I’m from a small village in Muskoka, Ont., called Hekkla. I was baptized in the United Church, but we didn’t attend regularly. Still, I’ve prayed to God for as long as I can remember.

I left home when I was 16. My father was an alcoholic and abusive and I just couldn’t take it anymore.

My first husband was also abusive. I endured black eyes and a broken nose. I was afraid to leave, but I had to protect my two children—twins, a boy and girl. I took them to my parents’ house, then went back to pack a suitcase. When I heard my husband come into the apartment looking for me, I hid in the closet, terrified of what he might do. God was watching over me that night—my husband came into the room, stopped, then turned around and left.

When I met my second husband, a military police officer, I thought things would be different. He was funny and kind, and showed a genuine interest in my children. We got married and I had another set of twins. Then his drinking started, and my heart broke.

After he returned from a peacekeeping tour in Syria, it got even worse. I begged him to quit. In the middle of this, our youngest daughter was born.

Finally, I took the kids back to Hekkla. My parents gave me a piece of land to build a house, with the understanding that they would live with us. My husband later joined us, but when he became physically abusive, he was removed from our home.

I started to rebuild my life, going back to school and finding a job to support my family. I have good memories of the next five years—my mother was wonderful and I enjoyed being able to see her every day.

After she died, I continued to care for my father, who lived with me for another 20 years. It was a difficult relationship. Although he could no longer physically abuse me, there was emotional and psychological abuse. I struggled with what it meant to “honour your father.”

For a long time, with everything that had happened in my life, it felt like my heart had turned to stone.

Then, in the spring of 2016, I met some women from the Salvation Army corps in Huntsville, Ont., when they came to visit a neighbour who was sick. When she felt better, I started taking her to the women’s tea time at the corps, and began making friends.

Later that year, I started driving her to church on Sundays as well. I’ll never forget the first time I walked in. Everybody was so welcoming—I felt like I was home. Slowly, I started attending even if my neighbour couldn’t come.

It wasn’t long before I found myself at the mercy seat. I asked God to forgive me, to come back into my life and be my strength. I felt God saying I didn’t need to worry anymore, that he would be with me.

In the end, I couldn’t take care of my father on my own anymore, and moved him to a long-term care facility. While visiting him one day, I bumped into a few members of the congregation. They asked if I was there to help with community care ministries. That’s when I started volunteering, and haven’t missed a month yet.

One time, the strangest thing happened at the service. I had just been to visit my dad. He had been pretty grumpy with me.

During the closing prayer, I had a vision of Jesus. I remember the colour of his robe and the light emanating from him. I was kneeling at his feet, and he put his hand on top of my head and blessed me. He made me feel like I was worth something—that I was worthy of love.

I couldn’t get this moment out of my head. Every time I thought about it, I cried.

When my father passed away last year, I was able to forgive him. It’s sad that I never felt loved by my earthly father, but I have felt love from my heavenly Father. I feel his presence with me every day.

I became a senior soldier on February 18, 2018. It was one of the proudest days of my life. Majors Suzann and Darren Wiseman, my corps officers, have been excellent mentors, and the congregation has become like family.

I love to be at the church and volunteer—helping out in the food bank, helping cook for the seniors’ luncheon once a month, standing on a kettle and handing out Christmas hampers. I’m even learning to play the baritone in junior band!

My life is full now. I don’t know what God has in store for me, but I look forward to every day. God has filled my heart with love.

Photo: Timothy Cheng

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