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Faith in Practice

Taking nothing for granted

The Freecycle Network is made up of 4,343 groups with 4,994,000 members across the globe. A pioneer of the movement in the UK, HAZEL ROETHENBAUGH is now the media officer responsible for raising its profile in the UK.

I have had two or three goes at being a Christian and still I take my faith forward one day at a time. I believe that sometimes we are challenged with something that will develop us in ways we never would have done without. When I was in business I was single-minded and so focused that I had no time for anything else. I was a hard woman who did not have the time to take notice of other people's feelings. Now I have all the time in the world. I had Christian beliefs and values drummed into me from a young age, from my family and from living in a Christian-based children's home. However when I grew into a teenager I lost interest.

As a young adult I had several miscarriages and felt very low. A good friend of mine, who was a practicing Catholic, wanted to help me the way she thought best and dragged me along to church. I was not enthusiastic about the idea and imagined I would stand at the back and endure the good will on her part, but at this church I met an inspiring priest and supportive people, who helped me to rekindle the faith I had known when young.

At that time, going to church and joining a community that showed such kindness to me suited a purpose, as did my becoming a Catholic. In retrospect, it wasn't the right way to go about faith. Over time, once my children were born and work became more involving, I was too busy to continue. I had no time for Christianity and my commitments lay elsewhere.

Nine years ago I had a stroke. Tests showed I had multiple sclerosis. I was often confined to a wheelchair and had to leave work. It brought home to me how busy I had been when suddenly I could do nothing.

One morning, feeling miserable, my dog pestered me to go out for a walk. I was on my scooter and keeping my head down. A woman stopped me and said: 'You've got MS.' I sighed, too tired to have the conversation that I felt was impending. She continued: 'I recognize the look on your face; I have MS too. Can I walk with you?'

In my head I was screaming, 'No, leave me alone! Don't walk with me'. But I was a captive audience without the energy to tell her no. She walked with me and she told me about Jesus. I wasn't interested that day but I think the conversation left a thought in my head.

A while later I sought out my local Roman Catholic church. The building also housed services for Methodist and Church of England congregations. I, of course, found myself at the wrong service - a Catholic among Anglicans! I hadn't allowed myself much time, not expecting too much I suppose. However, the vicar there, one of the most charismatic people I have had the fortune to meet, took me on. He showed me that life could be better than I thought.

It was a slow process: I wanted to believe, but found it so hard to put my trust in the Lord. Finally Jesus let me know it was time to take Him seriously. I had an experience of Him that was so powerful and so affirming that the only way for my faith was forward. I took an Alpha course and I stayed at the church, but this time my faith grew not because of one vicar or the kindness of strangers, but because I took the step of asking Jesus into my life. I found immense support from the people around me. Most surprising of which was my son. He had never shown an interest in church before but became a Christian while working for a Christian charity, and in the last few years he has been a real inspiration to me.

In life there are people you meet along the way that help you in your faith. You might think these people would be strangers to you, but it can also be someone close, as close as a son.

To me, being a Christian means not taking anything for granted. The sacrifice that has been made for us is present every day and cannot be forgotten. It is discipline that builds and grows faith. You have to work at making time every day for prayer and commitment. Every day I think about the day ahead and what I need help with. I find I have to physically remind myself to pray for those less fortunate than myself.

I have bad days; I get terrible pains and I do feel sorry for myself, but since I became ill my life has become richer and fuller. I look around and I see a lot that isn't being done. As a disabled person, my abilities are limited, but this does not mean I can't do anything. The skills I learned at work, used then for the benefit of the corporation, I now use to help where I can: building websites, working for the church and of course working with Freecycle UK. If you see ways to help, ways to make a difference and do nothing, you are abusing the gifts given to you. I believe that it is possible to touch someone's life with one conversation, one word even. Before I would not have had the time to find my way to make a difference, now I have all the time in the world.

Hazel Roethenbaugh was talking to Hannah Kowszun

Information about the Freecycle Network, and links to groups in your area, can be found at http://uk.freecycle.org.