On Sunday 2oth December, on the fourth Sunday of Advent, I was asked to share my testimony – my journey as a Christian – at the Carols by Candlelight service at my church.
If anyone knows me well, public speaking does not come so easy for me. My legs turn to jelly. My mouth dries up. My heart rate accelerates. And I spend some of the time thinking of a way to escape… It’s tough.
The carol ‘While Shepherd’s Watched Their Flock’ began to play, which was the last piece before it was my turn.
The verse in Luke 2:10 was read before this carol, and I was so blessed by it:
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”
I realised in that moment that I did not need to fear. My testimony was good news of great joy! God was with me. Yes, my mouth dried up and my heart was racing. My legs turned to jelly and I was aware of my breathing.
But something amazing happened. I was able to look into the eyes of my audience. I could take my eyes from the page and look around the room. This is something I don’t think I have ever been able to do effectively. I felt strengthened and enabled. The more I looked at the faces that looked back at me, the bolder and calmer I felt. What a transformation!
I thought as Christmas is just a few days away it would be a good time to share my heart with the readers of this blog. I have included the words that I spoke at the Carols by Candlelight service, and I hope it encourages you this Christmas and into the New Year. Listen to the video below and then read my words below! Happy Christmas! 🙂
Do you have someone in your life that you look up to? Someone who inspires you? Maybe someone who encourages you and believes in you. For me, that is my mum.
As a single parent, my mum raised me and my sister with cerebral palsy. Despite the challenges my mum faced, she had faith in God. It was an infectious faith. The love that my mum had for the Lord grounded me in my faith as I grew up.
Growing up wasn’t always easy. Although, I have always believed in God, my faith took a while to mature and develop.
Initially, God got my attention through nature. I have always been lost in wonder at the beauty of a natural landscape. Not to mention I am a ‘country bumpkin’ – born and bred in a small market town in Norfolk. In the bible, in the book of Romans (1:20) it says:
“For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
For me, seeing the beauty of nature is God on display.
My love for the beauty of nature continued as I went on a four month trip on my own to the USA when I was 18. It was just me and God, and I felt myself yearning for him. On arrival at my motel room in Phoenix, Arizona, I felt overwhelmed, scared, worried. It was my first time away from home. And home was a long way away. There was a bible in the room and I flipped it open and my eyes were drawn to Phillipians chapter 4 verses 4-7:
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
These verses have become such an important part of my journey as a Christian. A few months later I started at university and settled into life in Plymouth, some 300 miles away from my family in Norfolk. I enjoyed this new way of life: student living, making friends, learning and gaining independence. I started going to church and getting to know other Christian students through the Christian Union.
However, after 3 months at uni at the end of my first term I was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma, a type of blood cancer.
Ouch, God! My world turned upside down. I had to move from Plymouth back to Norfolk to begin 6 months of chemotherapy. I had to say goodbye to friends I had made at uni and see Facebook updates of them having fun whilst I felt as if I had been left behind. My hair was falling out. My eyebrows thinned. I felt nauseous from the poison that was set to cure me. The irony.
I cried many, many times. But I never felt abandoned or forgotten by God.
A few months into the treatment, I set up a blog so I could write about my experience of cancer and share it with the world. However, my main aim was to show others that even when life gets really tough – sometimes even to the point that you feel like giving up all together – even then, God is still good. He still has a plan and a purpose even though we may not come to understand fully why tragedies, disasters and suffering occur. And in light of the horrors we have witnessed across the world in 2015, I am still writing my blog. Our world is in desperate need. It is a broken and fragile place.
God, where are you?
He is here. Now. Amongst us all. Why do I celebrate Christmas? I celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas, because He came to save me. He did this by standing in my place and taking the sin of the whole world upon Himself on the cross. You see, sin separates us from God. But Christ, being the Son of God was sinless and perfect. But He took my punishment upon himself, so I could come to know God personally. And so can you.
God is not far off and limited to those who are already Christians. He promises to give His love, freedom and forgiveness to all who will believe that he has freed them from the cost of their sins, granting eternal life to all who look to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour.
It’s not about what we’ve done, the mistakes we’ve made and continue to make. Although we mess up, it’s all about what Jesus Christ has done for us all. This God that I am talking about loves you deeply and His grace goes deeper than the deepest pit of despair in your life.
This Christmas you may be facing bereavement, an illness or disability, a relationship breakdown, an addiction which you can’t seem to break, difficulties at work, managing your work/life balance, or perhaps something completely different. As a Christian I am not isolated from the challenges of life as 2016 approaches. I am painfully reminded that it is very likely that my sister will have to undergo major surgery in 2016 to correct significant curvature of her spine which is a complication of her cerebral palsy.
I have to confess that I doubt, I struggle and I question. But what I have come to know throughout all of these trials is that God is here and God has never once left me to go through it alone. And I have confidence for the future because he has promised that he will never leave me.
He knew that by taking me out of university, I would return and achieve a first class honours degree. He knew I would set up a blog, which my now husband would leave a comment on – and with a little help from our friends, the rest is history! He knew my experience of cancer could be used to help others as I now work in Cancer Services at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital. And He knows what tomorrow brings and He tells me not to worry about it, because tomorrow has enough worries of it’s own.
Let’s stand firm in the truth that God’s grace goes deeper than the depths of our worries. He is with us. He will not leave us. And I can share with you with confidence and boldness, that when trials and troubles come, God is our help and fortress.
So if I could tell you one thing this Christmas, no matter what you’ve done, where you have come from or where you are now, God loves you still. The real gift is this, Jesus Christ – Saviour of the World. Will you accept Christ – God’s gift to you this year?