As a kid I was fearful. Of everything. I grew up in a strict patriarchal family and had no confidence or self-worth. And at school I was painfully shy, bullied and didn’t have any friends. I didn’t have any faith either. I’d grown up in the orthodox religion, but it was a cultural thing more than a faith thing. So I didn’t know Jesus until much later in life.
However, I always knew there was a spiritual world. Even as a child I could sense it and could feel evil around me. So in a worldly and spiritual sense, life was challenging. I hated myself and my life, and I often had scary thoughts. Everything felt dark. But even in the darkness, every now and then, I’d sense a gentle voice telling me everything would be okay. I never knew where that came from, but it comforted me. I know now that voice was Jesus, it’s become very familiar to me.
During that time, night times were the hardest. That’s when evil started closing in even more, and it was terrifying. It carried on like that into my 20s, until one night I was so desperate I cried out to a God I didn’t believe in. And literally from that moment, the evil that I’d felt my whole life disappeared. Just like that! And with it, the fear too. Since then it’s mostly stayed away, and when it returns it never lasts long. I understand now those attacks were from Satan, and I know Jesus is stronger. I didn’t credit Him for that miracle until much later. I didn’t give it much thought at all, I was just glad it was gone.
I was first introduced to Jesus in my mid-20s. My best friend Phil invited me to meet her family and that’s when my life changed. I liked her Mum Anne immediately, there was something different about her. I know now she was full of the Holy Spirit and on fire for Jesus. Her chat was full of “hallelujah” and “praise Jesus”. I remember thinking “she’s a bit weird” but she was so lovely that I forgave her this little quirk! She’s the one who shared the good news of Jesus with me and who taught me so much. She was a regular person - housewife and mum - but she was a warrior for Christ. I pray I can be as unapologetic in my faith as she was.
Anyway, in the worldly sense life started to improve in my early 20s. I finally had some independence and started to live the typical London life; working, playing sport, socialising. But this new-found freedom didn’t last long before a medical condition put a stop to it. And that basically took over my life as I started to spend long periods housebound and had to stop doing “normal” things. The physical side was hard, but the emotional side was much harder to deal with, as I tried to come to terms with losing the life I knew. And negative feelings started to plague me again: anger, frustration, helplessness, hopelessness, loneliness, worthlessness.
This is unfortunately something I still have to deal with, and maybe always will (in my earthly life). But over the years God has used this in an amazing way. At first I was stubborn and tried to fix my life without God. I spent many disappointing years going in circles, being constantly frustrated at not being able to live a “normal” life. I heard God’s voice say to me often “be still and know that I am God”, but even when I was so unwell that all I could do was stare at the same four walls, it took over a decade before I started leaning on Him....
And as I drew near to God, He drew near to me. Health didn’t improve but He’s given me peace I’ve never known before. And through these long years He’s taught me so much, like patience, compassion and understanding. And that I don’t need to grieve the empty way of the life that I’ve lost. I still grieve for these things sometimes. I grieve that I never had the opportunity to be married and have a family; even fostering applications were (rightly) rejected due to health. So some days still feel overwhelming. And I still feel like an outsider. But Jesus tells me that’s okay as I’m part of His kingdom. Which is way better! So I know that any time I start feeling low, all I have to do is go to Jesus. I don’t always do that, some days I wallow. But I know Jesus is with me and will bring me out when I’m ready.
"Looking back, I know that God has had His hand on me from a young age, and I often hear His gentle voice. But I had one experience that was a bit different…"
I had a younger sister Sophia, the baby of the family. She lived with me for some time and we became very close.
About twelve years ago, when she was 29, she was diagnosed with cancer. I prayed for her constantly. I was so desperate I sent loads of money to TBN preachers who promised healing with their prayer cloths. I was willing to try anything. I was so sure Soph would be healed. So even though her prognosis got worse after every new test, and even though I could see her fading away, it still came as a shock when she died just 6 months after the diagnosis. Thank God she was a Christian.
The night before she died, my parents and I stayed in her hospital room. Overnight I heard a loud audible male voice repeating “Jairus” about 15 times. My parents didn’t hear it. I’d never experienced anything like it. I recognised the name from the Bible although I couldn’t remember the story. But I knew something was happening and I thought Soph’s healing was about to come.
The next morning my Dad asked me to read from the bible, which was odd as he didn’t like me doing that. So I opened the hospital Bible at a random place and started reading. I kept reading until a nurse asked us to leave the room, and as I was closing the Bible I noticed the very next chapter was about Jairus. Again I thought that was odd and I put a marker in the page so I could carry on from there.
When we were allowed back into Soph’s room we sat around her bed. She’d been unconscious for five days, but after a few minutes she sat up suddenly – I thought this was the miracle! But it wasn’t. She took her last breath and then she was gone. We all went into our own grief. Then I remembered Jairus, grabbed the Bible and read that chapter. This was the message I got from it: Jesus asked the unbelievers to leave and then brought the girl back to life.
Strangely, every time I read that chapter now, I don’t get that same message. But at that time I couldn’t see anything else. In my grief the message I got was: I was to ask my parents (unbelievers) to leave the room and then God would bring Soph back to life.
I know it sounds weird. It seemed weird to me, and I was shocked and didn’t know what to do. This didn’t seem like the God I knew. But the message seemed clear. I looked at my parents and knew I couldn’t ask them to leave. Even if I did, I knew they wouldn’t. So I didn’t do anything.
Over the next few days my head was a mess. I kept wondering if it was too late – if I went now, without any unbelievers, would God still bring her back? I thought about going to the hospital morgue, and then to the funeral home, to bring Soph back. But I didn’t. On the day of her funeral, as I watched them put Soph into the ground, I thought to myself “that’s that then”. I’d never failed Soph in my life and just when she needed me most, I’d failed her.
After Soph died my faith stayed strong for a while. Then I sank into the darkest period of my life. Up to that point I’d never settled into a church, and before Soph died I was again trying out a new church – it was unfriendly but it was all I had at that time. I desperately needed to talk to someone, but I was forgotten even after I asked for help. At a church event I tried again to get help; they asked us to draw a picture that demonstrated our relationship with God, then they asked if anyone would like to share. My hand shot up. I wanted to share. I wanted them to fix me. So I shared my picture and explained why I’d drawn it. As soon as I’d finished the church leader announced it was tea-time. I was sure someone would come to me. But no-one did. I was left sitting alone. Broken.
In that moment I hated God. I believed in Him, I just didn’t like Him. As I’d done so often in my life I mistook people’s actions for God.
The picture I’d drawn was of God turning His back on me. Right in that moment it couldn’t have felt truer. I went home and started shouting at Him. I didn’t want Him anymore. So that night I told Him to leave me. I wanted to go back to a life of not believing. I didn’t want to believe I could have saved Soph. Or that I’d disobeyed. I needed this burden off me. I swore at God. I told him to get out of my life. And He did. I physically felt Him go.
For a while I felt lighter without the “burden” of God. But my life is empty and meaningless without Him. So just as He’d done so many times before, He started slowly bringing me back to Him. Very gently but unmistakeably. He’d never really left me, He was there all the time, respecting me and giving me the space I wanted.
But I still couldn’t reconcile the “message” I’d had on the night Soph died, with the God I knew. And I felt huge guilt over Soph for many years. After a few years it started to get easier to carry but the guilt remained.
Just a couple of years ago, about ten years after Soph died, it started haunting me again. The familiar feeling of darkness came back. And out of the blue I felt Jesus gently prompting me to re-read the Jairus story. I didn’t want to as I was already feeling rubbish, so we argued (note: don’t argue with Jesus, He’s always right). He kept prompting and He told me this time to focus on what He told Jairus. I read the chapter again with fresh eyes. Jesus said to Jairus: “don’t be afraid, only believe”.
A feeling of peace swept over me so suddenly. God’s undeniable presence, pointing me to the truth He wanted me to know. It’s weird that I was so blind to that all these years! After all this time I finally knew God’s message to me on the day Soph died: “Just believe. She IS saved”. She’s in her eternal home with Jesus, with no more pain, sadness or cancer. What more could I want for my little sis?
God’s done so much for me, there’s so much I could share. And I’m always happy to talk about it. He’s been so good to me. Even when I’ve turned my back on Him so many times, and talked to Him so shamefully, He’s always been there for me. It’s mind-boggling to know that the Jesus of the Bible, the Jesus who sits in Heaven, is the same Jesus who I can talk to and who speaks so gently to me.
So even though I still sometimes grieve for my lost life, I know this is the path that has led me to Jesus; where I’ve found peace and comfort and hope where there should be none. And for that I’m so grateful. Don’t get me wrong, I still forget sometimes and end up at my own pity parties! But I’ve learnt that it has to be a conscious thing; if I pick up my cross daily, God will give me everything I need and more. And that’s more valuable than anything this world can offer.
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
- Pani Theodorou, Church Member