Ash Wednesday 

This post is a testimony. That is a personal account of something that happened to me, in a particular situation, through the lense of my Christian faith. It is in no way intended to be advice for anyone in the same situation, as for some it would clearly be bad advice indeed! 

Three years ago I was quite possibly depressed. I was in the second year of a job that I once loved, but now hated. Where humour had always been my weapon of choice, our current cohort of kids were practically unbreakable. They were, on the most part, lethargic, miserable, entitled and yet chronically unmotivated; taught in a building with no windows. I arrived in the dark, felt the weight of a dark atmosphere, and then left in the dark. After a trip to a third world country that seriously backfired, no time or support to recover, and an awards ceremony that no one turned up to;  I had had enough. What’s more, we had been hoping to start a family for over a year and I was almost sure that my parts just didn’t work. However, with at least two months between each period, I always hoped that maybe this was it. Of course, it never was, and two months worth of hormones only intensified the disappointment. I looked for other jobs, but nothing felt right. I started exploring fostering, but our house was small, damp and completely unsuitable for that kind of use. So I started to look for other houses (to rent). At one point we thought we had found a good one; a large house with a garden and extra bathrooms. Perfect for a fostering application. However, when we went to view it, we sat in the car and prayed that- given this house was so much nicer than ours- God would make it quite clear if it was the right thing to do. At that moment, Husband’s phone- resting on the dashboard, out of reach of either of us-began to play a song. It wasn’t a song either of us had ever heard. It wasn’t even stored on his phone; it had popped up on YouTube. The words I remember went like this: “we are sitting here waiting for you; waiting for you to make the mountains move. We will wait for You.” Not what we were expecting! Just as we began another bewildered prayer, there was a tap on the window. It was a rather irritated estate agent telling us that the house was lovely, but we couldn’t see it. He’d been given the wrong keys and his office was miles away. Again, not what we were expecting! As he walked off, I went back to the phone but the song was gone. We drove home. The estate agent never rang back, and we didn’t chase it. (Yes, this was very weird- even for us!)

All of this happened before Christmas. So by the time lent approached, I was feeling overqualified, underpaid, undervalued and, according to Dr. Google, absolutely and definitely infertile. I spent every morning on the train looking at new jobs, new houses and fostering agencies; despite knowing that God had made it pretty darn clear I was to stay put and wait. This was absolutely a test of obedience to God and loyalty to my amazing manager; who felt pretty much the same, but handled it with a maturity and grace that I lacked. So that’s where I was come Ash Wednesday; feeling pretty sorry for myself!

I went to church on the evening of Ash Wednesday 2013; a service I had never been to before. I remember half way through getting an overwhelming sense of the holiness of God; so much so that I had to take off my scarf and cover my head (we are really not that kind of church!) I knew I looked ridiculous; kneeling on the floor, face flat, covered in purple fabric; but it was something I just knew I had to do. And I started repenting. Of everything. Mark Batterson writes about how sometimes we are so obsessed with wanting God to change our circumstances, that we refuse to allow Him to change us. That’s the only way I can really explain what I think was going on here; I was broken inside, it was showing on the outside, and God had finally got me into a place where He could fix it. I let go of all of my obsessions, desperation and misery. That was the moment, the day and the year that I gave up ‘trying to change my circumstances’ for lent. No job searching, no house hunting; I even gave up on the excessive efforts to get pregnant. (If you’ve ever had to make a concerted effort to conceive, then you’ll know exactly the sort of gravity-inducing antics I’m referring to here!) I just had to stop trying.

Instead, I started reading the Old Testament on the way to work. And it really did transform my attitude; it renewed my mind. So much so that when we went to a conference and they asked to pray for infertile women, I didn’t even think to step forward. My mentor next to me, knowing our situation, put her hands on my womb and started praying for healing. But in my mind, I was honestly telling God that this was OK. I didn’t need this, I didn’t deserve it, and I was quite prepared to be called to a different way of life. However, if He could just tell me, and not let this drag on for years, then I could move on. 2 weeks later I got another late period, and 2 weeks after that I got another one that just didn’t stop. Dr Google once more informed me that I was infertile and also had cancer. Obviously. So I went to the Doctor, who gave me something to stop the bleeding, but didn’t take anything else I said particularly seriously. It was only on my way out to the car park, as an after thought, that he told me to take a pregnancy test just in case; “as these tablets will flush out anything that’s in there.” Of course, I thought he was an idiot, but I took one anyway (again, only a select few will understand the cupboard full of cheapies in the bathroom!) And, lo and behold, that second line did exist after all! And yet… There was still rather a lot of blood. I went back to the Doctor, who said it very probably was a miscarriage, but booked me in for a scan at the end of the week. What a strange week it was. The night before the scan I realised, in my renewed state of faith, that I didn’t really know what to pray for. I had no reason to believe that this should work out for us, and was honestly just so thankful to have conceived at all. So I asked God what to pray for, and one word came straight to mind; mercy. So I got on my knees and, with no small amount of tears, that’s what I asked for.

The next day, I closed my eyes and opened my Bible. Upon opening them again I read this;

“I love the Lord for He heard my voice; He heard my cry for mercy. Because He has turned His ear to me, I will call on Him as long as I live.” (Psalm 116:1-2)

That, and the beating heart of my daughter-7 weeks grown- are 2 of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen; and all in the space of a week! I recieved an invitation to interview for a dream job on the date of that second scan, and it took all of my trust and hope to turn it down. But there she was! The bleeding carried on for 12 weeks, but that word was absolutely a lamp to my feet. Not only were we blessed with her, but we found a lovely house a few weeks later; ideally situated, as I wouldn’t need the train. I also left my job on excellent terms, (with a brand new cohort of wonderfully-humoured kids), for maternity leave a few months after that. All of which is why, to us, our daughter’s name means “faith in God’s promise”, and our son’s (born 20 months after her!) means “healing and mercy”. (I was in two minds about his, as it’s a little more unusual. However, after they prized him out of me, completely blue, and whisked him off into a crowd of doctors; only to hand him back a long 5 minutes later, pink-faced and cooing; Husband looked straight at me and said, “that absolutely IS his name!”)

So I’ll always remember that Ash Wednesday as the day my life began to change; from the inside out.

(It’s worth saying here that I know this doesn’t happen for everyone, and I don’t know why it happened for us; it is just my personal story and one I think is worth sharing. It is why I’m more than satisfied with my beautiful lot, and am eagerly learning how to intercede for others (more on that another day!) )

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