'You gave me life and showed me kindness,
and in your providence watched over my spirit'
Job 10:12 (NIV)
I became a Christian at the age of seven, after a particularly profound Sunday school session. I think we had discussed 'letting Jesus into our hearts' and I realised then that I loved God and wanted him to reside in me. After church, when I was back at home, I said a prayer and asked Jesus in. Although I was raised in a Christian family and my parents encouraged my faith, my decision to become a Christian was very much my own and I found God for myself. This is where my journey began.
I went to school on a council estate, and was one of the minority that did not live in a council house nearby. I know that the estate could be quite rough, and many of the kids had endured difficult times. Comparatively, my upbringing was very sheltered and I was wrapped in cotton wool. I was aware that I was very different to my peers, not due to my faith, but my upbringing, and over time this led to my alienation. I had no inclination to behave in the way I did. I never got in trouble at school, and the teachers liked me because I was sensible and intelligent. 'Quietly conscientious' was the consistent remark on my school reports. The only negative observation was that I was too quiet and ought to speak up more in class. I was rewarded for my conduct, and often singled out for privileges.
When I first started school I was a confident girl who often landed herself main parts in school assemblies and plays. I became, over the years, tense and painfully shy. I didn't like to be noticed and longed to hide. The older I grew, the more it seemed I was speaking a different language to my peers. They grew away from me, or perhaps I grew away from them. Either way, they seemed to shunt me out for no reason. I have never been able to pinpoint a reason for this, as I got on well with everyone. In my final two years at primary school I had few friends and was often alone at break and lunch.
High school initially promised itself to be a more fulfilling experience. I was put in a tutor group with my two friends from primary school, and my very best friend who, up until then, had attended a different school. However, there's nothing like hormones to turn your world upside down. High school really is a portal to hell and I hated it. I was either invisible (which was the preferable predicament) or singled out for negative reasons. I was subject to complete and utter public humiliation on more than one occasion, and although I can't think of my experiences as bullying it must have been fairly close. My self defence was invisibility. I bowed my head and let my hair fall in front of my face. My shoulders slumped. I barely spoke. Again, the teachers seemed to favour me, but because I was constantly cloaking myself in invisibility it was harder to be noticed.
At high school I was torn apart, but my faith was the one thing that remained intact. It was still in its babyhood, and had a lot of growing to do, but it was very much present. Every night during my time of trial, I prayed and reached out for God, wondering if he was aware of how miserable I was. I never ever entertained suicidal thoughts, but I did ask God to end my life because I didn't think I could endure another day. However, I woke up the next morning, something I am now so thankful for, and endured another day. Instead he gave me friendships so that I was not standing alone. Although my very best friend drifted away and became my antagonist, my friendship with Dearest Friend and Darling Girl was strengthened.
'He will yet fill your mouth with laughter
and your lips with shouts of joy'
Job 8:21 (NIV)
At the midway point through high school, things began to improve, and my final year was almost pleasant. We left school at sixteen, and like most people I went on to the sixth-form college in town. This opened the door to a new level of independence. People attended the college because they wanted to learn, and so negative behaviour was minimal. For some of my lectures I was with two guys I knew from school and we grew quite close. We formed a friendship group with two other girls we knew from school and three newcomers. I thought of them all as my 'college crew'. They built me up, and made me feel loved and respected for who I was. I recognised that the first few threads of my lost confidence began to return.
My faith was also, finally, beginning to mature. I often thought about my time at high school, and began to realise just how much God could have helped me through if I'd let him. Although I consistently prayed I don't think I ever asked him to help me. I had never reached out to him fully, as though I inadvertently underestimated his powers and abilities. The more I learned about him, the more I began to understand and embrace him fully. I fell deeply in love, and towards the end of my first year at college I made the decision to get baptised. I had entertained the idea of being baptised for a long time, and had decided all along that I wanted to be seventeen when I 'took the plunge' - the age my mum was when she got baptised.
I was baptised in June, and finished my first year of college a week afterwards. During the long summer holidays I began to change. I read large chunks of the Bible every day because I had a desire to read it all the way through before the year was out. I also read Stormie O'Martian's powerful and inspirational testimony, and a prayer book of hers. I realised that I needed to let go of the past and I did. I recognised that I had emerged from all my trials and a stronger person and they had, in some way, made me a stronger person. That summer was when I began to change for the better.
'Do your best, prepare for the worst -
then trust God to bring victory'
Proverbs 21:31 (The Message Remix)
I had spent all my teenage years longing for a boyfriend, longing to be noticed by just one guy, and I realised that this yearning had come between God and me. While I was on holiday that summer, I decided to let go of that desire and trust God to send the right man my way when, and if the time was right. One night I poured my heart and soul out to God over this matter and then, as I had with my past, I let go of it.
One week later I received a response to my prayer. Without going into too much detail, Spud came into my life, but that really is a whole new story. When I received the first, unexpected email from this stranger, it did cross my mind that this could be an answer to my prayer, but I exercised extreme caution. I was aware of how dangerous this situation could be, and so took great care. To cut a long story short, we corresponded for a year and then met up at Bible camp. During that time, we both learned to fully rely on God who worked in ways I cannot fathom. I will have to share the story with you sometime. Spud was the complete opposite of what I would have looked for in a man, but somehow he was perfect for me.
This was the first time I began to see God at work in my life, and all these years later I am aware of his presence. He strengthens me and fulfils me. He never fails to answer my prayers, even if I have to wait a while. Even if the response is not what I have hoped, he opens my eyes to see how it is the best for me. When my plan to become a teacher fell through, God showed me that it's okay to step into the unknown, because he is with me, showing me the way.
Over the years I have learned the difference between believing in God and leading a relationship with him, and found the latter to be more fulfilling. Yes, I still suffer doubts from time to time, but God conquers those every time. I also recognise that my faith constantly falls short and I am, without a doubt, a failed Christian, but I think if every Christian looked deep into their hearts, they would realise the same. That is the miracle of it all. We fall short every time, but God loves us all the same, whether we know it or not.
'All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus'
Romans 3.23-4 (NIV)