The Secret Den

it needs to be covered in woven grass with a woven lattice grass door….

Once upon a lifetime, there was an ordinary little girl, who lived in a big old house, with secret corridors, a scary dark cellar and the bogeyman. Suzie did as she was told (mostly because she would be in very big trouble if she didn’t) and she wanted everyone to be happy and to like her. She lived with her mother, her father, her big sister, and the cat, Smokey.

She didn’t really remember their first house, where her mother had gone up in flames, but then, when she was four, they went to live in the caravan in the countryside. In the waking hours, between sleeps on her little bench in the caravan, she would daydream in the stream, or in her dens in the bushes and trees. She has some scary memories of beatings, rifles and accidents, but mostly she loved the caravan, emerging into herself in the fresh space outside and with her friend at the little village school. She sees and smells the pinks and wallflowers in the skimpy border around the tiny metal home, and feels how, one bleak September day, she returned to find her dens and all the bushes destroyed.

Then they moved to this big house, with the cellar, the bogeyman and the blue Persian cat, Smokey. Her mother had a shop to run and her father had cars to mend, but often he stayed at home, battling a wicked spirit that would make him either frighteningly angry, or terribly sad. At the new school, they laughed at her old clothes and silly haircuts and she went bright red, clumsy and dumb. The two friends she made were never allowed in her house and she was never allowed in theirs. The teachers liked her work, so she worked hard to please them. At school, she learned that she was slow, poor, shy and ‘boring’, but good at reading, writing and drawing. She knew she was strong and wanted to be a gymnast and a circus-acrobat. At home she learned that men could become suddenly violent and very dangerous; that nobody could be trusted; that she was ‘just like her mother’; and that the safest thing, in life, was to try to make people happy and get them to like you… but sadly, that it was impossible for Suzie and, no matter what she did, she always got it wrong!

In the Summer of her twelfth year, Suzie joined a group of singing sunbeams for a week’s holiday to a seaside in Wales. She felt happy there and every morning and evening they would go into a little chapel and sing songs and tell stories about Jesus. At night, the chapel became a magical place with candles twinkling, colours dancing and soothing sounds of rest. It was more than all the words she had to describe her feelings, and she wanted it to last forever. She hadn’t dared to hope for such a thing, but the chapel felt like the home in a Fairy Tale. In the daylight, the seaside was real, but, every evening, the magic returned. On the third evening, Suzie desperately cried for the magic to stay with her forever; for Jesus to forgive all her sins and to make His home in her. She gave Jesus her heart, but she wasn’t sure He would want it! The following morning, in the cold light of cornflakes, she felt foolish for having hoped and knew she’d done it wrong and deserved nothing anyway. But every night the magic became more real and every night she gave Him her heart and sat beside Him, allowing Him to welcome her, gentle, listening, and to let her rest her head… He became her secret place of rest, her new den, and although He already knew everything, Suzie could say whatever she thought or felt and be safe…

She had to leave the chapel, but Suzie took home her secret hiding-place. She gave her heart to Him over and over, just in case she’d got it wrong, because she still felt so dirty, lazy and stupid. And in that special den, she was made right again; forgiven, safe, warm, welcome and wanted. Like magic!

But Jesus was not magic. At the onset of her teenage years, forces of wickedness grew wild and ferocious against her, but He did not wave a magic wand and make the bad things stop, or give her the nice things she asked for. He simply promised to be with her. He was not her fairy God-mother after-all, so, as she left girlhood behind and the battle against her raged, she was often terrified and either rebelled or resisted as she fought her many battles. But He kept His promise to always be with her. Every time she looked for Jesus in her secret den, there He was, faithfully waiting, gently listening, full of mercy, love and forgiveness. He let her hide, get her breath and courage back, picked her back up, refreshed her, gave her another chance, another hope…

She escaped from the battlefield at home, but had still more skirmishes to fight, and finally, battle weary and scarred, 19 years old and full of hope, she gave Him not just her broken-heart, but her whole life and let Him wash off all the grime in the waters of baptism. Such Joy. Such hope. Such transforming love!

43 years on from that chapel in Wales, Suzie still has her den. It is her heart’s home of precious treasure and plunder from battle victories. In the centre is the cross and the crown, of the lamb and the lion, who are her faithful friends; the surrounding space is filled with the light of love, illuminating tiny containers of years of tears, the perfume of prayer and gifts of grace, permeated with thankful praise. Mountains of mercy embrace the treasure and a fountain of healing joy bubbles daily, fresh from the well beside the cross…

Nobody, nor any force in all creation, can ever destroy this den or the treasure contained within. It is an everlasting testimony to the Glory of a faithful God.

Happy Re-Birthday 11/11

11/11/84

I celebrate my ‘second’ birthday… why not, as a daughter of the King?

I remember that day – 11/11/84 – A day I’ll never forget.

I was so so scared! I see myself standing on the podium, with a glass lectern in front of me and a microphone and I see a huge crowd of people… I see two ex boyfriends in the crowd – one would also be baptised today, the other thought me as mad as a fish and had recently dumped me, because I had become so radical! I see my new boyfriend – a German Catholic from a large family in the North, looking bemused and lost, but there for me to witness my baptism – they all were – even my sister and her fella… but I had to give my testimony to all these… I had written it down, but as I stood there I was stuck, frozen, mute like in thick treacle… I could hardly see my script, or my hands, and I could not hear my voice… I don’t recall speaking, just standing terrified! And yet, I was so excited! Believe me, this was me being brave, being a witness to Christ in my life. How pathetic I felt too. This was me stepping out boldly, in faith, believing that God would give me the words to say. “Jesus take me as I am”, was my song that day.

I had such hope that day; real hope, despite my terrible nerves. For the first time ever, I knew, I believed, that I was truly born again. I was completely washed clean in that baptismal pool and forgiven on that day. I was born again by the Holy Spirit, even a born-again virgin! I had believed I was ‘saved’ long before that day, back in August 1977, but now I was certain. Theologically I may have been ‘born-again’ before my baptism, but that was the day I knew it for sure. I KNEW I was forgiven and clean of all guilt and all sin and all shame. This was a momentous, unforgettable day. I was a new creation, the old had gone and the new had come. I am so grateful to God for His mercy and love, but also grateful to the 19 year old me, who stood before the crowd, scared, courageous and excited that day.

I wondered why that day in 1984 was so different from the day for the 12 year old in 1977? But that little girl was so scared and damaged and so full of mistrust, that when she met Jesus, she gave Him her heart and she hid in Him. He was her safe place, her refuge, her comfort and her hiding place. He was her light, He was beautiful, gentle, kind, lovely and her heart’s desire was to be like Him. Her two songs were “Jesus, how lovely You are” and “To Be Like Jesus”. These were her songs and her prayer. She hid in Him over the next 7 difficult years, learning to trust Him, learning that He was not her fairy-godmother and things were not as black and white as she thought. Every week, she gave her heart afresh to Jesus and asked forgiveness, repenting of her many sins… Learning that we all had good, bad and ugly in us… I am so inexplicably grateful to Jesus for picking up that broken, scared little girl and holding her safe enough to begin to knit her back together… and I am grateful for that little girl, for the disappointed, frightened adolescent and the rebellious, heart-broken teenager – that she saw You, Jesus, held on to You and never lost sight of Your mercy.

Jesus never left me, though I was sporadic and unfaithful in my behaviour, before and after my baptism, but I never left Him either.

I learned to trust Him, as I grew up and learned to know Him more. I was a mess, but God is more powerful, more patient, more wise and more everything than I could ever have imagined. He didn’t lift me out of the mess, as I wanted, (though I suspect He saved me from more than I’ll ever know) but He did bring me faithfully through the mess and, true to God’s hallmark, my mess has become my message.

Those five loaves I gave Him have become over 12 baskets full of leftovers!

My Jesus wastes nothing!

Today I thank and honour my God who has been faithful and gracious to me, since before I ever knew Him, but I want to honour Him today for taking hold of me in 1977 and giving me a hiding place of safety and a light in my darkness. And I want to honour Him for protecting and nurturing me until I had courage to stand before that crowd and be publicly baptised in the name of the Father, The Son and the Holy Spirit. 36 years later, on this day I shall never forget, I want to honour Him for His continued mighty patience, forgiveness, mercy, grace and love, and for the gift of abundant, eternal life! All glory be to God.

His mercies are new every morning. ALL our sins can be forgiven because of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. My life is a testament to His love and His saving grace.

If you, reading this today, do not KNOW that your sins are forgiven, please speak out to Jesus now. He is the son of God who died on the cross so that you can be forgiven and have abundant, eternal life – NOW. Don’t waste another day. Today is a day to remember. Make it your re-birthday.