'Never think of yourself, more than a product of her prayer'.
They were the words I heard from God in the autumn of 1993. Obviously the picture is only representative of the story that will unfold.
By 1993 my life was a mess, I moved to the nearest city, started a printing company and got involved in the 'jet set' of the local area. Drinking parties, VIP lounges to drink even more, and a new group of friends who were adamant they introduce me to a new world of drugs.
Needless to say (a story for another time), things over those three years didn't turn out too well. I moved from a stable, fairly uncomplicated family life where each Sunday I attended Clyne Free Mission. The Church was a close knit community of around 50 people, everyone seemed to know everything about everyone else. That was OK though as we all looked out for each other.
I was approaching 21 and wanted to go investigate the big wide world of South Wales. So off I went. Then a slow but steady implosion of life ensued.
A close friend came over and shared everything that went on, he promptly invited me back to Church the following Saturday to what was the annual anniversary service. I knew it well, though felt embarrassed to come.
The days flew by and my little old white mini metro (firmly held together by rust), took me the 15 or so miles up the Neath Valley to the service. When I got there I bottled it, drove past, did a lap around the valley and parked outside. The service had started at that point, so I figured I would slip in the back - unnoticed.
The Church only sat 80 and this annual service was popular. I opened the door, and to my horror, the only available seat was on the front row. It was like the march of death I walked down to the front and sat next to Irene.
She smiled almost knowing I was coming. She leaned over kissed me on the cheek, held my hand tightly and then whispered 'Every Day you've been away - I've prayed for you'. I was floored at that point as this un-assuming old lady (84 at the time) had invested so much in me.
Then I felt God whisper into my heart 'Never think of yourself more than a product of her prayer'. I've reflected on that many times and have come to realise she was in closer relationship with God than many of the self professed celebrity Christians out there today.
That moment was pivotal in my walk with God, someone cared, someone invested, someone loved enough to do that.
When I've had opportunity that swelled my head or enlarged my ego, I often go back in my quite times to honour Irene and keep my feet on the ground.
Over the years that influence from her prayers has changed to a challenge for me. Who am I investing prayer into, could I sustain that every day. Would I believe in that prayer so much that I would just expect the change to come in the person I was praying for.
Something we should all think about.