Archive for ‘Catherine’

February 10, 2014

Thrill of a Lifetime

Roller Coaster

I remember the first time I went on a roller coaster.  It was at a theme park in Western Sydney back in the late 1980’s.  It was fast, scary and thrilling and when it came to an end I just wanted to do it again.  The one thing that sticks in my mind the most is that first hill. You slowly clack up the steep climb and seem to hang for an eternity at the top until whoosh you’re accelerating down the drop.  Your stomach is still somewhere at the top of the coaster. The rest of the ride is good too no other part of the ride can compare with that first hill.

This time next week Catherine and I are launching a new church.  We feel like we are on the crest of that first hill.  We are about to go over.  Between the two of us we have contrasting emotions.  I have my hands in the air and a big grin on my face.  Catherine is not grinning and her hands are gripping the bar very tightly.  But regardless of how we feel about February 16 there’s no stopping this ride.

What is certain is that there are many twists and turns to come, we can’t see them now but it will be an exhilarating ride.  We can’t wait.

As far as we can tell we are well placed to spend our first year growing and developing as a healthy church.  We have prepared the path to  launch by holding three monthly services, which have let some people come across us and work out that they want to be involved.  I don’t think that this would have happened if we had gone straight into weekly services.

So we can count on a core of people who will attend on the 16th and likely be there the week after as well.  We can even put a number of them on various rosters and rely on them to do various roles around the place.  This makes things a whole lot easier, especially granted that we have arrived in this town not knowing anyone, and with no “core team” working under us.

Most of all we have the deepest of convictions that we were put on the planet to do this work.  The sense of God’s calling is so strong that we would walk over broken glass to make it work.  There is no turning back for us.

In ancient times and in the Middle Ages if an invading army arrived by sea the generals would sometimes make a statement to their soldiers to burn the boats after they had landed.  It made the point in a dramatic way that there was no going back.  That they’d better win their battles, because retreat was not an option.  I can’t think of anything I could do to symbolically burn the boats, but mentally I feel that we have done that.  In my mind NorthernLightsChurch and the ministries that will flow from it will be our life’s work.  There is no going back.  If it’s tough then we press on and persevere.  It was tough for the apostles, for Paul and for many of the early Christians.  They persevered, and they prevailed.

We won’t face the obstacles that our spiritual ancestors faced in the first century but we carry the same message, and we will persevere in spreading it, just like they did.

So in just 7 days we launch.  By God’s grace we will hold thousands of services over the years that come, but only ever one launch.  If you are in Halifax don’t miss it!

John and Catherine xoxo

January 12, 2014

No Room at the Inn

NLC has experienced a massive breakthrough this week. Since arriving in Halifax, West Yorkshire, UK just 5 months ago finding a venue in which to hold services has been challenging. Our needs as a church have been monthly up until now but after February 16 we go to weekly services. We have had no idea where they were going to be held. Venues that have sufficed for the monthly services have other commitments already booked in and are just not available week to week. On 29 August John and I wrote a list of 13 things we wanted in a venue. They were:
 * Monday to Sunday Access
* Chairs
* Sound System
* Extra Room for Kids Ministry
* Toilets
* Stage
* Car Park
* Street Access and Visibility
* Regular booking – no exceptions
* Good Price
* Kitchen Area
* Atmosphere
* Projector
On November 29th I attended a prophetic night at New Beginnings Christian Centre which has itself received an amazing breakthrough for a venue and the main speaker said that God ‘had made room for them’ in Halifax. This phrase caught my attention and I felt the same was going to be true for Northern Lights Church. I came home and John and I prayed/declared together that ‘God would make room for us’ in Halifax just as He did for the birth of the Lord Jesus.
Just this week a Local Charity phoned us. Their building is another part of a building we have hired twice for monthly services. They were wondering if we would be interested in hiring their venue every week for our church. John met with them and it is a perfect fit for NLC. Of the 13 things we prayed for their facility fulfils 12 of them. The only thing they were unable to provide off the list was a projector but New Beginnings Christian Centre had already lent us one a number of weeks prior. We have been very grateful for the support and generosity that Pastor Stephen Greening of NBCC has been to Northern Lights Church.
Northern Lights Church thanks God for his provision of a venue. We thank Him and give Him all the Glory for ‘making room for us in Halifax’.
Over and Out,
Catherine xoxox
November 10, 2013

Countdown to the First Service


We are exactly one week away from our first service at Northern Lights Church.

The venue has been booked. The flyers have been designed. The website has gone live. The Halifax Courier is coming this week to do a story on us. The 10,000 flyers have been printed and will be delivered to 10,000 homes reaching possibly 25,000 people this week. The Sermon is being written, prayers have and will be prayed, fasting will probably occur and the launch team will be briefed and released.

There is only one thing that we really care about when it comes to this first service – that God comes! If we are without His presence then we have nothing. We would be like a McDonalds without hamburgers. A KFC without chicken. A pub without beer. God loves the church – it’s his chosen vehicle to move around in. The Church needs lots of different things to grow and be successful but it only needs to lack the presence of God to become a clubhouse of well meaning. We are desperate for the real deal. The holy and tangible presence of God. What does that mean? Isn’t God meant to be everywhere all the time? Yes he is. To be blunt when you are on the toilet he is there with you. The difference is that he doesn’t reveal his presence to you in that moment.

God is with us always but He doesn’t always reveal His presence to us so we must be ruthless in going after him with a hunger that will not be satisfied with anything less than the real deal.

An Open Letter to God

Dearest God,

We invite you to come to not only our first service on November 17th, 2013 but to every service, every meeting, every retreat, every home group, every baptism every kids group and every conference that Northern Lights Church ever holds or opens its doors to. We acknowledge that this is your house and we are your people. We promise to make you welcome and to let you interrupt any and all of our plans. We want you to be free to move upon the hearts and minds of all present and change the lives of anyone including us. We acknowledge that without you we are nothing.

Will you please come God?

An Open Letter to Halifax, West Yorkshire

Halifax, we have fallen in love with your stone buildings and lush green trees. We love that mail comes on a Saturday and that you don’t have mosquitoes. We love your radiator heating and the awesomeness of your insulation. Most of all we love your people. We have been inspired, encouraged and enriched by every person that has come into our home for a meal or a cup of tea. We love the people that employment has bought into our lives and we love our neighbours who don’t have a choice. We love the friends from school that our daughter has made and we love the people that we have met from Churches all across Halifax. You are all doing an amazing job for the Kingdom of God. In return Halifax, we have give you our big Australian hearts and lives. We put it all on the line and hold nothing back from you.

Finally an invitation for you to become a part of the Northern Lights Family.  If you are not already part of a church family then we invite you to come to Northern Lights Church on November 17, 10:30am at the Southwood Club on Birdcage Lane. Come and hear what God has done for you and respond to Him. It will change your life. We expect God to do great things in every service. Don’t miss out. See you then.


John and Catherine

September 19, 2013

God’s Chicken Noodle Soup

God's Chicken Noodle Soup

I had a beautiful and humbling experience yesterday. It was an experience that had me bawling my eyes out in the stairwell of our apartment building. Poppy and I have caught some random low level English bug, nothing special – runny nose, sore throat and dry cough. I really wanted to make some of my homemade chicken noodle soup for us but I have no pots. The boxes we sent from Australia are clearing UK customs now and are due to arrive in Halifax next week. My pots are in those boxes. I am loathe to buy one given their imminent arrival. I have survived 7 weeks without my pots and I am determined to wait just a little longer. I went to the shops regardless and bought all the ingriedients for my chicken noodle soup except for the pot. When I got home I knocked on the door of several neighbors. No one was home. I was outside looking high and low for anybody – no one was around.  Out loud I sighed heavily and I was feeling a bit sorry for myself. I said out loud to God ‘I really need a pot to make soup for Poppy and I.’  There was no reply so I started to walk sadly back into the building. I then had a vivid picture/vision of a black sports car driving into one of the car parks. It was familiar to me – it is the car driven by a lady I have met once in the next building – Valerie.  As I looked back outside I noticed her car park was empty – she wasn’t home. I walked up the stairs to our apartment and as I looked out the hallway window I saw Valerie’s black sports car pulling into it’s parking spot. I ran back downstairs and hid for a minute as Valerie got out of her car. ‘Hi Valerie’ I called out. I explained my predicament and she was more than happy to lend me a pot to make my soup in. As I carried the pot back to my place I was overwhelmed with gratitude. I was so thankful to God for caring about me and the pot for my soup. I was filled with His love and I thought to myself  ‘God is my friend and I am friends with God’.

I wonder what it would be like to be God. In the movie ‘Bruce Almighty’ they try to give a human being God like qualities. The limitations of his humanity become evident quickly as the character is overwhelmed by the millions of prayer requests coming in from all over the world at once. Therein lies the problem – we always try to understand God through our own mind where our thinking is limited by our experiences, our beliefs and our predjudices. Imagine if you were to try and explain the internet to an ant. You wouldn’t succeed. I think we are an ant compared to God. He is infinite in his thinking – he has no limitations, no boundaries and endless capacity. But that is what makes the ‘soup pot’ thing he did so amazing. If God is so big – why does he care about my stupid pot,  why does he bother answering such little prayers? Because He is my friend and that is what friends do for one another.  He cares about everything that is happening to me even if it is a situation of my own doing. He’s not to big or too famous or too busy to care about the little things in my world. In fact he wants to share every moment with me. Sometimes I just forget to include Him.

I spent the next few hours making my chicken noodle soup. I don’t know what I did different but it was the best I have ever made. It tasted amazing. I think God put himself in that pot of soup. I took the pot back with two containters of soup for my lovely neighbors. And for you dear readers my very precious recipe for God’s Chicken Noodle Soup.

God’s Chicken Noodle Soup Recipe



1 whole chicken. Organic is preferred. (remove breasts. I am hopeless at doing this and sometimes have to buy one breast to top up)

3 Lemons

4 sticks of celery

1 whole onion

1 whole bulb of garlic

1 bay leaf

3 carrots

1 potato

Chicken Balls

2 Chicken breasts

2 Tablespoons of grated parmessan

1 Egg

Added Soup ingriedents:

2 fresh corn cobs

100g spaghetti

3-4 cubes of chicken stock or ½ litre of bought liquid chicken stock

Sea Salt


Roughly chop carrot, celery, potato and onion. Leave the skin on if not too dirty. Put all into pot.

  1. Break whole chicken apart. Cut breasts out and put aside. Discard gizzards. Put chicken legs, thighs and carcass into pot. (butchers will often sell you an extra carcass for $2 – add if you have a big enough pot)
  2. Break garlic bulb apart. Don’t skin each piece just throw into pot. Add bay leaf to pot.
  3. Squeeze the juice of one lemon over everything in the pot. Then cover generously with water.
  4. Bring pot to boil and then simmer with lid off for at least 2 hours. Stir occassionally. Top up with a little extra water or put lid on if you loose too much liquid. Strain entire pot keeping the stock you have now made – this is the base for your soup. I seperate all the vegies out and throw them away as their flavour and nutrition are gone – they are now in your stock. It’s the same deal with the chicken but I save that as it goes to making the soup look great.
  5. Pick chicken carcass clean. Chop up chicken into bite sized slivers.
  6. Return the stock you have made to the original pot. Add stock cubes or liquid stock,  juice of second lemon and a genourous pinch of salt. Add cut up chicken slivers back into stock.
  7. Take corn cobs and stand on one end. Run sharp knife down the edge removing the corn. Keep turning the cob until all sides are skinned. Put all the corn kernals into your stock. Throw cobs away
  8. Bring stock with added ingriedients back to a boil and then add spaghetti broken into 2-3cm pieces.
  9. Now make the Chicken balls. Take removed breasts and add one egg with parmessan cheese. Use food processor to finely mince ingriedients together into a fine puree. When your stock pot is boiling drop small mouth sized balls fashioned by hand into pot. They will cook quickly and rise to the surface.
  10. Stir gently and taste. Add more lemon juice if too salty or more chicken stock if too lemony. Enjoy with crusty bread!

Over and Out,

Catherine xoxo

August 22, 2013

“Why would you come to live here?”

gorillaI have been asked this question many times since arriving. It is asked with an incredulous tone as if I just gave a winning lottery ticket away. People can’t fathom why an Australian would come to live in England. Australia is commonly regarded as a sunny and friendly utopia.  Why would I leave that for dreary, cold England? But leave I did. With a  pocket lined with God’s call I made the long journey to a place I have never been. To be really honest I would much rather be in the back-end of the Arctic because of God’s call than anywhere else in the world without it.

There are a number of things I love about living here:

Almost everyday we leave our windows, door and sky light open with no fly screens. I have not encountered one single mozzie to date in England. I have seen two flies – neither of them in Halifax. If summer means one thing to me in Australia it means flies, flies and more flies. I also have sweet blood and that  means mosquito bites all Summer long. I hate it when I can hear them buzzing around my ear at night. Imagine for one moment being able to leave all your doors and windows open with no screens plus the lights on inside. Might as well hang out a neon sign ‘ALL WELCOME’ in Oz. Here it means just means fresh air and clear views.

Melbourne, Australia always seemed to be in drought and on heavy water restrictions – in the height of our glorious summer everything turns brown. It looks so ugly. We are coming to the end of a unusally warm summer here and the plant life and grass is still lush and vivid green. An almost unnatural hue to the Australian pallet of flora. It’s a colour that comes from being well watered year in and year out for centuries.  It’s a bit like how you can pick out a bad fake tan by the unmistakable hue of orange. It’s a shade of green that falls outside of normal but instead of being horrid it is beautiful. I keep touching it because I think it is fake.

When we lived in Australia John used to tease me because when I drove in rush hour traffic I would stick my elbows out to the side as if I was trying to knock the other cars out-of-the-way with them as I weaved in and out of traffic. Here there is usually just one lane and nobody – not even me is in a rush. There is minimal traffic and it is so pleasant to drive anywhere. People for go the car altogether and they walk everywhere as we are starting to do. They have a great culture of walking and riding public transport in the UK. Good for them…good for us!

I am especially happy that there is a ‘Thank God It’s Friday’ in Halifax. John and I love this  American style restaurant chain. Him for the sizzling Fajita’s and me for the buffalo wings. They make the best balloon animal hats with such flair that Poppy wants to have her birthday party there too. It is truly wrong on so many levels but for the Warrens it is one very big tick!

The thing I love most about England is the people. The accent is captivating and I love overhearing two English talk in the shops. The stronger and thicker the accent the better. I find the culture a mystery to be solved.  I want to peel back the skin of the English and discover what makes them tick and tock. They are not like Australian’s even though we share so much history and DNA.

I feel like Richard Attenborough discovering a new species except I don’t want to observe them from a far for the sake of science but I want live with them and do life alongside them. I want to pay frustrating premium’s on car insurance like they do. I want to feel the whip of wind on a cold winters day like they do. I want to have them in my home for a meal or go over to there’s for an afternoon cup of tea. I want to know their lives – every joy, every struggle and every heartache. I want them to know why I have come to England, to Halifax. I want them to know I came  (and it is my privilege)  to share with them the greatest news ever – that Jesus loves them.

Give me one good reason I shouldn’t stay.

Over and Out,

Catherine xoxox

August 3, 2013

Home is where the Heart Is

imagesI didn’t realise our time in Australia would run out so quickly. It was as if someone smashed the bottom of our hour glass and the sand spilled out in seconds. Time just fell out of our lives. The sadness of saying goodbye to so many friends and family personally overwhelmed me and I would ask myself  why? Why were we doing this? Quickly the face of a sex trafficked girl would come hurtling to the front of my mind. A girl kidnapped and abused who is so numb to the horror of her life that she wishes daily that her hour glass would break forever.  This is where God takes me ~ back to the first  place he called me ~ back to girls of Moldova, a cause I could lay my life down for. I deeply share the vision God  gave John for a church in the UK because it is the best vehicle for God to do the work in Moldova. When  Northern Lights Church was conceived the nation of  Moldova was being knit into its DNA.

The trip to the UK itself was mostly uneventful. With excess luggage  we required a favourable hostess at the Melbourne check in and got one. With final hugs and kisses we said goodbye to a small group of friends and entered Customs. After a 14 hour flight to Abu Dhabi we paid through the nose to spend 4 hours in a private lounge. Had a glorious shower and ate some yummy food, back on the plane again bound for Manchester only 7 hours this time. After picking up our bags we cleared customs quickly being greeted by one smiling  Stephen Wyndham – our former Senior Pastor and good friend.

John awoke the next morning excited at our arrival, me not so much. I felt flat and tired. We ticked off a multitude of necessary but mundane tasks but my mood remained under a shadow all day. We arranged to meet with a real estate agent in Halifax the following day. The next morning I awoke at 1.30 am excited and jet lagged all at the same time. Something had shifted. The only way I can describe that morning was that ´I felt destiny swirling around me´. For over 13 months this day was in the planning, The reason I hadn’t been excited was because my heart knew it was still in transit. I was not in Halifax yet.

As we drove the one and half hours from Southport to Halifax tears of joy welled up in me. How good was God to bring us safe thus far. Today was the day – there would be no more delay! We drove down into Halifax via this enormous semi circular tunnel, ait t first sight it was lush and green and reminded me of my favourite places in Melbourne – Sasafrass. Beautiful beige stone buildings were nestled in the greenery. It looked so right. So perfect.

I realised I had been holding my breath for 13 months. So often I had wondered – would I like it?  Would I arrive and think ´what have we done?. That day was here and I didn’t just like Halifax, I loved Halifax.  Somewhere along the way God had placed a love for this city deep within me and as we got closer and closer I realised how full, rich and mature that love was. I wanted to do a Julie Andrews song in the middle of the main street. I think I even skipped a little as we walked around.

Never have I felt a bond with a geographic location like I do with Halifax. I know that I am meant to be here and here I am meant to be.  My heart is home for the first time in my life.

Over and Out,

Catherine xoxox

June 25, 2013

Real Paranormal Activity

Godly encountersI was lying awake in bed the other night listening to John breathe, it was about 2.30 am. We had gone to bed late and my mind was still winding down from our busy and full day. I turned over to face the outer side of the bed and there were two people – a man and woman standing next to my bed. I didn’t freak out or yell out in fright because a week earlier I had experienced something similar. I had seen the shadow of a young girl about Poppy’s age beside my bed – in fact I thought it was Poppy. At that time I sat up and reached out but my hand went right through the shadow and then it disappeared. I gasped loudly and woke up John. I guess in some way that prepared me for seeing this couple standing beside my bed. I must be plain speaking here – they were very, very real. After looking at them for a moment the ‘couple’ disappeared but I prayed and asked God ‘What were they?’. I was thinking they could be angels. Suddenly the couple reappeared and as I was looking at them, the man’s jaw seemd to unlock and his teeth punched out of his mouth and came at me hissing, snarling and gnashing. Freak me out! Instantly I felt this enormous sense of fear. Not of the man himself but of going to England to start the church. Negative and fearful thoughts bombarded my mind. Thoughts that I have never experienced before or since!

As a Christian, my worldview contains a belief of not just God and the Angelic but also Satan and the Demonic. The bible says that when Satan (an angel) was kicked out of heaven (because he wanted to take over God’s job) it says he took a third of the angels with him. Over 25 years of ministry I have encountered ‘demonic angels’ regularly but I must admit in the last 5 years these kinds of experiences have occurred less and less. Why? I believe it is because I have come to know who I am. I am the daughter of the King of the Universe. He loves me, protects me and has given me His authority to tell them to rack off and I have done so. After God showed me who this ‘couple’ really were I had this outrage well up inside of me. I thought ‘How dare this demon couple come into my bedroom and scare me.’ The following evening John and I prayed over the house and our bedroom and I know that that yucky thing is now gone.

When you start recounting ‘paranormal experiences’ everybody has a story. Stories of lights flickering on and off, looking for something and finding it in a place you’ve already looked in, ghostly apparitions and noises etc. There used to be a TV show many years ago called the Twilight Zone and it would try to explain these types of experiences but sometimes they can’t just be explained away because there is really a paranormal realm that exists. In fact there are two. Two Kingdoms battling for the hearts and minds of all people. The Kingdom of Light and the Kingdom of Darkness. The goal of the Kingdom of Darkness is to rob, kill and destroy. The goal of the Kingdom of Light is to bring love, freedom and eternal life.

When I have paranormal encounters from either Kingdom they have an ‘emotional feel’ that goes with them. Demonic experiences leave me feeling scared, hopeless, misunderstood, alone, rejected, confused and burdened and in contrast Godly experiences leave me feeling safe, encouraged, joyful, peaceful, protected, clear headed and light.

If you are experiencing demonic paranormal activity in and around your life – cry out to God to help you and He certainly will! The truth is the battle has been already won. Christ secured victory with His death on the cross. If you need to talk to someone most churches are equipped with people and processes to help and they are a far cry of those shown in movies like the exorcist and paranormal activity.

I am more than happy to help or guide you toward people in your area that can help you with this. Don’t hesitate to contact me via our blog email address:

blogsidebyside@gmail .com

Over and Out,

Catherine xoxox

June 4, 2013

Keep Calm and Carry On – Now Panic and Freak Out!

Keep CalmIn May 2012 I was having my morning prayer time with God. This day seemed like any other day except that God decided to speak clearly and at length to me about building a Ministry Centre in Moldova. Its primary purpose would be to house, counsel, train, educate, support and offer spiritual guidance to woman who had escaped a life of sex trafficking or were potential victims of it. It was an enormous project. I shared this all with John and he started to pray into it. In June of 2012 God spoke clearly to John and said ‘Go to England, plant a church and that church will be the base for the missions work into Moldova’. When John shared that with me, my first response was ‘I could work with that’. Together we said to God – we believe you have spoken to us so we are going to start to take steps toward what you have said to us about this.

Meanwhile life went on as normal, I got a job and after being long time congregation members of Yarra Plenty Church we felt God clearly tell us to leave and go to Manningham Christian Centre. We carried the vision for planting a church in England in our hearts but it all seemed a bit of a pie in the sky.  On the surface we had so much to lose. The move to the UK would involve both of us quitting jobs we enjoyed, selling most of our possessions and moving to a place we had never been. Foolish as that may seem our hearts were on fire and we prayed and prayed that it would happen.

The steps we started to take involved everything from getting Poppy a passport to buying boxes to ship some of our stuff over to the UK. The two most expensive steps were buying the plane tickets ($4,000) and applying for the Ancestral Visa’s – a five-year working permit for both of us.($1300). The application is tedious and complex and as we read through the documentation we realised that they required a copy of your travel itinerary  to be sent with your application and they also didn’t want your application till you were 3 months out from the date of travel. This meant we had to pay for the plane tickets before knowing if we had the visas to work and live in the UK.

We worked on the visa applications for months. It was a long and arduous process. We argued about the ambiguous questions and shelled out the $12 fee to speak with a UK consulate officer 3-4 times who were surprisingly helpful. The application included 5 birth certificates, 3 marriage Certificates and 5 passports. There were 17 pieces of supporting documentation and a stamped confirmation that our biometrics had been completed. That is fingerprints and facial recognition. On May 10th we sent the whole lot to Sydney whereby it was sent to the UK processing centre in Manilla, Philippines. We were told it would at least three weeks. Eighteen days later we received notification that we had been successful in our application.

Since that moment I have been on an emotional rollercoaster. It’s real. We are going. The only step left is to get on the plane. Recently it was my mum’s birthday and as I wrote in her card I got all choked up and bawled my eyes out. This is possibly the last birthday I will celebrate with her in person. I love my mum. Now when I see friends I wonder – is this the last time?  If that is the low point in the emotional rollercoaster the high point is best summed up by a scene from The Hobbit. If you haven’t seen it picture this – the movie opens in the idyllic Shire inside a young Bilbo Baggins House. Gandalf and a large bunch of boorish Elves come uninvited for a meal and discuss a dangerous quest they feel called to go on. Bilbo is invited by Gandalf to join the group. He doesn’t really even consider the request seriously but when he wakes the next morning to a quiet house he has this enormous realisation that he is missing out on something very important – an adventure of a lifetime! And with that he grabs his Hobbit back pack and runs after the others. This is the high part of the emotional rollercoaster for me – the adventure, the call – not wanting to miss God’s plan and purpose for my life. That is awesome, that is what dreams are made of. That is really grabbing life by the throat and living!!

And then I cry because I am going to miss my friends, my life, my church and my family. I’m sure it’s just another season in the process of moving to the UK but for me right now the journey is bittersweet.

Over and Out,

Catherine xoxo

May 28, 2013

Confessions of a Christian Binge Drinker

binge drinkingI have an addictive personality and have struggled with moderation on all fronts my entire life. What ever I have done  – work, God, people – I have always done it with passion. The consumption of alcohol has been no exception. Being a ‘larger sized lady’ I could really put it away too. It was nothing for me to drink a whole bottle of wine or champagne to myself and not show any external signs of inebriation. I used to kid myself that because of my size it wasn’t a lot to drink.

Being a committed Christian I have come to understand that the consumption of alcohol while permitted is not always helpful. I used to say to people – I like to have a drink but not get drunk – but I think that was a bit of denial.  I loved to have a drink and I didn’t just want one or two, I always liked the feeling of getting a little tipsy.

On New Years Eve of 2010 I decided to fast the consumption of alcohol to pray for my church. I was particularly praying for a financial breakthrough. The church had done a massive renovation and the debt weighed heavily upon the leadership and congregation. I promised God I would not drink until I saw that debt reduced in a major way.  Eleven months later I ended the fast as God answered my prayers – certainly not in the way I imagined but nevertheless the debt no longer overshadowed the church. A good friend was getting married so I chose her wedding to break my fast and break my fast I did. With a well rested liver I drank like a fish and only experienced a mild hangover. In the next month I found a few other celebrations to have a few drinks with friends.

In the eleven months I had fasted alcohol I had a number of occasions such as my birthday, a going away dinner for Canadian friends and my anniversary that I would have liked to have had a drink. But once the celebratory moment passed I realised the next day that I never thought to myself  ‘Oh, I really wish I had drunk last night’. In fact I thought the opposite. I was so glad I hadn’t over indulged.   I loved not getting the sweats through the night as my liver struggled to process the alcohol or the thumping headache in the morning or that seedy feeling that only time and McDonald’s heals. I most certainly didn’t miss having to apologise for any stupid or immature behaviour and I loved that I could remember these events clearly and I didn’t lose the following day to a hangover. In fact I realised that I didn’t actually like drinking that much and I didn’t like the Catherine I became when I had too much to drink. I didn’t like her at all. She was loud, offensive and toward the end of the night – angry.

So after 3 weeks of ‘drinking’ I decided to give up the booze forever. I sent an sms to my close friends and family letting them know of my decision and that was it. I felt fantastic. It was the best decision I’ve ever made for my spiritual, physical and emotional health. It was an amazing feeling. I no longer wrestled with the drink or not to drink question  I just didn’t even think about it anymore. If I had known the peace that would be mine after making this decision I would have done it years ago.

I once asked God if there was anything I did that held me back in ministry – He said to me ‘Yes your drinking”. So now, after 2 ½ years of almost complete sobriety but for that 3 weeks in December of 2011 God has called me to be a Pastor. I feel absolutely honoured and totally unworthy of this call to lead God’s people. I am glad God is able to look beyond all my personal failures, all my other issues and all  my problems and use me to serve in his kingdom. Mostly when I think of myself as a Pastor I think of the verse that says ‘His grace is sufficient for me”. Oh let that be applied liberally to my life. I really need it with a capital G!

Over and Out,

Catherine xoxox

May 15, 2013

RIP Suzie, 16 years on…

suzie's dayToday is the 16th anniversary of the death of my friend Suzie. She died in a head on multi car collision of which I was a part of. On May 15th every year I stop and remember her life with a group of close friends. We go the cemetery where she is buried and honour her memory with the reading of a letter depicting the current events of our lives. We have kept these letters and plan to make them into a book on the 20th anniversary. This is a bittersweet day for me as we are moving to the UK in July this year and this is possibly the last one I will physically attend for a while.

I wrote the following post on May 15th , 2012 telling Suzie’s story. I’ve decided to re blog it as it is still amongst our most read posts.

In 1996 after living in Canada for 9 years I came home to Australia to reconnect with my siblings, family and friends. I arrived home in the October of 1996. There was a brutal 40 degree heat wave that summer and I remember having to take salt tablets because I sweated so much and couldn’t retain any body fluids.

I stayed with my family for a short while and then moved in with my good friend Suzie and her boyfriend.  I had known Suzie since primary school and then we attended the same private girl’s high school. We hadn’t really been close in our primary school years but we knew of each other. We became good friends in high school.

Suzie didn’t live life, she attacked life. She was the most energetic person I have ever met. She squeezed every possible minute out of every day. She loved people and her zest for life was insatiable. She was extremely loyal to her friends and men swarmed around her wherever we went like bees to a honey pot. She was beautiful, petite, smart and had this unawareness of her own charisma and attractiveness. Suzie didn’t like boundaries and the worst thing you could do was hem in her or tell she couldn’t do something. She only saw possibilities not limitations.

In May of 1997 I was no longer living with Suzie and her boyfriend as I had found my own digs. I had been dating someone and the four of us decided to go away to Inverloch for a weekend. We left on the Thursday night – it’s funny how even 15 years later the details are so front and centre in my mind. We had all gotten the Friday off from work and couldn’t wait to start our weekend. We drove down in a 2 car convoy. About 20 minutes out of Wonthaggi we stopped for dinner. Fish and Chips. I tried to persuade Suzie to swap cars so she and I could gas bag but she wanted to stay with her boyfriend. As we pulled out they took the lead car position as to direct us to Suzie’s parent’s holiday house.

It was dark, probably 8 – 9 pm and I was watching the road ahead. I remarked to my boyfriend on something I could see. A car was travelling toward us and for some reason I could see that one of its headlights was on either side of Suzie’s car. I thought out loud that the only way physically that could be happening was if that car was on our side of road. Things happened very quickly after that. Suzie’s car swerved out to the other side of the road uncovering the problem, there was a car on our side of the road. The speed limit was 80 km and we were closely the gap very quickly. The other car then attempted to correct to their own side of the road and they squarely hit the passenger side of Suzie’s car, directly where Suzie was sitting. Everything seemed to move in slow motion. Suzie’s car which was white became a blur as it spun around and around and around past us on the other side of the road. The other car ricocheted off Suzie’s car and hit us, ending up in a ditch. Damage to our person and vehicle was minimal. I remember jumping out of the car when we came to a stop and running as fast as I could back to Suzie’s car.

Prior to this I had recently updated my first aid certificate because I was a nanny. During the class I had asked the teacher about the likelihood of ever using CPR. He said with such certainty that one out of ten in the class today will use it. In that moment I knew that it was going to be me. I went above and beyond to memorize the process of not just CPR but taking control of an accident scene.

I arrived at the Suzie’s car. Her boyfriend was out of the car already and I was totally relieved. I thought – they’re ok. But then it was like the volume went on and I could hear him screaming Suzie’s name. She was still in the car not moving. I climbed in the driver’s side and felt for her pulse, it was weak but she had one. I remember reeling off commands to those around. You in the blue shirt call for an ambulance now and report back to me. You in the hat go and assess the other driver for injuries. Suzie was unconscious and her legs were trapped under the dash which had been crushed upon impact. I knew that we needed to get her out of the car. Breathing was the most important issue. Her legs were clearly already broken and I commanded the two boyfriends to get her out of the car. We laid her carefully on the side of the highway. Someone tried to tell me what to do and I shut them down. I had listened; the CPR instructor had said that many people will offer advice and that you have to be sure of yourself and what you are doing. I had listened, I was sure. Suzie had no pulse so with my bare hands I ripped her bra off and we commenced CPR. I started on breathing and her boyfriend on compressions. I then noticed this massive laceration on her neck and all the air I was breathing in was just bubbling out in front of me. I also kept thinking where were all her teeth? With one hand on her neck and the other trying to seal her nose I was trying desperately to get some oxygen into her lungs.  We swapped places after 5-10 mins.  A crowd had started to gather unable to journey around the carnage on the road. We both knew that Suzie’s life had ebbed away at some point on the side of highway but we just kept going until help arrived. Finally an ambulance arrived and the paramedics took over. I remember them laying a hand on my shoulder and saying ‘she’s gone, she’s gone’. I just couldn’t believe it.

The police arrived and the other driver was taken into custody. I was taken with Suzie’s boyfriend to the Wonthaggi hospital where they tested both drivers for drugs and alcohol. We arrived at the hospital and unbeknownst to Suzie’s boyfriend the offender was in the very next room. At some point I slipped into his room and I had this immense clarity and calm. I asked if I could call anyone for him. Wife, family? He was clearly in shock and because he had been restrained by others at the accident scene he actually didn’t know that Suzie had died. He asked me if she was OK and I told him that she was dead. I said to him, “This will mean nothing to you now but in years to come it will.” I said to him “I forgive you, I forgive you” and I left his room. I didn’t attend the trial and I never judged him for what he did. He was one of the first people in Victoria charged for ‘drug driving’ and he spent two years in jail. I wouldn’t even be able to tell you his name. All I know is that Suzie numbered one of 377 that died on Victorian roads that year.

For fifteen years now 5 of us who attended high school with Suzie have attempted to meet every year at the cemetery where she is buried. We started a tradition of writing her a letter every year as if she was alive. We are brutally candid and honest in this letter and it is probably the truest declaration of our lives at the time it is written. I have a love-hate relationship with ’the letter’ because sometimes life is crap and I hate that it is forever immortalised in writing. Over the last fifteen years we have experienced a lot of pain and grief. We have lost babies, said our goodbyes to parents and grandparents. We have walked through the heart-break of divorce and joy of having healthy children. Two have moved interstate but often make the journey to Melbourne for what we all now call Suzie’s day. We laugh and cry but we celebrate the life and friendship we have together.

At the time of the accident I wasn’t close to God but the Sunday following Suzie’s death I returned to church. I was very messy but God took me as I was. I am grateful for the people who cared for me at this time. After re-committing my heart to God I have never left His side. I love Him more than my own life and I am forever grateful that I lived that night.  I have often wondered, if we had of swapped cars would it have been me?   I’ve decided this thinking is not helpful. God saw fit to keep my life  – and I’m determined to make it one worth living.

Over and Out,

Catherine xo

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