I can remember how it felt – that walking across the Square, arms stretched long with shopping bags.
I can remember how it felt – that looking at our church, heart stretched hard and cold with unbelief.
I can remember: before coming to that church the years of losing everything – the business I had started, homes and cars and income, all lost; the worldly stuff I had held so dearly, gone. Taken by God, vindictively it seemed.But then came this church. Its large draughty Victorian Rectory. My life turned upside down and not in the way I wanted. For I had enjoyed my status: 20th century vicar’s wives did not usually head up their own nationwide company. Gone. All gone.
I was tired, so tired of it all.
* * *
* * *
But then I remember: that clergy wives’ conference, days after crossing the Square. The reluctant going, the fear of being thought an abject failure, the hesitancy in case someone uncovered my unbelief. A speaker – who was she? And what did she have to say? Lost in time. But then, oh then, another speaker, who spoke creatively, humourously, and who then asked us to stand so the Lord could minister to us.
STAND? My hesitation – what was this about? My desire to melt away and not be part of this. And then finding myself standing, pulled by the Unseen Presence. His Light, flooding the room. His Warmth enveloping me in ways I could not comprehend. His Voice, unheard, speaking into my poor stretched heart: I am here, I am true, I am your strength. I AM.
Their prayers for me, surrounding me. My tears falling. Shaking with the overwhelming sense of His being with me. One stood back, pondered, allowed Him to speak through her voice.
“I wonder,” she said, “if this verse might be for you? Somewhere in the Old Testament I think. Words from the Lord. I will restore to you the years the locusts have eaten.”
They prayed some more. He took those words deep into that cold stretched heart. He promised restoration, things that would replace what was lost, devoured and devastated. A swarm of things new and above what was lost.
So I clung to that verse over the years that were to come. Years with ups and downs, but years of fruitful ministry just as He had promised. A book was published, an international speaking gift confirmed, a ministry ordained. The years lost through unbelief were more than made up for. Always I remembered that verse. He had restored the years the locusts had eaten – and more.
* * *
* * *
Seventeen months ago, my mother died. Swept away. One moment she was there, a feisty ninety-year-young who cared ceaselessly for others, drove old ladies to church, talked non-stop on the phone to her friends and family whenever she could. Prayed for us all, every day.
And the next she was gone, swept away under the wheels of an out-of-control car.
And I stood there, frozen, helpless. Stunned from having been hit by the same car just a few moments before. Deafened by the shouts and screams and sirens. Deafened by the silent scream inside. And my tears turned to ice and my scream frozen deep within.
She was gone.
I stood at her feet and I tried to pray for her, aloud. Tried to thank God for all she was and had been to me and others; tried to ask Him to take her to Himself; committed her to the One who loved her the best. And the paramedic had tears in her eyes. “I’ve never heard anyone pray out loud before,” she said. “Would you like her teeth? And her watch?”
I took the watch and turned to thank the paramedics and the police and the passersby. People were so kind; so very kind.
But I was frozen.
For seventeen month now, I have been frozen. Unable to work or to play, to read or to write. Lost, barren, devoured by locusts.
But now. A slow greening of tiny shoots again.
A decision to be grateful in the brokenness.*
A monthly Happiness Project.+
And confirmation from He whom my soul loves, that what has yet again been devoured by locusts will be restored to me.
The verse remembered.
That decision to have a monthly project – for March, to write again.
He promised. And there was the verse, my verse: on Anita’s tweet. Her invitation on February 29 to write a guest blog. And on March 1st an offer of a freelance writing project – very small but it’s writing and it’s paid! Unsought, it brought with it His Voice of Promise: I will restore to you the years the locusts have eaten.
Confirmation that my ministry years are not over, as I had feared.
He who has promised is faithful and He will do it. Again and again, whenever it is needed:
“I will restore to you the years the locusts have eaten.” Joel 2:25
* One Thousand Gifts. Ann Voskamp. Zondervan ( Editor’s note: This book is wonderful, and well worth a look at – link through title)
+ A Happiness Project. Gretchen Rubin. Harper
The Revd Penelope Swithinbank is a widely recognized international conference speaker, both for Alpha and for retreats and pilgrimages. Author of “Women By Design,” she has been involved in ministry for over 30 years, as pastor’s wife, volunteer, and now as a member of the ordained Anglican clergy. As a young mother she started her own business, “Bumpsadaisy” which she developed into a successful national franchise across the UK, hiring out designer maternity wear. Later, whilst working virtually full time as a volunteer in the church, she ran a flourishing Bed & Breakfast business to help pay the bills! She has three children and six grandchildren.Penelope and her husband lived in the USA for six years. Whilst there, Penelope was firstly Director of C2 Ministries (Community & Connections) at The Falls Church in northern Virginia, and then Interim Rector of The Church of Our Saviour, Johns Island in South Carolina. Now based in London, she runs “Ministries by Design” and leads Retreats and Pilgrimages regularly, and is an Ignatian Spiritual Director, and mentor to younger women clergy.Penelope has a Master of Theology from St Andrews University Scotland, and degrees in both Education and Pastoral Theology from Cambridge University, England. Find full details on the website or follow her on twitter:www.ministriesbydesign.org
This is a reblog of a guest post on http://dreamingbeneaththespires.blogspot.com/ an excellent blog worth following on twitter or elsewhere. @AnitaMathias1 is a wonderful collector of resources and links as well as being another writer worth reading.