One step at a time

What direction are you heading? Are you travelling fast or slow? Have you got everything you need? Who is guiding you? Are you listening closely for directions?

Here’s a little story (actually by the time I finished this post I realised the story wasn’t quite so little) about taking one step at a time, following God’s leading, surrendering to doing things in His timing, and continually learning that His ways are always higher.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9 NKJV

In January 2013 I started blogging about our journey with a daughter with cancer, almost two years after a nurse in the pediatric oncology ward suggested that blogging can be helpful when communicating with family and friends. It’s less time intensive and less emotionally draining. When the nurse said that to me my thoughts were something like, “I won’t need to do that, we won’t be here for long.”

Two years later when Victoria was 6 months into chemo treatment I felt God prompting me to start writing a blog. I knew that in the Christmas holidays I would have more time available so I planned to launch the blog in January, close to the anniversary date of Victoria’s diagnosis.

Those holidays we were blessed with the opportunity to stay at Harry’s House in Stockton, a beautiful family retreat for families with children with cancer. Early mornings, learning how to use blogger, setting up pages, writing background information, purple background and http://victoriagraceconqueror.blogspot.com/ was launched.

After I had been blogging for a while, a few people started saying to me, “You should write a book,” and so the idea was birthed, a book about our story, testifying to what God has done……

My mouth shall tell of Your righteousness
And Your salvation all the day,
For I do not know 
their limits.
 I will go in the strength of the Lord God;
I will make mention of Your righteousness, of Yours only.

Psalm 71:15-16 NKJV

… but also with the practical things we had learned along the way that would hopefully help other families.

So much data to work with; the group emails I started sending when Victoria was first in hospital; notes from every appointment with specialists and therapists; blog posts; images; checklists for hospital and home; notes from talks I’d given at church; and guest blog posts related to our journey. It was a little overwhelming. Me being me, I started a spreadsheet because that’s the way my brain works, listing all the items. Then with the help of the Holy Spirit I divided them into chronological chapters.

God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. 1 Corinthians 14:33 NKJV

It was around mid 2014 when I started writing the book, so quite some time had passed since Victoria’s initial diagnosis. I was finding that as I reviewed the content of each chapter, funnily enough, there was a theme coming through each chapter. So I decided to write a ‘reflection’ section at the end of each chapter relating to that theme. The reflections sometimes offered a bigger picture view, for example the role of (and impact on) the mother, father and siblings. Sometimes they were of a more practical nature, such as how to keep a three year old engaged in physical therapy as they learn how to make their left hand work again. The inclusion of these reflections have turned out to be a crucial part of the book – another example of God’s ways being higher than mine.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
 “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
Isaiah 55:8 NLT

So with the structure of the book in place, the next stage was to start putting it all together. A relatively simple task I thought, until I started writing it. The plan was for the first two chapters to cover the first two weeks in hospital (diagnosis, surgery, recovery). It took me six months to write about those two weeks, even now I feel teary as I think about it. Every sentence was a re-living of the moment, a processing of another level of grief for years of a childhood and family life that were stolen. But in pushing through and writing about this I had a overwhelming sense that the telling of this story of God’s love and faithfulness was part of the plan for His manifestation of Romans 8:28 in our lives, and ultimately the lives of others.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28 NKJV

I remember sharing with a friend that I had started writing the book and that I expected it would take a year or so to complete. She wisely said to me something like, “Wendy, it’s okay if it takes 6 years to write it.” I am grateful that she said that, as in some way it gave me permission to rest and not strive. And the reality is that it has taken almost five years to finish the book.

But God knew that it was going to be a long journey of not only writing, but also of emotional healing and understanding more about His grace. He brought people alongside to support and encourage me in so many different ways, emotionally, financially and technically. Here is one example of how He had gone before, preparing the way….

And the LORD, He is the one who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed. Deuteronomy 31:8 NKJV

In late 2014 Alexandra and I went to the launch of the Delta society’s book ‘Dogs that make a difference – inspiring stories of dogs bringing hope, help and happiness to people’s lives.’ On many occasions when Victoria had been in hospital she had received visits from the Delta dogs, and they had certainly added some brightness to the day. At the book launch we met a lady that we hadn’t seen for many years. She and her husband had helped Ken and I back in 2000 when we had one of our many boating misadventures when cruising from Sydney to Lake Macquarie.

After a bit of chatting she explained that she was a member of the Lake Macquarie Fellowship of Australian Writers and that they had a monthly critique meeting where members could submit some of their writing and receive feedback. This sounded exactly what I needed, so I joined the group from September 2014 until December 2017.

During that time my confidence and writing competency grew. The critique group gently encouraged me as sometimes the tears flowed when I relived moments of this journey. I appreciated their non-judgemental attitudes when helping me to tell my story even though we did not necessarily share the same faith.

To me, this is another example of God’s planning and provision for this project. He knew all those years ago when we had the boating incident that we would connect again with these people for a very different purpose. Thank you Jesus.

So I toiled away on this project among family and business responsibilities, and volunteering at school and church. There wasn’t an abundance of time, but when half an hour or so became available, I took it, madly scribbling on notepads, typing and reworking drafts.

In January 2016 I felt God say to me, “Complete the first draft by the end of the year.” Okay. I set to work with that goal in mind. The first six months of the year went really well and all was on track. But somehow in the second six months I was a bit distracted. A few days before school ended in December 2016 I remembered what God had said to me and went into a slight panic! There weren’t many days of the year left, and I would soon have four children at home full time.

Needless to say those Christmas holidays weren’t the most exciting holidays for the children. I set up a desk in our bedroom and would lock myself in there each morning for a few hours with my laptop, notes and a box of tissues. As over five years later I still easily became overwhelmed with emotion when I read back through the events of 2011 to 2013.

The children were very patient and gracious with me during this time. I put a sign on the door saying, “Mummy is working on her book. Thank you for your support and encouragement. Please pray for the book and that it will help many people.”

A week before the holidays ended, by the grace of God, the first draft of the book was completed. There had been a cost those holidays, emotionally and with missing out on some family time, but I had to trust that God had it sorted, and that His grace was sufficient for all of us.

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
2 Corinthians 12:9 NKJV

A few days later a beautiful lady from church approached me and said that she wanted to financially support me in the publishing of the book. Another reminder to me that God was the Project Manager, not me. He did have it sorted!

At the Colour conference in 2017 God spoke to me again about the book project. It was the last day of the conference and I hadn’t yet received anything that I knew to be specifically for me. So I prayed, God, what is it that you want to say to me here? During the next session of worship, the response came, “Take your family on the journey of this book.”

Within a couple of weeks I had an opportunity to do that. Victoria came home from school and was talking about her teacher’s friend who had cancer. I asked Victoria how she would feel about giving the draft version of the book to encourage her. She was keen, so we discussed the idea with the teacher, and Victoria delivered the books. Once again God had shown me how important it was to keep seeking Him for direction and input.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6 NKJV

I was starting to understand that really this wasn’t our story at all. But rather it was His story. Around this time I felt to ask some people to pray specifically for this project. I knew that prayer covering was going to be essential to getting this book completed. I’m grateful that they said yes.

Around May 2017 we were having some parenting challenges and a wise friend of mine, who has known Ken and I since before we were married said to me, “Wendy, when you publish this book people will be looking at your family and your family’s lives, it won’t be much of a witness if your family is falling apart.” Ooooh, that was hard to hear.

But God was obviously using him to prepare the way for what He wanted me to do. As a month later God said to me, “Lay down the book and focus on your family’s health and healing.” So I surrendered the book. I didn’t pursue the outstanding draft versions that were being reviewed. I stopped all work on the project, learned how to love my family better and God brought more healing and restoration. Once again He showed me that …

“I don’t think the way you think.
    The way you work isn’t the way I work.”
        God’s Decree.
“For as the sky soars high above earth,
    so the way I work surpasses the way you work,
    and the way I think is beyond the way you think.

Isaiah 55:8-9 The Message

In February 2018 I felt God say, “It’s time to start work on the book again.” So I did, spending a couple of months making some final edits. As I was putting this blog post together I found this note that I’d written to myself, “Today 22/4/18, another round of editing. Not so emotional, rather, in awe of what God had brought us through and where we are today.”

Yes, over the years through writing God had been helping me to process the pain, disappointment and grief. Obviously there was a lot there, as it had taken almost 7 years to get to this place of being able to read our story without being a blubbering mess. He was gradually building the strength in me that I sense I will need for the next phase of this journey, whatever that is going to be.

For the remainder of 2018 I worked on the cover and layout with my friend who is a graphic designer, another God story of re-connection after 7 years of living in different countries. Finally the first printed version of the book arrived on my desk in mid November 2018, almost five years after I made that first planning spreadsheet.

What a journey, in no way comparable with the actual journey our family has been on, but still a journey of God’s grace and faithfulness, and me learning more and more that His ways will always be better than mine and His timing is always perfect. What’s more our family, still with some rough edges, is thriving and is in the healthiest place it has been in for almost 10 years. All praise and glory to Jesus.

Now the book is complete I am trusting God will get the book to the people He wants to read it. One of my favourite stories so far …. I gave the book to my neighbour for Christmas, and a week later she came over to buy five copies for me to give to families in similar situations in hospital!

We have made two versions of the book. At this stage they have the same content, but different titles. The first one, Victoria Grace – Living with victory through childhood cancer, has more of a story-focused title. Koorong has agreed to stock this version. For anyone interested my website for ordering this book is https://wendyrobinson.com.au/victoria-grace-by-wendy-robinson-paperback/

The second version is titled, Childhood cancer – a survival guide for parents, written by a parent. This is the version that we are hoping families who are in this situation will find when they are googling books to help them. I’ve had favourable discussions with various medical people and charities about this version. Again for anyone interested, or if you know someone who is in this situation, the website for ordering this book is https://childhoodcancerparentsguide.com/

This probably the longest post I’ve ever written on this blog, but my prayer is that what I have shared in this post will encourage you to keep going with whatever projects/dreams God has put on your heart, always listening closely for His direction, surrendering when and what He asks, and trusting that His ways are always best.

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