“What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear…”

By Kathy

My arrival into the world must have been a big disappointment to my mother. Not only did she now have a child – something she never wanted to have happen to her! – but I was also born with a leg deformity called PFFD (Proximal Femoral Focal Deficiency). There would always be “one leg shorter than the other” and, naturally, my mother was in deep shock. I gather that she was depressed for several years and she actively blamed my father for my problem, even though my condition is not genetic.

I was mostly cared for by my maternal grandmother until the age of five; I did not realise this until many years later. As I grew older, my grief was indescribable whenever I was separated from her. Whenever I stayed with her during school holidays, I was aware of her love for the gospel. We would talk about heaven and meeting Jesus. This gave me much comfort because I had serious worries about death – having witnessed an aunt sobbing that she did not want to die. My grandmother and I would sing many hymns together at bedtime – despite my mother’s disapproval and desire for me to think only in a Christian Science way – and I felt a measure of safety and comfort. In an attempt to help my mother “cheer up” and gain some positive thinking, my grandfather, who was separated from my grandmother, gave my mother a copy of Science and Health by Mary Baker Eddy. I was about four years old at this time. He had met many Christian Scientists and was attracted to the people. In later years he regretted ever giving the book to my mother because of the sadness it subsequently caused within the family.

Christian Science was the perfect cover for my mother. She would never have to see a doctor again – particularly with reference to her mental state, which was in question. She used Christian Science as one of the reasons for her divorce (my mother was not happy that my father could not “heal” himself of his chronic asthma) and focused her deep (and not unnatural) desire for my healing on Christian Science.

From about the age of six, I became aware that I was different from other children because I had a religion that I had to study, and because the time it took to study my religion kept me away from my friends who were out playing! I was told that we had the superior way in Christian Science because we had the tools for healing. Any other religion, I was told, had got it wrong and their “old theology” would do them no good. I believed that Mary Baker Eddy was the revelator of divine Truth, and that believers in sin and heaven and hell were on a lower stage from us Christian Scientists; people would have to come up to our level of belief. What arrogance! I knew I was different (not just because I was disabled), and it became more and more difficult to keep friends. After all, they wanted to play when Mother wanted to study with me. I found it boring listening to all the readings of Mary Baker Eddy, and I used to switch off into my dream world and make sure that I heard just enough to make any appropriate replies!

My mother never called a doctor, and I can well remember lying in bed screaming and sobbing in pain with frequent earaches. I suffered from asthma and many coughs and colds, but had no medical help. I was taken for dental treatment, but, on one occasion, I can remember being put through the extraction of several teeth without any pain relief, neither gas nor injection. I can remember my mother telling me off for my lack of self-control and because I was not remembering the “Truth” properly. I think I was about eight years old. I felt I was a failure and was so scared because of all the blood pouring from my mouth. Mother was unmoved, and I learned that self-control was imperative.

My father insisted I have an x-ray when I fell on the grass and it was believed that I had a broken arm. I can remember my parents arguing over me whilst I was still on the grass, and I think that it caused a major rift in my parents’ marriage in that my father had to shout and insist that I go to the hospital. (I did attend artificial limb centres with my mother all through childhood but, of course, they were offering vital walking aids and Mother did not and could not object.) Going back to the arm – it was put in a sling and nothing could be diagnosed. After several days we went back to the hospital and they said there was a small break. I believe Mother refused them permission for it to be plastered because she thought I had been healed on the basis that I was able to use my arm a little. School friends could not work out why it was in a sling and then I didn’t wear one, and they assumed that I was pretending…. I put it down to their ignorance of the religion we studied! Mother hailed it as a Christian Science healing and had it printed in the Christian Science Sentinel (Aug.15, 1964). I was forced to sign as to its validity, even though I was still a child. The words were not my own and I was not really sure as to how Christian Science had really helped me. All I could think of was that my father was very upset and I just wanted to have my arm plastered as the doctor suggested and to be like all the other children in such a situation.

As to my leg deformity, well, Mother really wanted a healing for this. After all, it did not give a good impression, she felt, of our dedication to Christian Science. We visited several Christian Science practitioners, and each time I became disappointed because they could not heal me. Mother had phases where she was so sure the “Truth” would work that she would not allow me to wear my artificial limb. She would push me around in a pushchair right up until I was about nine or ten. And every time nothing happened. I alternated between guilt and secret bitterness. I envied other children their legs and their freedom to run and look pretty in skirts. People would stare (they did so more in those days), and I became very self-conscious and developed low self-esteem. I really wanted to be healed (which child wouldn’t?), and so thought that if I worked and worked at the study of Christian Science, then it would surely work for me. Every night I would read and study and repeat the Christian Science words, and many a night I slept with a ruler by my bed. In the morning I would wake up and be sure that I had got it all right and be convinced that there would be even a little growth. I would measure, and then, disbelieving the ruler, would check again. I obviously had not got the healing part right and had to know the so-called “Truth” harder. I must surely have missed a bit out? Or had I not said Mrs. Eddy’s words fervently enough? At the back of my mind, I thought I was a big disappointment because I could not manage any healings. I was warned that people at church would expect results. For all of my school years, my mother would make me walk for miles and, being disabled, this resulted in my suffering extreme fatigue. But it was always suggested that, as God’s child, I could conquer anything, and that I could prove this to the world by walking. Walking would prove “dominion over my material body.” My secondary school classrooms were often up three flights of stairs, and I was not only slow and late for lessons but was embarrassed and exhausted – neither of which I was supposed to experience! I was therefore entreated to study Christian Science harder to realise my “freedom from all ills.” I think, on reflection, that I deceived myself into believing that my leg condition did not exist. It was easier to live in a dream world. I really believed that, eventually, my leg would grow to prove my perfect reality and my “oneness” with God. The inconveniences and feelings that I experienced were, after all, the “illusion.” I was told I had to “work out of them.”

When I was about ten or eleven, Mother decided that Christian Science was everything and my parents began a bitter and painful divorce. This period of my life is really another story, but suffice it to say that my parents lived in half each of their small house, each coming and going with their own lives. The rooms we lived in were always locked. My mother would leave me alone in the house at night, locked in my bedroom in case “the wicked, violent man” (my father) came to get me. He could never have hurt a fly, but I believed it. After all, he did not have the so-called “precious truths” that we as Christian Scientists held. It transpired when we talked in later years that he had no idea I was in the house those nights Mother went to the church. I was a thoroughly programmed, compliant, quiet daughter who lay there in silence until Mother returned and unlocked the door. And all because Christian Science was the only religion to follow!

My father did try to study Christian Science in an attempt to save his marriage. He went to the services and even employed a practitioner. As far as my mother was concerned, everyone else had it wrong! Mother believed Mary Baker Eddy and her teachings were the Truth, and anyone who objected to Mother’s decisions was anti-Christian Science and hostile to the “Truth.” I became more and more alienated from my cousins and aunts and friends – none of whom could understand Christian Science and the way we were living. I was forced to join the Christian Science Church membership at the age of twelve. I begged Mother to wait until I was twenty because I thought membership would make me look even odder in the eyes of my peers. The pen was put in my hand and I could not refuse. I think Mother thought it would improve our status within the Christian Science Church, and she honestly believed that there was no other way to follow in order to improve our lives and standing within the Christian Science Movement.

I was always withdrawn from school assemblies and Scripture lessons. I was never immunised and I always had extra Christian Science classes whenever the school timetable required Scripture lessons. I was forced to write to the Church of England and ask for the details of my godparents to be erased from my baptismal records. I had to obtain permission from my mother and a Christian Science practitioner to receive dental treatment. I have problems with my teeth to this day as a result of dental neglect. We never celebrated Easter, and Christmas was never a really happy time for us. My mother, I felt, regarded such “distractions” as taking our thoughts away from spiritual progress in Christian Science. I don’t think anyone could have studied Christian Science as dedicatedly as my mother. She denied herself many of the pleasures, comforts and outings of life and lived a life of total commitment to Christian Science and its teachings.

My pet cat never received vital veterinary treatment; it limped around for ages and then developed other distressing conditions. Mother never perceived this and other situations as real because, “in reality,” everything was perfect and we just had to know and believe in the words of Science and Health to enlighten us as to perfection. I came home from school one day and the cat had disappeared. I was never told what happened.

I later became a member of the local Christian Science Church and worked on one or two committees. I was totally programmed by then and nothing in my life seemed real – probably because I had little contact with anyone who was not connected with Christian Science. We also had a lodger in the house who was a Christian Science practitioner. I found his presence very disturbing and felt that he exercised a lot of control over Mother. At about this time, my grandmother died and I vividly remembered her words to me about heaven and about how we should love Jesus. Even though I was so totally surrounded by Christian Science, a thread of the gospel story stuck with me and gave me comfort over my fears of death. I felt that we would meet in heaven because we both loved Jesus, and even though I was in Christian Science I knew I believed in Him because I read about Him in the Bible. What I didn’t realise was that we were only reading selected passages from the Bible and that, often, the verses were out of context. Jesus was still not a reality to me.

But God is good! In order to train to be a teacher, I had to leave home and Mother decided on Weymouth, Dorset, England – probably because there was a Christian Science Church nearby! On my very first day in College, the very first friend I made was a Christian. I attended the meetings of the Christian Union because I felt we all had the same basis of belief. I had a boyfriend who was a Christian, but after a while the relationship ended because he said that my faith was not of God and that we had no future together. I was deeply hurt, because up until then I had honestly believed that I was there to help the Christians along because my beliefs were one stage “up.” I really believed that, as these Christians were Bible-believing, we could get along OK. What a lot I had to learn!

I had no idea of the amount of prayer that went on for me by all my Christian friends, many of whom I know to this day! I had had a lot of doubts for a long time, partly because the course we were on opened my mind to thinking of things from different angles. My biggest problem was trying to decide whether or not Christian Science was Christian. I was surrounded by Christians who said that it wasn’t. This had never occurred to me before, and I wanted to understand their reasoning. What was different about their “rules”? I was also bound by all sorts of fears – particularly of death. I cannot describe the feeling of peace which flowed over me after the visiting Christian preacher prayed with me after a Christian Union meeting. I was moved by his message and knew that I needed Jesus’ love and peace. I was so tangled up in my mind that I could not think clearly, but I knew I needed Jesus. People said that I radiated joy, and I felt as though I had been lifted out of something and set out in a new world. Thanks to many Christian friends, some Christian doctrine was explained to me… I initially felt as though I was in a foreign church – linguistically, nothing made sense!

I cannot say that all the influences of Christian Science mind control left my life immediately. Or so it felt, and I suffered many nagging doubts that I would “return” because of the inevitability of mind control. I had many periods of what I can only describe as depression and feelings of insecurity. I found a Baptist church near where I was working in my first teaching post, and asked the pastor to pray for me. I still felt things were wrong in my life, and I had no guidance on how to correct them. That night, after his prayers, I returned to my accommodation and an evil spirit visited me and screamed at me that “I should not have done it! I should not have done it!” I was twitching and jerking. There was a cloud over my head and I was very scared. I remember replying, “But I have!” and the cloud floated away from me and I slept peacefully. When I spoke to the pastor about this because I was quite shocked, he did not really know what to say and I was still left with the feeling that I needed counseling. I felt that my thinking was in a different mode from everyone else – possibly because I was still coming out of this very mind controlling environment and I had not had much contact with everyday people.

I was baptised after about two years and this, for me, was the major foundation in my Christian life. It was at this time that my mother ceased trying to actively “re-convert me.” She was very disappointed, and I was warned that “however many years of benefit I had received in Christian Science, after this period of time, I would experience dire need and deterioration in my life to the extent that I would need it again….”

I cannot think of much relevant to add to this testimony from baptismal time to this. What I do know is that the Lord Jesus Christ has led me and my family through many dangers and times of turmoil, and that He has blessed us very much. A text which has meant everything to me is, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Mark 13:31). My fears of death have been destroyed, and I know that all those who believe on Him will be saved. There is no doubt that Mother has watched our lives very carefully and has tried to systematically destroy my marriage and the peace of my home. She has actively tried to turn our children to Christian Science, but I thank God that He has shielded them and led them to a saving knowledge and faith in Him. The year 2001 was made special for me as my son was baptised by total immersion. The Lord our God in the midst of us is mighty!

My mother never received medical care in forty-five years and was never registered with a doctor. In January 2001 she was admitted to the local hospital during an emergency and was diagnosed as terminally ill with cancer. She continued to refuse medical treatment, and all I could do was pray that the Lord Jesus would reveal himself to her in her mental turmoil and physical agony. She died in June 2002 — brokenhearted that she could not heal herself. She died of untreated breast cancer after bravely, silently and needlessly enduring much suffering due to her radical reliance on Christian Science.