As you might know, I was asked to write a reflection for 40 Acts. I was asked to write about 300-400 words, but as you may also know I am nothing if not a bit wordy at times! So I had to be careful what I wrote! Finally, I decided to write what I wanted to say, and then to pare it down to the correct length. This is the original text:
FROM YOUR SEAT
In November 2017 I was lucky enough to go to a Vocational Discernment weekend in Budapest – the aim of which was to try to discern where God was leading us. It was led by Revd Canon Mark Oakley, who took us through some amazing poetry, and talked about what can help us hear the voice of God. I came away, sure that God was about to call me to face something big – was he going to call me to ordination? Was I going to be asked to take a larger role in my home church? Was it a new job?
At the beginning of December, I discovered what it was God was going to ask me to face: I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I want to state now that I am only able to talk about my cancer, my reactions, my experience. If you are dealing with cancer, or any other disease, your reactions, your emotions may well be very different. And that is OK. We are all deal with things in different ways and I have no right to tell you how you should be feeling.
From the very beginning I decided that I was never going to ask “Why me?” One could just as easily ask “Why not me?” One in eight women suffer from breast cancer – the odds are high. And cancer is, in some bizarre way, natural: it is caused when cells mutate. Mutations happen in nature; that’s how things evolve. If I believe that God created nature in all its wonder and intricacy, then, in some way, my cancer was a part of that creation. Lord knows, I don’t understand it, but I have to trust that fact. That was how I was determined to view this.
I have followed 40 Acts for about three years now and blogged about my failures and my little successes. By the time Lent rolled around in 2018 – very soon after Christmas, it seemed! – I had already had my lumpectomy and had recovered enough for chemotherapy to begin. “Why should I get involved in 40 Acts this year? “I thought. “I’ve just got to be kind to myself. I’m ill…” The first sentences in the first act reminded me why: in the most extraordinary act of generosity the world will ever know, God offered His son, Jesus, as a gift to all. We need only say thank you.
God is good. God is loving. I believed that before my cancer diagnosis. I believed it no less after it. But how could I repay that generosity to others in my situation – going back and forth to hospital, spending a week in bed and two weeks feeling fairly lousy again before the chemo appointment rolled round?
In a beautiful coincidence, God had given me the verse from Isaiah 41:13: I am the Lord your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says “Do not fear. I will help you” This verse was – and still is – my touchstone. He used this verse throughout my treatment to remind me that he is always there, to hold my hand when I reach for him. And to help me be generous. I learned that being generous can sometimes mean not beating yourself up if you have missed an act: asking God to remind you of the challenge another day is fine – and I can assure you, he won’t forget! Being generous can mean holding others before God, even through your own pain, and being thankful for modern medicine and hospital staff. Being generous can mean placing a hand written, encouraging note in the hospital waiting room for someone to find, or passing on a bar of chocolate to the nurse who comes to change your dressings. Being generous can just mean not focussing on yourself completely and trying to ease others – even if it was only not complaining to the district nurses who found it unbelievably difficult to get any blood out of my veins for the weekly blood test!
Even from your chair, or bed, God will help you to be generous; if nothing else, holding others in prayer when you yourself feel like shit is one of the most generous gifts you can give. And he will honour that.