Anouska’s Story

I’d like to introduce you to a friend of mine.

Anouska and I were childhood friends. We went to church together. I can still picture her back then – a pretty snippet of a girl – a little bit cheeky – always laughing and full of beans. She was named after a character from a book that her mum was reading about a Russian Ballerina.

Years ago…Crystal Palace Park

Sadly, at around age 11, life took us in different directions, and for years, we lost touch. One day, I heard from a mutual friend, that Anouska’s life had taken an extremely difficult turn. At that time, she had all but lost her faith. I began to cry out to God for her. One day, out of the blue, she messaged me on Social Media, and eventually we met up for coffee.

Not long after, I had the privilege of praying for Anouska at her baptism, in June 2017. It was impossible to hold back the wave of tears and emotion as I witnessed her go through those waters, and listened to her testify about her strong faith in Jesus, through the storms of adversity.

I don’t think Anouska truly knows the impact she has had on me, and many many others.

This is her story.

  • Sep, 2011 – Anouska was diagnosed with HER2 Positive Breast Cancer. She was just 35.
  • October 2011-March 2012 – Extensive Chemotherapy (which forced her through early menopause).
  • April 2012 – Double Mastectomy with immediate reconstuction (9 hrs and 30 mins in surgery)
  • April 2012 – Declared Cancer Free!
  • September 2013 – After months of excruciating headaches, doctors discover a Stage 4 Breast Cancer related Brain Tumour.
  • October 2013 – Undergoes surgery to remove it.
  • November 2013 – Ten sessions of whole brain radiotherapy
  • Jan 2014 – Anouska’s beloved Mum, Gill passes away from a sudden massive heart attack, four days after she is diagnosed for the third time with a small secondary breast cancer in the liver.
  • February 2014 – April 2014 – Undergoes Chemotherapy and targeted therapy antibody drugs, Herceptin and Perjeta.
  • April 2014 – Anouska contracts the hospital superbug ‘C-Diff’ and is unable to continue with her chemotherapy.
  • May 2014 – Continues with 3 weekly antibody drug treatment and is told that this will continue for the rest of her life.
  • June 2014 – Full body scans – receives the magic words: ‘Anouska, you’re in remission!’
  • October 2017 – Routine Scan shows up a small secondary breast cancer brain tumour.
  • November 2017 – Undergoes surgery to remove brain tumour, reopening scar from first brain surgery. Developed complications, leaking cerebral fluid from scar. Develops a CSF infection (viral meningitis.)
  • Anouska is hospitalised with severe headaches, dizziness, vomiting and an intolerance to light. She is given intravenous antibiotics.
  • Sent home from hospital on 23rd December 2017 but is still vomiting and dizzy with constant severe headaches. So she is readmitted to hospital for six weeks, until finally she is sent home as the hospital need the bed.
  • May, 2018 – Begins 3 sessions of cranial osteopathy – which are unsuccessful. On fourth session Doctor tries acupuncture. Finally, the room stops spinning, the headaches and vomiting stop.
  • September 2018 – For some time, Anouska has been experiencing weeping from her right nipple. Biopsy reveals Cancer in her right nipple.
  • October 2018 – Surgery to remove both nipples.
  • Jan 2019 – Scan reveals small tumour in brain. Further scan shows 2 more.
  • February 2019 -SRS Radiotherapy treatment.
  • May 2019 – Scans on brain and body ALL CLEAR!

Quite a journey, hey?

Yet if you met Anouska, I’m pretty sure you would have no idea what she’s been through in the past eight years. Instead, you would be met with a beaming smile, and a friend who, time after time, is far quicker to ask how YOU are, than talk about herself.

She’s the type of person that shows up with a pair of Marigolds on and does your housework when you’ve had a busy week- and I’m not exaggerating.

She is unbelievably generous and kind. She bowled us over with this stunning hamper when she came over for Christmas Dinner last year.

Treats Galore!

She is always the first one to wash up, or bake a cake, or help serve at a church event. She recently served on our Homeless Shelter Team.

When Anouska’s mum passed away, Anouska took up full care of her 29 year old foster brother, Christian, who has accute physical needs, due to being born with an extremely rare condition.

I’ve never heard Anouska grumble. I’ve never heard her moan. But I’ve heard her crack plenty of jokes. She sends me encouragements. She cheers me up. She tells me off when I moan about my bad hair day, reminding me that she still doesn’t have any hair to moan about. She rocks a wig better than anyone I’ve ever met – and looks just as beautiful with a turban on her head.

She is positive. She is grateful for the small things. She oozes faith and hope. Her smile lights up the room. She lives life to the full and she never sweats the small stuff.

She lives out, on a daily basis, her favourite scripture verses:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?

Look at the birds of the air, they do not sow, or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will He not much more clothe you – you of little faith?

So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “what shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all of these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.

Matthew 6:24-33
Cheers…

She sent me these words today:

Before I met with Jesus, I blamed God for all the bad things that happened to me, and I felt like I was facing everything on my own – especially when my mum passed away 5 days after I was diagnosed for the third time.

Now instead of blaming God for letting this happen to me, I thank Him for the world-surpassing peace, strength and positivity He has given me.

My faith in Jesus is everything now. I know that even when I’m sitting in the treatment chair, laid on the radiotherapy bed, or on the operating table, Jesus is with me, I’m not alone and I never worry about what the future may bring.

Anouska, I salute you. It’s a privilege to be your friend, and I love you from the bottom of my heart!

They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings of eagles, they shall run and not be weary, walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:31

Broken Pieces

broken pieces

Last week, Nathan and I shared Holy Communion with two others during our church service.

Our dear friend, Matt, brought a fairly conservative chunk of bread over to serve us and carefully broke it into pieces.  One of the pieces that lay on the plate was somewhat larger than the rest.  When offered the bread, our awkward Englishness seemed to take over, and each one of us avoided taking it – I mean, that would just seem rude and greedy, right?

As we bowed our heads to pray, it began to dawn on us – this bread represents the Lord’s body, broken for us.  When we eat of the bread, it’s in remembrance of Jesus’ death on the cross in our place.  Why wouldn’t we want the largest piece?!

Nathan began to pray:  “Lord, I thank you that you don’t give us little pieces of yourself!  When you died on the cross, you gave it ALL!  You gave up everything, and gave your entire self to us!  And You said: “It is finished!”  You paid the price in full!”

It was a real moment of clarity – Jesus didn’t somehow share Himself out, giving each believer a little chunk of Himself.  No!  He gave to each one of us His all.  A real sense of holy joy came over us.

Then Matt, reaching for the wine, accidentally knocked over the communion plate, which somehow slipped through the gap in the chairs and smashed.  Rather embarrassed, Matt started to collect up the broken pieces…all but one…which I will come to later….

The sharp crack of the breaking plate, instantly reminded me of the veil in the temple being torn in two.  Was God saying something here?

My ears were drawn to the song that the worship leader was quietly strumming in the background…it was something to do with bringing our broken pieces to Jesus!  This was a God moment.

Nathan reached down to retrieve the last piece of broken china. For some reason, rather than just gathering the broken pieces into a pile, which is what I would have done, Matt and Nathan attempted to put them back together on an empty chair.  And when the last piece of china was set in its place, we were completely and utterly staggered by what we saw:

Broken Plate (2)

“For He was wounded for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes, we are healed.” – Isaiah 53:5

Psalms and Hymns and Teacups

-For a few years now, my sister Kerry has dreamt of opening up a tea-shop, serving delicious cream teas, coffee and cakes on vintage china.  This dream has become so vividly etched in her mind, that some time ago she began visiting auction houses and charity shops and collecting tea-sets.

Kerry has boxes and drawers literally crammed with all manner of teacups and saucers and side plates.  She has scoured the internet, and most of South East London, searching for that particular teacup to complete a set, and has become something of an expert on vintage china.  She has a natural eye for colour and interior design, as this photograph shows:,

Vintage Tea set

But the trouble with dreams such as this, is that so often they are very easy to carry in our hearts, but not quite so easy to carry out in reality.  They come with a cost.  So often, they require our time, our energy, our money and our committment – not to mention a fair amount of risk-taking.

But this is not the only dream that Kerry carries.  There is one that has lingered within her, in embryonic form, since she was a little girl.   Not only is Kerry mad about teacups, she is also a gifted musician and singer.   She learnt to play the piano and flute as a young child and for as long as I can remember has always had the most beautiful, pitch-perfect singing voice.

Around 10 years ago, a visiting speaker who had never met Kerry before, spoke a prophetic word over her, that she would be used by God to lead worship and write anointed worship songs.

The trouble with giftings and promises such as this, is that so often they require our courage and faith to step out and walk in them.  Kerry, although clearly gifted and called, constantly struggles to find the boldness to step into this anointing, particularly when it comes to leading worship.

Isn’t it interesting that God so often chooses people, like Gideon, hiding in the winepress, and Moses, a man slow of speech, for callings that seem so much bigger than themselves?

A few days ago, Kerry was out walking her two boisterous Beagles, Poppy and Daisy, in the local park.  As she walked, she poured her heart out to to Lord.  All these dreams – tea-shops and worship songs – lay heavily upon her heart.  She needed guidance and confirmation about her future.  Questions and doubts went round and round in her mind…Was her dream of opening a teashop ok with God, or was it just becoming a huge distraction?  Was she really called to write worship songs?  Was she even any good at writing songs?   She certainly didn’t feel spiritual enough to lead worship.  Surely she should be reading her bible and praying a whole lot more. ( I wonder how many people can relate to thoughts like these?!)

All of a sudden, her eyes were drawn to what looked like shredded paper strewn all over the grass ahead of her.  She went over to investigate.  On closer inspection, she realised that the shredded paper was in fact pages from a bible that must have been caught by a lawn-mower.

She reached down and picked up the most intact piece that she could find.

Kerry's Psalm

Of all the pages, in all the bible, she happens to stumble across a Psalm – a song written by the biblical King David, arguably the bible’s most well-known worshipper!  Coincidence?…I don’t think so.

“Because Thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee!  

How amazing and wonderful is our heavenly Father?  How swiftly and amazingly He hears and answers our heart-felt prayers!  How lovingly He confirms His word to us – sometimes even in tangible ways: with a piece of shredded bible that you can literally pick up and read!

Okay, so Kerry still doesn’t know all the answers to all her questions concerning her future.  But she does know this:  God loves her enough to speak to her in such a personal way.  And even though she feels unqualified, He really does want her to write those worship songs!

If you’re in any doubt today that God has plans and purposes for your life – then I hope this story encourages you!  We have a wonderful, intimate Father, who knows each and every one of His children by name – who has good works that He has prepared for us in advance to walk in.  Life can be confusing at times – dreams and hopes can seem to lie dormant within us for years.  But at the right time, God is able to come along and breathe His life over these buried desires and fan into flame the gifts that He has placed within us!

Praise His Name!

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Toby’s Tale

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Toby (left) and Cleo (Right) on the day we adopted them.

I’m so grateful to God this morning!

On Thursday night, one of our year-old Grey Rescue Tabbies, disappeared.

I was a little concerned on Friday morning, when I opened the back door, and only Cleo came running in for her breakfast.  Where was Toby?

I had that real sinking feeling when I returned from work, and there was still no sign of him.

My girls and I pulled on our shoes and went off round the block to look for him, searching every little alleyway and the path down by the allotments, calling his name the whole time.

Not a whisker!

We returned home with heavy hearts.

Saturday morning came.  No Toby.  Sunday morning….This wasn’t looking good.

I went out for a walk and began to pray – when the words from a Psalm began to buzz around my head:

For You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing – Psalm 145:16

Every living thing!  Not just people…that meant Animals too!

It was a beautiful morning, bathed in warm sunlight.  The trees were alive with the chirping of birds.

I stopped and noticed a Sparrow.

Didn’t Jesus talk about the Sparrows too?

Are not five sparrows sold for five farthings?  And yet not one of them is forgotten by God – Luke 12:6

Not one Sparrow is forgotten!

Wow!

Comforted by these scriptures, I was able to pray with faith.  If God cared about the tiny sparrow, then surely He cared about our Toby!

As the warm sunrays beamed down on my face, it felt like God was reminding me of the sheer magnitude of His faithfulness.  I don’t think we’ve even begun to grasp it!

The eyes of all look to You, and You give them their food in due time.  You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.

If God makes sure the creatures of the earth are fed, then how much more will He take care of us?!

Suddenly it hit me.  I knew that God’s eye was on Toby.  I knew that God was more than able to protect him and bring Him safely home.

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Butter wouldn’t melt…

It was just before 6:00a.m. this morning, when my husband heard a familiar miaow-ing coming from our back garden.  God had answered our prayers.

The Lord is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His deeds…

I want to remind you this morning, that God is so much kinder than we realise.  He truly is a good, good Father.  He is tender-hearted and compassionate and gracious!  He cares about the things that hurt us.  He cares about our difficult days and our stressful circumstances and our lost Tabby Cats!

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He cares so much more than we realise.

When God Spoke

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“I sought the Lord and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears” – Psalm 34:4

When I was thirteen I went to a youth event where a passionate speaker challenged us to be radical for Jesus! I was stirred and full of amen’s…until, suddenly this well-meaning speaker pointed out that practically every single one of Jesus’ disciples was martyred for the sake of the gospel. Now I don’t want to freak you out, but let’s just say, that some of them didn’t exactly die pleasant deaths.

And there was me – thirteen years of age – and sooo not ready to die!  One minute I was flying high on the wings of faith: “Yes Jesus! I’m going to live for you! I will follow you wherever you lead me! I will serve you no matter what the cost!” And the next minute it was like I’d hit a whopping great tree!

Thwack!

Suddenly I was back down to earth with a thud! I don’t think I realized at the time how profoundly this incident affected me. But right there in that meeting, it was like a menacing shadow of fear snuck in through the back door and ripped that faith right out of my thirteen-year-old fingers.

Something in me deflated. I came to Christ as a six year old.  All I knew about Jesus was that He was good and kind and full of peace and love.  Nobody had ever really laid out the cost to me before. I desperately loved Jesus and I wanted to live for Him – but preferably without the slightest hint of persecution or suffering, thank you very much.

I felt paralyzed.  I kept trying to move forward, but I could still feel those shackles of fear holding me fast. In the back of my mind there were whispers of doubt: “You’d better not get too close to God! There’s no need to be radical!  That’s for fanatics – it’s not for the likes of you.  Stay within your comfort zone and be safe. The devil isn’t interested in luke-warm Christians.” Oh that crafty serpent! There’s always a tinge of truth in his sugar-coated lies.

Some years later, in my late teens, I was at another meeting. The Holy Spirit was moving and there was a call to step forward if you wanted to go deeper with God. I wanted to step forward with all my heart. I had a choice. Despite an inner struggle, I found myself responding. In fear and trepidation I found my feet moving. “Now hang on a minute!” I argued with myself “What on earth are you doing? You don’t really want to be doing this now, do you?”

As I stood there, eyes closed, hands raised, waiting for someone to come and pray for me, I silently poured out my heart to God,

“Lord I want to follow you,” I gushed, “I really do want to give my whole self to you – But I’m scared!  I’m being really honest here – I don’t want to die!” Tears began to spill from my eyes as I confessed to God my deepest, darkest fears.  Fears that I’d tried to bury.  Fears that He already knew about anyway.

Suddenly, almost instantaneously, came a still small voice. It wasn’t audible, but it was clear as crystal. In the tender tones of a father, do you know what He said to me?

“Oh Angie, (isn’t it lovely when He calls us by name?) I’m not asking you to die for Me. I want you to live for Me!”

Oh the power of that one simple phrase! Do you know that when God speaks to you, it can change everything? Suddenly His perfect love flooded my being and I wanted to shout for joy! The shackles of fear were instantly smashed off – and all fear was gone!