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'I've been bedridden for 14 years but I believe God will heal me': Antrim woman Joanne Peden wants to inspire others with faith


Staying positive: Joanne Peden has written a devotional book

Staying positive: Joanne Peden has written a devotional book

Staying positive: Joanne Peden has written a devotional book

A young Co Antrim woman who has been bedridden for 14 years due to severe ME has written a book aimed to bring hope to others who are struggling.

The achievement of Joanne Peden (38), from Ballymoney, is all the more remarkable as she has suffered deteriorating health this year, culminating in a nervous breakdown. Despite her circumstances, however, her faith in God has been unwavering and it is this, she reveals, which has been a constant encouragement.

Her new work, aptly entitled Fountains in the Valley, is a devotional book designed to shine a light in the darkness which many are living in today.

"My inspiration for the book was a real awareness that so many people are struggling - not just with physical illnesses but with mental illnesses and nightmare circumstances," Joanne says.

"I got the name Fountains in the Valley from the scripture verse in Isaiah chapter 41 and verse 18 - 'I will open rivers in the high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water and the dry land springs of water'.

"My desire for the book is for people to find hope in Jesus. There are many people out there who are thirsty and weary who could really do with a little glass full of hope every day through whatever devotion has been written for that day.

"I want them to find the strength and the courage to battle on, to realise that they are loved and that in a world of darkness there is light, there is still refreshing to be found."

Joanne knows more than most what desperate suffering is like. She was in her early 20s and had just graduated with a theology degree from Queen's University shortly before illness struck. She had dreamed of working with children as a missionary with Child Evangelism Fellowship.

But she has now been unable to leave her bed for some 14 years due to myalgic encephalomyelitis - and this year in particular has seen her symptoms get even worse.

"I'm bedridden 24/7, need full-time care and I can't sit up," she explains. "I'm completely dependent on everything being done for me which is so hard as before I took ill I was highly independent - I was involved in everything at church and worked full-time.

"It's been a lonely year. Due to how vulnerable I am I haven't been able to have visitors and I have really struggled with that, especially not seeing my best friend and her children. Video calling doesn't do the same job as big cuddles.

"Despite being cared for full-time by my mother and father I have still found this year extremely isolating and that did impact my mental health. Everything brought into the house had to be sprayed with disinfectant and every piece of post had to be opened by my mother wearing gloves as I'm so prone to infection.

"ME is a disease of the brain and the severe form which I have is very much like MS. I have no mobility whatsoever and no immune system. Yes, I've missed the presence of visitors the most this year. I know other people have had it harder living alone but I've really struggled with the isolation that Covid brought due to how high risk I am."

But despite the difficulties she faces, including experiencing a breakdown three months ago, Joanne continues to look forward in faith.

"This year, I could no longer cope with being bedridden anymore and suffered a major nervous breakdown in September," she says. "I was kept at home through it all but it was a very bleak time until I emerged again with fresh strength to keep going. After so many years something just snapped and I think Covid had a lot to do with it with no physical contact with friends.

"Then I was in hospital in November having my appendix removed. Now, I'm back to the usual level of suffering with pain, fainting in bed, nausea, exhaustion that never goes away.

"But through it all I still found hope in God and great encouragement from scripture and in listening to online services."

Since becoming ill, Joanne has lived to encourage others. Her latest book is her third - previous titles are A Myrtle Tree for Life's Briars and Jewels of Jabbok.

"I come from a place of deep understanding and empathy for the pain that others face," she says. "I already run an encouragement page on Facebook called Beulah Hope Ministries and I daily get messages from people all over the world who are in dark places. And I write a lot of letters and cards of encouragement to those in need.

"God gives me the encouragement to get through. Sometimes I feel like He is carrying me and whispering hope into my spirit.

"I break my day up into tiny chunks and change the activity I can do in bed to keep my mind focused, and I get through the day with God helping me. I love reading, I watch films on my laptop and I like to do a little cross-stitching every day - when I complete a piece I have it framed and I give it to a friend or someone in need of encouragement.

"God is my hope. He has been through these 14 years of intense suffering and I still believe that in His time He will miraculously heal me and I will live again. Until then I'll do my best to help others as best I can and not become self-focused."

Fountains in the Valley, published by Ambassador International, can be purchased via Amazon.co.uk, £9.99

Belfast Telegraph