The Early Years

It’s odd how memories, just brief moments in time, when added together are what make a whole life. Our early years help shape us and mould us into who we become, all the moments brought together forming us.
I feel like I should be about to describe a fascinating backstory, something similar to when superhero franchises do origin films of one of their characters.
However, I fear my story may be a little less dramatic but hopefully still with plenty of colour. I have chosen to share these particular memories with you because through these glimpses into my childhood I am hoping to demonstrate some values of importance to me. These are just a few memories plucked from the many that were integral in my journey to becoming who God has formed me into.

I was born on 12th December 1991 in a small Yorkshire town called Keighley (I’ll leave you guessing how to pronounce that). Third child to Janet and Tim Spencer, sister to Zac and Ruella. My younger brother, Zeph, joining us through the gift of adoption many years later. My three living grandparents all within walking distance, my Dad’s father living with us and my Mum’s parents only a few streets away. Life was good, idyllic in many ways; growing up with the Dales as my garden in a loving, supportive and warm family.

I won’t bore you with the day-to-day details of my childhood, just to say it really was great. Of course, there were challenges, sadness, losses and plenty of life lessons learned the hard way, but all in all it was brilliant. I was safe, loved, had all that I needed and plenty more.

The memory I’m going to share first features one of the best men I have ever known, loved and sadly lost, my Grandpa. My Mum’s parents, as I mentioned before, lived very close to us and we, my siblings and I, spent a lot of time with them especially when both my parents worked. We not only got to do all the fun stuff with them, sleep overs, day trips, holidays and more, we also got to experience some of daily life with them. We were over there for tea (evening meal) several times a week, we did our homework at their house, watched TV with them. They were the best Grandparents around and my Grandpa and I were one another’s favourites. (I know we shouldn’t have favourites, but we did and everyone knew it). There are hundreds of memories of him I could share but this one stands out.
I remember we were at a small park/play area and the grass was covered in those little piles of newly cut grass, that distinct fresh, earthy smell filled the air. I guess I had been running around or on the play area and was coming back to join my Grandpa and something mischievous in me decided to grab a handful of grass and shove it down the back of his T-shirt. He yelled, grabbing me playfully, tickling me as he promised to never forget. Making it clear that ‘pay back’ would one day come when I least expected it. By the end of it we were covered in grass and I am sure Grandma was not impressed. From that day on he would frequently remind me with just a knowing look and the words, ‘I haven’t forgotten’ and a wag of his finger. This went on for years, and he never actually did return the favour. Even my sister remembers the frequent reminders he would give me and his playful look.
The love my Grandpa showed and his nurturing, gentle and playful nature helped teach me a lot about God’s love as Our Heavenly Father. The life we shared together before he passed made up some of the best years of my life. He, along with my Grandma and parents, provided a safe, secure and stable environment in which to grow up. I have no doubt that their example helped open my heart and prepare it for loving at risk children and youth in Guatemala.

We had many lovely family holidays when I was growing up and some of the memories have merged together due to them happening in the same place. We would often go to France for two weeks in the summer and one of our favourite places was a campsite in Le Brevedant close to Pont L’Eveque.  Whilst there we would always visit Honfleur, a beautiful little coastal town with its tastefully coloured houses around the harbour. Painters sat, easel in front of them and paintbrush in hand, ready to create art. On one corner of the harbour stood a lovely, ornate carousel. Those elegant and delicately decorated horses were a source of pure delight in my childhood. Just bringing them back to memory now I feel joyful and blessed. I can remember the Euro campsites and caravans, the fun kids’ clubs, the day trips, the traditional mushroom risotto that for some reason we only ate when we were camping. I remember the evening I went ‘missing’ when Zac and Ruella went back to the caravan without me and I was apparently nowhere to be found. Turns out I was curled up sleeping in a chair, out of sight, in the TV room. I also remember the day Zac decided to help me learn how to swim in the deep end of the pool without armbands. He thought the best way was to simply pick me up and throw me in. It was not. Thankfully he quickly rescued me from the ‘danger’ he had put me in, big brothers! I remember the day Ruella skidded off her bike when we were racing around the campsite, leaving her knee covered in little cuts and gravel. She has always been prone to accidents. There was this one little creperie that we would always visit, with the best and most delicious crepes around. I remember the year we visited Paris and got to experience all of its beauty, visiting famous tourist sites and enjoying firework displays and the ballet. Of course, there were also the trips to Disney Land, where childhood dreams are made and come true.

My parents went above and beyond to provide a safe, loving and blessed life for us. What they had they always used to bless others, always showing hospitality and eventually even adding to our family when they followed God’s leading and adopted a tiny baby boy with Down Syndrome, brought him home and called him son.
They have set an incredible example of obedience and the fruit that can bear. Their constant support is also a big part of empowering me to follow my dreams and God’s call to live and serve in overseas mission and ministry. I know it wasn’t easy for them to release me into God’s care and watch me leave the security of their ‘nest’ and the UK. My mum has often reminded me that they raised us to be independent and my dad always told me to do something I love and not just something to pay the bills. Independent and not motivated by money, a single missionary living in Guatemala, sounds like I managed to follow some of their advice.

When I was around 9 years old my mum started taking us to a local church that quickly became home to us as a family, my mum recommitted her life to the Lord and a couple of years later, after a lot of prayer and an Alpha course my dad became a Christian too. After challenges in secondary school Ruella and Zac started attending Bradford Christian School (BCS), which I started attending from the start of year 7. I still remember the day I committed my life to Jesus, we had been going to church for a few years and I knew who God was but it wasn’t until I saw and heard from older, year 11, students at school as they shared their testimonies of Jesus’ impact in their lives that I realised I wanted and needed to know Jesus in a bigger way. So, I went home and asked my mum to pray with me to invite Jesus into my heart and life, and I have never looked back. It was through my nurturing church family, youth groups and God focused schooling that I continued to grow in faith and learn how to do life with God. When I was 16 years old I was given the opportunity to go and serve in India. A trip that changed the course of my life and was key in how I ended up where I am today. To find out more please read ‘From India to Guatemala.’

There are some experiences that shape us more than others and there will be those that will even change our lives completely. In my experience, when we surrender to God and act in obedience the results are extravagant and mind blowing. Reflecting on these memories helps me to see how God has always been working through the course of my life and gives me reassurance for how He is working, and will always work in my life through to eternity. Amen.