New Year 2006.
After Christmas, the three homes we’d borrowed had all run out of time, the people who’d so kindly lent them needing them back.
One of the many blessings God gave me was wonderful parents. Their house wasn’t big, but we were more than welcome. Bink and Rose and I, none of us having anywhere else. And, of course, our two dogs.
At Rosie’s baptism two years earlier, Serena’s Great Dane had knocked my mother over, galloping into the garden after Serena finished bathing him for the occasion. He didn’t even know. He put my mother in a wheelchair for six weeks. We obviously couldn’t risk this again. So poor Hamlet had to live in the boot of our car.
For three long months.
It was too low for him to stand. I would watch him, from my bedroom window, trying to turn around to get more comfortable, at a crouch. It was pitiful. And yes, of course I explored alternatives. I’d done so a year earlier, when he wasn’t wanted in our rented accommodation, and the church suggested getting rid of him. Several Great Dane charities told me you can’t lend your Dane to a foster home: it wouldn’t be fair on him. You have to give him away permanently.
I couldn’t do that to Serena. Not her dog as well as her home.
Besides, I couldn’t have parted with him either. We don’t “get rid of” members of our family. (If we did, wouldn’t we have “got rid of” Bink? I’ve known families do this with the mentally ill, to protect the others… I can’t find the smallest iota of myself that could.)
Small wonder the experience changed him too. He’d always been extremely well-trained and obedient, though of course far stronger than me. Afterwards, I was never entirely sure he wouldn’t take his frustration out on another dog. Animals, too, suffer mental trauma. Once, after our homeless period, he dragged me on my belly through the woods for ten or twenty feet. The other dog-walker shouted that he knew where we lived and was coming after us with his shotgun.
The police did nothing. And I never took Hamlet for a walk again.
Members of our previous church at Parson’s Green had bought a large house near Wycombe, and most generously took Shaun in. He appreciated it greatly – if not the commute forty minutes to the flock he was called to live among. And being apart from his family again.
Once a week, on his day off, he drove to Cambridge to spend the night with us.
Three years earlier, when I’d told him I was pregnant with Rosie, his first thought had been of the broken nights. When the gods hate us they give us our desires… and God’s love can show most when He overrules our fears.
What kept Shaun going through that dreadful time was knowing he would see Rose’s sweet smile of pure joy at the end of each week.
The friend, mentioned earlier, who’d promised to get justice for us, wanted me to attend a meeting with Shaun’s boss, the vicar who had made us homeless.
Shaun said I needn’t. I wasn’t well enough.
No good has ever come of my going against Shaun’s word. But I considered this cowardice. The friend had known me since I was a teenager, and had been praying for my family for twenty years. Surely I owed it to him? (Er, no... God tells us to submit to those we’re married to. Not random friends who pray for us.)
My friend repeatedly told me there was nothing to worry about. What did he know, I wondered?
“I might forgive a rapist,” I tried to explain. “But that wouldn’t make it wise to meet up with him.”
Six months earlier he’d rebuked me for being tearful at having no home. Now, for using over-dramatic and emotive language.
(And he was a clergyman...)
It was easy to say no, living eighty miles away in Cambridge. But that January I was due to speak at a women’s breakfast near Oxford. It was hard not to agree to a meeting straight afterwards.
The night before, for a treat – not something clergy can often afford – Shaun took me out for a meal.
Poor Shaun! I wept, and wept, and wept. I could barely speak. Except “Sorry”, repeatedly. The Indian waiters were attentive and kind, and showed no embarrassment. Eventually they packed my untouched meal in boxes to take away. That night, although with Shaun – another too-rare treat – I barely slept.
I have no idea how I got through that talk... about the love of God.
Except that my style tends to openness. I probably told them what we were going through.
At the hands of God’s people.