Enjoying God, Making Friends & Changing Lives

Philippa’s Story

I’m the oldest of four children and when I was seven years old, my brother was five and recovering from cancer.  We had my 18 year old cousin living with us at the time and my second brother had also recently been born.  Around that time my cousin started to come into my room in the middle of the night and abuse me.

Being woken up in the night was a bit unexpected and the first time it happened I was just very surprised.  The second time I was surprised and frightened.  He would tell me “Be quiet and do as your told!”  In those days kids did just do as they were told and so I thought “This is my life now”

We had sash windows in the house that whistled and for some reason whenever that whistling stopped I knew that he was coming.  He abused me every night for 6 months.  I remember hearing my friends at school talk about ‘monsters under your bed’ and telling them “But the monsters aren’t under your bed – they’re in your bed!”

When he came in it would feel like I was watching someone else from a long way away.  It would be silent and I would just freeze.  Sometimes he would try and suffocate me and I didn’t know if I was going to live or die.  He would always tell me “Don’t make any noise.  Just do as you’re told”.

I stopped playing in my room and used to play outside all the time.  I just didn’t want to be in there.

After six months my brother’s cot was put in my bedroom and I decided that I had to do something.  I chose a book with very sharp corners and one night when my cousin came in I gave him an absolute beating.

The next morning at breakfast he had marks all over his face and he told my mum that he’d done it falling off his bike.

Somehow, hearing him lie helped me realise that everything he was doing was wrong and so I told my mum what had been going on.

It was very hard trying to explain it to them.  I didn’t have the words and they just couldn’t get their heads round it.

They decided we needed to go and talk to the church pastor.  He told them to get rid of my cousin immediately.  When we got home he had already gone. 

As far as my mum and dad were concerned that was the end of the whole thing but I was living with the consequences.

I felt as though there was something different and odd and unacceptable about me.  I didn’t feel as though I could just play any more.  I’m sure it also contributed to my dyslexia.  I hated all books because I associated them with my cousin.  I hated reading.

When I was 12 we went to live in Israel for two years.  Dad was designing aircraft for the Israeli government.  Life there was so different.  Different food, different climate, lots of swimming in the sea and a much more relaxed school life!

I started to enjoy my life.

We came back when I was 15 and we rejoined the church that we’d been in before.  It was the mid-80s and the Aids crisis was at its peak.  There was a lot of emphasis in the youth group on the importance of sexual morality.  I felt so excluded by that because of what had happened to me with my cousin.  I thought “How can I ever be part of a church?” 

I decided to knock church on the head and hang around with the bikers instead! 

I was determined that I would only marry someone who treated me like a goddess but at the same time my attitude to relationships was very casual.  One time on a night out my friend gave me a dare.  “Pull the biggest bloke you can find…”  That night I met Ashley who had just left the armed forces and soon afterwards I found out that I was pregnant.

I didn’t want to keep the baby but I didn’t want an abortion either and so I came up with a plan to give the child up for adoption.  The idea was that I would give him away when he was just three hours old and then carry on with my life where I’d left off.  After the birth I was very unwell and so instead of going to an adoptive family, he went into foster care until I was well enough to complete the paperwork. That was the moment God really started to break in.

One day as I walking down the street I heard an audible voice saying “Joshua is your responsibility!”

It was a deep authoritative voice that sounded as if it was coming from right in front of me.  Even so I turned around to see if there was anyone speaking behind me. There wasn’t a bird or a cat or anything else in the street.  The voice said a second time “Joshua is your responsibility!”  I’ve never experienced anything like it before or since.   It wasn’t inside my head.  It was definitely an external audible voice.

That was an absolute moment in my life that I will never be able to deny or refute.  If I ever find myself doubting God I think back to that moment because I know that what happened that day was real.

I hadn’t filled in any adoption paperwork and so it was very easy for us to get Joshua back.  A lady in my mum’s church thought we were keeping the baby and had been in touch offering us all of their baby stuff.  Joshua and I moved into a granny flat that belonged to a friend and I started to ask God to help me.  I had some amazing answers to prayer – like praying casually for a car at 10.30am and being given a Ford Capri by lunchtime!  God was really pursuing me.

Not long after that I found myself thinking “Maybe I’ll go and visit Pauline”.  That must also have been from God because Pauline was a friend of my mum’s and was part of the Jesus Army.  I’d visited them when I was 14 and absolutely hated it. 

My mum had given her friend Pauline a photo of me and she in turn had given it to Sister Lisa in the Jesus Army.  When I arrived at the house where they lived, Sister Lisa recognised me and said “Philippa!  I’ve been praying for you!”

They were just so lovely and welcomed people from all kinds of broken backgrounds.  You could not really have had a greater mix of people – architects, doctors, lawyers, rent boys, prostitutes, and junkies – all talking openly about their sin in a very normal way that made my experiences sound like chicken-feed in comparison!

It was just so easy to tell the truth about your life there and become a Christian.  One Sunday the person giving the talk said “Turn to the person next to you and ask them ‘Are you going to follow Jesus?’”  I thought “This really is the moment. It’s now or never!” And I said ‘Yes – I am!’

I went home, got rid of my flat and sold all my stuff.  I moved into a Jesus Army communal house with 20 other people.   It was a farmhouse in Northamptonshire where they raised cattle and sheep. Joshua was 6 months old. 

We used to do so much crazy stuff together.  Every Friday night we would go out till 2am on the streets of Soho, Leicester Square and Kings Cross telling people about Jesus and then would still get up for church the next morning.

Once a year we would hire Trafalgar Square for a big national Jesus Army gathering and we would cover Nelson’s column with banners.

I was so excited about Jesus.  I knew he was awesome and I wanted to tell everyone about him.  I found some Christians in other churches a bit underwhelming because of their lack of passion – although in truth there have been seasons in my own life that have been much more mundane!

I ended up living in a Jesus Army house in Brighton. Joshua was about six by this stage.  He was struggling at school and somebody asked me if I thought he might need to re-connect to his dad.  I didn’t want anything from my past to affect my future with Jesus.  I felt as though I was running hard with Jesus and I didn’t want to spoil that in any way.

A friend of mine was still in touch with Ashley and so I wrote to him and said “If you’re not married and would like to come and see Joshua would you consider it?”  I didn’t want to jeopardise any new relationship that he might have – but it turned out he’d been single since we split up and he said “I’ll come down and see you”.

As soon as I saw him I knew I still loved him which was not at all what I expected. I was just doing this for Joshua. Ashley apologised and we started to see each other about once a month long-distance.  I was in Brighton and he was in Newcastle.

In the Summer holidays I went up to Newcastle to see him. He was holding a long red velvet dress and he said “Will you marry me and will you wear this?” And that was it.  I never went back to Brighton and within three weeks we were married. 18 months later Lisa was born and John and Anna followed soon after.

I was still living with a lot of the consequences of what had happened when I was a kid.

Ashley and I had a great relationship but at night I always ended up sleeping in the same room as the children. Also my sleep at night was always terrible even though I had no trouble at all sleeping anywhere during the day.

I would feel terrified for the kids whenever there were adult men in the house and I wasn’t around.  I was very fearful around men generally and if I felt threatened I was prone to being rather violent!  If I ever had to go into a room with a man I would be planning my exit strategy on the way in.  And yet in almost every other situation I seemed to have no sense of fear at all.

I had a lot of living daydreams about me inflicting violence on an anonymous man.  I was really embarrassed about it. 

I juat couldn’t seem to turn that off.  I was a Christian and I thought “How can I be struggling with things like this?

When the struggle was at its worst I went to see the doctor who gave me anti-depressants and sent me to see a therapist.

I told the therapist everything. I wanted to get it all out once and for all and somehow get out the other side.

Talking about everything made me feel as though I was re-living it all. It was agony.  After months of that, the therapist said he just didn’t know how to help and that he was concerned about my mental health.  I didn’t have anything left to say.  It felt like a complete nightmare.  Ashley was being amazingly supportive and understanding.

I felt as though there was a loud roaring noise in my head all the time, like the sound that a plane makes just before take-off.  It felt like the build-up of years of supressed anger and terror.  I would put loud music on all the time to try and drown it out.   If I went anywhere quiet then all of these things would play out in my head.  I would often go to the gym and absolutely thrash myself to try and create some kind of distraction.   All of this went on for a long time.

In Jan 2017 all of these things were really intense and acute.  I had started coming to City Church not long before.

The first time I came in as I walked up the steps I knew straight away that this was where I should be.

I know this sounds strange but sometimes I feel as though I can see the presence of the Holy Spirit.  It looks a bit like the twinkly lights coming off a disco ball. As I came up the steps it was all a bit twinkly!

The worship was so good it was almost delicious – like you could eat it.  We sang “You make me brave” and “He loves us – oh how he loves us…”  We sang until the Spirit came and I recognised that Jesus was here.

I loved hearing about how Jesus is the answer to everything and is in everything.

The kids wanted to be with their friends but I thought “Stuff it!  I need to be where Jesus is…!  In an emergency situation you put your own oxygen mask on first…”  As it happens they have all made good friends and settled in.

One Sunday at church Ian was talking about forgiveness.  About twice I’d had a thought about the need to forgive my cousin and had thought straightaway “You can forget that!”

I’d been a Christian for ages but I didn’t know what real forgiveness looked like, felt like or how you actually did it. I just didn’t understand how forgiveness really worked.

One evening soon after I heard Anna screaming on a ride at the Hoppings.  It re-awoke a deep feeling of terror in me and for the first time I connected that really clearly with the roaring in my head and realised what it was.  The noise in my head was so loud by then that I was taking masses of painkillers for the headaches.

Later that same week I went to bed early one night.  I was trying to sleep in our own bed which was very unusual.

I had a kind of a waking vision.  In the vision I could see an egg that I had been looking after and trying not to break – but then the egg had hatched into a terrible beast that now was crashing and banging about upstairs in the house.

In the vision – I went to the bottom of the stairs and could see a gruesome dragon in front of me that I knew I could never possibly overcome.  It didn’t move and it had big yellow eyes on the side of its head that it was watching me from.  It was drooling and stinking.

As my tears of despair fell and landed on the top of the dragon’s head they dissolved a hole in it and I could see that there was a little girl in there who was made of crystal.  As I bent down to lift the girl out I saw that it was me.

I stepped free of the dragon and had a clenched fist.  Inside my fist was a gold coin with the word “Forgiveness” written on it.  Suddenly in front of me appeared the form of my cousin with a rather obvious slot in his forehead.  I put the coin in the slot and he disappeared with a loud “Poof!”

The next thing I knew I was waking up in the morning and it was all gone.  All the noise and all the fear – they were all gone.  Everything.  I had not slept well at night since I was 6 years old.  I have now had a whole year of sleeping well every single night – and in our own bedroom.

All of those little behaviours that had dominated my life were all gone.  I didn’t have to work at any of these changes they all just happened.  It’s like God uprooted the whole tree and took it all out – roots, branches, the whole lot. 

I was a bit concerned that in time it might all come back but none of it has.  Nothing has been left unaddressed.  God has done the whole thing.  Somehow in that moment He set me completely free. 

I’ve started to do things like letting the older kids get in a taxi without me – which would have been a massive deal in the past.  When John got lost on our holiday in Spain I was completely at peace.  A year ago I would have been sweating and unable to breathe.  I’ve also started to hear God again for people in very specific ways.  40 years of insomnia have come to an end.

I’d always felt that forgiveness might be letting the other person off – but actually it’s nothing to do with that.  In reality forgiveness is what set me free from a whole ton of stuff.  I had no idea that was how it worked. 

I just feel whole now.  I feel like I am really alive!