I had the immense privilege of being brought up in a christian family. My parent's had both come to faith in their teens in Northern Ireland, and met and married in their late 20s. I arrived 2 years after they married and moved to England...
For as long as I can remember, my parent's faith has been on display for me to watch, question and probe. My Dad is a model of generosity and I admire him so much. He has invested incredible energy, time and encouragement in me over the years and has always pushed me, though not too hard, to strive for excellence. He has, in every circumstance, urged me to look to God's leading in my life and has asked tough questions when I've needed them. My Mum is my hero. She has modelled what it really means to be a godly wife and mother in every possible way, has made countless sacrifices for me and I find myself thinking, on so many occasions, "What did my Mum do? I want to do the same with Ava". Both of them were always open channels of communication and I could talk to them about anything and everything, something which was vital in my journey of faith.
My parents were youth group leaders for the 14-18s at our local church, and every summer, my siblings and I would be packed off as we headed to some countryside destination for the yearly YPF camp. These camps were amazing fun; we loved being the centre of attention for the young people, and there was always loads going on. There was always a speaker who would open up the Bible and talk about Jesus and what he had achieved for us on the cross. I had heard the story countless times; sometimes I stayed out and played with the little kids... sometimes I just switched off.
But in 1993, I listened. It was a God-thing. And for the first time, everything that my parents had taught me and modelled to me, everything I'd learned in Sunday school, fell into place. Jesus, God himself, had died on a wooden cross 2000 years ago, not because he deserved it, but because I deserved it. Even at the tender age of 8, I had heaped up enough sin to warrant the death penalty. But God didn't want that for me... he wanted to rescue me, and so he sent his only Son to take the punishment for me. He wanted me as his daughter.
That night, on my bunk, I talked to my Mum and gave my life to Jesus. It was a young and simple faith, but it was all that was needed. God wasn't finished with me yet!
I moved up through the youth work and God rooted my faith deeper as I began to see that the whole of the Bible pointed to Jesus. I was blessed to meet up with older women who helped me learn to read the Bible for myself. My youth group leaders were phenomenally sacrificial and I am eternally grateful for the way they opened up their homes to us and modelled christian living day to day.
In YPF, at the age of 14, we went away for the weekend and the Gospel was, once again, clearly explained. I had accepted Jesus as my Saviour 6 years earlier, but on that weekend away, my heart was gripped in a new way. When we returned to church that evening, I broke down and cried. I simply couldn't believe that God loved me, a rebel who rejected his way daily, enough to allow his beloved Son to die on my behalf. It broke me. Jesus had moved from my head, to my heart.
My university years were key. UCCF invested so much in me; teaching me to open up the Bible and study it, showing me how to live for Jesus in a culture where godliness was far from the norm, and encouraging me to share my faith with everyone I came into contact with. Those years were perhaps the most formative of my life so far... I was broken down, utterly, but in his grace rebuilt to be more like him. I still had an awfully long way to go!
In 2006, I spent a year living in Austria. That year was huge for me... amongst many wonderful experiences, I had a breast-cancer scare that shook me to the core... but throughout that whole awful experience, far away from my family, I knew in a new and real way that my Saviour was with me, felt my pain, knew my fears and said "I'm here. I love you. Trust me"
I have had an incredibly blessed life. It has had its ups and downs, but I have learnt throughout everything that God is faithful and his love sustains us. I have been blessed with a godly and generous husband who points me to Jesus and is serious about helping me grow in my faith. For that I am truly grateful.
As I look on, I know God will remain faithful, whatever life may hold for us. He is good and he has demonstrated his incredible love for me in sending Jesus - my Saviour, my King, my best friend.
Christianity is not a crutch for me... its not a set of religious rules that I follow... its not even a way of life. It is, ultimately, a relationship with the God who made me, loves me and gave everything for me.
I pray you might know the joy of being his too.