After the breakup of her marriage Joanne Gibson plunged into a deep set depression.
Her life changed dramatically and consumed by hurt and pain she resorted to self-harm. Switching herself off from the world it was to be the strength of her faith that would pull her through her darkest hour.
Joanne, 45, from Richhill, Co Armagh describes her faith as “simple but strong” but the experience of divorce has not been the only test of her commitment to God.
She explained: “My mum and dad brought me up to go to Sunday School and church from the age of three. From an early age I was taught that there were two roads in life, one to heaven, one to hell.
“I was taught from the Bible that I needed to ask for forgiveness of my sin. I knew I was not ready for heaven and if I were to die I would go to hell. It scared the life out of me.
“At the age of 15 my next door neighbour died when she was only 39.
“The day she died one of her daughters said that she knew her mum was in heaven, her mum had asked Christ into her life some time before she had died. This comforted me and stirred up a longing within me to be saved.
“Later in my life in 1997, when I was 34 weeks pregnant with my second son, I was told my baby had a diaphragmatic hernia, a serious conditions whereby his diaphragm had torn, his intestines were in his chest,meaning his lungs had not been able to grow and his heart had moved to the right-hand side of his chest.
“I was told he had a 50 per cent chance of surviving. His dad and I were devastated.
“Each morning after that I awoke with the feeling that I had been punched, I literally would have crawled down the stairs, made my breakfast, read my Bible and pleaded with God in prayer for my unborn son, I was given the strength then to face the day.
“I knew 100 per cent that God could heal my son, either miraculously before he was born or through granting wisdom to the medical staff.
“However, I am a realist and although I knew God could heal him pre or post birth I was unsure if that would be God’s plan.
“The night before my C-section I stayed awake all night, continuing to plead before the Throne of God.
“I was certain of one thing, life is not about chances, life is about God’s will and as I was wheeled into theatre I kept repeating that over and over again.
“Once born, Cameron’s condition was much worse than the scans had indicated.
“My baby was fighting for his life and I could see the concern on the doctors’ faces.
“The first given ‘50 per cent chance’ of survival, decreased several times, so much so, that we were told the outlook wasn’t good and we should have him christened, although we didn’t as we believe infant baptism to be an outward symbol and would not secure our baby’s place in heaven, if he didn’t survive I believed my infant, with no understanding of his own, would indeed go to heaven, without the necessity of an outward symbol.
“Cameron was operated on successfully when he was 30 hours old. Today he is a very healthy 17-year-old.
“My faith at that time was put to the test, would I despair or would I trust? I held firm to my faith and it was life changing for me.”
And while mother of two Joanne believes God’s plan was to save her son the biggest test of her faith came when she came to the realisation that He would not save her marriage.
“My faith was further put to the test when my marriage broke down in 2004,” she said, adding: “I truly believe God always answers prayer, He either says ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘wait’. When Cameron was ill God said ‘yes’ to my prayers, but to the restoration of my marriage God decided ‘no’. God did not break my marriage up, but He chose not to restore it.”
Now the legal secretary had a plan for her life and through her experiences during her marriage break-up she was given the tools by which to help start up the Christian charity RUTH (Raising Up The Hurting).
She said: “Unless you have been through a marriage breakdown you couldn’t understand the excruciating pain. I begged God to restore my marriage, I cried unto Him night and day, I sat in silence before my God, I shouted at my God.
“I lay on the floor and had no desire to go on. My boys lost not only their dad, but their mum for a time. I didn’t live, I existed. My family had to provide the boys with the love and support they needed.
“Ashamedly, I self-harmed, something I kept secret at the time, but have only spoken about in recent years, hoping that in so doing I might be able to help others who feel such inward pain. Slowly but surely God rebuilt my life. God spoke to me clearly through quiet times in my home, through reading the Bible and prayer, during attendances at my church.
“He also used family and friends to show His love, through both Christian and non-Christian friends.
“I had suffered rejection in my life and to say that hurt is an understatement, but I felt I had something to prove not only to myself but to the world.
“I had such a void in my life as I once had a very happy marriage and my husband was my best friend.
“Instead of waiting and allowing God to fill that void I was impatient and tried to fill the void in many ways that were not honouring God.
“I hated when Christians said ‘God is enough’.
“I often thought they had no idea of my pain and how dare they say such a thing to me. God not only restored my life, he gave me a better life.”
With a strong faith and a confidence in the guidance God gives her Joanne believes she lives a much more fulfilled life today.
She said: “My faith is a 24/7 one. Being a Christian doesn’t mean you are perfect, I’m very far from it, anyone who knows me knows my mistakes, bigger than most people’s. But my faith is not contained within a church.
“I rise early each morning in order that I can meet with God, to read and study the Bible and to pray. Of course some days I am lazy, but I never have a good day if I don’t first spend time with God.
“I aim to share my faith in very simple and practical ways, in church, in my home, with friends and family, and wherever each day brings me, should that be at work, shopping or socialising.
“I don’t believe being a Christian makes you a better person than those who don’t have the same faith as me. As I am a Christian I have the assurance that I will one day be in heaven, so anything this life throws at me, no matter how cruel, it is temporary and I don’t have to deal with it alone.
“I believe I have a purpose in my life as God has had my life planned out from before I was born.”