From Fear to Fearless
Denise Gray from Kāpiti Corps shares her journey of finding God, who was there the whole time.
I grew up on the Kāpiti Coast. I am a twin, born in the middle of a bunch of children. I have three brothers and four sisters. My mum and dad have always been godly people. Dad used to help teach Sunday school and my mum is a very dedicated Salvation Army soldier. As I got older, I felt like I was always in and out of my faith. I would come and join my parents at church at various stages during my adult life, but I let life get in the way. I stopped coming to church and I stopped listening to the voice of God.
Six years ago, I found myself in a very dark place. I had no spiritual life due to my many sins. I was following the wrong crowd because it was easier to fit in. I could not obey God even if I wanted to. I’d made all sorts of terrible decisions and I’d hurt people.
Times of disquiet
I went to bed one night, and I don’t know what happened. I couldn’t sleep; suddenly I felt like I was dying. I was absolutely petrified. I was shaking and nauseous. It wasn’t until the next morning when I explained what had happened to me that my mum said, ‘I think you have had a panic attack’. Something in me had changed. I couldn’t sleep or eat. I had these suicidal thoughts in my head, and it was scary.
Leading up to this so many people I loved had died. My father died in 2007, which devasted me. I also lost my mother- and father-in-law and a couple of close friends. I wanted to know where they had gone, and I had this strong fear of death. I went to the doctor and he said that I was experiencing anxiety and having panic attacks. He told me to go to the beach and to let go of all my emotions. I did that. I walked into the water up to my waist and I screamed. I let it all go.
My mum moved in to support me. All I could do was sit on the couch and cry. It’s such a strong thing when you are in it. Mum took me for walks. She told me to go outside, and I created a pebble garden. I spent hours in the sun talking to Jesus. I asked: ‘Where are you?’, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ and I begged him to make me feel better. I went back to my doctor and he prescribed medication which started to work immediately. I felt so much better. It was an awful time that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
Finding light in dark places
My breakdown was the start of me finding God; I knew I needed him and that I had to find him. I visited a couple of churches. I was sure I was going to find God there, that I would hear from him, but I didn’t. I began to feel lost and hopeless. The people in these churches were lovely but they weren’t the right churches for me. God knew where I was supposed to be.
I had no intention of going to church that Easter Sunday. My mum had been going to The Salvation Army Kāpiti Corps for many years and encouraged me to go. I always found a reason to say no. On the Saturday night I was lying in bed and I thought, I should really go to church to please Mum. When I woke up on the Sunday morning, I told Mum that I was coming but I really didn’t want to go.
I walked in with my head down, I didn’t want to be seen, I didn’t want to be spoken to. I was there for Mum, that was all. I was looking at my watch to check the time. Then the guest speaker Commissioner Andy Westrupp started talking. He shared the parable of the lost sheep. He had a lovely voice. I closed my eyes and had a beautiful vision. I saw Jesus wearing a white cloak with his flock of sheep in a beautiful field. There was a big boulder, and I could see myself hiding behind it. I was a young girl. He came over to me and I lifted my head up so he could see me. He took my hand, and I looked up at him. I knew something had happened to me.
At the front of the church, Andy continued talking about the cross and invited the congregation to go up and touch the cross. I didn’t go up, there was no way! When everyone had sat down, Andy said, ‘There is somebody else here that I know needs to touch the cross’. I got up and went to that cross. I didn’t just touch the cross, I hugged it and kissed it.
I gave Andy a hug after the service. I couldn’t believe what had just happened to me and I told him I felt completely different. He said that he had woken up that morning and felt like he was being sent to save someone at that church. And I said, ‘Well, that someone is me’.
Growing in grace
I went straight home and looked for a Bible. I needed to read the stories. I found an old one, but it was difficult to understand. Lt-Colonel Sheryl Jarvis, my corps officer, gave me a lovely Bible and I started reading it. I read the whole thing, I kept going back and re-reading and re-reading it. From then on, my whole life changed.
I talk to Jesus every day, all the time. Knowing him has given me peace. I am different. I feel so loved and I’m in so much awe that Jesus died on the cross for my sins. I can’t believe Jesus did that for me!
I am now the team leader of Messy Church at The Salvation Army Kāpiti Corps and I love it. I’ve always been the type of person that loves to give and to support others and this role helps me to do this. Part of my role is pastoral care, and I enjoy connecting with people and hearing their stories. I have big dreams for Messy Church, and I am thriving in my work.
I look back and wonder why when I had my vision on Easter Sunday that I didn’t see myself as I am now, why was I a child? I have a picture on my desk of a child walking hand in hand with Jesus. I look at that now and know that God was showing me that he has always been with me, right from when I was a little girl.