25 years ago today I raised my hand at a youth weekend away with Kenilworth Youth for Christ. What a journey its been. 2 months after this my second nephew Alex was born severely brain damaged due to a Doctor’s negligence and my sister Paula very nearly didn’t make it either, Alex died after 7 days. It was heart breaking. I was only 13 at the time and spent the whole of that summer away from home at Paula’s as Mum and my other sister Keeley and Dad dealt with the ramifications. Being such a new Christian and at that point hardly having any input I was baffled by how I had spent the day and night my sister was in labour praying my heart out for the end result to be so devastating. I sacked God off for a few weeks as thought this wasn’t what I had signed up for. He was meant to help and it appeared He didn’t. I returned to God a few weeks later because I came to realise that by that stage I had already incorporated my faith into my life and heart, I had stopped hanging around with some kids that were getting into smoking, sex and starting to dabble with drugs and I genuinely was intrigued by the faith that had been presented to me, it felt like I was entering a different world. So I ignored my questions over Alex and what had happened and started back on the journey.
Faith was hard when I was at school, because at youth group it was so easy. But I couldn’t quite change who I was at school, I still swore and was crude and loved a bit of smut. But I was basically just doing everything to get though school any way I could because my home life was such a mess. Mum and Dad arguing and fighting most nights. Both of them drunk on Sundays and me left to my own devices. Mid week Youth group was my escape and I relished it. It brought me a hope I couldn’t find anywhere else. 2 years later when I was introduced to church I was so scared. I could hardly bring myself to walk in the door, I don’t even know why. By this stage I knew God and knew I loved him but still it was scary. Those first few months I would leave the house on a Sunday at the earliest opportunity to get out and then slowly make my way to church and end up bang on time…fast forward 6 months and I am at church early, loving it and crying my eyes out every single service. I loved going to church so much. I found a place alongside youth group where I felt welcomed and loved.
When I left 6th form after doing my GCSE retakes I went to Stratford College and because it was a new start I knew I could set a different way of behaving than I did in school. So I dropped the swearing, the crude talk and the smut and genuinely tried to be the best Christian I could possibly be. I actually look back at this part of my Christian walk with fond memories, I really enjoyed, I went to the college Christian Union and I felt confident and happy in my faith. At home my life was awful, now Dad had left I was the focus of all of Mum’s anger, sorrow and bitterness. She attempted suicide on a couple of occasions and it was horrendous. I am grateful for my faith at this time cause it truly was an anchor in the storm. I had a motto around this time, if I can remember it… I used to say to God, “I just want to be who you want me to be and do what you want me to do”
After College through encouragement from my church leaders I got my first full time job, I protested against it as I wanted to go Bible College but they said only if they saw that I could get on by myself first and I REALLY wanted to go Bible College so I did EVERYTHING they said. I got a job, I held it down. Mum kicked me out (then wanted me back…long story), so after sofa surfing and even living in a caravan on someone’s drive for a few weeks I happened to rent a flat off some people from church. My faith was beautiful and innocent, the prayer times were gorgeous that I had in the flat. Also something I’ve thought about recently is I would spend hours in the evenings typing out the books of the Bible on my computer. For no reason really.
I left that lovely little flat and my job (didn’t love that so much!) to go to Capernwray Bible School, which up until that point was the pinnacle of my life. I still feel happy about it after all these years. I loved it sooo much. Being taught the Bible for 6 hours a day every day for 9 months. I literally couldn’t get enough. I was so gutted when it came to an end. For some reason I had believed that afterwards I would walk into an amazing Christian job and not have to worry about anything ever again. How silly. So when that didn’t happen and I ended up back at home with my Mum I was left floundering. Thankfully I managed to leave my mums and then I got a job at Coventry Cathedral. I loved my time at the Cathedral and again I love that period of my faith. Once again I had a joyous, childlike, innocent faith. I had dreams and felt like God spoke to me on a monthly basis, if not weekly. So when that came to an end I was very upset.
I got a job working for John Lewis and my faith, little did I know it, was about to hit a weird bump. 6 weeks into working there, on a Sunday morning my Mum died. I remember being taken to a stock room and told I was to ring my Dad, I knew something was horribly wrong. When Dad cried down the phone that Mum had died my reflex response was to ask, ‘What do I do now?” Dad said , ‘Just get home’. Its weird that I said that out loud to my Dad because it actually wasn’t him that I was asking. It was God. I had honestly and sincerely, and now looking back, naively, believed that God would heal my Mum of her alcoholism, she would become a Christian through me witnessing her praying the sinners prayer and all would be well. Now none of that had happened, where did that leave me and God? What did I believe now? Unthinkably for me was would I ever see my Mum again in heaven if I hadn’t heard her prayer the sinners prayer? I couldn’t even go there without having a panic attack. Even though my relationship with my mum was complicated I did really love her and when she died I was so heartbroken. I realised (as we often do in hindsight) how precious and valuable she was, how she did love me, she was just in so much pain and her alcoholism was knackering everything and herself up. Part of me felt guilty for feeling a little relieved that she was no longer suffering the way she had been, she had given up even trying to cope and was just wasting her life watching TV in a drunken stupor. But my struggled with God were immense. I questioned whether my faith was based on him performing miracles in mum’s life or whether I actually believed God for who he was. I couldn’t go to church for a few months as I just couldn’t face it. I knew by that stage in my life though I had little else other than my faith, so eventually I stopped wrestling and put the questions aside and cracked on.
By 2008 I was ready for a move and thats just what I did. I had prayed and asked God what I should do and although I didn’t have any huge revelations or words from God I got a transfer and moved to Liverpool. At the start it was so exciting but I hadn’t anticipated how hard finding a church was going to be. I really struggled and because I wasn’t in a Christian community I felt my faith was starting to fade. I knew I was to embark on something in my life I just didn’t know what. I did find a little starting up church that was lovely, and then I met John and faith was easier again, I moved over to his church, and then married him.
I currently have complicated feelings about my faith with John and the church we went to. Firstly, let me say I am very grateful for everything that happened while I was there and what John and I learnt and did with and through that church. We did some amazing things because of the faith that was taught, and I wouldn’t change that. I love my friends from there deeply and miss a lot of them very much. More so than I care to admit at times. For me however, subconsciously it strengthened any of the more conservative beliefs I may have had. I doubled down on them. Things were black and white. There was no room for grey areas, and if anyone thought there were, they were wrong. My faith became very dualistic. Right, wrong. Spiritual, secular. No in between. If you don’t believe exactly the right things or you deviate slightly in those beliefs you are anathema. Reflecting on all that as I just have done I can tell that I was avoiding the grey areas by pushing them aside whenever they arose. What had happened with baby Alex? What about God at that time? What had happened with Mum? Where was she? What do I do with all that? Black and White means I can’t process any of that as its a grey area, just get on with here and now cause life’s going well. Don’t look back. Too busy anyway, there’s things to do, people to serve, ministry to do. And we did it all. Everything and we loved it.
John dying up ended everything. As one would expect. I still believed in God and I still wanted to serve him but the moment John died in that operating theatre it felt like the Holy Spirit and God’s presence left hurriedly in a vacuum back to heaven. How could I make sense of all this. Things were black and white, except now, there really weren’t and I couldn’t deny it. How had this happened? Why did God not intervene? I had prayed so hard, I had begged and screamed as they were working on him. Nothing. Nada. What do I do now? That old question came back to me. Hadn’t we a few months earlier as a church all stood and prayed fervently for John to have a long healthy life? What now? What about me? It would take another gazillion words to recount how my faith journey has progressed from here in the last 5 years which you can read about in various posts on this blog so I won’t go over it all again. Paula dying a year and a half later, the struggles I had accepting my sexuality, living in a pandemic and Dad dying have all added to the twists and turns.
Miraculously I still have a faith. My little flame hasn’t gone out yet. It has certainly flickered the past 5 years, but every time I though it would snuff out, something, or someone has come along to fan the flame and keep it going. My degree has helped NO END and I will forever be grateful to God for it and all He has done through it. But also I am beyond grateful and thankful to all the people how have helped me along the way. People who have journeyed with me through the years, people who have chatted to me about God. People who have taught me inside and outside church. But mostly for people who have prayed for me. I wouldn’t have a faith if it hadn’t been for people’s prayers along the way. Thank you if you have prayed for me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. And lastly, thank you to Father God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. You have been my anchor in many a storm, even if I haven’t been able to see you or feel you at the time. Looking back it is clear you have kept me. You have held me and hidden me, and I believe You will continue to do so.