There was a fire drill straight after the Sunday morning service late in 2011 and as Denise and I wandered like browns cows out of the building toward the rallying point we started to talk about fires. Specifically her fire, the one she was badly burned in. “I didn’t know anything until I woke from a Coma in hospital nearly two weeks later.” Denise was saying as she told me her story. “I suppose that is when you became a Christian,” I remarked. “Oh! No!” She replied almost amusingly, in a self deprecating way “That took me another nine years.” What? I asked, “So you’re a slow learner then?
Denise was born in Duntocher, Scotland; just 9 miles west of Glasgow north of the River Clyde. She had two brothers and a sister and was a very shy little girl. When she was fifteen years old her family moved to the town of Mullingar, (about an hour from Dublin) in Ireland. There were many pubs in the town which were meeting places for young people. Unbeknown to her mother the still shy Denise started drinking alcohol at the age of sixteen and had imbibed in most of them.
It was from Mullingar that the family migrated to Australia. Denise, who had been born in 1964, was now eighteen years old. Her parents were both Catholic and her lovely Mum had seen to it that her children were brought up in the faith, going to Mass every Sunday. Seeing how devastated her Mum was at the death of her brother from alcohol and drugs, Denise swore off alcohol and stayed dry for about seven years. She was six months pregnant with her second daughter when her husband moved out. Slowly she began drinking again, mostly as a coping mechanism, her drinking always took place at home, alone. Her daughters were having a sleepover at their paternal grandmothers the night of the fire.
Apparently Denise was so comatose with the alcohol that she had no idea that her smoking in bed had caused a fire. Thankfully, someone saw the smoke and called the fire brigade who found an empty bottle of Jim Beam on the floor. The priest was called to administer the ‘last rites’ and once again her parents who did not drink alcohol expected to lose yet another child. It was heartbreaking for them.
Waking up from the coma about two weeks later she discovered she had burns to 85% of her body. There followed months in and out of intensive care. On more than one occasion she flat-lined and medical staff had to ‘kick start’ her heart. She knew her survival was a miracle; that God had spared her life in answer to much prayer, but she didn’t acknowledge it. She had stopped drinking but still it would be nine years before she finally surrendered to Him.
One Sunday morning Denise walked into South Eastern Christian Centre which is about two minutes from her home. That day she committed her life to Jesus Christ and has never looked back. Her friends issued an ultimatum, “It’s either us or church.” For seven years this once shy little girl has been a very active part of Church life, making many new friends and serving the community in which she lives. Losing her friends and finding the God who loves her unconditionally was certainly the best thing she ever did. (2 Peter 3:9)
Denise and I photo bombing Yvette’s photo at McClelland Sculpture Park.