The youth group of my childhood church in Winchester frequently went on walks. I loved walking, but nobody walks for pleasure in Nigeria. I forgot about walking until I returned to the UK. One day I was on a train from London to Southampton to visit my mother. From the train window I could see part of a walk I had done as a teenager from Winchester to Southampton along the River Itchen. Suddenly an intense desire to go for a long walk overwhelmed me. At Spring Harvest I saw someone wearing a Tee shirt that advertised the Christian Walking Club. However, when I contacted them it was clear that you needed a car to get to the start of the walks. When I moved to Basingstoke and was introduced to people I would say “my name’s Julie and I love walking”, but somehow I never met anybody else who was interested.
Then I was offered a job. During the interview the MD said there was a company car. When I said I did not drive she replied “You’ll have to, we need to be able to send you anywhere in the UK, you have one month to learn to drive”. “I don’t think so, not at my age” I replied, and she gave me 3 months in which to get my driving licence.
The Hardest Thing I have ever done
My eldest son had just passed his driving test, so I decided to use the same instructor. At the beginning of the first lesson I told the instructor that my theory test was booked for that weekend. “What do you think you are doing?” he asked. “Theory is not my problem” I replied, “I’ve been a passenger for a very long time”. In fact my father had been a full-time ambulance driver and a part-time fire engine driver. He had intended to teach me to drive on a disused air field in the New Forest the summer before my 17th birthday and had already been teaching me the theory side. His death in the middle of my O level exams was the reason I had never learnt to drive.
I passed the theory exam with 100%, but failed the practical twice. I would hobble after a two hour lesson because of using muscles in my knees that were not normally used. One lesson involved driving from Basingstoke to Canterbury for my son to start University. It was cheaper than any other method of getting his luggage there. Finally, on the very cusp of the 3 month deadline, I passed my driving test, the hardest thing I have ever done.
The next day I arrived at work to be told that my company car was in the car park. My first outside course was less than 30 miles away, but all my muscles tensed as I drove. I changed the words of a song “Rejoice, rejoice, Christ is with you” to “Relax, relax, Christ is with you” and sang it all the way. That Saturday I went on my first Christian Rambling Club walk.
After the walk we drove to a Tea shop. The awkwardly shaped car park was packed by the time we were ready to leave and the thought of reversing out of it was terrifying. Another member of the group, Bill, guided me.
Over the next 2 years, the Rambling Club became my social life. As Church Secretary I was always ‘on duty’ at church, even at social events, so walking took precedence over everything else. I even got the church to change the proposed date of Harvest because it clashed with a Rambling Club barn dance. The one worry in my life was how I would cope when my sons left home. I had married at 20 so had never lived on my own. I desperately wanted to get married again. I had my eye on various gentlemen but none showed any interest in me. I became increasingly unhappy.
‘Non-Negotiables’ and ‘Desirables’
My job meant I would sometimes be away from home for up to a week. Alone in a hotel one evening I took out a piece of paper and wrote down a description of my ideal husband. There were 2 columns, ‘Non-Negotiables’ and ‘Desirables’. In the first column were such things as “must be a Christian, free to marry, financially stable, must listen to Radio 4 and enjoy walking, must not watch TV soaps or quizzes, must be at least my intellectual equal”. Under ‘Desirables’ went “no children younger than my own, a beard, preferably a PhD, not in Theology or Computing” (I wanted to have other things to talk about). The reason I was so specific was that I wanted to convince myself that I would never meet such a man and I would give up hoping.
Amazingly I had known Bill for 2 years at this time but had not taken much notice of him. He is so quiet that I did not know he had a PhD in physics. However, I had been impressed when Bill remembered something that I had told him about one of my sons several weeks earlier and asked about him using his Nigerian name. One day Bill was leading a walk. The weather was extremely hot and I was feeling unwell. During a stop someone gave me some paracetamol. Bill came and sat on the grass beside me and asked if he could send someone back to get a car and take me home. I said no, I was sure I could complete the walk, and I began to get up. Bill jumped to his feet and took my hand to help me up. It was as if a bolt of lightning flashed through my body: I fell in love with him instantly. My first thought was “I don’t want to feel this way about you” and I hurried away as soon as possible to try and think.
Some weeks later several of us arranged to go to the Romsey show. Bill and I were the only ones who turned up so we spent the whole day together. To paraphrase Jane Austen: he improves with acquaintance. We’ve been married 15 years now and I’m still madly in love with him, he’s gorgeous. When I returned from Nigeria and wrote down what I wanted more than anything else I only put down a house. God kindly threw in a car and a husband as well. Nigerians call this ‘jara’.
Jesus said we should seek God’s kingdom and righteousness first. Then all the things God knows we need will be ours as well. Jara.