I was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, the youngest of eight children. My parents were a hard working couple whose Roman Catholic faith was very important to them. They did their best to instil it into their children and to the end of their lives, they believed in God and prayer.
From a young age, I also believed in God. I would say that I knew about him, but I did not know him. I did what was required of me through childhood but often wanted to know more. I asked awkward questions in my Religious Education lessons in school and often got into trouble for it! I challenged a priest one day after I’d been in the confessional. Thankfully he was a gracious man and gently answered my troubling questions.
I have a significant memory of kneeling before the life-size crib at midnight Mass, one Christmas Eve, and being frustrated that Jesus was just out of my reach. When I put my hand out, my mother slapped it back. I also remember being told at Easter time that I was the reason that Jesus was on the cross. On Good Friday morning, I queued up to kiss the feet of the large crucifix which had been taken from its place on the wall behind the altar. I was scared and felt guilty that it was my fault that Jesus had nails in his feet.
Later on, I reached the point of teenage rebellion and left church behind. I went to Mass on high days and holidays, but my heart was not in it. I didn’t question; I didn’t listen; I didn’t care. I was told that Jesus died because I was a sinner, but they didn’t tell me that he went willingly to the cross. They didn’t tell me he did it because he loved me, not because he was angry with me. They only told me half of the story.
Finding out more
When I was 20, one of my older sisters started going to a church that was meeting in a school hall. It was strange and worrying. If you didn’t go to Mass, you were either a Protestant or part of a cult. In my mind, there wasn’t much to choose between them. I was worried about my sister and her new energy and enthusiasm. So, in the guise of being interested in her new faith, I started to talk to her about it. Soon, I wished I hadn’t bothered! She went on and on about the love of Jesus and how he could take away our sin, that he loved us and wanted to give us eternal life in Heaven and peace on earth. She asked me time and time again to come to church with her, but I wouldn’t.
Around the same time, I changed jobs and started working in a department store in the centre of Dublin. I soon met a man that my colleagues called, ‘Holy Joe’. He started his working day by climbing out the second-floor window onto the ledge and hanging the flags of all nations, taking them in again at the end of each day. He replied to every jeer and sneer with a smile and the words, ‘Praise the Lord.’ This was a phrase my sister had started using, so I sat beside him at lunch one day and asked him about his faith. He took out his Bible and started to tell me about Jesus. He was saying the same things my sister had been saying. I told him about her and he said not to worry and that the next time she asked me to go to church I was to go.
So I did.
The welcome I received was overwhelming. People were excited to see me and told me they had been praying for me. My sister was glowing and as we stood to sing the first song, I looked around and thought, ‘What a weird bunch!’ I don’t remember the sermon from that day and I only remember one song, but I left that place with a feeling of excitement and expectation.
The following Saturday, I was at a family wedding and when my sister came to collect me for church the next morning, let’s just say, I was in no fit state to go anywhere. I went back to sleep and woke up a few hours later. I was so upset that I’d missed church and was determined I would not miss church again. What followed was one of the longest weeks of my life! Each day felt like a month. I thought Sunday would NEVER come. I ran into church ahead of my sister, greeted everyone, helped with chairs, tuned a guitar and took my seat eager for the service to begin.
Afterwards, when we were having tea and coffee, the wife of one of the elders asked, ‘Annmarie, are you ready?’ I said, ‘Yes,’ and started to put my coat on. ‘No,’ she said. ‘Are you ready to give your life to Jesus?’
I said no and began to list all the reasons why I wasn’t ready; I needed to change; I needed to get rid of some things from my life; I thought there were some ties I should cut and some books I should get rid of. I was in full flow with all my reasons for not being ready when she put her hand up to stop me.
‘Jesus already knows about that stuff, and yes, there will be some things that you’ll want to change, but you don’t have to do any of it to come to him. You can give your life to him now and he will accept you, just as you are.’
I would love to say that from that day on I was a model Christian. Sadly, I spent about a year trying to live near the edges of acceptable behaviour. I was always looking for the rule book and the line I wasn’t to cross, so that I could live inside it. God challenged me to make a choice to live for him. He had brought me to the end of myself and I finally surrendered to him.
That was almost 27 years ago. I have experienced wonderful things and known dreadful sadness, but all I do and all I have belongs to Jesus and I am so grateful for those nails that once scared me and made me feel guilty. I would be nothing without them.
To subscribe to the print edition visit www.evangelicalmagazine.com/subscribe/