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Aug14WedBrenda Brown kept making excuses, but there was a reason why she was afraid to return to church. August 14, 2019 by Diane Stark
It was Christmas Eve 2012. Brenda Brown had just arrived home from work and spotted a piece of paper lying on the table. As she read it, she felt her heart shatter. The paper was a suicide note. Brenda’s husband of 10 years had taken his own life.
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From Fishing to Helping
Brenda was raised in Grand Bank, N.L., the youngest of 12 children. “My childhood was hard,” she says. “There was never enough food. I remember going door-to-door to the neighbours’ homes, asking for handouts.”
Despite the tough times, Brenda’s mom was a woman of strong faith. “She took us to church every Sunday, and I loved it,” Brenda says.
When she was 18, Brenda married her first husband, Brian. He attended the Salvation Army church in Garnish, N.L., so Brenda joined, too. The couple had three sons and a daughter together.
Brenda and Brian worked side-by-side on a fishing boat. They had a good marriage, but after 30 years, they realized they’d grown apart. They tried counselling, but in 2001, the couple divorced. They remained friends until Brian passed away of pancreatic cancer a few years later.
Brenda moved to London, Ont., and returned to school. “I completed a nursing assistant course and got a job as a caregiver,” she says. “I went from fishing to helping people.”
In 2002, she met a man named Gary. They were friends for quite some time before realizing they’d make a good couple. They married and were happy.
Until that tragic Christmas Eve 10 years later.
“After Gary took his life, I felt lost,” she says. “I was angry at God. I couldn’t believe He would allow me to have so much pain in my life.” Through the fog of grief, Brenda remembered the difficulties of her childhood, the pain of her divorce and, now, the loss of her second husband. “I was also mad at Gary for leaving me and for choosing Christmas Eve to do it. He took the joy of Christmas away from my daughter and me,” she says.
Although Brenda had gotten out of the habit of attending church, she still had faith. “I knew that God was there with me, but I couldn’t see Him,” she says. “All I could see was my pain.”
Brenda’s daughter flew in on Christmas Day to be with Brenda, and she stayed until Brenda decided to move back to Newfoundland to be closer to family. Brenda stayed with her brother and his wife until she found her own home, and then took a job as an in-home caregiver.
During this time, Brenda suffered from terrible nightmares. “I had two or three every night,” she says. “In my dreams, I was sure I was going to die. They felt so real. I could hardly sleep at all.”
Her Reason Why
Brenda’s friend, Anne, repeatedly invited her to attend the Salvation Army church at Conception Bay South, N.L., but she kept making excuses.
“I wondered what people at church would think of me because I’m divorced,” she explains. “And I didn’t want to give up the new friends I was hanging out with. I knew I was heading down the wrong path, but I wasn’t ready to go back to church. I wanted to keep going the way I was going.”
But her biggest worry about returning to church was a physical one. “I knew if I went back to church, I would give my life back to God, but because I had knee-replacement surgery, I’m unable to kneel,” she says. “I felt that I couldn’t return to church because I wouldn’t be able to kneel at the mercy seat, the place where people go to pray and ask forgiveness for their sins.”
Finally, Brenda gave in and accepted Anne’s invitation. She became a regular attender at Conception Bay South.
“I was still being stubborn and trying to go my own way, but something kept me going back to church each week,” she says.
One Sunday morning in September 2017, a few months after she returned to church, she was listening to Salvation Army pastor Major Lorne Pritchett make an appeal at the end of his message.
“He said, ‘Anyone who wants to get right with God needs to go to the mercy seat and ask for forgiveness.’ God had been working on my heart, and I wanted to go, but I couldn’t kneel.”
Then Major Lorne said something amazing.
“He said, ‘If you can’t kneel, ask for forgiveness right where you are.’ That was all I needed to hear,” Brenda says. “It was like he’d issued that invitation just for me.”
Brenda bowed her head at her seat and asked God back into her life. “It was the most wonderful feeling I’ve ever had,” she says. “I felt a huge burden lift from my heart. I felt like I’d finally come home.”
Brenda became an official member of The Salvation Army last year. Her third husband, Bob, whom she married in March 2017, gave her a Salvation Army uniform for a Christmas gift, and her daughter gave her an Army cardigan.
“I love my uniform, and I’m so proud to wear it again,” she smiles. “When God calls me home, I want to be buried in my uniform.”
Brenda’s life has changed dramatically since inviting God back into it. “I don’t have nightmares anymore,” she says. “In fact, this is the happiest I’ve ever been.”
For so many years, Brenda has dreaded Christmas Eve and the memories it brings her of that terrible day. “But now, I attend church on Christmas Eve, and I keep my focus on Jesus.”