way back from hospital where he had visited a friend.

We both carried a small backpack – and he had a bicycle.

Our eyes met as we scanned the grey clouds.

“How long do you think it will last?” I asked

“Aw, just a shower, we will be alright here.”

I admired the waterproof cover he had on his backpack – and a bond grew between us.

He is 66 years old and had cycled – from Truro in Cornwall – to visit his friend. A six day journey following the river and canal paths.

He had his tent, sleeping bag and stove in his small backpack; a laptop in his pannier, and a mobile phone in his pocket.  He had spent the morning in the library catching up on emails for his friend.

He was travelling light!

When he retired he bought a small apartment in Truro, and a ‘wee boat’. His father always told him there was so much of Britain that was beautiful but never seen. And so his aim is to explore the hidden parts.

Tonight he will sleep by the river.

“May I ask you a question?” I said with a teasing smile.

His eyes danced as he moved closer. “Sure, go ahead.”

“If I were to ask you to measure how happy you are on a scale of one to ten, what would you say”

“Easy – NINE . . . Especially since I had both knees replaced 15 weeks ago. My doctor told me to act normally – and this is as normal as I can get.”

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Our day had a clear theme from start to finish – STUFF HAPPENS

Thought for the day on the radio at 7.45 launched the theme – bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. Our beliefs and expectations for life are constantly challenged.

BC and I heard this as we travelled by car to the reunion of Spurgeon’s Scholars – people who were brought up in Spurgeon’s orphanages. BC has supported Spurgeons for many years and offered to help out at today’s event.

What an inspiring place to be.

C. H. Spurgeon (1834-92) was England’s best-known preacher for most of the second half of the nineteenth century. Within 4 years of his conversion to christianity at age 15 he was preaching to audiences of over 10,000. Money poured in to support his ministry. He used this to set up homes for needy children.

So there we were among 100 men and women who had grown up in an ‘orphanage’. One woman’s father died when he was working on the Ugandan railway. Her mother had to make her way back to UK with her four young children and find some way to earn a living – unable to meet the needs of her family. This ex scholar spoke of how happy her time at Spurgeon’s was – never bored, never hungry, always well fed and well dressed. And she also spoke with tears in her eyes of how becoming a mother herself helped her realise what letting go of her children had meant to her mother. She had always wondered why her mother did not look back when she left her at the orphanage. And she spoke of how lucky she was to have known the security of her Spurgeon’s childhood.

Another man was rescued from an abusive family. For years he stayed in a corner at Spurgeons, not speaking and not participating. He gradually learned to trust others and now has a successful career and secure marriage. His comment was that he praised God for the fresh start the home had given him.

BC and I drove home feeling deeply moved at how effective and significant C.H. Spurgeon’s vision to support the young had been.

And, to top off the day, we chanced on Gareth Malone’s programme about giving young people from disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to sing opera with him at Glyndebourne. The Times reports this as “One of the most enthralling, informative and uplifting reality series yet made”.

I wept as I watched. Gareth is taking young people who have a tough start in life with no self-confidence and little opportunity to better themselves. He is giving them a chance to explore their own gifts and talents. His belief in them is moving and inspiring. But not all respond to the gift he offers.

Yes, stuff happens in our lives . . . and yet . . . if we turn our focus towards what we can do with what we have now, who knows what we can achieve in our own lives and in the lives of those around us?

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What do you do to escape from reality?

Hercule Poirot solves that problem for me.

ITV3  is running through the series of Agatha Christie’s Poirot. The programmes have been my escape from reality over the past months – my treat at the end of a day when I can switch off my brain and my body and enjoy being entertained.

I love the theatricality of it, the costumes, the colours, the slow pace, the gracious politeness of the detective magnifique, and of course the fact that he always solves the problem in the end.

No-one raises their voice. The murder is clean and the body dealt with respectfully – no post-mortem dissections to shock.

Curled on the settee with a mug of tea, I feel safe as a spectator in this predictable environment.

The memories are now locked into my mind. In times to come, when I see or hear Hercule Poirot, in an instant in my mind I will be back on the settee, thinking the thoughts, seeing the pictures and feeling the feelings of these safe moments in my journey through treatment.


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. . . to unceasing prayer.

A friend sent me this quotation from Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) – I share it with you. It builds on what we can do with the chatter that goes on in our heads.

Our minds are always active. We analyze, reflect, daydream, or dream. There is not a moment during the day or night when we are not thinking. You might say our thinking is “unceasing.” Sometimes we wish that we could stop thinking for a while; that would save us from many worries, guilt feelings, and fears. Our ability to think is our greatest gift, but it is also the source of our greatest pain. Do we have to become victims of our unceasing thoughts? No, we can convert our unceasing thinking into unceasing prayer by making our inner monologue into a continuing dialogue with our God, who is the source of all love.

Let’s break out of our isolation and realize that Someone who dwells in the center of our beings wants to listen with love to all that occupies and preoccupies our minds.

Nouwen was a priest, professor, pastor, writer and psychologist.

His main interest was pastoral ministry, and he knew that the comparatively new discipline of psychology was important, despite the fact that Church circles felt it undermined faith. He wanted to engage with people where they are and lead them to a closer relationship with God.

Let’s listen to the chatter in our heads.  And let’s consider what it means to have Someone who dwells in the centre of our being listening with love.

How might the chatter change . . ?

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. . . are the ones who are happy with the life they have.

Be curious about that today. Maybe you won’t be the first person to see things differently and make a change . . .

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