Tuesday 10 April 2007

Early years in Blackrock, Dundalk

I was born on 27th May 1965 and was christened Margaret Ruth Johnston in the local Catholic Church, but was always called Ruth. I was brought up in Blackrock, a fishing village and seaside resort near Dundalk in County Louth, Ireland. My father was a fisherman by trade, deep-sea fishing for salmon during the summer months and designing and building fishing boats most winters. I suppose by today’s standards we would be considered to be a large family, there were eleven children alltogether and so surprisingly, along with the big job of rearing us, mum found time to run for local election, and be on the board of fisheries.

From what I remember, by the time I came along, there was little need for a lot of discipline as we were fairly good children and a sharp word from dad usually kept us in check. As with a lot of people at the time, there was little to go around, but because most people were in the same boat it didn’t seem to matter much. Being as I was at the time, quiet and a bit shy, I found my teenage years to be excruciatingly turbulent and painful. The main reason for it being so was, I have no doubt, rampant hormones, but also, there were problems at home because mum had a disease called Multiple Sclerosis that left her very disabled and unable to walk. My father didn't cope with it very well at all and spent a few years having affairs which eventually ended in him leaving the family home. So at seventeen I couldn't wait to move away and I left home and went to live with one of my sisters in Dublin.

Monday 9 April 2007

To Dublin..and back again

Around this time I met Dave. We were deeply in love with one another. Our life consisted of working, going on holidays, enjoying our family and friends’ company and generally enjoying life to the full, and with the exception of his dear mother dying of cancer, life’s problems seemed to pass us by. I was devastated when I learned that after being together for ten years, our relationship was over. Dave had found someone else. I was sick with grief. My whold world revolved around him. However, I couldn’t bear to be close to Dave knowing he was with Cheryl, as I still loved him very much, so we sold our home and I moved back to Dundalk.

The initial months that followed were horrible. My whole life had changed. Everything that was familiar to me had disappeared. I had no work, no home, and no husband. All of my friends were in Dublin. I had no idea how to start over again. Indeed, I felt that it was impossible to start again and at twenty-eight I thought my life was over and that I would never meet or love another man as I did Dave. Because I had, up to then, lived a fairly sheltered life, this situation was crippling and I had no idea how to cope. This was totally out of the blue and I didn't see it comming.

For the next two years I lived with several of my sisters and their children. They were a brilliant support to me, as were all my family, and took me out and about whether I wanted to or not! The first few months went by and eventually, over time I began to feel more competent and less… lost, I suppose. I became stronger and I began to pick up the pieces of my life. I got a job and made new friends. During these two years I began to take control of my life and, once again, to feel normal.

Sunday 8 April 2007

Sean & Sean

It was then that I met Sean. I could hardly believe it possible that I met him! I was sure I would never love someone else again. I thought that you were blessed if you met one person in your life that you loved and loved you back, as was the case with Dave and me, and here I was being given a second chance! We started to date and eventually got engaged to be married. We bought an old house together in Newry and spent many happy times fixing it up, just as we wanted it. We made great plans for our wedding and the future, and started to plan for a family. We loved each other very much and were very happy together.

On a Sunday, Sean’s cousins came to our home and told me that Sean had died in a car crash. There is no explaining how one feels under these circumstances. If you have lost someone close to you, well, you have an idea of how I felt at the time. If not, I am afraid I can’t explain it to you.

I was six months pregnant with our baby, our baby that we had planned for and eagerly waited for, when Sean died. I had our son, Sean, on the due date, exactly twelve weeks after his father’s death. I must say it was the most bittersweet experience of my life. I expected him to be wrinkly and red and very unlike anybody, neither his father nor me. But when he arrived he was spotlessly clean and the image of his father, just like a little man, a little Sean! It was very hard on us all. When Sean died I was afraid I would miscarry our baby if I grieved and cried too much, so I kept it in as best as I could, thinking that, when the child was born, I could let it all out. In reality, when Sean was born I was very afraid that I would suffer from postnatal depression, so I kept as tight a rein over my emotions as I could and got on with caring for my new son.
It’s an awful thing to think that someone who has died might be beside you, and that you can’t touch them or hold them. People said to me, ‘He is looking down on you both, he’s minding you both’. Just as I was about to give birth to my son, the Sister in the Hospital, who was present for the birth said, ‘Sure, he’ll be the baby’s Guardian Angel’. I didn’t want him to be the baby’s Guardian Angel. I wanted him here, with me, to be a father to his own son, to be my husband. This kind of talk just tormented me.
At one time I stood looking at his grave, staring at it. I wanted to dig him up with my bare hands. I was so angry at him for leaving me, leaving me pregnant and on my own. I just wanted to dig right down to the coffin with my bare hands and drag him out and scream at him.

Saturday 7 April 2007

From bad to worse

I didn’t believe in God. I had been an atheist for years. People suggested I pray. I thought the idea of praying to a God that I didn’t believe in to be silly, to say the least. Although I visited Sean’s grave, I found no comfort there as his family seemed to do. I ended up wanting to believe in God, but felt it wasn’t an option open to me. Either you believe, or you don’t. How can you make yourself believe in God? It never seemed to be a matter of choice to me and therefore it was a luxury I didn’t have.

When I met Sean, his family and I got on extremely well. On the most part they accepted me into their lives and we became friends. His mother in particular was very good to me and from the outset we developed a strong mother/daughter relationship. This friendship continued after Sean died and if anything, because of Sean’s death, we became closer. We spent a lot of time together and both of us doted on the child.

Almost two hellish years had passed. I found that things were getting worse rather than better. People expected me to be over Sean’s death a long time before this. I started to go to a bereavement group once a month and found that, rather than being abnormal, I was feeling just the same as any other person under the circumstances. The people there were wonderful, kind and understanding. We all helped one another and soon after this I started to let go of Sean, and once again began to look forward.

Friday 6 April 2007

Downward spiral

For reasons best left alone, my son’s grandmother and I started to fall out with one another approximately two years after Sean’s death. During the third year it became clear to me that I could no longer stay in Newry. Because we had become extremely close to one another over the years we both found the break an unhappy and bitter one. I left my home, my furniture, most of my personal belongings and moved back to Dundalk, cutting off all ties. I moved into a rented house back in Blackrock in April and looked forward to a long peaceful summer with my son and my own family.

When I moved back home I had hoped to put a lot of my problems behind me, and for a short time it looked as if I did. But then, within a very short period of time, I fell out with three of my sisters, the very ones who had been a great support to me in the past. I couldn’t believe it. As sisters go, we were fairly close, so I knew something was very wrong. This was the last straw for me. I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t understand why these things were happening. I felt every crutch I had to support myself and my life had been kicked from under me. First Dave and my home in Dublin, then Sean, then Sean’s family, then my home in Newry, and now my own family.

Everything went into a spin. I found myself unable to trust my own judgement or instinct. Everything I touched seemed to crumble away. After one particularly bad falling out over the phone with a sister, I sat on my bed and cried and cried. I thought of all the people that I had been close to over the years and how almost every one, for different reasons, had let me down. I thought of the long life that I had in front of me, and the thoughts of going through it friendless and on my own horrified me. To have to go against my very nature and not trust people, to have to close ranks and shut people out, to harden myself as I had seen other people do seemed impossible. Yet the opposite of it was just as bad, to go through life continually leaving myself open to people, trusting them and being hurt and deceived again and again would be unbearable.

Thursday 5 April 2007

Is there anyone listening?

With these thoughts I spoke out loud and said, ‘I don’t care, I don’t care if there is a God and if You hear me, what is the point of living this life and not caring for anybody? What is the point in living this long life and not being able to mix and share with people? I don’t care if You are there, I wish I were never born…. I wish I were never born’. I was crying and I just said these things out loud. Whatever little bit of faith I had left in the human race deserted me at this time. I hated the world and everything to do with it. I wanted out. It’s hard to admit it now, but right then, what went through my mind was the need for everything to stop, I wanted to end my life. It was really then that the full horror of my situation hit me. I wasn’t going anywhere because I had my son Sean to care for. I couldn’t leave him and make him an orphan with no father or mother. I felt trapped. Whatever lows I had reached up to this point in my life, this was the worst, and I knew I had hit rock bottom.

When Dave and I broke up I thought of God, I thought of seeing if He was really there, but put Him out of my mind. I wasn't gong to turn religious just becasue I hit hard times.

When Sean died I thought of God, again I thought of seeing if He really was there, but by that stage I had hardened myself so much against the idea of their being a God that it just wasn't an option.

This time I thought of God and I was angry. Oh, I turned to Him alright, and it's a great wonder to me that He didn't cast me into the pits of hell for the way I gave out to Him and challenged Him that night. I will be forever grateful for the great long suffering, love and pity that He showed me that night.

Moments later, my sister Caroline phoned me. Although she had no idea what was going on, or how I was feeling at that moment, she spent two hours talking to me about some of the very things that were causing me problems. I was very glad to hear from her and felt much better afterwards. A chain of events had begun that would change my life from that time onwards, that looking back on, I find amazing! Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but at that time I had no idea what was happening to me or what the outcome would be.

Talking to the wall

On the 6th of August 2001, four months after I moved to Dundalk, my sister Caroline attended the women’s meeting in the Baptist Church. She asked the women there to pray for me because she was going to ask me to attend a gospel meeting with her that was going to be held in a house in the Cooley Mountains that Friday. She thought that if she asked me to go, I would laugh at her and refuse, a very real fear as she knew that in the past I had laughed at the very idea of people believing in a God. I ridiculed them for their beliefs and thought they didn’t live in the real world. The next day, Tuesday, I was talking to my brother, and he said that if I wanted to know God, I should find a quiet moment and ask The Lord to come into my life. That evening, my son was in bed and it was peaceful and quiet. I remembered what he had said, and standing in the kitchen I said, with as much conviction as I could under the circumstances, ‘Lord Jesus, please come into my life’, or words to that effect. I did say it with as much feeling as I could but afterwards I felt incredibly silly and thought that if anybody could see me through the window they would think I was doing a Shirley Valentine, talking to a wall! I went to bed and forgot all about it.

Born again!

Caroline did indeed ask me to go to the meeting with her and I accepted. I thought ‘why not? I might just get some comfort from it.’ I had never been to one before, and the only concern I had at the time was that I would bump into someone I knew (the shame of it!). So three days later, on the Friday, I went. There were quite a few people there and the lady who owned the house made me feel very welcome.

If I had been uprooted and planted on the moon, I couldn’t have felt more ill at ease. I sat on an armchair and waited. The meeting started and a man, Clifford Law, began to talk about the Bible and God. He told us all about Jesus and why He came and died on the cross for us. He explained how much God loves us and how much of a sacrifice the death of His Son was to Him. I never thought of it in quite this way before. I had never thought of it as being real before now, to think somebody, let alone God, would do that for me, die for me, well it’s humbling. When he was finished another man got up. His name was Willie Fenton, and he too gave a talk about the Bible, God and His Son, Jesus. He mentioned that the evening before a man had dropped dead in his office in Newry. He was only thirty, about the same age as Sean. Hearing him talk of that  mans death brought all the pain back to me. When I thought that I was going to find any comfort there I was sorely mistaken. I spent most of the evening upset and on the verge of tears, I felt awful. Clifford said that he was going to confess his sins to Jesus and if anybody wanted to join in, they were welcome to do so by repeating silently after him. He started by saying that he was an awful sinner. I thought about some of the things I had done in the past, things I had long buried with the hope of forgetting, things I was desperately ashamed of. I said to myself that I too was a sinner and meant it. Then he said that he was very sorry, and in my mind I told God I was sorry too for all my sins. Everything he said sounded very heartfelt and genuine and, in turn, I was very genuine in my confession, although I didn’t realise the implication of what I had done until many weeks later. Incidentally, I gave up smoking that same day.

Meeting the new family

Two weeks later I went to the Dundalk Baptist Centre with Caroline. It was wonderful! It was just lovely! Never before had I heard grown men and women pray and talk with such love and softness in their voices, as they talked on a one-to-one basis with God. It really touched me. They didn’t rhyme off long impersonal prayers like I had been used to hearing. It was nothing compared to the mass I had attended in years past. I had begun to think there was no peace to be had, and that any peace and happiness that I had had in my life was in the past and gone for good. Listening to these people praying and singing uplifted me, but it also had the opposite effect on me, as it reinforced just how much my life lacked grace and beauty, peace and contentment. I felt that every wrongdoing I ever did was written across my face for all to see. I felt my sins so keenly that I thought all someone had to do was look at me to see them. When the service was over Caroline paused to introduce me to some of the people but I looked at her and said no. When I saw her face drop, I hastened to tell her that it wasn’t that I was being unfriendly, but that I might start crying and I had to leave. I spent the remainder of the day with Caroline and her sons feeling happy and contented and looking forward to the evening service. I did return that evening and again I felt light-hearted and at peace with myself, but also, there was a feeling of brokenness and a deep sadness lying heavily on me.

A day or two later I got my mother’s old Bible and thought I might glance through it. I hadn’t looked at a Bible in years let alone read one but after reading some of the New Testament for a short while I laid my two hands on it and said out loud, ‘This is exactly what I have been looking for all these years!’ I felt full of wonder. All of a sudden I knew that everything in this book was true. I knew there was a God. I believed in Jesus. I know it sounds like such a clichĂ©, but I started to cry with happiness. I can’t put on paper and describe to you the huge significance of this revelation. It was such a revelation to me. God had revealed it to me.

Up to this point in my life I only just believed that God was real, just enough to be saved, 'faith the size as a mustard seed' as the bible says, but now, for the first time, I felt His real presence in me. This was amazing to me! For years I was told that God was real, but it wasn’t until God choose to show Himself to me, save me and reveal HImself through His word that I knew it for sure!

Developing an appetite

By the time I got back to the Church the next Sunday I had changed. Not only was the Bible beginning to make sense to me but I also believed every word. I knew that I would never be alone again. I felt God was with me all the time. I spent a lot of time thinking about what was happening to me. Issues that I didn’t agree with in the Catholic Church, core issues that had bothered me in the past, I found that the Bible didn’t agree with them either! A lot of what I was taught as a child wasn’t true! You don’t pray to dead people, not to Mary, not to the saints, not to your dead relatives. The Bible forbids it! You only pray to God. Under certain circumstances divorce is allowed. And not only is it allowed that our Church leaders are married but it is thought a good thing. It is actually recommended that they be family men! It’s all in the Bible for you to check. I was crying and reading so much within the first couple of weeks that I started to get headaches! I found it hard to go to sleep at night because of all the things going through my mind. Sometimes I would wake up during the night and lie for hours thinking about what I had discovered and the changes that were occurring in me. Every day I was letting go of some old part of me and I was feeling renewed. My problems of old seemed almost to disappear; I spent that little time thinking of them. They didn’t seem that important to me anymore. I cut down drastically on drinking, and with a couple of exceptions, I only had one or two, or indeed none at all when I went out, which was a new thing for me. Before my conversion I was well used to going to pubs and discos and drinking. Some nights my boyfriend and I would sit up until the sun began to rise drinking and chatting. The only thing I can say is that God was very good to  me and Sean (although I couldn't have known or acknowledged it at the time) and I always felt fine the next day and able to get up the next morning and care for Sean. In a sad way it is an indicatin of how much I had changed in those short few years, from being a very moderate drinker to being able to drink as much as any man... But God totally transformed me in this regard. Thank you Lord.

Over the weeks I continued to attend Church. I also attended meetings where we studied the Bible. This gave me the opportunity to question Stephen, the Pastor, and others about what the Bible says, and have whatever I needed explained to me. Most times however, when I had a question, I was told to refer to the Bible. I didn’t always appreciate this answer, but can now, in hindsight, understand and appreciate the lesson I was being taught. I was not being allowed to get into the bad habit of relying on anyone or anything other than the Bible. There are so many opinions out there, people’s opinions, that are unfortunately, mostly unreliable. Stephen encouraged me to look to the Bible for my answers every time. There were lots of leaflets and booklets available in the Church that I took full advantage of. I am told that it is quite natural for newly converted Christians to read a lot. When I found things in the Bible I didn’t quite understand I would take notes and ask Stephen or other members of the Church to explain them. Every effort was being made to assist me, but no credit was taken.

Growing pains!

The initial six weeks after I was saved were some of the best weeks of my life and also some of the most soul-searching and heart-wrenching weeks. I spent many nights reading and learning and praying. Just talking to God the Father. Sometimes I would feel so happy and elated, so young and fresh, full of pure delight at what He was showing me. I would read and read and think and wonder, and I would never feel overwhelmed by it all. I felt that no matter how much I took in, it was never too much. Many nights the tears just streamed down my face and I would laugh out loud with happiness and joy!

On the other hand, there were many times that I felt sick I would feel so rotten and bad. The more I grew to love God the more I could see just how good and wonderful He is, the sacrifice the Father made in sending down His Son, knowing what would happen to Him. The horrible death Jesus endured, being whipped, battered and murdered. The reality is that this is no fairy story; this was all done so Jesus could take my place and my punishment, instead of me, so I can stand in front of God, clean and without sin, God cannot tolerate anything less.

I began to see the gaping hole of a difference between what I was and what I should be. Up until now I thought I wasn’t too bad a person. Fairly honest, kind enough, and pretty decent. God has held up a mirror in front of me and let me see what I am really like! I am so far off the mark it’s frightening. There is no excuse for any sin. I can’t say certain things happened to me so therefore it wasn’t my fault that I did such-and-such a thing. I can’t say ‘I sinned, but it wasn’t my fault’. It doesn’t matter what drove me to it, at the end of the day I sinned…and, like it or lump it, the buck stops here. I had always measured my standard against other people’s, not God’s. It’s an awful shock to realise just how far from His original image of us we really are.

So I started to see what I should really be like and with the help and direction of the Holy Spirit I began, almost unknown to myself, to get rid of my old habits and ways. There is no way that I would have been able to see the need for change, let alone actually change my own nature, without the help of the Holy Spirit. The surprising thing is, it was so easy!

Almost every day scripture that related directly to my lifestyle was bombarding me. My confidence began to return to me in relation to decision-making. Instead of asking two or three different people for an opinion that I didn’t trust myself to make and end up being even more confused (if that could have been possible!) I asked God for His guidance and got it! I started to feel uncomfortable with the way I dressed and on several occasions went through my wardrobes and removed any articles of clothing I felt were inappropriate for me to wear. At no time did anybody say or imply that my mode of dress was wrong, but rather, I learned from the example the women in the church quietly gave and by the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Although I wouldn’t have been one to swear a lot, I found it startlingly offensive when I let one slip or when someone else did. In fact the more I grow as a Christian, the more disagreeable it becomes.

Walking the walk

Before I was saved I was very lonely and wanted to meet a  nice man, marry and settle down. I wanted somebody who would mind me and be a good husband to me and a good father to Sean. I tried going to nice places but couldn't find anybody nice. One night I went out and met a man called Mickey. He was charming and great fun to be with and a bit older than I was which I liked. My sister had introduced him to me so I felt safe enough going out with him. He wasn't the kind of man who I would normally gravate  towards but I didn't mind as I didn't intend to spend a lot of time with him. However, the more time I spent with him the more I liked him. He really was charming and fun and seemed to like me very much. After dating a while I realised that he had a reputation as a hard man and was a member of the IRA. He had been shot by the armed forces in Northern Ireland, taken to England and extradited to the States and served time in different prisons for trying to import arms (rocket launchers to shoot down helicopters) into the country. To tell you the truth, I really didn't take it very seriously but I did feel safe with him (It's unbeleavable how men treat a woman who is a lone parent, men who you would think were decent turn out to be creeps. On two different occasions my girlfriends guys asked me out, yuck... Before I had Sean I was never treated like that.) and like I said, I didn't intend to spend a lot of time with him but I did like him very much. However, now that I was a christian I knew that it couldn’t continue as the Bible makes it very clear that it is wrong to have any kind of physical relationship with a man unless you are married, so I trusted God and broke the relationship. Although I knew it was the right thing to do, it was, none the less a sad time for both of us.

Six weeks after I was saved I asked Stephen if I could be baptised and it was agreed that I would be baptised on the 4th of November. When I went to Church the following Sunday somebody congratulated me. I looked at him and hadn’t a clue what he was talking about. He noticed my expression and repeated what he said. I asked him ‘Congratulations for what?’ At this stage he looked a bit confused and said ‘Stephen told me you are saved’. I was stunned. I didn’t think anybody would care. I hadn’t expected that other people would have an opinion one way or the other. That evening, one of the younger ladies congratulated me. I was embarrassed but not caught out! She gave me a hug and said that from now on I was her sister! It was lovely!

Soon after my conversion, I went out to a dance in a local hotel with unsaved friends to see a band that were playing that night. My friends and I arrived early and got a good table where we could watch the band and other people. The night turned out to be very strange for me. Soon after we sat down I noticed that everybody seemed to be ‘handicapped’. I know it sounds strange so I will try to explain it as best I can. As I looked at all the men and women dancing and talking, it was as if every one of them was deformed in some way. The word ‘handicapped’ kept coming to my mind. I questioned the two girls I was with and asked them what they thought of the night so far. They seemed to be enjoying themselves. None of us were drinking. The word ‘handicapped’ kept going around in my head and eventually I thought that it was Satan trying to make me think these things. Calling a person a 'handicap' is an insult that some people use to offend. I felt very ashamed and confused that I should have such thoughts and by the time the night was half over, I wished I were at home.

At the Sunday service I told a mature church member what had happened to me. He told me that it wasn’t Satan who put these thoughts into my head. It was the Holy Spirit showing me what people are really like when they are drunk. I was amazed and thankful that God would show me something with such clarity. When I was saved about five months I got a very strong indication from the Holy Spirit to stop drinking and going to pubs. To be perfectly honest I didn’t mind in the slightest but I must admit that, at first, I found it hard to tell my friends and family. I was worried that they would think I was odd. (About as odd as I had once thought other “Religious” people to be!) However, once I got over the initial telling, it became easier for me.

I kissed dating goodbye!

I became curious as to where I should stand with regards to dating. It was clear to me that I couldn't have a physical relationship with a man but I wanted to know what the alternative was. I found out very quickly that a relationship with a man who was not a Christian was out of the question. I asked a woman from the church for advice and she recommended I read a book called ‘I Kissed Dating Goodbye’ by Joshua Harris. When I started to read it I realised that the author, who is a young American guy, was suggesting that Christians shouldn’t date at all, and that they shouldn’t even kiss! He recommended people meet and go out together in groups, and get to know one another properly before even thinking about being together. I thought this was ridiculous, but as is my habit, I continued to read the book and see if I could get something out of it. By the time I finished it, I found (to the amusement of my friends) that I agreed with a lot of what it said and decided that this was for me! The idea of not having to meet someone, date for a while, find out that we are not suited and then go through the unpleasantness of breaking the relationship appealed to me. What a relief! I was happy to go along with this train of thought but knew that the proof of the pudding would be in the eating, so to speak, and I would have to wait and see!

Wednesday 4 April 2007


I started writing out my story (Testimony) for my Baptism. I had begun to keep a record (scribbles!) of my feelings and thoughts since God showed Himself to me and I was using these. I became aware of a bad and evil presence around me some nights while I was trying to sleep and this worried me. I also found it hard to pray and I eventually told my Pastor. He prayed with me, the bad presence went away and my prayer life went back to normal. During the two weeks running up to my Baptism, I got two different summonses to go to court. Sean’s grandmother wanted access to Sean, something I was totally against. Stephen was there when one of them came in the post and pointed out to me the significance of the timing of these summonses, as they could be a distraction to me. I received an invitation to go on a nice foreign holiday with somebody. Needless to say, the offer wasn’t made with the most innocent of intentions so I declined. I felt that, spiritually, these things, among others, were attempts to try to trip me up. I was very glad that there was a week of special meetings coming up and that I got to go to them all.

Clarke and Sheila Lowery are a couple from Mississippi. Clarke was the Pastor of a Church in Wiggins. The whole family had lived in Dundalk for about five years, six years ago, and had been very involved in the life of the Baptist Church. They came back to Ireland because Clarke was guest speaker at the week of special meetings.

The question of whom to invite to my Baptism arose. I was still not on great terms with some of my sisters, but I went ahead and invited them all anyway. My father was another matter. I think it would be fair to say that we hadn’t spoken to one another more than five times during the past twenty years and I didn’t want to invite him and for him to refuse/reject me. I spoke to Stephen about it and he suggested that I invite him and leave it up to God because the Bible does say that we must honour our father and mother, so I invited him.

Getting dipped!

The day of my Baptism came. After the morning service Caroline took Sean for the day and left me in a computer store in town so I could type out my testimony as I had it scribbled on several pieces of paper. When I finished I went to pay for it and discovered that the time was twenty to six. I was supposed to be at the Church at a quarter to! I had no clothes to change into (I was to be fully immersed in a pool) or time to get them. I phoned my neighbour and she collected me and we went to a store and bought some. We finally arrived about half an hour late. The Church was full. As it happened, it worked out well as I didn’t have much time to get too worried about getting up to talk. I stood up and gave my testimony. When it was all over everyone came up to me and congratulated me and shook hands etc. Lots of my family attended the service which was great. My father did attend my baptism and when he came up to congratulate me, he kissed me and told me he always loved me. He called down to see me in my home two days later and again on the Thursday! Since then, I am glad to say we have been in regular contact with one another and visiting one another. After the Baptism we had a supper with everybody at the Church. Clark and Sheila invited me to America so I could meet the people at their Church and give my testimony there. Two days later I accepted!

Since writing this post my father died but not before God saved him.


Two and a half weeks later I left for America and flew from Belfast to London. On the flight from London to the U.S., I ended up talking to a man. He was in his late sixties. He came across as being quite rough and ready and after talking to him for about fifteen minutes (I didn’t want to talk to him any more but didn’t want to be rude and turn away from him) I silently asked God, ‘Oh please let him fall asleep’. Immediately after that prayer, the man looked at me and told me he was dying of cancer. We spent the next two hours talking about our lives and I told him how I got saved and by the time we parted company we had become very close. I have prayed for him many times since I met him and I realise how much of a blessing he has been to me. I often think of him and hope and pray that God will reveal Himself to this man.

What can I say about Mississippi? It was a feast of good food, good company and good Christian friendship. The members of the Church over there were just as genuine and friendly as in Dundalk. Love and kindness surrounded me. I felt very close to God and ended up making some serious decisions during my stay there.

Talking - and listening - to God

A couple of days before I flew over I got word from my Solicitor that Sean’s grandmother was planning to sell my home and put the money into a trust for Sean. Because his father and I had not been married when he died, and my son was not yet born, she was next-of-kin and therefore she became administrator of the estate. Suffice to say I was very angry and planned to fight this decision in court. I had sold my own house in Dublin and invested the monies from that sale into this house and there was no way I was going to allow anybody to take my home from me. Whilst in America, I prayed and prayed to God about it. I was at my wits end and eventually said to God that I didn’t know what to do anymore and whatever He wanted me to do I would do it, but that He must make His will very clear to me. Up until then every time I asked God for advice on something I always got a clear response, so by this stage I had learned to trust Him. One of the first things I had begun to learn in the States was that God is in control of everything in my life and that I must trust myself to Him and not fight His will. His plan for me, without question, is perfect and totally beneficial to me. Therefore, regardless to how hard it is sometimes to trust Him in certain areas, I do, and will continue to seek His will in my life and obey it. So when He did answer me, He had me prepared for the task ahead. He made it very clear that I was to let the whole thing go. I phoned my Solicitor in Ireland and cancelled my instructions regarding the house and did what God led me to do. I immediately felt as if a huge burden had been removed from me. I cannot describe the peace I felt. Not once since then, even when I had to explain my actions to my family (who on the whole did not agree with my decision) have I regretted it. I trust God completely. I don’t have to know what plans He has for me. I know they will be in my best interest. It’s clear to me that God is doing a much better job directing my life than I have ever done!

Because God had given me direction with regards to the situation with the house, I began to pray about Sean’s grandmother trying to get access to see Sean. This was more worrying for me because at the end of the day, a house is only bricks and mortar; but my son is my son. I didn’t want his grandmother near him and would have gone to any lengths to keep her away.

I took courage, prayed, and said that I would do whatever God told me to do. Again I got very clear instructions. I was to leave it in His hands. I was to behave in a way that was honourable. I could not bring up things in court that would discredit her, even if what I would say about her was true. God was clearly instructing me to back down. Again and again God showed me Proverbs 11: 16, ‘A gracious woman retains honour.’ I accepted God’s will in the matter and again I felt very much at peace with myself afterwards.

Southern hospitality

Sheila taught me a lot about edifying one another and the importance of Church members caring for one another and helping each other out. I was able to see how, during the women’s Bible study, everybody genuinely cared about their sister’s life and problems, and all the members prayed for one another. I also had the chance to watch people and see how they behaved with their children and how they lived together as a family. I hadn't a clue how to behave as a godly woman. A woman, once saved is clean and wholesome and lives a clean and holesome life. I had no past experience or plumb line to help with this and so I watched everybody very closely both at home in Dundalk Baptist Church and there in the US. They were a great help to me.
 Remembering to give thanks before a meal was a problem for me, as I was not used to it. The first Sunday I stayed in the U.S. I had dinner in a couple’s house. Lots of people were present and when we had all sat down Clarke had the bright idea of asking me to give thanks! I had never given thanks at a meal before and I was a bit nervous. From what I had noticed, people would take ages thanking God for their morning, weather, company, health and food amongst other things and so I felt intimidated to say the least! I started by saying ‘Dear God, thank you for this food’; I paused and died several times over during a very long five seconds before saying ‘Amen’. The only other thing I remember was an eight year old girl gasping ‘Oh!’, her hand flying up to her mouth to stop something else from escaping and her mother giving her a sharp look! Probably the shortest thanksgiving in history! If memory serves right, Clarke didn’t ask me a second time!


Lacey was, at that time, a sixteen-year-old girl in Mississippi. From what I remember, she was saved at twelve and developed a serious illness when she was thirteen. I was told she almost died the year before, after an operation, and has been in and out of hospitals before and since. When I got to the States she was very ill and had just arrived home from a recent stay in hospital. I got a chance to meet Lacey in her home. She was on morphine to keep the pain under control and as she was lying on the sofa, I knelt down in front of her. I thought she was the closest thing to an angel on earth. She is a very beautiful looking girl and she seemed to be transparent. I chatted for a short time and Clark asked me to pray. I looked at him and I panicked and said “No” then I looked at Lacey and just knew that I had to. At this point of my new life I don’t think I had prayed for anyone out loud. I hadn’t time to think. I held Lacey by the hand and so I prayed, out loud. I stumbled and mumbled a prayer of sorts. I haven’t a clue what it sounded like. I can scarcely remember what I said I was that shocked, because when I looked up she was crying and the tears were falling down her face. I stood up and muttered something about Sean needing me and left the house.

I met her again in hospital, and again, and again. I had the chance to see and watch how she and her family, as Christians, coped with her illness and most of all with her pain. They never blamed God. They never reproached their Father for allowing this. They knew it was happening for reasons and that God was in control. They prayed with her and even Lacey said she didn’t mind so long as God was working good out of it. This is where I learned the meaning of (and indeed put it to use with regards to going to court over Sean’s access) Romans 8: 28. ‘And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose’ and James 2: 2&3. ‘Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience’.

A tough learning curve

I came to realise just how much I was blessed and honoured to meet such a family. To be so close to them during such a difficult time in their lives and to be able to watch God at work in and through them was humbling. I told Lacey during another one of her many stays in hospital, that I felt honoured to have met them and that God had me in America for certain reasons and that she and her family were one of them. The two of us ended up crying, we kissed one another, I thanked her and told her I would pray for her.

God used her illness for good. I am one of many people who learned many lessons from Lacey being unwell. I received a letter from her recently and I will quote some of it; “Each and every time I go into the hospital, my faith is strengthened, my testimony becomes stronger, my walk with the Lord is sweetened. I am, in ways, thankful for this illness. God has truly blessed me with many things through it. It is when I met you. You have been on my heart for quite some time now. I want you and Niall and Sean to know that I am continually praying for you all”.
Since then Lacy met and married a nurse! She has had two beautiful baby girls, had an operation and is much better and finally able to eat things like ice cream for the first time in years.

Tuesday 3 April 2007

Home again

Around this time I had begun to pray for Sean’s grandmother. I have to admit that at first it was not easy, but the Bible clearly tells us to pray for our enemies and sadly, at this point in time, that was what I thought of her. I did pray for her and bit by bit I began to forgive her. I also began to realise the part I had to play in the breakdown of our relationship and my need to take responsibility for it. One of the wonderful things about this is that I lost all the dislike I had in my heart towards her, so it was a double blessing for me. Also, I felt let to write a letter to Dave in Dublin, well actually, to his girlfriend who we broke up over. I wrote to her telling her what happened to me. I told her that I didn't hold anything against her for what she and Dave did, after all, there are lots of things I had done that were wrong and God forgave me. I had no right to hold a grudge against them. Anyway, I told her that rather than bump into her in Dublin, I would like to meet up with her in private. \\she wrote back to me saying how bad she felt over what happened and that it was always with her. She accepted my invitation so, the Summer following my conversion I held two gospel meetings in a big tent in my back garden with the help of friends and on one night Dave and his girlfriend, Cheryl came and on the other night Mickey came. I hugged Cheryl and we chatted for a short time. All three of them heard the gospel. During these early years God showed me how important it is not to hold a grudge and He showed me the importance of peace making. 'As far as it depends on you, live at peace with all men.'

I came home from America on Friday 14th of December and went to court six days later. Stephen came with me, as he did on each of the four court appearance. He was a tremendous support to me. I felt sick with apprehension at the prospects of seeing Sean’s grandmother again but found that, what with talking with Stephen and discussing the Bible with him, the time passed quickly and almost pleasantly for me. I spoke to my Solicitor, Catherine, and instructed her not to cross-examine Sean’s grandmother. I had decided that I would not make any accusations against her of any sort but I would defend myself against any she might make against me. Catherine was not happy with my decision and spent most of the morning trying to persuade me to have her questioned. I had prayed a lot about the whole situation, as I knew I would face opposition. Well, I wasn’t disappointed! I got plenty of opposition from my family as well as from my Solicitor! I found it very difficult to hold my own and not give in to pressure. After getting advice from other solicitors and a barrister, Catherine told me that if I didn’t have her cross-examined that the Judge might not allow me to give evidence. I had, in the end, decided that if that was the case then I would just not give my evidence and leave it in God’s hands. Thankfully I was saved from having to go ahead with this decision as the case was forwarded to 2nd January2002.

Re-opening doors

Well, we went to court and Catherine informed the Judge of my decision. He was not happy with the idea but said we could go ahead and allow it but that he would keep an eye on things. Sean’s grandmother got up and her Solicitor took her through her evidence. Then I got up and Catherine helped me through mine. When she was through, Sean’s grandmother’s Solicitor questioned me. It wasn’t pleasant. There were accusations made that I wasn’t happy about. When all was said and done, the Judge said he would make his decision during the following week and that we were to come back in six days.

That evening at home I prayed about the whole situation while doing the ironing. I had come to terms with the thoughts that she might get access to Sean. I was prepared to accept this, no matter how hard it might be, as it would be God’s will and I knew He would give me the strength to cope with it. Again I thought often and hard on Romans 8:28. However, I also thought of what would happen if she were denied access. At this time, all feelings of dislike and resentment towards Sean’s grandmother had left me. I thought of how this sort of outcome might affect her and was overcome with compassion for her. First she had lost her father, then her only son and then she lost her only grandson. Again and again I thought how the Bible tells us to love our enemies. I promised God there and then, that if she were denied access I would visit her four weeks later to the day and make an offer to her that she could see Sean for two hours every Saturday.

Ups and downs

Tuesday the 8th of January came and the Judge gave his decision. He was very compassionate and kind towards both of us in his delivery. The application made by Sean’s grandmother was dismissed. This meant that she was not entitled to have any access to the child. She was stunned. The Solicitors were stunned. My family and friends were stunned. Everybody expected her to gain some sort of access, especially since I hadn’t allowed her to be cross-examined. When the decision was given I was not triumphant. I left the court and Stephen and I prayed for her in the car on the way home. I waited for the four weeks to pass so I could go to see her and make the offer.

A week and a half later I got another letter from my Solicitor. Sean’s grandmother was appealing the decision. We were going back to court. This added another dimension to the whole picture. My heart sank. There was no question of me backing out of my promise to God, and it really didn’t bother me that she might think she had me on the run, so to speak. What did worry me however, was the fact that she might refuse my offer, go to court and use my offer as a tool to get to see Sean. However I had made the promise to God and was not going back on it. To tell you the truth, the hardest part of it all was telling my family. I guess some of them were perplexed, some accepted it and a couple of them were totally against it, telling me that I was making a big mistake. I could hardly blame them. They knew in detail what had happened between Sean’s grandmother and me, and thought the whole thing unjust.

A great new start

I made contact with a member of her family and made arrangements to meet in her house on the appointed day. Stephen agreed to come. We arrived and were made most welcome. Tea was made and I came straight to the point. I told her that I was saved last August and that it had made a great change in me. I said that one of the changes was my decision not to have her cross-examined in court. She acknowledged this. I went on to tell her of the promise I made to God in relation to her visiting Sean. I said that I wasn’t just making the offer because I felt I had to, but with my hand on my heart I was happy to make it. She said she loved Sean and that she missed him. I said it would be better for me to come to her house with my hat in hand, and for her to come to my house with her hat in hand. Better for Sean and better for us, than if we went to court and for her to triumphantly come into my house unwelcome and against my will or for us to go to court and for her application to be dismissed again.

She happily agreed, I’m glad to say, and we hugged. We spent a short while talking and looking at photos, and left with the agreement that Sean and I would expect to see her for a visit the following Saturday. Since then (February 2002) she has been to visit every week. Recently we talked about the house and what to do with it. We have both agreed to sell it and put the money into a trust for Sean until he is older. I have allowed that she and a person of her choice be trustees, which means that I have honoured my promise to God by letting go of it completely. I am content with this arrangement and glad that it is no longer a thorn in our flesh, something unpleasant between us. Slowly but surely our relationship has been improving. Both Sean and I look forwards to seeing her every week and we all get along very well. I am grateful for the chance given to me by God for a new relationship with her.

Since writing this my relationship with Sean's grandmother has been very good. Sean is fourteen now and he not only spends mini breaks with his granny regularly but has also been abroad on a holiday with her several times.

The Courtship

Since writing this piece I need to update it by telling you that I met, and entered in to a courtship with a man called Niall MacCárthaigh who attends the same Church that I do. We applied most of the principles of Joshua Harris’s book “I Kissed dating Goodbye”, also his new book “Boy Meets Girl”, where he tells about how he met a woman, courted her, and eventually married her. These books give real answers to questions that single people and couples ask. We have both found them to be a good source of information, help and advice and are recommending them to our friends.

We got engaged in June (10 months after my conversion... God is so good) and kissed for the first time on our wedding day on November the third 2002! Now I know this whole event seems hard to believe, but in truth, without the help of the Lord, it would have been impossible for Niall and me to want to go down the lane that we did, let alone have the will power to succeed! I am delighted to report that there have been no doubts or horrible regrets since our marriage, and can only say that it was definitely the right thing for us to do.

Christians courting

One of the most amazing and (almost!) unbelievable things I have learned since I have been saved is how a lot of Christian parents are rearing their children. There is a whole worldwide community of children out there who are not going to discos, are not dating every Tom, Dick or Harriet, and who do respect and obey their parents. They are not bringing home all the problems that are associated with this kind of living. I found it incredible when I met parents who did, and still are, bringing up their children with Biblical standards. I have met many families who have done this and with great success. I thought it so incredible that initially I refused to believe it, I simply couldn’t believe it until I saw it with my own eyes! Children have grown up into adulthood and have yet to be in a relationship with a member of the opposite sex. Teenagers and adults who have accepted God’s standards and who are happy, willing and able to do so. The Church I attend has these families in it, families who are living proof that it is possible to live your life by the standards set out in the Bible, with the help of our Lord. So with this in mind, it’s not that incredible to think we made it to our wedding day without falling by the way side. I love Niall very much. This is more than a third chance of happiness. God has given Niall and me the wonderful privilege of living as man and wife are meant to live, and with God’s blessing, we will live out our lives together for Him and His glory.

Monday 2 April 2007

Closing thoughts

So that’s it. There have been a lot of other things happening to me but I would never get it all down on paper! My last word is this; God is really here. What I am experiencing is not some sort of wishy-washy, vague belief that there is something out there. God, through the Holy Spirit, is in me. He is moving me, daily, to change. I have never felt so fulfilled. I have never experienced such peace and, on the other hand, such excitement. Every day I am glad to be alive. But most of all, I have never felt so loved with such a love. Miracles have become commonplace in my life!

Now, eleven years later I am very happy to add to this story and say that I am as happy now as I was back then when I was first converted. I still love God and have a daily relationship with Him. I still love my husband Niall, even more than I did when we were first married, God is helping me rear Sean and he is a good wee boy.
Since my salvation eleven years ago, God has saved my mum, dad, step mum and last Saturday my son! I am so very, very happy. There has been trials, most certainly, but I never face them alone. God takes me through every one of them and when I come out the other side I am closer to Him than I was and that's not a bad thing!

What about you?

If God is out there, but not in here, not in you, then it’s not enough for you to accept, and you really don’t want the alternative. What you must do is truly and genuinely ask God to come into your life. He will not reveal Himself to you if you are proud and think you have no need to humble yourself before Him. Acknowledge Him as the Holy God that He is, acknowledge your sins and your need for forgiveness, and with His love and grace He will come to you with His Holy Spirit. The Bible tells you all about it, how to come to God, how to enter into a proper relationship with Him. You will be welcomed, with warmth unknown to you before now, by other believers who make up this wonderful family that I am now a part of. It does not matter what particular background you come from or what beliefs you hold, nor am I suggesting that you join up with any particular group. You don’t have to clean up your act, go to church or become holy all of a sudden to go to God. Go to Him just as you are, right now. He died for people just like you. Pick up a Bible and read it, if you don’t have one, phone the number at the end of this and I will get one to you. A good place to start is John’s gospel.

Some people think that you cannot live your life by the standards set out in it, and they would be right. You cannot do it on your own, however, you can if you have the help of God’s Holy Spirit. People say that the Bible doesn’t tally up, that it contradicts itself. It does not. When people don’t understand it they automatically blame the Bible. If there is a choice between the Bible being wrong, and a person’s understanding of it being wrong, well, I’ll back the Bible any day! The pride of man! If he doesn’t understand it, well it must be God who has made a mistake! God Himself says that the natural man cannot make much sense of it. (1 Corinthians 2:14) If you are an atheist like I was, learn from me and seek God. No matter how silly you may feel, no matter how much your pride may stand in the way. Find out for yourself, don’t wait till it’s too late. If you believe in God, trust the Bible. Use it as your starting point. Check what you believe with the Bible. It is always right, always. Don’t just believe what someone once told you or taught you as a child. Find out for yourself what God says in His own Book. If what you have believed is not in the Bible, it is wrong. Pray to God to show you the truth. He will show you if you ask.

If what you believed were wrong, would you want to know?

I believe that God loves me and has been waiting for me to call out to Him. I in turn was busy living a happy, contented life without a thought for God. Thankfully, with love, God got my attention (eventually!) by allowing my life to fall apart, bit by bit, so that when I got so low and there was no one to turn to, I turned to Him. I was an atheist for almost twenty years, but ended up desperately hoping that there was more to life, and God proved to me that there is. An awful lot more! An eternity!

God speaks

Here are a few verses from the Bible that you might like to read;