A spiritual journey

My father was an atheist and my mother had no interest in religion and went to attend Church for weddings and funerals etc. but we were sent to Church on a Sunday to get from under her feet whilst she cooked the Sunday roast. My two sisters and I walked about a mile each way. I had no problem wearing hand me downs from my sisters but when I wore my new Whitsuntide coat and sandals I felt special. One day an egg flew over a hedge and landed in the middle of my sister’s back on her new coat. She was a bit annoyed but hadn’t seen the yellow and white slime running down her back.

At Church I was given a little book in which we stuck stamps, a reward for attending. I didn’t like having empty squares in my book. I remember one stamp that I particularly liked. It showed a man in a long white dress standing in a little garden outside a wooden door. He was carrying a lit lamp. I didn’t know what it meant but loved the colours and the flowers in the garden.

The young heavily made up Sunday school teacher sat on the back of the pew. A small number of children,we were sitting round her feet on our pew. I didn’t hear what she said but was fascinated watching strings of spittle stretching between her bright red lips and wondering how she did that. She lifted her head, looked straight at me and told me that Jesus loved me. My heart flipped and I felt so happy going home. I forgot; He didn’t.

We didn’t have family holidays because my dad refused to sleep in someone else’s bed in case there were bed bugs or fleas. Maybe it was a hangover from his army days.

A friend invited me to go on a camping holiday with her arranged by her Church. Because my mum thought it was very cheap I was allowed to go. We slept in marquees on the groundsheets and had no facilities to speak of. The camp was at Beazley farm in Ingleton in a small field which gently sloped down to the shallow part of the river with stepping stones across it. Each morning we took soap, towels and toothbrushes and washed in the river. It was a fantastic experience. We were taken on long walks and climbed Ingleborough, but that’s another story.

Each evening we would gather around outside in the early evening light surrounded by hills and Ingleborough, stone walls, birds singing and sheep bleating. It was magical as the sun went down and bathed it in a warm glow. Two youths played piano accordions whilst we sang choruses in that wonderful place.

I especially remember a line from a chorus which went- Out there amongst the hills my saviour died- I was profoundly moved as I looked at towering mountain and the green hills surrounding us.

When I got home I forgot but He didn’t.

I had been given a strong faith but when I went to do nurse training I began to change. One of the new students, who subsequently became a lifelong friend, was persuading me to join her in the dance halls and pubs but it was not a life I knew. I explained my reasons which were based on some early teaching in the Church.

“You are too bloody good to live.” She spat at me.

Although I turned away from the Church I know there were many promptings along the way that He is there.

Years later I was working in the community in Airedale, Castleford and was required several times to give evidence in the family court and once in Crown court in Leeds with regard to child abuse within families. On one occasion in family court the lawyer kept me in the stand with intense questioning for over an hour. It got to the stage where I unbidden, sent up a prayer.

“Lord I’m so tired, I said, and I am about to tell this man what he wants to hear instead of the truth”

Immediately I felt as though someone came and stood by my side and I felt comforted and stronger.

The lawyer concluded his questioning abruptly and sat down. I later learnt that he was used to criminal law and conducted the case in that vein, not usual in family court.

I visited a young family where the couple were experiencing marital problems. After speaking with me at length she asked if I would talk to her husband but I was aware I wasn’t qualified and might make things worse so declined. As I left the house I decided to get myself qualified in marital counselling to add to my ability to help such families. It was hard working full time and running the home with two children and doing the training in spare time including residential weekend training. We were required to spend three hours a week actually counselling. I was very grateful for the support and stability of my husband. I couldn’t have done it without him although it did reveal cracks in our marriage which had to be addressed.

The required reading included writing of Carl Rogers. In one of his books he wrote a quote from the Bible which struck a dart in me but I shelved it and carried on counselling. Gradually I realised that though the counselling was very helpful to many couples including one man who thought I had taught him to see as if under water; I realised that the philosophy was not what I felt in my heart, that the answers are not always in ourselves and that we need to speak with God to help us work out difficult relationships.

I concluded the work I was doing with the current clients and didn’t accept any more cases. One counsellor in training who was married to a lay preacher and deacon in their Church found that she had the opposite experience of being drawn away from the teaching in the
Anglican Church.

What now? I knew that I had to find a spiritual home but which one? I hadn’t been to Church for over twenty years and didn’t have clue where. I resolved to visit all the Churches locally to see how I felt. I mentioned it to someone and asked what they knew about the local Churches. At the time we were driving past the Finkle Street Church.

“I went there once and they seem sincere”
“Right I’ll try there first on Sunday”

When I sat under the preaching I knew I was home and it has been my spiritual home for over thirty years but the Gospel is still fresh and relevant today.

Melvyn tried to dissuade me in going to Church as he had better things to do on Sundays like gardening or decorating the house but since I was insistent I was going he agreed reluctantly to accompany me. For eighteen months he went with me and when someone cornered him and gave him a full-on lengthy testimony he came out grumbling that they are crackers in that Church. It wasn’t under the preaching that he was soundly converted.

There were television programs about the examining of the Turin shroud which interested him. He went to the library and took out a book called The Evidence of the Turin Shroud which I believe disproved its authenticity.

It was Friday tea time whilst I was preparing the meal that he came in to me with tears streaming down his face, sobbing.

“Whatever’s wrong?”
“If Jesus did that for me it’s about time I I got off my backside and did something for Him”

He was later baptised.

Like everyone we have had ups and downs but in the last decade my husband had prostate cancer which was very scary at the time but faith helped us to get through it and he was restored to full health.

Just over two years ago Melvyn was diagnosed to have a cancerous tumour the size of a rugby ball and several smaller ones. At the first visit to see the consultant he cancelled his scheduled list and allocated a whole morning for surgery for him. He prepared me that Melvyn may not survive the operation and I didn’t expect to see him again as I left him at the doors to the theatre.

We were told that he did what he could but there was nothing more he could do and stitched him up.

At the next appointment the surgeon said there was a glimmer of hope but no promises. The result of the histology report from Leeds gave a diagnosis of the condition which hitherto was not known. We were told the treatment worked for some people but not all.

Looking back I can only say that I felt strong and helped even so I was emotionally challenged and had many moments of weakness and fear but the Church family were wonderful in their prayers, practical and spiritual support.

Melvyn has been on chemotherapy since his surgery and has been well on it. Now that treatment has stopped working he has begun a more toxic chemo but again he seems to have no side effects to date.

We know that his condition is terminal but we have the opportunity to prepare ourselves for our eventual separation. I actually dread being left to grieve and experience loneliness but I know that I am loved.

We believe that when this life ends we will be changed and that there is place prepared for us in heaven, which is to live in the presence of Jesus.

Gwyneth Brown
08 02 2017

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