Posts Tagged ‘Bible’

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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Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

We can recover.

The sun rises every morning and one day follows another.

We can be confident in that.

And as time moves forward, so things change.

Slowly at first, imperceptibly, until we gradually realise that we are changing too.

And hope appears on the horizon.

Norman Wright outlines 3 stages of recovery:

  • The Thinking Stage: This is when you face the facts. You put the pieces of your jig-saw puzzle together to try to make sense of the picture. You go over what has happened in minute detail, alone and with friends. You are a detached observer rather than an emotional participant. For me this was hours and hours searching the internet to learn all I could about breast cancer. I wanted to know every detail and I wanted to understand the numbers and the risks.
  • The Emotional Stage: This is when you feel the pain. Your emotions well up from deep within you and spill out in a stream, a river, a waterfall. There will be anger, anxiety, grief, fear, sadness. For me this was a constant leaking. I cried almost every day, many times a day, for three months. Tears welled up as I recognised the layers of consequences of what was happening to me. I stopped crying when I started the blog.
  • The Stage of Mastery: At the beginning you cannot believe this stage will happen but it does. Your perspective changes, you find value in your experience. You have learned things you could not have learned in any other way. You become a survivor rather than a victim, taking control of the direction of your life again. Your outer journey may still be very challenging, but you have found a strength for the inner journey which transforms your experience. Laughter can reappear, with all its healing power.

The stages vary in length for each person, and they can overlap.

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

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Scary – isn’t it?

A whole new horizon – and no markers in the sand to say ‘THIS WAY’

This is how I feel as I begin my journey beyond breast cancer.

And yet there is warmth in the sun and the breath of life, and boy does it feel good.

I am thankful to be alive.

6th October marks the anniversary of the day my life changed when I was told I had breast cancer. This is my week of transition when I step off the bridge.

Please come with me on this new journey.

I look back at the things we did before my year of breast cancer treatment. We had workshops on Spiritual Journalling, Touching the Edge of His Cloak, Listening to God’s Heartbeat. We joined the Benedictine Monks for retreats, and we spent a season Listening to God’s Heartbeat.

And now we can also look back on a long slow year exploring a journey with God – making breast cancer an opportunity to get to know God better.

I would like to keep learning and keep sharing – and to do this I value your help.

We have a Celebration on 16th October. BC and I are thrilled at your enthusiastic response. Please let us know if you have missed an invitation and would like to come.

And after the party, I want to build again on the foundations we laid. I value your feedback on two questions:

  • FIRST – I would like to run another WORKSHOP or RETREAT in the New Year? Are you interested to join me, and if so, what topic would you like?
  • SECOND – I would like to start another blog. This would be about what it means to have life to the full: taking John 10:10 and exploring what that means in our lives day by day.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full

Please let me know what you think. You can comment in the usual way by clicking on the comments tag at the end.  Or you can email me directly.  The next post tells you how to do that.

And about the new header to my blog. I took this photo after one of my early morning radiotherapy treatments. Sitting in the peace of a summer morning, I recognised how much the obstacle of treatment had become an opportunity to listen to God. What do you think – do you like it or did you prefer the orchids?

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. . the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

As I look back on my year of breast cancer treatment I have many happy memories that have pushed the memory of the grief to the background.

Had you told me at the start of my journey that would happen, I would probably have thought you were just offering me empty words of hope.

Another quote from C.S. Lewis rings true:

Bridge players tell me there must be some money on the game ‘or else people won’t take it seriously’. Apparently it’s like that. Your bid – for God or no God, for a good God or the Cosmic Sadist, for eternal life or nonentity – will not be serious if nothing much is staked on it.  And you will never discover how serious it was until the stakes are raised horribly high; until you find that you are playing not for counters or for sixpences but for every penny you have in the world. Nothing less will shake a man . . .  out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself.

A Grief Observed p 33

And so when the stakes have been horribly high for me I have discovered some deep truths that I could learn no other way.

I have been able to explore myself, my faith and my life. Being forced to move my thinking to the potential end of my life makes it much easier to see the difference between what is important and what is urgent.

And a big discovery is that little things matter a lot.

Yesterday on the radio I heard a discussion about what makes us happy. Most of the debate was about how much money we need to have, and then one man phoned in with a gem of a comment. He gave a 5-step framework for generating happiness. Some simple advice on how to engage with life.

  • Connect – Don’t isolate yourself. Reach out to other people and engage with them in what they are doing.
  • Be Active – Move your body as much as you can. Find some form of exercise that you enjoy and enjoy it.
  • Be aware – Move your focus of attention from yourself to what is happening in the lives of those around you and elsewhere. Take a bigger picture view of community.
  • Give – Your time, your attention, your money . . . to make a difference for others.
  • Keep Learning – Be curious, look at things differently, explore new things.

His list gives a good starting point for anyone facing a journey through grief.

We can learn a lot from the little sparrows and how much God values them.

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Looking around our church family on Sunday I suddenly found myself wondering how many of us could give an account of what we believe about Heaven.

And, of course, the reason I thought that was because I realised first of all that I would have a job putting together a clear explanation myself.

Cherubs - Sistine Chapel

So what followed next was the best ironing session I have had in ages listening to Mark Driscoll speaking on Kingdom – God Reigns.

This is the final session of his 13 part series on Doctrine that is part of his church membership training programme.

If you are not clear about Heaven and Hell, and if you like to use your mind while you plough through a mindless chore, listen to this podcast.

Be informed, inspired and challenged!

God . .  has also set eternity in the human heart

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Can a woman who lived two and a half thousand years ago be a mentor to you?

Can her life speak into your circumstances?

Vashti, Queen of Persia is rich, powerful and very beautiful. She has it all.

Her husband, King Xerxes is rich, powerful and very proud.

Xerxes wants to display his greatness and so plans an audience carefully. First he runs a banquet for all his nobles, officials and military leaders. For a full 180 days he displays the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendour and glory of his majesty.

But that is not enough for him, he wants an even bigger audience. Next he runs a 7 day banquet in his palace for anyone and everyone. He decorates the enclosed gardens with hangings of white and blue linen, adding couches of gold and silver on the mosaic pavement. Stewards serve wine in hand-made golden goblets, each one unique. And the king says everyone can have as much to drink as they want.

By the seventh day King Xerxes wants a big finale. He is in high spirits from wine, and commands his seven eunuchs to bring him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, to make sure everyone can admire the stunning beauty of his queen.

So what should she do?

On one hand she must consider her status and her financial position. She has done very well to get to this privileged position; her family is proud of her.

And on the other hand there is her inner story of who she is. Is she a possession of the king, a body to be observed and indulged in? Or does she consider she has any value or rights as an individual?

The stakes are high.

Queen Vashti deposed

Queen Vashti deposed - Ernest Normand (1859-1953)

She could say she has no choice because the stakes are too high – she needs the money and her family needs the status. Or she could take a leap into the unknown.

Queen Vashti refuses the king’s order and pays the price. He is furious. He guards his public image, consults his experts – all agree he should expel her. The king can find another trophy queen.

So what does Queen Vashti say to you today?

Her story is about values – the measuring sticks of life. From our values we determine what life means to us and the actions we will take.

Queen Vashti was measuring self-esteem against fear. Should she trade her self-respect to keep her material treasures?

We are in no doubt which she valued most.

Does her choice challenge or inspire you?

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It is all very well talking about learning from the lives of the heroes and fools in the bible, but the natural question that follows is HOW?

I had never thought of God as a mentor until I read Wayne Cordero’s book. The Divine Mentor gives the nuts and bolts of growing your faith as you sit at the feet of the Saviour – through spiritual journaling.

Henriette Browne (1829-1901) 'A Girl Writing'

A few years ago, when my life was something like a railway junction, I discovered journaling by accident. I was a beginner in a writing class. Our first task was morning pages, an exercise to get over writer’s block. This is to put pen to paper first thing in the morning and let three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, flow on to the page. You write about whatever comes into your mind – for your own eyes only.

I don’t take to routine easily, but this one slotted right into place without any difficulty.

As I wrote page after page I found I was talking to God – words and questions just poured out on to the paper.

Without realising, I was learning how to keep a spiritual journal.

At the same time I read the Divine Mentor and everything fell into place. Wayne Cordero talks about the importance of constructing a sacred enclosure round your heart.

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it

Your heart can be broken by one great physical, emotional or moral collapse, or it may be little by little, through the months and years, gradually weakening our lives, eroding our personalities, killing the essence of who we are and who we would like to become.” (p17)

“The choices you make regarding the foundations of your life have eternal implications that go far beyond your life span on earth. As Paul told his young pastor-friend Timothy, ‘Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come’.” (p21)

The technique is simple – Gather a kit of 5 things (here is mine)

  1. Bible
  2. Pen
  3. Journal
  4. Bible reading plan
  5. Daily planner (your diary)

I include a bag that I carry the kit around in (I was given this one on a trip to Istanbul), and a set of colour pens – adding colour, mind maps and highlights makes the pages and the learning so much more memorable.

He uses the acrostic SOAP as a guide for daily reading – The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever 🙂


He guides you to read, reflect, ask what it means in relation to YOU and your life, and pray.

You write what you like in your journal. And as you do this, day by day you notice your senses sharpen, your ears tune in and your heart learns to recognise God’s voice in your life. The evidence is there on the pages you wrote yourself.

And so these are the five things for life – the kit to help you talk to God and listen to what he has to say to you each day, as you build a sacred enclosure round your heart.

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