Ten Years Ago…

I’m not a sentimental person.  I don’t do flowers or fluffiness.  Yet today is an anniversary I’d like to remember and share with the world.

 

Ten years ago today, mine and Mr GLW’s worlds change forever.

 

It would probably be helpful for you to know Mr GLW’s name is Baggy as I share this part of our story with you.

 

I met Baggy in the year 2000.  My youth group were at Easter People and as a long-time friend of my youth worker Alice, Baggy came to help with our group.  He was old.  I was 16 and he was 29.  I was a crazy Christian teenager who loved Jesus and wanted everyone else to know Him too.

 

Less than a year after Easter People, I found myself in a relationship with an abuser.  It’s a story I’ve told in various ways on this blog and elsewhere.  I was with him for four years.  In that time he destroyed me almost completely.  I had my first child at 18 and was married months later.  I was pregnant again at 20.  Six months into my pregnancy my ex-husband raped me and my son was born three months premature.  He was immediately transferred 50 miles away.  My daughter and I lived in hospitals for five months with our tiny baby.  In that time, I had only two nights away from the hospital when I went to clear my possessions out from the house I had shared with my ex-husband.

 

Two of my greatest supporters throughout the time I was with my ex-husband (and when we lived in hospital) were Alice and Andy Smith who had been my church youth workers.  I would go stay with them when I attempted to leave my ex-husband.  They would visit us in hospital and take my daughter to stay with them for a few days.  It was Andy who I told about being raped.  They took me to the police station and looked after my toddler as I sat for three hours and made a statement about what I had been subjected to.  I don’t know if I would have made it through without them!

 

They were still in regular contact with Baggy, throughout the time I was married and when I was living in hospital.  When my ex-husband and I were both 19 he was convicted of sex offences and placed on the sex offenders register.  At the time, Baggy worked for the police and we had a phone call where I asked him various questions about police processes.  But mainly he was a friend of a friend who was kept informed about what was going on in my hugely complex life.

 

Whilst living in hospital, having lost everything, I found the God Who Is.  Previously to this, He had been the God of my parents and the God I sort of knew.  But in that hospital, He became my God, the God who saw me.  When all else is lost, God becomes real very quickly.  I began to hear God speak to me, audibly.  I know non-Christians reading this probably think it could probably be explained by the stress of life, but it really wasn’t.  He told me to read the Bible, a lot.  I was 21, but I looked about 15.  I had a seriously sick baby.  A toddler.  I had just separated from my husband.  I had no home as I had moved all my possessions into my parents’ garage.  And I was going through a criminal investigation due to being subjected to rape.  And I would sit reading the Bible, telling everyone how much Jesus loves them.

 

When my son was ready to be released from intensive care they were going to transfer him back to our home town.  I knew if I went back I would end up back in the relationship with an abuser.  God told me to move to Gateshead, where lovely Andy and Alice Smith lived.  My son was transferred to a new hospital and we moved with him.  Alice and Andy found a flat for us.  It was still a time when the social security system worked well and we were financially poor, but could survive.

 

One day we had some time away from the hospital visiting Andy and Alice who were having a party.  Baggy was there.  I had rarely seen him since I was sixteen.  As I stood chatting to him, God told me audibly that I was going to marry him.  I soon left the house in shock.  Convinced I had imagined God’s voice.  I told Him that no, I would not be marrying Baggy.  He was still old (34 by this point).  He wasn’t my sort.  In fact, nobody was my sort.  I would remain single for the rest of my life.  Marriage had nearly killed me.  End of.

 

Eventually my son was well enough to leave hospital, after a couple of attempts in which we left hospital and I had to resuscitate him at home when he stopped breathing and went either blue or grey.

 

Soon afterwards Andy and Alice moved to Essex.  I didn’t have a TV or internet and spent most evenings chatting to either God or friends on the phone.  Over the next year or so Baggy and I chatted on the phone regularly.  Whilst on one level I knew I would never want to marry him, on another I knew it was the only outcome for my life.

 

Over the months in Gateshead I attended a course in which I began to recognise that what I had been subjected to was labelled “domestic abuse”.  I accessed counselling.  I went to a large church in which I was vaguely anonymous.  I grew into myself and into God.  It was a beautiful time for me and the two small people God had given to me.  My son grew healthier.  My daughter grew happier.  Miracles of provision and transformation happened.  I learned to drive.  I learned to live alone.  My ex-husband was found not guilty by a jury.  I was prescribed higher and higher dosages of anti-depressants.  I gained some friendships and lost some.  The world was complex and messy, beautiful and desperately awful.  All at once.

 

Eventually I told God that he would have to tell Baggy to marry me.  I certainly wasn’t going to tell him.  And if it really was God, and not my imagination, this would prove it.

 

Then God told me to move to Essex.  I’d visited Andy and Alice, who now lived in the same town as Baggy.  I attended their church and God spoke to me.  They had been praying for our family for months and that Sunday they invited us to the front, to pray with us.  And so I made plans to move to Essex.

 

Baggy helped me to move.  Flying to Gateshead and driving the van down to Essex (for non-UK readers, this was an almost 300-mile journey).  Later on he told me that during this journey, God told him the he would marry me.  This came as a complete shock to him.  He’d been single for 13 years.  He was happily single and childfree, doing missionary work in Poland and that’s how he had envisaged life continuing.

 

Over the twelve days that followed from me moving to Essex, neither of us knew the other had been told by God we should get married.  Eventually I had an awkward conversation with Alice about it.  Seemingly, unbeknown to me, Baggy had a similar one with Andy.

 

Eventually on 26th February 2007 we had a conversation.  I mumbled a lot and offered him cups of tea.  And I rarely mumble.  It was very awkward.  But whilst sitting on opposite sofas we mumbled our way to realising that we God had told us to get married and so we agreed to do just that.  10 years ago today.

 

We got married six months later.  And the journey we’ve been on has been amazing and painful and wonderful.  Immediately that I found myself with someone to support me, my brain shut down and I became seriously mentally unwell.  Baggy went from being single to inheriting two children and a seriously crazy wife-to be.  I went from being poor to co-owning a house, two cars and having a super awesome husband-to-be.  We never got engaged or did engagement rings.  I gradually came off high dosage anti-depressants and Baggy described me as transitioning from being Eeyore to Tigger in about a month.  Both children quickly started to call Baggy daddy.  We attended family court to fight my ex-husband getting contact with the children and we succeeded.  Which was (and continues to be) a huge miracle.

 

Life has rarely been easy, but it has been awesome.  My wedding ring is inscribed with Ephesians 3:20, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”  It was also inscribed on Baggy’s first wedding ring, but he lost that one on the honeymoon and is currently on his third wedding ring.

 

I would have never asked or imagined marrying Baggy.  He’s still thirteen years older than me (obviously!).  But I think my life experience packed in about the same levels of maturity as his stable and single adulthood gave him.  He’s absolutely the best person I could have ever married, even though I would never have chosen him.  And as a committed feminist I sit in the tension of having had a divinely arranged marriage whilst holding onto values of bodily autonomy and personal choice fought for by feminists through the years.

 

Having indulged in an uncharacteristic amount of sentimentality, I will end here.  Our relationship is not a model for Christian marriage, it is a rare and complex partnership in the midst of the more conventional romances and proposals that take place in most Christian relationships.  However, it is our story and it continues to be the best one God could write with all of us GLWs.

 

 

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#WMH Tom McLean Feedback

I’m currently live-tweeting whilst reading Why Men Hate Going To Church by Dave Murrow.  You can check out my tweets on Twitter with the hashtag #WMH.  I tweeted this page from the book:

wmh-quote

Tom McLean (@Tom_McLean) kindly send me some GREAT information to counter the stuff listed here, hope you find it as useful as I did!

 

In the two paragraphs above, sentence by sentence:

1. You’ll struggle to find detailed evidence of attendances in C13th. Was an era of huge change – rise of the mendicant orders (the Dominicans, the Franciscans). Parallel growth of women’s religious orders, but from earlier roots (e.g. Scholastica, sister of Benedict, so C6th), not completely new. Change was social as well, but the claim about men’s attendance is at best unprovable.

 

2. Catholicism has never worshipped Mary. Devotion to her stems from at least the C3rd. (Have a search for Sub tuum praesidium – the John Rylands Papyrus Gr. III 470 is of note! Pic here: http://frederica.com/gallery/places-and-things/1067611) Title of Theotokos (God-bearer) given to her by the Council of Ephesus (431). Growth in C12th/13th period of devotion to the Blessed Sacrament – so Jesus, in the form of the sacramental bread. (Growth of Feast of Corpus Christi – originates with Juliana of Liege, but popularized by Pope Urban IV and Thomas Aquinas). On Corpus Christi and popular devotion in the period, see Miri Rubin, Corpus Christi. On Marian devotion, see Miri Rubin, Mother of God: A History of the Virgin Mary.

 

3. Weakness and dependency seem to get commended from at least Paul onwards… Struggle and sacrifice never portrayed as an alternative, but integrated with. E.g. Franciscan poverty is about sacrifice of possessions and wealth, but necessarily leads to a degree of dependency on (theologically) God and (practically) whoever gives you a meal, but also to freedom to go where the Church requires.

 

4. Some degree to which clergy became practitioners of faith, and reduced reception of the Eucharist. Though this led to a great growth in popular devotions aside from the official liturgies of the Church, see popularity of places of pilgrimage, the rosary, guilds, mystery plays, etc. On sociology of Christian worship, see Martin Stringer, A Sociological History of Christian Worship.

 

5.…and probably of women. Though only really know about men who became important. (Not so much on what Teresa Berger calls ‘men who were only men’ – see her Gender Differences and the Making of Liturgical History).

 

6. Men in the New World, yes – the first round with the likes of Columbus were the Jesuits. I know nothing about Puritan history which I suspect is more his focus… My instinct would be that a response needs to consider the make-up of the population more – was there an imbalance between men and women in the population at large?

 

7. Perhaps! But how do such rolls relate to the population at large? The comments in Bryan D. Spinks, ‘Imagining the Past: Historical Methodologies and Liturgical Study’, In Liturgy’s Imagined Past/S: Methodologies and Materials in the Writing of Liturgical History Today, edited by Teresa Berger and Bryan D. Spinks, Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2016, pp. 3–18; and Breen, Timothy H., Imagining the Past: East Hampton Histories, Reading, MA: Addison Wesley, 1989 might offer something interesting.

 

Good introductions to Church History:

  1. Very accessible introduction – Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, The Essential History of Christianity
  2. Detailed single volume – Diarmaid MacCulloch, A History of Christianity
  3. A little dated in places, but quite accessible, and still worth reading – The Pelican/Penguin History of the Church – several volumes by one of the Chadwicks, but other authors too. First one: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Penguin-History-Church-vol-1-Early/dp/0140231994
  4. Victorian Church – Owen Chadwick, The Victorian Church (2 vols)
  5. A bit more theological in character, the early chapters of Alistair McGrath’s Christian Theology: An Introduction (and the Reader that goes with).