I was coming home from shopping when my mobile rang. Juggling phone, keys and carrier bags I answered it and heard my sister’s voice. “I have to go into hospital, the ambulance is on its way.”
My father was a widower with two grown up children when he and my mum were married, Noreen was actually my step- sister. Partially disabled, she lived with my mum and dad. My step brother Roger had a family and home of his own.
My father had a massive stroke before I was two years old and died when I was six. As I grew up we three became a strong family unit. I was always aware of God, although I don’t remember anyone telling me about him.
I met my husband at the tender age of seventeen and things moved fast. A whole new life opened up for me. A new relationship, a wedding and quickly afterwards a move to Germany to live as an army wife for three years. Gradually I drifted away from God.
It was a slow but steady process. Life was suddenly much more exciting and interesting, I pushed God out to the sidelines. Sometimes I would have the strongest feeling that there was more to life than waking up in the morning, getting through the day and then going back to bed. God was pursuing me.
I had a beautiful baby girl but sadly my marriage failed and I returned home to my mum and my sister in the UK. Once again, we were a happy family and even when I eventually moved into my own home, we saw each other every day. After my mum had several strokes, I became official carer for her and my sister, while bringing up my daughter. The next few years were hard work but happy. Lorna and I began going to church and my faith in God was growing again.
Then came the phone call. Noreen had been ill with stomach problems, I knew that the doctor was concerned, but it was a shock. After tests in hospital and much investigation she was diagnosed with bowel cancer.
I remember the conversation I had with the surgeon after my sister’s operation. He made it clear that this would not cure the cancer, but would prolong the time she had left. My sister was going to die. She passed away eleven months later, just before Christmas. I brought my mum to live with my daughter and I in our two-bedroom house, but she deteriorated quickly and we were forced to place her in a nursing home. It was a very stressful time for all of us. Within six months, my mum was gone too.
Suddenly my sole purpose in life had gone. We had only just begun to rally after one loss and here was another. I had been a carer for over twenty years. Well meaning people told me that I could now have a life of my own but what did that look like? I began a nightmare journey through the maze of job seeking and the benefits system, which I thought I knew inside out, bottling up my feelings until I had time to deal with them. I existed on auto- pilot, numbed.
Then my daughter told me she was moving out to live with her boyfriend, who she eventually married. Looking back, I can see now why she made the move, the atmosphere at home must have been dreadful, but at the time I was devastated and it caused a great deal of friction between us. Suddenly I found myself living alone for the first time in my life at the age of forty.
Then, when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, my dog died. I had kept going through everything that had been thrown at me but for some reason this was the last straw. I collapsed emotionally. I found myself in a very dark place and even questioned the purpose of my being alive at all. I honestly couldn’t see the point. In a relatively short period of time I had gone from being part of a loving family to being absolutely and completely alone.
I was hanging on to my faith by my fingertips. I knew God was still there but I couldn’t seem to reach Him. I couldn’t understand why all of this was happening. Didn’t He care? Was He even real? I started to wonder what I had left to lose but stopped myself from going there in-case I found out. I stopped attending church, no-one seemed to notice.
One night I was curled up on the sofa. I was alone, as depressed as I had ever been, the house was a mess because I had simply stopped caring. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t even pray, the words wouldn’t come and I had no sense that anyone was listening anyway. I had hit rock bottom. From somewhere deep inside I dragged up the words “God, help!”
Immediately God responded. I believe He had been waiting for me to call out to Him. All at once I was standing looking down at myself and there was someone by my side. My mind was clear and calm and I knew that the ‘me’ I was looking down at was not coping and needed help. I told whoever was standing with me that I would make an appointment with my doctor the next morning and then I was back on the sofa. But now there was a peace where there had been despair and I actually felt hope. That night I slept like a baby.
I saw my doctor who referred me to bereavement counselling which was helpful, but ultimately it was God who rescued me that night. I was at the bottom of a deep dark pit with no escape. God could have simply reached in and lifted me out but he didn’t. He supplied handholds and footholds and encouraged me to climb, because I had lessons to learn on the way up. To trust Him, to believe in His power, and His promises that He will always be with me (Matthew 28:20), He will never leave me (Deuteronomy 31:6), He has plans for my future, to prosper me. (Jeremiah 29:11). Gradually I came to know that I could always put my faith in Him. (2 Thessalonians 3:3)
There were times when I slipped back but God was there, my safety rope, holding me, giving me His truths to cling to until I found my footholds and began to climb again. Until at last, one day I was able to pop my head over the edge of that big black hole and haul myself into the light. The light of freedom, the light of Christ. It took a long time and it was never easy, but it was worth it.
I wish I could say that I have never looked back since then. I have, on numerous occasions. But no matter how bad things get, or how many times I let him down, I know that I am God’s and He is mine and whatever I go through He is right there beside me. (Isaiah 43:2)
For all that I have lost, God has given me back more. My daughter and I are closer than ever and she has given me two beautiful grandchildren. I met and married a wonderful Christian man, who brought with him a Father-in-law, two loving sisters-in -law and three terrific step- children with their own families. The Lord has placed me into a vibrant and active body of believers and I can honestly say that I am happier and more fulfilled than I have ever been. Most importantly I am walking with God every day and hearing His voice.
My experiences have taught me some valuable lessons and have helped me develop some grit, a bit of backbone that gets me through the struggles we all face so I can continue the work God has called me to. So often, it is our struggles rather than our ‘successes’ that make us stronger. Through it all God is shaping me, it’s a continuous process. I have no idea what the future holds or the path that God has laid out for my life and I have no desire to. I can move forward in confidence not because the future is known to me, but because it is known to God. That is more than enough. Watch this space!
No matter what is happening in your life right now or how hopeless things seem, there is nothing that God cannot turn around and make right. Hold on to Him and never let go. ” You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness. Psalm 30:11