Both my parents were writers; so, as a tiny child, I thought that’s what all grown-ups did. Starting school totally disillusioned me, as I suffer from dyslexia and was branded as “backward”. I wrote my first book after marrying a schoolteacher who corrected all my spelling mistakes with his red pen.
I wrote about ten children’s books first, but, after being disabled by encephalitis, I began writing Christian books for adults. Beyond Healing was my first, about how hard it is to hold on to your faith when God doesn’t seem to hear your prayers for healing.
Most days, I jot down in my journal any little odd things that I see, enjoy, and perhaps feel bring God nearer to me. My latest books are God Moments and God Moments for Dark Days. With the help of a great illustrator, a short verse, and a prayer, we turned these thoughts into two little books to connect people to God while the kettle boils or the computer warms up.
I’ve had experience of dark moments myself: bringing up six children from a wheelchair, and then losing my husband to another, much better-looking, woman. What has sustained me is knowing that I am loved by God, and that he is able to work all things around for my good, as Romans 8.28 puts it.
I was super-fit. We lived in the country and grew our own vegetables, hardly went near a doctor, and led a very idyllic life. So it was a big shock when the encephalitis hit me. Our youngest child was four, and we had foster children, too — and I childminded, too, in the daytime. It was very, very tough. It made a catastrophic change to our lives.
In one way, it brought us very close. I had a remarkable husband who stepped forward and took over an awful lot of things that most men wouldn’t have thought of. He carried us in a most noble and wonderful way. It wasn’t till I got better that he left. I’m so grateful to him for that.
Encephalitis is like meningitis, but it’s the inflammation of the brain itself; so for 70 per cent of people it’s fatal, and the remainder are left with some kind of disability to the central nervous system or organs. It was a horrible phase of my life, which is over now.
I had an experience of meeting the Lord and learning that what he wants is our friendship, not what we can do for him. It’s our innermost being that matters to him more, and, though physical illness is horrid, it’s what is going on deep inside of you that matters. That’s what I work with people on now — their emotional wounds, which is what affects them so deeply, especially when they are children. And the Lord sets them free in a remarkable way.
I’m wonderfully fit now, and do live life to the full. My six children have all grown up, and I now have 15 grandchildren, and a big garden, which is very wonderful. But I’m in my seventies now, and we don’t live for ever. My physical body is going to die, but that inner friendship with the Lord will go on for ever; so that’s the bit that matters.
I’ve never come up with any answer to why I was healed. It’s a complete and utter mystery. In the 26 years since I’ve had that experience of healing, I’ve seen and met very, very few who have experienced that, too — but thousands who have found the real healing of new life in God, and the comfort of emotional healing, which sets you free from the real discomforts of bitterness and guilt which are so very disabling. The Lord sets people free from those constantly.
Beauty from Ashes is a place. I’ve been blessed with a lovely country home and garden, where I’ve created a safe place for people who need to talk and pray through their difficult experiences and trauma with people who have survived similar experiences.
Some places are not happy to be in at all, and in others I feel totally happy — particularly this house, from the moment I walked in the door and felt close to God in it. After we bought it, we learned that the lady who lived here led lovely Bible studies and spent most of her time praying. I think it leaves an atmosphere in a house, just as sad or evil things can leave an imprint.
I’m a trained counsellor, and work with Carol and a team of counsellors here. We do more than just counselling: we pray with people, and the two go wonderfully together, because God cares about whole people, not just one bit of them. Yes, I know Burrswood: I run Quiet Days there, and every time I’ve ever been ill or had an accident, I’ve gone there as a patient.
Carol came to see me here at Beauty from Ashes, in desperate distress. She lost 11 stone but put it on again, and had to have surgery. But the pain of all those years didn’t disappear with the surgery; so she came back here to find her real self through prayer and counselling. She trained as a counsellor and went to Bible college, and now works with me. But her husband, John, now has stage-four cancer. Everything is uncertain. . .
All this place and everything we do is in the Lord’s hands. You only have the Lord to trust, don’t you? It’s been a tough one, this. It’s a horrid thing –— a puzzle. But, having said that, John has always been a very quiet man who felt he had nothing to offer God at all. Yet, since the diagnosis, it seems as if God has been pouring healing into his life for hurts going right back to babyhood. Papa John’s Facebook page has been seen by thousands of people now, and people are being blessed through what he is and does. It’s part of the mystery.
I was brought up in a Christian conference centre, Hildenborough Hall, which was run by my parents. I think both my brother and I have no other desire than to introduce people to Jesus, which was what our parents told us was the most satisfying thing to do when we were growing up. There was great richness there; for we met people like Gladys Aylward, Billy Graham, generals of the Salvation Army, bishops — it was a great privilege.
But there were drawbacks, because everyone wanted to take photographs of the two Rees children, and my brother and I would run away and hide. It created a life-long fear of cameras in me. The other day, I had to have my photo taken in a group of people, with the last Archbishop of Canterbury. He turned to me and said: “One good thing about heaven — there’ll be no cameras!”
My mother was the person who taught me to pray. My first experience of God was sitting in my mother’s bed, listening to her praying and reading her Bible, and realising it was the best part of her day and the most satisfying relationship she had. She told me the most important thing I could ever do was to know God as a friend. I hope my friendship with God has deepened over the years, but some of my dark valleys have made it hard to keep hold of his hand.
My favourite sound is the birds’ dawn chorus.
The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence and The Shack by Bill Young are my favourite books. Elizabeth Goudge is my very favourite writer: she’s probably shaped me more than any other writer. Her writing about children — I’ve recently re-read The Scent of Water — is exquisite. And her writing about mental illness: very beautifully done. Maybe we like to read about people who feel the same way about life as we do?
Hidden behind my counsellor’s face, I am always furiously angry whenever I listen to someone who was abused as a child.
Maybe it did help to grow up with 200 people in the house. Maybe having only 60 now doesn’t seem so hard. Well, I’m very blessed to wake up early in the morning, when I can sit in my rocking chair, and be with the Lord. In the evenings, I go in the garden, and water and talk to my plants. That’s what does it for me.
I’m not sure about retiring. Mostly what I do is sitting down and listening and praying; so I think I will go on as long as I can. I won’t make any plans till the Lord makes them for me. I’m going to write two more books for Lion Hudson, and hope to finish them in August. I’m always trying to write something: it’s in my blood, and I can’t seem to stop.
If I was locked in a church for a few hours, I’d choose to be with the Apostle John or Mary of Bethany.
Jennifer Larcombe was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.
God Moments and God Moments for Dark Days are published by Monarch/Lion Hudson.