Monthly Archives: May 2012

I am always with you. Even when you can’t see me, I’m here.

Today is the 17th anniversary of the day my Grandma did not wake up. I wrote this post 8 days ago and scheduled it to publish today because I don’t think I could have written it today. The quote is from the sequel to Grandma’s favourite Disney film, a sequel she did not see. The rest of this post is a letter to my Grandma, but one I don’t mind sharing with you as it tells a little more of my story.

Dear Grandma,

How is Heaven? I hope it is still lovely and that you are with Nancy, David and Granddad.

I know time does not pass there and you must think you have only been gone for the blink of an eye. Here today is the 17th anniversary of the day you left us. I still feel sad when I think about it.

I can still remember, even now, how I sat on the manhole cover by the sports field and prayed you were in Norwich for Pukey’s 7th birthday 17 Novembers ago. I even wondered what my gift from that trip would be. I didn’t want there to be a reason for the doctors to keep you in. The next time I saw you was in the hospital. You didn’t look like my Grandma, or feel like her when I hugged you. The spark had gone, that ‘something special’ we had was broken. I guess, deep down, I knew I had lost you that day, especially as I screamed inside when you said you would not have treatment. I hated hearing those words. I thought you would at least try to fight the cancer for Brother, Sister, Soppy and Pukey, but especially for me. I did not understand how my Grandma could give up so easily.

When Aunt LC arrived you got her to take me to get my ears pierced (piercings that have since closed up). It was a long promised thirteenth birthday present but you thought you might not make my thirteenth birthday. I hated that day. It should have been you with me, I hardly ever knew LC. I had to paint a smile on my face when I showed you gold studs. I cried myself to sleep that night, my ears stung and kept reminding me those holes and studs might be all I got from you for my thirteenth birthday. All of a sudden I didn’t want them, I wanted the old Grandma back.

You lived to see me reluctantly become a teenager. As I hugged you in floods of tears as we left that night I already wanted to turn back time and live in another era of ours. I wanted to go back to the glorious days when cancer was something that killed Nancy years ago when you were young but had never darkened your door since. To a time before I ever felt the need to ask God to let you live longer, a time before I dreaded Granddad’s knock on the door.

We had six months between you laying in the hospital bed accepting the last chapter of your book was being played out and the wet Thursday June 1st when we laid you in the ground. We had time together, just you and me and shared time with the others. We even took Sister when we went to Coltishall for Easter with LC, Soppy and Pukey. We made memories.

I have walked through life for so long now not able to see you but carrying you with me; the memories, the dreams we had, the love yo left. I’m not 13 any more, on my last birthday I turned 30. I have been engaged for nearly six months, his name is not Cuthbert but I know you would like him. I’m trying to convince him that those 4 letters need to start the name, first or middle, of one  of our children and my middle name should be our daughter’s first name. We’re trying to plan our wedding, at Newton of course. I couldn’t get married anywhere else.

I love you Grandma, I always will.

Your little pet xxxxx

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A photograph can take you back in time to faces and embraces that you thought you’d left behind.

When I saw the quote that is the title of this post I knew that I had a post to write to go with it, and I could find a photograph. JLW, AMW, Sister and me are all on the photo, with AmericanGirl, YoungMum, Wibby and LCT. I remember the weekend it was taken. It was over 4 and a half years ago, the weekend I had quit my job stacking shelves at one of the big 4 supermarkets in the UK and was at the start of what turned out to be a tumultuous time in my life. Wibby and LCT were both about to embark on new chapters of their lives, starting at university and our youth group would break apart four months later. It was a month before JK became a bigger part of my life. AmericanGirl was someone JLW had met and was only really part of our group for that weekend with her brother and their parents.

The weekend was fun. We met together on the Friday evening and had some worship time with another youth group from a church a friend of ours had contacts with. It was good to spend the time with another youth group and we were sad to see them leave at the end of the evening

JLW was staying at her parents’ house and all the girls slept over there while the boys went back to AMW’s house just down the road and stayed there. The following morning the girls had breakfast and went for a walk. After the walk we all got together for lunch that JLW’s sister helped to prepare. AFter lunch we had a talk on ‘Creation and Evolution’ that was given from a scientific viewoint so although it did not argue completely for one thing or the other it focussed in on ‘intelligent design’ and how someone had to have designed so much of the universe. We played some games out in the long lawned garden after the talk.

Mid-afternoon we all went to AMW’s house and we had another worship session, this time with CellMum and CellDad, who had stepped down from leading the youth cell about 3 months before. It was always good to get together with them and we always had fun with them. We had dinner together there and slowly but surely people started going home.

That weekend was amazing and I have been on other amazing weekends since but the friends I shared that weekend with were different to all the others and although looking through the photos on LCT’s facebook I can see the friends who have drifted away because life and work and studies have called them in different directions I know I will always treasure them and the memories we made in our time as ‘True Vine’. I often think of those friends and we are in touch through social networking sites, although one or two went last time I sorted my facebook friend list. I know that some are still studying, some are married or have been, two have babies and one is about to become a father. I wish them well in their futures and although some will be left behind I am sure some will be part of my future as well as my past.

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You think you’re very grown up, but you have a great deal to learn.

Tears stung my eyes as I cuddled up to Fiancé in the dark. It was Christmas Eve 2011 and we were staying at his father’s house in Arnold, Nottingham. It felt like it had been a long day. We had two fairly late nights before, on the Thursday we had been to the pantomime, Brother, Sister, Fiancé and me because Friday was my 30th birthday. Then on Friday we went to my family home for dinner and watched Love Actually two days earlier than my family’s new tradition dictates. It had been so lovely to spend time with my family and Fiancé for my birthday. The two late nights and then the drive from York to Nottingham had made us both quite tired. Then there was an extra ingredient, alcohol. After sending FiancésFather out to get cola from the shop before it shut it would have seemed rude not to have a drink or two of vodka and coke. I went for two.

So the tiredness and the alcohol were not great aids to my emotional stability and the fact that this was the first Christmas properly away from home I had ever had did not really help matters. Fiancé and I had been talking on the drive about him finding a flat to rent in the next few months, somewhere he could take on that would eventually become our first home together. It was all so exciting, we had been engaged two weeks and were talking about getting a flat to live in together. My head was merrily cantering ahead of anywhere we had reached already dreaming of the children we might have and how awesome that would be. It was also trying to plan the wedding all on its own, in the way that your imagination sometimes runs away with you. All of this was spinning round in my head and in the bed in the dark with Fiancé on the camp bed just feet away (or was he?). It suddenly seemed all too much and the tears came bringing a sob or two with them. Before I could speak Fiancé’s arms were around me holding me close and safe. That’s one thing I love about Fiancé, how just having his arms around me can make me feel like there’s nothing that can hurt me. I tried to explain, still crying, that it all seemed so terribly grown up to have just turned 30 and to be talking of weddings and flats, of getting married and spending the rest of my life living with Fiancé. He listened and tried to reassure me. I don’t remember exactly what he said but I do know that he made me feel we could face whatever the future and growing up might mean together, that he would always be by my side.

I had tried to rebel against growing up. Since the darkest days of puberty, which were mixed with the grief of knowing Grandma had cancer and then her death, I had wanted to be anything but grown up. My fight to cling on to some of my childhood was going quite well, thank you very much. I still slept with a big Pooh Bear teddy most nights and several other dolls and soft toys by my pillow. My duvet sets had Tinkerbell and Pooh Bear on them. My Baby Born doll occasionally came out to play as did the six-month-old size baby doll Zoe that is jointly owned by me and Sister. I had tried to become a nursery nurse, to help other people by looking after their children and partly because it would give me an excuse to still be a child myself. For me being a grown up seemed to mean that I would have to leave everything of my childhood behind, that meant David and Grandma too, and I wasn’t sure if I could do that.

Since meeting Fiancé I have chosen to/had to do a lot of grown up things. Things like: going on proper dates and dressing like a real young lady instead of some grunge fan teenager, going to house parties where alcohol is being served, applying to work for my church unpaid and moving out of my family home to do that, having to fend for myself when it comes to doing the household things like washing and cooking and getting engaged. A lot of these things barely seemed like blips on my radar eighteen months ago, even less so six months prior to that.

In some ways it feels like emotionally I have been fired on a rocket from where I was two years ago to where I am now and Fiancé lit the touch paper. Some of the things I have met with our church staff chaplain to talk about kept getting pushed back onto the shelf even a year ago because I wasn’t emotionally mature enough to consider really confronting them, things about how my grief for David and Grandma has held me back and about the insecurities I feel when I get close to people. I’ve gained in confidence a little and because I now have Fiancé to talk to and I know I can trust him I am starting to open up with him.

I still feel like this is a roller-coaster sometimes and inside there’s that scream that I’m never sure whether it’s excitement or fear.  At times I am desperate for it all to stop and let me catch my breath before we go round again, but there’s almost a sense that is too much to ask right now. There’s a wedding to be planned and that seems to bring with it more ups and downs to be negotiated. We spend time together at Fiancé’s flat, testing the water there for when the day comes that I actually agree that yes, I live there and that can be a little testing at times. We usually get on quite well though. I’m trying to find a paid job so that I can make a contribution to the wedding fund and with the current economic climate that is often not easy.

The one thing I do know is that I know the guy who is operating this roller-coaster and I trust him to be in control. It’s God that’s in control and he’s the best one to be there. He knows what we want from our wedding, which at the moments seems more than we know ourselves and He knows how we’re going to get it. He has answered prayers before that may not have been spoken and I trust that He can do the same with this wedding. We want to glorify God with our wedding day and He will make that possible in ways that we don’t yet know. I’m not sure if Fiancé, who is a younger Christian than I, is quite on the same page as me with God’s plans and provision but I’m guessing that when everything falls into place he’ll see.

Hopefully when the wedding planning is all done and I’m no longer Miss but Mrs the roller-coaster might stop for a while, or at least hit a plateau, but in the next 11 months I know I have a lot of growing up still to do and an awful lot still to learn.

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Life’s only worth living if you’re being loved by a kid.

The quote from Toy Story 2 I chose as the title for this blog perhaps over-eggs the cake a bit, but when you remember that in the film it is spoken by a cowboy doll (Woody) to a cowgirl doll (Jessie) it makes sense. For them life is all about being loved by children, for me it’s mainly about loving children.

I have always loved being around babies and children. For the most part they don’t judge you or make you feel bad for being you, unlike some adults. The innocence of a new baby is something to be marvelled at  and treasured. As adults we have an obligation to protect that in them, to teach them about the world without pushing them out into its dark places before they are ready. As a children’s worker in church part of my role is to teach them that Jesus loves them and they are never alone in the world. We teach children that they can talk to God about anything and everything and that he is always there and ready to listen. Sometimes I think the best way we can teach them that is by building relationships with them where they know they can talk to us about anything and we are always there and ready to listen. In some circumstances with some children that is easy, but it’s not always so.

My previous church was a small church, all the adults knew each other and trusted each other. Parents there knew that the church would look after their children and keep an eye out for them. I had the privilege of being a Sunday School teacher there. My sister and I taught the under 8s about God and Jesus. For the most part because of the size of the church that meant we would be in a room with no more than 7 children between us. We would often do something together at the start like singing a song or reading the Bible story and then split into under 5s and 5-8s for the part where we talk together and maybe do a worksheet or craft activity. When the planned activities finished there was time for the children to play while we might tidy up or join their games. Play time was always good for building relationships between the children and us and for building on friendships the children had with each other. The children we were teaching were usually children we had know since they were tiny babies and had been building relationships with for that whole time. The children would talk to us and tell us their stories. Sometimes we would be there to listen when a pet died or when there was something else upsetting them, like bullying at school, and that came out of the relationship we had built. With certain children we had such good relationships that they would come straight to us at the beginning of church, before Sunday School went out and want to be with us all the way through until they went home. We were always open and let them spend time in the service with us. Their parents knew and trusted us and it really did feel like we were all part of one big family.

When we changed churches we did so partly because the children were all leaving our old church. There weren’t any ‘regular attendees’ left who had children for us to provide Sunday School for and we knew that our strengths and skills were in children’s work. When we joined our new church we quickly got involved with the children’s work, starting over again with new children. This time though we hadn’t watch as these children made their mothers’ tummies expand or seen the shiny new smiles on their tiny baby faces. They were little people already, aged 3-5, and they already had some experience of the world. We couldn’t be what we had been to the children in our old church, we weren’t faces they had seen almost every week since they were tiny. They had not learnt our names when they were learning to speak and had not been held and cherished by us when they were still in nappies. Being with these children was daunting at first, we knew nothing about them and they knew nothing about us. Because there was a rota we wouldn’t be in that room with them every Sunday morning building the relationships as we had in old church either. The road looked long and winding, but we stepped onto it. We started learning names and ages, noticed the different character traits of certain children and discovered where they were in their understanding of God and Jesus.

It’s been three years and we’re still working on things, still building relationships. Sometimes the way things are structured gets in the way. We lost a few of the children from our Sunday mornings when the church started a tea-time service and our church is a big one where people come and go. Some of the little ones that were in our Sunday morning group when we started have moved up to mid-week groups for the older children. Maybe we don’t have the relationships with the children now that we had in our old church but we still invest the time and the love and sometimes we get a return on that. There’s a little boy who is quiet with most adults, but he speaks to us. I help with one of the mid-week groups and two of the children from the host family are coming out of themselves more with me and will talk to me even when we’re not at their house.

Sometimes working with children is all about being loved by them, but it’s more important for it to be about loving them. There will be the children that readily run to hug you and the ones that run in the other direction, to cling to mum. Investing time and energy in teaching children about Jesus is always worth it and when that brings good relationships with the children that’s a bonus.

I’ll close with a quote from Bob Gass on Word for Today;

‘In this world if you are serious about becoming more like Jesus you must learn to love children.’

Are you there yet?

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That’s our lot in life. It’s not a lot, but it’s our life.

I grew up in a council house on a council estate. I never had the latest of anything and was always at least one step, if not more, behind my classmates on the trends. The only time I remember going to a shop to buy new clothes as a child was when I moved up to secondary school and some of my uniform was bought new. I remember being given a small amount of money, maybe a pound or two, at the start of the jumble sales in my grandparents’ village and using it to buy toys and bric-a-brac while Mum and Grandma would rummage through the clothes stall. Other than that our toys and clothes would come from charity shops or other jumble sales elsewhere. New toys were usually presents for birthdays or Christmas or perhaps as mementoes of holidays. I remember being bought a new toy when my brother was in hospital having fallen out of the bedroom window, but still being envious of the new toys he was bought.

We never ran out of things to play with and we always had enough clothes to wear. In fact we probably had more toys, games and clothes bought second-hand than a lot of our friends had new. On Christmas morning we would wake up to full stockings with as many little toys, chocolate coins, sweets and little trinkets in as would fit and then when everyone was awake we would go to our grandparents’ living room and there would be our main presents, often the thing we had asked Santa for, and a big sack full of other toys and gifts. We would sometimes have presents from Grandma’s friends and from our aunt, uncle and cousins on Mum’s side. The only thing that was missing on Christmas mornings then  was our parents, who both worked in hotels at that point and would have to work on Christmas Day. That did mean that we would repeat some of Christmas Day on Boxing Day, opening presents from our parents and anything from Dad’s side of the family.

We never went on holiday abroad. In fact only twice before I was thirteen did we go on holiday outside Yorkshire, once to Great Yarmouth and once, when I was twelve on our last holiday with Grandma, to Prestatyn. We went to Cayton Bay a few times, to Primrose valley once or twice and to Blue Dolphin once. Always us and Grandma in a caravan. Yes,  I was sometimes jealous of friends who had been to Spain or somewhere that seemed far off on their holidays, but we made the most of our holidays. We loved the ‘Tiger Club’ and would be singing the songs we learnt there throughout the holiday and for weeks after. I can still remember some of the songs and the dances we learnt including ‘The Time Warp’ and ‘Wig-Wam Bam’. I did sometimes wish that I could pack myself in Grandma’s luggage when she went to Germany to see my aunt, uncle and cousins. I would have loved to see the country as much as seeing my family.

My parents weren’t always in work and even if they were we would usually be considered a ‘low-income family’.  I can remember times when we would be on free school dinners and maybe wouldn’t get another two good meals at home. On a weekend when we stayed with Grandma we usually had our three square meals but during the week it wasn’t always easy. I remember times when I was hungry but there wasn’t anything else to eat.

Weekends and school holidays with Grandma were often fun. We would quite often go to the museums in town, usually the ones where you didn’t have to pay but sometimes we would be treated to a visit to a museum where Grandma would pay the entry price. If we didn’t go into town we might go to Beningbrough Hall, where Grandma worked part-time as a cleaner, and we would roam the gardens and the playground there as if they were ours and we explored every corner. If there was a special themed day then we would join in, dressing up as Edwardians, Victorians and even suffragettes or turning up loaded down with teddies for the Teddy Bear’s Picnic. We joined in with the nature trails and Easter Egg hunts and came to know the hall as well as we knew the gardens. There was always the walk up the river to Linton Locks to be enjoyed and watching the boats go through the locks was always fun, so long as we stayed away from the edge. The village where my grandparents lived provided a safe place for us to go out and play, to explore and learn to ride our bikes and scooter. The playing field was a favourite haunt and we even had our own ‘beach’, a sandy spot of the river bank that we shared with the cows.

We could never boast of having the money to spend on all the latest gadgets and gizmos, we never quite managed to keep up with the trends and maybe, sometimes, we did feel like our friends had things better than we did. In retrospect though I can see that I had the childhood I’d like to be able to give my children when they come along. We were never spoilt, pampered or pandered to unlike some of today’s children. We were also not made into grown ups before our time, except perhaps by certain events that we could not avoid. We were children that were allowed to be children and if in ten years or so people look at my children and can say the same of them I’ll be very happy.

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The path starts here.

I have told you a little of the shadows that have been cast in my life, of the bereavements that have dragged me down. In this post I would like to start and try to share something of my experience of the light that has almost chased those shadows away.

It all seems so long ago from where I am now and it is half a lifetime ago, well, half of my lifetime. In some ways finding the light began with another shadow, that I won’t describe in detail here now. Briefly, a month before my 15th birthday my brother, sister and I were taken into foster care. For the purposes of this post the reasons do not matter, although they may be discussed in a later post. We were in care for 6 months.

For the first part of that time we were separated and I was sent to a foster home almost 18 miles from my parents and everything familiar. At first the only familiar things were school and the group therapy with the child psychologists. I felt let down by my social worker because she was often late to collect me for ‘contact’ and I never felt she listened to me. I really disliked (almost put hated but that’s not a word I like to use too often) the woman in my first foster home, some may describe her as my foster-mother but I wouldn’t. She never seemed very maternal toward me and upset me in several ways. She used a powder freshener on my soft toys, taking away the scent of a much-loved gift that Grandma had bought me and she used to lock me out of the house in the winter months I was there and leave me roaming the streets alone. I was so relieved when she decided to give up on me, that she couldn’t do anything to change me and that social services would have to place me elsewhere. Added to that relief was the knowledge that my brother’s first foster-carers had come to the same decision at the same time.

Social services then approached the couple that had been fostering my sister the whole time and asked them to consider taking my brother and me too. Our foster-mother there said that had they realised we were all in care they would have taken us all from the beginning. The new foster home was around four miles from my parents and literally down the road and round the corner from where Granddad still lived, in the village I will always be happy to say I count as a childhood home from home. I was so happy to be there, in that village, with my siblings, in this family that embraced us and made us feel their home really was our home too. This couple were AMW’s parents and in this home I found a real foster-mother who was gentle and patient with me and made me feel safe, a foster-father who was able to guide and to discipline out of love and this ‘foster sister’ who became as close as, if not closer than, my actual sister. I was free to be myself there, to sit in my room and read or write, to go out and see Granddad or to go and sit on Grandma’s grave and talk to her and it really felt like a home.

It didn’t take very long to realise that this couple were not acting purely out of their own resources of love or patience as I watched their struggles with their adopted son. They persisted where I imagined many others would have given up. I thought I knew where they got the extra supplies from though. They were Christians who took my sister to church on a Sunday and read Bible stories to her.  By this time we were going back home to our parents on a weekend so they would collect my sister from my parents and bring her back. It took time but, eventually, my curiosity got the better of me and one week I went to church with them too.

Their church was not the Methodist chapel of my earliest memories of church, nor was it a grey stone building where the people said they were CofE. It didn’t really resemble the Elim church where I had naively  said a prayer four years before asking Jesus into my heart for all the wrong reasons. In fact it looked like my school assembly hall with a group of normal people meeting together to sing, pray and listen to teaching, maybe because that’s what it was. I knew that the focus of the songs and the teaching, the one they were praying to was the God I said I hated because of my Grandma’s death. But even that knowledge could not mask the welcome and the peace I had when I was among those people.

I didn’t go to the church very often to start with but after they put on a production called ‘The Witness’ that I believe told the story of a person who had seen everything written in the Gospels something changed. Not because of the production or the fact that my sister was in it. It was more because while we were there to watch my sister my Dad was taken ill and an ambulance had to be called. FosterMum  and FosterDad stepped in straight away to look after us again and the other members of the church were there for us too.

When our time in care was coming to an end our world was shaken again. Granddad had set off to go to Skegness to visit an old friend but never made it. He slipped away in his sleep somewhere around the time the coach was crossing the Humber Bridge. I tend to romanticise this by thinking that he may have been dreaming of Grandma and simply stepped into Heaven to be with her. Officially he had a heart attack. The way our foster-parents handled this news was exactly right for me. They sat us down and told us carefully and sensitively what had happened. That still did not stop me from grabbing AMW’s bike and pedalling harder than I ever have to the next village, about a mile and a half, to OldestFriend’s house.

It was in the week that followed this news that I was told that AuntyV, an old family friend who was a deaconess in the Methodist church had been in touch with Foster Mum. She had heard about Granddad and she wanted to give me the opportunity to spend some time with her and her daughter who I will call SistersGodsister. This girl and I had spent several school holidays together having fun as only little girls with the countryside around them can. Even though this time would be spent on a Christian youth camp the opportunity to see AuntyV and SistersGodsister was too tempting, even when it meant going straight from Granddad’s funeral.

After reading a poem at Granddad’s funeral with the minister’s hand on my shoulder I went back to the bungalow, said good bye to family I would not see again for a long, long time and got into a taxi. 24 miles later I arrived at Hollybush Farm. There is a church that meets at the venue called Hollybush Christian Fellowship and every year they host a youth camp. AuntyV was waiting for me when I arrived. I was so pleased to see her and to feel those familiar arms around me.

In the days that followed I saw some things at that camp that I thought were ‘weird’, ‘freaky’ and possibly dangerous. It was 1997 and the ‘Toronto blessing’ was still a big thing in some churches over here. Many of the youth group that were there with AuntyV and SistersGodsister, including SistersGodsister, were ‘slain by the Spirit’ several times, getting up and going straight back for more. That they would get up and go back to be back on the floor again almost as soon as the ministry person touched them unnerved me, in fact it made me feel sick. Watching them drop to the ground as if fainting and sometimes shaking while there made me worried and actually a little fearful for them. When AuntyV was ‘slain in the Spirit’ too I was upset but there were no other adults I could trust and after I didn’t feel that I could talk to AuntyV about the way I felt when she had participated too. Even today, almost fifteen years later, I still don’t believe that there was much to be gained from the repeated ‘slaying’. I thought at the time that some of them were addicted to it and that this addiction was not good, a view I still stand by.

In spite of my feelings about the ‘Toronto blessing’ and the youth group members being ‘slain in the Spirit’ I realise now that God was working in my life at that camp. I refused to go for prayer for fear that I too would wake up on the floor when I didn’t want to, but God still found a way to touch my life. Maybe through the love of the people in the church our foster-parents had been part of and the love of AuntyV God had found the door to my heart opening, ever so slightly. My bitter, stinging anger at God seemed to melt while I was at camp. I was still upset that my brother, Grandma and Granddad were all in Heaven and not with me but I didn’t hate God for it any more. I was more open to the idea of a God who loved me and after the camp started going to the church our foster-parents had taken me to on a regular basis. In some ways that camp was the beginning of my path out of the shadows.

I realise that ‘Toronto blessing’ and ‘slain in the Spirit’ may be phrases you have not heard before, but you have an advantage over the fifteen year old girl that was scared for these younger girls she watched falling down repeatedly. You can Google them and find out what is meant by them. I had no resources, no way of finding out what was happening. Maybe if you don’t understand you are a bit closer to where I was on that farm.

Even now, after so much time has passed and I have a level of understanding of these things, I still feel my stomach churn if someone in the same room as me is ‘slain in the Spirit’ and I find it really hard to stay in the room if it is my brother, sister or a friend who is on the floor. I have never been, nor do I desire to be, ‘slain in the Spirit’. I can still live a Spirit-filled life as a Christian without falling on the floor to do that, or condemning anyone who has been ‘slain in the Spirit’. God touches different people in different ways and I’m quite glad he has never knocked me down.

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You’ve Got a Friend in Me

On my 30th birthday my best friend (JLW) rang me. It was not a call to wish me a happy birthday, in the busyness of the run up to Christmas with her one-year-old my birthday had slipped her mind. The fact my birthday had slipped her mind was not important. When she apologised for forgetting I knew she genuinely meant it. That’s part of our friendship, being ready to apologise and forgive.

Something JLW said to me during that call stuck. She told me I was her most ‘God-like’ friend, loyal, trustworthy, unchanging in my friendship and ready to forgive. I was pleased to know that is how she sees me, even though it made me wonder about other friendships. Friendships missed, lost and gone but not forgotten.

I was already 21 when I met JLW and had not had a ‘real’ friend my own age for about ten years, since leaving primary school. There was AMW (not related to JLW) who I had known for about twelve years and counted as a friend for six, but she could not be the ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ kind of friend I needed. She is loving and so much fun as a friend, but she has Down Syndrome.

I went through the ‘Steps to Freedom in Christ’ with CellMum and GlassPainter  and at the end of that they, with God’s guidance, identified my need for a real ‘caring, sharing’ friend. They prayed for that friend for me and I went away not expecting much to come of it. God showed me he really is able to do more than we ask or imagine.

It was less than a month after the prayer was prayed. I had been out with GlassPainter walking a gorgeous dog called Milly for friends of hers. We had talked about things and she had mentioned the friend she felt sure God would bring me. On the walk I had dismissed the whole idea that God would bring me this friend, never saying so to GlassPainter. It was just a normal Sunday I had sat with 1of4 on my lap for most of the church service until she went out to creche. I had noticed a new couple at church with their grown up daughter but not been overly interested. At the end of the service though watching my sister talk to this new young woman I saw that she was friendly and that my sister was getting on quite well with her. I went over and my sister introduced me. The new young woman was JLW (or JLL as she was then). We started to make friends at church and then CellMum asked JLW to join our youth cell. I found out that the dog, Milly, was JLW’s family pet. From the seed that was planted when CellMum and GlassPainter prayed a friendship began to grow. It took a long time for me to start to open up with JLW and she was patient with me. It took time but we started to open up to each other and to become real friends.

My friendship with JLW brought other blessings. Somehow when she stepped through the door into friendship with me she had opened a door that had been shut tight for over eleven years, a door that went deeper than any of the superficial ‘friendships’ I had tried to form. She found a way into my heart that no one had found for a long time, and left it open. In time LCT and LAD followed her through and while they never went quite as far as JLW did and have stepped back slightly over time I still count them my friends. There is one who followed every step of the path JLW opened and that is JK (and yes, the first initials stand for the same name). For (need to check in my journal and amend) years both Js have been the best friends I could ever have wished for.

JLW taught me so much about friendship, much of it by accident through the twists and turns her path has taken. I have learnt what it means to be there (and really be there) for a friend who is hurting, I have learnt what it feels like to know that friend is there for you when you hurt. I have learnt the give and take nature of relationship and have learnt what happens when friends hurt each other. I have learnt what it means to forgive and be forgiven.

One thing JLW has taught me well is that friends can still be friends despite a distance of over 130 miles between us. I was scared that because I had let myself love JLW that when she moved away I would lose her. My first best friend, Bryony, had been lost that way and I had lost others that I had loved. When JLW moved from York to the Borders to live near her God-given man (who I will call MountainMan) I thought that would be it. She would spend time with MountainMan and his friends and she would forget me.It has been 4 years now and MountainMan changed her last intial 3 years and two weeks ago. Their daughter is 16 months old and beautiful. Twelve days ago I sat in JLW’s sister’s living room with JLW, her sister and my brother watching JLW’s daughter play. JLW and I are still friends, it’s easy to pick up again and be the way we always were. She is going to be 2nd bridesmaid at my upcoming wedding with her daughter as flower girl.

I’m now able to build friendships with people that are about loyalty and being there no matter what, that are about investing time and energy to make it work. Thanks to God and JLW I know now that my friends can be my greatest allies and best blessings. I understand that God uses people to bless us and to help us on our way along life’s rollercoaster roads. I’m glad and so thankful that he does.

Without God bringing JLW into my life I would be such a different person now. Because that door was unlocked and left open JLW and JK are and always will be an important part of my life, I have been able to build a friendship that blossomed into romance and a promise of forever with my fiance and I can appreciate when people say that some friends are just for a season. I am so thankful that God blessed me with such great mentors in CellMum and GlassPainter.

I know that ‘Friends are friends forever if the the Lord’s the lord of them.’ I trust it and believe it because of the friends I have now. The friends I lost along the way, the ones I missed because my blinkers were on may have just been lessons I had to learn, but something tells me that it was all in God’s plan. One friend I thought I had lost forever, the last friend I had ten years before JLW, is back in touch with me. Hopefully OldestFriend can be at my wedding too, but if not that’s okay because at least I know some things we may think are lost are only misplaced and can be found again.

My friends have helped to fix the broken me a bit, and while I still have a way to go I know that they will be there every step of the way. If you are one of those friends I want to say thank you and to let you know you will always have a friend in me 🙂

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