I grew up in a Christian home. My two grandmothers were founder members of the Baptist church I attended as a child, and my parents and three of my grandparents were on the leadership team. My mother also led the Sunday School. As a result my whole childhood revolved around the church and I cannot remember a time when I did not believe in Jesus or that I did not consider myself a Christian.
However it was when I was 10 and on a Boys Brigade camp (with my Dad who was an Officer!) that I first remember really understanding that being raised in a Christian family didn’t make me a Christian and that I needed to make a personal commitment of my own. Every evening there were talks for the boys on the camp but as a child (and a girl!) I had to listen from outside, peering through a gap in the marquee. I remember praying for Jesus to be my saviour one night and then going back each evening to learn more.
Soon after becoming a Christian my family moved to South Devon, and soon after that my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer. For the next 9 years my mum was in and out of hospital, having operations and other various forms of treatment. It was a very hard time and one that has shaped my faith. There were many times when I was angry and I wanted to know ‘Why?’ There were also many times when I struggled with the attitude of other Christians, who said really unhelpful things such as her lack of healing being due to a lack of faith on our part, or because we weren’t praying enough. But it also taught me very early on that I needed to trust God for everything. I just needed to decide whether I believed that God was real or not, whether he was who he said he was, and if I did believe he was the Son of God I needed to trust him. In the midst of a lot of pain and hardship I decided I did believe. I didn’t understand but I believed. I was baptised when I was 14.
My mum died when I was 20, at the start of my second year at university. It was the start of a long and difficult time – ill health, family divisions etc. It was also a very dark time. But it is in the darkest times that I have felt closest to God, and looking back it was formative to my faith and to who I am. When people fail you, you realise that it is only God who will always be there for you. We live in a broken world where suffering is inevitable. God never promises that if we have faith then our lives will be easy – quite the opposite. What he does promise is that he will be with us through whatever hardships we face.
In 2000 I got a job ‘up North’ and moved to Gateshead. I initially struggled to find a church, moving round until settling at Christ Church Heaton and more recently Gateshead Central Baptist Church. Since then God has done a lot of healing in my life. I think over the years I’d withdrawn from people. It wasn’t intentional, but I think I’d done it subconsciously as a way of protecting myself from further hurt. The love and support I’ve received from my church family have helped me to open up again and build relationships. Although things have been difficult I see now that the hardships I have faced have made me who I am and brought me closer to Jesus.
Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching and has taught me to understand… I have been bent and broken but – I hope – into a better shape.”Charles Dickens