We all have a story to tell. Our life and journey are unique, but will touch on common factors with other people. Our faith story is no exception.
The Methodist Church is encouraging a Year of Testimony, taking the opportunity to tell our stories. As part of that I was invited to share mine for the Circuit we are now living in, so I thought I would share it here too.
It is so easy to sit in church and think everyone else has got it together or is having a great life, only when we start sharing our stories together do we realise that others may have been in a similar situation to us, or are in that place now. By sharing our stories we can help support one another and strengthen our faith and the life of the church.
So, here is (part of) mine:
I was brought up going to church. I came to a point where God seemed like something that would be good to come to when I was old, but had no relevance to my life as a teenager. Through an interesting turn of events, mainly based on my looking for an easy life, I ended up taking RE as one of my ‘O’ Level options. That decision lead to me developing a love for the scriptures and a real passion to work through their relevance for each day, as well as discovering God who loved and cared about me very much in the here and now.
When I left school I worked for our local church as part admin part outreach worker which really developed my call. Fast forward to when our children were born and I was very fortunate to be able to be at home with them and was perfectly content with doing that and volunteering through church – until God had a different idea…
Thus, I became a Circuit Minister in 1999. Aside from raising our sons, I felt as if I was doing what I was always made to do. I loved it. I got to meet all kinds of interesting people of all ages and talk about God with them, I had the massive privilege of being with people at significant times in their lives, I got to work with great people with God and we were doing some new and exciting stuff. We were happy and settled. It was hard work, but the blessings were immense.
Then in March 2005 I got proper flu. Although the flu symptoms went after a few weeks, I was left with an awful chronic cough that also caused hoarseness, which is not much help when your voice is your tool, and breathing problems. I was constantly exhausted and had various other symptoms, but the cause was never quite pinpointed. I visited various consultants and no one could really offer me a diagnosis or a real prognosis – but it meant my life had turned upside down.
I had several trial returns to work, fully supported by my GP and the Circuit, but wasn’t able to sustain it. Eventually it was concluded that I was going to have to retire on ill health. At 41 and with two teenage sons, this wasn’t quite how we had envisaged life going.
I guess it should have been a scary time, but I didn’t feel it. Partly I was focused on being ill and trying to find a way to live with this new reality, but I never lost a sense of “we do not know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future”. I felt such a strong sense of God holding me and holding whatever was to come, however unclear that seemed.
So we moved out of Circuit life. I was left with the new reality of feeling that I no longer had a role. I couldn’t do any of the things I used to love – not just work, but everyday life. But still I felt that God had called me to something different, to be a Minister in a different way.
Unfortunately as the years went on my symptoms multiplied and it became clear that there was something very specific going on, not just post-viral problems. I was able to do less and less.
Eventually I was given a diagnosis of Sjogren’s Syndrome, which is basically effects every part of the body that produces fluid. This is a brilliant illustration of where and how it effects the body,
but for me as well as the lung issues, it effects my joints, balance and concentration/processing (if I don’t give a sensible answer it’s because I’m trying to process the question and what the answer is), as well as giving me dry eyes (with vision issues), dry mouth (which gives difficulty in chewing and swallowing) and awful skin. I find sitting or standing for long hard work and struggle with energy, everything is an effort and I struggle if I try to do anything for more than an hour. I have little spare energy for anything I might want to do, having to concentrate on what I really need to do. I also have to be very careful what clothes I wear so they don’t cause me any problems. As anyone who has spent more than a few minutes with me will have noticed I am constantly drinking and putting in eye drops – and I have an assortment of other medications I take that try and keep on top of the symptoms – though nothing can cure it. That is my reality.
Over the last couple of years as my symptoms have increased and effected more parts of my body, it became clear that I was struggling to live in a house and I wasn’t very safe on the stairs. We are very fortunate to be cared for so well and were able to find a bungalow to live in. That has made our lives so much easier and we believe that God has brought us here with a purpose and a place.
The last couple of years have not been easy, there have been times when I struggled with not being able to do what I enjoyed or even the basic tasks. There were times when church was the place I most needed to be – yet the hardest and most painful place to be. There will no doubt continue to be those times and on bad days it can be heart-breaking. But God, his arms, his love, his hope and his peace have the only thing that held me together. God wrapped his arms of love tightly round me and gently held me. God is in the reality of where I am and continues to work in and through it – and me.
I have long found solace and God’s hope in trees: in the stark reality of a tree with no leaves or fruit, the strength a tree finds from its roots buried so deep that nourish it however bare the branches might look, that can cling to an apparently precipitous edge, that other plants that grow on a dead tree for support, in the rhythm of growth, apparent death and new life. I see so much of God and Christian faith in that.
I hold tightly always to the words of Habakkuk 3:17-19:
Fig trees may no longer bloom,
or vineyards produce grapes;
olive trees may be fruitless,
and harvest time a failure;
sheep pens may be empty,
and cattle stalls vacant—
18 but I will still celebrate
because the Lord God
19 The Lord gives me strength.
He makes my feet as sure
as those of a deer,
and he helps me stand
on the mountains
Life does not look like we anticipated it would and is a struggle every day. Having a chronic illness that effects every part of your body is exhausting and frankly mostly sore, but God is with us and continues to work. I may not be able to do so much physically, but God still is God. God saves me, holds me gently and gives me strength for what he calls me for and to.
May we each know that in our lives.