"I know your deeds, that you are neither cold or hot. I wish you were one or the other! So, because you are luke warm - neither hot or cold - I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing'. But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked." (Rev3:15-17).
I was 30. I had the job of my dreams as a librarian in Oxford. I had a lovely flat,a church I really liked and was about to meet a new man in my life. I thought I had got it made. Then suddenly, my world began to fall apart. In August 1993 I was admitted to hospital with a mystery virus. I seemed to get over the initial infection, but then I started collecting more and more symptoms. In December I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome (or ME). By this time I was so ill I had to give up my job and flat and move back to my parents home in Nottingham. Soon after coming home I was diagnosed with depression. Despite all this turmoil, however, I began to sense that the Lord had things He wanted to say to me.
Thankfully, the depression responded quickly to medication and for the first year my condition seemed to stabilise. However, I then started to go downhill again. I became almost completely bedridden. Reading, writing and talking became increasingly difficult.
I had been ill about 18 months when the Lord dropped His first bombshell into my life. It's hard to remember exactly how it happened, but the Lord suddenly opened my eyes to the Fatherhood of God and the sheer loveliness of Christ! I realised that for the past 15 years my relationship with God had been based on fear and duty. Despite being a Christian for so many years I had completely failed to understand the greatest commandment - "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matt 22:37). At this point I fell in love with God in a way I never had before and my relationship with Him blossomed - He became my constant companion.
Despite this wonderful revelation my illness continued to worsen. At the end of 1997 my GP decided to withdraw my sleeping tablets as he thought they were impeding my recovery. The effect was disastrous. I was plunged into a nightmare world of insomnia, getting only 1-2 hours sleep a night. I was so exhausted it was a struggle even to sit up to eat. My reading, writing and talking disappeared altogether, and any noise was intolerable.Sometimes I was so confused I wasn't sure who I was, or where I was.In the midst of all this I called out to the Lord for something to hold on to. Looking round my bedroom I noticed a plastic bag with the words "always low prices" emblazoned across it. It reminded me of the verse in Mathhew's gospel which reads Lo, I am with you always" (Mt 28:20). I felt as if God was saying that when I really needed Him, He would always be there for me. Time and time again I found this to be true. God didn't always act when I wanted Him to, but when I really needed Him, He always came to my rescue.
After about 6 months my GP finally gave in and re-introduced my sleeping tablets. My sense of sanity returned in a couple of weeks, but the damage to my physical and mental abilities was so severe that any improvement was painstakingly slow.
In January 2001 I was admitted to hospital for tests due to the bizarre neurological symptoms I was now experiencing. The tests were inconclusive, so my condition was labelled psychosomatic (ie all in my mind), and I was packed off to a psychiatric ward. It turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences of my life. The ward wasn't designed to cater for physically ill people, so I was forced to do far more than I had done for years. It was truly only by the grace of God that I survived!! It was scary, funny, eye-opening and most of all deeply moving. The staff had no idea what to do with me, but the other patients were kindness itself. Despite their broken tormented lives, they shared a fellowship which was truly heartwarming. After three weeks I asked to be discharged as it was obvious they had no real solutions to offer, and could find no reason to keep me.I had only been home 3 weeks when I discovered a lump in my breast. This meant dragging myself to hospital for tests yet again Thankfully, it turned out to be only a cyst, but shortly after I started to develop dental problems. From this time on I kept having to make the terrible choice.between severe dental pain and expeditions to the dentist, which I knew would make the ME worse.
In the spring of 2006 my GP decided to take me off some tablets that had been prescribed for stress. I felt a small but definite improvement in my condition, especially in my concentration. It was in the summer of that year that the Lord really began to speak to me. One of the symptoms of ME is vivid dreams. From the very beginning of my illness I had experienced recurring dreams, but it wasn't until one August morning that I realised their significance. I had a really vivid dream and woke up crying. "What's this all about, Lord?" I asked. Suddenly I realised I knew! I had never come to terms with quitting the last year of my degree course. I could see clearly that it had been affecting my whole attitude to life. A few days later The Lord showed me a room full of pictures. Someone was taking the pictures of the walls and throwing them out, until the only thing left in the room was the Cross. "What are you doing, Lord?" I asked. "Making room", He replied. I realised that I needed to get rid of many idols that I was holding onto. The following week I had another dream. Someone was giving a talk. Standing with her at the front were two women. One was dressed in a severe black suit with her hair scraped back in a bun. The other was dressed in a frilly. floral dress with long curly hair. The speaker pointed to the first woman and said "This woman needs to open herself up to the Holy Spirit". Then pointing to the second woman she said "This woman needs to open herself up to the Word of God". I felt I was the first woman. It was after this that the Holy Spirit swept into my life and started clearing out all kinds of emotional and spiritual baggage. For 3 years the flood of lessons continued. It was astonishing, humbling, liberating and full of joy, At times I felt so overwhelmed that I had to ask the Lord to slow down! I couldn't take it all in!!! I realise and accept that not everyone will agree with these things, but I feel I need to give an honest account of my experience. In the summer of 2010 the Lord led me to Philippiians 3:13-14 which reads "Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God called me heavenward in Christ Jesus". I felt the Lord was saying it is time to stop dealing with the past and move forward. Later that year a friend told me of a recovery programme for ME that she had found helpful. I started it and slowly began to improve. Then at the beginning of 2011, my Mum had a stroke and overnight I was transformed from being a patient to being a carer. It didn't happen all at once, but gradually I took over more and more of the household responsibilities. By the end of 2011 I was well enough to go to the carol service at church. Of course, my health has been up and down since then, but the Lord has always sustained me. And obviously I have found that I still have an enormous amount of learning and growing to do. But I thank God and give glory to His name for all that He has done in my life . Why did I call this Cinderella at Midnight?? One night the Lord dropped that phrase into my head and I realised I was just like Cinderella. She dressed up and went to the ball pretending to be a princess even though she wasn't. Consequently, it all fell apart at midnight. I too had spent my life wanting to be and pretending to be things I wasn't. So just as Cinderella's life fell apart, so did mine. But thankfully like Cinderella I too had a prince (or rather king) who was there to save me. With love, Claire.