This is a long one. I'm on a journey.
There are a lot of things about me that friends don't know, colleagues don't know and even family don't know. Over the years I've revealed things about myself that I'm not proud of. I've behaved in ways that contradict what I believe and I've said hurtful things to people - at times deliberately as they've hurt me and at times without realising it. I've acted inappropriately, I've sworn and been deceitful. We all do it, but I've had my moments where I've really excelled myself and I'm not proud.
The past few months have been a minefield and it's taken me six months to evaluate my place on this planet. A year ago I was ready to leave it. I'd worked out the sum my husband would receive both in tax free benefit, yearly allowance and quota per child upon my death and I was pretty much at the point where I'd carry it through because I knew the financial strain we were in would be lifted. The thought of the impact on my children is the only thing that stopped me. I'd had enough of life. I was desperately unhappy and nobody noticed.
A year ago I also visited the doctor because I thought I was a freak. I thought I wasn't functioning properly as a person, as a wife and as a mother. I thought I was going mad. I'd been signed off work for three weeks by my doctor after having a breakdown in the office and still I had no idea what was wrong with me. I was told I was normal. Well, normal sucked and normal hurt and normal was not what I wanted to be.
The longer I remained in this mental state the more people thought I was strong. They all marvelled at how I coped through our huge financial strain. They marvelled at how I kept a smile on my face and they marvelled at how I was such a great Mum to my children, while holding down a full time job and fitting in the other 101 things I tried to do. What they didn't see was the crumbling, frantic, impatient, worthless and completely destroyed woman who shut the front door each day.
And all through it I denied my Christian faith. For years I've turned my back on the one person who could have helped me through it all. For years I hid my beliefs away from my friends, my family and kept away from churches. Sure, I joined a few, but I never felt I really fitted in. Either I didn't feel right or the children didn't enjoy it and the minute too many questions were asked, I backed right away.
Trying to learn to cope alone makes you build walls around yourself. Big inpenetrable walls that nobody can break through. The more they hacked at the bricks, the more I piled the cement on in a desperate bid to keep them away. I now look back and see that some people were hacking because they wanted the gossip. They wanted the news to tell their friends. But some people were genuine with their hacking. They wanted to help. But depression brings on paranoia and with that, suspicion. Suspicion that people are trying to hack into your weaknesses, so the natural reaction is to repel them. Exposing your vulnerability magnifies your weaknesses and when you're not ready to back down and accept help for fear of being labelled incapable, it can have an extremely devastating effect on you and those around you. Especially the people who love and care for you.
Things went wrong at home. Terribly wrong and I did something I should never have done. I'm not going to go into detail here. I've said my sorries, I've repented, I've regretted and I've asked forgiveness and all I can do is hope that it's enough. All I can do is put a line under the hurt I caused and push away the hurt that was caused to me as I need to move on and build a stronger life for me and my family.
But I'm struggling. I'm struggling to be the wife, mother, friend and daughter I want to be. I'm struggling to have people understand that I'm Karen the Christian woman who as a young, tender 11 year old made a bold decision to trust in somebody the world has more fun ridiculing than trusting. I entered the Christian faith and made a vow to live by the example that Jesus set in the Bible. I followed this up by being baptised at the age of 14, in front of my mother, and the people I went to church with. My Dad refused to come and to this day remains a firm atheist.
But a few weeks ago a very good friend of mine sat me down and for an entire evening I cried and cried whilst pouring out my heart to her. She listened and gave me good advice but one comment struck me; the fact that I'd been trying to do it all myself and I needn't have had to put the strain on because there was somebody waiting desperately for me to ask Him for help. Now, I haven't prayed properly for years, but something clicked in me. The next day we went to a church that her pastor has recommended for me and that morning I walked in that door a weight lifted from my shoulders, my eyes were opened and I felt a huge surge of love, welcome and compassion. The vibrancy, friendliness and devotion were overwhelming. The welcome my daughters and I were given is nothing I had experienced before.
During the previous evening I had spoken to my friend that I felt like an overgrown garden. My head and heart felt completely overrun by choking, suffocating, deep rooted weeds. I explained how I felt that the surface weeds were easy to deal with, but as they grow so prolificly, I was expending all my energy pulling them up and never having the time to really dig out the stubborn ones, the ones with underground tubers creeping along unnoticed, doing more and more damage, depleting the earth of the nutrition and slowly killing the beautiful flowers that were planted there so tenderly years before.
At church that morning, a very soft spoken elder lady got up, and spoke that she felt somebody in the church had been dealing with weeds and was trying to clear a garden. You could have punched me in the face, it hit me that hard. At that point I broke down completely and poured out months and months of hurt, frustration, bitterness, sorrow, hurt and pain. I had always doubted when people said that God could speak to them so directly, but I knew that message was from Him for me. I spoke to Brenda afterwards as I felt she should know that the words she was led to speak were not in vain, that He had led her to speak for me. I don't know if anybody else in the church that morning were doing their own bits of weeding, but I know I was and I know that message was for me. That was my turning point. I turned to my friend who by this point was hugging me rather tight and said, 'this is it, I've found the jigsaw where my pieces fit'. It all made sense.
As a background, I spent from ages 4 until 19 at a Brethren church. Women wore hats on their heads as the Bible commanded that a woman should keep her head covered. Women did not speak out loud at all, neither to worship, pray or preach as the Bible taught a women should remain silent in church. I was not allowed to take the bread and wine at communion until I had been fully baptised by immersion, just as John the Baptist had baptised Jesus. I attended a Sunday morning Bible class, went to Breaking of Bread after it ended and returned again in the evening for a ministry service and then went to the house of one of the elders in the evening for the youth group. The church was strict in its application of Biblical teaching, but within that strictness was a love unabounding.
However, through all this, strangers were accepted with caution. The cup was passed by them in meetings if it wasn't known for certain they were baptised believers. Women who turned up in trousers or hats were looked upon with disdain and as I grew older I began to question this. Clapping did not happen in services and goodness me, you kept your bum well and firmly on your seat. I think it was Adrian Plass in his hilarious books that once made the joke about Brethren churches having the option of 'hands down for coffee'.
Although I make these observations on that church, which is still a small but very close and devoted church today, I look back with fondness. I thank them profusely for my vast Biblical knowledge. I thank them at the age of 8 I was encouraged to learn the books of the Bible in order. My prize being my very first own King James version (had to be King James!!). To this day I can still reel them off in order without hesitation. I thank them for the opportunities to go to Scripture Union camps and to become a young leader on youth holidays. I thank them for giving me verses to learn each week so I could learn more and more about the God within those pages. I thank them for giving me an education that surpasses all academic subjects and gave me the understanding to have the answers to those who doubted and misquoted the Bible to suit their own purpose.
But what I gained in that respect I lost out on learning how to really open myself to the freer side of being a Christian. The ability to walk into a church and throw my hands up when I really feel God is talking to me. To clap my hands and shimmy a bit when the music moves me and to allow my children to run freely and express themselves when the drums are going and the electric guitars are twanging. To feel confident to stand in front of people and speak when I feel moved. I wanted to go to the front today to speak of my love for my favourite verse, but I couldn't do it. I felt I was doing something 'wrong', because my years of teaching had taught me to stay still, to be silent. I'm only just comfortable at the moment clapping my hands when the beat shifts it a notch and I watch with complete joy when I see women freely opening themselves up and coming to the front and sharing and I long for the day I feel led to do it myself without hesitation or caution.
But I've felt it these last five weeks. I've felt a freedom I've never known. I've realised that it doesn't matter what people think about my faith. It doesn't matter that I've never told them before, because I can tell them now and it doesn't matter if they think I'm a loon dancing at church and declaring a faith in a person they think doesn't exist, because I know He does. In my heart I KNOW IT.
So, I'm trying to turn my life back around. I'm trying to do the right thing and I'm trying to become the person that God wants me to be. I have one life on this earth and I intend to do my best now to get it right.
My favourite verse in the Bible is Revelation 21v4. It is the hope I have. It's what it's all about. I don't know where your beliefs lie or whether you have a faith in something else or where your strength in your future is held, but I know where mine is.