Archive | June 2012

NETS OF MERCY – CHAPTER SEVEN

I dreamed I saw a large department store.  It was very brightly lit and the windows were full of wonderful things on display.  It had enormous double doors which were thrown wide open and there were hundreds of people going in and out.  To the left of the department store was a tiny little chapel. I went inside and I saw a large wooden cross in the centre which was dimly lit.  Sitting underneath the cross was a man who looked like a beggar.  He had his head in his hands and he was praying…

‘Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” ‘

‘Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction…….but small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life…….’ (Matthew 7 v. 13-14)

Once a little girl met a man.  The man held out his hand to her but she wouldn’t take it.  She ran away, but a little while later she met him again.  He asked her to hold his hand.  She held out her hand a little way, but quickly pulled it back.  Not long afterwards, she met him again and this time she took his hand.  She liked the feel of his hand in hers.  She walked a little way with him, but she saw some brightly coloured flowers on a bank and took her hand away, running to pick them.  She turned around with her arms full of flowers and ran back to the man.  The man held out his hand to her but her hands were full.  They walked a little way together, but the man looked sad.  Soon the flowers in the girls hands faded and wilted, and then died.  She dropped them and looked up at the man’s face.  He was smiling at her.  He held out his hand again and she took it.  They walked along for a little while, then they stopped.  The man turned to face the little girl and he held out his arms to her.  She lifted up her arms to him and he picked her up and carried her.  He looked into her eyes, his eyes full of love, and said, “Do you know who I am?”  She replied, “Daddy!”

July 2000.  One morning I was lying in bed and I prayed:-

‘Lord, I just want to fulfil the plans you have for me.  I want to hear you say, “Well done!” when we meet and to see your face smiling at me.  I want you to put your arms around me and to put my arms around you.”  His reply was this:-

You will; I will; I am; I do.’

I didn’t really understand this at the time.  It was only later that I worked out what that meant.  He also said, “Heather, you’re mine!”  I cried…

October 2000.  One Sunday morning, an evangelist from India came to our church.  His name was Chuba Ao, from Nagaland.  As a young evangelist he saw many miracles in his country and then years later, opened a Bible College there.  Chuba spoke very powerfully that morning about what God was doing in his country.  At the end I went forward for prayer.  Chuba and Michael, our Pastor, prayed for me and I keeled over!  I knew that God was doing something in me.  He was dealing with pride, the thought that I had to ‘perform’ well for God to use me.  That it all depended on me!!  That was the first time that God started speaking to me about not being able to do anything without Him.

When I eventually sat up, God was saying to me, “Don’t rely on yourself or your works.  Rely on me.  Relying on yourself will only make you proud.  It is I who wills and acts according to my divine purpose.”  I could only come to God just as I was.  God would be faithful to all His promises, even when I was unfaithful.

November 2000.  It was nearly eleven o’clock at night.  While I was laying in bed trying to get to sleep, Natalie came into our room and showed me something she had just written.  She said something told her to write it and it just flowed out.  It was beautiful and I believe it was a description of heaven.  I told her God must have inspired it.  This is what she wrote.  I have written it in her own words:-

‘There was a village.  It never was sad or unhappy.  It was always full of spirit, well it was like Christmas spirit.  This village was called The Happy Village.  It wasn’t a fake happiness – it was a joy, the feeling you get on Christmas Eve.

When I went there were no sad faces, no tears, but it was not scary and paranormal, it was beautiful.  I walked into the bakery.  The bread smelt warm.  It sent a tingle down my spine.  Then I walked and I gazed – there were cobbled roads and the lamp light was reflecting off them.  There was soft, spongy grass that I felt like doing cartwheels on.  I sat down on the lovely warm bench that lay beside a letter box.  Then I saw a house, a small and nice house, well, more of a cottage.  It had a rose trellis climbing the wall and I looked and saw people playing charades.  And ohhh, they looked like they were having such fun.  I knocked at the door and said how I admired them.  They asked me if I’d care to join them.  I did.  I had warm chestnuts and the most fun, laughing and joking.  I had three mince pies and a jar of sweets and a mug of warm cocoa.  We sat next to the fire.  I sat there as if these people were my family.  But really I’d never before seen them……..’

How wonderful.  Heaven isn’t a weird paranormal place.  It is home.  It is everything we could ever dream of.  It is a perfect place, full of everything that is good and beautiful.  It is how this world was meant to be.  I was so thankful that God gave that present to Natalie.  I prayed she would hold on to that – a picture of her real home.

That meant everything to me at that time, because for a while I had felt like I was in a vast desert.  I had felt as if God had left me.  During one morning service one of our worship leaders read the first eight verses of Isaiah chapter six and they were like an oasis.  As I sat there in the church, I thought about Jesus on the cross, saying, “My God, my God!  Why have you forsaken me?”  I knew He had gone through that for me.  He knew how I felt, but He never sinned.  He didn’t deserve it, I did.  But the reason Jesus went through that was because we have all sinned.  He is the way to our real home.

In that desert I wanted so much to be close to God again, but I found, looking back, that every ‘desert’ experience is an opportunity for learning.  God wasn’t going to bend the rules for me!  There were times when I just had to learn the hard way.  The rows were still going on, though not all the time.  I had to keep choosing the narrow way, take up my cross, daily, and follow Jesus.  It was like being totally in love with someone and they are on the other side of the world.  But God was teaching me to trust Him and obey Him.

‘I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.’

I had been judging God’s measure of love for me to what I said or did for Him.  But I was beginning to realise that it was His goodness I needed to trust in, not mine!  Anything good I said or did came from Him anyway!  I needed to rest in Him and not get panicky about what I should or should not be doing.  It was a time of waiting.  When the time was right, He would show me what He wanted me to do.

‘I have chosen you and have not rejected you…’

December 2000.

‘My dear child, I have prepared a place in heaven for you that is better than anything you have ever imagined.  One day we will be together forever and you will never worry again.  You will see me face to face and you will know and understand.’

April 2001.  One evening we decided to have a bonfire as we had a lot of wood to burn.  I have always loved bonfires.  I love standing in front of a huge bonfire on a cold, dark evening, feeling the heat of the flames and watching the sparks rise up in the air.  It’s so cozy being cocooned in that circle of warmth, when you are surrounded by cold darkness.

When the fire was completely ablaze, two lads from our village went to get a wheelbarrow full of wood to burn.  We threw the wood onto the fire, most of which was soaking wet, and it all burned!  Halfway through the evening, it started to rain.  It poured down, but the fire was so well ablaze that it didn’t go out!

No matter what happens to us, God’s love for us will never go out.  Like a consuming fire, His love will keep us in its warmth and light.  We just need to stay close to Him…

When Paul was away, even though I had our children to keep me company, I still sometimes felt a bit isolated.  Our church was seven miles away from us, I didn’t have a car, and most of our church family lived a few miles away.  One day I really needed encouragement and one of our neighbours knocked on our door.  I opened it, and there she was, with a delicious chocolate gateau!  Later that day, I went to our little post office and general store, very short of money, to buy a loaf of bread and a stamp.  The lady behind the counter, without me saying anything, offered me two large loaves of bread, free, as she said they were just one day out of date!  That day, I realised that there are people out there who really care!  I felt a bit silly feeling so sorry for myself, and rather pathetic, but these things that came along were a sign that God cares.

April 2001.  I hesitate to share this little story, as it kind of makes me look a little silly (!), but anyway, here goes…

One night, I woke up with an awful pain in my right wrist and lower arm.  It was so bad that it had actually woke me up.  I lay there thinking back over the day.  That afternoon, the lawnmower had packed up, and my neighbour’s had broken too, but I was really in the mood for cutting our front lawn.  So, I, in my wisdom, decided to find a pair of scizzors, and cut the grass with them!!  It was a lovely warm, sunny day and I sat on the grass and started to snip happily away…

Our front lawn was quite big, so I didn’t manage all of it, but I did keep going for rather a long time.  The reason my arm and wrist were hurting so badly was a repetitive strain injury caused by my own silliness!

As I lay there, I prayed, “Jesus, please heal my arm!”  I knew it was my own fault I was in so much pain, but I knew I would not be able to sleep if it carried on.  The words, “Reach out and touch the hem of my garment,” came to mind (see Mark 5 v. 27-28 and Matthew 9 v. 20-21).  I thought that was a bit strange, and even though Paul was away in London, and I had the bed to myself, the thought of sticking my arm out of the bed covers still embarrassed me!  What if it was my imagination?  What if He didn’t heal me?  But, I thought, what did I have to lose, so I stuck my arm out of the bed for a few seconds, and then put it back under the covers.  Within less than a minute, the pain had completely gone!

‘Jesus is alive!’

My daily reading one day read: ‘Is there a dream in your heart?  Has life buried it?  Have others told you it’s too late?  Don’t you believe it…’  It told me to pursue my dreams no matter how far-fetched they seem, because our dreams are like our children, they are our offspring.  They are the joy of our present and the hope for the future…

The dream I had for my future was to bring hundreds, thousands of people to know Jesus for themselves.  To speak God’s heart and to write.  That is what I wanted to do more than anything in the world.  How was that going to come about?  Talk about far-fetched!  It seemed totally impossible.  But if God had put that vision in my heart, then He would bring it to pass in His time.  The next step is the important one.  Where I step now, determines which direction I go…

On another occasion, I went into town with the children.  We paid a visit to the opticians, and decided to have lunch at McDonalds.  After our lunch we were intending going on the March of Witness from Scarborough Spa to the Castle, as part of the Easter People celebrations.  We never got there.

I started walking down the steps in McDonalds and when I got to the bottom, my back gave way and I couldn’t move!  I was in agony!  Someone called my neighbour who very kindly took my children home and an ambulance came for me.  I was carried out of McDonalds on the arms of two paramedics with a gas and air tube in my mouth!!  I went to casualty and they gave me an injection for the pain and three days’ supply of anti-inflammatory tablets.

My brother-in-Law drove me home and when I got there I found that my lovely sister had stayed with the children.  Before I went to sleep that night I asked Jesus to heal me.  Just before midnight I woke up and felt that He had answered my prayer as my back felt much better.  I asked Him for a verse from the Bible, and I opened my Bible next to my bed and these words ‘leapt’ out at me!

‘Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy!’ (Isaiah 35 v. 6)

I slept well that night…!

Two days later, I was still in pain, but hopeful.  The following day I went to the doctor, who referred me to a physiotherapist, but that night, as I was reading the Bible, these words jumped out!

‘…..I have heard your prayers and seen your tears; I will heal you.’  (2 Kings 20 v. 5)

The next morning I was dancing with Chloe to a worship CD with no pain at all!  Thank you Jesus!

All these things were to reassure me that Jesus was walking with me on my journey and that my Heavenly Father would finish the work in me that He had begun…

NETS OF MERCY – CHAPTER SIX

In my dream I saw a man setting out on a journey. He had a very large, heavy rucksack on his back and was wearing stout walking boots. He set off down the road, full of confidence. When he had walked a few miles, he suddenly came upon an obstruction in the road. He looked up and saw that it was an enormous wooden cross. It completely blocked the path so that he couldn’t get through. To the right of the cross was a tiny door. The man crouched down and opened the door and through the opening he saw people dancing, laughing and partying. They looked so happy and contented, and he longed to join them. He bent down and tried to get through the narrow door, but the huge rucksack on his back prevented him from getting in. He tried to remove the rucksack but found he couldn’t. He tried many times to get in through the door, but failed each time.

Finally, he gave up in despair, slumped down to his knees in front of the cross, and put his head in his hands. All of a sudden, a man came up behind him. The man looked up and saw Him smiling down at him with eyes full of love. He bent down to the man and gently lifted the burden from his back, then He offered His hand. The man took it and together, they bent down and walked through the door…

‘ “Come unto Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” ‘ (Matthew 11 v. 28-30)

The lights are off, the children in bed and I sit alone in my room.

One small lamp gives a gentle glow.  I’m alone again with my Creator,

The Creator of me, the Creator of the universe.

He loves me, He really loves me.

He talks to me, I talk to Him.

I listen, I fall asleep.

He watches over me in the darkness.

It was March 2000, early Spring.  The snowdrops were the first to announce the good news of hope and as I walked through the village and felt the warm sun on my face, my heart felt full and it felt really good to be alive!  Our village is dressed in its finest in the Spring.  Daffodils are everywhere, and then, later, the trees that line the main street are full of beautiful pink blossom.  It is as if the whole of creation is singing in harmony with its Creator.

As I walked, I noticed the stalks of the daffodils.  The tops were bursting with the promise that something beautiful was soon to emerge, like a crysallis pregnant with the promise of a beautiful butterfly.  All of creation was brimming with hope.

This had been a strange season in my life.  Beautiful times with God, feeling His closeness, listening to His comforting words, running parallel with the ups and downs in our marriage, and the accusations in my head, telling me I’ve ruined everything again.  I felt as if I was on a carousel, going round and round in circles.  When would it all end?  And how did it start?  How was I to get off the carousel and start being all that God intended me to be?

What I didn’t realise at the time was that I wasn’t really going round in circles.  All these things that were happening were not wasted.  God was working everything together for good.

God had given me wonderful promises, and there would be more to come, but I wanted them NOW!  I had asked God for patience, but unfortunately, when He answers a prayer like that, He tends to put us in situations where you have to be patient!

I felt at times like the Israelites, wandering in the wilderness, but there had been many oasis moments, from which I would emerge refreshed and ready to face another day.  God was on our case, and He was to prove it in amazing ways!

When Chloe and I got home from our walk, I put the television on too early for Chloe’s Teletubbies and saw ten minutes of ‘Kilroy’.  There were people on there who hated themselves because they thought they were ugly.  One woman, however, bravely spoke up and said, “There is only one thing that can help!  The love of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit!”  Kilroy immediately took his microphone away and cut her dead.  He said, “Please, no letters!”  I cried inside for those people because this really was the answer they were looking for and I hoped and prayed they would come to know the truth for themselves.

Later, when Chloe was having her nap, I began to read a book I hadn’t opened for years.  The book was titled, ‘My Dear Child’ and was written by Colin Urquhart.  As I read, God really spoke through the pages.  For the first time in my life, I felt I really KNEW God’s incredible Father love for me, not just in my head, but in my heart.  I sobbed for an hour!  Every word in that book was as if it was written just for me.

I had been frantically trying to show God’s love to people, but I couldn’t do that without having received His love for myself.  I needed to allow myself to rest in His love and not feel guilty about that.  It is not a selfish thing.  It was the greatest need in my life!  He loves it when we pray to Him, but it saddens Him when we don’t stick around long enough to get an answer from Him.  He wanted to speak intimately to me and I realised just how well He knew me and watches over me every moment.

Just as I love each of my own children with my whole heart, God loves us with all of Himself.  He doesn’t split His love up into millions of pieces, giving one piece to each of His children.  He gives us His whole heart!  He showers us with mercy every day so that He can keep working in us, despite our mistakes!  Imagine that!

I was so grateful that God had been so patient with me.  Just as I never gave up on my own children when they were naughty, so God, my Heavenly Father, would never give up on me.  How wonderful!  He wanted to do big things in me!

God’s timing is so perfect.  If I had read that book when I first got it, I wouldn’t have been ready for much of what God said through it.  God had been working in me and preparing me.  My eyes had been opened to God’s incredible love for me!  I had been listening to the enemy for far too long and it is the enemy who makes us feel a failure.  God only gives us love.

‘…strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come…He will come to save you.” ‘ (Isaiah 35 v. 3-4)

30th March 2000.  That morning I saw on the television a caterpillar on a leaf.  Imagine such an ordinary looking ‘bug’ becoming a beautiful butterfly!  What a wonderful hope that God could create such a beautiful creature  from such an ugly one.  A creature that could spread its beautiful wings and soar high in the air!  What a wonderful picture!

‘Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.’  (Luke 1 v. 45)

2nd May 2000.  I went on the bus to town and the driver was really miserable about something.  Someone commented about it on the bus.  I paid my fare, folded up Chloe’s pushchair, hoisted it into the luggage rack and sat down, lifting Chloe up onto my knee.  I decided to pray for the driver quietly and I asked God to touch him somehow.  I asked that when I got off the bus, he would smile.  He didn’t!  He seemed really angry and irritable.  The next day, the children and I went to the dentist, and on the way back, lo and behold, we had the same driver!  We clamboured on to the bus, pushchair and all, and I saw that he was still very irritable.  When I asked for a single to our village, and half fares for the children, he visibly sighed and I could feel the anger in him.  It was awful.  As we drove along, I prayed for him again, also praying that we wouldn’t crash!  The mood he was in, he shouldn’t have been responsible for a bus-load of people!  I was on edge for the whole journey!  But thankfully, he drove exceptionally slowly.

When it was time for us to get off the bus, I grabbed Chloe by the hand and managed to grab the pushchair with the other and lift it onto the floor.  I was thankful we were all still in one piece!  I turned to the driver as we left the bus and said, ‘Thank you very much!’ as usual, and I couldn’t believe the transformation!  He was literally beaming!  How incredible!  God is amazing!

I am so grateful that our Heavenly Father cares about the little things.  That afternoon, I was about to vacuum when I discovered that the bag was full.  I couldn’t remember where I had put the bags.  In our hallway we had a large chest, and something told me to look in there, so I did, and found, not only the bags, but Chloe’s bottle that I had lost ages before!

A few days later, I went for a walk with Chloe to a local farm where there is a public footpath.  It was perfect May weather and we had a lovely peaceful walk.  Our village is surrounded on all sides by fields and all along the walk were peaceful scenes, blue sky, sheep in the fields, ‘green pastures.’  I reflected what a contrast it was to the streets of South London.  Taking in the scenery was like drinking in pure, clear water.  On the way back I asked God, “Please let me see a white dove!”  (It had to be white!)  All the way back I pestered Him, “Please let me see a dove!”  I had never before seen a white dove in the village in all the years I had lived there, and I had done that particular walk many times.  We got to the main street and suddenly, I looked up, and there, flying above our heads were not one, but three doves!    They flew round and round us for about half a minute, then flew off!I just stood there in the street with my mouth open!  I hoped afterwards that no-one had been watching!

Of course, for the following few days, I started to doubt that they were doves!  What if they had been pigeons?  Then one night, in the early hours of the morning, I had a dream.  I was standing near where I had seen the doves flying over.  Someone was standing next to me, and brought my attention to the sign at the corner of the cul-de-sac a few feet behind me.  It read, ‘Dovecot Close!’  Now I had lived in the village for eleven years, and not only had I never seen doves before, I had not realised the significance of that name!

One day, a friend, Gill, who I have mentioned before, took Chloe and me to Castle Howard where we walked around the grounds.  It was another glorious Spring day and my heart was full of gratitude and praise.  The gardens at Castle Howard are so beautiful, especially Ray Wood, where the rhododendrons and azaleas were breathtaking.  Around each corner there was a new ‘treasure’ to find!  I marvelled at God’s wonderful creation and the fact that He is preparing a place just for us in heaven which will be even more beautiful!

As we walked down a hill and saw the lake in the distance, the words, ‘He leads me beside still waters,’ came to mind.  It was all so peaceful and lovely and another sign of hope for my future.

A couple of weeks later, God spoke to me through Chloe.  I was in the kitchen washing up and she came running up to me, full of excitement.  She held out a scrap of paper for me to look at and she explained in her own words what it was.  I dried my hands, and took the piece of paper from her eager hand.  On the paper was a picture she had been drawing.  To the uninitiated, it would have looked like scribble, but to Chloe and me, it was a work of art and I told her so.  A few minutes later, she came back and told me (by making a noise like a lion), that it was a picture of a lion!

‘Lord Jesus, I give you my gifts.  To you they are very precious and you turn everything I give you round for your glory.  Thank you that you always encourage me, even when I think I have nothing much to give.  Amen.’

On the last day of June, 2000.  my parents, sister and I went to see Eric Delve who was preaching at our church.  He preached a very powerful sermon, and at the end, Beverley, my sister, went forward for ministry.  She asked me to go with her, and we both made our way to the front of the church.  We stood there for a few minutes while Eric prayed with each person in turn in the line.  When he came to Beverley, he laid his hand on her and prayed for her, then he turned to me!  I had not gone forward for prayer – I had only gone to the front to keep Beverley company, but he told me the Lord had a word for me.  He said I was bearing burdens from the past of sins I had committed.  The Lord said, “I am the burden bearer.  Let go of your burdens.  Your sins are forgiven!  YOUR SINS ARE FORGIVEN! I think, rather than walking back  to my seat, I skipped!  It was just what I needed to hear!  God is so good.

All these little stories from that year, and more, were God showing me that He was there, guiding me, even during the times when I was unaware of it.  I wrote each one in my journal to remind myself of this truth when the going got tough.  I was still getting angry with Paul over things I shouldn’t and Paul didn’t seem to be able to show any empathy at all whenever I felt hurt or angry.  When he was stressed he would come out with such hurtful remarks, and I would retaliate.  I knew deep down that something was terribly wrong, but I had no idea what it was.  I was so sad that Paul had stopped going to church and angry at myself because I thought I was partly the cause of it.  Psalm 55 really summed up how I felt at the time:-

‘If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him.  But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship, as we walked with the throng at the house of God.’

“Oh Jesus!”  I thought, “How long before Paul and I enjoy sweet fellowship again?”

Verse 22 comforted me:

‘Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous fall.’

3rd July 2000.  2.45 am.  ‘Is the pathway to God still there?  Yes!  It may look different, but it’s the same route.  There will be dangers along the way, but God will keep you safe.  And your Father will be with you.’

A word of explanation!  The evening before, we had all gone for a walk to our local caravan park and the children had had a lovely time playing in the playground.  On the way back, Paul told me of a dream he’d had.  When he was about twelve years old he used to go with his Dad to a youth club held on a Friday night at their church and they walked home late at night.  The path they used to walk on was surrounded by trees then.  It had changed beyond recognition since that time and was now built up.  Late at night there were drunks about, but they never got attacked.

It was a quarter to three the following morning (night?!) in bed that God put into my mind the interpretation of that dream.  During that night I felt His presence, comforting me, so strongly.  Until about half past four in the morning I praised, prayed and thanked Him.  God never gives up on anyone and I knew He wouldn’t give up on Paul.

During those hours a thought came into my mind that there was someone in our church who  needed to be freed of a bad habit and was bound by it.  I had absolutely no idea who it was.  Romans 8 verse 15 came to mind.  It was, ‘I have not given you a spirit of fear but of sonship.  And by Him we cry, “Abba, Father.” ‘  I asked that if that was from Him, He would give me an opportunity to share it in the morning service the following Sunday.

A couple of days later, while I was thinking again of what God seemed to be saying, I saw in my mind a picture of a chain.  Every time we indulge in a bad habit we add another link to the chain.  God seemed to be saying that He wanted to break that chain.  He wanted to come alongside and encourage, to replace the habit with blessing.

Three days later, on the Sunday morning, the Youth were leading the service.  For the first hour I sat in my seat, wondering whether I should mention what I believed God had told me.  Then a young man from the church gave his testimony, including how God had helped him with a drug habit.  Then another young man gave the sermon, and he kept mentioning how bad habits can get a hold of us and how God can heal us!  So, then, when an opportunity came, I went to the front and shared what God had told me.  At the end of the service, several people went to the front for prayer.  I hadn’t a clue what was going to be spoken about, but God did!  This was what I wanted!  This was how I wanted to live my life.  I longed for God to use me to encourage people and I wanted to speak God’s heart to His children.

God was stirring my heart.  He was showing me that He wanted to use me in this way, but He was also to bring me to my knees and show me, gently and graciously and lovingly, that without Him I could do nothing.  He needed me to die to myself.  This was to be an exciting, challenging, emotional, wonderful, and testing period of my life….

NETS OF MERCY – CHAPTER FIVE

I dreamed I was standing looking up at the sky.  Right across the sky there was a huge black cloud, almost covering it completely.  But it was an unusual sort of cloud.  It was thick, like a dark grey duvet stretching across the sky.  At the edge of the cloud I could see above it to a bright light.  There was someone standing next to me, only he was a bit hazy.  Then, suddenly, he lifted me up right above the cloud and into the light.  I don’t know how it happened, but all of a sudden I was in the middle of the light, looking down at the dark cloud below me.

‘I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”  And he replied, “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God.  That shall be unto you better than light and safer than a known way.”  (M. Louise Hoskins)

The years following Jonathan’s operation were like a rollercoaster for Paul and me, and for our children.  How did we get from that perfect honeymoon to this?  My volatile nature kept rising up again as Paul seemed to withdraw more and more into his shell.  It seemed as if I was hitting my head against a brick wall at times, trying to get through to him.

There were times when I would lie sobbing on our bed, listening to Paul laughing at something on the television.  It was as if he was in his own little world.  When he decided to buy a computer, we all thought it was a great idea for the family, but the computer became his focus of attention whenever he was at home.  As soon as he came in from work, he would switch it on and play his games.  I grew more and more frustrated and a wall started to grow between us…

I felt as if I was in a canoe, trying to row this unstable vessel through a fast-moving river.  But the more I rowed, the more the current took me in the same direction.  I couldn’t turn the canoe around and try to go against the current.  It was impossible.  Then, I would come to turbulance, and the canoe would pitch up and down and rock from side to side, and all I could do was ‘ride the waves’ and let the river lead me where it wanted me to go.

I was helpless.  All I could do was try my best to keep my equilibrium, failing miserably so many times.  But all the time, the canoe took me along, guiding me through the turbulance, and around the rocks hidden beneath the surface, and I knew that my guide was God Himself.  He was in control. I just had to believe it with all my heart.

‘Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distress.  He stilled the storm to a whisper, the waves of the sea were hushed.  They were glad when it grew calm, and He guided them to their desired haven.’  (Psalm 107 v. 28-30)

                             *              –              *             –                 *

Chloe Beth was born at eight o’clock on 22nd August 1998.  She was a breech birth, but very quick, much quicker than my other births.  At half past five that evening, I was supervising the children making biscuits!  An hour later, I went into hospital.  Paul got there just in time.  Chloe was a wonderful, contented, smiley baby.  Every morning when she woke up she would give me the most angelic smile, like the sun coming out!  While I was ill, she was a great comfort to me.  Natalie and Jonathan were lovely too and helped such a lot, as did my parents and in-laws.  By the start of February 1999, I was off the tablets I was taking for the next two and a half weeks, then I was due for a blood test to see whether my thyroid was ok.  I just wished it was all over and I could get back to normal.  But God had been really blessing us over the last few months.  People from our church had been giving us gifts of money, food, and practical help, as Paul had had to take time off work to help me.  My faith had increased and Paul and I were going to church again together.  Paul hadn’t been to church for a long while.

It was the previous November that I was diagnosed with post natal depression and an over-active thyroid.  It had been so scary.  I felt as if my mind wasn’t mine.  I just knew how the Psalmist felt when he wrote:-

‘How long, O Lord?  Will you forget me for ever?  How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?  How long will my enemy triumph over me?’

I needed hope, but hope is fed by faith.  During the illness, faith was all I had to cling on to.  Without it I had no hope.  I tried to believe times would get better.  At the end of that Psalm,  David wrote:-

‘But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.  I will sing to the Lord, for He has been good to me.’

During my quiet times, God had been giving me wonderful promises, but it seemed impossible for me to get from where I was now to where I wanted to be.  I tried to speak words of faith and hope out loud.  When I succeeded, hope rose in my heart like dough in an oven.  The voice inside me that said, “It’s hopeless!” was a lie.

The list of my symptoms was endless; dizzyness, a weird feeling in my eyes, neck ache, constant tiredness, shaking, depression, headaches, panic attacks, loss of appetite, my heart racing.

One day, Jonathan came to me and told me he was in a school play.  I can’t remember what it was about, but I said I hoped I would be able to go.  During this time, the thought of sitting in a crowd of people filled me with horror.  By the time the day came, I was hardly able to get up from the settee, and when the rest of the family went to see the play, I wept with frustration, because I knew how important it was to Jonathan.  Everything in me wanted to be able to sit in that school hall and be the proud Mum, but I just couldn’t do it.

Friends from church set up a sort of rota, so that there was always someone with me and I was never left on my own.  They and my family were wonderful.  One day, Gill, who, with her husband John, are our housegroup leaders, came to sit with me.  I was feeling so terrified that day and I felt as if my head was in a continuous nightmare.  Gill sat and prayed with me and it slowly subsided.  I knew that if I focused my mind on these things I would be in despair and start believing the devil’s lies.  I was determined to trust God.  He had never failed me yet and I knew that He had a plan for me and that this situation was the means of my depending more on Him.  Gill held my hand and reassured me.  All will be well.

I prayed, “Lord, sometimes I am so frightened, especially about the future.  Am I going to get worse?  Am I going to go mad?  Help me, Lord.  Heal my mind.  Heal my body.  Help me in future days to be able to give as I have been given.  Help me to help others who are suffering.  Please help me not to be afraid.  Help me to speak out for Your glory.  Do not forget this prayer, Lord, even though I might.  Help me not to be selfish, but to always think of others first.  Thank you Jesus.  Amen.’

It was March 1999.  The specialist had told me I had Hashimoto’s disease.  He told me that is when the Thyroid Stimulating Hormone makes the thyroid under or over-active, instead of keeping it stable.  A friend told me God is between me and the illness, and that He won’t let anything happen to me that He doesn’t first approve.  I was so grateful for that.  I felt so feverish and shaky that day.  I sat on the settee, which had almost become my permanent home, and I had hardly any strength in my arms or legs.  I felt so low, and had no energy for anything – and I felt so dizzy.  But, I decided to pull myself together and get outside.  The sun was shining on our little village that day, so I got the pushchair out and Chloe and I went for a walk.  I was sick of the settee!  I went to visit one of our neighbours and we had a cup of tea together.  I walked up to our little post office and had a chat with the lovely lady behind the counter.  I posted a letter and paid a trip to the bottle bank.  I felt so much better in the sun!  I thanked God for giving me strength and for the Springtime!

A month later, I spent a lovely week with the children at my parents’ home in Edinburgh.  My parents are Salvation Army Officers, and had a new home in a new location every one to three years.  I loved Edinburgh.  I loved the beautiful colour of the stone used in their buildings.  I loved the castle and the lovely views of the city from up there.  It was Easter time.  One of my favourite times of the year.  I was full of hope and felt better than I had done for a long time.  We came back from Edinburgh with some lovely memories.

One Sunday, not long after our trip, one of our church elders preached at our church.  At the end of his sermon, he told the story of a man who was running the London Marathon.  Half way through the race, he had a fall and tore a ligament.  But despite awful pain, he got up and battled on, to the cheers of the crowds.  Then suddenly, someone appeared by his side.  It was his Father!  He put his arm under his son’s, and together, they finished the race.

‘My dear child, I will never leave you.  You are my child, and I am your Father.  Together, we will finish the race…’

“Thank you, Lord.”

It was June 1999.  I was sitting in our morning church service.  I was feeling much better and just about back to normal.  It had been a short while back that I had asked the elders to pray for me and anoint me with oil.  They prayed for me during a morning service, and from then on I started to get better.  My thyroid went back to normal and my symptoms finally disappeared, without any medication.  On this occasion I knew, during the service, that God was speaking to me.  What He said was, “You can’t make me love you any less.”  I sat there on the pew and stared at the overhead projector.  Those words were written on the screen and I knew they were for me.  For a couple of days Paul and I had been rowing again and I had felt as if I had walked away from God and He wouldn’t love me as much.  As I stared at those words I felt weak at the knees and my hands shook!!  I felt like a little lost sheep that the Shepherd had just picked up and held in His arms.

I had always suffered from a lousy temper.  This often started like a physical feeling in the pit of my stomach.  A tight knot of anger.  It had caused Paul and me so much pain at times.  Well-meaning people said to me, “Just leave it with Jesus and it will go.”  I knew that Jesus could and did heal people’s emotions, but I still had mine!!  I knew that every time I felt angry I had a choice.  Either I go down the road which seems easier.  The “Why should I?”  road.  When I took that road I ended up filled with resentment, bitterness and anger, and harboured all these negative thoughts in my head, almost cuddling them to myself.  The other road had been very vague and misty to me, but Jesus was showing me what could happen when I chose it.  When I did the first few steps were so painful.  I would have to do or say something nice for Paul, when I felt that something was his fault.  I had often given up, turned around, and gone down the other road.  But when I did take the right one, my legs felt like lead.  I had all these negative thoughts and feelings buzzing around, my stomach tied up in knots and I felt like I shouldn’t have to go through all this.  But, once I had gone a little way, it became easier.  I could see clearly!  No more mist!  Then the sun would come out and I would find all the anger draining away.  I could feel something in my hand.  It was another hand…

Whenever I tried to pray on the wrong road, my prayers seemed to bounce off the ceiling, but, like the neighbour in the Bible, pestering his friend at midnight, I made a nuisance of myself and Jesus graciously came alongside and gently led me down the right path.  I had a feeling it was going to be a long trek, but I knew deep in my heart that He was guiding me every step of the way.  It wasn’t easy, but whoever said it would be?

Paul stopped going to church.  He did go a few times when I was ill, but gradually, the deadly cynicism crept in and he stopped altogether.  I felt like it was all my fault.  We loved each other, but my frustration and temper kept getting in the way.  I knew my reactions to him were wrong, but I couldn’t seem to change.

For years, I felt like a rabbit in a hutch, wanting to jump and run free, but my head kept hitting the top of the cage, and when I tried to run I kept bumping against the sides.  I built that hutch myself.  Jealousy, putting myself first, being judgemental, putting my own ‘rights’ before Paul’s and before what God wanted for me.  I couldn’t do anything.  I couldn’t change.  God had to do the change in me.  All God needed was my willingness…

There was security in the cage.  There is nothing more secure than a prison.  I needed to allow Jesus to knock down the walls.  He would be gentle, I knew.  Everything He did was done with gentleness.  I needed to let Him remove the false security I had built up around myself, to take away the things I had been holding on to.  It was like the man who built his house on the sand.  Both his house, and the house on the rock, looked the same from the outside, and felt secure for a while, till the storms came and showed up what they were built on.

Because we lived in a tourist area, there were many caravan sites and holiday parks with a short distance.  It was August 1999 and I decided one day to take the children and two of their friends to a holiday park near us, which allowed for local day visitors.  It was a great place to take the children because it had a big indoor play area that they loved and was handy for when the weather was cold or rainy, and nearby was a large outdoor play park for sunny days.  While the children were playing on the slides and swings and climbing equipment, I settled down happily with my coffee to read a book I had brought with me.  The title of the book was ‘God uses Cracked Pots’ by Patsy Clairmont.  In the chapter I read she talked about being in an aeroplane and a woman was sitting opposite her.  A very irate lady came up and told the woman that the seat she was sitting in belonged to her.  The poor woman couldn’t understand English very well and after some time Patsy offered to sit next to her and offered the other lady her seat.  Her new companion put her hand on Patsy’s and said in broken English, “You are the first American to be kind to me.”  She took off her bracelet and handed it to Patsy.  She shed tears of joy and thanked God for using her.

As I read this lovely story, I asked God to use me in some small way today. Later, I was standing in a queue in the shop and a lady was hovering round who had been waiting at the wrong end of the queue.  I offered her the place in front of me, and she said, “You are the first person to ever do this for me, thank you so much!”  I was so happy and thanked God for using me.  When the lady had paid for her purchases, she thanked me again.  She was so very grateful for such a small act of kindness.

It was three months later.  Paul came home from a week away in London and from the minute he arrived I was rowing with him.  At the end of that evening, when the children had gone to bed, I went into the bathroom and something told me to go up to Natalie and tell her that God would answer her prayer.  At first I said “No!”  as I thought she wouldn’t know what I was on about, but that voice persisted, so I went upstairs and told her.  She said she had been praying that Paul and I would stop arguing.  I went into our bedroom, sat on our bed and opened my daily reading book.  This is what it said:-

‘Honour one another above yourselves.’  (Romans 12 v. 10)

The whole reading seemed to be aimed directly at me, but a line that stood out most was, ‘The biggest single problem in marriage today is communication.  Not just talking, but listening.’

Paul and I were in a cycle, and I sometimes felt as if I was on a ferris wheel.  I wanted to get off, but I didn’t know how.  I had no idea how to get rid of the temper that flared up so often when Paul pressed certain buttons in me.  All I knew was that I was helpless, and only God could sort us out.  Little did I know how He would accomplish that in the years to come.  Meanwhile, I knew that, despite my failings, God was with me and would finish in me what He had begun.  He was my only hope.

January 2000.  The start of a new millennium and I was worrying again!  It was during this time that the CJD virus hit the headlines, and one or two stories of people who had contracted it really scared me.  I was terrified of catching the thing, and went right off beef for a long time, even boycotting McDonalds hamburgers!  I was praying one evening and decided to have this thing out with God once and for all.  I was determined not to live in fear again.  I prayed for peace about this issue and peace about the future.  When I got to bed I read the Bible passage for that day from my Bible Reading notes, and it was from Psalm 91 verse 2:-

‘For He will rescue you from every trap and protect you from the fatal plague.’  – and,

‘Do not dread the plague that stalks in darkness…’

Isn’t God fantastic!

February 2000.  My prayer:-

‘Dear Jesus,  Paul has gone to London today.  Things are not right between us as you know.  I ask you to intervene, Lord.  We can’t do it ourselves.  We have got about as low as we can get and we need you.  Please do what you want with us and please help us to let you take over.

Please help me to be still.  Please shower us with your love, your joy and your peace.

Father, I know you have a wonderful plan for our lives.  Fulfil it Lord.  Use everything that happens in our lives for good.  Protect the children.  Help them to grow in your love. Stay close to them Father.  Thank you. Amen.’

‘…you will call upon me and come and pray to me and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you.’  (Jeremiah 29 v. 12-14)

God was on our case………..

NETS OF MERCY – CHAPTER FOUR

‘My dear child,

I know your deepest desires and I also know the desires of my heart for you.  I desire that you grow to know me more deeply and love me more completely.  I want you to know and experience my deep love and desire for you.  You are my dear child and I am your loving Father.  This is how I always want you to see me.  As for your future, that is safely in my hands and I will lead you step by step.  Some steps will be painful, others full of joy, but at each step I will be there with you, close to you, holding your hand.  At times you will skip along beside me, enjoying your surroundings and my company.  At other times you will be fearful, but you will look up to me full of hope and trust and know that I am there, even at such times.  So your fear will be overcome by faith.

I do have wonderful plans for you, but I don’t want you to get there too quickly!  You have to go through the painful steps and joyful steps to get there.  But you will get there, my child.  You will get there.  You don’t need to know the time span.  Just stay with me and trust me in each step.  I love you, my dearest child.  My heart is so full of love.  I am so full of joy at the future I have for you.  Be still, my child.  Don’t be impatient.  It will happen in my time.  

Your loving Father.’

‘He tends His flock like a Shepherd; He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those who have young.’ (Isaiah 40 v. 11)

‘My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.  When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.  All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.’  (Psalm 139 v. 15-16)

It was 4th June 1987 at five past two in the afternoon that I found out I was pregnant with our first child!  Paul got in from work that day at six o’clock and he had ordered a huge bouquet of flowers for me!  When he came in through the door, he saw them proudly displayed on our coffee table in our living room.  We had been living in our little terraced house now for nine months, and were very happy.  I guessed from the lovely flowers that he was pleased at the news!

It is so hard to describe how I felt during that time.  God was creating a unique person.  Someone who had never existed before, nor would ever exist again.  Each precious child fearfully and wonderfully made by our Creator.  For now, a precious secret, but soon to be presented to the world.    Someone for whom Jesus died, someone who was vitally important to their Creator.  His eyes saw their unformed body, and all their days were planned by Him.  An awesome truth, so easily taken for granted.  But this was happening right here and right now.  A miracle.

At half past three on 23rd January 1988, our beautiful daughter, Natalie Louise was born.  She arrived at the end of a very long labour and Paul sobbed that she was beautiful.  I will never forget the look on his face when he first saw her and held her in his arms.  She was so lovely, with deep blue eyes.  We had to stay in hospital for an extra few days because she was jaundiced.  She looked like she had a deep golden tan!  When we eventually got home, I was suddenly scared!  What do I do now?  The reality of having a new baby to take care of, who utterly depended on me, hit me between the eyes.  I didn’t even know where to put her!  But we soon settled into our new routine.

This was a special year for us, not only because our first child came into the world, but it was also the year we decided to move away from London.

In July of that year we went back to the place where we had spent part of our honeymoon.  We introduced Natalie to our very special place – Scarborough.  While we were there a seed was planted in our minds.  Could it be at all possible that we could live here?  During that holiday, a delicious excitement started to well up inside me.  Could we really, actually do this?  It seemed too good to be true…

We decided while in Scarborough, to ring our parents and tell them our plans.  We had made our minds up.

That same evening, we strolled along the beach with Natalie and sat for a while on a wall, looking out to sea.  The evening sun sparkled on the waves and for a fleeting moment, I felt it was mine.  This vista, this air, this space, this sense of freedom – it felt like a gift from God.  And I knew this was where God wanted us to be.

I will never forget the date of 27th January 1989.  It was four days after Natalie’s first birthday and we were due to exchange contracts.  It was one of the longest days I can remember.  The deadline was five o’clock.  Quarter to five came and we had a phone call from our Solicitor.  The people in Yorkshire wanted a four-week completion and our buyer wanted six weeks!  I wept with frustration – was our dream home about to be taken out of our hands?  At five to five, just five minutes before the deadline, our Solicitor rang again to say that we had exchanged!  This time my tears were tears of joy!

On 24th February we said goodbye to London.  Natalie and I stayed with my Grandparents in Bradford for a few days while Paul and Steve, my sister’s boyfriend, travelled to our new home to see to the decorating, electrics and furniture.  By 27th February we were there.  It was bewildering at first, but when we had a walk round the quiet little village just outside Filey that was to be our home for many years, we knew it was right.  The tree-lined main street was so picturesque, with many of the white-painted houses over four-hundred years old.  The pavements were edged with grassy slopes leading onto the quiet road, and on one side was a pub, hundreds of years old, where people used to stop to water their horses!  Next to the pub was a beautiful little church with a corrugated roof and lovely little stained glass windows.  There was also a tiny little post office and general store.  ‘Thank you!’  I whispered.

The downside to living in Yorkshire was that Paul had to work in London for a week or two at a time until he established his painting and decorating business in Scarborough.  We were prepared for the sacrifice, though it wasn’t easy being apart.  But we were in the right place at the right time, and that was enough for us.

Two years after Natalie was born, we were given another wonderful gift – our son.  Jonathan Daniel was born on 6th April 1990.  Jonathan and Natalie became very close as they grew older, and when Paul was in London they were wonderful company for each other, and for me.

Jonathan’s birth was another momentous occasion for us, but little did we know what was around the corner…

It was 1995.  Jonathan was five years old and he had just started school.  Paul was away in London and I was childminding to earn a bit of extra money.  One day Jonathan came up to me and told me he didn’t feel very well.  I felt his head, and he did feel a bit warm, so I kept him off school for the day.  Jonathan was a lively boy, but when he wasn’t well, he usually went very quiet.  He never complained.  He just accepted things as they happened.  I got his pillows from his bed and put them on the settee.  He laid their quite happily watching television.  But he kept telling me that he had a tummy ache, and didn’t eat much.

The next day he still wasn’t well, so I got the doctor round, who told us it was probably a viral infection.  During the next few days, though, he went downhill until he could hardly get to the bathroom to be sick.  I called the emergency doctor, who straightaway called for an ambulance.  His appendix had burst.

The ambulance raced through the streets, its siren blaring out a warning.  I sat with Jonathan and held his hand.  I prayed, “Lord, please keep my baby safe.”  I tried to stay calm.

I went with him to the operating theatre.  By this time I had rung Paul.  He was worried and asked me if I wanted him to travel back from London.  I told him not to worry, as I my parents, my sister and our neighbour were helping me and Natalie was being well looked after.  Paul had a lot of work to do in London and we needed the money.  I knew it was hard for him being so far away.

In the operating theatre, I held Jonathan’s hand.  “I’m scared, Mummy!”

“I’m here, Jonathan.  I won’t leave you.”

The surgeon gave Jonathan the anaesthetic, and the moment I saw our son go unconscious with his eyes still open, the tears started.  I was so afraid.  He had never been under anaesthetic before and I had no idea how he would react.  “Oh, please, Lord, keep him safe!”

A lovely friend from our church had arrived at the hospital at just the right moment and when I came out of the operating theatre, she was there with a cup of tea and a shoulder to cry on.  I knew, even through my tears, that God had been holding me in His arms because He gave me strength during that time that I just wouldn’t have had otherwise.

‘When I called you answered me; you made me bold and stout-hearted.’

My friend and I sat in the waiting room drinking tea.  Time seemed to stand still.  I tried to keep the awful fears at bay, but the sight of Jonathan’s frail little body on the operating table kept surfacing.  But God was there with him in that room and He heard the prayers of our hearts.

After the operation, when Jonathan was settled in the children’s ward, my parents, sister and Natalie came to visit.  The surgeon told us that Jonathan’s appendix had ruptured several days before.  He said we had had a miracle.

I stayed in the hospital with him, sleeping on a camp bed, and my parents came to visit with Natalie every day.  I could see that Natalie was concerned about her little brother, but I reassured her that everything would be ok.  The day after his operation, it was quite late in the evening and I was giving Jonathan a bath.  I can’t honestly remember why!  I think the nurse had suggested it to relax him.  I had been told by the surgeon that he was going to need another operation because they had discovered that there was still poison in his body.  They would have to open him up again to drain it out.  I just couldn’t bear the thought of him having to go through all that again.  He was so thin and pale.

“Oh please, Father, do something to help him!”

‘…do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.’

I didn’t know it at the time, but at the precise hour that I was bathing Jonathan, our housegroup was praying for him.  Suddenly as I was washing him, I looked at his wound.  At the side was a little hole and green pus was coming out of the hole.  It was the poison.  During that bath time, most of the poison just drained out of him.  The nurse put some wadding on the wound and for the next few hours, all the poison came out.  The surgeon told me he didn’t need another operation after all!

The Lord will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.  You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.’  (Isaiah 58 v. 11)

From that day onwards, Jonathan grew in strength.

I knew that God had been with us during that testing time, but I was also still aware that there was something within me that needed dealing with.  Paul and I had started having rows, mainly because of frustration in me and stupid jealousy.  I couldn’t understand why it was happening and I was still helpless and crying out to God for help – to deal with those things that I couldn’t deal with myself.

I needed another miracle…

‘I have seen [your] ways, but I will heal [you]. I will guide [you] and restore comfort to [you].’  (Isaiah 57 v. 18))

WHY I WROTE ‘NETS OF MERCY’

I have always been a daydreamer. It is one of my favourite occupations, whether sitting at my dining room table watching the birds feed at our bird table, or sitting at a bus stop, or back to when I was at school, just staring out of the window! I read recently that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, nor indeed a waste of time, which was a great relief to me! I often have the need to get away on my own for a while and just be silent. These moments, also reading good books, and of course, the Bible, combined with my own experiences over the years, have fed my imagination and resulted in scribblings in diaries and journals.

I spent many years in frustration, wondering why I felt like a rabbit in a hutch, locked in a cycle of behaviour that led me almost to despair. I wanted to be free to be the person I wanted to be. I wanted to fly!

Over the years, God has stuck by me, and, through circumstances, prayer, and emotional healing, has led me to the place where I am ready to take the first step to flying!

This testimony deals with the way these experiences and behaviours affected my marriage, and chart my journey with God. He has been so wonderful, so faithful, and began to change me from the inside out. An unexpected discovery also led to a dramatic transformation in my relationship with my husband.

I pray that as you read my story you will begin to know freedom and joy as you take your first steps to flight!

‘...but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.’ (Isaiah 40 v. 31)

NETS OF MERCY – CHAPTER THREE

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In my dream I saw a room.  In the centre was a table and the whole room was covered with a pure white sheet.  On the table was a beautiful vase of flowers and the scent of the flowers filled the whole room…

‘ “Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord.  “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” ‘ (Isaiah 1 v. 18)

‘While the King was at His table, my perfume spread its fragrance.’  (Song of Songs 1 v. 12)

It was May 1986.  It was four months to our wedding day and for the last few weeks I had had a terrible fear of Paul dying.  It was different to the fear I had the year before.  That was a gnawing, unexplainable fear.  This fear had been with me since I was a child, and emerged when something wonderful was on the horizon.  As a child, the fear came with the knowledge that soon we were to go on holiday.  I loved our family holidays, especially the times we spent in Betws-Y-Coed in North Wales.  I remember a little shop we used to visit and I would buy yet another Enid Blyton book with my pocket money.  I loved reading.  It was my escape into another world, a world where, if you wanted, you could read the last page and know that there would be a happy ending.  This childish fear hadn’t read the last page, and wondered.  Was there going to be a happy ending?  The holiday I saw on the horizon seemed too good to be true.  What if something happened to stop it?  But nothing ever did.

The fear of Paul dying was very real in my imagination.  It was simply too good to be true that I could spend the rest of my life with this lovely man and that he really loved me.  I didn’t deserve him.  Look at what I had done to him in the few years I had known him.  I couldn’t count the number of times I had finished with him over something really stupid!  There had been so many times I had let him, and myself, down.  I wanted to change.  Oh, how I wanted to change!

I couldn’t imagine something so wonderful happening to me.  Getting married to Paul, living in that little terraced house we had found, right near to our church in South London.  A lovely Baptist Church, full of warmth and light and love.  The church where, last December, I had been baptised.  Me, being baptised, with my terrible fear of deep water!  Yet being baptised and totally submerged had been one of the most wonderful moments of my life!  Life can be such a paradox!

Finding this wonderful church was the saving of me – and us as a couple.  The love we had found there had caused us to blossom and grow.  God is so wonderful!  I don’t know what would have happened to us if we hadn’t found that lovely spiritual home and family.  Still wandering, I suppose.

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It was 20th September 1986.  The day dawned bright and sunny.  Looking out of my bedroom window for the last time on to my parents’ garden bathed in the beautiful sunlight, I could see it as a picture of our Heavenly Father smiling down on us, and slowly, with His warmth, filling the garden of our hearts with beauty and love, changing them into something beautiful for Him.  I knew that there were still some weeds growing somewhere in the depths of my heart, but I also trusted God that at the right time He would pull them out by the roots…

Meanwhile, this was our wedding day and I was he bride!  Wow!  I slipped into my dressing gown and ran downstairs.  The bride was hungry!  I poured myself a bowl of cereal, made myself a cup of tea, and sat down at the dining table to have my breakfast.  As I sipped my tea, my Mum came in and hugged me, smiling.  “My baby getting married!”  she said, “It’s so wonderful!  I am so happy for you!”

The wedding was scheduled for two o’clock, so I had plenty of time to get ready.  Family and friends would be arriving later so I made the most of the relative peace while I ate my breakfast.  This afternoon, my life would change forever.  Yet, amazingly, I wasn’t nervous!  My fears had gone and I knew this was right.  I meant to enjoy every moment of this beautiful day.  My Heavenly Father smiled down on me and my heart sang!

Four hours later, I was standing in front of my dressing table mirror, putting on my make-up.  My sister, Beverley, who was two years younger than me, and my chief bridesmaid, adjusted my dress.  She was dressed in a beautiful dark blue satin dress with white lace trimming.  The hairdresser had been and had curled our hair for us, and Beverley looked lovely with a pretty blue flower in her hair.  My bouquet had dark blue and white silk flowers in a posy.  I couldn’t get real flowers in the colours I wanted, and anyway, silk ones laster longer!

I put the finishing touches to my make-up.  I was ready!  This was it!  No going back now.  The car would be here in a few minutes and suddenly I had butterflies in my stomach.  “Stay calm, Heather.  It’s ok…”  I reassured myself.

‘Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me.  See!  The winter is past; the rains are over and gone.  Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land.  The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.  Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me.’  (Song of Songs 2: v. 11-13)

The white rolls royce arrived.  I was a princess.  I was the child of a King!  I was on my way to be united to my love for ever.  “I mustn’t cry!  I mustn’t spoil my make-up!”  My Dad had told me I looked beautiful. I felt beautiful.  I was beautiful!  My Heavenly Dad thought so too.  The rolls royce purred through the streets of South London.  People looked and smiled.  For them, doing their shopping, most dressed in jeans, this was just another ordinary Saturday.  Yet, I thought, each one of those people was just as special to God as I was.  I wanted each one of those people to feel how I felt at that moment.  I wanted them to know how much their Heavenly Father loved them.  I smiled back and waved.  I was the Bride.  I was the Beloved.  And all of Heaven rejoiced with me.

It was a wonderful service.  I walked down the aisle on my Dad’s arm and saw Paul at the front, turn round and look at me.  The love in his eyes was unmistakeable and I was on cloud nine!  When it came to the part when our Pastor turned to my Dad and said, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?”  I heard my Dad say, “I do.”  and he had a catch in his voice.  I knew that was an emotional moment for him, giving away his eldest daughter.  He found it hard to show his emotions, but in that moment I felt the love in his heart.

Our Pastor spoke on Jeremiah 29 verse 11:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord,  “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

He wrote the verse inside a Bible that he gave us as a gift from our church family.  I will cherish it all my life.

We had a lovely reception in our church hall, and our friends did us proud.  Gorgeous food, surrounded by people we loved and who loved us, a wonderful day.  I felt very special and I know that Paul did too.

The following day we flew to Jersey for our honeymoon.  It was the first time either of us had ever been in an aeroplane.  As I sat in my seat in the plane waiting for take-off, my heart was pounding in my chest as I anticipated the next forty or so minutes.  As I belted myself in, I looked at Paul.  I was sitting next to the window. Paul looked at me and I knew he was nervous too.  We had no idea how it would feel being so high in the sky.  Paul fastened his seat belt and said, “Well, this is it!”  He sounded confident, but I knew he was as scared as I was.  At least we were sharing this new experience together.  

Suddenly, the plane jerked.  “Oh, Lord!”  I whispered, “Keep us safe!  Please get us to Jersey in one piece – preferably alive!!”  The plane rode smoothly along to the runway, then it began to go faster and faster.  Paul and I held our breath.  I held tightly on to his hand and when the plane started rising in the air, I breathed deeply.  I looked at Paul.  He gripped my hand and tried to smile.  It was such a strange sensation.  I dared to glance out of the window and the airport was already far in the distance.  When we finally got up to a few thousand feet, it felt as if the plane had stopped.  But the Pilot announced that we were travelling at five hundred miles an hour!  When we got to eighteen thousand feet, Paul and I started to relax.  He bent over and kissed me.

Before we knew it, our journey was over.  We stepped off the plane onto the beautiful island of Jersey.  “I know now why the Pope kisses the ground whenever he gets off a plane!”  I thought.  It was so good to be on terra ferma!

What a delightful place Jersey is!  We travelled by taxi to our five star hotel and the porter led us to our room.  When we opened the door and saw our four-poster bed, I nearly burst into tears!  I felt as if I was living in a marvellous fairy tale!

It didn’t take us long to freshen up and wander out into the bright sunshine.  We were staying in St. Helier.  The sea and the sky were a deep blue and the town was beautiful.  We strolled hand-in-hand round a medieval castle at a place called Gorey, taking in the ancient architecture and breathtaking views.

We visited Gerald Durrell’s zoo and I fell in love with the Golden Lion Tamarins – tiny, alluring little monkeys with intelligent faces so full of expression and mischief!  We walked hand-in-hand over cliff tops, hired bikes and cycled round the coast.  We visited a stately home and ate cakes filled with fresh Jersey cream.  We wandered round ancient castles and laid in the sun.  It was magical and so very romantic.

The second half of our honeymoon was spent in Scarborough.  We ate pizzas and strolled along the pier on a beautiful starlit evening.  We walked over the cliffs from Scarborough to Filey, a ten mile walk, and on the way we lost each other…

We had been walking hand-in-hand along the edge of the cliffs when I realised that I had left my jumper on a bench a few yards back.  Paul went to fetch it and somehow we missed each other.  It was half an hour before we found each other again and we both had thought that the other had fallen over the cliff!  When I eventually saw him running towards me, I was so relieved I fell into his arms and cried on his shoulder, and he was very near to tears too.  It made us realise just how much we loved and depended on each other.  It was a very special moment.

We went one evening to a quaint little cinema and saw Arthur and his Wurlitzer organ.  When we saw him rise up out of the floor of the stage, we laughed!  We had never seen anything like it!  It was like going back in time.  The funny thing was, the film that followed Arthur was ‘Back to the Future!’  What a contrast!

We explored many villages and towns and had afternoon tea at the Raven Hall Hotel at Ravenscar.  We felt like royalty!  It was a wonderful honeymoon and we were so much in love.  Could life get any better?

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‘The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the first light of day.’  (Proverbs 4 v. 18)

I was at the beginning of a marvellous journey.  Just like the person in my dream I was heading for something wonderful, but at that time I was unaware that there would be dark times ahead for us both, times when we were unsure of where we were heading…

‘But this one thing I do…forgetting what is behind, I press on towards…….’

But I didn’t want to forget what was behind.  I felt as if I was walking along a beach in the pale light of dawn.  I look behind me and see a most glorious sunrise of fiery orange, amber and gold.  It seems like a picture of my most recent memory of our wonderful holiday and it would be imprinted there for ever.  No I didn’t want to forget what was behind, but I did want to press on.  To see and experience more adventures, to fulfil my hopes and dreams, and enable others to fulfil there’s.

The sunrise sends its golden light across the sand to where I am standing – and beyond, just as those golden moments send their memories into the present and project hope for the future.  Each moment of every day has the potential to send its colour into our future.  Light or dark.  What colours am I creating now?  As I look back I see many colours in my memory, but it is those colours that shine the brightest that I choose to bring to mind…

‘For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future…’

A promise from the past, projecting hope into our future.  There were to be tough times ahead, but this promise from our Heavenly Father was to stay with me, as a light in the darkness…

NETS OF MERCY – CHAPTER TWO

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I dreamed I saw a long, white ladder, stretching up to the sky.  I couldn’t see the top because it was obscured by a bright white light.  The sky was a vivid blue.  I was walking slowly up the ladder and I was scared.  Below me was a deep black hole that I knew went on for ever.  At either side of the ladder were huge nets.  I knew they were there to catch me if I fell over the side.  But I was so frightened of falling into that deep pit below me.  Suddenly, I stumbled backwards.  My heart leapt into my mouth.  I started to scream, but there was someone behind me who caught me as I fell and gently lifted me back on to the ladder.

‘To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our Saviour, be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and for evermore!  Amen!’  (Jude v. 24-25)

I woke with a start.  For a few seconds I lay still, watching the ceiling above me swirling round and round.  I felt like a child on a roundabout that was spinning wildly out of control.  I wanted to die.  “Where am I?”  I wondered.  Then the memories from the night before came flooding back to my mind.  “Oh no!”  I groaned.  “Oh please tell me this is all a horrible dream!”  But the reality stared me in the face.  

Paul and I were spending a week in Penzance.  A long-anticipated holiday.  It was the summer of 1985.  It had been an eventful week.  On one occasion, I had got into one of my tempers about something very silly and had ended up, after a row, throwing Paul’s bag and his camera, out of the hotel window.  The last evening of the week, I had blown it – again.  I had got jealous over some petty little thing and gone off by myself, downing a bottle each of Martini and ‘Scrumpy’.  I dimly remembered writing over and over again, ‘Please don’t leave me!’ on a scrap of paper before I passed out.  I remembered the tears.  And now, this morning, it was the day of leaving.  Somehow I had to get to the shower.  It was only a few feet away from my bed, but it might as well have been miles.  I tried to sit up, but the roundabout in my head came off its axle and started revolving up into the air.  I groaned and tried to hold my head steady.  Paul was in the twin bed next to me in the hotel room.  I daren’t bring my mind to imagine what he must be thinking of me.  He had threatened to leave me.  He must have, or why would I have begged him not to?

Suddenly, he was by my bed, a strong coffee in his hand.  “Drink this,” he said, no hint of emotion in his voice.  He was hurt and angry, but no-one would have known.  I knew.  I didn’t deserve him.  I couldn’t look into those eyes.  I couldn’t even look up.  I wished I was dead.  “Thank you.”  There would be no more conversation that morning.  I sipped the coffee, then tried to get out of bed.  I felt like I was in hell.  After a couple of minutes, my feet felt the carpetted floor.  “Oh God!”, I muttered, “Help me!”

A few agonized steps and I was in the shower.  The warm water and shower gel washed my body clean, but inside I felt like a sewer.

Who will rescue me from this body of death?’

Where had I heard that before?  It was a cry from my heart.  Why did I have to ruin everything?  The rest of the week had been ok, apart from the throwing the bag out of the window incident.  Paul and I loved the sea.  It was so good breathing in the salty fresh air after the thick air of London.  It had been spoiled by the interminable rain.  Actually, the holiday hadn’t really been brilliant.  I wished we had never come.

The coach ride back to London seemed like an eternity.  Endless roads.  Why did the driver have to take the corners so sharply?  I daren’t look at Paul.  I loved him so much.  Why did I hurt him so?  “Why do I keep doing what I don’t want to do?”  I thought.

‘Trust Me.’

There was that inner voice.  I wanted to trust that voice.  “Goodness knows, I have to trust someone.  I can’t trust myself!”

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It was two months after our disastrous holiday in Penzance that I had the breakdown.  It wasn’t surprising really.  I had such an emotional, volatile nature.  But Paul stuck by me and I was grateful.

During the months between my visit to Sheffield and my baptism, my family and our church friends were wonderful.  Our Pastor visited regularly.  One day there was a knock on the door and my Dad answered it.  It was our Pastor.  When he walked into our living room a very strange sight met his eyes.  My Mum had a tape that she put on when she wanted to relax.  The voice on the tape was very deep and slow, and he invited you to imagine you were laying on a beautiful, warm, tropical beach, feeling the soft sand under your body, looking up at the swaying palm trees and listening to the gentle sound of the waves and the distant call of seagulls.  Well, that is where we were when our Pastor entered the room!  He stood and stared at us, me and my Mum, laid on the floor in a blissful state with the deep, calm voice drifting in the air!

Fortunately, our Pastor had a wonderful sense of humour, and as we shared a cup of tea together, we discussed my approaching baptism.  He reminded me that God made me and knows much more about me than I know of myself.  He knows what we need before we ask and If I stayed close to Him and keep talking to Him, listening to Him and asking for His help and guidance, then not only would I get well, I would also be a much stronger person.  He wouldn’t let anything happen to me that He and I couldn’t handle together.  Bob (he liked everyone to call him Bob) assured me that my baptism would be a wonderful experience for me and that God would be with me.  He was sprawled on the floor very relaxed as he talked and it was a tonic just to be with him.  It also filled me with hope because only a few years before he had been through a similar experience.  He couldn’t face people.  It was when he first became Pastor of a church, and it had gone downhill.  He had had awful feelings of being not good enough, being a failure and as a result was frightened of meeting people.  He understood.  He had even been frightened of shaking hands!  As I listened to him, so relaxed and at ease it gave me hope.

During that time, I was frightened of people’s expectations of me.  People expected me to be normal, and be able to work, which I couldn’t.  When people asked if I was alright, I had to say “Yes!” but inside I was screaming, “No!  I’m not alright!  Why can’t you understand?!”  I needed complete relaxation, to be free from stress for a while, and in time, my nervous system stopped wanting to fight and calmed down.  Like a broken leg needs time to heal, so I needed time to heal.

The day of my baptism dawned bright and clear.  It was a perfect December day.  i woke up feeling excited and apprehensive all at once.  Excited because I knew this was what God wanted for me, apprehensive because I was so afraid of deep water.  This fear stemmed back to a terrifying experience in a school swimming pool.  I had always hated PE and games, but especially loathed swimming.  I dreaded the days we had our swimming lessons.  On this particular occasion, I had got changed in the girls changing room and walked with trepidation to the edge of the pool.  I reluctantly lowered myself into the water and the lesson started.  A few minutes into the lesson, the teacher decided to get the strong swimmers to take a non-swimmer on their backs to the deep end and back.  I was petrified!  The thought of all that water underneath me with nothing to support my feet was truly horrifying.  But I clamboured onto the back of the girl who had been chosen for me and we set off.  When we got to the deep end she let go of me and I started to sink…

I would remember forever sinking to the bottom of the deep end, looking up at the water above me, and desperately trying to get to the top.  I needed to get to the air.  I couldn’t.  I thrashed my arms and legs about in desperation and panic surged through my body.  I was going to die!  Then, I saw a pole being lowered into the water and grabbed it.  The teacher pulled me out and I cried with relief.

No, I didn’t like deep water.  But this morning, when I got to the church, my family, my friends and my Pastor would be there and instead of being surrounded by deep water and panic, I would be surrounded by love and encouragement.  The service was wonderful, and as I was lowered into the water, dressed all in white, surrounded by people I loved and who loved me, I felt my Heavenly Father’s pleasure and knew He was smiling down on me.  Being totally submerged in that warm water was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life!  Love made all the difference.

When I was a child I had nightmares, but God helped me through them.  At times I felt like a little child, very weak, frightened and small, but on my Baptism day, I knew I was God’s precious child, weak, but strong in Him, small, but held in His bigness.  And the fear was consumed by love.

‘I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.  He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.  Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.’  (Psalm 40 v. 1-3)

Paul was there in the church on that day, and as he stood by the baptistry, I looked at him and saw the beginning of tears in his eyes.  I smiled, and he smiled back.  I felt so close to him in that moment.

Afterwards, when I climbed out of the water, soaking wet, my Mum was on hand with a warm, dry towel.  She threw it round my shoulders and together we walked into the vestry while the congregation sang a worship song.  While I was changing into dry clothes, I thought back to our first date.  It was January 1983.  I was working in my office, when two young men walked in.  One of them I didn’t recognise, but one I did!  It was Paul!  My heart lurched.  He was a bit nervous and shifted about from foot to foot as he spoke, but he managed to ask me if I would go and see Gladys Knight and the Pips with him at Lewisham Concert Hall.  I said “Yes!”

We sat there together in the Concert Hall.  We both really enjoyed it, but I thought it was just a friendly gesture from him, and I treated it as such, until, after about half an hour of listening to Gladys Knight singing all her old hits, I suddenly felt his hand on mine.  My stomach filled with butterflies and I felt the same feeling as when I had laid my head on his chest for those heavenly five minutes…

He took me home and on his way out of the door, he kissed me gently for the first time.  I was in heaven!  I knew then that he was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.

I came out of the vestry and sat next to Paul.  He took hold of my hand and I was so happy.  Next year I was to be married to this wonderful man.  God was in His heaven and all was right with the world……….