I was born and brought up in Bermondsey in South East London. Bermondsey is a very busy inner city area. Many hundreds of people live and work there in very close proximity to each other. Bermondsey has all the associated problems that such a district might suffer from, and has traditionally been thought of as a tough working class area. It is situated just a few miles across the river Thames from the East End of London and the birthplace of the Salvation Army.
Bermondsey’s dockside location made the area a constant target during the war years and throughout the London Blitz a great many bombs fell in our vicinity. Our house had suffered badly from bomb damage as had so many others. Our family lived in very overcrowded conditions, and there was no running hot water, no bathroom and an outside toilet. I suppose to many people my childhood could have been described as being somewhat disadvantaged. Materialistically it probably was. However, if I were to be asked to describe my childhood I would rather choose the word ‘perfect’ or even ‘idyllic‘, because in every way that is important I had all I could possibly need and in fact I had it in abundance.
My parents were kind and loving people. They were also people with very high moral principles, and were admirable and fine role models for my brother and myself. Both of my parents had come from large families. All of their siblings were very close to each other and loved and cared for one another and so in addition to the love, support and guidance of my own parents I also enjoyed the addition of a most wonderful extended family. As a child I never knew a moment’s insecurity and was never in any doubt whatsoever as to how much I was loved. I have always felt blessed by God for these most perfect foundation years of my life.
As a child I regularly attended our local Baptist Chapel and as I got older I helped with the younger children at the Sunday School. The Pastor and his wife were both very special people with an obvious strong faith. I became very fond of them over the years and they had an enormous influence and effect on me that I have never forgotten.
As I went into my older teenage years Sunday School began to seem dull to me and so I stopped attending. I never lost my faith in God but somehow I let God slip into the background of my life and looking back now it seems for some years I lost a sense of direction.
I have always believed in and never doubted the existence of God. It has always amazed me how anyone could contemplate the wondrous beauty, and diversity of nature and not believe. Who could possibly think about or experience at first hand the everyday miracle that is conception and childbirth and still not believe? For me the irrefutable evidence of God’s existence surrounds us all, and is so very obvious.
When I was in my early twenties - I got married. This decision was to become the biggest error of judgment of my life. My husband and I were very different people indeed and the years that followed were extremely unhappy. I had always seen marriage as a lifetime commitment and a solemn promise made before God. I tried very hard indeed to make the marriage work but after 23 years it finally ended in divorce. Although this period of my life had been dreadfully miserable and unhappy God had blessed me yet again with the birth of my two fine sons.
A difficult period followed, and then after a while I met the man who was to become my second husband. This marriage differed from the first in every respect, and we were extremely happy together. His name was Christian. He was a gentle, kind and loving man, and had very many fine qualities and principles. In the manner in which he led his life and interacted with others he filled me with admiration and respect. In April 2013 he had to undergo heart surgery. At first he began to recover well, but over time he contracted a rare and extremely virulent infection, which then led to him suffering a stroke. More complicated heart surgery followed but the infection was widespread, and had caused the tissue to break down, consequently the operation was not a success. Various other complications developed, and then we were told that he needed to have yet further heart surgery. Finally however we were informed that because of his various problems and the tissue breakdown it was felt it would not now be possible for the operation to take place and that in fact there was nothing more that could be done for him. Then on 24th September 2013 he passed away. Throughout all of his health problems and difficulties Christian had been stoic and uncomplaining. His concerns were always for others before himself. In all of the years I had known him I had never heard him speak an unkind word about anyone. We had known each other for twenty years and had been married for 17 ½ years.
Over a year afterwards I was to read an article about faith. It said that faith could be compared to a bucket that is filled with water. You only discover just how much water is contained inside the bucket when it suffers from a ‘bump’. Likewise when you suffer one of life’s ‘bumps’ - What will come spilling out of the bucket? Will it be faith or will it be fear? Life is full of ‘bumps’. Some ‘bumps’ are a lot larger than others. The bible tells us that we will be tested. God doesn’t test our faith so he can discover how much faith we have - he already knows. He tests our faith so we can know how much faith we have and then start to strengthen it. The purpose of the test is not just to reveal our faith but to refine it.
Although I felt immensely sad at Christian’s death, I knew how truly blessed I had been to have shared this period of my life with him, and so my overriding feeling was of grateful thanks to God for the time we had together. Throughout Christian’s life he had been such a caring person. He had spread so much love and touched the lives of so many people in such a positive way, I was full of praise and gratitude. I believe that The Lord demonstrated my faith to me. In my times of pain and sorrow I felt God beside me and my constant prayer was for strength, peace and guidance. I was certain Christian was with God and that one day we would be reconciled.
During the time when Christian was extremely ill, I felt helpless to do anything, and called out to God many times. It is my true belief that God led me to the Peterborough Citadel.
From that very first visit it just all seemed so ’right’ to me. I was so warmly welcomed and I remember as I watched everyone shaking hands and greeting each other, I was reminded of the lyrics from a Louis Armstrong song. - ’I see friends shaking hands saying ’How do you do?, They’re really saying - I love you! ’ and I thought ’Yes!’, that’s exactly what’s going on here - these people really do care about each other!
I felt that The Salvation Army motto (if that is the right word) of. “Heart to God, Hand to Man” rang so true to me, and everywhere I looked I saw “Faith in Action” all around me.
I continued to pray and attend Sunday worship. Without fail each time I attended something ’spoke’ to me personally. I would sit and gaze at the cross, listen to the music from the band or the songsters singing, or perhaps the words spoken by Allister or Kathleen and I would feel the power of the Holy Spirit so intensely. I distinctly remember the first time I heard the words:-
"When you don’t understand the purpose of his plan,
In the presence of your King - bow the knee!".
Lauren sang the beautiful words of ’Amazing Grace’. The children sang their songs and the timbrels played their joyful music and I knew that God was drawing me ever closer to him.
As I thought back over my life, remembering the safe, secure and carefree years of childhood. The desperately hopeless years of unhappiness, followed by the years of contented joy I knew without a doubt that the Lord had always been there right beside me through every one, waiting patiently for me to turn to him. God had ’called’ me but I hadn’t paid attention. Now I knew my heart and my mind were open to receive him.
God has given so very much to me. Now I want to give back to him. The years ahead may be uncertain. I cannot know what they will hold for me, but with faith in The Lord I can look ahead with purpose and enthusiasm to see how they will unfold.
‘I’m in his hands, I’m in his hands.
Whatever the future holds, I’m in his hands.
The days I cannot see have all been planned for me.
His way is best you see, I’m in his hands.’