I have screamed and shouted at God, found Him very hard to forgive for the experiences I have had and many times felt very distant from him. I know I am not the only one to experience tragedy and pain.Ali Baxter
As we listen to others who believe in Jesus talk about the unredacted reality of life – we find their story resonates with our own in some way. Sometimes we find encouragement, sometimes we find solace, sometimes the faith of another person in the depths of adversity are inspirational. Every Wednesday we have a real-life story from the Church community in Marsden and Slaithwaite, this week Ali talks about the experience of knowing God is with us.
… by Ali Baxter
Sunday 2nd August, 2020
It all started with a ………….
Visit to the Post Office in summer 2018. There were two ladies chatting outside about the recent change in Vicar at St. James church. They were ‘singing the praises’ of Rev. Martin and the changes he was starting to introduce following the retirement of the previous vicar. As a Wesley brother said, “my heart was stirred” and I felt God calling me to worship at my local Parish church, something, apart from one church, I had always done and strongly believed in.
I had been trying to resolve in my head and heart where I could find a Christian community to worship with here in Slaithwaite which would suit my new needs and had a late morning service. I hadn’t spent much time in the previous 3 years worshipping God in any form due to being so ill with M.E. (Myalgic Encephalomylitis). I hadn’t had any energy; I couldn’t bear to listen to the radio or watch TV and had been unable to read. My brain had been so fogged I couldn’t even pray. I was feeling improvements and longing to join a new church, as I could no longer drive as far as the town centre to my previous church. I needed somewhere quiet, reflective, caring and where God was at the centre. I found that all at St. James. I felt cared for from the start. I thank you all. I also discovered we were in Interregnum!
Oasis was (and will continue to be) just that, a calm, quiet place of rest and restoration amidst the tumult of our lives. God filled people exploring their faith within a circle of love, care, understanding and confidentiality. From my first visit to Oasis I felt God confirming to me I was in the right place and at the right time. My confidence grew and it has been wonderful to take part and lead at times. I am told that I have been a blessing and an inspiration. It is not me it is God using me, just as he uses others. We all inspire and bless each other in all the contributions we make, as had Martin as a retired vicar stepping back up into vicar role. I know we appreciate all he did for us.
The Anglican services, something I was familiar with from previous parts of my life, felt affirming and nourishing. I started to feel closer to God again through the words I heard and the people who welcomed me. I know I was led to St. James for a reason. I hope to one day take more of a lead in our Sunday worship too and contribute more to the life of our church community. Every time we share the Peace with each other and want to ensure we have spoken with each person present my heart swells with joy – what a symbol of the love we have for each other. I miss being with you all.
My heart stirred again when I heard we were to have a new Vicar – I felt, as others did too, very excited. Meeting Rev Graeme and getting to know him a little since has confirmed to me that our church representatives made a sound God inspired choice. My prayer for the Colne Valley is spiritual growth for us as church communities and for the so many non-believers we live amongst. We all have a part to play in this and not just Graeme. As changes are made to ‘how we do things’ I pray we will all be supportive of the need to do so and challenge decisions we feel are not God led.
I have always wrestled with my faith, well it feels like that! Today I was reminded of that by Graeme’s sermon. I have screamed and shouted at God, found Him very hard to forgive for the experiences I have had and many times felt very distant from him. I know I am not the only one to experience tragedy and pain. I name a few:
- Found a dead neighbour who had recently fallen from his roof after I found his young son in tears and told him, “It will be alright”. I hadn’t heard what he was telling me properly through his tears. WHY God?
- As a teenager I lived very close to where Peter Sutcliffe (The Yorkshire Ripper) tried to kill a young lady and near to where he did kill. WHY God?
- Seen a teen friend my age wither away and die of cancer. WHY God?
- Been unable to follow by chosen career of nursing due to a back injury – I had so much felt called by God and was left feeling utterly distraught!! WHY WHY God???
- Known another friend die of cancer before she was 30. We had talked about our friendship, our faith and said our “goodbyes” but it was still painful. WHY God?
- Known a friend die in childbirth due to underlying health conditions again not 30 – I had seen her in hospital with pneumonia. The doctors were doing all they could to treat her and maintain the pregnancy. As her health failed they did an emergency caesarean to deliver her unborn child (expecting he would die) and to allow my friend to live. The opposite happened. A whole church asked WHY WHY WHY God? 26 years later I still find this hard to think about.
- Bullied at work leading to a ‘breakdown’. WHY God?
- My Christian husband leaving me for someone else. WHY God?
- Being mugged at knife point and my bag cut off my back with a knife. WHY God?
- Continued health issues and eventually my diagnosis of M.E. Leaving a job I loved and was good at. WHY God?
I fully acknowledge that the families of friends who died suffered so much more than me in their pain and grief. I felt it hard to move on from my past experiences and to feel that it is OK to be happy and content with my lot. It has taken many years. When I have asked WHY God? I haven’t necessarily received an answer and if I did certainly not always the one I wanted or needed to hear. Yet throughout I have known God was with me, even though I rejected him, he DID NOT leave my side. God provided:
- friends and family to care for me,
- shoulders to cry on,
- time and space to heal,
- understanding friends,
- new career paths – all making use of previously learnt skills,
- strangers to assist in an emergency,
- an amazing church family to grieve with,
- a counsellor who helped me deal with grief and pain,
- His strength, courage, comfort, care, love, wisdom and healing
- His forgiveness for ignoring his advice on some of my life decisions and opened up new paths and doors which have brought good out of bad situations.
- He taught me in my vulnerability to seek the help I needed from others – very hard to do!
I repeat what Graeme said in his sermon today: “It isn’t me that clings to God. It is God that clings to me. It is God who comes to us in weakness. And will not let us go. Will not let you go”
I was going to initially write about ‘Who am I?’ – I started and it was going to turn in to an epic. I will write it for myself some other time. In short though I am the daughter of God and the product of my life lived – all the sad, painful, happy and fun experiences I have had, with the family I care deeply for and my precious friends – old, long lasting and new. I am the product of all my good and bad life decisions, all God’s leading and all I have learnt in helping me to survive and thrive in this world!
I was a shy teenager who never ever expected to do any public speaking. It became part of my roles in 2 jobs and in my worship leading in 2 churches. God nudged me and provided me with the experiences and opportunities to develop my skills, sometimes just throwing me in the deep end! Taking part in any way in a service or group gives me time to deepen my faith and knowledge of God as I research and consider what I will say or do. God gives us all the skills we need to be of service and blessing to each other using the gifts He has given us. I encourage you all to do the same, maybe start by sharing something of your life / faith with us all via the website. God bless you all.