Television programmes like The Voice can be inspirational. I rarely watch telly, but that programme has had my husband and I transfixed since it began a few weeks ago. If I had a voice that could melt butter, I'd be thrilled to have the opportunity to be coached by Will.I.Am, etc. We watched a young lady whose hair had fallen out as a youngster and never grown back. She'd lost all confidence in herself and seemed to view her chance on the show as regaining her dreams. I have my doubts. For all the amazing voices, there will only be one winner. Most will just go home and back to
Contradictions filled my head after watching The Voice. I had dreams once. I don't any more. When life lets you down often enough you realise that dreams are not worth hanging onto. You begin to search for something else, instead.
Much of my childhood was stolen, my teenage years were anything but normal and then I was coerced into marriage by a man when I was young (21, he was 33), naive and easily manipulated.
Dreams don't come true.
Except one: when I was left a single mother after a decade of miserable marriage, I lost hope in everything. I had abandoned any chance of a career by listening to that man and his empty promises (not only were they empty promises, he hurt and abused me in more ways than I can name). I'd had dreams of making up for the illness that snatched away my teenage years, of going to college and then onto university. I ended up living on next to nothing, not 'allowed' any money of my own, totally isolated from all former friends and family.
Anyway, without going into too much detail, the final, absolute soul-destroyer was the discovery that he was a paedophile, which came after nine (misery-filled) years of marriage. He was arrested. I never saw him again. When the police told me what he had done... I can't describe it. I remember thinking of the children's story 'Chicken Little', where they all believe the sky is falling down. For me, the sky had fallen down. I had no hope left.
My only reason for living was my children. The eldest has Autism, with many ADHD traits. He became aggressive to his siblings and to me, and instead of sleeping at night would wander the house, moving things, breaking things.
I was already broken. No Zoë left.
Social Services ignored me, saying I was inventing my son's behaviour. And of course it all had a huge impact on the emotional wellbeing of the other two children. I was lucky enough to have the support of my children's schools (they witnessed my son's behaviour), school nurse, paediatrician, you name it. But still Social Services acted as if I was simply rather annoying. I didn't fit their little tick-boxes. They refused to see me for who I really was. Worse still, they refused to see the pain their inaction caused my children. Eventually I had a breakdown to the point that although I fed and clothed my children and got them to school each day, I basically stopped doing housework. My overloaded brain just couldn't think straight. Couldn't even think how I was supposed to manage, where I was supposed to begin. I count myself lucky that I've always had a strong dislike of alcohol...
It was around this time that two things happened. I began going to a new church, which had a Celebrate Recovery group, and a fortnight later, the original social worker, who had been there all through the child protection stuff when my ex-husband was arrested and convicted, visited my house. I think if I hadn't been through everything that I had been through, they would have considered it a case of neglect. But she knew - and at least to a degree she understood. Then came months of Social Services arguing whether the 'Disability Team' were responsible for helping me, or the 'Child in Need Team'. Needless to say, I still got no practical help. But my new friends from CR came and cleaned my house from top to bottom over the course of a weekend.
I have never known such kindness.
The pastor's wife sent me flowers from her garden. And I began the slow journey to recovery, and learning what the idea of grace really means. I still think it's something most Christians struggle with. That's partly why I'm writing this.
Earlier, I wrote that there is one dream that has come true. The best part of a year after I began going to CR, I began to pray for a husband, not so much for myself (though I was desperately lonely and felt utterly rejected) but for my children. I knew I had read that God looks after the fatherless, and the widows and orphans. I spent a whole day praying with all of my being for a father for my children.
A few days later, I saw an ad for a free weekend on e-harmony. I thought 'why not?' and up came the name of a man who lived in the same town as me, with similar interests, etc. We exchanged emails. Within a month he was telling me that he loved me. I had been so hurt before that I daren't believe it. One night he was babysitting (for the first time) and when I returned home, I found that my son had attacked him (his ADHD made even worse by drugs that were supposed to calm him). My new friend was covered from head to foot in vaseline and his face was bleeding. I thought that was it. What kind of man would stick around now?
But he did. He stayed with me and held me until the wee hours. We married six months later. Every day he tells me I am wonderful. Every day he sees things in me that I never saw in myself. And these things teach me about the way that God loves me, too. Every day I tell him he's my hero, my knight in shining armour. He just shakes his head and grins.
The words of Jesus, echoing the words of the prophet Isaiah, have been made true in my life:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord’.
Luke 4:16-19 J.B. Phillips New Testament
I guess I have realised I don't need dreams, not worldly dreams anyway, because God's dreams are always waaayy more imaginative than mine. God's great commission is so great, and so radical that it sets the oppressed free.
That's why I became an Advocate for Compassion UK. Because this way I, you, anyone can change the world, one child at a time. I don't find the superstars on The Voice (entertaining as the show may be) half as inspiring as the real-life changes brought by the work of Compassion. They are heroes.