Living under a shadow

I didn’t feel consciously fearful – there was just something there that I was aware of . I felt that I was living under a nameless shadow.

As many;  of you know I was diagnosed and treated for Breast Cancer a couple of years ago. I now have annual checks to make sure that the cancer has not returned. For most of last year I didn’t give much thought to it but as December arrived I was conscious that I was anticipating the mammogram I would be having in January. It was most definitely on the radar!

In early January I had the routine scan and then the wait for results began.I had no reason to fear; my oncologist had told me that he didn’t expect to see me again  but I can tell you that I was looking to see if that letter was in the post everyday. When it came, it was good news.

I didn’t feel consciously fearful – there was just something there that I was aware of . I felt that I was living under a nameless shadow. I have spoken to others who have had a cancer diagnosis and they all say that you are never the same once you have had cancer, it changes you – because you can’t go back to how it was before.

I suppose my nameless shadow was fear. The thing about fear is that it is irrational, you can’t reason yourself out of it. There is no reason why I should be  more fearful when I have tests  or less fearful when I haven’t – it doesn’t make sense. That’s just the point. Fear doesn’t make sense. It is a slippery thing.

I am sure there are many things that come into our lives that change us forever, things that are painful or difficult,  or leave us with a kind of shadow over us – it’s not just cancer. How do we all walk through it

I often recite to myself: “God loved me yesterday, He loves me today and He loves me tomorrow.” God does not change. Nothing will ever stop Him loving me. He will always be good towards me even when my circumstances are tough, He does not changeFile_000 (21).png

He is with us when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death (see my blog here). He never leaves us or forsakes us. His perfect love helps us with our everyday fears.

We are not meant just to cope with difficult things; we are called to be more than conquerors through Him who loved us. That means that these truths are not just to help me cope with the fears surrounding cancer but I actually have the means to rise above it. It doesn’t mean that I won’t ever have cancer again but it does mean that I can live free from fear and the shadow. What does a more than conqueror look like? I think it is someone who although they experience fear, they take courage and press on and live lives to the full believing what their Father says about them. Courage doesn’t mean the absence of fear. You can’t be courageous if there is nothing to fear. More than Conquerors are able to live through any difficulty and still experience joy. The promise is that Jesus strengthens us, we can’t do it ourselves but He will.

Just recently a friend of mine went to be with the Lord. She had been ill for several years and in pain for some time but she unfailingly had a smile on her face and she did not complain. She loved and served God with all her heart. She certainly was a More Than Conqueror.

I don’t always live like that, sometimes fear creeps up on me but it is where I am aiming for. I am going to lift my eyes to the hills where my help comes from, take courage in both hands and live the abundant life that my Father has promised me.

How about you? – I’d love to hear from you

 

Photo credits
Shadow landscape pixabay
Text created with wordswag

 

 

 

Everyday Fears

I can’t control what may happen to me and those I love by giving in to fear and anxiety

Everyday I take a tablet, everyday when I take it I am reminded that I had breast cancer a year or so ago (you can read about it here). As I take the tablet all sorts of nasty thoughts come to mind. “Am I really free from cancer?” “Is this tablet really working”or  “Oh no I forgot my tablet, am I going to get cancer again” “Will I get all those side-effects”

In addition to this there are the times when kind-intentioned  people ask me “Are you alright ” with a meaningful look as they don’t want to mention the C-word. However I do know what they are talking about and my brain does a loop, “Am I alright now””Don’t I look alright””Maybe they are seeing something I’m not?”

You don’t have to have had cancer to be assaulted with all sorts of fears throughout the day. As a Mum I find I can be fearful about my kids even though they are now adults.  For example, they may be travelling in a car driven by a new or young driver and I wait to hear that they have arrived safely etc.photo-1467219598992-52591d77fdec

I have learned that I just can’t afford to listen to all these thoughts. If I did my life would be controlled by them. Instead I have decided  to trust in the perfect love of God. I can’t control what may happen to me and those I love by giving in to fear and anxiety but what I know is that God is always good and He will never leave me alone to cope with difficult situations.

I like the way The Message puts 1 Jn. 4:18:

God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.

The idea that we can take up residence in love rather than fear is helpful. You see I have a choice to make – am I going to listen to those niggling fears and make my home there or am I going to make love my home. I know which I prefer but it is not always so easy.

file_000-17Often we are taken unawares by a fearful thought, then we feed it by allowing it room, going over and over it in our mind, adding to it a number of what ifs (what if the cancer comes back? etc) and before we know it we are overcome with fear and anxiety.

Some of us try to numb our fears by turning to food, alcohol or drugs. Some of us try to suppress or control our fears by adopting certain behaviours – being busy all the time, working hard, perfectionism. There can be a kind of unspoken bargaining going on. If I do x, y or z, God won’t punish me with the thing I’m afraid of.

NO! NO! NO! None of these remedies will ever deal with our fears.Take a look at that verse again:

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” 1 Jn. 4:18

The remedy for fear is to know God’s love. At its heart the Bible is a love story. It is the story of God’s love for us, not just as a people but as individuals. We can each know the love of God for us in a tangible way, we can experience it. It is not just a part of the theology of who God is or an abstract concept.

God’s love provides a rock beneath my feet, I am secure in His love. This love means that I do not have to give room to fear. Jesus has already paid the penalty for my punishment so I don’t have to fear that either. Paul asks the rhetorical question:

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31) and goes on to answer himself:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 ….. 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

So everyday when I take my anti-cancer tablet I remind myself that none of the things that I worry about can separate me from God’s love. If I make that love my home I have NOTHING to fear and I can live my  life free from anxiety.

How about you?

 

Related Blog: The Valley of the Shadow of Death

Photo Credits:
Fear photo: pixabay
Racing Car: Unsplash
Make Love Your Home created using wordswag

 

 

 

 

 

Circumstances beyond our control

We are in a different world ….. and I can’t do a thing about it.

This has been a momentous week in the UK. On Thursday the nation voted to leave the EU and since then we have begun to experience and understand the repercussions of this decision. Our Prime Minister has announced his intention to resign, our EU Commissioner likewise, the pound has weakened, share prices have fallen. Friends of mine who live in the UK but don’teu-1473958_1280 hold British passports are feeling insecure and unwanted, fellow Brits are feeling bewildered. Some voted to leave and some did not. The truth is that today whether we voted “leave” or “remain” we are in a very different world to the one we knew until Wednesday. And I can’t do a thing about it. It is all beyond my control.

When things are out of our control we can feel very anxious, whether it is a matter of national politics or something closer to home. Uncertainty makes us feel insecure.

As I write this I am reminded about the millions of people who are living with constant fear and insecurity because of war or famine. Unlike me they live with their lives on the line on a daily basis. Unlike me they have little hope of prosperity or security and no sense of control over their lives.File_000 (4)

We, on the other hand, often live our lives under the illusion that we are in control but it is not until something like this referendum, job loss or ill-health etc comes along that we realise that we are not in control. It is so much easier to trust God when life is going smoothly but I wonder if we are actually trusting more in the status quo? When faced with the reality that we are not in control things are different. This is when we see where our faith ultimately lies.

There is a greater reality, however, and that is that there is One who is in control, the One who holds the world in His hands, the One who flung stars into space. He is not fazed by world events or by the bumps along the way in our lives. This is where our security lies. Governments, politicians, and referenda may come and go but the Lord remains the same .He will never leave you or forsake you. (Heb 13:5)

I know that when I was diagnosed with breast cancer I suddenly had no control over what was happening to me. I was used to taking my health for granted but now I lost confidence in my body because it had succumbed to disease and I couldn’t do anything about it. Whatever may happen to us to bring change into our lives we can feel the same; we can lose our confidence and become bewildered.

I chose to put my trust in God. My favourite encouragement was “My Father loved me yesterday, He loves me today and He will love me tomorrow” My security is in the fact that God loves me and cares for me. There is nothing outside of his control (that is not to say that our lives will always follow the path that we wanted) and he knows about the detail of my life.

At times like these we need to regroup after the initial shock and turn again to the promises of God.

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower;
    the righteous man runs into it and is safe.” Prov.18:19

At times like these we need to pray. Prayer is a great antidote to anxiety. As we pray we cast all our cares on the Lord (I Pet. 5:7)  We also need to pray for those in authority over us – for the government and our local councils.

At times like these we need to encourage one another.

At times like these we need to lift our heads.

At times like these it is good to be reminded that we are not in control, but One who is much more reliable than we are, is in control. He is the Lord and He reigns on high and in my life too.

Christine

Photo Credits
EU/British flags: pixabay
Other images are mine and were created using wordswag

When the going gets tough

… friends encourage

 “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (I Thess. 5:11)

I am not usually prone to fear  but the whole experience of having cancer made me come face to face with some very real fears. Was I going to die? Would I see my sons marry? Would I live to see my grand-children? Would I end my days in a very weakened and sick state as I had seen my father do?

I didn’t lie awake thinking about these questions but they did pop up and surprise me at odd moments during the day. I was managing a whole list of appointments with consultants, GPs, bone-scanners and radiotherapists and in the midst of all this I needed to manage myself; my thoughts and emotions. I say manage because I mean just that. I could so easily have let my emotions run riot but I chose to engage my mind and to recall all that God has said in His word.

I don’t mean that there were not tearful times. At times I felt overwhelmed by everything I was dealing with and just needed to cry. I can remember opening an envelope with eight appointments in it; I felt that my life had been taken over and I was now on a conveyor belt of cancer treatment. There wasn’t room for much else. That felt quite grim.

Once I started my course of twenty-one sessions of daily radiotherapy I spent time in the waiting room everyday with people who were much more ill than I was. The effect of cancer on people’s lives was plain to see. Sickness, weakness, hair loss, frailty. At times I felt like a fraud because I felt so well (what an odd thought!).There were also moments of humour: a man at the water cooler asked a nun who was waiting for treatment if he could get her a drink, she replied “I’ll have a half of Guinness!” Moments like these reminded ourselves of a life outside of the treatment room.

I have already mentioned the gift of The Goodness Bag which helped to sustain me throughout my cancer journey
but there were other gifts. A hug from a friend who came to the door just at the moment when I was really worried about a procedure I was to undergo before my operation; he said “You will be all right”. He didn’t mean I would not have cancer, he was encouraging me that I would be able to go through with the procedure I was dreading. Another friend gave me a framed text which said “Let your faith be bigger than your fears”; I kept this on my File_000 (4)dressing table where it reminded
me every day to draw on my faith in God rather than focus on my fears. Another friend made me a sparkly picture with the words, hope, love, faith, and grace sewn into it. This was on my bedside table, another visual reminder of God’s love for me. Another friend took my dressings off for me when I was left to do it myself and was feeling very emotional. Of course many of my friends were praying for me too.

File_000

 

If life is tough at the moment I would suggest that you write out some encouraging scriptures and stick them to your mirror, computer screen or wherever you will see them. They will frequently remind you of God’s love and give you hope.

If life isn’t tough at the moment don’t  underestimate the small things you do for your friends when they are having a tough time. Often we can’t imagine how people cope with tough situations. Hugs and words of encouragement, gifts, notes and practical help mean so much to someone who is struggling to get through every day. It can be hard to know what to say but sometimes just doing the normal things you would do rather than concentrating on the problem will be a gift to your friend as it allows them to focus on something other than what they are facing for a little while. Pray for strength for them every day (or when you remember).

The way I coped with having cancer and being treated for it was to constantly remind myself of who God is, what He is like and what He has said. Gifts and encouragements along the way helped me to do just that.

How has someone encouraged you when life was tough?

 

Photo credits:
Trees: pixabay
Other photos belong to me and  cannot be used without permission. Thank you!

What I would say to myself at 17

You are good enough

At the age of 11 (pictured above) I won a scholarship to an Independent School and was soon immersed into school life. Many of the girls that I now mixed with were from very affluent families who were able to go on foreign holidays (unlike my family), lived in substantial properties and some had tennis courts in the garden. I think that my feeling of not being enough began at that time. I was reasonably happy but I think I absorbed an unspoken message that I did not fit because my family were not affluent enough. Friend’s birthday parties were a source of anxiety because I could not buy expensive gifts.

There were embarrassing moments such as when my mum had bought a second-hand summer uniform dress which was far too big for me but I had to wear nonetheless because it was cheaper than buying a new one from the posh outfitters.

I had come to this school from a state school where I had been taught as part of a class of 45 but had thrived and was at or around the top of the class. I didn’t realise that this had become part of my identity – that I was clever. When I then went to the other school I was a little fish in  a large pond where it seemed that everyone was more clever than me, played musical instruments to a high level and had already learned French at their Junior School. Now I didn’t feel clever enough.

photo-1444730558009-b7f0368e1264I muddled on through school, did well at my  O Levels and embarked on my A Level courses. I can’t even remember now how it started but I began to fear that I would not get good enough grades to get into Cambridge University which is where the School were encouraging me to apply. By the end of the Lower VIth (Year 11) I decided that I did not want to carry on with my education and I left school without taking A Levels.

That decision was made solely because I was afraid of failure although at the time I told everyone that I just did not want to carry on at school. That decision was so costly; it affected  my life over many years. I stayed behind when my friends went away to Uni. Even years later I still felt the regret that I had not gone to University and it was mixed up with feelings of incredulity about making that decision. How could I have been so stupid?

If I could, I would tell that 17-year-old that her social status meant nothing to God. I would tell her that she was good enough whether she passed her exams, got lower grades than she needed or whether indeed she did get the grades. I would tell her that God loved her just as she was, that He would be with her every step of the way whether she “failed” or “succeeded”. I would tell her that God wanted her to fulfill her potential whether that was at University or not, that He had plans for her life which would give her a future and a hope. I would tell her that she had been uniquely created by a loving Father to be the unique person that she was. I would tell her that she was a daughter of the King, that she could lift her head high.

How sad that our fears and poor self-image keep us in a prison (often of our own making) because  we have made decisions from a place of fear rather than faith. I had cut off all possibility of a University education which was the very thing I really wanted because of my fear of failure (which was completely unfounded).

This story does have a happy ending because I did go to Cambridge University as a mature student many years later. It was the most challenging experience of my life but I did it and I loved it. (That’s another story).  It was as though that foolish decision all those years ago had been redeemed.

File_000 (15)

I am conscious that as I write this in the UK there is  a debate going on about the pressure on our young children to perform well at their SATs. As parents we need to keep communicating both our and God’s unconditional love to our children. They are precious. They are vulnerable to all kinds of wrong thinking about themselves if they only see themselves in terms of academic performance whether it is good or not so good. We need to be the ones who paint a picture of adventure over their lives.

nomadThis adventure is a journey with God; we don’t know where it will take us but we know He will be with us. We may fail but we can pick ourselves up and carry on because our failures don’t define us, they give us opportunities to try again and are steps along our journey.

Not going to University is my story  – your story will be different but  I know that many of us are plagued with fear, self-doubt and feelings of not being good enough. We are believing lies about ourselves. Jesus came to set us free – He died for us not because we were good enough, clever enough, good-looking enough or anything else but because He loved us. I am rejecting the lies about myself and choosing to see myself as God sees me.

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom.5:8)

What would you say to  17-year-old you?

 

 

Photo Credits:
She believed she could so she did and School photo – these photographs belong to me and cannot be used without permission. Thank you!
others: Unsplash

 

 

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life

Even though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil for you are with me. (Ps.23:4)
If you are like me, you love the imagery of the Shepherd making us lie down in green pastures but not so much walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. I love to read promises of how God cares for me but I am so glad that His word also prepares me and arms me for the difficult days and seasons. Our lives are a mixture of different experiences; some photo-1423766111988-c47a5ff6ed06good, some mundane, some terribly difficult. Last year was one of the worst years of my life, I was treated for cancer and at the same time we had a period of terrible uncertainty about my husband Rob’s job. I felt so stretched – cancer and unemployment loomed over me for months like tall mountains leaving me to walk a narrow, shadowy path. The worst thing was the uncertainty. Others of you may literally be facing death or in the kind of despair where you feel you can’t go on. When we are in those seasons we can be gripped by fear.

I found that  Psalm 23 had something to say to us at every stage of that path:

when we are in need – I shall not want – God really does provide everything I need

when we are weary – He makes me lie down in green pasturesThere is a rest for my soul

when we are stressed – He leads me besides still waters – God gives me peace that rules my heart and mind

File_000 (9)

when we are feeling dry – He restores my soulHe causes living water to bubble up within me

when we need wisdom for life – He leads me in paths of righteousness the Holy Spirit is our guide

when we are in danger, sick or dying – I will fear no evil for you are with me Jesus has conquered death, there is no greater enemy. This conqueror is with me always and fighting for me. We can take refuge in the shadow of His wings. (Ps. 36:7)

when we are under attack/opposed/oppressed – in the presence of my enemies you anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows. – If God is for us who can be against us?

More than that, this psalm gives us the context for the whole of our lives – surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. Whatever my circumstances are, this is always true for me that the goodness and mercy of God will follow me wherever I go, not just in the green pastures but in the valley as well.

We so often think that our happiest/easiest seasons are what life should be like all the time. This is not what the Bible teaches, the book of Ecclesiastes puts this so poetically, that there is

“a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Eccl. 3:4)

There will be difficult times but the Bible  teaches us that we can rejoice in all circumstances. Our rejoicing is rooted in the fact that Jesus has died for us, our sins are forgiven and we are now living in the good of the grace of God on our lives. Rather than being overwhelmed by our circumstances we can be overwhelmed by the love of God every day. This is what sustains us – that we are known and loved by God. He is with us in the good days (when we often forget to acknowledge Him) and He is with us in the dark days, even the Valley of the Shadow of Death. He is always the same, never-changing, unfailing.

I am learning to dig deep into these truths. I don’t always get it right, sometimes I complain , sometimes I am miserable, lonely, frustrated, anxious or just plain cross! But my prayer for me and for you is

“that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have the strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph:17b-19)

Then we will all be able to journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death rejoicing as we go.

 

 

Photos Credits:
still water – this photograph belongs to me and cannot be used without permission. Thank you!
others: Unsplash