I’ll always remember the first time I met him. It’s hard to forget.
I was only small (maybe 4 or 5) and I’d woken up in the middle of the night, really thirsty. There was a soft, warm glow of light shining under my bedroom door, coming from downstairs and so (ever the explorer) I got up and padded toward the stairs.
And then without warning, just as I got to the handrail, I tripped and, whack, thump, thump and there I was, rolling head over heels, down the stairs.
I don’t remember crying or feeling any pain – just inexplicably finding myself in a sleepy-eyed crumble at the foot of the stairwell, the place I’d seen the warm, yellowy light coming from.
All of a sudden he was there. He was wearing a workman’s overalls and although I didn’t immediately recognise him, there was something so kind, solid and reassuring about him, that I felt like I’d known him for years. I can’t remember if he said anything, but he smiled this kindly, crinkly-eyed smile, scooped me up and I was soon tucked up back in my bed. The memory of that first meeting, the kindness and security that seemed to stick to him, stayed with me, even into adulthood.
It was probably not until I was a teenager that I mentioned this to my mum. She told me straightaway that it must have been a dream. We’d been having work done on the house, yes, but none of the workmen ever wore overalls and anyway, why would a workman be in the house in the middle of the night anyway?
I was a bit flummoxed by this….I felt in my heart of hearts that I knew this man. And maybe I did? Maybe this was God giving me a first glimpse as a child, of his kindness?
Over the next few years, there were more to come. It was there as an urgent nudge about a year later when someone at church asked if we wanted to get to know Jesus. I just knew that I wanted to go out to the front. It was there as a teenager, feeling an overwhelming sense of nearness on a beach on a blustery day in Blackpool. Or another time, shouting into apparent nothingness at the inexplicable death of a friend and not hearing words, but being distinctly wrapped up in safety and being aware that she was ok. And I would be too.
As the years have gone by, ever since ‘meeting’ that workman and choosing to go out to front of church, I have just always known that God was around.
There’s been plenty of times when I’ve wondered in frustration why He wasn’t doing what I needed Him to (I wonder if he felt the same…?) but there was still always that palpable sense of Him being there, breathing in and through situations, somehow guiding my feet back on to the right path, nudging me off the wrong one, at times, wrapping me in such a blanket of comfort that I felt temporarily anesthetised to the storm raging around me.
There was only one time I can remember not being aware of God.
Years ago as a student, I went to a party and ended up getting really drunk. The strange, willful bit of me wanted to see what it’d be like (dur). I don’t remember the details, but I do remember the feeling of death in the morning.
I can’t even describe how bad I felt physically, but worse still, I felt like God was gone. I’d gone to the party, determined to do it, and it was like God checked out, halfway through the night.
The next 2 days, languishing with a hangover on a sofa, were hell. Not only was I ill (totally self-inflicted) but I was totally cut off from the one constant in my life – the same presence I’d experienced as a child at the bottom of the stairs.
As I recovered, I put things right with God, my lifelong friend and I was flooded with relief a day or so later, when I woke up and just knew God was ‘back’.
I’ve never drunk as much as that since and I wouldn’t ever again. I don’t think God left me, but I think he removed my awareness of his presence for those few days. I could never do that again.
These days, for many ‘God’ is a choice. I hear and see it all the time on TV, on Twitter – incredulous, sarky voices of non-believers asserting awe that anyone could believe in a ‘sky fairy’ or feel the need to lean on a higher power.
But to me, it’s not about leaning or even about belief, it’s just simply a knowing, that God, my Father is simply always there. I don’t always understand his ways, but I know he’s there, as my Father, friend,my go-to place when life is a bit rubbish. I know he’s loved me ever since I was a kid and I know he loves me now.
I’ll never forget the day I met him for the first time. I can’t imagine any other life.