Beat The Beast Challenge

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Wednesday was a great day that saw many prayers answered with 2 miles run at a quicker pace, an emboldening chat from a great friend, the ordination of a great friend of Allie’s, more friends met and the hand of God on my shoulder, followed by a happy, happy text.

I was carrying significant burdens on my shoulder and no matter how much I prayed and tried to rest my burdens with God, I have been feeling significantly uncertain of the future and the path on which I found myself. Was I treading the right path as God intended?

My daughter was unhappy as she struggled with the burden of worry about me while battling with the pain of growing up. I was doing all that I could to try and bring some sense of perspective into her life to calm and reassure her that all would come good in the end. However all that my typically male approach to this problem did, of trying to provide solutions and answers to what worried her so, was to make her more frustrated and angry with the world. As things that fell out of her mouth in her anger stung so, the temptation to pull back hard on the reins and tell her off for such stinging comments, grew strong, but thankfully, some advice from Allie given previously, bubbled through and so instead, I just gathered my daughter in my arms and held her close. I said nothing more. I just held her close and cuddled her as she poured out her grief onto my shoulder. Knowing that my disease was the source of so much of this grief and anger was quite a burden for me to carry. I worried intensely for her happiness so I set about trying to make some changes that might bring some happiness and hope for the future into her life.

There were friends, from whom I had not heard for quite a while and I worried that they were okay so had been trying to get hold of one particular friend James for quite a while, and the more I tried, the more I worried that there was something wrong, or that perhaps I had done something to upset him, so he just didn’t want to talk to me. It niggled away in the back of my mind.

Finally the direction I should be taking on the challenge weighed heavy with me too. The whole challenge started as a vehicle on which to give myself the best chance of healing while at the same time doing all I could to try and improve the lives and life chances of so many more people with the sponsorship being raised going to the 5 wonderful charities that I support. The challenge, which after a lot of hard work was finally started during the final months of Chemotherapy, was focused initially on trying to get my immune system back after brain surgery, radiotherapy and 12 monthly cycles of chemotherapy. It took me to the hills and gave me not only the physical challenge I needed to drag my immune system back up by the boot straps, but also gave me the peace, space and time to commune with God in his glorious creation and find a sense of perspective on what was a crumbling life. The hills and the glorious countryside around me in many ways saved me. But it also brought me people. Only on one occasion was it hordes of people when I prayed for a few people as I lay across a rock on Ben Aan with not a soul in sight. Normally it was the odd person but I frequently found, by engaging with these people that I stumbled across, or that sat next to me in the train or on the bus, that there was a very strong connection. It might be faith, or it might be ill health and a need for hope, inspiration or encouragement, but on so many occasions there was a real reason for our meeting. I truly felt connected to the world and felt God’s presence with me as I walked, worked and wrote.

But then I realised that my immune system was back to full strength, and that my greatest weakness to this brain tumour, my Achilles heel, was the cognitive and motor function which the tumour was wanting to slowly switch off until the lights went out. I had trained the brain to take on the balance function when I lost my inner ear to the Cholesteatoma, and that taught me that I could retrain the brain, but I also realised that to do such a complex task with such a complex organ, while possible, would require an awful lot of hard work and repetition. Learning to play the pipe organ was undoubtedly one aspect, but I needed more cognitive and motor function heavy tasks to assist in training the brain and turned to golf. A sport that I had not played before but was also cognitive function and motor coordination challenging so perfect to try and train the brain. Then a friend, Sarah, suggested that I should try juggling as well and Allie gave me some juggling balls so I was set. I was learning the organ, learning to play golf and learning to juggle while doing some good physical exercise each day. All were hard work but enjoyable, but I just felt that I was not meeting anybody. I was being well supported by friends and family, and the Brucefields family golf course, and the McLaren Leisure Centre, and the St Modoc’s church in Doune, but I was just not meeting anybody outside of my immediate circle. I was not able to spread awareness of the challenge further. I was no longer meeting these extraordinary people with their own great tales of courage which so inspired me and others as I passed them on. I started to worry that perhaps I was failing in the second part to my original mission which was to improve the lives and life chances of so many more people. I was working hard to beat the beast but the challenge felt flat, just flat. I worried and just didn’t seem to be able to settle. I was struggling to see God’s hand in the challenge.

Then so much happened that reassured me considerably. Firstly, I had a lovely response to my request to pray for me. I felt uncomfortable asking for such but felt I wanted to, and needed to, as prayer is the most powerful force on earth, and right now, as I wait for the results, I want to believe once again that I really can be healed. That God really does want me well. I have, in response to my request, received lots of very positive comments on Facebook, messages and emails affirming that I am being held in their prayers. That emboldened me. Secondly, James and I finally managed to catch each other on the telephone at a time at which both could speak. James was on good form, all was well, he was working extremely hard as he always did and had just moved to a new house with his family for his new job and was in the final preparations for a year-long deployment. No wonder we hadn’t been able to catch each other. It was great to be able to hear that all was well and to be able to have a full chat, to be able to off load some of my concerns and seek advice and wise counsel. I received just that, a listening ear, good counsel and great encouragement. I put down the phone with a smile on my face realising that I had been worrying completely unnecessarily. That by worrying I had heaped on my shoulders a burden that simply did not exist. That was so terribly silly. Then after a great tea, cooked by Allie, of butternut squash noodles, spinach, ricotta and pine nuts, Allie and I were off to Jenny’s ordination.

The ordination was in the Scottish Episcopal Church of Old St Paul’s, a wonderful grand church set in the Old Town of Edinburgh. The service erupted with the most wonderful choral entrance of the choir leading in the Bishop, the presbyters (ministers of the church) and most importantly of course, Jenny who processed in with the most wonderful and beaming smile on her face. The words of the processional hymn were so on message and addressed my immediate concerns:

‘Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes.’

As the smell of incense wafted around the church, the music engulfing my very being in this wonderful space, I was captivated and so encouraged by Jenny’s story of hard work and perseverance as she worked so hard across 3 continents and 4 countries over many, many years in order to finally achieve her calling to be ordained priest in the Scottish Episcopalian Church. I was all consumed by the symbolism of the ceremony, the music and the scriptures, and as we all knelt to pray for Jenny, during the responses, the most wonderful thing happened:

Have Mercy on us – we all prayed
Good Lord deliver us – we all prayed
Draw us to yourself – we all prayed
Sanctify our wills – we all prayed
Lighten our darkness – we all prayed
Strengthen our weakness – we all prayed
Deepen our love – we all prayed
Fill us with zeal – we all prayed and then finally
Lord hear our prayer.

I felt a hand very lightly at first on my shoulder. I turned my head to see if someone in the aisle behind me needed some help but there was no-one, yet there was most definitely a hand on my shoulder. As the prayers continued I felt that hand once again on my shoulder. Firmer this time but just resting on my shoulder, pressing the seam of my blazer in against my shoulder. It was unmistakably a hand yet still I could see no-one. As the cantor finished this wonderful musical prayer, I understood:

Thanks and glory be to you, O Holy Trinity, for calling us to your service, to a heritage so great, a life so rich, a salvation so dearly bought. All glory be to you O Lord.

God was laying a hand of companionship upon my shoulder. All was going to be alright. I had to stop worrying and just trust in him. Walk the path he has shone before me and all will one day become clear. All will be good.

During the peace Jenny came to the place where her family and friends were seated and in which she had asked Allie and I to sit. Jenny gave the peace to her family and then came to me, raised her hands in welcome and we hugged as I offered her peace and congratulated her on her ordination. It was a very special moment of acceptance for me and after the service, as we all gathered for tea and coffee and bites to eat, while catching up with friends, Allie took me around the church and introduced me to more of her friends who embraced me so immediately and openly that I started to understand immediately. God had brought Allie and I together when he sat me in her seat nearly a year ago and had brought us together for a reason. We were entering a new phase in our lives. That would mean change but rather than be unsettled by it I should embrace this wonderful gift of Allie and be so very thankful for her and all the support that she offers me just as Allie’s friends and family were embracing me. God was with me.

Then as we climbed into a taxi to take us back to Allie’s flat I switched my phone back on to check that all was well at home. A text came straight through from Heather. Heather was happy once again. I took a deep breath and shed a quiet tear of relief. Then just to top it off, the most unbelievable thing happened. The taxi driver knocked £2.00 off of the cost of the taxi journey to make life easier for all!!

So I start to close this post with a prayer by John O’Donohue given to us by the Reverend Jenny’s thank you address and whose theme was affirmed to me earlier in the day by my good friend James:

‘May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer,
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more.’


Allie reminded me that any journey has a number of seasons and that with each season comes a period of change. I interpreted this as such: ‘Don’t fight the changes but instead embrace them and see them as opportunity to be grasped to bring colour to your life and enable the growth of your journey through life.’ She is so jolly right and reminded me of one passage of scripture and two inspirational quotes sent to me in the early days of the challenge:

“Do not worry about tomorrow! This is not a suggestion, but a command. I divided time into days and nights, so that you would have manageable portions of life to handle. My grace is sufficient for you, but its sufficiency is for only one day at a time. When you worry about the future, you heap day upon day of troubles onto your flimsy frame. You stagger under this heavy load, which I never intended you to carry." Instead I should enjoy opportunities presented to me and follow the path laid out before me when the lights are shone on my intended path.

Don't cry over the past, it's gone. Don't stress over the future, it hasn't arrived. Live in the present and make the most of every day.
Just because something isn't happening for you right now, doesn't mean it won't happen. God's timing is perfect.
Yours aye