Tuesday 27 May 2014


This is the fourth in my series of posts about my complete spiritual about turn. Before I start I should have explained in my last post that when Jean’s husband told their story he gave permission to retell it if I felt it was appropriate because it is a story of hope for recovery.
On with the story then, the next thing that happened was I received a ‘phone call from Bridie, who I spoke of in my last post.  She was very excited and said she had something to tell me.  Because she is such an upbeat, entertaining character my normal reaction would have been to chill out and have a coffee with her, but something held me back.  I made an excuse not to go.
She rang again the next day, same reaction! I didn’t want to go and made another excuse.  She then rang for a third time and as I was about to make my usual excuse when I found myself saying, “OK, I’ll come over now”.  I thought, “why did I do that?”  For some reason I didn’t want to know what she had to say.
As I explained, Bridie has a strong belief in God, the power of prayer and an unshakable conviction that love overcomes all. And, to be fair, I had seen this at work in her life many, many times. She is, if you like, a Mother Theresa/Desmond Tutu of her patch.
At this point I would like to add a disclaimer.  Memory can be faulty but what I am about to recount is, to the best of my recollection, what happened.  
This is what she told me.  Her immensely spiritual brother ‘phoned from Ireland to say that he had been suffering from insomnia caused by vivid dreams waking him in the night.  He ran this by his parish priest who suggested that it might help him to get back to sleep if he wrote them down.
It seemed that he had been receiving a message citing the urgency of a world day of prayer for peace to avoid the inevitability of dire consequences.  I kid you not! At this point I wanted to bale out! This was mad, but politeness made me stay and anyway I hadn’t finished my coffee.
The parish priest then recommended he take the “message” to the Bishop in Belfast, which he did, who said he should get the message to the Archbishop of Westminster.  “And so Bridie, I want to get this message to him”!
I felt myself going cold as Bridie starting huffing about “how ridiculous, how on earth could I do that? Where would I start”.  I said, “Bridie, I’m sure Jean has met him”.  Jean moved in rarified circles!
I called Jean saying that we would like to visit because we had something to run by her.  She graciously agreed and said that now would be a very good time as she had her sister visiting from the States and they were just about to sit down to English “Afternoon Tea” and  would be delighted to have us join them.
Half an hour later saw us sitting down in Jean’s elegant drawing room, drinking tea from china cups, eating warm scones and relaying our odd story.   When we had finish Jean said “Well ladies, thank you very much for sharing this wonderful story with us.  Now, what I am about to tell you will knock your socks off!
This year has been designated “The Year of the Family” and next week I have been invited to speak at Central Hall, Westminster on the effects of alcoholism on the family.  Present at this meeting will be church leaders, including the Archbishop of Westminster .  So give me your message and not only will I passed it on to him, I’ll also give it to all the other leaders.”
To say I was stunned is an understatement.  All I could blurt out was“I don’t believe this, it’s madness”. Jean’s sister then looked deep into my eyes and said “Ann, why don’t you just trust in the Lord and all these things shall be added unto you.”  I looked right back into her eyes and said “I will” - BOOM!
My best inadequate explanation of what happened to me was that something inside me changed. The real explanation was that I had been filled with the Holy Spirit.  And if you are a non-believer, as I was, it's hard to take isn't it?  But hey, this is my experience so deal with it.  
It was the beginning an amazing journey.
Before I close today, I would like to add that Jean’s sister was speaking from her heart and seems to have (deliberately or mistakenly?) mixed two bible quotes “Trust in the Lord……” that appears several times in the bible and another quote from the American Standard Version “But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you”.  I'm happy to be corrected on this point.  Discussion and/or education is good. 
Whatever!  It was like an arrow straight into my soul.

"If your vision doesn't scare you, then both your vision and your God are too small."

- Brother Andrew

Saturday 24 May 2014


This is my third post in a series, and to get the gist of what on earth I am talking about, best read the previous two posts (if you have the inclination and/or the stamina!)
One thing I have so far failed to mention was an event that happened towards the end of my first marriage.  My friend and I had been going through really tough times.  This particular weekend she and her two children were staying with me and the girls. 
Neither of us had ever gone to church as adults, but this particular morning we were both amazed to discover that we had independently woken up with the thought “we should go to church today”.  We did, we loved it, but we didn’t go back again.  Another example of a missed opportunity!
The next significant event was that at the age of 16 my eldest daughter had been involved in a very serious motor cycle accident.  When she was taken to the hospital she was in a very poorly state.  The surgeon and his team operated on her lower body and legs for 8 hours all through the night.  During that operation I kept taking myself off to a quiet area (the loo to be exact!) to meditate and will whatever power there was to get her through this.
After the operation the surgeon came to us and said that she would probably never walk again but, thanks to the team of experts that had responded to the call, she would more than likely survive.  I will never forget his next words.  “To call in a team of eight experts during the night, at short notice and for them all to respond is an unprecedented miracle.  Without the whole team being available she would not have survived.”
All her leg and pelvic bones had been fractured, broken or shattered.  In fact one of her thigh bones had been broken in 9 places.  She was in hospital for 6 months where they gave her pain killers and sedatives.  She said that they weren’t going to make a junky out of her and hid the pills under her tongue until she could spit them out.  She used to hand me a tissue full of pills every day.
And when she was finally allowed home she was just as stroppy as she had been before the accident.  Davy said the fact that her spirit had not been broken had been the real miracle! She was still in massive pain and in a wheelchair but Davy said she would walk again and with his encouragement  and her determination little by little she did.  She has one leg 2” shorter than the other and a slight limp, but apart from that you wouldn’t know that she had been through that trauma.  
Fast track, it’s now 1979 and Davy, by the Grace of God and the power of AA, had not had a drink for 5 years but life was not all plain sailing.  We had just gone into a recession. It may be a little known fact that in a recession the building trade is the first to go and the first to recover.  Davy was a small builder and three jobs that he had scheduled to start were cancelled.
As my elderly mother, two daughters and two foster children were living with us we had responsibilities and money was hard to come by.  One morning, in desperation, Davy went down on his knees and begged God to send him work.  With that the telephone rang.  One of the bosses from the local plumbing shop wanted an extension built!  Amazing. But I still didn’t “get it".
Our two foster children had been, and were still were, going through very traumatic times and my good friend Bridie thought it might help them if we took them to a healing service at the local interdenominational church.  So off we all trot. 
After the service we were invited to step into an area set aside behind the alter where a priest was going to pray with the children. A nun stood behind the little girl and while we all looked on the priest laid hands on her.  She began to sag and the nun gently assisted her to the ground where the priest, knelling beside her, began to pray. When the priest finished praying she stood up as though nothing had happened. 
It was now the turn of her brother.  The same thing happened – the priest placed laid hands on him, he sagged, the nun caught him, the priest prayed and then he got up as though nothing had happened.
Weird or what?  And do you know the weirdest thing was that none of us thought it weird, not even the children!  Bridie said they were “resting in the spirit”!  Oh, well that’s alright then!  They are now adults with children of their own and, considering what they went through, have turned out to be wonderful parents.
I had formed another terrific friendship with an elderly American AA lady called Jean who was the wife of a bigwig in the oil industry.  One night he was at rock bottom to know what to do about his lovely wife who could not stop drinking.  She was causing all sorts of problems and embarrassments with his staff and he had finally had enough.  He went down on his knees and prayed “Lord I don’t know what to do for her any more, she is in your hands now”. 
She was in another part of the massive penthouse suite they shared but she “felt” him do this. She loved and needed him but “feeling” his detachment terrified her so she went and begged him to take her to hospital because she wanted to stop drinking.   He did, she got sober, joined AA, he joined Al-Anon and the rest, as they say, is history. Incidentally, she used to call her story “HIS STORY”, because she loved Jesus.   
She had a very vibrant personality and when in a tricky situation would ask herself “what would Jesus do?”  I was very attracted to her spiritual and simplistic approach to God .
But why am I telling you all this? I am paving the way, setting the scene if you like, for what happened next. 

Thursday 22 May 2014


My challenge now is – where do I start with this strange story of conversion?  I guess I should KISS (keep is simple stupid) and start at the beginning. So - this is the path that I walked from there to here.

My parents were not “religious” but nevertheless sent me to Sunday School when I was small and then at the age of 7 I was enrolled into a Convent School where we had a half hour bible reading every morning + a weekly Mass.  I was especially entranced with the stories of Jesus, who seemed to step out of the “norm” by befriending sinners and being critisised for doing miracles on the Sabbath. I hadn’t got a clue what that meant, but it seemed to me to be a very curious and “different” thing to do.  I also like the chanted Latin Mass.  It made by feel “funny” inside.

This was the extent of my young spiritual life apart from my weird liking for Churches.  I would sometimes take myself off to a service, but was distracted by the talking and singing and preferred to simply sit in an empty Church and soak up “something” that I couldn’t explain. 

Let me fast track you through until I was in my early 30’s.  I married, had 2 children, divorced and met my second husband Davy (boom, boom).  He was an alcoholic and 18 months into our relationship he joined AA and I joined Al-Anon. 

I found the Al-anon programme enlightening, especially the bit about believing in a “Higher Power”.  Despite my innate “spirituality” I had always struggled with the idea of God.  It was too fantastical, but this “Higher Power” concept was something that I could cling on too.  Why?  Don’t ask me!  I have no idea!

I grew in the programme, met some wonderful people and worked the 12 steps to the best of my ability. I should probably explain that the 12 steps were written by the first 100 members of AA as part of the “AA Big Book”, who thought that it was essential to write down how they had become and remained sober.

Davy and I made good friends, went bowling with them on a Saturday night, had BBQ’s, visited each other’s houses, had “pot luck” dinners and, compared to the chaos of active alcoholism, life was brilliant.

One day a very close American friend of mine recommended that I read “A Man Called Peter” a book written by Catherine Marshall. It was the true story of her husband Peter Marshall a young Scot who emigrated to America and told the story of how he had followed God's leading, all the way to the chaplaincy of the U.S. Senate.  My private response was, “No thank you, I have no interest in reading Christian books”. 

HOWEVER, a couple of years after my friend returned home to America I found this very same book on my mantelpiece!  Where it had come from I never did find out, but I read it. It’s a very tender and perceptive account of her husband's love for life, for her, and for God.  It moved me, but, as they say, at that time, didn’t float my boat!

Another book that was doing the rounds in the fellowship was “Mr God, This is Anna”.  Another profoundly moving book but this time I felt that Anna’s God felt more like the God of my understanding.  I was convinced that He loved dancing and joy. Not the boring old stuffy things I had witnessed in Church.

My perception of God was gradually shifting from being a dyed in the wool atheist to a “maybe there IS something in this”.  This morning I read this. “ Too often we try to use God to change our circumstance, when God is trying to use our circumstance to change us.  This certainly seemed to be the case with me, but I still had a ways to go.   Stubborn, or what!?

Tuesday 20 May 2014


OK, I’ve decided to “come out”.  I go to Church.  In other words, I’m a Christian.  Why? Now that’s a long story, so let me begin at the end and then go back to the beginning.  You might know that I’ve never been conventional!

Here we go then.  I have been banging on at Church about the amazing things that God is doing in peoples’ lives, and asking why we hardly ever speak about them? Testimonial is powerful, personal and irrefutable, but we are English – stiff upper lip and all that. Testimonial might be a bit too emotional and we aren’t good at showing emotions!

This week we had a guest speaker at our Church, Holy Trinity in Boston.  His name is Pete Atkins and he is director of Ground Level and president of Churches Together in all Lincolnshire.   Our Vicar, Simon, asked him base his talk on “God can do new things”.

He told us a little about himself and although I don’t have the memory to retell his talk verbatim part of story was about paths that don’t exist!   The gist of it was that he loves to Prayer Walk.  This is, exactly as it says on the tin, praying while walking! 

As he prefers to concentrate on prayer and doesn’t want to be distracted by new sights and sounds, he tends to walk the same paths all the time. 

On one of his regular walks he was astounded to a notice a new pathway cutting straight across the field. There were no details of it on his map, no footpath sign, not even footprints, ruts or weeds. Nothing!  Just a pristine path leading straight into the woods beyond!.

On later investigation he discovered that a fox had began walking the route, trailing his tail behind, brushing the path clean of footprints. No mystery there then!

A few weeks later he was on another of his regular walks and low and behold, another path he hadn’t noticed!  Another fox?  Again, this path was not on the map, BUT this time it WAS signposted so it was a regular path, straight across the fields and into the woods beyond.

This got him thinking.  How had he managed to miss this before?   He spoke to a friend about it and they took another look.  His friend, who was also a regular walker along this route, had never noticed it before either and swore that it was impossible for him not to have seen it and wondered why it was signposted but wasn’t on the map?  Now this was a mystery.

He then went on to explain how this thinking about “new paths” had led him personally in a new direction. This led into his talk about God doing new things and one of the things he spoke about was that he had a sense someone that there was someone in the Church who was either a writer or a journalist who should be doing “new things” with perhaps  digital media or a magazine.

After the service I told him that I had written a blog for years, but had recently “dried up”.  After hearing him speak I was wondering if I should tell the story of how I became a Christian and what happened then. 

So to cut a long story short, this is where I am now and in future blogs I will fill in the gaps from there to here.

In the meantime I’ll leave you with this thought. Every day I read Nikki Gumbels' “The Bible in One year”.  Yesterday he quoted two very different individuals:

Russell Brand (the English comedian, actor, columnist, singer, author and presenter) who said, ‘Laughter is addictive because of the inevitability of death. It gives us a temporary escape – for the moment it stops the fear of the inevitability of death.’


Mother Teresa who was asked shortly before her death, ‘Are you afraid of dying?’ She said, ‘How can I be? Dying is going home to God. I have never been afraid. No, on the contrary,’ she said, ‘I am really looking forward to it!’ 

Two very influential and charismatic characters who, you would think, don’t belong on the same planet, let alone the same page!  Russell Brand is quite right of course, but wouldn’t it be great if we could all have the same conviction as Mother Teresa?  I know that I do.

And as an aside - Nikki Gumbel - here is a very clued up and interesting man.  His church group in west London, Holy Trinity in Brompton Road, has (if memory services me right) a congregation of 1500, 11 services a day, attended predominately by young adults!  That’s unusual isn’t it?  He took over the running of Alpha Courses in 1990 which now take place worldwide.  We live in exciting times.