Sophie and God. A love story.
Sophie is a pom ex-pat living in Oz, who was first of all a pom ex-pat living in Pakistan, and has then became a pom ex-pat living in France, New Zealand and Fiji. Obviously, not all at once. It may sound like she doesn't have a home, but she finds all her home in God. (And a little bit in her husband, who does sound rather lovely.)
I met Thierry, my husband, when I was in my first year of University and he was in the UK doing an exchange year which would turn his French Civil Engineering Technician degree into a Bachelor of Engineering in the UK and would eventually lead to his chartership.
I was invited by a Christian friend to join her in a prayer triplet with two other guys because "she didn’t want to flirt with them!" I joined Lizzie and Andrew, another Christian who had met Lizzie at church and was in the same halls of residence as we were and Andrew invited his neighbour, Thierry, who had just moved over from different halls of residence.
Three quarters of the way through that year, Lizzie had a recurrence of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and had to drop out of university and Andrew stopped coming to the prayer group because basketball practice became more interesting. I think secretly he might have been coming along because he fancied Lizzie. So much for the flirting. That left Thierry and I, who after a few awkward ‘prayer times’ together, found we were mainly chatting and making friends rather than actually praying!
Over the rest of that year, we formed a good friendship and although I dated someone else for a few weeks, that didn’t work out and we found ourselves spending more and more time together. Just a few days before he was due to go back to France at the end of the university year, and I to visit my parents in Pakistan, we ‘got together’ properly and our next year ‘together’ ironically was spent in different countries, having a relationship through letter-writing, long phone calls and the odd visit.
At the end of that year, we both vowed we wouldn’t , couldn’t, do a long-distance relationship again so we prayed that my placement as a teaching assistant would be somewhere near his home and commitments in France.
Amazingly enough, although my lecturers had told me that I stood little chance of getting a place in the Aix-Marseille area, I was the only person on my course who was given their first choice of placement area by the deciding authority. It was the sign we needed from God that our relationship was one we should carry on.
My first two years at university studying French were 'interesting' as I had learned French from two Welsh teachers in Pakistan. That year as a teaching assistant in Manosque, Provence, only half an hour away by bus from Thierry and his family, although lonely for me in terms of other friendships, was a true gift for us to get to know each other better and for my French to improve in leaps and bounds.
At the end of the year, I needed to return to the UK for my final year of studies, and we decided that Thierry would come and either find work or study in the UK until we could get married.
While all this was going on, my other significant relationship, one with God, was intermingled in amongst it all. I had ‘known God’ since I was very young. Growing up in a Christian home and a Christian school, we were given lots of teaching and encouragement which is great foundation for faith but knowledge without an actual heart-connection with the Living Person of Jesus does not make a Christian.
I was never one for dating much, I always felt I was too plain, too much of a tomboy and other girls seemed to be far more attractive to boys than I was. When boys started to express an interest in me, it all turned out to be unsatisfactory. What I thought was genuine attraction for me turned out to be more complicated and not at all sincere. At age 17, getting over a relationship break up, I was very angry by a betrayal and as I cried, I began to hear God comforting me, speaking to my heart for the first time in my life. What other people had been telling me all my life was becoming a reality for me. The realization that God was a physical person with feelings, emotions, words he wanted to speak, that he had plans, just like I did, that he had wisdom, just like older people, that he was someone I could relate to and speak to came as a huge revelation to me.
I had begun this in the last year of high school, first making the connection between my housemother, Aunty Deb, saying that she was praying for us girls in boarding, realizing that her faith was genuine, and things actually changing. And then having a sudden awareness that the God who created all things was responding to what was being said to him - that he was real. That year was a dreadful emotional year for all of us in a small isolated expat high school but God was changing things, using the drama to awaken us to the fact that he was there, loving us, responding to us.
At high school I began to feel the need to be baptised although I didn’t know why. I think my parents were surprised but pleased, thinking it had come out of the blue. I know they would have been praying for me but having had to go to boarding school, they missed out a lot on what was happening in my day to day life.
Later when I went back to the UK to start my integration into my ‘home culture’, I lived with a beautiful couple who had a healing ministry in their basement. To be honest, although I loved God and wanted my relationship to go deeper with him, I was terrified of going to the services in the basement because I felt that God would reveal all my terrible secrets to the people who were praying for me. I was desperate for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, but I wanted God to do with without me having to go to the healing centre. I made every excuse I could not to go down but what tipped me over the edge was my Mum sending back her weekly letter in which she told me my brother had had an amazing spiritual experience back in boarding in Pakistan.
Rupert has always been the more vivacious, dynamic risk-taker between us, and I the shyer, more cautious one. Although I’m the eldest of four, Rupert and I are the closest in age and therefore we are competitive with each other too. If my memory serves me well by Mum’s account it turned out that Rupert and a friend had started praying together when suddenly they had begun to speak spontaneously in tongues and been filled with the Holy Spirit. More students had joined them to pray and there had been a mass outpouring of God on the students with a number of reports of kids being filled with joy and also spontaneous repentance for things they had done.
I was taken aback and, I have to say, pretty darn angry with God. How could he give Rupert something that I coveted when he wasn’t even looking for it or wanting it but I was? I admit, I was assuming a lot with that one. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back and desperate for God to fill me more, I ventured downstairs to the healing centre.
God didn’t reveal my secrets to the world that night, but he did fill me with his Holy Spirit. I blubbered an awful lot but at the end of it I felt complete peace and the revelation of Christ in me, the hope of glory.
Almost 20 years later, I am amazed at the adventure God has taken me on and the things he has healed me of, some things I didn’t even know existed, others that I knew something was not quite as it should be but I had no idea what should be. Even this week, I have been thinking about that teenage period of my life, that awakening, the ‘near misses’ of terrible decisions that I almost made, of things he has steered me clear of when I didn’t realize I almost fell in a pothole. I am so very grateful and humbled by his good plan that he is working out in my life. All the times when I rant and rave at him about how unfair things are, he good-humouredly picks me up off my scraped knees, gives me a cuddle and says, everything’s going to be ok, you’re doing well.
Jesus is real. He wants to share our lives, he wants to be a part of our lives, he wants to be celebrated, and introduced. He wants to be with us, loving us, hearing our most intimate and secret thoughts.
Even though it has been almost two decades since I really started a proper relationship with God, I feel like it is all just beginning again, that the joy and celebration of our adventure together even greater than it first was. Much like my relationship with Thierry, the bonds between us now are not just one but many and strong with it.