Gilana, how long have you been writing and how did you get started?
I started to get ‘nudged’ by God in 2018 and took the prompting seriously the following year after I had left my job at the hospice. My initial thoughts were quite haphazard to put it politely! I knew I wanted to write about the joys and benefits of going on spiritual retreats and started to look back through my personal journals which I had accumulated over the years. These formed the initial foundations for the book. I approached several Christian publishers with my tentative ideas to see if they were interested in accepting my book and one of those suggested I approach Instant Apostle.
Led to the Banquet Hall recounts some very personal and difficult experiences, ranging from childhood abuse to chronic physical pain, yet is full of hope – how have you been able to overcome such challenges?
My friends will smile at me saying that I have a high degree of determination and perseverance (they may call it stubbornness!!). Becoming a Christian at an early adult age was crucial to the start of a very long road of facing the abuse inflicted upon me. I thought I had succeeded in disowning my childhood, but the mental and emotional scars would not go away; they demanded attention. I thankfully had the support of an excellent G.P. who encouraged me to seek professional counselling, which was the essential next stage. My fears that counselling would cause me to question my faith in God were utterly unfounded and in fact it was the opposite. I slowly grew in my relationship with Jesus during those long and difficult years. Recognising and believing that I was not responsible for what happened to me as a child was also fundamental.
There have been many times when I have come to the place within myself where I knew I was not humanly able to work through what felt like insurmountable obstacles. At those places of helplessness, I needed to ask God for His divine help. As I did that, I often had to say with gritted teeth, ‘Help me to be willing to……’ (usually around the subject of forgiving my parents or brother for some awful layer of abuse). I have hugely valued God taking me through these transformative processes at a pace I could cope with and that He isn’t in the business of waving a ‘magic wand’ around!
I shy away from the word overcoming as it can sound like ‘I have got there’. Ongoing acceptance is, I think, more realistic. I will always bear the scars of my childhood; certain emotional buttons will get pressed inside of me as I live life in all its fullness – that’s normal. How I deal with those occasions is key to my growth in who I am in God’s eyes. Holding onto being a precious child of God who loves me no matter what means I can turn to Him at any time and seek His refuge, His reassuring love, and hear His tender words of healing and faithfulness. It is also vital that I have a few friends who I am accountable to, who I can go and be utterly honest with when I am struggling.
I may have written Led to the Banquet Hall using a pseudonym, but it is a definitive testimony to coming out of the shadows of hiding from my childhood years. I am owning and accepting those damaged parts of my being and as a result am a fuller, more connected person, with the help of our amazing Heavenly Abba Father.
You recount nine ‘gifts’ that you felt the Lord gave you over the course of your walk with Him – is there one you could highlight and share a little about?
The gift of belonging is the one I would highlight, because at times it has been the most difficult to accept and hold onto. In my book I share how I had an overwhelming sense of not belonging anywhere and how lonely that place was. I talk about the parable of the leper asking Jesus to make him clean and Jesus reaching out and touching the man (Matthew 8:1-4). I describe how, as I meditated on this passage, I began to believe that the touch of Jesus on my life means I belong to Him. It has been a gradual process and there are times when I have gone backwards, craving a sense of human belonging and realised, as a result, I am ‘out of sorts’. I am much better at returning to where I am utterly welcomed. Knowing I belong to God needs to be at the centre of my being and keeps me secure, balanced and in a healthy place.
You have had many different jobs in a wide range of roles, but have seen the Lord’s hand working throughout – what advice would you have for someone who feels their life has no direction?
It takes time to find the place where we feel God is calling us to and it is so important not to look at others thinking they have it all sussed. I am probably going to upset some folks here, but I have always struggled to use my title Reverend! I am no different to someone cleaning the floors, driving a bus, emptying the dustbins, teaching unruly youngsters or being Prime Minister! I want to shout from the rooftops that in God’s eyes we are all equal so please be yourself in your search for direction. God has a plan for all our lives and holding onto those key verses in Jeremiah can be really helpful as we pray for direction: ‘“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”’(Jeremiah 29:11).
God expects us to use our brains and an element of common sense. We hopefully will have some ideas of what we like or dislike or what we are good at, in thinking about where we want our lives to go. For example, I have an appalling sense of direction so being a Driving Instructor wouldn’t be conducive for me or for learner drivers! Asking for God’s wisdom means we can receive a sense of peace or unease about a way forward.
It can be helpful to talk to people we trust with our mixed-up thoughts as those conversations can bring clarity and asking for prayer is essential. Ultimately, God can work in us wherever we are in life if we invite Him to. The prophet Isaiah states: ‘Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it”’ (Isaiah 30:21).
As someone who has worked in hospice, end of life care for a number of years in varying roles, could you share something of what makes their services so unique?
Hospices are special places in their holistic approach to end of life care for every individual who is needing their assistance. So many people fear even going near a hospice, thinking they must be gloomy places and if they are admitted to one then death is imminent, but that is so not true! Some will of course die in a hospice, but many are admitted for short periods for symptom management control – for example, they may be struggling with a lot of pain. Many more people are choosing to die at home but value receiving personal care from hospice professionals so their dignity and respect is maintained, and their loved ones can keep being wife, husband, partner, son, or daughter etc.
Hospices may also offer other specialised treatment, like Lymphoedema, or other strands of support, either for the patient or close members of their family, like Complementary therapy. They also offer bereavement support for people who are facing end of life, and for their loved ones having to face the loss of their loved one, before and after death.
What is the main thing you hope readers will take away from Led to the Banquet Hall?
No matter what our backgrounds are, no matter what mess we or others may have made of our lives, God is far bigger. He is in the business of transformation and waits for us to take one tiny step towards Him. Our amazing God delights to spend time with each one of His children and longs to draw us ever closer to Him.
How did you find the publication process?
I had no experience at writing. I felt my first attempts were embarrassing and came close to throwing in the towel, but Nicki encouraged me to keep going. I valued those early conversations with her when she would gently bat back my questions with the right balance of encouraging words, but never take over. I gained confidence with each stage of the procedure and hugely valued the editing process. I learnt so much from all the team at Instant Apostle and am exceedingly grateful for their patience and gracious support.
Did you get input from friends and others for Led to the Banquet Hall or was the book something you felt best to work on alone?
I worked on the book alone – I don’t think my friends would have been too happy being woken up at three or four in the morning when I would often be awake and happily writing for a few hours. I talked frequently to my best friend, Sue, and sent early drafts to her and other good friends at certain stages.
What one piece of advice would you want to give to a new writer?
Accept the process takes time and that the book may develop into something entirely different than what you first envisaged. And enjoy it!
What are you working on now?
I have a sense God is leading me into a new adventure which will be linked to the book, so I am in that place of praying, waiting, and trying some doors. I have written to retreat centres to see if they are interested in buying my book, with the hope an opportunity may arise there.
Finally, what is your favourite book and why?
Apart from the Bible, Mister God, this is Anna. A friend brought me this book over forty years ago and I still read it in one sitting, laughing, and crying at the relationship between eight-year-old Anna and Fynn. The book started a personal discovery of the child side of me and was instrumental in my early searching for God.