My journey from the heart by Juliet Coley

I gave my life to Christ at the age of 15. It was Easter Sunday, at our annual Holy Convention service. I remember wanting to jump up and share my joy with the world during Testimony Service but, being raised in the church and still in my teens, there wasn’t very much to tell. I would repeatedly thank God for waking me up that morning, and secretly envy the brethren who had been delivered from mental illness, paralysis or sins that were too dark to describe. Little did I realise back then, that what I took for granted – being able to wake up in the morning – was a major achievement!

The Lord blessed me with the opportunity to co-host Britain’s first Black gospel programme, People Get Ready; work my way up as Head of Promotions for a national newspaper; secure an exclusive traineeship at ITN as a broadcast journalist; become a Senior Deputy Head Teacher in an Ofsted Outstanding secondary school, and a proud mother of three wonderful children.

Thirty-five years on from that transformational Resurrection Sunday, and having survived pneumonia, Crohn’s disease, a heart attack and open heart surgery, I give God thanks daily for sparing my life and for allowing me to share my testimony of His blessings and mercies.

Juliet

When I was booked into the London Chest Hospital for quadruple heart bypass surgery, I was teaching in school up until a week before, and prepared for the op by buying a puppy (my kids had always wanted a dog); washing my curtains; painting my skirting boards, and editing my Will. A good mate constantly teased me as being ‘the glass half full’ girl but, if I’m honest, I couldn’t allow myself to look at things any other way in case I crumbled. In the lead-up, I smiled throughout. The first time my face was awash with tears was when the anaesthetist produced the needle, two minutes before I was being wheeled into surgery.

When I awoke in recovery, I was unable to move. Sitting up and lying down was a trial, but I was forced to walk to open my lungs, and the pain was excruciating. Looking in the mirror following the operation, my body was unrecognisable: I had stitches down my chest and leg that resembled a patchwork quilt. I had read a quote that said: ‘Scars are tattoos with better stories’. It was clear by my wounds that I would have a great story to tell!

I had decided to document my heart journey on my iPhone and, five months on from surgery, I garnered the courage to edit the clips and post the finished product on social media. I was shocked and overwhelmed at the positive responses I received – more importantly, the private inboxes from friends and even strangers who had watched the video – and how it had encouraged them on their own personal sickness journeys. I never realised how many of my friends had suffered or were suffering with a chronic illness. You just take for granted that a smile means they’re ‘OK’, and not that they are suffering but OK because of God’s mercies.

My family are Pentecostal Christians and we go to the New Testament Assembly church on Sundays. If we are worried we say a prayer to God. We also pray if we want to thank God for something. My Mummy and Nanny taught me to say The Lord’s Prayer off by heart and the 23rd Psalm, which starts with the verse: The Lord Is My Shepherd, I shall not want.

I received a Facebook message early one morning from a friend I had not seen in 30 years. She was now living in the USA, and had been diagnosed with cancer. She was scrolling through YouTube and came across my video, recognised me, watched it and cried. The fact that I was now ‘through the other side’ of my illness had encouraged and inspired her, and had given her that extra strength she needed at that time. God is truly amazing!

Juliet-Coley

One of the most difficult parts of this experience was feeling the pain of my six-year-old son. I was aware all my family were hurting, but my baby did not want to come home and live with me, because he was convinced I was going to die. It took a lot of love and patience to try and get him to understand what I had gone through, and what he was still going through.

I even referred him to a Play Therapy counsellor as an outlet for expression. We spent a lot of family time writing down his thoughts and feelings, and these are now documented in his mini autobiography that he wrote, called ‘Life Without My Mummy?’ The book is on sale from the end of August – proving that triumph can come from adversity.

The Lord has always shown me grace and favour, and I know that God has placed me on this journey to help and encourage others. It has been humbling, yet frustrating and painful, but this experience has reaffirmed my faith. Jeremiah 29:11 says: ‘“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”’

Bring it on!

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