Testimony:’ Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go’.

There have only been two times that I’ve shared my testimony. Once was in Derbyshire in front of a group of teenagers, the second was in Lithuania where it was translated into Lithuanian and put on a church website.

 

I’ve shared some parts in bits and pieces of course,but the whole thing all together, has never been written down or told, simply because it’s quite long and you usually only get a 15 or twenty minute time slot. 

Last night, I just couldn’t sleep and as usual when I can’t sleep my mind races with all sorts of thoughts and feelings and sometimes, if I’m lucky, something will click into place. Something that makes sense of anything that’s been confusing me. It seems my brain works a lot better at 3 am.

 

I was thinking about my walk with God and, because I’m a bit weird at 3 o clock in the morning, I spoke it aloud. Firstly, because I needed to hear it and secondly, because it’s comforting to think that you’ve done the right thing at the right time, rather than messing up when something goes wrong.

 

So this is the story of how I met God and how I continue to follow Him.

 

Part 1

 

It would be easy for me to say that I’ve always been a Christian but actually I haven’t. I grew up in the church, learnt the songs, learnt the stories but learning and understanding something are entirely different.  I believed in God but that was only because I refused to believe that the world had been created out of nothing, there had to be an element of a divine being in there somewhere. I have to confess that creation stories from other cultures fascinated me a lot more than the Genesis story. Nordic, Greek, Roman mythology seemed a lot more exciting than the Bible but it did fuel that part of me that knew there was something else out there. I’d read anything I could about that magical part of the world: gods, elves, witches, vampires, ghosts; they all sparked my imagination in the supernatural, in that dimension of the world that can’t be seen.

 

Unfortunately, at points, I got in too deep with that side of the supernatural, it might have just started a story but I began to have terrible nightmares every night but, even though I knew it was because of my growing obsession with the supernatural, it still didn’t stop me  being dragged in. Unfortunately, I began to experience sleep paralysis episodes at the same time, this phenomena is the result of a person  waking up as they are still dreaming and are unable to move any part of their body. It produces states of panic, hallucinations and the feeling of someone/something being in the room with you. I experienced all three and these episodes seemed to last for hours. As you can imagine as a young child I felt that there was something evil in my room and it was when only managing to call out the name of ‘Jesus’-which I’d recalled from previous church services was powerful against evil- that they passed. People may say it was a coincidence, that the episode simply stopped,  but I began to believe that there was a great distinction between good (God) and evil. 

 

These experiences further cemented my belief in God but I still didn’t have a personal relationship with Him. I felt that maybe I had gone too far with the ‘bad’ stuff to even attempt to give my life to God and the fact that Jesus had died on the cross for my sins did not enter my head; surely I had gone too far in the other direction for Him to even bother with me? As I started to become a teenager a lot of my church friends began to be baptised, for some reason I can’t remember I felt that I should also. At this point, I still had not given my life to God. We had about three baptismal classes and though I knew what the pastor was saying and agreed when he asked me if I understood what I was undertaking (a public declaration of my commitment to follow God) but really I was still not a follower. As you can imagine, I began to feel uneasy and though I continued with my adamance to be baptised, it was only because I believed that this a natural progression in my belief in God, not a declaration of a faith in a salvation through the work of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection.

 

It came to the day of my baptism and there I was dressed in white with my swimming costume underneath in front of people I’d known for a long time. I was the youngest one to be baptised (twelve years old) and as the rest of the group got up to speak there testimony, I watched in a blur, thinking I really should admit i’m a fraud. However, it didn’t end badly. It came to my turn to speak and fortunately, the pastor got up and spoke out a verse  he had chosen for me, which literally changed my life:

 

‘ Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us’

Hebrews 12:1

 

It was my verse, no shadow of a doubt. You see, running was my thing. If there was anything I was really good at it was that. It was the one thing I prided myself on; I was a good runner.  It might seem a small thing, but to me for someone to speak that verse and have   no idea that one of my biggest passions was running it was massive. I wasn’t prepared for it. As I got up and spoke my testimony (of always believing in a God, etc.), my mind was running at a million miles an hour. No one knew my passion for running, I didn’t speak it aloud, I alone knew how much I loved it. It was a secret, something that I didn’t share with people because I thought they’d laugh at me.But God knew. The pastor had prayed and asked God for a verse for me and he chose that one.

God knew me, more thoroughly than anyone had ever bothered to look. He watched me, he cared about my passion, he cared about me. And that meant that Jesus must be real, what he had done on the cross was also for me. As the verse that sin that had stopped me from seeking him could be thrown off, God told me to throw it away put it in it’s right place. So just before I went into the water, to be fully immersed in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, I gave my life over to God and prayed the salvation prayer I knew so well but had never fully understood;

 

Dear Lord, 
I admit that I am a sinner. I have done many things that don’t please you. I have lived my life for myself. I am sorry and I repent. I ask you to forgive me. I believe that you died on the cross for me, to save me. You did what I could not do for myself. I come to you now and ask you to take control of my life, I give it to you. Help me to live every day in a way that pleases you. I love you, Lord, and I thank you that I will spend all eternity with you.

Amen.

 

 So when I was asked by the pastor whether I believed that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that He came to earth and paid the penalty for my sins by His death on the cross, whether I had personally acknowledged him as the saviour of my life and my willingness to follow him, I answered yes truthfully, without a shadow of a doubt that I was a follower of Christ. As he baptised  me in the name of the Father. the Son and the Holy Spirit and immersed me in water I experienced my first spiritual encounter with Jesus and I knew that as I rose up out of the water that I was changed, and that my life was given over to Him wherever he led me.

 
Part 2
 
The six years after my baptism were a massive learning curve for me. I read the same stories and sang the same songs but with a fresh understanding of what they meant personally. I read the Bible and prayed for the first time, beginning to speak to God and listen to what He wanted. I still had my  moments of going off on a tangent but I would always bring myself back to God and continually brought these sins before Him asking for His forgiveness. The power of the cross and Jesus’ resurrection were  a reality in my life and I found a new joy in this relationship with a God who loved and understood me more deeply that anyone I had ever met. 
 
As always there are points in your life where you decide which direction you want to go in. Turning eighteen and having finally left school was one of those points. I had no concrete idea what direction I wanted to go in; university, a job,an apprenticeship it was all a big confusing mess all rolled into one. I prayed for direction,
 
I knew that I was good at caring for people but I also knew that I loved writing and history, in my head I had two main options; a degree in Creative Writing and History or Nursing, or a job as nursing auxiliary. I firstly tried the nursing approach but not at university by applying to join the RAF. It was going well, I passed the exams, but I simply hadn’t had the time to build up my fitness for the fitness test and myself and the interviewer decided that maybe the time wasn’t right. With this rejection under my belt (and not being able to apply until at least  another six months), I tried the more conventional university route through UCAS, I had all the courses and universities sorted but when it came to writing the personal statement I was lost. I know it’s difficult to write but I had no idea and when I really thought about it no real enthusiasm for it. The week before my application was due in and still no personal statement, I prayed to God,’Lord I will follow you wherever you send me, if this is right help me to know,’. Instantly, I felt that it was the wrong direction. It just wasn’t gelling together, and I knew if I went in that direction I wouldn’t be happy. I asked my mum and dad if it was okay for me to not apply to university and when they said yes and with their backing, I felt relief at turning my back on UCAS.
 
Then I thought maybe it’s a job I need to go for. So I applied for any health care assistant, nursing auxiliary job I could find. It became an endless struggle of applications, interviews and then rejections. By August, a year after I finished my A Levels, I felt disheartened and ready to give up. Again, I prayed with tears rolling down my face, angry with God, asking ‘What do you want?’, ‘Why are you making it so hard for me to get on in life?’ and eventually after crying til my voice broke. I  surrendered everything over to God again, realising that I’d been doing what I thought was right and not what he thought.
 
 So there I was starting again, waiting for a new idea to form. I came by the website almost by chance. A mission training college in a city down south somewhere that I wouldn’t even know where to look on a map. I kept revisiting Redcliffe’s site over and over during that week, praying to God ‘ If this is right help me to have the courage to go forward with it.’ After deliberating and without telling my family about it, I applied. I didn’t expect to get an interview for the Theology degree course, which started in less than three weeks, but within the space of a week, I was sat on a train with my sister, heading to Gloucester, to have one of the easiest interviews I’ve ever had.  I met one of  the most inspiring people I have ever met and told her my story, how all I wanted to do was follow God. I said what was on my heart, and though I felt as if she’d never let me get on the course, she accepted my application. 
 
Redcliffe wasn’t easy. It basically challenged my faith by strengthening my understanding of being a Christian, realising what it meant, reading up on the missionaries who had gone on before was both inspiring and daunting was I ready for where it would take me? But I still prayed God wherever you want me to go, I will go. 
 
I supposed I always pictured this as a physical place. When you’re at a mission training college and hear about your other students plans to go to far off churches and ministries, it’s easy to think where am I physically called? But I started a journey that wasn’t physical but more emotional and spiritual. 
 
One of the classes we took was about preparing for mission abroad. We studied culture shock, and all the sort of things that came with living in a place that was far from your home life. One class was about sacrifice. God calls us to surrender to follow him. What we were afraid of leaving behind and what we were afraid of having to sacrifice to follow God. Many of the answers were such  things as financial security, leaving our family and leaving familiar surroundings. But when I really thought about what I was most afraid of not having in all the world was my family. Not been able to have my family anymore scared me, ad them dying especially so.  My grandmother was getting increasingly ill and I was afraid of her passing away. 
 
 
The end of the term came and it was coming up to Christmas. My grandma still wasn’t well but even in hospital it seemed that she would get through this and the doctors said she was getting better, so I stayed an extra couple of days with some friends who weren’t leaving just then.  We had a great time of hanging out and looking forward to Christmas and having a break. I’d rung my family the night before they came to pick me up and they said my grandma was fine. I was looking forward to seeing her the next night at the hospital. The morning after my dad texted that they’d arrived. All my things were packed in my room and I’d been excitedly waiting to see them. The front door had a code on it so I raced downstairs and flung the door open. With a smiling face I hugged both of them. My dad said he had some news. He explained that my grandmother had passed away the  night before. I screamed and my knees gave way, my dad caught. I kept screaming and crying , ‘NO!NO!NO!’ and I tried to get away from my dad’s hug. I wanted to run away and curl into a ball. In shock I said goodbye to my friends. I pretended that nothing had happened, grabbed my stuff and just got out of there.
 
 
To cut a long story short, I grieved for over two years. I felt empty, I cried a lot. I couldn’t sleep, I didn’t eat and there was hole in my life that couldn’t be filled again. I didn’t blame God but I did wonder why he’d left me feeling so bereft, I didn’t even get to say goodbye to her, and I felt guilty that I hadn’t gone home straight away to see her. I had two other deaths in my family over the two years of finishing my degree. But I completed it and the woman that had welcomed me into Redcliffe, cried with me as we hugged and told me she was proud of me and that she knew I could do it. And I had, despite all the circumstances, stuck with God and followed him where he wanted.
 
Part 3
 
My next step with following God was starting my internship at New Life in Lincoln, the place I started to write this blog. It was a worship and media internship and music was something that I’d always wanted to focus on. It wasn’t something I ever thought God would lead me to and I was happier than I had been in a long time to start the internship. Even better, just as I was sat in a meeting thinking to myself ,’should I be here?’- my other intern Gina said, ‘God says you should be here,’. Could there really have been any more confirmation? So I helped out in the worship department with practices, music schools, setting up on Sundays and leading worship myself at other churches. I was also part of the student band, not singing, but playing guitar something which I really enjoyed doing.
 
It was during a student weekend away in January that I had the second worst experience of my life. I developed depression. It had been happening for months but I put it down to stress and just being tired cause I was busy. I felt more alone than at any time in my life. People’s joy and laughter almost physically hurt and I went for long walks on my own just to get some peace from the growing negative thoughts that were building in my head. It was when I found some time to be by myself that it happened. I felt like I was standing on the edge of a large void, I wanted to die, life seemed completely worthless and I was worthless. What was I doing pretending to be this happy person? Luckily, I had some friends who helped me to recognise that I might be developing depression and I got medical help which led me back to feeling more positive about life and myself.
 
 
I reached the end of the internship  in June and got a job in the care industry,  in Lincoln straight after. I had my own flat, I had a great group friends and I was involved in the church. What could go wrong? I was good at my job, I always knew that caring was something I’d be good at and I enjoyed it. However, due to the hours I worked and the inability to get to church because of this I began to feel more and more stressed and negative again.  I was hanging on but barely and the crunch point came in December. One of my friends back in Glossop had got cancer a few months before and I was praying just as before that God would let his will be done in the situation. I was working Christmas Day, something that I found difficult, firstly because as a Christian it is one of the most important days of my year and secondly, I wasn’t with my family or friends as I didn’t have the time, working all day. I got a call in my two hour break in the afternoon from my family to wish me happy Christmas and then found out my friend had died that morning. I felt alone and upset. This had been another inspiring woman who had believed in me more than anyone and she was gone. I continued working that day and through the holidays up until the day before her funeral. I was exhausted and had one day in Glossop before leaving for Lincoln, straight after the funeral and then work the next day.  I sat down at home after her funeral and basically collapsed on the sofa. I could barely move, I was so tired and my family rang in to work for me saying that I was too ill to come back for the next day. In fact, I ended up being too ill  to come back in for over two weeks. I went to the doctors and got diagnosed with a virus, the doctor recommended I had at least another week off.
 
But I knew it was more than that. My depression had come back with a vengeance. I didn’t want to carry on, I didn’t eat, I slept all the time, I was afraid to go outside, experiencing panic attacks whenever I did. I didn’t speak, I could barely think and the thought of going back to Lincoln filled me with genuine fear. I sat down with my family and we decided I should hand my notice in. I just couldn’t go back to work, there was no way. I rang the office, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, giving up my job. My hands shook after and I was a nervous wreck. That’s when the depression took hold for good and the next few months I lived in a state of agitation, afraid to leave the house and unable to concentrate on anything other than getting through the day. 
 
I sorted everything out in Lincoln and felt relief at leaving but in my head I felt like a failure. I couldn’t handle life. Who was I trying to kid thinking I could follow God wherever he led me?  I felt I hadn’t achieved anything and people were better off without me. My worst night came when I barricaded my door and endlessly thought of finding a big pack of painkillers and ending my life.  Something, I think it was God, stopped me from doing this and the next day I made an appointment to see a doctor. 
 
 
Six months later with the help of anti-depressants and anxiety therapy, I am writing this a lot better than I have been in over five years. God has shown me what it means to sacrifice to follow Him. It has been difficult, more difficult than leaving my family behind and going to a  physical ministry somewhere else. It’s been the mental journey I’ve had to take where I’ve truly discovered where I’ve had to go to follow God. He has brought me to the very edge of who I am, scraping away the self-esteem issues, personal feuds with other people, childhood issues and leaving me a person with less baggage and a more clear idea of who I am in Christ.
 
I have written this testimony because this is what it truly means to follow God. To share what he has done within your life.
 
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