Don’t switch off because I’m gonna be talking about religion read this anyway cuz it’s about more than just that… So where to start?? Well it has to be Emily. If you’ve read my previous blogs about her I apologise you’re gonna be hearing more about her but I’m so grateful for all that she has done for me and I can’t even thank her. I don’t know if anyone else has ever experienced it but if you have that one friend that has changed your life forever and they are still about phone them right now and say thank you! Life is far to short not to!
So those of you who have been in my life in the past few weeks or months I’m sure I will have spoken to you about Freedom Church but this post is going to explain a lot more about it, and how I ended up there and why last Sunday I chose to get baptised.
I grew up in a Christian household and went to church (St Stephens) every week in my home town of Redditch and I always believed in God that has never changed. Many points during my childhood/early adulthood I got angry with God for what he did and didn’t stop from happening. I just didn’t get it, I didn’t understand how this God could create a world where bad things happen. I got confirmed but that was more because I wanted to have the bread and the wine. I went to a church youth group which was part of Emmanuel church during my teens where we would explore Gods word a little more but if I’m honest I went for the friendship rather than the religion. I went to church to tick a box and say yep been this week I’m a good christian but I never really listened or understood being a christian is so much more than that.
When I was diagnosed with cancer-ish I had people say they were praying for me but honestly I wanted to knock them out (couldn’t because I had no energy) I was so done with religion. How could God exist if he was going to put me through this I thought? I didn’t want people to pray for me because at that point I’m not sure I knew if I even wanted to get better or not- I was so tired and so weak, my immediate future had been taken away from me. I didn’t want God in my life but I still believed in God. I was told by my consultant that I couldn’t go to crowded places and that church was an infection risk so I stopped going… After treatment I really struggled! I have a great cancer friend called Luned who really tried to get me back to church, taking me to #convinced?/#cardiffstory but I just wasn’t ready for it. In 2013 i made a film along with some others about faith (now I look at it and its so cringey and so not where I’m at now) have a watch https://jtvcancersupport.com/2013/06/faith/ I was in and out of church only going for special occasions.
So almost a year ago (a year ago on Monday) I lost an incredible friend to cancer- His name was Peter Wilkinson- he worked for the amazing JTV Cancer support (the site I just sent you too). It was heartbreaking, I found out at the end of a rugby match (anyone who knows me knows how passionate I get) and I went from this high of emotion to utter despair. We knew Peter’s life would be shorter thanks to his brain tumours but I wasn’t prepared for how hard it was going to hit me. I’ve lost many cancer friends over the years and while there were a few I’ve really missed Peter (like Emily) was in a different league. I never went to cancer friends funerals but thanks to some amazing friends I was able to go to Peter’s funeral. This may sound weird but Peter’s funeral was a dream funeral. It was perfect for him, they talked about the Peter before cancer and him growing up, they spoke about Peter and his life with cancer (#tumorhumour #boom) and Peter & Debs (his life with his wonderful wife). Peter was described as superman, because he was human most of the time but superman when he needed to be. Throughout all of his eulogy they spoke about how Peter found comfort in his faith which left me a bit confused yet comforted How could Peter keep his faith when I lost mine? Yet I was really pleased he had faith because he was comforted in his final weeks by this. The worship was more upbeat than I was use to but I loved it, we left the funeral to Jump Around (House of Pain). I left feeling comforted that Peter was in a better place now.
Over the next few months I didn’t really think much about it until I spoke with the wonderful Emily. One of my final conversations with Em was about faith, I talked to her about Peter and his amazing funeral and how I didn’t understand how she, peter and Luned kept their faith throughout. She pointed out it wasn’t easy but a work in progress, but then in true Emily style she sucker punched me. So if you found this funeral so amazing, why haven’t you seen this as your sign to find a church that’s right for you? Wow ok Em don’t hold back will you. Oh and how right she was, so I spent some time at home googling local churches and reading about them and found Freedom Church was literally 2 mins away from me. I looked on their Facebook page and saw that a friend from Uni liked it… so then obviously stalked Ste on Facebook and saw him on stage behind some drums Wow I thought he’s loving it and pretty involved. (I knew Peter had been in a band so this seemed like that sign) So I watched a few preaches on their Facebook page and was like ok yea its pretty relevant I’ll go see what its like. I went to tell Em that i was going to go on Sunday but she had been moved into the isolation rooms so I decided I’d tell her after I’d been what it was like.
So Mothers day 2016 I walked into Freedom Church Cardiff for the first time. Wow do those guys know how to welcome you I was greeted on the door by Andy, then took two steps and got a flower (thanks to it being mothers day) then Ant saw me looking a bit lost and greeted me and asked if it was my first time in Freedom. I explained I knew Ste from uni and that’s what brought me- ste was on the next set of doors and as soon as he saw me he gave me a huge hug. Next thing i know I’m sat on the front row next to Ant and Ste. Now I’d prepared myself that it was going to be different from the traditional church I’d been use to but Freedom was something else- I’ve spent a long time working out how to describe what its like and really the only way you will ‘get it’ is to come but it’s basically like going to a gig followed by the most inspiring relatable religious ted talk you’ve ever experienced. Ste jumps during worship and I’m sure he was jumping above my shoulders. But wow did it hit me, I was in tears in the first worship song because I suddenly felt so connected to Peter again, I knew it was the sort of place he would have loved. I couldn’t wait to hear when Em was up for visitors so I could tell her all about it. The preach hit me like a em style sucker punch and at the end of the preach they ask if anyone would like to respond to getting to know this Jesus they talk about or If you’ve been away a while and you are recommitting back to the journey with Jesus. I had felt so moved I couldn’t not respond- but I originally thought i was responding to coming back- Its only now i realise how wrong I was.
The following Saturday I was at a volunteers day for the Ellen Macather Cancer Trust- which takes young people in recovery from cancer sailing, something I’d managed to convince Em to sign up for. It was the first time I’d seen people who were at Peter’s funeral so it brought back some tough emotions. At lunch they have a room with a memory tree- I wrote a message for Peter and put it on the tree- but felt really uneasy and had to take a step back in the afternoon sessions, after I was sat watching England v Wales in a pub in Birmingham with some- it wasn’t going well for us (welsh) and i looked down at my phone to see a message from Donna- Emily’s mum ‘Emily died at lunchtime xx’. I couldn’t breath, I was so overcome by grief I could not believe it, Emily’s death was so unexpected for me- despite me getting ‘the look’ from Nargal (our tct doctor) last time I tried to visit- Em was gonna pull through, she had so much to she wanted to do. It was so tough! I was such a mess. I hadn’t got to tell her i’d gone back to church. I couldn’t understand how someone with so much purpose and direction could die and there was me bumbling through and I get to survive. The next day I decided I would watch church online (Yep Freedom are also online!) I sobbed most of the way through it because now church meant that bit more. Church was hard work over the following few weeks but I kept going and started going to our small groups (catalyst groups) mid week. Em’s funeral was hard I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to someone who had made such a big impact in my life. Rev Rhiannon Francis spoke about her relationship with Emily from her hospital bed and being with Emily’s family as she passed. She described how Emily’s soul could no longer be contained I at this point visualised this cracked pot with a purple light peaking through. Soon after we were shown a purple crystal I knew that’s what i was seeing inside this vessel. Em shone, she was bright (smart and her personality) she drew people in and defiantly left you in awe. The sermon/eulogy made me realise that Emily had something I didn’t- a real relationship with God. I didn’t get it at this point still but I decided i needed to push in, listen and act upon what I was learning at church until I did get it.
Fast forward to about 6 weeks ago and I’ve been going to church for a few months and all this time I’ve been learning- looking at how others could open up their bibles and pick them apart. I found reading it like reading Shakespeare- hard and very easy to put down. Then Karin Cooke one of our wonderful pastors did an in-house preach on John 15 about growth. We were shown a picture of a dying withered branch (in this moment God spoke to me and said right now this is you- but it’s not what i have for you). The scripture talks about how God is our gardener, he prunes so that we can grow and be fruitful but to do this we need to remain in him, and his word without this the vine withers and dies. Karin talked about how we all begin as seeds and need to be in the dark soil to gain nutrients and be watered- It was a lightbulb moment suddenly everything Id been learning over the many many years made sense- and it was like the moments when a seed plants its roots in the ground for me. I understood that to be a christian is way more than just believing in God, its about the relationship you have with him. All of a sudden everything made sense and the things I’d been trying to put into practice over the weeks before stuck too- like my foundations had been laid. I understood that sometimes we have to go through the bad to be able to see all of good and to get to the place we are now in. We were set the challenge of John 15 in 15 mins every day for a month- and boy did I learn things from this (ask me about it and I’ll tell you more).
If it hadn’t been for being diagnosed I’m not sure I’d be alive today- I had a 5 year plan to become a teacher and I’d decided that if anything got in the way of that I’d either run away or I’d kill myself. I know got dark quickly then but at the time I was in such a dark place this is what I felt. Cancer saved my life because I had no choice but to accept the treatment, and when I got PTSD after transplant and had to struggle with repressed memories of things that had happened before my transplant I was lucky enough to have Jude Rowlands (my amazing CLIC Sargent social worker) in my life who helped me get the right support in place and I have had lots of problems with my mental health since. I still struggle from time to time yes but boy have I come a long way a few weeks ago I wouldn’t have been open and honest about this.
I can now look back over my life and I see so many times when my outcome could have been different. When I’ve had good people step into my life at just the right moment. When that conversation I had with Emily came just at a point when I really needed it! The past 6 months without Emily have been really hard, because there have been so many moments I know she has influenced- pushed me to go to something, or speak to somebody. I can’t Thank Emily or Peter- but without them I probably wouldn’t have walked into Freedom Church. The past 6 weeks have been eye-opening, heart wrenching, and a constant stream of OHHH… ok I get it moments. I hadn’t realised how dead i’d become- I hadn’t realised how tough I was really finding things. However over the past 7 months I’ve found a church family who I love, I’ve found new friends that just like my cancer friends come from all backgrounds and walks of life, I’ve found a home in my city and most importantly I’ve found my Faith!
Last week I decided I should get baptised because although I was christened as a baby and confirmed I hadn’t accepted Jesus into my life at those points. I knew I needed to show that to the people who had helped make that happen (my freedom family). 7 weeks ago in freedom church I would turn up as the event started and I’d only sometimes hang around after. Now I love that place so much because of the change and massive impact its had on my life I’m volunteering there and I’m never late, I’ve made stronger connections with those that go there and now I’m a much part of their lives as they are mine. I’m still very young on my journey and like most christians I’m far from perfect and I don’t have it all down yet but it’s ok because it’s about being on that journey- growing and developing. Some people in my life have seen a huge shift in me over the last few months and it really is incredible I know the best is yet to come and my story is far from over. I’m just so unbelievably grateful for all those who have helped me get to where I am today.
I couldn’t recommend finding a community and a church strongly enough. If you’ve read this and been moved message me, if you’d like to find a church that’s relevant to you- message me. I’d love to help. Check out http://www.freedomchurch.cc/about follow freedom church on YouTube and watch some of the preaches. Feel free to ask me questions because I’ve only skimmed the surface here.
For now sorry for such a long blog but
Goodnight God bless #boom