Longer than a matchstick
When I teach people how to tell their own God story, I tell them to have several different time versions. One that you can tell over a cup of coffee with a friend and one that you can tell in a bus stop queue; about the time it takes to burn a lit matchstick. This is my longer than a matchstick, but not as long as a cup of coffee, God story.
I’ve always believed in God. I was brought up in a Christian family and so God and church were always part of my life. My sisters and I were brought to church each Sunday, all dressed in identical dresses. People would always say what good girls we were and pat us on the head. How we presented ourselves was a big part of the show.
You see, behind the scenes in the privacy of our own home, we were living in a nightmare. Our childhood home was very violent and unpredictable. It was a scary place to grow up in. However, nobody at church knew; or if they did, they ignored the obvious facts. When I was growing up, the faith that surrounded me was not what I would call authentic faith. I was presented with ‘Sunday Christianity’. That is that people live their lives however they like Monday through to Saturday and when it came to Sunday, everyone put on their Sunday best and best smiles and were holy for the one day. It was a real disingenuous way to be a Christian I thought.
This was so confusing as a child. It was almost a religion that said you can do what you like during the week as long as you go to church on a Sunday, don’t wear jeans, smile and don’t ever disagree with anyone! To me, God was always this big finger in the sky who would condemn us. God would be the 'voice' who would tell me how much I was failing at life and how bad of a person I was. So when I went to university I literally turned my back on the church and lived my life how I wanted to. But what I thought was a free life was actually a life full of drink, drugs, partying and bad relationships with men.
I eventually got married and when we had our first child I decided to go back to church. I was invited on an Alpha course, which I thought was weird as I had been in church all my life and knew what it meant to be a Christian. But there I discovered the Father's heart. Jesus tells a beautiful story in the Bible about two sons. One demands that his dad gives him all his inheritance money before he dies. The dad does and the son goes off blows it all on wild living. When he realises that he has nothing he decides to go back to his dad, apologise and offer to be a servant. But when his dad sees him in the distance, he hitches up his garment and runs to meet his son; two things that were both culturally inappropriate for a man to do.
That is the kind of God that I met. The kind that would break customs and niceties to just welcome me with a huge hug and throw a party for me even though I had messed up. It was this beautiful new relationship that I had with God that helped me through my darkest moments that were yet to come.
A few months before ‘that day’ the four of us had been looking for our own family church. We had tried a new one a couple of times near where we lived and we all loved it. It just felt like coming home. The people were so warm and welcoming and you could literally feel the tangible presence of God every time you walked into the building. We went a couple of times but family life was busy and the weekends were full.
'That day' happened and my life as I knew it, stopped. A few months after the tragedy, the pastors came to pray with me. We knew at that stage that we were going to be evicted from our home as the mortgage hadn’t been paid for months. They came and prayed for God to find us a house that would be big enough for me and my mum to live in. The very next day we found a perfect house just down the road from the church that we had visited a handful of times. The Bible says not to lean on your own understanding but to trust in God. I learned to do that over the years and we just saw God’s blessing pour out into our lives.
The pastors and church family loved upon us and slowly, God began to heal me and deal with some hurts that I had held for the whole of my life. I will be forever grateful for the friendships that we made in that church.
‘That day’ was a huge part of my faith journey. I had two decisions. One, I could walk away from God. Life for me had always been tough. I had a very difficult childhood and now my adulthood was starting to seriously go downhill. Or two, I could choose to lean in to God and His promises and trust that He’d hold me through it all.
I chose to chase God with everything that I had. There were days when I couldn’t think beyond the minute I was living in but I knew that God had my next minute, hour, day, lifetime, in His hands. Was it easy to trust Him? At times, no. I have always liked to organise and plan and be in control of where I was going. But when you let God have full control it’s always so much better. That was a lesson that I learnt over the years.