Sandra Terris volunteers her time in many ways at Palmerston North Corps: in the foodbank, the soup café, the playgroup and Just Brass. However, she shares that her journey to get there with her family involved a lot of heartache and even homelessness along the way.
I’m married to Shane, and the mother of six children. I wasn’t brought up in a Christian home. I was brought up in Wainuiomata, born and bred. I had my first child at the age of 18 so that was quite young. It didn’t stop my lifestyle of drinking and partying at that stage because I was young and thought I still had it all. When my baby was six months old, my relationship with his father broke down, and that’s when it hit me hard: I’m a mum. I’ve got to really step up now because I could have lost my child.
I met Shane at the age of 20, and really found out what love was. I then had another three children. Shane and I ended up getting married in Whanganui, where we were living at that stage.
An army to feed
Soon after that Shane got offered a job and we returned to Wainuiomata. Things were okay at first, but after, we were not in a good place. My dad died around this time which really hit me hard. He was my rock; he was my everything. My reaction was to turn to drugs just to dull the pain I was feeling at that stage—not that it did, but I hoped it would. It actually made things a whole lot worse.
I ended up becoming pregnant with twins. I thought, how will we cope, how will we manage with another? It was a very traumatic time, and we weren’t even coping with the kids we had. But it went well, and we have our beautiful twins. So then we had an army of mouths to feed which made things harder! Shane was laid off from his job at that time too, so that put the stress at pretty high levels and we wondered where we could turn.
Our newborn twins went into intensive care at Lower Hutt Hospital. I had to express my milk and Shane walked it all the way to Lower Hutt Hospital from Wainuiomata as we had no car and I wasn’t allowed in intensive care due to sickness.
At that stage we started to lose parental control over our older children. We weren’t coping, so how could they? We had no purpose in life. It was like we had drifted off track. We lost our rental home. We ended up camping in my mother’s lounge—six of us at the time—marae style.
Being in a black hole
One morning when our twins were aged three, one of them started having seizures. We rang an ambulance, but they said it was nothing serious. By the next day we found ourselves walking down to the Wainuiomata doctors because she had no feeling in her legs. It was quite scary. It put us back in that black hole again.
She was admitted to Lower Hutt Hospital for weeks. She had Guillain-Barre syndrome which affects one to two out of 100,000 people. She spent four weeks in Lower Hutt Hospital completely paralysed from the feet up. She couldn’t eat. She couldn’t sit up. After that she had to have a blood transfusion which was given to prevent the condition spreading. We had to split our family up and ended up living in Auckland with her at the Wilson Centre for Disabled Children for seven months. When we returned home, we moved into a rental but the wheels on our daughter’s wheelchair kept falling through the floorboards. The house was condemned and we ended up in emergency housing in Palmerston North, which wasn’t our choice of city—but it was God’s choice. I was pretty scared and felt alone. We were at our wits’ end.
It was at this stage we went to Palmerston North Corps because we were so desperate for some food relief. We were greeted by a lovely couple of people down at the foodbank. They were such loving and caring people who touched our hearts and brought us to tears of gratitude. As a rapid result of that meeting, and budgeting and counselling sessions, we became volunteers at the foodbank. We also ended up going to the community meals they were holding. The corps officer, Captain Michelle Lee, would read a devotion, and every day we went, I pondered little things that she would talk about, godly things which I didn’t know at that stage.
A new direction in life
I found myself looking out of this window at home saying, ‘Lord, is this really you?’ Kind of catching myself thinking, no, it’s not you, Lord. And the same thing happened the next day. I found myself looking out that window, tears coming down my eyes, saying, ‘Lord, this must be you. I haven’t felt anything like this before, Lord. The love that everyone’s given us, this must be you.’
Then little things in our lives kept falling into place, like changes in our kids and changes in me and my husband—the way we spoke.
We ended up going to church and that was a big thing for us. Shane and I went on to become church volunteers. If it wasn’t for walking into church that day, we wouldn’t be a family now. When we walked into church, it gave us a new feeling of security. We felt loved; we felt companionship from the wonderful people there who showed us love and care. It’s real love. You can go somewhere and people can be nice, but I’ve actually never been shown real love. Not being judgmental, just real love.
We felt a new direction in our lives, a new purpose. We felt love for each other returning—we hadn’t felt that in a very long time. We felt better equipped to be parents. The messages we heard each Sunday felt like they were especially for us. It makes us feel so blessed and honoured that God loves us and brought us here and that he’s given us the gift of love in all he’s taught us—patience, resilience and empathy for others, because God continually gives to us. I still volunteer to this day at church and love it! I wouldn’t have it any other way.