This is an open letter, thanking everyone near and far who have offered me a place of Sanctuary and a warm welcome, friendship, support, understanding, compassion, love just when I needed it most.
I don’t use the word ‘Sanctuary’ lightly. For me, arriving on a Sunday morning to share worship with my local Salvation Army, going for my only hot meal of the week at a Luncheon Club on a Monday, on a Wednesday attending a Ladies Meeting, warm cuppa and chat, while on a Thursday meeting up with The Show Stoppers AgeUK, a group of singers who have welcomed me into their fold, and slowly together we are creating harmony and Christmas gigs amidst much laughter and frolics ... gives me a point of contact, something to look forward to, lifting my spirits, knowing I am amongst friends, accepting me just the way I am ... that is so vital to me right now. Somehow, during these times shared, I feel as if a tremendous burden has been lifted. Yes, I arrive home after, and my situation hasn’t changed. But somehow, in heart, I feel less isolated, less bereft and alone. Thank you all for helping to provide me with peace of mind, a place to be, friendship and support,encouragement and love in the truest sense of the word.
For those who don’t know me, or what brought me to your doors one empty Sunday morning, my experience is one of betrayal and loss. My husband, also my Carer, wrote an email telling me he wasn’t coming back from his contract in London … he didn’t want me or the place we called Home. End of. It arrived early one Sunday morning not long ago leaving me understandably shocked and distressed. Unbeknown to me, he was leading a double life, with a rented house in the area he was working rather than staying in B&B as I believed, had been busy furnishing it, and a young Italian lady he took with him from Thirsk. The last time he was a part of my life was on my birthday on 4 July this year.
My faith is the strongest part about me. With a PhD in Life and having worked in brokenness with people who are vulnerable – homeless, addicts, abused, disabled, unemployed, offenders in and out of prison, young mothers, and teenagers excluded from school – it has been my faith which has always sustained me, like a rope reaching through my life, enabling, empowering, sharing and supporting others. I have always accepted people just the way they are, no matter what their circumstances, living by the words: ‘To deny one’s experience is to deny one’s self’.
As an author of some twenty-one publications, I am aware that everyone has a story to tell. As a Counsellor for thirty years, I know the importance of simply listening to someone in crisis. As a person of faith, I believe there is a wider purpose in all things beyond our knowing. There is always a reason behind what is happening to us at any given time. We have only to believe, to trust in God to see us through, to share His Love openly, and to give ourselves up to His Will.
As I write this, the chorus with words from childhood slips easily through my mind. I can still see the little girl with auburn curls and a freckled face sitting there, eyes wide open, naive to the ways of the world, not knowing what Life yet has in store:
Two little eyes to look to God,
Two little ears to hear His Word.
Two little feet to walk in His ways,
Two little lips to sing His Praise.
Two little hands to do His Will,
And one little heart to love Him still.
My grandmother’s parents were named Mary and Joseph. They moved from London to Cheshire, and it was my grandmother Emily who would play the piano, teaching young children choruses she came to know so well as a Salvationist. She was well known in the area, not just because her parents went on to adopt ten of these young children they helped feed and clothe, but also because she was such an open caring person, who lived by her faith. In later years, she was always giving a home to people in crisis. She would meet someone on a bus and they would talk and share what was happening to them. The next thing they would be home with her having tea, and stay on while she supported them through whatever life burden they were carrying. She married a deeply spiritual man, and together they became Speakers of Faith, leading worship, but also demonstrating their faith in truly meaningful and remarkable ways. When Will her beloved husband died, they had only been married six short years. Emily continued as a widow for 39 years, making a difference to the lives of people in her neighbourhood and beyond. In time, she was given a small chapel to work from, but her front room was still used often.
I was close to my Nanny. We shared a love of music, and would write hymns for one another along with many hundreds of letters. She was the only person to talk to me about the disability I had been born with, otherwise none of my questions were answered. It was as if I was born into a family of secrets. Only years later did I discover my mother felt the guilt of being punished in some way for ‘the sins of her fore-fathers’. Meanwhile, I recall going to Sunday School in calipers, with irons up my legs, believing through Bible stories I heard that there must be a reason why I had been born this way. If I wasn’t miraculously cured like the man lowered through the roof to Jesus by his friends, then He would show me another way for the future. As my father became a minister and I a ‘daughter of the Manse’, it felt as if I still needed to find my own sense of identity. With horrendous bullying at school, it took many years to accept being labelled ‘disabled’, brought up as ‘the cripple on the street’ which no-one in my family talked about. But then working in brokenness helped. It doesn’t really matter what experience we come from, we can still share the same emotions, the same sense of feeling afraid, unworthy, lacking in confidence and self-esteem.
Today, I know with absolute certainty that God continues to work through my life, enabling, teaching, guiding me down alternative paths. It was He who surely urged me one Sunday this summer to come out of the shadows into the light and embrace a new and very different dawn. I was engulfed in a tsunami of inner pain and had lost the point to life. I would much rather have shut myself away in my spiralling endless tunnel of darkness, locked away from the world. Instead, God led me to walk the back road of the village where I live and happen across a service about the start in the Salvation Army Hall. It was here I met for the first time such wonderful people who made me feel immediately welcome, as if I was already a part of their Family.
There are still large seemingly endless patches of darkness in my life, but like stars flickering in a night sky, I also feel connected, valuing the new and very real sense of friendship and love I have found in unexpected places.
A great believer in 'Happenstance', my life today is filled with strangers who quickly become firm friends. Then again, every day I receive letters, emails and/or phone calls from veterans of a secret group during World War Two: RAF No. 100 (Bomber Support) Group, whom I have known and worked with for the past twenty or so years. I feel privileged and honoured to be Secretary of our worldwide Association and Editor of our quarterly magazine; still passionate about preserving their history and stories through books and writings.
This is now a very new and different journey to the one I had imagined I was on, leading me to places I never thought possible, meeting people I would not otherwise have met, getting involved in a range of activities, firm in the conviction that out of every negative there must come a positive ... the greater that negative, the more that positive must be.
My heartfelt thanks therefore goes to everyone who simply accepts me just the way I am … without having to pretend to be something I am not or hide behind a mask, or do the ‘I’m fine!’ greeting. Since Tony left, it is sad that people I knew when we were together back away as if there's been a death and they don't know what to say, don't want to get involved, leaving me feeling alienated, isolated and insecure. It reminds me of another old hymn … meanwhile, I deeply appreciate the unexpected kindness I have been offered, friendships shared, understanding without words that creep into the silence like a close warm hug just when I need it most during life's darkest times:
Just as I am, thine own to be
Friend of the young, who lovest me;
To consecrate myself to Thee:
Oh Jesus Christ I come.
In the glad morning of my day,
My life to give, my vows to pay,
With no reserve and no delay,
With all my heart I come.