When my husband, Nic, and I joined CityHill Hillcrest in March 2012, we were newly married and had recently moved down from Jo’burg in search of a more chilled pace of life. At the first evening service we attended we were amazed at the size of the church; and wondered how we would find the close-knit community we were searching for. But God had our back, as always, and that first evening we met some of the people who are now our closest friends. Those friendly people invited us to their Life Group and seven years later they haven’t managed to get rid of us yet! Back then, we didn’t know the journey that awaited us, but God did. He built this incredible community around us in the good times, so that when the dark times came, we were never alone. That became our mantra, never alone.
In October 2016, at our 20 week ultrasound, we discovered our baby girl, our second child after a perfectly healthy boy, had some abnormalities in her urinary system. Her tiny kidneys appeared swollen and not functioning as they should. What followed were the most dark and difficult years of our lives so far. On 6th February 2017, our warrior princess was born at 37 weeks, defying all the doctors and weighing in at a spectacular 3.6kgs. We had been warned she would be premature, she would fail to thrive, I would have issues with the pregnancy and post-birth, and none of that happened. So began the miracles that have followed our Sophie ever since. Our Life Group, and so many members of the church, as well as other churches in our extended family, prayed for our warrior from the moment we found out. I felt physically strengthened by all the prayer, and prayed many times over the tiny fighter in my womb. We received many words for her life. A warrior, wielding a sword over demons. A leader, bringing many to Christ. And Nic and I held on to these words for dear life, while she went through her first surgery at 5 days old, recovery in NICU, a week in hospital with sepsis at 9 weeks old, many invasive tests and further surgeries. Because those words meant she had to live, she had to be around to fight the spiritual battles that God had created her for.
The verse I had for her life was from Proverbs 31: “She is more precious than rubies”. This is the well-known part of the verse, however what follows: “nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honour.” was most important to us for Sophie. Long life was in her hand. She would triumph over her medical battles and live a long and healthy life. In February this year, a week after her second birthday, our warrior princess faced her biggest challenge to date. A complex, 6-hour surgery in Cape Town with the best paediatric urologist in South Africa. I was terrified. I couldn’t pray, I couldn’t read my Bible, I was paralysed by fear. At the first Life Group meeting of this year, we were asked to share our hopes for 2019. Mine was a simple prayer of anguish: ‘Lord, please don’t take my little girl from me. Let her survive the surgery, and go on to live that “Long life in her right hand”.’ And that’s when our Life Group, our precious friends, stood in the gap. They fought the spiritual battles we could not. Jesus is alive in us, and sometimes we need Him to act through our friends, the people in our lives that we can see and hug and physically lean on.
I remember sitting at my desk at work, and a friend, the leader of our Life Group, arriving out of the blue. He said, “I have something to tell you, you and Nic will not be alone in Cape Town”. (There was that “Never alone” again!). “We are coming to be with you”. He and another close friend, who was fighting her own battles at the time, dropped everything to fly to Cape Town for the day to stand in the gap. They brought worship songs, and while we sat for six hours waiting for our Sophie to come out of surgery, we played them in the paeds ward. Sophie spent two days in ICU, and another week in hospital recovering from her surgery. Even in this time, when she was full of morphine, she had that warrior spirit. She recognised that the nurses wore navy and the cleaning staff brown, and so any nurse was told to go away if they set foot in her ward. The ladies in brown uniforms could stay!
Less than a month after being discharged from hospital in Cape Town, our warrior princess started school. She was a normal little girl. She was absolutely determined to go, anything her 4 year old brother could do, so could she.
Being part of a Life Group has changed our lives. I wonder how Nic and I would have survived countless hospital stays. Who would have looked after Sophie when I needed to work in the hospital coffee shop? What junk would we have eaten without six weeks of home cooked meals after our babies were born?
Who would have looked after our son when we had to rush to Casualty on a Sunday? We have walked with our Life Group for years, through sunshine and darkness, and they are one of the greatest blessings in our lives. For how can we become all that God has created us to be, if not surrounded by people on earth who make us better, as “iron sharpens iron”?