Chapter 2 Finding God
Living with my mother had turned me into an anxious and withdrawn person. When at home, I would sit on the edge of my bed, or a chair, doing homework or watching TV, dreading the moment when she would throw the door open and accuse me of some misdemeanor for which I would need to be “punished”. Going out was not much good, as I had few friends, and was too lacking in confidence to join clubs. Sometimes, I thought about whom I might turn to for help, but decided that all my family’s relatives and friends would not believe me when I told them how my mother treated me. As for telling my teachers at school, I was too afraid of them.
It was not surprising, then, that I developed agoraphobia. It seemed to start when I fainted at school, at the age of 14. It was in the chemistry lab, which always had a smell of gas from the Bunsen burners. I got off my stool and made for the door, and my legs turned to lead and I crashed to the floor. The teacher was very concerned, and sent me home in a taxi. But after that, I had a constant fear that it would happen again, and felt very anxious when in public places.
Little by little, places were closed off to me: first, I couldn’t go into certain shops without having a panic attack, then I couldn’t travel on buses, then school became a problem, and one terrible day I had a panic attack just going out to the front gate. My parents were insistent that I finished my education and got all the qualifications I could, so when I was 17 I was transferred to a small private school not far from home. Even then, I was not able to go into the school hall for assemblies, or to have school lunches with the other girls, and someone started calling me “the girl who has fits”. But I managed to complete my studies and do my exams.
Leaving school at nearly 19, finding a job could have been a problem, but I ended up as a library assistant in a small village library close to home. It wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I wanted to earn enough and get well enough that I could leave home and be free of my mother. But the situation seemed hopeless, life consisted of going to work, eating and sleeping and watching TV. The future was very bleak indeed.
One day, when I was at a very low ebb, a plan formed in my mind. I would go to church! Not as illogical as it sounds, because I remembered from my childhood going to healing meetings where people would be prayed for and healed. The nearest suitable church was 3 miles away, so I had to go by bicycle (buses still being impossible).
I couldn’t sit inside the church with all those people there, so I had to sit outside and listen to the meeting on the speaker system. I’m not sure what I expected to happen; perhaps that God would send a bolt of power from heaven to heal me. Well, that didn’t happen, but what did happen after the meeting, is that people came to talk to me, encouraging me to come again, inviting me to the Youth Meeting.
They were so welcoming and friendly (to me, the one who had no friends, who had no idea how to communicate and behave in social situations), and I could feel God’s love radiating from them. So I went to the Youth meetings again and again, and I graduated from sitting outside the church to sitting inside in the back row. Now I knew that God loved and accepted me, just as these people did, so on the 17th of February 1973 I finally asked him to be Lord of my life.
It was a wonderful feeling, walking home that night as though enclosed in a warm glow. At last, I had the courage to stand up to my mother, knowing that I was not alone, my heavenly Father was beside me all the time. I also felt He would listen to me if I asked Him a big favour: to heal me from the agoraphobia.
At the Pentecostal church I went to, the pastor, George Forrester, was filled with the Holy Spirit and the power of God. You only had to hear him preach to know that he was in direct communication with God. One evening he invited those who wanted prayer for healing to come forward. I was one of those who did, and when I explained, falteringly, why I wanted prayer, he seemed to understand, and he prayed.
As I was going out of the door later on, he reminded me of a Bible verse “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4 v.13). I kept this verse in my head for a long time to come, for although I never experienced a sudden blast of healing power, from that moment I started to get better and a year later I was able to live a more or less normal life. I got a better job and moved into a rented room in a house with other Christians, finally breaking away from my mother.
“I sought the Lord and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears” (Psalm 34 v.4)
Links to Gwen’s testimony: