Life for me, like so many folks, has brought its many challenges.
As a child, I had a lot of illness, difficulties and sadness. My childhood was during the Second World War. We lived just six miles from Biggin Hill, one of the principal RAF bases for the fighter planes that attempted to shoot down German bombers before they reached London. When the siren went off, we’d all sit around the kitchen table and sing a song which my dad wrote:
Jesus is with me
With me all day,
With me at home and
With me at play.
When bombs are falling
And danger is near,
He will be with us
Until the ‘All Clear.’
Jesus has promised to be with us through all kinds of danger and trouble. ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ (Hebrews 13:5)
My parents left Kent for the remainder of the war, and we moved to a cottage in the middle of a field, with no water, gas or electricity. We had a pump at the bottom of the garden and therein lay the trouble. The water was not pure. Being the youngest, I was the only one affected and severely so. I had very bad water poisoning, which meant we returned to Kent to receive regular visits from the District Nurse, making me continually late for school!
I was ill with this for many years. I wish I had known Isaiah 41:10, ‘Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you.’
During the last year of senior school, I had peritonitis, which sadly affected the last part of my A-level studies. I didn’t get the grades I was forecasted.
After training to be a teacher, I left home and for several years lived on my own. During that time, I had very few real friends. Most of my contemporaries were married, and I felt very alone. I was lonely, desperate to get married and have a family. To make matters worse, my brother and family emigrated to New Zealand. Then one day, I read the words of Psalm 37:5, ‘Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and he shall bring it to pass.’
I believe God drew my attention to that verse. They were such a comfort for a very long time and still are. After many years I did get married, and John and I together served the Lord in church, Crusader Camps and SU Beach Missions. What a privilege to ‘serve the Lord with gladness’ (Psalm 100:2). He also graciously gave us two lovely children – a boy and a girl.
I had been teaching for some years when the next challenge arrived.
One day I stooped to pick up my car keys and found I couldn’t. My arm uncontrollably shot up into the air. We sent for the doctor, and he had never seen anything like it and had no idea what it was. I was shaking uncontrollably. Both my husband and I sang hymns and prayed through the night.
The following morning the doctor returned with a diagnosis. It was a result of myoclonic seizures, and I needed urgent neurological treatment, the only problem being the NHS were on strike! However, the Lord wonderfully over-ruled, but this is a condition I still live with, controlled with medication.
Have you ever seen children suffering? I mean, really suffering, in a painful hopeless and helpless situation? I have, and as a result, went home, wept and prayed for help.
Come back with me 55 years, and I’ll tell you about that suffering. Take a sneak look into a noisy room with a record player, TV and radio all playing. At first glance, everyone seems normal, but then you notice all these boys are in wheelchairs as they have a debilitating illness with a short prognosis. Yet they are all amazingly happy. They know life is short for them, but they all have a goal – a music exam, a picture to paint, a book to read. This was the scene in the hospital school where I was the teacher.
One boy, who was very disabled, was always put to bed first. There he read his Bible every night. One morning he came in very happy. He had read the Bible right through and had come to know Jesus. That morning he passed away so was free of suffering and now with his Saviour. How wonderful!
Being with these boys taught me so much, and as I write about them now, it has made me stop and think about my own suffering. When I was a child, my mother would pray for me and with me through my early illnesses, and I learnt to pray for myself. This became a great comfort. I was encouraged by my parents to read the Bible for myself – a practice I have found a great comfort.
These boys taught me more than I ever taught them. They had limited tactile movement, spent their days in wheelchairs, were put to bed early, but they never complained. They accepted their state and made the best of it. I often think of them now, when I’m in trouble or in pain, or look back on my younger years when I had a lot of illness, and I know I was a good complainer. But now, like one or two of the boys, I’ve found complete peace in my situation.
In the last few years, I had cancer – now contained – and the treatment has left me with severe visual impairment. I have fallen and broken both hips and become wheelchair-bound, and my husband passed away while I too was in hospital.
I am now in sheltered accommodation, often lonely although I have visitors most weeks. I manage to get to church regularly. I’m pleased to report that the Lord has been with me every day and night. The carers comment on my cheerfulness. This gives me opportunity to speak of the One who keeps me cheerful. Many years ago, one of the stock phrases on a radio programme was, ‘It’s being so cheerful that keeps me going!’ But I’m able to say, ‘It’s knowing the Lord that keeps me going.’
I finish each day by reciting Psalm 121 and singing choruses. Four that speak of the cross, reminding me what the Saviour has done, one which asks the Lord to cleanse me, one for the Lord to be with me through the night, and one that asks the Holy Spirit to prepare me for whatever tomorrow holds.
A few weeks ago, our pastor spoke about the miracle when Jesus healed a man let down through the roof, but he brought to our attention that the man was healed to glorify God. I pray that however long the Lord spares me and whatever challenges he continues to bring my way, he will ultimately use it all for his glory.