Note from Eric: Eighty percent of Peter’s body was burned in a fire at age 1. The scars on his heart from that accident caused even more pain throughout his life. At the end of his rope, while talking to his sister on the phone, he finally heard Jesus say “Come to me, Peter, and I will give you rest.”
WHAT A MESS
by Peter Gladwin
I teetered on the brink – physically, mentally and literally. As I stared into the murky depths flowing below, the memories flooded back. Tears fell onto the parapet. My life was wasted – I’d blown it. “Damn!” I didn’t even have the guts to jump.
I couldn’t face going home. I was so desperate, so alone. I shuffled through the grey streets of Siddal, Halifax, my hands pushed deep into my empty pockets. The jibes from the past echoed in my ears, “Penniless Pete is out on the street.” I didn’t know where to go, I didn’t care were I went.
A man I recognised walked towards me. He raised his hand in greeting. I knew his face but couldn’t place him. “Hi Peter, you all right?”
I couldn’t look him in the face and for once I didn’t have a smart answer, “Yeah, OK,” was all I could manage. I was oblivious to everything except my own confusion. Surely I could fall no lower; how I wished this misery would end.
Last night was a blur, I’d tried to wash away my past with a cocktail of drink and drugs, but this morning, the chill of the cold, grey December day brought it all back. I staggered through the house, the pains of withdrawal pushed my spirit to a new low. Everything I had worked for and loved was gone. The TV, the hi-fi, the furniture all sold to finance my addictions. But worse still, Anne-Marie had gone. My erratic behaviour had driven her away. She could neither afford to subsidise my addictive life style, nor did she have the desire to try.
Gone, too, was my son, Peter Edward. The icy rain on my face could not wash the tears from my heart.
I found myself at mother’s, I don’t know why. She was always yelling at me when I was a kid, to tell the truth, I was terrified of her. I knocked on the door of the small first floor flat. The dirty grey stone walls, blackened by a century of coal fired industry, seemed even gloomier as the drizzle drenched everything it touched. She pulled the door open an inch or two to check out the unexpected caller.
I sat in the kitchen and tried to tell her everything at once. She dried her hands on her pinafore, filled the water stained kettle and clanked it on top of the white enameled gas stove. The gas hissed, and as the match got close it ignited with a flash and a roar. She used the same match to light her cigarette. I gasped for breath as I cried and talked. The words didn’t seem to make sense. Mum was horrified. She’d never seen me like this. I’d always been happy, no cares, no worries – not that anybody knew. It was only a mask, especially for the last couple of years anyway. After some time there were no more tears and my sobbing subsided. “I’m going to ring Annette,” she spoke lighting another cigarette, “she’ll know what to do.” Annette, my eldest sister, lived in Bradford. She was the sensible one in the family.
Mum dialed the number and waited. She adjusted her glasses and pushed her greying hair behind her ear. “Hello, Annette, it’s about our Peter.” She spoke in a whisper, and told my sister what had happened and the shocking state I was in. Mum handed me the phone. “She wants to speak to you, son.”
“Peter,” said Annette, her voice was quiet, yet strong; “Mum’s told me what’s happened. And the truth is? Your life is a mess because your heart is not right before God.”
God, God was the least of my worries; I worshipped only drink, drugs and a good time. God couldn’t give me a buzz, not like a win on the horses, He couldn’t give me a laugh, not like sharing a joint and having a few pints with my mates. No, not part of my scene! But today was different. Where were my mates, my possessions? Where was my money, my girl, my son? Where were the good times? Today was different. Was it the end – or a new beginning?
Annette continued, “Put your trust in His Son, Jesus Christ, and repent your sins, then God will give you a new start.”. (Romans 6:23,) “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord”. Memories of the past ran before my sore eyes, like a flickery old movie. I watched the scenes unfold, replaying all the events of my miserable life; the drunken nights when I staggered home and slept alone on the bathroom floor, betting on the dead certs that never won, the suffering, the pain, the fear, the anger, the humiliation, the despair.
My head was spinning. Everything was a blur. Annette was still on the phone. Then through my tears I saw Jesus. He was standing there before me. He wore a white robe and said, “Come to me, Peter, and I will give you rest.”
“Am I cracking up?” I cried, the grief seemed to crawl out from the bottom of my soul. “Am I losing my mind?” The hallucinations were all too much for my addled brain – but this was no hallucination, this was a true vision. Minutes later I was crying down the telephone, calling for God to come into my life, desperate for the help that only He could give. (Psalm 86:5) “For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.”
I don’t remember much more until later, when Annette arrived. It is about twenty minutes from Bradford and she soon took charge of the situation. That day, I enjoyed the company of my family, something I hadn’t done for some years. Annette lived quietly with her family and her life had been uneventful. Life in Bradford among the dirty, grey stone houses didn’t have much variety, you were just grateful to have enough money to feed the family. If there was anything left over at the end of the week, it was a miracle. She said that finding God was a miracle, too. She told me of the joy and happiness that had entered her life since the day she turned to God, and how I, too, could find peace and freedom from my destructive lifestyle – if only I would let Him into my heart.
(Rev. 3:20) “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” The thought of my earlier vision had brought me comfort. Just how much of what I’d seen could I cope with? Peace and comfort, I was not used to these feelings.
That evening she took us to church. It wasn’t far. We walked together through the dark streets on the council estate; the bitter December wind had driven even the most hardened thugs indoors. The lights shone out from the houses. Most of the curtains were drawn tight against the early winter chill, yet each window seemed to glow that warm, orangey glow that draws you in. We should be indoors, in the warm, not out here going to church. “It’ll be as cold as Charity.” I thought, as I drew my neck into my upturned collar. We walked on, the night was like a long dark tunnel, I wanted so much to see some light at the far end.
Buttershaw Congregational Church was on a busy main road that leads into the centre of Bradford. It was a modern, brick building and the sodium streetlights made it glow with energy. The small front garden was so neat and tidy, it had to be a good place. We went in through the double doors, through the tiny porch and into its warm interior. It was so long since I had been to church that I’d forgotten what it was like. I had expected grey walls, grey ceiling and grey people. I was so wrong. The interior was filled with light that bounced back from the cream coloured walls and gave such a warm, friendly feel to the place. And the people’s faces – their smiles seemed to make their cheeks even rosier. Their fire and passion for God was plain to see. When they sang, they sang from their hearts and love flowed with the hymns. They sang ‘Amazing Grace’, I hadn’t heard it for years but the line about ‘saving a wretch like me’ really struck home. It was if they had sung it especially for me. The happiness in that small building was so strong that I forgot the sequence of events that took me there in the first place. I remembered some of the words in the hymns from my childhood and caught myself singing along. I felt good. A tide of emotion hit me and I put my arms round Mum and Annette, and cried some more.
After the service we spoke to some of the people Annette knew. They were so kind, so understanding. They didn’t ask questions, they accepted me as I was. When they placed a hand on my arm, it wasn’t pushing me; not, “Come on, Pete, get some dope and we’ll have a smoke.” Or, “Hey, Pete, it’s your round!” It was, “It’s OK, we’re here if you need us.” And, “Don’t worry, it’ll be alright.” How could such nice people even want such a wreck of humanity in their building?
Two men from the congregation took me to the front, near the lectern, and led me in a prayer. This was something I just didn’t do; me, Peter, the cool guy who’s always up for laugh – on my knees, praying! But this time it felt right. With their support I managed it. It was a real prayer, they said it was the ‘Sinner’s Prayer’. As a child I didn’t know there was a God, which made my suffering worse. For years the truth had been denied me. Little did I know that He was there, watching, waiting, knowing one day I would need Him, and when I called – He answered. I knew then, I wanted to live – really live and that I received the truth I’d longed for all my life. I prayed some more – and it was good.
We walked back to mother’s house in silence. Our breath condensed on the frosty air as we strode purposefully along the tarmac footpaths. It was one of those nights when the air is as crisp and clear as crystal. The stars flickered through the colours of the spectrum and the space between was so deep, so black, and so empty; yet the wisdom of the universe flowed from it. That wisdom was from God, I was sure of it. I saw clearly the road ahead, as clear as that night sky – I could see into a new dimension.
I stayed at Mum’s that night, Annette had to return to her family. I broke the silence. “Mum, everything they said at church was right.” I was stronger, now, even though I knew there was still a long way to go. “I was saved for a reason, I don’t know what it is yet, but you can be sure I’m going to find out.” (Isaiah 61:1) “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;” She put me up some supper and got me a blanket so I could sleep on the sofa. For the first time in weeks I went to sleep without being drunk or high. I slept soundly and woke to the smell of toast and the sound of the kettle boiling in the kitchen. The sun shone through the gap in the curtains, it was the start of a bright new day. And, best of all, I had been given a second chance to start a bright new life, this time not in my own strength but in God’s.