Fearbecame an ‘old friend’, predominantly pathological fear of my mum, fear of my dad, fear of arguments between my parents leading to violence, fear of speaking when I shouldn’t, moving when I shouldn’t and fear that there would be no end to the hell I quickly perceived my life to be.
I was once like a book with all the pages left blank upon which others wrote until God began erasing what was written and writing His own words in my heart. Through His love and His grace, Jesus took a very damaged and broken human being and patiently revealed, and continues to reveal, the amazing hope there is in His salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
Like many people I know, my childhood was a difficult one. To be blunt, it was hell on earth. From a very young age I was physically, mentally, emotionally and psychologically abused by my mother and sexually abused by my dad. ‘Home’ as you can imagine was the one place I didn’t want to be, but outside school, it was the only place I knew as I wasn’t allowed friends, to join in with activities outside of school and was even often deliberately separated from my siblings. It was especially hard as I was often jealous and envious of my older sister, who was allowed to do all these things and who had never once been used as a ‘punch bag’ by my mother or ‘singled out’ by my dad. Very early on, I felt I was the outsider. ‘Family life’ was characterised by fear and pretence. There were no drugs or alcohol to blame for my parents’ behaviour and somehow they were able to put a ‘respectable’ face on everything to the outside world for a long time. Alongside everything else that went on was domestic violence, where we witnessed our mother being beaten up and having to flee from the house with her several times. Fear became an ‘old friend’, predominantly pathological fear of my mum, fear of my dad, fear of arguments between my parents leading to violence, fear of speaking when I shouldn’t, moving when I shouldn’t and fear that there would be no end to the hell I quickly perceived my life to be.
Controlled by childhood experiences
From an early age, I guess around age 11, I became aware of the idea that death could be a way out of everything. When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would answer honestly that I wanted to die! Around the age of 12, I found out I didn’t have to wait to grow up – I could do it myself. I have one particular memory of holding one of my dad’s shaving blades to my wrists and I knew that all it would take was one quick movement – and yet, as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Little did I know then, as I do now, Someone wanted my life preserved. I became even more determined after I carefully planned how I would kill both my parents while they slept, but the fear of discovery before I could execute my plan made me abandon hope of release that way. From the age of around 12 I took my first overdose – obviously, I was unsuccessful. I started glue-sniffing, apparently trying to get high enough so I could purposely run out into traffic and get knocked over – unsuccessful. I started running away from home, but each time I was found and brought back again and the abuse got worse. The final time I ran away from home I was 14; I was so desperate that even an attempted rape could not induce me to go back. However, social workers involved stepped in to place me in Local Authority ‘care’. I was deemed ‘emotionally and mentally disturbed’, and put into a secure unit outside London. I thought I was safe at last. It was then I made a decision that nothing and no-one was going to control me or get close to me again.
Unfortunately, I didn’t realise that I was very much controlled by my childhood experiences, which led me further into situations a 14 year old girl should never be in. However, no matter what happened to me or the things I did, no one got close enough to me to know that I was dead inside, or to see that creating personas in order to navigate my way through situations and relationships had become a second nature survival technique. Having learned to blank out my mind and ‘numb out’ as a child in bad experiences, it was not unnatural to me then.
It was a ‘strange’ time to say the least at the Unit, but eventually was sent to a family in London to be fostered, to begin a ‘new life’ at 16. As far as I was concerned my parents were dead to me, even though they were actually only living less than 20 minutes away by car; but I couldn’t connect with the foster parents either – they were more concerned about getting paid than ‘parenting’. Nevertheless, I set about making this ‘new life’. I went college, but by age 17 I found myself pregnant and without a clue about how to be a parent. Being still under Social Services ‘care’, they made all the arrangements to ‘ease me from my burden’ with an abortion, but I declined their offer! At 18, I found myself, without warning, a single mum alone in a council flat, with the social worker offering me counselling as the answer to severe depression. It wasn’t. Eighteen months later I picked myself up and started to put the pieces together again. I retrained, found work and slowly built a life that I wanted for my child and myself. Finally, I thought everything was going to be okay.
Lost but not ready to be found
After a very rocky start, I loved being a mum. I started attending a local Baptist Church at the invite of someone I knew and was amazed to find that people could actually be quite nice. I knew I wasn’t a nice person and had done some bad things in my life and these people seem so squeaky clean; I wanted to be like them… cleansed from ‘my past’. Without knowing much about Jesus or the Bible, I wanted to become a ‘Christian’ like these ‘nice people’ so I started attending Baptism classes, aiming to get baptised. As it approached, I was invited to a party that dramatically erased any thoughts of baptism, as a new and seemingly exciting social world opened up. ‘Christianity’ no longer fit in with my lifestyle. As I recorded in a poem I wrote around that time: ‘I was lost but not ready to be found’. In time I found a great job; I was in a relationship that ‘worked for me’; and I was beginning to live with myself, and beginning to learn how to cope with people. I didn’t need anything else. I had my plans, knew what I wanted, how or what I would do to get it, learned how to ‘blank’ out the past and to live with the personas I created for myself. Alcohol and drugs became a means through which I could operate; however, I think the desire to control situations kept me away from ‘hard drugs’ which seemed to control other people.
Then things began to unravel. The life that I had worked so hard to carve out for my child and myself was shattered in pieces by an illness with no cure: I was diagnosed with kidney disease at age 21. After the initial shock, I thought it wouldn’t be so bad, because with medication I could return to work, still party and live my life. By age 25, end-stage renal failure took over; life-sustaining dialysis treatment began and life, as I had come to know it, was over. At the time, because of the type of relationship I was in and the associated social scene, looking good outwardly was hugely important. This was changed quite drastically by the illness, and so everything I relied on to create my personas was gone. Then the illness became so bad I had to give up work – first temporarily, then permanently. I was at rock bottom in a way I never thought I would be again. I had lost my health, my ‘props’, the relationship I lived for and my job; but thankfully the thought of my child kept my suicidal tendencies at bay.
Around this time, I happened to meet people on the street who would try to tell me about Jesus, and someone I knew kept on inviting me to her church. The more she told me that Jesus could heal me, the more interested I became. I was initially interested for one reason and one reason alone: to get healed, get back with my boyfriend, dump him from a great height and then get my life back on track. Eventually, I visited the church. It was a Pentecostal church and so alien to anything I had ever known in my life. I attended in my usual ‘back off’ attitude and didn’t realise that ‘the guy making noise at the front’ was someone called ‘the Pastor’ and his ‘sidekick’, who would be praying at the back, was one of the ‘Deacons’. To me, it was one weird set-up and although my child loved it, no-one-and-his-wife was coming to take my child to ‘Sunday school’ – whatever that meant. I knew nothing from nothing. I just wanted ‘my healing’ and my old life back.
One day a strange thing happened. I began reading the Bible. Obviously, I kept on hearing the name Jesus: I wanted to know who this was. Once I started reading the gospels, I couldn’t stop and I kept on crying and crying over what this person Jesus had been through. Something was happening to me but I didn’t know what. I couldn’t explain it, but somehow I knew what I was reading was the truth. Nevertheless, as far as I was concerned my wishes were still unchanged. Very slowly, I began attending the church on a regular basis (and allowing my child to go to Sunday school). I began to listen a bit more closely, but my heart was still stuck in my old life. So I would attend church for a while and then slip back into the old routine of going to certain parties; but this time I began feeling guilty when I did. Not long after, I remember responding to an ‘altar call’, praying ‘the sinner’s prayer’ and a few minutes later someone explaining that I was now ‘saved’, and something about rejoicing in heaven. I was happy and excited – as I understood it, I wouldn’t be going to hell. Then my ex came back into my life and I thought I would be going to hell and didn’t have any assurance of salvation. Even when the Lord closed the door with finality on the relationship that I didn’t have the power to end, I still thought I had ‘lost’ my salvation and had to ‘start being good’ to be saved again.
“I needed healing inwardly far more than I needed healing from my illness..”
By this time I was attending the church regularly, but more than that – I was began reading my Bible regularly and eventually got baptised. Very very slowly, I began realising that a lot of things being preached from the pulpit just didn’t add up to the stuff I was reading in the Bible. I had a lot of questions that were never answered and I felt ‘they’ were right and I was just being ‘my old self’, so I just went along with whatever was said. All this time, I had no assurance of salvation – sometimes I ‘felt’ saved other times I didn’t. The biggest clue that something wasn’t right was the focus on my physical healing, as I had become convinced that I needed healing inwardly far more than I needed healing from my illness. The major flaws in my character often came out in ways that, in hindsight, made it pretty obvious I was far from God.
I began feeling uncomfortable with the strong focus on ‘my sickness’, ‘my healing’, ‘the Lord is going to heal you’, etc. By the accounts of many at the church fellowship, everything was going to be wonderful; but everything was certainly not wonderful, as I wasn’t getting better, I was getting sicker. Not only did I have kidney failure but also heart failure leading to open heart surgery. Eventually, it all came to a head when I was on what (according to the doctors) should have been my death bed. The pastor and many of the church were gathered around my hospital room, praying and making ‘healing’ claims again. I knew that I believed in the existence of God, who sent Jesus to save us, but whether or not I was ‘saved’ was a question I knew then in my heart I couldn’t answer. I knew I wanted to know God more than I wanted physical healing, but something in me was always drawn to ungodly practices and having ‘head knowledge’ about God wasn’t cutting it anymore. In that moment when people gathered around me in prayer, I knew I would I never go back to that church. I also knew enough to be scared of dying in my sins.
I now know it was the grace of God that allowed me to pull through; but when I was finally discharged, I felt what faith I had was destroyed. It was a very difficult time of recovery and looking after my child and I felt so lost. Eventually I began to pray again genuinely asking the Lord to forgive me of my sins, particularly those I had committed since ‘professing’ to be a Christian. I particularly asked the Lord if I could start again and if He could take out everything that had been put into my head about what the Bible said about God, if Hecould teach me what faith really was because I didn’t have my own faith, I only had what others had told me. Most of all, I just wanted to know what the real truth was and so I prayed that the Lord would send me to the right church.
The Lord found me the right place, which I knew from the beginning was temporary, but would be the place in which He would teach me His word, about faith, about salvation and the lessons He wanted me to learn. One of very first things the Lord taught me was that God is my Father and He loves me. I had heard it over and over again over the last few years of attending the first church, but like many things I ‘listened’ but did not ‘hear’. For reasons I cannot go into here, it was the most incredible, almost over-powering knowledge; and it began a breaking within me that I hadn’t realised before that I needed.
Something still missing . . .
For all this, I still did not have assurance of salvation. I didn’t realise how much junk I had on the inside. I often got fed up of listening to stories of how someone’s life had been terrible before they came to know the Lord and how afterwards everything just sort of worked out wonderfully. I always used to think: “Great, but when does it happen ? When does it happen for me? – only it just doesn’t seem to be working out that way in my life!” How I would look around at all ‘the perfect church people’, wanting to be like one of them, but feeling I never could live up to it! I didn’t realise the gradual work of grace that God was doing in me. At this church, God was gradually drawing me – through His word, through people He sent into my life, and teaching me about faith and trust in Him. Somehow, something still was missing: I didn’t know what, but it was as if there was still a very fine hazy film over what I believed. Upon the foundation of a fragile faith another major thing the Lord gave me, and is continually giving me, to learn and understand, is that salvation is not only about being saved from the wrath to come and going to be with the Lord forever after death (heaven), but also salvation from the power of my sin over my life through a living relationship with the living, risen Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. I read the Bible, knew it was the truth, but there was no personal application concerning who I was in Christ through faith. This was what was missing. For me, this was that hazy film.
“I know my Redeemer lives” (Job 19.25)
Some people can remember a date when they were ‘born-again’ and saved. I cannot. Through the grace and mercy and patience of God, I now have an assurance of His salvation, through faith alone in the blood Jesus shed on the Roman Cross as the sacrificial lamb for my sins. I don’t know when that assurance came, only that it was a gradual process, and that I now have it. The Lord began, still is and will continue, to heal me – not in the way I first wanted and thought He would, of my physical illness, but spiritually through His Word, His Holy Spirit and His grace. Through this healing, little by little ‘the sicknesses of my soul’ which had corroded the person He created me to be is being replaced by hope, life and faith in Jesus Christ my Lord and my Saviour. Through showing me who He is and what He did for me through His death and resurrection, I finally know who I really am in Him and finally have the peace I’ve sought since I was a child, in Him. Through His love I am learning to love others – even my parents – and through His grace learning to have grace for others. Today, I knowmy Redeemer lives (Job 19.25) and because He lives, I truly can face tomorrow without the need of any personas, pretence or fear which characterised who I once was.