Category Archives: Cancer

Based in a Safe Place

I’ve been reading about two interesting people this morning – Abraham and Hagar. It struck me yet again just how trusting Abraham was; God made him a promise, but it was years and years before it was fulfilled. I could quite easily fall into the trap of thinking, ‘Oh blimey, now that’s real faith! Mine’s just rubbish!’ However, I read further and saw that Abraham actually wasn’t so great in his faith all the time. Like all human beings, he was frail and flawed. He doubted. (Although, to be honest, it WAS a rather ridiculous promise – a very old man having thousands and thousands of descendants, when he had an old, old wife who was infertile? Come on!!) He allowed himself to let Sarai work out an alternative plan – to make things happen; to hurry things along. They had clearly both begun to doubt that God would do this wonderful thing, so he slept with Sarai’s slave girl, Hagar, that she sent in to him.

For goodness sake! What a way to treat another human being! Poor little Hagar. I was reminded of the “The Long Song”, the recently televised book written by Andrea Levy. July was a black slave, and the new Overseer, John Mortimer took a fancy to her; believed himself to be in love with her. Knowing it was illegal however to marry a slave, even a black free woman, he married instead the woman who owned the Plantation, Caroline . He takes July as his “real” wife, giving her a permanent home underneath the house and being married in name only to Caroline. Of course, because of the fear of ridicule and the desperate need to keep up social appearances, Caroline can’t say anything. And of course, the smitten July, who bears him a child, Emily, revels in taunting her mistress with her raised-up status. It can only end in tears for all surely.

The themes are similar in both stories though – we can’t bear the status quo: things must be able to be better this; so they take steps to make it so. We do rash and impetuous, poorly thought-out things to bring about our dreams. Then the dream crashes around our ears; we end up in a sorry mess of our own making. Other people become caught up in the mess and are hurt in the process. God had made Abraham and Sarai a promise; she would bear a child. They stopped believing in that possibility and went and did something foolish and damaging to bring about the dream themselves. They couldn’t see beyond the place where they were in the way God had told them it would be. Hagar was damaged in the process. She had to give herself to an old man. She became pregnant and her natural response, just like July in “The Long Song” was to flaunt her ‘raised-up’ status. Sarai responded by ill-treating her and Hagar ends up running away.

Abraham gets a ticking off by God. ‘That wasn’t what I meant at all. What I promised will happen exactly as I told you’. I think they’re jolly lucky to be let off so lightly, given the mess they’ve made and the hurt they’ve caused! God enters into a covenant with Abraham, he gives him very clear signs, and his faith is deepened. Hagar was found in the wilderness place and comforted by El Roi – ‘the One who sees me’. Our God, just one of the 85 or so names that his people use to call on him in their times of need. She thought she was alone and forgotten but he came to her there and made a way back for her; he didn’t leave her in that desperate place. July’s story doesn’t go quite so well. She loses her new found status and, later, her daughter. It seems no one is looking out for her. There is a further twist in her story though; it isn’t quite the end.

Up to that point, Abraham had been pretty good at following God’s directions. He had left his homeland and allowed God to lead him step-by-step. (Genesis 12:1). (Although he does actually do some stupid things along the way, like let his wife become the Pharaoh’s concubine because he’s scared of being killed! There’s this bit in 13:14 that struck me deeply today though – “look around from where you are”. I got to thinking: I’m in a funny old place and I definitely wouldn’t have chosen to be here! I’m two days away from getting biopsy results that will possibly be life-changing. I’m here in this place of not knowing what’s ahead. I’ve had to give up control of so much. I’m needing to rest more; wait lots and trust loads! And it’s hard. It would be easy to become perplexed, even bitter, as I look around from where I am.

I recently finished reading all the “Cazalet Chronicles” – family saga series of five books, set from 1939 to 1958, by Elizabeth Jane Howard. Fabulous story. The family all became very dear to me; as if I knew them as friends. That’s what reading can do, not only transport you to another time and place, but entwine your reality with one created by another, so brilliantly that you fully enter into the lives of the people they present, as if they were real; at least for the time you are reading. The final book is titled “All Change”. The Cazalets are facing massive uncertainty as the family business goes bankrupt and their beloved Home Place has to be sold. Cary, now a mother herself says to her gathered extended family, including her husband, father, uncles and aunt,


“All through the awful time when Dad was lost and I remained the only person who believed he was alive and would come back, you [Archie, her husband, then friend] were here. You became my family, too. But the house stayed the same through that time. If I shut my eyes, I could tell you the detail of any room, and outside, the orchard and the fields and the wood with the stream running through it. ….This house is inside us and we shall never forget it”

Victoria Tower, Castle Hill. Sturdy and built from stone, but not indestructible

It strikes me that we do so need that something that stays the same. Life is so tumultuous; even in the very good times there is often massive upheaval, so we seek stability, security, anything that will not change. Buildings, gardens, places – all seem like they can offer this, as we find too often that people don’t. Our loved ones try to give that to us, but they waver, they too are uncertain, some may cheat, they move away and of course, they can die and leave us floundering. How lovely that Cary believes Home Place to be in their hearts. She’s internalized the feelings of safety and security it offered to her and knows she can continue with the strength she found in that place. It is a part of who she is now. I love how she made that step. I adore my husband, love him dearly and he’s been an absolute star since I became ill. A rock. He’s still human though and therefore, like me, has his flaws. I love my house; it’s a safe place in a storm; but, although it’s pretty darned solid, being made of Yorkshire stone, it’s not indestructible.

The Peace that comes from God passes all understanding . I don’t ‘get it’, but I do experience it, thankfully.
He is my ‘safe place‘.

No, I do believe that my one and only true safe place, is in the One who created me; my Father in Heaven: God. He never changes; his constancy is all I really can count on ultimately. He is El Roi – the One who sees me. He knows the state of my health and what I’m going through right now. God hasn’t promised that he’ll make me well; but I know he has promised to be with me whatever I face up ahead. It’s all I have to hang on to; that’s my safe place. Him. I can’t trust myself and I certainly can’t trust my body; I’ve learned that for sure. He doesn’t stop the storms; he doesn’t prevent me walking into them; but he is there right by me in the midst of them. And when this life on earth is over, that’s where I will be always; with Him forever.

Lady In Waiting

I’ve never been any good at waiting! Honestly, you should see me when the computer doesn’t fire into life immediately when I push that button. And you know that silly little symbol that appears when something is happening in the background of your PC? You know, it can be like an hourglass, or a whirly thing? Well, when that pops up my heart sinks and I bang my head on the desk and wail “Nooooooo”. How can it make me wait so long? I have STUFF to do! People to be calling…..cups of tea to be making!! Alright, nothing I need to do is THAT important, but you get me, right? Waiting for a machine to do what it jolly well ought to be doing is so frustrating.

We live in this era of ‘why-wait-for-anything’. Ads tell us we don’t need to wait for what we really want NOW. We can buy now and pay later – all on interest free credit too. We can borrow for what we’ve not yet earned so we can have the luxury of owning that ‘something’ in advance. Looked at in the cold light of day, it begins to seem rather ridiculous. The ‘get-it-before-it-goes’ philosophy can be infectious and drives behaviour – gives a sense of urgency which can actually push people into debt they could really do without, and, even worse, can’t afford.

I am learning now that I MUST wait. Waiting is becoming my status. I am calling this my Posture of Waiting. It is a Posture I have to learn to hold. Practice makes perfect – and oh boy – I have lots of opportunity to practice!!

There are other related things that I’m learning too. I’ve always been a very ‘in-control’ sort of person. I like to know what’s happening ahead. I like to be able to have a say in how things will be. I like to understand what’s happening and be able to influence how things will go; how I, and others, will operate. I’ve tended to be better if I have some level of responsibility; that is, if I’m allowed and empowered to lead. I am happy to take charge of projects. I love nothing more than to sit with a spreadsheet, mapping out tasks and contingencies; schedules and outcomes; expectations, plans and goals. Love it all. Sad, but true. I like working out what risks there might be; how can we manage them; how do we communicate with stakeholders. Love all of that. But, you know what? I can’t do that with Cancer. I’m learning that I cannot be in control of this part of my life.

It’s a rat of a thing, because, even though it’s yours, (as in, it’s in YOU), it’s YOU who can’t seem to get a grip of it. You get your head round what it is, or think you do; so it can be defined and you know what you’re dealing with. Then it turns out it’s just really an umbrella term for thousands of ‘types’ of tumours and minging cell abnormalities. That pop up and grow – seemingly where they jolly well like. You can research it all you like; you can find the statistics (frighten yourself to death over them). You can tap into websites and blogs and online communities – you can talk to other folk with cancer – you can quiz professionals. You can arm yourself with all this information. But what it boils down to in the end is this – you spend a great deal of time WAITING and NOT BEING IN CONTROL

As soon as my surgery was over, even while still poorly and recovering, I wanted to know what they’d found. What was next? I have no say in that though. It all depended on when the lab would be working over Christmas; what they found in a cell that might lead them to look in another; when my specialist was available for clinic. Things I had no control over. A usual two and a half week wait has turned into a five week wait. I sit here now, a week away from that clinic appointment on January 9th and I cannot make it come any faster. Someone, somewhere knows more about me; more about what happens next for me than I do. I can’t even plan what I’m going to be doing next month until I know those results, as the outcome will determine how much time will be taken in treatments, and what they are to be.

Then there’s the recovery from the surgery itself. No longer is it a case of – come on, Billy, let’s go for a walk on the hills. Now it’s ‘where can I walk today, that he doesn’t need a lead, and which won’t be too challenging for me?’ These have never been considerations for me before! I am however not yet back to full fitness, although I’m out walking again and also using a treadmill daily. I have to therefore be far more careful of where I walk; I have lost the carefreeness of being able to just grab the lead, call the dog and simply set off, deciding where we go as we walk. Fully in control of our own pleasure and self-esteem. I will need to wait some time before I can claim that state again.

I am finding this book helpful in my learning this new Posture of Waiting. It is “The Stature of Waiting” by W H Vanstone. It was given to me by Rev Steve Harvey, our Curate, who was given it when he faced cancer himself, by Bishop Jonathan Gibbs. I read this about being a patient :-

“What happens ….happens to him, is done to him; and the satisfactoriness or unsatisfactoriness of a particular day depends hardly at all on himself or his own efforts and decisions. A ‘good’ day is one on which a machine or instrument shows a certain reading, or a drug has a certain effect…”.

Yes, I get that. I am waiting for my body to heal; I can do somethings to help that, or at least not hinder it, but ultimately I need to let the wounds (external and internal) heal fully before I stress my body further. I am waiting for results which will determine how my next few months, maybe years, will pan out. I can’t make full plans until I know. I’ve become more dependent on others doing what they need to do. I am even, I realise, dependent on which drugs will be available in this area. Not all cancer drugs are available everywhere and some are available only on clinical trials. I can’t control if I am on a trial or not!

Vanstone also talks about how there is often a ‘suddenness’ in transition between being a self-sufficient person into being a patient. That this is so disconcerting that it immediately alters how we perceive the opinions, attitudes and remarks of others, as well as how we see ourselves. I know that I found myself constantly wondering how it was that professionals seem so easily to view me as ‘the patient’ when I hadn’t actually fully grasped that I was one! My head had to catch up with what was physically happening. So I was always having this conversation with myself in my head – how have I landed here? Is this really me?

This suddenness makes learning to wait even harder. Luckily, having moved from being ‘economically productive’ to being ‘retired’ in recent years, I have already learned the necessity of having to change pace. This is going to be helpful as I move forward. A more relaxed and considered pace has many benefits. It’s possible, beautiful even, to have time to stare at the clouds for a while. It;s pretty good to spend a whole afternoon relishing the reading of a book. It’s not at all bad to walk in the woods without worrying about having to get back to make a deadline. I’ve learned these things. I can learn how to wait for what is outside of my control, surely?

Vanstone’s book is of course about Jesus and his stature of waiting. About how what we have viewed as his ‘suffering’ was more about his ‘passion’ which has the same roots as ‘patience’. How he knew that he was called to move from being fully active to being completely passive. That he was ‘handed over’ to that state and how he accepted that as a fundamental part of his calling. I haven’t finished it yet, but I have learned already that even this – this wretched cancer thing – is part of what I am called into as a disciple of Jesus. God has allowed this to happen (he’s omnipotent so could have stopped it) and that there is a purpose in it. In ALL of it. Even, and possibly, especially, the Waiting and the lack of control. I will therefore gladly go on practicing how to wait with grace; with a good posture and with patience! Just don’t berate me if you see me banging my head on my desk and wailing in the meantime!!