Childhood is a time of openness and teachability. When you’re a child you’re in learning mode, you soak up everything you hear, you are deeply influenced by everyone you know, everything we learn shapes us, and this is what I learned; Lucy G, you are ugly and stupid and unloveable.
When I turned 17 and left home I was already a mess of guilt, need and confusion. That first Christmas as a soldier, I was the only one in the barracks with absolutely nowhere to go and no one to go to, so the Company Sergeant Major took me in to her family. That’s how alone I was. Her kindness was a reproach, simply underlining my unlovability.
I look back now to that 17 year old and I would love to show her the sun streaming in as I sit writing my blog (how those windows need cleaning!). I’d love to show her my two dogs dozing in the sun’s warm patch on the fireside rug. I’d love to tell her about the God I found and the friends who led me to Him, the overwhelming love He’s brought into my life, I wish I could tell her about George, my sweetheart, and our daughter and grand daughters. But maybe I’m doing that right now – maybe back then, when I was 17 and lost, there was a whisper in my ear, a whisper unheard but slipping deep into my soul, from this corner of Wales, from today, right now, “There’s so much more than this waiting for you. Keep going, keep going.”
When I was 19, I married a handsome, 6ft2″ blond bloke, ten years older than me, who walked like John Wayne and talked like Bob Hoskins. He was the best looking guy in Kingston Hospital, where I was a student nurse, and all the girls fancied him. Even he fancied him. He had a hero complex and I believed in heroes so I fell for it, hook, line and sinker. Amazingly, of all the student nurses in that huge place, he fell for me. Well, it amazed me then, less so now. Now I know that he honed in on the most naive and hopeful mixed up schoolgirl/soldier/nurse he could find.
He had, he told me, been in 3 Para and he certainly told some interesting stories and, brought up as I was in the Army, having served in the Military Police for 18 months, I detected a ring of truth in them. My dad was a CSM, one brother was rifleman, and the other was a sailor so I knew that this guy was the real deal, that was for deffo sure. Except, I was wrong, and he wasn’t. There was no truth in any of it. We’d been married only few months when I mentioned his tour in Aden to his Mum and she said “Aden? Rob? He’s never been out of the country, love.” and so his facade crumbled… the red beret that sat at the side of the bed was no more than a prop, all his authentic tales were retellings of stories he’d heard or read. He had rewritten himself as the man he wanted to be. His brother, Charles, was the para, the stories Rob told were his.
But we were married and I didn’t dare let him know what I knew because I’d discovered his anger. Now, on the inside of his family, I saw that the affection I’d seen before was appeasement, his sister’s fondness was a constant attempt to conciliate and avoid his displeasure. One day I asked Pop, my father-in-law, why they had let a 19 year old marry this man without at least warning me and he said “We thought you would do him good.”
Brought up a Catholic, with marriage a lifetime commitment, I told myself that it was a noble thing to do, to stick with this disastrous mistake. After all, he was going to join the Fire Brigade, and I thought – and his parents thought – that this might just be the making of him. We, all of us, not just me, said the things that would please him, because when we didn’t his rage was terrifying. If he had announced that he was going to join the circus or apply to Oxford, or streak at Lords, we would have applauded him just the same.
I struggle with fear but I am not by nature a victim. I’m a spiky straight talking stuff-you sort of person so it amazes me now that I stuck in that sham of a marriage for three years, desperately hoping for better, believing against all the evidence that he would change. He broke my nose, my shoulders, my hand, and then one day my GP said ” The next time I see you, you could be on a slab in the mortuary, because I don’t know what he’ll do to you next, and nor do you, but worst of all, nor does Rob.” She was a sane and kind middle aged woman, and that morning she saved my life. I’m sure of it. Her words rang like a clarion call. “Don’t let him do this to you. This doesn’t have to be.” and I saw then that I had slipped into the victim role, like his parents and sister, and that I had become a part of Rob’s problem. We were all part of the problem while we allowed it to continue.
I went home, packed a case, hid it overnight under the stairs and the next morning I sneaked it out and instead of going to work, I caught a bus to the station and a train to London. It was the 70’s, when jobs were plentiful so I walked into an employment agency that afternoon and by the evening I was a hotel chambermaid with a room of my own, my suitcase, a small transistor radio, and no one… no one…. to wake me up in the night for a punching. Freedom.
About a year later I wrote to the GP to thank her, and I had a letter from one of her partners; When she spoke to me that day she already knew she was dying. She had given up work just a couple of weeks later and she died very soon afterwards.
There are very few people of my generation who have had it easy. Mine is just one story in many millions, and it’s not nearly as painful as some. My childhood was a doddle compared to the children who are being starved and beaten to death right now, or malnourished and orphaned in some war zone, or diseased and dying in a famine. And now my life is so easy that some days I just stand and wonder at it. That’s really why I love the beach. It’s a place to stand and wonder; How have I ended up here, with friends and family I love, really love? Only by the grace of God.
Why have I told you all this? Maybe because some of you need to pause and listen for the whisper, the whisper coming to you from the future, your future happier self murmuring softly “There’s so much more than this waiting for you. Keep going, keep going.”
Maybe some of you feel unreachable, finished, discarded and unwanted. Maybe you’re ashamed of the things you’ve done or the things that have been done to you.
Whoever you are, whatever you are going through right now, whether it’s fear or raw terror, whether you’re stuck in sin or need, depression, addiction, whatever hell on earth you’re facing, however messy and hopeless it is, listen for the future. Listen for the still small voice of God. Too desperate to pray? Too many thoughts crowding in to shape them into words? That’s OK. Just listen. If you listen, waiting to hear from God, that’s a way of calling to Him. He knows your heart, your needs.
I’m praying to Him right now for you, those of you who don’t yet know Him. Praying that you’ll meet Him one day soon, when you hear the voice of God saying “I love you. You are my child. Draw near to me and I will draw near to you.”
Just pause and listen. God can be your future, your eternity. You just have to listen.
“You draw near to those who call out to you,
listening closely, especially when their hearts are true.”
Psalm 145:18 (PT)