‘Still Emily’ book review

StillEmily

I’ve just read ‘Still Emily’ in one sitting, on holiday surrounded by people, and have had to stem the tears pricking my eyes on more than one occasion. Emily’s story touched my heart, not with tears of sympathy but of love, of admiration, and in some sense, of understanding.

Emily began life healthily and despite what could now be seen as warnings, the shock of an NF2 diagnosis at the age of 17 was huge. This condition would go on to rob Emily of her hearing, her balance, ability to walk and more, yet she has refused to give in to the condition, not willing to be defined by it, and continued in her walk with God, perhaps closer than ever might have been.

(Neurofibromatosis Type 2 (NF2) is a disorder that causes tumours to grow on the body and throughout the nervous system. Depending on where they grow they can cause conditions like deafness, severe balance problems, facial nerve paralysis, spinal cord compression and swallowing difficulties.)

‘Still Emily’ is a movingly honest memoir of Emily’s journey with NF2. Of the highs and lows – of which there are many, including the moment at age 17 when Emily’s family said goodbye to her as she lay in a coma, not expected to wake up. Like the times when she has been robbed of her sight for a period as well as hearing, in order to allow her eyes to rest and recover as they work harder than ever. I’m not sure I can begin to image the isolation and fear that must induce.

It is also a story of a family thrown into turmoil, but choosing to respond in love. Choosing to support, choosing to demonstrate the love of God in the face of adversity, united in their faith. Christian faith is of course a theme than runs through the book, not in an ‘in your face’ way, but in a gentle undercurrent, God’s presence and faithfulness the foundation in this inspiring story.

As anyone with a long term condition will know, it can be hard to remain always positive, even with God at your side, and Emily is honest about this, but also reminding herself, and us the readers, to focus on the bit that can be done, not the bit that can’t, as she recalls learning to sit again, able to do 20 mins at first but not the half hour she hoped for. The subtitle to ‘Still Emily’ is ‘seeing rainbows in the silence’ a choice that Emily has made – to always seek the moments of joy: ‘I choose rainbows. Every time. Even when they are invisible, I carry on looking…’

One of the things I love about this book is the truth that we are all worthy, no matter what we can or can’t do. A simple reminder that came to Emily when all she could do to help a fellow patient in hospital was press the ‘call nurse’ button, but in that moment, that was what was needed. This was something I too learned when recovering from back surgery last year, even in the tough times, in suffering and in the moments when we feel useless, helpless and alone, that to God we are perfect and he can use us all, whatever the circumstance.

This is a book about endurance, the faithfulness of God and above all, hope. In endless operations, physio and appointments, in pain, in disappointment, there is still hope.

 

‘Still Emily’ is available now from Malcolm Down Publishing, priced £7.99.

 

The one where I get political…

Imagine this. A nation where the ruling elite are hated by many. Ruling with an iron rod, the poor are hardest hit. Yes they made some improvements, but not without huge cost.

Then along comes a leader like no other. One who interprets things differently, who brings a different world view. He’s not like the others. He’s not worried about what he looks like, or even who supports him, he just knows what he is there to do.

His message is so vastly different to the world he inhabits, he quickly gains support from those seeking a new way, seeking something different. Fed up with the status quo. People follow him and rally to declare their support of him.

Of course being a bit of a radical he has his enemies, he has his dissenters, that’s to be expected, right? But he has come to challenge the system, the world order, to make a change, he is committed to his cause.

 

…o0O0o…

Of course I’m not actually talking about Jeremy Corbyn, this is written abut Jesus, but I’ve been struck recently that the whole sorry mess this nation is in, is not that dissimilar to what happened 2000 years ago. Of course I’m also not suggesting Corbyn is any kind of Messiah either, but what I want to highlight is that someone a bit different gaining support can make people suspicious. The religious leaders of Jesus day (his own crowd you could say) turned on him because he was different, because he didn’t agree with every word they said. He brought a new interpretation of their laws, their scripture. And in a way Jeremy Corbyn is doing just that amongst his crew: the politicians, and now despite recent huge support for Corbyn, his party seem to be panicking, worrying about the difference that won him his support and are becoming increasingly suspicious of him.

Right now this country needs something to believe in. We need something different. I am proud that we live in a democracy, I’m proud that I get to vote, I am passionate about voting and wish more people did. But about now, when I watch PMQs and see them all behaving like school children – well worse actually my kids wouldn’t behave like they do – when I see the name calling in the press, the picking out each others flaws, the continual need to undermine each other, causing us, the public, to trust no one, I wonder why on earth we bother.

And what has gone on in the last few weeks? Well bloomin’ heck what IS going on? Our nation seems to be falling apart. And I am not going to join in the name calling and finger pointing but this whole sorry mess has come out of our own western political system, a democracy. So don’t tell me that it’s the fault of anyone except our political system and our politicians.

We are in a time of great uncertainty, we are fearful of the future, worried for our kids inheritance, angry, mistrustful and upset.

Well, last week someone said to me that it is at times like these revival happens. When the chips are down, when all else is falling apart, when wars happen, or disasters hit, the power of God often breaks out.

I don’t know why that is, perhaps there is something about feeling helpless, about finally admitting we don’t have all the answers, that enables us to hear from God. Perhaps there is something about being intentional – about actually seeking God, or even just seeking another way that allows him to break in.

…o0O0o…

Well right now as a nation we need something, or someone to believe in. Politically for me that’s JC – Jeremy Corbyn that is ;) He’s different, he’s bringing a different style of politics, is bringing a hope that the rest don’t seem to be able to do. Yes he might be a bit scruffy, yes he might be interpreting the rules differently but I think that’s what we need right now. I mean it can’t get any worse can it!

However, it will always be for me the JC. Jesus Christ. Whatever is going on around us, whatever I face, I know that Jesus is my constant. In times of trial, in times of joy, in pain and in celebration, he is there. If anyone can get us out of this mess it is him. So whilst I’ve voted for Corbyn and for remain, and am seriously considering joining the Labour party, I will be praying too. I’ll be crying out to the Lord for our nation, for a better way, a way that is founded on love and compassion. A way that sees the poor and marginalised supported and welcomed. A way that might be different to anything we’ve seen before but that just might save our nation from wrack and ruin. It might seem unlikely, but that’s what faith is. To believe that one man could change the world – how is that possible, right? But that’s just what I believe Jesus did and is still doing.

All that said, I also am praying for us – we can be that one man or woman too. How can we change our world? How can we bring a loving presence and a sense of compassion to what we do? Let’s be praying that there can be another way for this nation, whether it starts from God in revival, from politicians or simply from us…

jesus-politics

Love this pic (actually from a sticker design at Cafe Press)

Share the Hope

So for the second year running I am overseeing the Share the Hope Project which came out of an idea to ‘reclaim Advent’ from the craziness of Christmas prep that has swallowed it up. I mean let’s face it, it’s just the second week of November and we are well into the consumer hype aren’t we? Christmas trees are up (and in my local supermarket it has been for weeks!), the dulcet tunes of tinny Christmas carols are filling our high street stores, the Tesco cracker hat is already adorning their logo, the Christmas ads are upon us (lovely though they are) and the dreaded conversations about who is ‘having Auntie Marge this year’ are once more upon us. 
I don’t know about you, but from about September onwards, as hard as I try otherwise, my thoughts are drawn to Christmas. To the hosting, to the meal planning, to the presents, to the entertaining, to Christmas cards and decorations and so much more. It is so busy that by the time Christmas arrives I’m a bit fed up to be honest. Which is crazy isn’t it? One of the most special times of the year, spiritually and otherwise, and we get too caught up in the preparation to enjoy it properly. If anyone does notice Advent it’s usually just about the chocolate in the calendar (although at least now we can get some good Christian ones – plug here for the Real Advent Calendar…).  My kids love Advent as it’s the only time of year they get to eat chocolate before Christmas!
So last year I came up with the idea of trying to encourage people to spend just a few minutes each day thinking about the hope that Advent is really all about. It is about preparation in a way, but not preparation for just one day, but preparing for the coming of a King.  And, so last year we launched Share the Hope, a sort of online Advent Calendar for the digital age, sharing a message of hope each day from 1-25 December (yes I know Advent starts on 30th November but we are going with the masses ok?). And I’m so excited that we are back for a second year! 
Just like a traditional advent calendar, each day will tell
part of the Christmas story according to Scripture, but will have an added
reflection on hope for people to think about. These have been given by a range
of people across the wider Church, including Vicars &
Pastors, an Arts Chaplain, an International blogger, a Charity director and the
Bishop of Lewes to name just a few. It promises to
give a really varied view of what Christian hope is all about and will hopefully encourage people away from the
hectic Christmas preparation for just a few minutes!
So I encourage you to go and sign up! The reflections will be published daily and you can
sign up to receive the daily doses of hope online at: www.sharethehopeuk.wordpress.com  or on Facebook:
Facebook.com/Sharethehopeuk  &
Twitter: @sharethehopeuk 

And don’t forget it’s all about sharing the
hope, so get sharing and please help us spread the word by going and telling someone about it! Thank you :)

Cystic Fybrosis & Hope

A while back I came across the blog ‘Coughing Angel’ written by Daniela who suffers from Cystic Fibrosis. I have been meaning to write about it for a while, and I totally recommend it as an insight into what life is like with this condition.

At school there was a girl in my year with CF. I remember walking into the classroom one lunch time and finding her being pummelled on the back by her mum and thinking what on earth was going on? The reality for her at that time was that several times a day she had to have someone come and do this to her to try and loosen the excess mucus in her lungs. It was not plesant to watch and I am sure it was far more unpleasant for her. But it was keeping her alive. Sadly she passed away last year. She must have been 37.

Daniela writes on her blog about her experiences with CF. It is at the same time both heart-breaking and uplifting. Although she desperately needs a lung transplant and spends most of her time in hopsital she also has hope and is not just waiting to die. She writes in 3 languages and is a total inspiration.

The last few weeks I have been struggling with the sovereignty of God. If He is sovereign why did he not heal Nix? But when I read Daniela’s blog it gives me hope. There is hope even in the face of terminal illness or death. His ways are not our ways, but we know that he uses all things for good, for his purposes. Through Daniela’s illness, her blog is giving hope and encouragement to people around the world. It is giving people a real life account of what is like to live with CF. In Nix’s death, we are broken, but we still know that God is good, that He will use this for His glory. I don’t know how or why, his ways are not mine to understand, but his name will be glorified.