I make the valley of trouble a door of hope
I was never held as a child. Mothers, hold your children. It offers them a safe place, a secure place.
I was one of five children. I was five years old. When most children were waking to the sound of laughter or someone in the kitchen preparing breakfast, I awoke to the sound of my mother screaming.
“Quick everyone, get up, we are being gassed!”
As a five year old child I questioned ‘What does that mean? Is it a good thing or a bad thing? What is gas? The look on my mum’s face told me that it was bad.
“We must be being gassed, Mum says we are.”
Mothers know the truth, they are always aware of what’s going on. They guide us, they are our protectors.
I believed Mum when she reported that our house had an infestation of Colorado beetles and the police had to be called to check it out. I believed Mum when she said that there were snipers outside our kitchen window; my brothers and I hid in fear for several hours under a table in case we were shot. I believed Mum when she announced that my dad was a sexual predator. I believed Mum when she said that all the curtains throughout the house had to be kept tightly shut for fear of our persecutors looking through the windows.
Mums dark visions continued for many years and I believed every single one of them and in turn fear entered my life. But there was light and I found comfort in the fact that, despite the bizarre goings on, every week Mum would take me to church, often twice a day on a Sunday, where I would sing along with the congregation the scriptures through Evensong. Mum would also sing over me a prayer at night. Despite her confused state the words ‘Jesus loves me, this I know’ were sung every evening before sleep and I believe this to be a truth that stayed deep down in my soul throughout my troubled years. These were the only chinks of light I had but it was God’s light.
When I started school my education was constantly interrupted by Mum turning up out of the blue and urging the head teacher to let me go home. The teachers didn’t think twice and let me go. She was my mother, she had rights and sadly my right to an education didn’t come into it. I became confused when Mum would barricade herself in our bedroom and refused to let us in, often for many days at a time. I became confused when she would come into our bedroom at night and just curl up at the end of my bed and sleep until morning. I was confused as a small child when I would hear that the police were out looking for her and would eventually find her hiding in a river in her nightdress among bulrushes. Confusion and insecurity crept into my life.
Panic and hatred entered my life when finally the doctors and the police surrounded our house while I and my four brothers were inside. Petrified, I could not understand what on earth was going on but it didn’t feel right. The door was finally broken down and Mum bolted; she ran so fast and demonstrated unnatural strength as she outran the police and all who chased after her.
Relief came to us when we finally heard that she had been captured. Despite Mum’s behaviour it broke my heart to think that she was no longer coming home but had been taken away to a psychiatric hospital to receive treatment. At that point it felt as though the whole family were in need of treatment for what we had experienced but none was given and none was offered. Mum was diagnosed with Schizophrenia but that still meant nothing to me and so I grew up full of fear, confusion, anxiety, insecurity and loneliness.
At the age of ten, because of loneliness, I would leave the house when it got dark and just roam around the streets, often to escape the difficulties that living with a mother with mental illness would bring. Being out on the streets at such a young age brought its own dangers but at the time I did not see it as dangerous. It wasn’t long before I fell into the trap of a paedophile. I welcomed his attentions as attention was something that I had been missing for so long.
The abuse from this man went on for many years but that abuse seemed nothing compared to the torment in my mind having to live at home in such a confusing environment. Little did I know that God was watching my back, His eyes were on me the whole time. He loved me even then. God was my keeper.
Things went from bad to worse when I went to live with my grandmother. Even though I had space and a room of my own and even though I was in a safe, secure environment I didn’t feel safe.
The abuse had continued and I fell pregnant and because of my age and the condition of my mother the doctors ordered that the pregnancy be aborted. I pleaded with them not to do it but my cries fell on deaf ears. I couldn’t cope with the guilt of what I had done and shortly afterwards I went back to the family home to find every tablet that I could lay my hands on and I took a huge cocktail of drugs in the hope that it would finish me off once and for all. I took Dad’s kidney tablets, Mum’s psychotic tablets and anything else that I could find in the medicine cabinet.
Depression and a self-destructive spirit had entered my life. I remember walking out of the house and down the footpath and that was it. I eventually woke up and found myself connected to machines and drips. Doctors were asking my name, asking me if I knew who I was and where I was. To be honest I didn’t really care, I was just saddened that I was still alive.
Over the coming days I was told that they were concerned that I had received brain damage and organ failure, but I hadn’t. When I was finally able to walk a nurse asked me to follow her to a side room down the corridor. She went on to say that the lady lying in this room was not as fortunate as I had been. She was lying there lifeless after taking an overdose and they were considering switching off her machines. The image of that lady has stayed with me to this day. Sadly, I didn’t see myself as lucky to be alive, I saw myself as someone who was alive but still carrying all the same problems: insecurity, fear, depression, guilt, worry, anxiety, hatred and confusion. I was well and truly in a dark state. I didn’t know it at the time but God saw through all of that; He saw me as someone worth saving. He saw me as Caroline; He knew my name.
It was several months before I was discharged from hospital and I wasn’t discharged with a clean bill of health. I was sent back to my grandmother’s with anti-depressants and a burdened heart. The depression would not go away and I was still aware of Mum’s situation, even though I didn’t live there. Mum would often turn up at my grandmother’s house demanding that I leave with her. Sometimes she would arrive in the middle of the night urging me to go with her to the church. I was physically tired, emotionally drained and desperately depressed and one night, in desperation, I shouted out to God
“If you are there you need to help me God!”
I believe that it was at this point of desperation that He heard my cry and began His restoration work within me.
Soon after that cry for help my grandmother died and the only person who had given me a sense of security had suddenly been snatched away. The Council were threatening to send me back to the family home so, again in desperation, at the age of eighteen, I married a man who I saw as a rescuer rather than a husband. I didn’t know what love was and I didn’t understand what family should look like but we set up home and we had three children together. I still found life a struggle and still had many insecurities, especially with him, but my children had given me a reason to live and I was determined to love them with all the love that I had.
I would take my children to church because, for me, that had always felt like a safe place and even though I didn’t know God personally at the time I knew deep down that my children needed to be there with me. It was one Sunday morning as I sat in church and the children had gone out to their Sunday groups, I was going through the motions of singing the hymns and not really understanding any of the words, that God touched me in such a way that I felt it; I felt His Spirit. Five years after crying out to God in desperation He touched me and I began to weep for all the wrong things that I had done in my life. I had an overwhelming sense of unworthiness and a few weeks later I gave my heart to Christ Jesus and my husband did the same thing.
(Psalm 116:8 ‘You have rescued my soul from death’)
It was as if someone had switched on the light. I knew my sins were forgiven but it took a long time for the truth of that to become a reality. My conversion gave me a realisation that I wasn’t alone any more and I can remember one particular day, still agonising over Mum’s situation and feeling desperately lonely, that the Holy Spirit gave me a song: ‘I’ve found a friend in Jesus’. As I began to write the song down the words just kept coming and it meant something to me. I wanted to tell the world of this new love that I had found.
I met an old friend, Tim, who had also had a recent conversion experience and I asked him, as a musician, to put a tune to the words I had received. It wasn’t long before this song, and my story, were being taken around to other churches and we were encouraged to see that people were being touched. I had a heart for the lost and God had begun to use my gifts to bring the same hope I had found into their darkness. But all too soon my life was about to enter into another dark period.
At that time I would go around and give Bible studies to young mothers in the community and on one such occasion this particular lady shared that her husband had been fantasizing over another woman. She went on to say that he had been driving past this woman’s house in the hope of catching a glimpse of her. I wasn’t shocked – it takes a lot to shock me! I went home and that evening, after putting the children to bed, I casually mentioned to my husband what this lady had shared with me. He went deadly quiet and after a few minutes said that he had a confession to make. He went on to say that he had been doing exactly the same thing. He said he was attracted to his sister-in-law and I had been driving past her house in the hope of seeing her.
I can honestly say that my only emotion after hearing this was one of compassion. He obviously felt bad about his behaviour and I wanted to reassure him so I said that these things can easily happen. I said that I knew how he felt as I once had a soft spot for Tim. I wanted him to know that it is easy for anyone to fall. I could not believe the reaction I got, it was indescribable. He went berserk and his whole demeanour changed from being a broken man in confession to a man enraged by what I had just told him.
Over the weeks his anger got worse and in the end he wouldn’t even look at me. We began to fight but I stood my ground and he stood his. The home had suddenly become extremely toxic. I was becoming ill with the amount of guilt that he was putting on me. He made me feel so unworthy and over six months of fighting I lost three stone in weight. Every morning I would wake up and feel nothing but condemnation. I kept going for the children’s sake but I felt so unlovable and felt it hard to show any love. I began to self-harm simply because the mental anguish he put me through was too painful and I would rather feel pain in my body than in my mind. It came to a point when I couldn’t take anymore that I kicked a wall, breaking my foot in the process. I was now broken in my body, mind and spirit and in no fit state to care for anyone as I was on crutches.
All of a sudden this man finally began to show me compassion. He sat me down and said he thought I needed to go away for a rest. I agreed but said to him that it was only going to be for one night. At last he was showing concern for me, or so I thought. I had nowhere to go so I ended up in a homeless safe house surrounded by others who had nowhere to go or where awaiting trial for crimes they had committed. I couldn’t go back to my parents and I had no one else to ask for help. Early the next morning I packed up my overnight bag and headed back for home, desperate to see my children again even though it had only been one night away from them. I approached the door but as I put my key into the lock I could not believe that it didn’t fit. He had changed the lock in that short time! I threw down my crutches and sat on the curb sobbing.
And so the story goes that as soon as I had left the house he had approached the church where we were both members and explained to them that I had abandoned the family home for another man. He told them that he was desperate that I had left him and went on to blame Tim for breaking up the family. It seems that instantly the church believed his story without ever talking to me. I would constantly phone the house trying to talk with the children and he would answer it and leave it hanging so that I could hear them but not be able to communicate with them. He would call me over for a visit and on many occasions when I approached the house he would get in the car with the children and drive off with the children looking at me through the windows. He threw all my clothes in Tim’s garden convinced that I was living there but all the time I was still in the homeless shelter wondering why God had deserted me. But He hadn’t. He never lets go of His children, even if it feels like He has.
There wasn’t a day go by when I didn’t contact the house to see if I could speak with the children but he always stopped it from happening. He left me no choice but to get legal help and after four long, hard months I finally got a court hearing for interim custody of the children. I walked into the courtroom, alone as I had no one to support me. Friends from the church had taken his side. There he was, looking so confident and surrounded by his followers. His family were there too, laughing and smiling as if on a day out somewhere. I am not really sure how I managed to get through that day as I sat and listened to testimony after testimony. They painted a very dark picture of me, of my instability and how I was a manic depressive. They even stooped so low as to say that because my mother had schizophrenia I too had the same disease.
Other church members who didn’t even know me had been asked to stand and give testimony that I was unfit. The judge had no option but to keep things as they were while there was further investigation and I was granted access once a fortnight. I was a broken woman. My husband’s solicitor, who was a Christian, turned to look at me and I could see compassion in his eyes, but they were the only sympathetic eyes I saw that day. Once a fortnight was not enough; my children were my life. The thought of only seeing them once a fortnight was more than I could bear. I left the court that day with the intention of ending it all, once and for all.
Tim was a support during this troubled time and had become more than a ‘soft spot’ to me but at this point when I desperately needed help and someone to talk to he was flying across the other side of the world to visit a friend in the USA, or so I thought. But God did not allow him to enter the USA because of visa issues and the authorities sent him straight back on the next plane. He came back at the point when suicide seemed the only option to me again. He had become my only friend and his wisdom and compassion and acceptance is what kept me fighting.
I had nowhere to have access visits. I couldn’t take the children to my mum’s house and renting a property was not an option so I planned to buy a cheap van and sleep in it in a nearby campsite until I could find someone who would have it on their driveway. Tim gave me the money and I was about to go out and buy it when I had a phone call from a friend to say that there was a house next door to her that had just gone onto the rental market if I had a deposit. This was no ordinary house but a furnished, four bedroom detached house in the most sought after village in Cambridgeshire. I saw this as a miracle from God. Housing Benefit agreed to pay all the rent and I was now able to live in a beautiful house and have my children to stay for weekends. And they had a room each! It was a sign to me that God had not deserted me.
I began to read the Psalms a lot during this dark period and every Psalm I read was as if I had penned the words myself. They gave me focus and sustained me.
I have called upon You for You will hear me, O God;
Incline Your ear to me and hear my speech.
Show Your marvelous lovingkindness by Your right hand,
O You who save those who trust in You
From those who rise up against them.
Keep me as the apple of Your eye;
Hide me under the shadow of Your wings,
From the wicked who oppress me,
From my deadly enemies who surround me.
I now had a beautiful house and somewhere to lay my head but I was still constantly surrounded by my enemies. My fight continued as I sought legal help to gain sole custody of my children but it wasn’t looking good. The advice I received from my legal team said that things were highly unlikely to change due to the length of time that I had been separated from them. I was told that, at best, things were likely to stay as they were and I would continue to be able to see them once a fortnight. Leading up to the second court hearing I gathered all the evidence that I could that might encourage the court to see me as a capable, loving mother. During the months that we had been apart my husband had been writing me letters threatening me to stay away and telling me to go and live with Tim and even admitting in the letters that on several occasions he had used the children as weapons to get at me. And so I carried all these letters with me into the courtroom.
Before entering into the courtroom I was told that I was only to speak when I was being spoken to by the Judge or a member of the legal team. I was told by my solicitor to brace myself for the worst outcome. God was there with me that day and even though I didn’t feel His presence as such His word says that He goes before us. The Judge read through all the evidence and the legal teams fought with legal terms across the tables. Then his lawyer stood and declared that I had been given countless opportunities to return to the family home and at this point I could not contain my anger. I stood up and spoke up,
“That’s not true! My husband has been sending me constant letters telling me to stay away and go and live with Tim!”
My solicitor tried hard to silence me, looking embarrassed before the Judge. He took my arm and sat me down. The courtroom went silent. Then the Judge looked up from his paperwork and asked,
“Do you have any of these letters with you?”
I fumbled about in my handbag and pulled out the letters that I had kept, handing them to the Judge who quietly and thoughtfully read them. After what seemed like hours, speaking gently, he agreed that I should receive sole custody of the children. He went on to say that my husband must have been a very difficult man to live with and he ordered him to leave the family home within a month and I was to return. I was numb and so were my legal team. They said that the ruling was unheard of.
It felt to me as if they had not really done anything significant and could only offer me a disappointing outcome but I felt that God had given complete victory. I didn’t feel like celebrating, I felt that this had been an unnecessary war that had left me totally scarred. But to this day I know for a fact that God was there.
The Lord had begun His restoration process in me and he is still doing that today after years of counselling. The verse that kept repeating itself throughout these sessions was ‘I will restore to you the years that the locust has eaten’ (Joel 2:25) and He has been doing that in extraordinary ways that only a Mighty God who loves me for who I am can do.
Psalm 18: 4-6
“The pangs of death surrounded me, And the floods of ungodliness made me afraid. The sorrows of Sheol surrounded me; The snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the Lord, And cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple, And my cry came before Him, even to His ears.”
The Lord began to bring back all that was rightfully mine. He began by letting me see that I wasn’t the person that my enemies said I was. He constantly reminds me of Job in the Bible and how he was restored. God has restored back to me my children and my home.
In time, I married Tim and God gave me a man who respects me and loves me for who I am; no more abuse, no more condemnation. God blessed our relationship and gave us two more children. He has restored my education even though it was stolen from my childhood. I gained a Diploma in Theology and all the dark stories from my mum and thoughts I had as a child have been replaced with solid Bible teaching.
I had to start filling my thought life with ‘Whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is praiseworthy’. I had to think upon these things to counteract all the falsehood I had grown up with. God restored my reason for living and He did that by allowing me to go through deliverance sessions where strongholds needed to be broken, areas where fear had entered my life. He restored my joy by changing my life to one of thanksgiving and praise.
He has restored my ministry. It had been cut short in the early stages of my Christian walk but now He has opened so many doors and countless opportunities to sing in many different places, many desert places: pubs, clubs, street corners as well as churches and even at Spring Harvest. He gave me skills to work as part of a team going into schools, reaching over thirty thousand children each term with the Gospel message in our county. He gave Tim and I leadership skills to help lead a team of over forty young people and adults at a residential weekend for sixty four children. He gifted us with a heart to lead worship in a local church for more than ten years, shaping and equipping us as we went along. My past struggles have helped make me who I am today. God has allowed me to go through those things to make me a stronger person.
I said earlier that the first thing I did to see restoration was to gain a Diploma in Theology but it wasn’t until I went on to receive further teaching on the sacrifice and the blood of Jesus that I found complete and utter healing. I began to focus on Jesus’ sacrifice and why the shedding of His blood was so important and I now have complete assurance in His finished work and this has enabled me to tell my story. Until I received a revelation of the blood I still felt a certain amount of guilt and condemnation for my past. I still had a sense of unworthiness and that I wasn’t quite good enough but knowing the power that there is in the blood has changed all that. His blood covers absolutely everything! He no longer sees my past and He totally embraces me for who I am in Christ.
My mother died in 2007 and until the day she died I went to visit her regularly in hospital and then finally in a care home and I saw her with new eyes. I looked at her and loved her. I saw her how God saw her, with an overwhelming love despite her condition. God had restored my view of her. It is one of my greatest lessons in life: to look beyond the person, to look beyond what you can see on the outside and how they behave.
Never look at a person and say they have no hope, they have no future. Look at them and see that every person alive is a person loved and respected by God, regardless of their looks or their actions. Everyone, like me, has a story. Remember that God knows their names.