I grew up in a village called Prestwich about 5 miles North of Manchester. Grandma Lilian, who was a Christian, came to live with us when I was 9 years old and there were 7 of us squashed into a 3 bedroom terrace house. However my childhood was mostly happy. My Dad took us to church every Sunday. I knew that God was real and heard stories about Jesus at Sunday school.
However this all changed when I became a teenager. I found church quite boring and stopped going. The local youth club was much more exciting, going out with my friends to the pub and discos became central. My parents seemed to trust me and I had no real boundaries, a recipe for disaster. I prayed to God but only when I needed him. When my Dad had open heart surgery I was terrified that he would die and prayed that he would not. When I was 19 I moved to London with my job. I made lots of friends and shared a flat. My next job was in a high rise office next to the Tower of London, what a great view! This is where my life started to change, God was calling me back to Himself. I had no idea at the time.
Two things happened. I met Stephen, my now husband. We became friends and started going out together. The other thing was this. I was given a book called ‘Surprised by Joy,’ written by C.S Lewis. It’s about his longing for a joy that he knew he once had but had lost.
Stephen and I married in 1984 and after the birth of our first son, Michael, I was so overjoyed with our beautiful baby I wanted to say thank you. However I wasn’t sure if there was a God anymore. The vicar at the local church suggested a small thanksgiving service. We had two more children, Tom and Katherine. I started taking them to the little chapel every Sunday. At times I found life difficult to cope with. I felt there was something missing from my life and there was a loneliness inside.
We moved to Aylesbury in 1991 and when Katherine was 3 a friend told me about Limes Avenue Playgroup saying it was a really good one. Eventually a place came up. The staff were so welcoming and friendly and had a peace about them, I knew they had something I didn’t have. I still struggled with life and told a member of playgroup staff I wanted to go to church. She invited me to Limes Avenue me one Sunday I went.
The message was so clear, ‘Jesus had died for us to bear our sins.’ This had never occurred to me before. The pastor was working his way through the gospel of John and it seemed as if God was speaking directly to me. One verse hit home ‘From the fullness of His grace we have all been given one blessing after another, for the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.’ John 1 vs 16. The pastor explained that Jesus had all the grace and truth that we didn’t have.
Looking at my own life I realised I had no grace and truth. I had lied many times to get myself out of trouble. I became aware that when things went wrong I always blamed somebody else. I’d never taken responsibility for my own actions. And then there was the shame of my past and sense of guilt. I expected standards of behaviour from my children that I couldn’t even keep myself. I realised how selfish I had been in so many ways. I didn’t want to be that way anymore. God had turned my life upside down but now it was the right way round.
A member of staff gave me a bible which I could understand. We had another baby, David and I started to go to church more often. Things really started to gain pace when a friend from playgroup invited me to bible study. I thought it was going to be boring but it was a revelation! We were studying Daniel chapter 3, but I could not believe it. There were three men Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who would not bow down to a golden statue. They worshipped the one true God. They were thrown, bound, into a fiery furnace when a fourth man appeared with them who looked like the Son of man. They came out alive, with not one hair on their heads singed, not smelling of smoke. To me this was impossible!
I went to the Just Looking Group and voiced all my doubts. I was given a book to help me. Shortly after I went to a friend’s baptism at church and it struck a chord in my heart. I left in tears, too upset to stay until the end. On the way home I sat on a rock in a field and just cried out ‘Help me,’ not knowing if God was there.
One night I was challenged, did God exist, who made the world, was the bible all true, did Jesus really live and what about the theory of evolution? I had to confess I still doubted. In desperation I phoned my brother Andrew and asked him these questions. Andrew gave me the reassurance I needed.
I remember putting down the phone, walking into the sitting room and looking up at the night sky. I had a wonderful sense of God’s presence, there was such joy in my heart! The joy C. S. Lewis spoke about. A joy that can only be found in God. God had made the world and if he could do that he could easily save three men in a furnace. The doubts had gone. I had been so afraid of what people would think of me if they knew I believed in God.
God had answered my prayer in a wonderful way. I didn’t know that I could ever be forgiven for all the things I had done wrong in my life. Knowing that Jesus has died for me on the cross and taken all my shame and guilt away gives me such joy. But Jesus didn’t stay dead, God raised Him up and He is alive in heaven and one day will return.
I have learned to rely on God’s promises in the bible and not on how I am feeling any particular day. Life and all of its problems don’t go away but I know that God is faithful and will never let you down. And God gives us a great love for one another.