Pat Wray – a story with shoes

This is the story of how God broke into my life, and how He’s walked with me ever since, carrying me over the rough bits, just as in the story ‘Footprints’…

‘During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you’.

I was born in Bradford, a Yorkshire lass. I couldn’t have had a better or more loving home, with all the material comforts we take for granted here in the West. My parents sent me to Sunday School but after a while I wanted to do other things so they let me leave. I can’t remember what I felt about God then.

Going on to secondary school we were given the essay ‘”Does God exist?” I did a lot of hard thinking, coming to the conclusion that I wasn’t sure, though looking round at Nature made me say ‘probably’. I wondered if it were ever possible to know God, and how to  find out.

Joining the Scripture Union club at school took me a step further. Friends there suggested I get hold of a Bible and read through the gospel of John, which deals with who Jesus claimed to be.

‘I am the light of the world’
‘I am the bread of life.’
‘I am the way, the truth and the life’

I learned that God named himself ‘I AM’.  So by saying this Jesus was claiming to be far more than a good teacher. He was claiming to be God.

Then I found promises…
‘Ask and you will receive’.

‘Seek and you will find’.
‘Knock and the door will be opened to you’.

I realised how perfect God is and how our ‘human nature’ means no one is ever good enough to get into heaven. I read about the cross, where Jesus died for our sins. I didn’t understand what that meant, or how it applied to me.
But I really wanted to know God. I struggled with this for a couple of years.

Then one day, a shy fourteen year old in painful stilettos, I went with my best friend to a Billy Graham type meeting. The speaker said that it wasn’t just me knocking on God’s door, God was knocking on mine. Jesus says:

‘I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.’

The speaker asked those who wanted to open the door to God to walk to the front. It was like being pulled by a very strong magnet yet also a choice that was being offered. Walking forward was scary so I said to my friend. “I’m going – are you coming?” She thought I was leaving the meeting, which she was happy to do. We started off together but our paths split. This was one walk I had to do by myself.

The hymn as I walked out was:

Just as I am without one plea
Except your blood was shed for me
And that you bid me come to thee
O Lamb of God, I come.

Just as I am though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt
Fighting and fears within, without
O Lamb of God, I come.

Just as I am, you will receive
Will welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve
Because your promise I believe
O Lamb of God I come.

Just as I am, your love unknown
Has broken every barrier down
Now to be yours, yes, yours alone
O Lamb of God, I come.

I was filled with the most wonderful sense of love and peace. I knew God was real, and that I was forgiven. It is still the most vivid thing that ever happened to me.  And I am still very aware of the reality of God.

I soon found that we can’t get this fresh start and just carry on the way we want. One night I had been having a fall out with God about something. I woke up with the words ‘Amos 3:3’ strongly in my mind.
This turned out to be a Bible verse I had never read before:

‘Can two walk together unless they are agreed?’

It was quite awe-inspiring to think God wanted to walk with me!
But Jesus did walk with us, he walked everywhere in an ordinary pair of sandals.

In my twenties, to my surprise, I walked down the aisle in wedding shoes. My new husband was planning to be a minister. I had always fancied being a minister’s wife, and looked forward to a bright future together. But life isn’t always that simple.

Two years later I was at work, writing reports. The words came quietly but very clearly into my head: “Do you trust me, whatever happens?” Somehow I knew it was God but thought “I’m not answering that, He’ll take me up on it” and carried on working. Walking home through the park that evening the words came again. “Do you trust me, whatever happens?” I had to say yes, because He had never let me down. That night my husband didn’t come home and I soon found out he was having an affair. He left, and I only saw him once more.

Being left is such a painful experience, it can be worse than bereavement, but God picked me up and carried me. He was so real to me that people remarked on how happy I looked at times. I was finding that ‘the joy of the Lord is your strength’. He also gave me a gift of writing poetry.

For the next fourteen years I kept well clear of men, I was not going to get hurt again. My favourite footwear was hiking boots as I tramped around with the young people’s group at church, a very happy time. Then Stuart, a fellow leader, had the same thing happen to him. Being the only other divorcee in church he used to come and talk to me and eventually got under my radar – we were married! I ended up with lots of shoes in the house as he had two teenage children, just the age I liked to be with. I thought “How wonderfully God has worked this all out!”

However in our second year of marriage Stuart was diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas. We were told ”months rather than years”. I was shattered and that first night so frightened. Then I read in Psalm 23:
‘Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me, your rod and staff, they comfort me.”

The fear was taken away completely. I was sometimes anxious and tense but never again frightened.

Stuart reacted quite differently. He simply said “Why not me? As long as God has a job for me, I’ll be here.” That was the beginning and end of it for him.

Five months later he was still here. He admitted that knowing he was on his way to heaven felt like the anticipation of going on holiday (he loved his holidays). When it turned out to be not quite so imminent he was almost disappointed. I thought “Thank you very much, Stuart!” He was a straightforward Yorkshireman, not a mystic. But, having long ago made his peace with God, heaven was that real.

I never prayed for a miracle. I don’t believe you can tell God what to do or make bargains with Him, but I did say to Him “Five years would be nice, so Catherine can get to sixteen”. In fact we had over twelve more years of good quality life. There were failed operations and abandoned chemo, but Stuart just kept going, to the amazement of the hospital. I wrote this poem:

The doctor had a word for it.
He shrugged his shoulders, smiled and said
“It’s brilliant!”

We’re calling it
“God’s goodness”
“The Lord’s kindness”
“Tender mercy”
“Inexpressible love”.

It was not the cancer that was in control, it was God.

About eight years in, Stuart collapsed with major bleeding. We really thought that was it. But I went home with the words from a song playing over and over in my head. God often speaks through songs.

‘God will make a way
Where there seems to be no way.
He works in ways we cannot see,
He will make a way for me.’

The next day they attempted surgery again, hoping to stop the bleeding for a little while. But techniques had improved so much they ended up removing most of the tumour, and we had another four good years. God did make a way.

Eventually it was clear that Stuart was running into serious trouble. But he kept on doing the jobs God had given him, presenting his annual Treasurer’s report to the church the day before he was admitted for the last time. He was quickly transferred to the High Dependency Unit. I was worried at talk of more surgery, it seemed we had both had enough. During the night I woke and reached out for my Bible, always a good thing to do in trouble.
Psalm 131 jumped out at me:

‘I do not concern myself with great matters
Or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quieted my soul,
Like a weaned child with its mother.
Like a weaned child with its mother
Is my soul within me.’

It seemed like God was saying. ‘You don’t need to understand this, just trust me like a baby would its mother.’ I was able to go to sleep again. Two hours later the hospital rang. Stuart was unconscious. He died quietly the next day, with all the family round him.

Getting over this has not been quick or easy, even though we had so much notice, but God carried me through yet again. My shoes are comfortable now as God has given me so many good things – new job, new church, so many good friends.

As far as I can see, there is just one more pair of shoes to come, those I will use in heaven. That is, if we need them at all! Like Stuart I look forward to this, not because I am good enough but because Jesus died for me and I opened the door to Him all those years ago.

I would say to anyone – walk with God, you can trust Him.

Pat Wray

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