….This is a little recollection I wrote at a gathering in Scotland a few years ago…Its quite an open, personal account of some powerful personal elements of my spiritual journey so far… I would love to hear from you if it impacts in anyway…God has not led you here to read this for no reason.
Summer 1994. What do you remember of it?
If you’re anything like me, it might even involve recollecting the World Cup football tournament held for the very first time in the USA. Ray Houghton’s stupendous goal for the Republic of Ireland paving the way for victory against Italy in New York shall live forever etched upon my 11 year-old’s memory, as the tiny Emerald Isle basked in victory against its European rivals of great football prowess. A true David and Goliath type victory, never to be repeated….well….except when even smaller “wee Norn Iron” (the affectionately nicknamed Northern Ireland football team) shockingly defeated the might of England with David Healy’s now infamous goal at Windsor Park, Belfast, in September 2005!
The rival Italians though, were to go on to recover from that rare defeat by the Irish, and were soon lining up at the Pasadena Rose Bowl in L.A., to face the mighty Brazilians in the World Cup final. It was held on July 12th, 1994 and I famously recall Roberto Baggio’s penalty miss for Italy on a glorious sunny summer evening, which sent the yellow might of Brazil into party mode as Romario, Bebeto and co. went on to lift the famous trophy.
For others, it was a time of experiencing the ‘new thing’ God seemed to be unravelling and unleashing upon his hungry people, via the Canadian city of Toronto. John and Carol Arnott (who are here at Clan 2010) were stewards of what God unleashed back then, of what became known as the now infamous “Toronto Blessing,” causing people to manifest a fresh revelation of God’s love in seemingly strange ways such as with shaking, laughing and various other less-than-traditional sightings within Christian congregations!
In the island of Ireland, specifically Mosney, (Co. Louth) summer 1994 saw the touches of the Spirit received in Toronto imparted to many across the Emerald Isle who had travelled to attend this summer gathering. Many from my local Coleraine area were there, as discussed at at Clan Gathering, a conference up in Scotland where I learned more listening on to someone who’d been there at Mosney in that time. A significant summer time for many it would seem.
What was summer 1994 for me? It was the end of primary school and a time of mighty transition to secondary school in Northern Ireland. A Northern Ireland which was about to experience the monumental establishment of the IRA ceasefire, something many perhaps on both sides of the political divide viewed with deep cynicism, yet upon hindsight at this time, 19 years later, it has acted as something of a pivotal point in Northern Ireland’s recent and longer term troubled history. I remember my first day at grammar school on the bus home, everyone buzzing with chats about this huge piece of news, none of us knew might end up being so significant, as it’s later turned out to be, regardless of one’s politics.
As a fearful, timorous 11-year-old I made the mighty transition from a tiny country primary school of 80 school children in rural County Antrim in Northern Ireland, to the great challenges of a prestigious grammar school of 1500+ school children in the middle town of Northern Ireland, Ballymena. Sixteen years on, sitting now in an old church room in St.Andrew’s, Scotland, I am about to begin to unravel the story of God and his Spirit sovereignly at work in and through my simple little life, as the Spirit leads in these “wee small hours” of July 2010.
Having grown up attending the local Presbyterian church and Sunday School in the Catholic village of Dunloy, it may perhaps come as a surprise to learn that school became the first place I ever consciously heard the possibility of one having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and not just ascribing to a religion.
I had attended church with an attentive ear for as long as I could remember, yet cannot recall ever fully hearing or having it simply explained that Jesus came to die for my sins and had been raised up to life so that I could now enter into life and life to the full in personal relationship with him, rather like a human relational interaction, yet spiritual and, therefore to me, much more exciting!
September 1994, and with my polished new black shoes ready and set to shine, Ballymena Academy welcomed me in as a painfully shy, insecure 11-year-old. It was to represent a year of deep brokenness and purging, however, as I entered into what the Queen previously described her year 1992 as her “annus horibilus,”
Even back then, as a mere 11 year old child, however, something of what I now know to be the Spirit of God, was stirring actively in my heart. The living God began stirring my heart and prodding me along in ways I had no human to help me understand. I can assure you, it’s quite a humbling and amazing thing, to be stirred and prompted by the living God, if you’re reading this and you’ve never experienced such a thing yourself.
September 1994 represented a pivotal time in the life not only of our country, but also of of this writer. Upon the second day of going to my new school I felt the deep unease of feeling I was in the wrong school, and almost instantly had no peace inside about staying there, yet how was I ever going to tell my Mum or Dad such a disappointing fact? After all, it had been I who perhaps somewhat stubbornly and independently decided to go to this school instead of the other grammar school in the town 10 miles nearer to home which my 5 older siblings had all attended before me! I was devastatingly broken!
One of my older brothers also attended the sixth form of the grammar school I attended, and went to its senior Christian Union “C.U.” faithfully every Thursday afternoon. I decided to follow his lead, and out of curiosity and stirring beyond what I knew then, but what I now know to be “deep calling out to deep” I started to stay behind on Thursday afternoons to attend what was known as the “Junior Scripture Union,” after school club to receive juice and biscuits and hear something which seemed to be warming my heart, but as yet I did not know why.
Gradually, however, as I stayed behind after school each Thursday afternoon of that winter term, I began to hear and understand for the first time about an invitation to, and indeed the necessity of, coming into, a personal saving relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
For the first time ever, I clearly understood this revelation of the good news that Jesus had actually come to earth to die for MY very own sins, and that his resurrection opened the way for me (and everyone who repents of their sins and believes in him in faith) can come into a living personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Nowadays, though, I most certainly believe it’s more of a continuum, rather than a black-and-white thing. For a start, God had been speaking to me all my childhood, and pursuing me many times right before that year. I don’t believe now that it’s the mere simple ‘saved’ or ‘not saved’ type thing many evangelicals make it out to be, and I am if anything repelled even by such language.
However, what I did not know then but know now, is that Jesus has many faces, and is much more than just my Lord and Savior. 16 years on (as I write this in Scotland, July 2010), I am enjoying the fascination of learning and living in this relationship with Jesus now as my bridegroom lover, and slowly understanding him more as my husband and as well as judge and king. Dynamic new revelations in my heart are yet to be revealed. Not just for me, but for the benefit hopefully of many others who will follow this journey.
For perhaps as many as twenty times, I asked Jesus into my heart to become my Lord and Savior back then in the autumn/winter school term of 1994, expecting and desiring a mighty thunderbolt of lightning, or some other perfectly plausible act of God (afterall, isn’t God supposed to be the creator of the universe? I reasoned in my less than typical 11 year old mind). I thought it totally to be expected that He would reveal and confirm his new residence in my heart with some sign or wonder, similar to what I had been reading in the New Testament book of Acts, for example.
I was right to be so hungry, for a God who promises to fill those who hunger and thirst for Him. There is SO much more to know and experience. SO much more.
Upon reflection, a deep hunger and thirst for the supernatural was being unearthed, and the gift of faith to go with it. I continued to pray and pray and pray and ask Jesus into my life, asking him to forgive me of my sins, and wash me clean and come into live in my heart now to make me a true follower of his for the rest of my days. All the stuff good evangelicals teach us wee ‘Prod’s to do. Again, I’ve changed somewhat since those days!
I knew that I was signing up for “the long haul”, however, and asked for God to provide friends for the journey, knowing that I had few enough as it was before I became “a Christian” so feared that I would have nobody at all if I gave my life in totality over to follow Jesus and live for him number 1 the rest of my days! 16 years on (in July 2010), the Lord has been faithful to answer.
Christmas 1994, I enjoyed, however, the following week my stomach was churning. I felt utterly sick at the thought of going back to school. A weak and scared child, I could hardly bear the thought of going back to the school I dreaded so much by then, as I continued to feel deep down in my gut, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and really desired and needed to move to the school my siblings had all transferred to in the smaller market town of Ballymoney. It was a deep unspoken illogical feeling I had deep down inside of me, but something that was to prove to become much more significant.
Such was the grace and mercy of God, the living God, my unhappiness began to stir me to pray, and thus, to enter into the gift of prayer I had no idea at that time was a rare deposit of the Holy Spirit of God within me, and part of my calling. I had little or no understanding of that at all at that time. However, during the following number of months, I began to pray, secretly talking to God and asking him to speak to me, and asking if I should stay or go.
Years later, I see this as a mighty first time of what has become a habit, one I recommend! Days went by into weeks, which eventually turned into months, and soon the time came for me to tell my (gracious, patient) parents in June 1995 what I wanted to do. I felt something in my ‘gut’ telling me that I could not see myself staying there in that Ballymena school and being able to cope with it, alongside some other difficulties in life, and surviving until sixth year, for example. Soon I had made up my mind, I was stepping out “in faith” or so I told myself and others. I had worked very hard in order to make it possible to obtain the necessary high marks I had found out I would need to be accepted into the other alternative school. Soon my young but determined mind was made up: I was going to leave and move schools and go to the Ballymoney school instead. Again, another life changing decision!
God’s faithfulness is amazing. Now as I look back all these years on, I can see the distinctive hand He has had upon my life all these years. The chapter of my life in Ballymena had been pivotal and mightily significant, but it was time to step out in faith and move on into a new chapter. Soon I found myself entering into “year 9” at Dalriada school in Ballymoney. This blind step of faith was to be a life changing one, but at that time I could not yet know this. “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Many times we will act in faith and only hindsight can offer the clarity we may yearn for at the time of these decisive moments. Wisdom shall be proved right by her actions.
The year at Ballymena was a transformative one at the start of my teenage years. Yet perhaps more than anyone, God used my form tutor and history teacher at the time to deeply impact me and bring hope in the midst of a period of much hopelessness and even feelings of intense despair and darkness.
That young teacher has since gone on to become a personal friend, something I thank God for, immensely, and only he can do. At the time, I remember wondering about him: there was something distinctively different about this teacher, and he brought light to my darkness and I enjoyed his classes much more than any other.
It was only later, about two year later, I finally discovered the confirmation of my suspicion: that this history teacher and form tutor was a Christian, and to me, this immediately made sense. How amazing would it be if every Christian teacher knew more of the impact he or she was having in the lives of the most vulnerable in their class rooms, some of whom they will never know how much they have impacted.
Where would I be without the impact of this one man, for example? I marvel at God putting him in my pathway and blessing me through his impact spiritually upon me without words. There have been, and continue to be, many many more students positively impacted by this excellent teacher and role model.
All these years later, I still feel the intellectual challenge stirred up by words of this particular teacher. I am spurred on to be more and to be the ALL that God has made me to be. Perhaps even in part why I have been spurred on to this particular task of writing now. His powerfully encouraging words to me were a massive drive through my teenage years, and sometimes even today.
The shakings and stirrings I feel in me even now, after the midnight hour here in the midst of this mighty little prayer gathering in St Andrews, are wondrous reminders of the great living God we are here to draw near to and seek to glorify.
Who can tell of his love for us? I am a product of the conveyor belt our educational system in Northern Ireland encourages. However as a “straight A’s” type pupil not engaging in the things expected of me by man, but instead pursuing God and his ways, I represent something of a challenge for the people who get perplexed by such an anomaly. Man looks at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart. Such people who judge have no idea the struggles or battles or health issues I have come through.
Nineteen years of following God as a young person since summer 1994 has not been without many ups and downs, but God has been so incredible to support, strengthen, correct, encourage, rebuke and comfort all along the way, with the right people, at exactly the right time. Even amidst the blackest, hardest times.
HE IS FAITHFUL!
“We did not choose him, but he chose us, and appointed us to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” (John 15:16+17).