On the 22nd July 1998, My family and I arrived in the UK for the very first time, refugees for the very last time. It is so strange- but I remember it like it was yesterday. After we’d sat down to a reception worthy of royalty, thanks to some incredibly generous friends, who had turned up to make our new flat look and feel like home, I felt amid the pregnant silence, the need to announce that ‘I was going to write a book about this someday!’ I was only fourteen years old then; but my dream was real.
Fast forward to 2015, a year when I was physically incapacitated in so many respects, from being made redundant from a job I loved in March, to being given the opportunity of a lifetime, that lay in resurrecting a dream that quite frankly, I had categorised under ‘dead’.
As I sat across from the most impressive woman I had ever had the chance of having coffee with in the Mess Cafe, I was invited on a journey of discovery- to explore and see what this new chapter, however devastating it seemed- would yield at the end of the year.
‘Perhaps in your disappointment- at losing your job, at potentially losing the thing you have always known- is an invitation into the unkown, into something greater. Perhaps this place of uncertainty is a space for God to perform the greatest things for you’- my friend mused…
I will never forget that day. I accepted this invitation and set aside what I had always known in the pursuit of what God was leading me into. I knew I wanted to write my book- but I wasn’t really a writer. You see I talk a good game. But when it comes down to it, the motivation to complete it is a whole other level. It would take divine intervention. But I was willing to lay aside how I had always done things and truly let God take me on this journey and trust Him to know where it would lead.
I turned down an offer of a job at my company and closed all other doors that I felt at the time weren’t in line with what God was asking me to do. Trust- it is a very hard thing to do in practice. I second guessed myself at every step of the journey. I have never turned down a conventional job before. But I found myself ready to give up a life I knew for one that I felt God was calling me into- however uncertain it looked and sounded to people who knew me.
I felt sure my new journey involved a personal journey of transformation. In April, I attended a conference in Bangor, in Ireland, which turned out to be a life affirming experience. I came away sure that God was in this with me. That his leading was secure, and my footing sure on Him. I lay aside any and every doubt that I had about following His call and instead committed to a life of prayer like never before.
I began to work with my friend on a new project that looks at desperately seeking God for the transformation of our nation in the UK. This led me to South Africa for the first time, where I was trained as a speaker and someone who would come back and commit to working with my local community in our pursuit for transformation. I spent a week soaked in stories of hope, of barren lands where God had showed up after people began to seek him in prayer asking for their communities to be delivered. The result each time was a revival in the lives of those very communities in a way that had never been seen or experienced before.
We heard from leaders in transformed communities talk about how crime had fallen as a result of the move of the Holy Spirit; how Police forces began to unite on the streets and pray before they patrolled their areas- how even the land was healed from bareness, yielding a crop so large that farmers and communities were financially set free by it. Of drug cartels leaving areas they had oppressed for decades- of whole nations coming together in repentance as they asked God for forgiveness and the healing of their land…
It was extraordinary! I came away filled with hope that this could happen here, in England, in Manchester, In Tameside, right where I live. in May, I dedicated myself to pursuing to gather a team from my area to pray over where I live- the result was that my little kitchen table became a meeting place- where over Pizza and mediocre coffee, we’d dream and chat about transformation of Tameside, but this team was really just me and my vicar friend Katie. But it was a start. We met with other church leaders in the area who were not at all interested in getting together to pray- disappointing but we felt we had to carry on meeting and chatting.
In July, unfortunately, my family and I were involved in a car crash that left me hospitalised for over three weeks and unable to walk properly for over three months. But herein lay the miracle.
In the stillness of all the activity, I really found God. sometimes it was in the darkness of what I was going through- He’d show up with a gentle hand and touch that reminded me that He was still here and still close. He was hurt that I was hurt. And so the following three months, between July and October, I wrestled to accept hugs from God as He came closer, inviting me to surrender and know that He is kind- to accept His love, especially when I felt I deserved it the least.
You see up until this point, I had accepted God’s call on this journey into the unknown but I had carried on to operate on ways that were very familiar to me- by organising, orchestrating and planning. I am not very good at being still and doing nothing. I am doubly less okay with having things done for me. And yet after the accident, not only was I unable to do things for myself, but I also required things to be done for me. I was not okay with that. It was uncomfortable and painful and sometimes ugly. But it was a place where I found my greatest freedom. The freedom to just be and wait. To be still and to rest. Even if it looks like you’re not doing very much.
It is on this journey that after weeks of wrestling, I finally found the courage to put pen to paper and write my story. A story that has been on my heart since I was fourteen years old. A promise I made to some wonderful friends who became family to us. It was- it IS a journey of rediscovery.
My daughter told me last week that her headteacher read them a story about the invisible bucket. Such a lovely story of kindness and joy – you can watch an animated version of it here– and today she told me that her invisible bucket, even though she had a good day, felt empty and she felt very little joy. And without thinking about it, I reminded her that the best way to fill her bucket is to go through all the good things that happened today and find places where we can feel grateful. She played along with me and at the end, guess what, her ‘bucket was full’, she said.
I realised in that moment that this is exactly what had happened to me over the past few months. When I lost my job in March, my bucket was emptied almost instantaneously- I put great emphasis on what I did for a living- many people do. So when it went away, so did a lot of my confidence- but God sent me people who slowly began to fill my bucket with kindness- In the summer, when again, I was emptied of a lot of things, God sent more people who filled me to overflowing with love and help and just amazingness- and by October, I had been won over by God. I no longer needed to prove something to Him through what I did, I simply had to accept his love and kindness as a banner over me.
And then, as if by grace, I found my voice. In the middle of my incapacity, words came and spilled out onto paper. I rediscovered, like my daughter, reasons to have joy when all I felt around me was anxiety and fear. When I was afraid of the news that said I may never run again; through looking back, I rediscovered the thread that had held my life together to date. And the colour of that thread was red.
I saw a life draped in Jesus, a hand that guided us and shielded us day and night as refugees in foreign lands. I saw a cloud that hovered over us by day and a fire that lit at night in the valley of the shadow of death that kept harm at bay. The same power that showed up alongside us when a very broken woman made an unhealthy choice to drink and drive, resulting in injuries that temporarily incapacitated my little family. I saw the thread of Jesus, the red thread that was woven into my life ever since I was born. And as I wrote, the voice of fear was chased away by the strong voice of hope. And goodness. And mercy. A mercy that has followed me to date and will follow me all the days of my life.
As I sat still, I wrote day after day, words that were sometimes coated in fresh pain and grief and other times in laughter and joy. And the words took on a life of their own and the life produced together a book. But for me it’s been much more than that. It’s been healing through reflection. being taken back to a place where God, in His sovereign power, transformed what really shouldn’t have been possible to become possible. Not because we were anything special or worth more than those whom we loved who perished, but because of His goodness and mercy that just didn’t let us go.
And you know, that kind of thing causes you to just want to bow down in deep gratitude. Not because you HAVE to, but because you want to. I realised as I wrote that actually, God,this year, gave me a much better gift than I ever hoped or dreamed of; he reminded me of the miracle that is my existence in every sense. And today, almost eighteen years later,I finally submitted my finished, first draft manuscript of my book to the publishers. A dream come true. A hope restored. I just thought I would put a marker down in history today about that and share my journey this year. And hopefully, it will put a drop of encouragement into someone else’s bucket tonight, and that might go a long way towards filling it up.
A psalm of David.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord