Today is the feast of Purim in the Jewish calendar. This feast commemorates the victory of the Jewish people over those who sought to destroy them. Because of the obedience and daring of Esther and Mordecai, God was able to work to overthrow their enemies. Although I don’t celebrate the Jewish festivals, this one holds a special place in my heart.
When my daughter was born 13 weeks prematurely, I was already caring for my two year old. The twice daily trips to the hospital, and the rollercoaster of emotions as Ellen hung between life and death sapped all my energy and left me feeling unable to cope. When Ellen finally came home from hospital three months later, she was still desperately sick. She would stop breathing six or eight times in every twenty-four hours, and I would have to get her started again. If she failed to breathe adequately again, it meant an emergency dash to hospital for her to be given oxygen.
It took two and a half hours to feed her, which had to be done six times a day – that accounted for fifteen out of every twenty-four hours. Nonetheless, she failed to thrive. In desperation I cried out to God as never before, and he answered me in two ways. Firstly, the ladies from my church rallied round and organised a rota, so that every day I had people coming in to do cleaning, cooking, washing and ironing, leaving me free to see to my children. Secondly, I read something that changed my life forever.
I had grown up with the feeling that God had to love me because that was His nature, and that He tolerated me as long as I kept my head down in some obscure corner of His kingdom; and I felt utterly worthless. One day I read an article in which the author quoted from Psalm 66 “For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.” He described a prolonged and traumatic experience and explained that through it he had come into such a place of closeness to God that it was worth all he had been through to reach such a place of abundance. I knew it was what I wanted and I prayed possibly the first really sincere prayer I had ever prayed: “God, I don’t care what it takes or what I have to go through, please get me to that place of abundance.”
Ellen grew weaker and sicker, and at five months old weighed only four pounds fourteen ounces. We were later to discover that her very premature start in life had left her with severe cerebral palsy and autism. The cerebral palsy affected all four of her limbs, her sitting balance and – crucially – her sucking and swallowing muscles, accounting for the feeding difficulties. But at the time I didn’t know this. One day, after another exhausting night of trying to feed her and starting her breathing again several times, it suddenly occurred to me that if I smothered her with a pillow, no one would know. They would just think that she had stopped breathing again and I had failed to get to her in time – which the doctors thought was the likely outcome anyway.
With hindsight I was suffering from serious post-natal depression. But I reasoned that this episode could all be over, we could have another baby, and no one would suspect a thing. I was on the stairs, on my way up to fetch a pillow, when there was a ring at the doorbell. I answered the door.
My housegroup leader’s wife stood there looking a bit sheepish. She explained that she didn’t really know why she had come, she had just had a strong feeling that God was telling her I was in trouble and she should get round here now. I broke down and told her what I had been about to do. She put the children and me into her car, took us to her house, tucked me up in bed and looked after my girls for me.
Afterwards I was amazed that God (a) knew what I was about to do, and (b) cared enough to stop me. It was my first real glimpse of His love and care for me. A few days later I was reading Psalm 45 and verses 10-11 leapt off the page at me: “Listen o daughter, consider and give ear. Forget your people and your father’s house. The King is enthralled by your beauty. Honour Him, for He is your Lord.”
I saw immediately that God was telling me to forget the ideas of Him that I’d grown up with, and to understand that when He looks at me, He is enthralled by what He sees, and longs for me to feel the same way about Him. I look back on that moment now as the pivotal turning-point in my Christian life. That realisation changed everything and brought me into that place of abundance that I had been longing for. Life continued to be very hard, but God’s love was like a secret spring inside me which gave me the strength to cope with it all and to live joyfully.
What has all this to do with the feast of Purim? Years later, I decided to set up Lifeline, a community project from my church giving to other families the same kind of help and support that the ladies from my church had given me. I contacted the local hospital’s Special Care Baby Unit, spoke to the doctors and health visitors, and recruited a team of volunteers and a prayer team, ready to support families with seriously ill newborn babies. We have now been running for 14 years, and helped around100 families.
One day when I was starting to set all this up, I was driving along in the car, and thinking about how the very thing the devil had intended for harm – my daughter’s fragile start in life and severe disabilities – was being turned around and used against the devil. We were going to bring the love of Jesus to suffering families in a way that would not have happened if the devil hadn’t done what he did to Ellen.
I said to God, as I drove along, “There must be an example in Scripture where someone takes something the enemy has intended for their destruction, and uses it to destroy the enemy.” Immediately He reminded me of Esther 7. That chapter begins with Haman building a gallows, seventy-five feet high, on which to hang Mordecai, and because of Esther’s obedience and God’s intervention, it ends with Haman swinging from his own gallows.
It seemed the perfect metaphor for Lifeline. One day I will see people in heaven who wouldn’t have been there if the devil hadn’t done what he did to Ellen. Like Esther and Mordecai with Haman, it’s my mission to hoist the devil with his own petard.
Can I encourage you to do this too? Take a look at what the devil has thrown into your life, things he intended to bring you down and do you harm. Then look around for someone else who is going through something similar, reach out to them with the healing love of Jesus, and watch the devil swing from his own gallows.