Step 1 of the pilgrimage

On 6th January I set out on the 9.34 train to Waterloo and made my way from there by tube to Old Street. On the tube train I found a purse that someone had left behind, so I handed it in at Old Street station and then tweeted the name on the debit card it contained, in the hope of reuniting it with its owner.  It felt good to be doing a small act of kindness on the way to the chapel of one of the kindest men this nation has known.
wesley-statue
The day was cold and I was chilled through when I arrived, so I sat in a pew next to a radiator and looked up at the pulpit from which, according to information I later found in the museum, Wesley himself had preached.  The building itself is very beautiful with marble pillars, ornate carvings, stunning stained glass windows and elaborate gold decorations on the white walls and ceiling.  The Methodist chapels I visited in childhood, such as the one where my grandfather was the minister, were marked by their plain simplicity, and I was not expecting quite such a contrast.
wesley-chapel-interior
As I sat facing the pulpit and taking in the sight and atmosphere, male voices  suddenly broke into a rendition of Charles Wesley’s hymn, “Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free”.  They were in the balcony above and behind me, out of my sight, and it felt as if an angel choir had gathered to remind me of my purpose in being here – the pursuit of Jesus and establishing a deeper walk with Him.

There was plenty to see and do, but I felt like a worshipper, not a tourist and I just wanted to sit for a while and soak up the atmosphere, worship God, and bring my prayers to Him.  I told Him I was here because I wanted to put a stop to the gradual drift away from Him that had been going on for some time now, and for 2017 to be a year of drawing near again. It was lovely to have a leisurely day when I could take all the time I needed to be in His presence and be present to Him.

I walked around the perimeter of the chapel, looking at the detail of each stained glass window and reading all the In Memoriam inscriptions.   I was surprised to find a window sponsored by Methodist Freemasons, having always believed Christianity and Freemasonry to be incompatible.  But how sad that, by the end of the day I had found seventy-eight memorial plaques and windows, but only seven of these mentioned women, and three of those only as a footnote to their husbands’ inscriptions.  Considering how much the advancement of the kingdom of God in this country owes to many generations of the women of the Methodist movement, women like my grandmother, a Methodist minister’s wife who devoted her life to prayer, ministry, hymn writing and acts of kindness, I wondered if their contribution is really as little esteemed as this might suggest.

I was then invited to join a tour of the house where John Wesley lived and died (though in life he was, of course often away from it – he rode a total of a quarter of a million miles on horseback the length and breadth of this nation to preach the Gospel).  I saw his Christening robe, clerical garb and shoes and was surprised at how small he must have been.  There was also a rattle he played with as a baby, and a Wedgwood teapot with two prayers written on it.  But, unknown to Josiah Wedgwood when he made the gift, John Wesley did not approve of tea drinking, and it would probably only have been used for home-made herb teas, made from garden herbs such as sage.

I was fascinated by the writing case he took with him to write his thousands of sermons and hymns while on horseback.  It was quite compact and would fit comfortably in front of him, with a sturdy, level surface on which to write.  His travelling chest was surprisingly small – clearly he travelled very light.
wesleys-study
Some of the objects in the house gave a feeling of real connection with the man – the kitchen table and dresser were the ones used here in his time.  There was a leather chamber horse (a replica of his own), to be bounced up and down on for twenty minutes a day when the weather was too inclement to go horse riding out of doors!  At some time in the past many layers of wallpaper had been peeled off the walls until the final layer, Wesley’s own wallpaper, was reached.  Exact replicas were then made for each of the rooms, so they are now decorated exactly as in his time.
bedroom-wallpaper1
This part of my visit felt more touristy – I felt the same frisson whenwesleys-chair I saw his study with its writing table as I feel whenever I visit Jane Austen’s house and see her writing table (the two being very similar in size and shape).

wesleys-prayer-room-2But the spiritual intent of my visit rushed back over me when I stepped into his prayer room and saw the low dresser with a big Bible spread on it and the little kneeler before it – no chair to sit in here; this was a room for knee-work.  The sense of God’s presence was palpable, as if the walls were saturated with the many, many prayers that had gone up from this room.

After leaving the house I visited the original Foundery chapel where I was happy to find the lectern Bible open at the very chapter I had read before leaving home that morning.  I was delighted also to see Charles Wesley’s own pipe organ.
the-foundery-chapelcharles-wesleys-pipe-organ

The guide who showed us round the house had told us that Charles Wesley frequently rode on horseback to his brother’s house, and on arrival would often dismount and rush into the house calling for a quill pen to be brought quickly so that he could write down some hymn verses that had come to him on the way, before he forgot them.  That called forth a wave of empathy from me – how often I have done the same sort of thing (not that I put my writing on a par with his!)

The museum filled in some details that the guide had not mentioned.  John Wesley died with friends and family around his bed, and his last words were, “The best of all is, God is with us.” As well as centuries-old documents and artefacts, there were a number of i-pads in the museum to enable an interactive experience.  You could select a hymn to listen to, and I chose the one that caught my eye and seemed to sum up the purpose of my journey.  I listened to it all the way through before continuing round the museum:

O Thou Who camest from above,
The pure celestial fire to impart,
Kindle a flame of sacred love
On the mean altar of my heart.

There let it for Thy glory burn
With inextinguishable blaze,
And trembling to its source return,
In humble prayer and fervent praise.

Jesus, confirm my heart’s desire
To work and speak and think for Thee;
Still let me guard the holy fire,
And still stir up Thy gift in me.

Ready for all Thy perfect will,
My acts of faith and love repeat,
‘Til death Thy endless mercies seal,
And make my sacrifice complete.

But the real treasure which I discovered was the covenant which Methodists say once a year.  I brought home a copy of it, and I intend to make it my prayer every morning for the foreseeable future:
methodist-covenant
The words made me think of Jesus, who emptied Himself for our fullness, and of Paul’s words about “having nothing, yet possessing all things”.  With much to ponder on and much to aspire to, I returned to the chapel to spend some more time in silent contemplation. As I sat down in the pew, a pianist began to play “It is well with my soul” – which seemed a fitting end to my visit.  I loved how my time in the chapel had begun and ended with hearing worship in song.

My year of Wesley pilgrimage

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Origins of the journey

It began on New Year’s Day, the first Sunday of 2017.  We sang a hymn which the Gaither Vocal Band had popularised in the USA, but which had never really caught on in the UK.  You can hear the song here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsq3aDNhZIQ

Our pastor read the words, and at one point, as he explained what they meant he became quite overcome with emotion. We were invited to take the microphone and say what in this song had particularly spoken to us.  As I looked at the words, the line that leapt out at me was “I know how fear builds walls instead of bridges”.  I couldn’t help but think of the very scared little man who is about to assume leadership of the biggest western nation, and his threats to build a wall to keep Mexicans out, as well as his intention to expel all illegal immigrants and ban Muslims from entering the country.

I stood up and tried to explain this to the congregation – how one of Trump’s advisors, Monica Crowley, had tweeted a photograph of herself beside the Berlin Wall with the words, “At the Berlin Wall last week.  Walls work.”  That the trauma of separation caused by the wall, not to mention the oppression that took place behind it and the deaths of those who tried to escape its tyranny, should be seen as evidence that “walls work” should sound a note of the greatest alarm.

And this reminded me of the situation in France during the 18th century, when the increasing wealth and complacence of the rich while callously grinding the faces of the starving poor had spilled over, in 1789, into the French revolution, which not only overturned the establishment and the stranglehold on power of the monarchy and nobility, epitomised in the storming of the Bastille on July 14th, but often at times descended into a chaotic bloodbath, with the introduction of the guillotine.

I noted that social conditions in Britain, especially England, at the time were almost exactly parallel to those in France, and that it has often been said that what saved England from a bloody French-style revolution was the spiritual revival that took place under the Wesleys, George Whitefield and Charles Finney. And it struck me, pondering on the words of this hymn, that a few hundred sermons, preached here and there all over the country as John Wesley rode the length and breadth of the land, could not of themselves have been the bulwark that held back the tide of revolution and averted disaster. (Note: that is what I said in church; I have since learned that John Wesley delivered some 45,000 sermons during his ministry.)  Rather, it must have been the many individual lives, transformed by the power of God, who returned to their communities and lived out the kingdom of God in their small, daily circle, that changed the history of the nation and brought about a peaceable change that, in the coming generations, could give rise to men like William Wilberforce and the eighth Earl of Shaftesbury, and women like Elizabeth Fry and Josephine Butler.

This reminded me of Jesus’ saying that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump”.  All it needed, in the Wesleys’ day, for revival to spread and transform the life of the nation, was for individuals indwelt by the Holy Spirit, to bring the kingdom of God into the homes and streets where they lived.  And the same is true now. We might look at some worrying trends on the political stage here and abroad, and feel helpless to do anything about it.  But that is not the truth.  We are the leaven, scattered throughout the dough of society, which can leaven the whole lump, if we determine to bring the light and love of God’s kingdom to the places where we live and work.

After church, our pastor spoke to me.  He agreed with my analysis of the situation, and said that the parallels were even greater than I realised – that if I read the history of the South Sea Bubble I would see similarities both with quantitative easing and the bank bailouts which had been done at the expense of the poorest in society, and with the recent exposure of tax avoidance in offshore funds by some of the nation’s wealthiest people.  And he told me that it was estimated that twenty-eight thousand people came to faith in Jesus through John Wesley’s preaching – not a great proportion, considering that the population of Great Britain in Wesley’s time was around twelve million.  A little leaven leavens the whole lump.  If 2.3% of the population in Wesley’s time could change the course of the nation, what might we do today?  We have the power in our hands to change the world, if we only realised it and prayed and acted accordingly.

I continued to ponder all this after I got home from church.  I had, like John Wesley, known my heart “strangely warmed” on more than one occasion.  I could recall times when my experience of Jesus echoed Charles Wesley’s lyrics “My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth and followed Thee”.  But I knew that in recent years my heart had begun to grow colder, and currently I could identify more with the words of William Cowper,

“Where is the blessedness I knew,
When first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul refreshing view
Of Jesus and His Word?

What peaceful hours I once enjoyed!
How sweet their memory still!
But they have left an aching void
The world can never fill.”

And somehow, as I sat contemplating all this, I felt God calling me to make a journey, both spiritual and physical, this year, in the footsteps of John Wesley.  I spent some time researching places he had been.  Some I already knew quite well – I had long been familiar with some of the sites in Cornwall where Wesley had stayed and preached, and I had often worshipped at Truro Methodist Church.  My own grandfather on my mother’s side had been a Methodist minister, for a long time active in the circuit in East Hull, and pastoring at one of its churches.  But I felt compelled to learn more about the Wesley brothers and their ministry, and in particular the secret of how they kept alive the flame of their relationship with Christ through a lifetime that was certainly not without its privations but which never wavered from devotion to the cause of Christ, the spread of His kingdom, and seeing lives transformed by His love and grace.  Over the course of the year, I hope to chart my progress here.

The January sales have come early!

From now until the end of January you can buy a package of four of my books – The Well is Deep, Sailing in Deep Waters, Glimpsing Glory Every Day and Poems in the Secret Garden for a total of £20 + £3.95 P&P –  a saving of over £11.  This is UK inland postage only so message me if you want them shipped overseas and I can work out the price.  Click on this link to buy the set of four books.

books

Details:
The Well is Deep  Fifteen year old Photini is making preparations for her wedding in the first century Samaritan village of Sychar. An idealistic dreamer, she has no inkling of the disaster that is about to befall her in the form of baseless accusations, public shame and a life of abuse and subservience. When the sudden death of her husband releases her from this living nightmare, it leaves her with a desperate thirst to be loved. This desperation drives her from one hopeless marriage to another until eventually she grasps at the only man left who she believes can truly love her – and he is another woman’s husband.  Who can rescue her from the downward spiral?
Sailing in Deep Waters  A collection of blog posts written over a period of eighteen months.  They chart different aspects of the author’s journey with God and ways in which she has discovered Him along the route.  Good for dipping into, or daily devotional readings.
Glimpsing Glory Every Day  More devotional readings, with thoughts on God’s faithfulness along life’s journey, celebrating His goodness in all the circustances of life.
Poems in the Secret Garden 
A collection of devotional poems to help you express worship to God when your own words run out. 

What constitutes dignity?

human-dignity
Photo:Trounce/Wikimedia Commons

When I was teaching the topic euphemistically referred to as “end of life issues” with my RE classes in school, I sometimes used to show them the Channel 4 documentary about the fight of Diane Pretty, a woman in the advanced stages of motor neurone disease, to be allowed to have her life ended by her husband without him having to fear prosecution.  The case went all the way up through the British legal system and finally to the European Court of Human Rights.  At every stage the judges upheld the status quo, refusing to legitimise euthanasia, and affirming that the right to self-determination does not extend to the right to choose when and how to end one’s life.

The problem with the documentary was that it made no attempt to be unbiased, but was unashamed propaganda for Diane Pretty’s point of view.  It was quite obvious that this distressed, depressed and vulnerable woman’s situation had been hijacked by a pro-euthanasia organisation which found her a handy promotional tool for its own agenda, and I tried to make that point to the students and get them to consider other points of view also.  When someone so despairs that she wants her life to end, she is not suffering from disability, she is suffering from depression, and the solution is not to confirm her despair but to treat her depression.

In particular, the documentary showed a scene of Mrs Pretty’s soiled incontinence pad being changed by a carer who came to the house especially for the purpose, and it cited this as evidence of a total loss of dignity.  I used to point out to students that I care for a disabled person who has to have carers come in every day to help with exactly this personal care task, and whose cheerful good spirits and sense of humour enable her to retain her dignity and humanity even while such intimate help is being given.  Loss of dignity is an attitude of mind, not an objective fact.

Now I am watching elderly relatives of mine also reaching a point where they are unable to carry out intimate personal care tasks for themselves, and having to rely on paid carers to assist them.  I think this takes far more mental adjustment for them than for someone who has been disabled all her life and has never known what it is not to be reliant on others for this kind of care.  Along with this goes a need to depend on others to provide meals, and the restriction of no longer being able to go out and socialise in the way that they used to.  One of them in particular was always ready, well into her eighties, to serve others by giving lifts in her car and I know that she feels it very keenly that she can not only no longer give other people lifts to meetings, but cannot get to those meetings herself.  And I believe that when our older generation reach this stage of life, it is absolutely vital that we do not present this to them as a loss of their dignity.

I think this is an error which even the church unwittingly falls into.  Ministry has traditionally been seen as a function of the physically able and intellectually gifted.  I recently came across an online forum where a young man was asking for help regarding a vocation to the Catholic priesthood.  It was clear from what he wrote that his spiritual journey had been leading him to this point for some time and he was longing to seek ordination, but was worried as to how his calling would be seen by the Church, since he was blind.  I was very saddened to read the responses – telling him, firstly on a practical level that he would be unable to celebrate and administer the Eucharist, and so would not be able to carry out the duties of a priest, and secondly, and more disturbingly, on a theological level that the priest represents Christ vicariously to the people, and so an imperfection such as blindness would incorrectly caricature Christ as imperfect and for this reason he could not consider a priestly vocation.  (I should point out that these were the opinions of the forum respondents, not an official position from the Church).

It is hard to enumerate the many levels on which this is both heresy and nonsense. Firstly, where is the priest who is devoid of imperfections and therefore represents Christ adequately?  I dearly loved my philosophy tutor when I was a student, an elderly Jesuit priest who was bent nearly double and in constant pain from ankylosing spondylitis and who had a penchant for risqué jokes.  Coming as I did from an ultra-conservative evangelical background, he did more than anyone else for my spiritual formation in my late teens and early twenties, opening my eyes to profound ways of relating to God in contemplation and silence and to the wideness and encompassing nature of the love and mercy of God.  The idea that any minister of God has no physical, psychological or spiritual imperfections and can therefore adequately reflect the perfect nature of Christ is nonsense.

Secondly, there are no duties that a blind priest could not be enabled to carry out with the right reasonable adjustments – the Bible and prayer book in Braille, a fellow-priest or altar server to show him where to stand, even a guide dog to lead him along the altar rail, why not?

Thirdly, a priest who has himself overcome more difficulties in life than many of his congregation, who has learned to depend on God in the hard times, and who has faced head-on the hard questions about human suffering and the sovereignty of God and has emerged with his faith strengthened, has a wealth of spiritual riches to offer his congregation.

Fourthly, who says that Christ was devoid of imperfections, or at least of vulnerabilities?  During His years in the carpenters’ shop, do you think He never slipped and gashed His arm with a chisel, or hit His thumb with a hammer?  We are told that He was tested in all points as we are, yet was without sin.  So in all likelihood he did hit His thumb, but didn’t let rip with a volley of expletives!

But more than that, vulnerability, weakness and what today’s society considers indignity was His intention and plan for His human existence.  When God first put in an appearance on the earth, He was not wearing a stitch of clothing, and had no control of His bladder and bowel, dependent on His parents to keep Him clean.  I once read that evangelicals, while affirming their belief in the dual (human and divine) nature of Jesus, are nonetheless guilty of a sort of unconscious Docetism that tries to gloss over the reality of His humanity, as if it were somehow irreverent to think of Him as really sharing all that human frailty entails.  But in the baby of Bethlehem we are confronted by God in a dirty nappy, crying for a feed.  And He ended His life in vulnerability, hanging exposed and naked before a mocking crowd, unable even to wipe away the blood and sweat that ran down His face.

If we as the Church are to be truly the Body of Christ then everything that His body did when He was on earth, we are to do, too.  Of course that means developing a disciplined prayer life, feeding the hungry, ministering and loving.  But it also means unashamedly accepting frailty, vulnerability and the need to receive the assistance of others to do things we would rather do ourselves.  We must not, at all costs, allow the elderly and disabled members of the Body to believe that their loss of ability and their growing dependence entails a loss of dignity, lessens their contribution or their value in the life of the Church or makes them less Christ-like.  The very reverse is true.  As we will be singing in a couple of weeks’ time, “He was little, weak helpless; tears and smiles like us He knew.”

Let’s affirm to our elderly members, our disabled members, our weaker and more vulnerable members, “In your patient acceptance of the frailty of your body, we see a reflection of Jesus.  In your need to turn to others for assistance, we see the humility of God.  In learning from you, we feel like those early disciples, sitting at Jesus’ feet to learn from Him.  And in serving you, we feel the privilege as deeply as if Christ Himself were in front of us, accepting our service.”

 

Lord Shinkwin’s Abortion (disability equality) bill.

Did you know Lord Shinkwin has introduced a bill to bring the time limit for abortions on the grounds of disability into line with the time limit for all other abortions? He sees it, rightly in my view, as a matter of disability discrimination. You can read my summary at http://www.throughtheroof.org/summary-of-briefing-on-lord-shinkwins-disability-abortion-equality-bill/ with a link to my full briefing if you’re interested in a more detailed analysis.

Permission to Fail

The original version of this article was written for Through the Roof (www.throughtheroof.org) and is reproduced here by kind permission.

I was talking to a friend recently about the difficulty she has in finding people willing to get involved and take leadership roles in groups and church activities. “People don’t want to do it,” she told me, “because they’re afraid to fail. I wish I could get them to see that it’s better to have a go, even at the risk of failing, because they will grow through the experience and others will step up to help them.”
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That started me thinking. Is failure really the worst thing that could happen? Sure, it can be embarrassing and dent one’s pride, but is that such a bad thing? I remember when I started a community service from our church, giving practical and emotional support to families with seriously ill and disabled newborn babies in our local hospital’s Special Care Baby Unit. I woke up in a cold sweat one Sunday morning as the realisation hit me that if I messed up on this it wouldn’t just be personally embarrassing, it would tarnish the church’s reputation in the whole community. Self-doubt crept in: could I really do this? And then I went to church and that morning someone got up to share a quote he had just read: “Attempt something so big that it’s bound to fail unless God intervenes.” It was God’s answer to my self-doubt. I set up the project, and God did intervene. Over the next seventeen years until it closed it became a lifeline to almost 100 families in our community.

When you look at the stories of the great people of God in the Bible, many of them arrived at their greatness via the route of failure. Moses allowed his fear of public speaking to cause him to refuse God’s assignment for his life, to the point where he really tried God’s patience: “Then the Lord became angry with Moses. ‘All right,’ he said. ‘What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he speaks well. And look! He is on his way to meet you now. He will be delighted to see you. Talk to him, and put the words in his mouth. I will be with both of you as you speak, and I will instruct you both in what to do. Aaron will be your spokesman to the people. He will be your mouthpiece, and you will stand in the place of God for him, telling him what to say.’” (Exodus 4. 14-16).

And what about Elijah? Even after his defeat of the prophets of Baal he allowed himself to be overcome by fear and fell into a deep depression (1 Kings 19). When Mordecai asked Esther to plead with the king for her people, she at first refused, fearing that she might be killed. It was only when Mordecai pointed out that unless she persuaded the king to change his mind she would be killed along with all her people anyway, that she submitted to Mordecai’s words and God’s plan for her life (Esther 4. 7-13).

Joseph confidently followed God’s will; once in Egypt, he didn’t put a foot wrong. And yet he had to go through unjust accusations, a long imprisonment and being forgotten by those he had helped until he saw the fulfilment of God’s promises for his life (Genesis 40). Hot-headed David would have wiped out all of Nabal’s family and incurred bloodguilt, if it hadn’t been for the pleading of a wise lady who dared to challenge him and cause him to turn back from the course he had set out on (1 Samuel 25).

Martha misunderstood the heart of following Jesus, and blamed her sister when she should have been following her example. Jesus had to correct her publicly, in front of her sister and the disciples (Luke 10. 38-42). Peter denied Jesus out of fear for his own life, and came to bitterly regret it (Matthew 26. 69 – 75). Paul made a mistake about the character of Mark, assuming that if he had blown it once, he could not be trusted. But Barnabas, whose name means son of encouragement, gently showed him that God had a better way. (Acts 15. 36-39)

Even Jesus had his own experience of failure, both in private and in public. He reached out in love to the rich young ruler, only to see him turn his back and walk away (Mark 10. 17-22). He preached in his home town and far from receiving a standing ovation, the crowd tried to kill him. (Luke 4. 16-30)

So if you have ever thought about starting some venture for God (see here for some suggestions if you’re stuck for ideas), but you’ve stepped back because you’ve thought, “I’m not good enough” or “What if I mess up and look a fool?” I would encourage you to think again. Many of the people we now honour as having served a vital role in God’s purposes arrived there via the route of failure. In some cases, God used them in spite of their failures; in other cases, the journey through failure was an essential part of their spiritual growth and character development.

What if God is challenging you to trust Him in spite of your self-doubt? What if He plans to intervene in your venture so it doesn’t fail? What if failure is one of the ways He intends to grow your character? Would you turn down the chance of being schooled by Him into someone who can make a difference and bring about change in the world? So I would encourage you to think again, dare to step out and see what God will do with you and through you.

Pastoral care of families with disabled children

My last post was a fictionalised account of what life is like with a severely disabled child. But I don’t want to leave it on that note, as real as it is.  I would like to explain how my church got me through those years when my children all lived at home and I was juggling all their needs when one of them had complex multiple disabilities.

When my daughter was born, three months prematurely and fighting for her life, two things happened immediately.  One was that a lady in the church organised a 24 hour prayer chain, so that at every hour of every day and every night, someone in the church was praying for us.  We felt it.  We were borne along on the strength of those prayers, and of the God who answered them.  The second thing was that the amazing ladies of our church swung into action and arranged a meals rota, so that when I came home from the hospital each evening I didn’t have to cook.

Over time, other things began to happen too.  If I could have my time again I would probably do things differently.  But I didn’t know if my precious baby was going to live or not, and I wanted to spend as much time with her as I could.  Additionally, I wanted to breastfeed her.  This had never been done before with a 27-week baby at our local hospital and the doctors encouraged me, as they wanted to know if it was possible.  This meant I had to go in at least every morning and evening to feed her, and I had to express enough milk for the nurses to give her when I wasn’t there.

With hindsight, I would perhaps have gone in every other day and had alternate days to devote more time to my toddler, who definitely suffered from being passed from pillar to post.  But it’s easy to say that now, given that my baby survived and grew to adulthood.  If she hadn’t made it, I’m sure I would never have regretted the time I spent with her.  And as for the feeding, it turned out that because of the cerebral palsy she couldn’t suck from a bottle, and if I hadn’t breastfed her she might well have ended up permanently tube fed.

People from my church stepped up and offered to look after my toddler each morning – one lady had her 3 mornings a week for 3 months because she felt it was important for her to have consistency of care.  Other people babysat each evening so that once the toddler was in bed we could go back to the hospital.

As time went on and I became more exhausted, people from church would appear on my doorstep and whisk my laundry basket away and bring it back washed, dried and ironed.  And when finally my daughter came home, aged 3 months, with all the breathing and feeding problems described in my story, the same lady that had organised the 24 hour prayer now organised a rota so that I had people from church coming in every day and doing all the household chores, leaving me free just to look after my children.  After having the nurses look after my daughter for 3 months, I didn’t want help with her, I wanted to be able to do everything for her myself.  And so the ladies from church came in and cooked, cleaned, laundered, vacuumed, ironed and changed the beds, leaving me able to do all the mummy stuff.

My daughter’s cerebral palsy wasn’t diagnosed until she was 15 months old.  One of the church leaders knew that we had an appointment at which we would be given details about the reasons for her failure to pass the normal milestones.  He put the date of the appointment in his diary, and the next morning he was on my doorstep at 9 o’clock to find out what we had been told and to let me have a good cry and to pray with me.

As the years went on my daughter was in and out of hospital frequently, and each time, this wonderful church machine swung into action again.  I don’t know how I would have managed without them.  My pastor’s wife came round to help three times a week for months on end with two of her own little ones in tow and just served me unstintingly.  My life passed in a blur of my daughter’s health crises, and I clutched at these lifelines gratefully.

At one stage we lived in one local authority and my daughter went to school in another, and during the school holidays both of them washed their hands of her and neither would provide physiotherapy.  She couldn’t survive the 6 weeks’ summer holiday without any physiotherapy, and it was an added burden on me having to carry out the demanding regimes every day.  And so a physiotherapist in the church got a few willing people together and taught them the physiotherapy exercises that were needed.  Then they took it in turns to come in and carry out her exercises each day throughout the holidays, giving me the time to sit and play and read with my eldest daughter.

Eventually baby number 3 was on the way, and in an effort not to have a third very premature baby, I spent 5 months more or less on bed rest, and in and out of hospital.  My mother came to stay as often as possible, but whenever she wasn’t there, the church swung into action again to fill her shoes.  One lady in particular whose house backed onto my back garden said I could phone her whenever my daughter needed the toilet, and she would come round and lift her out of her wheelchair, onto the toilet and back into her chair again, as I was not allowed to do any lifting.  She kept this up throughout my entire pregnancy.

That particular lady’s husband also came round every Monday evening for four years to pray for our daughter, until a change of job meant he could no longer do it.  It was from this time onwards that she began to learn to talk, defying the doctors’ prediction that she probably didn’t have the intelligence ever to learn any speech.  I am convinced that was an answer to his prayers.

When my daughter reached her teens, despite her learning disability, she began to be able to express, in her own simple way, a faith in and love for Jesus.  We spoke to our pastors about the things that she said, and they agreed that if this was her confession of faith, there was no reason why she shouldn’t be baptised.  She was enthusiastic when we asked her if she would like this, and so a day came when a couple of strong men lifted her out of her wheelchair and into the baptistry where her father and one of the pastors were waiting to baptise her.

When she was 29 her father died very suddenly after a short illness.  The pastor came round to minister to the family, and also to help us plan the funeral.  He included her very much in these discussions, never talking down to her or assuming that because of her learning disability she wouldn’t understand or be able to participate.  He offered her an opportunity to choose one of the hymns for the funeral, and she chose “Jesus is the name we honour”.

Now she is in her thirties, living in a residential care home close by, and comes with me to church every Sunday.  She remains a much loved member of the church, and is helped to participate, even sometimes being invited to choose what we will sing in the worship.

I know that people in the church still pray for us, and though our needs have changed and I don’t need the kind of practical help that was such a lifeline when she was small, the church continues to embrace us and is an ongoing source of support.

So, if anyone read the story I posted last time and wondered how a church should respond, this, my friends, is what pastoral care for a family with a disabled child looks like, and this is what love looks like.