Today we’re talking with Niki Hardy — author of Breathe Again and her newest book One-Minute Prayers for Women with Cancer. In this interview, Niki shares openly about her own experiences with cancer and the prayers that made all the difference.
To learn more about Niki and her books, be sure to check out the links at the end of the interview!
1. Niki, tell us a little bit of the story behind your book One-Minute Prayers for Women with Cancer.
I lost both my mum and sister to cancer, and then just 6 weeks after losing my sister, I was diagnosed. Mine wasn’t lung cancer like theirs, but rectal cancer. Yes, rectal! It felt like the family heat seeking missile of death had locked in on me, or more accurately, my rear end. From that moment on, my faith was on a rollercoaster. One minute I’d be full of faith, trusting God and knowing he was with me all the way, but then the next moment, praying was the last thing I could do. I wondered if God was mad at me for something, I was mad at God and, despite my best efforts, I struggled to trust him.
What I needed was a friend who’d been there, who understood, and who could pray when I had no words.
After writing Breathe Again: How to Live Well When Life Falls Apart, which is a down-to-earth roadmap for helping people discover that life doesn’t have to be pain free to be full, then go live it, no matter what life throws at them, I was asked to write One-Minute Prayers for Women with Cancer. I jumped at the chance to be the person I needed for others.
2. I love how you open by saying “You are not alone in this.” What are some ways that cancer seems to make us feel automatically alone? How does your book address this pain?
No matter how amazing our friends and family are, we are the ones who have to battle our cancer. No one can sit in the chemo chair, lie on the radiation table, or lose their hair for us. It’s easy to feel alone even in our people-filled houses, surrounded by loving friends and family.
I want women to know that no matter how alone they feel, they’re not. Not only am I with them, walking beside them and praying with them through every emotion, question, and situation cancer throws at them, but more importantly, God is with them. Despite what it might feel like, he IS with them.
I chose every Scripture and wrote these devotions and prayers to help women know this a little bit more, and my prayer is that each day they hear him, feel his presence, and know his comfort, strength, peace, and guidance.
It’s easy to worry that God won’t like it and will ignore us or leave us if we’re honest with him about how angry or worried we are. But this simply is not true, and the prayers are designed to help women who are concerned about this to pray with honesty and confidence.
3. When someone is wrestling with cancer and all that comes with it, I think it’s very normal to wrestle with God. How have you personally wrestled with God through your own cancer journey and what do you hope to communicate with women who are now going through a similar struggle?
I mentioned some of my struggles earlier, but as I got to the point where I was barely surviving a life I’d never signed up for, I realized I was also wrestling with his promise to give me an abundant and full life. Mid-cancer sure didn’t feel abundant or full! Was I the exception to his promise, a footnote exclusion I hadn’t seen before?
Many of us are familiar with the promise in John 10:10 where Jesus tells us he’s come so that we might have life and life to the fullest. When cancer hits, we assume that life is waiting for us in the future and we must be battle the storms and troubles he has warned us about.
The trouble was, I didn’t know if my storm would ever end. What if I never went into remission? Did that mean I’d never experience that full, abundant life? Then it hit me. Maybe living the full abundant life God has for us is possible right in the middle of our heartache, tragedy, and yearning.
I had to shatter the myth that seasons come and go, clearly defined by circumstances and emotions. Yes, we experience tough seasons and busy seasons, spiritually dry seasons and seasons bursting with excitement, but they’re not mutually exclusive, separated in time and space. It’s possible to experience more than one season at the same a time, to discover joy in the midst of deep grief or intimacy in a season of loneliness.
Peace and fear could live in the palm of my hand at the same moment. It’s possible to laugh when all we want to do is scream.
It’s a myth that a painful season can’t be full, that a time of abundance isn’t challenging. I really hope this devotional helps women smash this myth and inhale all God has for us.
4. Can you share a story of a time God’s presence was especially near as you were fighting cancer?
I’m a fighter at heart! I was determined to survive until surviving was all I was doing. I didn’t want to embrace my cancer journey. I wanted to fight it tooth and nail. Until I couldn’t.
One morning as they plugged me into chemo and the drugs strong enough to strip paint coursed through my veins, I gave in. I told God I couldn’t be brave on my own any more. I didn’t have the strength. Until then I’d stuck my fingers in my ears and screamed, “La la la la la! I can’t hear you, cancer!” but the truth was, there was no getting around it.
So I decided to finally embrace it.
As I did the hard work of grieving, forgiving, and just admitting how hard life was, I found moments of peace where there was once only anguish, flashes of hope in the darkness, and joy snuggling in with our pain as my wounds begin to heal.
I discovered that embracing my cancer journey was a gift because it was there I met God.
When we live with the pain of an unfair story, we grieve the lack of a happy ending. Yet, if we rush to the end, our lives and our healing aren’t nearly as rich as God intends. By meeting God and feeling his presence in the chemo chair, I realized I had to grieve to grow, and grieving the loss of my could-have-beens helped me breathe.
Yes, where we are right now is often both the last place we want to be, but it’s also the very place we need to be to feel God’s presence and the strength, comfort, and hope we crave.
5. Through your journey, how has the gospel been made more real to you?
100%! Now, as I read the crucifixion story, I see a man who knows my pain, felt alone just like I did, and often still do. I hear similar questions to the ones I scream at God, and I know he gets me.
Then, as the page turns and Jesus rises from the dead I know for real that this isn’t the end. His resurrection brings life to me today and hope for a brilliant future. It’s a win:win that I often didn’t quite engage with before my cancer.
As I like to say, “The gospel isn’t just pie in the sky; there’s cake on your plate while you wait!”
6. I’d love to hear a little about your process for writing this book. From the perspective of a word artist, what did you learn about the craft of writing from this project in particular? I know whole books are written on the topic of writing advice, but what quick word of encouragement or advice would you give to other writers today?
Undoubtedly, less is more.
Having given up English at sixteen and being a zoology major in college meant I’d written nothing more than a thank you note, email, or science paper for about thirty years. I’m also an extrovert who’s never met a silence she can’t fill. Writing a devotion is a totally different skill.
You’ve got such a short space to share a story or encouragement and be clear about the nugget of golden truth you want to share. It means you have to be clear about what the pain is the reader’s dealing with and not mess around getting to the hope or encouragement they need.
If you’re a writer, no matter the size of your project, getting clear on who it’s for, what the purpose is, and what you want the reader to take away from it, BEFORE you start, is the best thing you can do to write words people will devour.
7. Niki, how can someone follow you and receive the encouragement you share?
If someone is going through cancer or knows someone who is, they can get a copy of One Minute Prayers for Women with Cancer (it makes a great gift with a casserole when someone’s diagnosed) along with a set of Daily Printable Prayers they can make their own that I’ll send to their inbox each day for the next month.
If they’re not going through cancer but life feel life’s hard or has fallen apart in some way, I have a short audio encouragement for them called How to Handle Anything Life Throws at You.
Niki, thank you so much for sharing with us!
Friends, be sure to check out those links!
Niki is a Brit in the USA, a rectal (yes, rectal) cancer survivor, pastor’s wife, tea drinker, and teller of bad jokes. As a speaker and the author of Breathe Again: How to Live Well When Life Falls Apart (Revell Aug, 2019), she’s all about meeting us when life’s not fair and embracing the reality that with God, life doesn’t have to be pain-free to be full. Niki and her hubby, Al, live in Charlotte, North Carolina, where they pastor CityChurch Charlotte. They have three kids they are trying to launch into the world and when Niki’s not running trails with her two lovely but rather stupid golden-doodles, you can find her with a nice cup of tea trying to figure out which remote actually turns the TV on!