Personal testimony of Dianne Armstrong
I was born 47 years ago in a small town in South Otago New Zealand. My mother described to the doctor the sensations she had been experiencing for the past week. Mum had apparently been in labour for the best part of a week. When I was born the reason why become very evident. I was born with a bulge as big as my head attached to my upper back and my legs were very underdeveloped. The local hospital doctors suspected spina bifida and I was transported the next day to Dunedin Hospital. There, the doctors confirmed the diagnosis and informed my parents that I would not live more than a few days. My father went out and got drunk; fortunately for him he was as sick as a dog and never touched alcohol again to this very day. Something good had already happened as my dad’s father was an alcoholic, my father couldn’t become one if he didn’t drink the stuff. My immediate family was saved from this affliction.
As you will have probably noticed I didn’t die. At ten days old I was operated on by a visiting Australian specialist as no one else would even contemplate carrying out the surgery and it was only a tidy up job as they couldn’t surgically repair the damage or leave me in the state I was in. My mother saw and held me for the first time three weeks after I was born. Two months later I was taken home with the knowledge that I would never walk or develop normally. Living in a small farming town with no facilities didn’t help my parents accept or deal with a child with a disability. I did walk when I was two and a half years old, but my parents were unable to accept or love me in case I died. I knew something was missing and felt very lonely in my early years. We lived next to a Church; my parents didn’t attend Church and were not practicing Christians. My first encounter with God was as a three year old clinging to the wire fence that separated the Church from our place, longing to be where the beautiful music was coming from knowing from deep inside me that it was very special. I somehow felt strengthened and not alone anymore.
My school days were full of frustration and rejection from both the other kids and the teachers. It was very evident that I had learning difficulties. I had severe dyslexia and also couldn’t contemplate numbers in any form or shape. Because of my lack of co-ordination I couldn’t even catch a basketball let alone a tennis ball. When it came to sport I was never picked for any team, the quote “ do we have to have her on our team?” was very familiar and hurtful. I used to work around the dyslexia thing by throwing out my homework books and trying to bluff my way into acceptance by others. This had limited success and I mostly got caught out. At the age of twelve I was asked to stand up and recite the alphabet. I realised I was in trouble because I only knew the first and the last three letters, the others never seemed to stay in any order long enough for me to capture them in my mind. All I seemed to prove was that everyone was right I was stupid and not much good for anything. Therefore I had no reason to expect to have any friends or people around me to love me. I didn’t deserve love, as I had nothing to offer anyone.
But there was a driving force in me that never allowed me to give up on myself. Several years earlier at the age of nine, the minister from the Church where we lived in South Otago visited our family; he had travelled up 500 miles and made a point of visiting our family. He wanted to baptise me, as due to my problems that had never taken place before. When I was told I was thrilled, didn’t know why but it was something I was desperate to have done. Although I don’t remember the words, I remember that it stirred up my very being and I felt totally cleansed and had a new strength in me. Salvation. God’s greatest gift. This was the time when the Lord placed in my heart the 23rd Psalm; this holds very deep meaning and has comforted me throughout my life.
At the age of thirteen I was allowed to attend the local youth group but never attended Sunday Church, as my parents didn’t seem interested. I continued my schooling years and found high school more accepting and with a lot of hard work on my part struggled with the schoolwork. It was when I felt a calling within me to become a nurse and overhearing that I would never be able to attain the qualifications needed, that I drew on my inner strength from God to succeed in getting the qualifications required. That sure surprised everyone. I wanted to do the enrolled nursing course rather than the general nursing course, as I didn’t think I could manage the three-year course physically. I knew that I could probably keep up with the studies with a lot of effort as I had proved that I was not intellectually disabled as I had been labelled. I listened to my mother who suggested that I go for the three year nursing course because I had the qualifications (maybe she knew more than me and I was limiting myself because of low or no self esteem). So I was accepted into the local hospital’s nursing programme, they needed the numbers for the class to keep the school open. After two years I wasn’t coping with the pain, discomfort and exhaustion but kept going until I ended up in hospital as a patient. I had to give up nursing and it took four months to recover. I failed again but at least I had tried. I also wished I had carried out the enrolled nursing course as I would have already qualified for that. I wasn’t even allowed to transfer to that course, it was against the rules and I would have had to start from the beginning.
My faith in God never let me down, I never blamed Him, it never occurred to me to do so, why would it be His fault when it was me that let Him down making what I thought were wrong choices. I didn’t go to Church at that stage I couldn’t even manage going to work, but I always knew God was with me in my heart and that He guided me in all that I did and I am very thankful for that knowledge. Just before I went nursing I met a man, my one and only boyfriend, as far as I was concerned I was making nursing my life and there was no room for a boyfriend let alone a husband. I ignored God telling me this person was to be my husband
(This happened in the first week I met Ray). So for two years I kept telling him to go away but he didn’t. I pushed him away because I didn’t know how to have a relationship with anyone, I didn’t know what to do when he put his arm around me other than to run away. But slowly a real friendship unfolded, this person appeared to like and accept me. Over time the bond grew deeper and God showed me I could love and be loved by people. Wow what a revelation, I knew God loved me but to feel that another person could, was just about unbelievable. Ray knew I had problems but it didn’t appear to matter to him, he knew I couldn’t read properly, that the only sport I was good at was falling over my feet but he was able to see around or over every fence I had built for protection, and there were plenty I was good at building brick walls.
So eventually we got married in a Church with God’s blessing, I was very aware of His presence even though Ray was not a Christian and did not become one for another 27 years of marriage to me. The minister that had run the youth group that I attended married us. He was now a good friend of the family but my parents were still not Christians although they lived a good life. Ray and I were blessed with one healthy lovely daughter, the pregnancy wasn’t easy but well worth it. During our daughters infant years I was drawn to attend Church and Bible studies. I took Julie our daughter with me so she had a background in Christianity. Over the years I did not find Church satisfied my needs and as we shifted around with Ray’s job, I started going to Church only occasionally. I felt there was a lot missing, it appeared to be man that was running it and that didn’t seem right. I felt that for a period of time that God was going to teach me what he wanted me to know by walking with Him on a daily basis without attending Church. The Lord would put into my heart what He needed me to know. This went on for quite a few years. God held me up through all the hard times when my mother died of breast cancer and Ray had a severe stroke. God’s strength got me through all these difficult situations.
When Ray was made redundant from Telecom after thirty years of service, I was faced with the challenge of returning to the work force with no training or career to go back to. I had been working as a volunteer over the years and at the time of Ray’s redundancy was working up at the local hospital 20 hours a week as a volunteer, teaching arts and crafts to long stay patients and to clients in community groups. The committee of the organisation wanted a paid administrator for the organisation, as it was too large to run as a volunteer programme. As I was the secretary for the organisation they thought I might like the position. Since we had no income I was not about to turn this opportunity down. The organisation had to be legalised as a charitable trust, an office set up and all legal documentation and grants applied for, boy did I learn a pile of new skills in a hurry. But as usual under God’s guidance it was established and worked well for three years.
Then the hospital restructured and as the main funding agent they were no longer to fund the programme, so I was out of a job and Ray still had not been successful in obtaining paid work. But he turned out to be a good cook and housekeeper, as I couldn’t work thirty hours a week and do the other work as well. Then came a challenge that I was not going to accept. I had read in the paper an advertisement for a job for a manager of a community organisation. After reading it, I thought I had no hope of getting it, I didn’t have the management or nursing qualifications so why are we even looking at this God, I don’t have the confidence or the skills to pull this one off. I tossed the paper out.
Over several weeks people came to me with this same ad saying this job is yours. (Yea Right). I still ignored it. Another ad was brought to my attention several weeks later, from a different company from a community organisation wanting someone to run a programme, it was only thirty hours a week, sounds more like it. I rang up and made an appointment with the employment agency. Got the boss who was interviewing, I liked the sound of this man, we got on well over the phone, and he gave me some background information and set up an appointment within the hour. The last question I asked was the name of the organisation. Panic it was the same one that advertised the manager’s position several weeks ago. In fact it was the same job! God what are you doing to me was my response to myself? Being the polite person that I am, I couldn’t say that I was no longer interested. I turned up for that interview and actually got the job several interviews down the line. Panic, God what have you got me into? I can’t do this job.
But I did, our unfailing God got me through another struggle and a very steep learning curve. Here was me liasing with top men in the government health system, battling for the rights of the disabled and achieving results on their behalf. Oh what a wonderful God we have, when we allow Him to put His plan to work through us and have faith that He works for our benefit and others and proves constantly His love for us.
After several visits to the Gold Coast, I felt God calling Ray and I to come and live here. It took about a year to say to God if that’s what He wanted, and then make it happen and He did. It was the easiest move we have ever had, it was like moving next door. I left my good job with the organisation three times larger than when I set up the government contracts, the turnover multimillions in the last year. My employer (the committee) gave me a wonderful gift of a book of Christian poetry, which I still love today. As I looked through the book a small envelope fell out of it,
I looked up and everyone was smiling at me, their expression turned to delight as I pulled out a cheque for three thousand dollars. My mouth hit the floor as it opened large enough to drive a truck into it. My employer never paid bonuses and they were not aware that this was the full amount to pay the removal expenses to Australia. God provides our every need and blesses us when we carry out His Will. My dad ‘s attitude was the only down side to our decision as he stopped talking to me and still doesn’t want to know me five years later.
So I got off the plane ready to tackle what God had planned for us. We stayed with a close friend for six weeks. Mary was our adopted mother and was overjoyed to have us on the Coast with her as her only son was working in Melbourne and she was very lonely. I had six weeks holiday pay and started a casual job on the seventh week, God’s timing again. That same week we moved into the house we bought, we thought we may not see our furniture for some months as the big wharf strike was on at the time the ship came in from New Zealand. But fear not the ship was redirected to another wharf and our furniture arrived on time the day we requested.
Then another challenge, we needed a permanent job as the casual job hardly met our basic financial needs. I got another job as a manger of a community organisation, I was concerned because it was full time and I didn’t know if my body would cope with it. Then I heard God tell me it was only for twelve months or so anyway. This job was a battle from start to finish. The first day the staff let me know, some subtly and some using a sledge hammer that I was not welcome and basically that they would not accept me as the manager. (They had expected one of their mates would get the job not an outsider). The staff had used the place as a home away from home and had a free run to do as they pleased. The second day I was being dropped off at work as a work car came as part of the employment package. I arrived at work on time but worse for wear as we had been involved in a car accident, the outcome being I suffered a bad case of whiplash, this just compounded my neck and back problems. Out of share determination I never missed a days work and it took three months before the whiplash settled down. That was the first two days so I will leave the rest up to your imagination.
I used every skill God had taught me, was patient, kind but firm in the eighteen months, I never lashed out at them when they schemed and planned to remove me, as I knew that I would never gain their acceptance if I did so and I could see that they felt justified in the way they felt, the whole system was changing with the new accountability structure that was being imposed on the organisation by the government. Everyday I asked God why did He want me in this job, it became harder and harder to go to work with a good attitude and I started to blame myself and had to look closely at the lack of confidence and self- esteem I was still carrying around with me, I could only see that the staff members could not adapt to change and I was failing them as a communicator. The committee arranged several mediation sessions but the majority of the staff members would not budge and I continued to look deeply at myself and started identifying me as the problem. At the end of the eighteen months the committee brought in a professional councillor. His report stated that it didn’t matter who the manager was, the person would not be accepted, he had never come across a group of people that had been so unreasonable and that were not prepared to compromise in any form. The committee had no other option other than to restructure the organisation again, they offered me a redundancy package which I accepted as my health was deteriorating and the councillor had convinced me that staying would never work as there were only two staff members out of six that were prepared to work with me.
So I left that job feeling a sense of failure, still wondering why God had allowed me to go through such a rough time for no apparent reason. After six months passed I got another job, two days a week, this was at a dental surgery as an assistant and co-ordinator to a dental hygienist. I enjoyed the job and the people I was working with but, it soon became apparent that the pain and discomfort from my back was intolerable, I thought I would be able to cope as the two days I worked were Tuesdays and Thursdays giving me Wednesdays to recuperate.
This was not the case; it became obvious to the hygienist that I was in pain even though I was determined not to show it. I was going to succeed at this job. But I didn’t, after only five weeks I had to leave. But all was not lost, it became obvious that I had been filling a gap while the person that was meant to have the job handed her resume to the manger the day before I resigned. I told the manager that I would not leave until they had a replacement for me as I felt terribly guilty at taking on a job that I sincerely thought at the time I could do only to find out I couldn’t. I spent the last week training the new person and finishing writing procedures for their manual. The person was ideally suited to the job and already had experience in the field.
On finishing this job I began to go through a low point in my life, I felt a failure, I possibly still had up to forty years of living on this earth that God created. What was I going to do with it, was I capable of doing anything or of being any use to anyone? I didn’t know. I went and saw the disability officer at Centrelink armed with the x-rays I had recently obtained in desperation to keep the last job. I told the Officer that I was not there to get the disability pension I wanted help getting a job that I was capable of doing. At the end of that appointment I went home with the forms to apply for the disability pension. I cried, I didn’t want a disability and I didn’t have a disability. I reluctantly applied for the pension and got it. But still was not prepared to deal with being disabled as I believed at the time if I admitted it then it would consume me and I had to stay strong for our Lord because I wasn’t prepared to let Him down. My husband Ray was feeling guilty at not having a job and was very negative at the best of times let alone to cope with a wife who had been given a prognosis as having a “grim quality of life in the future”. I reached out to the Lord; my heart was crying out “ Help us”. I was desperate.
Not long after that I felt the Lord leading me to go to the Church at the end of the street. I was reluctant after my previous experiences, all churches appeared to upset more people than they helped. What good would come out of going when I had the Lord with me anyway? A few days later a leaflet was handed to Ray from one of the Church members from the Church at the end of the street. Ray handed it to me as he was not interested, the Church was running an Alpha course, I thought I might be interested in going as it would be a good introduction to the Church and I could find out if Church was any different these days. Ray and I were not getting on too well, I couldn’t cope with his negative attitude as well as my own problems, so I said we should follow our own interests and not spend so much time together, I would never divorce him but I couldn’t cope with his attitude any longer. Ray took this to heart and asked if he could attend the Alpha course with me. I didn’t think he was serious but thought he was just trying to get back in my good books. I encouraged him to attend but had no expectations.
Both Ray and I were impressed with the friendliness and the openness of the members of the Church, nothing was too much trouble, no question was considered stupid. They opened the Bible and used scriptures from all of the books not just a favourite few. We were told not to rely on mans word but always make sure it was scripturely sound. After two sessions with the Alpha course the totally unexpected happened. My husband Ray gave his life to the Lord, he gained his salvation, and he received the miracle of forgiveness by grace and gained eternal life. Our lives changed overnight I was in shock for three months. Ray was loving and worshiping my God that I had loved and walked with most of my life. His attitude changed overnight, he was no longer negative. I was and still am married to a different man that had the same wonderful character that I had fallen in love with but his nature and attitude was completely new.
Once I had my feet firmly planted on earth again the Lord gently started speaking to me about this disability thing that I didn’t have because I had well and truly buried it back in the sand were it had been all my life, the thing that would occasionally create a bulge in the sand which I would stomp on to hide it again because it didn’t exist. The Lord asked me to dig it up and look at it, accept it as real, to accept the hurt and rejection, to own it. He asked me to look at myself good and hard and accept that I didn’t like what I saw, that my lack of self-esteem and confidence was there because I chose to accept these things as the truth about myself. It was easy to accept that I didn’t like what I saw after a couple of days and to speak out the truth that I knew I didn’t like myself. I had forgiven my parents for the lack of education and knowledge and that because of that they were not able to show me the love and acceptance that I craved. But I realised that I had not forgiven myself and was blaming myself for having a disability that was not caused by me. I knew God loved me because His love is far greater than we can imagine and I knew His love was always with me, it wouldn’t have mattered to Him what deformity I had He still loved me as if I were perfect. I knew I could no longer live with myself the way I was and said to the Lord Jesus “ what now”. Jesus then placed a vision firmly in my heart of how he saw me. I knew it was me, I got excited and overwhelmed, I liked this person, this person was openly loving and hugging people and everyone was accepting these hugs in genuine love and acceptance. This person had joy and a greater peace than I had experienced and I had to have this and be that person.
“Next step please Jesus “I asked. Jesus told me to tell my brothers and sisters at the Church on Sunday, the Lord was asking me to trust the Body of Christ with my innermost pain, this was a huge ask but the Holy Spirit in me was compelling and guiding me to be obedient, part of me was excited and part of me was scared witless, but I knew I had to do it. By Sunday I was prepared, ready, willing and yet still scared. On that Sunday I stood up and declared the way I felt, there was only a small number of people there but it may as well have been thousands. I turned to jelly, I was so weak in the flesh that not only was the Lord Jesus holding me up but so were the Body of Christ, my true brothers and sisters. We were all arm in arm at the alter just praying and worshiping. I had never felt so close to God or other people as I did that day. I felt cleansed and forgiven for what was sinning by not believing God when he said all my sins had been forgiven. For feeling pride because I didn’t want to go on the disability pension. God supplies all our money through different sources. I had always thought of sinning as what you did to other people, it had not occurred to me that I was sinning because of a bad attitude and unforgiveness towards myself. God meets all our needs and often our wants.
I was exhausted but at perfect peace with myself. I slept all night woke up fresh the next morning, while having a cup of tea in bed, I said to Ray I am different this morning, I knew in my heart that I was now a ” whole person.” I still had my physical disability and yes I still had physical pain but I was totally healed of my past and knew I would be capable of becoming the Dianne of Jesus vision by walking with Him daily, seeking Jesus on a new level in a deeper relationship than I thought possible. I thanked and praised the Lord for the miracle change he had performed in me, and yes in the next breath I did ask how long it would last. Jesus said it was permanent, just keep seeking God and loving Him. And yes it is permanent; I seek a closer relationship with our beautiful Lord Jesus everyday. I cry when I worship and praise Him for I love Him so much and appreciate with every fibre in my being what He has done in my life that I could never achieve in my own strength in a life time.
I thank Jesus for the greatest gift that He has given Ray. We knew our marriage was good with its ups and downs before we were both “Born again Christians” but, now it is wonderful, we are closer than I thought possible and we both know that is due to the one we both put first in our lives. Our God, through Jesus Christ living through the Holy Spirit. No, neither of us are in paid employment yet and we still experience situations that we do not want, and I still experience pain, these are opportunities to prove through God’s love that we can grow and be strengthened, to become better people so that we can help other people as the Lord guides us. We both know that God will give us strength and endurance to walk through any situation and He will do the same for anyone who chooses Jesus as their saviour. God doesn’t see our failures as failures, they are opportunities to grow. It doesn’t matter how we feel about ourselves or what disability we may live with affecting our lives. The almighty God has the power to heal and create miracles in our lives. He will look after our future according to His wonderful plan for us and will always do what is best for us in His timing.
And yes it is worth looking for a Church that teaches Gods truth, they do exist and genuine fellowship and friendship can be found there. Even if you can’t physically get to the Church building, make contact with God’s people. Today you can find Jesus Church were Christians seek the will and ways of “God” and not the way of “man”. Christians are not perfect that is why we keep seeking God so we can learn to be more like Jesus.
Ray and I know that God has a plan for us, he is in control of our lives and is our destiny. Looking back, I wish I had accepted my disability a long time ago and had chosen to believe God when He said all sin is forgiven when you give your life to Him. I know now I can love myself in a balanced way through Jesus and that being obedient to God and trusting what Jesus reveals to us is in our best interest, once we do our part, the Lord can do His part and carry out permanent and wonderful changes in us that affects everyone who comes in contact with us. We do not need to pretend to be someone we are not because deep within us we don’t like what we see.
Thank you God for always being in my heart and beside me in everything I do, I praise you and give you all the glory for the ”Dianne” I have become by choosing you to control all of my life and not just the parts that I want. I look forward to the continued gentle moulding of me, to be more and more like Jesus because I know the end result will be better than I could ever achieve in my own strength.
Thank You Love Dianne.