I grew up on a council estate in south-east Essex. We were a single parent family: my dad was an alcoholic and he died when we were young. It was a difficult environment and we had to really put on appearances and make sure that we looked as though we had it all together. I think my mum was worried that if we didn't brush our hair and wash our faces when we went out, we'd be taken into care.
I got into tai chi and yoga, and then into things like Buddhism and meditation and all different kinds of prayer - really, New Age things. I was just taking all the nice bits of all the different kinds of religions, and they really speak into your life and to issues that you have. So I felt that I wanted to do more of that and I went to an interfaith seminary where you learn about the five major religions. You try and kind of put them all together and see whether we can all live nicely together.
And that was great—but while I was there I made a friend, and she got breast cancer, and she was dying. So we got together to think about her funeral—she asked me to help take her funeral. She wanted to say something to her family at the funeral about her spirituality and what that meant to her, and where she was now.
So we started thinking about how we would put that together, and then we realised we had Jesus taking her into a garden, and then as a Buddhist she was being reincarnated and having another life, and as a Daoist she was becoming a sort of spirit—and we just couldn't make it hang together.
Five days before you die is no time to realise that you don't know what's happening.
While I was looking at all of the New Age things, my brother was a Christian, and he went to a church in London. I would go with him—I mean, Christianity was fine too—and he would listen to all the things I had to say about my New Age things. He was really patient with me and he would just say to me: “I think there's more.” And I realised that he knew Jesus as a real person, and he had something that I didn't.
So I went to a course in London called Christianity Explored, where you can talk about that, and start to ask questions. And it was great. When I got there, I thought the people were normal, just really normal people, and we had a laugh and had some fun together.
And then we started reading the Bible—and I realised I'd never read it. I had a kind of opinion about it—but I'd never read it. And it was great then to be able to just take all those questions and just start firing them at the people who were there as leaders, and just try to get that information to build my own understanding of what I did believe.
I’d spent all of my life really worrying about appearances, and just trying to cover up what I thought were the bad things and the difficult things from my past. When I was on Christianity Explored, I realised that Jesus was a real person, and he could see me and he could know me. He knew everything—and he loved me.
And it was just so different and such a relief. I knew that I had to choose to accept what Jesus was saying about him being the way and the truth, and just give my life to him: to follow him and read the Bible and learn more about what he wanted for me in my life. I couldn't ignore it any more.
So that means that I can really live my life openly. I'm not defensive all the time, I'm not so worried about: “Do people like me or do they not like me?” I can just accept that some people will, some people won't. Some things I'll do really well, and some things I won't.
I'm able to just be more genuinely who I am, even though I know some of that is not very good. And I'm still loved—I'm still loved.