Personal Stories

Beauty from Ashes

September 27, 2023

Beauty from Ashes

The transformative work of Christ in the life of Gail Kirwan

By Lori Klaus,

Contributing Writer

If there were only a few words to describe the life story of Gail Kirwan, forgiveness, redemption and freedom would be among the most fitting. They are themes woven throughout the pages of years gone by, and they are more beautifully evident than ever in her life today.

Gail, who works as a coach and mentor in the Young Adults ministry at CSC, grew up knowing the reality of life challenges early on. Her father left the family home when she was just five years old, leaving her mother to raise four girls on her own. This created a chasm between Gail and her dad and produced feelings of great anger and blame toward him. Fortunately, despite this separation from her father, Gail grew up knowing love and acceptance from a variety of special people.

“My mother was the greatest, most caring and loving mom a girl could ever have,” says Gail. “She did what she had to do to make ends meet and to make sure we had what we needed, even if it meant she did without. Our door was always open to everyone – friends, neighbours and once in a while, even people we didn’t know who staggered in from nearby pubs. People used to say, ‘Your Mom’s cooking for an army!’ I don’t know how she did it with limited income, but we seemed to be able to literally feed an army. We had taken in a cousin who lived in the basement and she was dating an army guy, so from Friday night to Sunday night, our house was packed with family friends and the army. They would come with arms full of groceries and join mom in the kitchen to cook up a storm. We were well taken care of and truly loved.”

Gail also found tremendous connection and love in her relationship with some neighbours who lived just up the street. Ruth and Terry Wilkie would pick up Gail’s family for church each weekend, literally piling their own family of six plus Gail’s family of five into one vehicle! As youngsters, the kids could sit on one another’s laps, but the time eventually came when the Wilkie’s needed to buy a second car to fit everyone!

Gail describes Ruth Wilkie as “her second mom” and says that Terry had been her earthly father figure. “He did life with me.” He knew Gail as a young child, influenced her through adolescence and walked with her into adulthood – when some of the darkest storms hit her life. He is now passed to his eternal home “I miss that special place he held in my life.”

When she was 19, Gail met Al, and the two later married. “He was not a Christian and this relationship took me away from my friends, church and God.” Gail and her husband were blessed with two boys (Kyle, and Riley) but the marriage ended in divorce after 11 years. It was a very trying time for Gail, and she found herself searching for comfort and direction. “I was digging deep within myself spiritually,” she says, and describes feeling God’s pull on her life even though she wasn’t attending church regularly. Then, on November 23, 2000, something took place which Gail describes as being a huge turning point. It was a tragedy that could easily have been the catalyst for her own self-destruction, but by God’s mercy and blessings it became transformative.

Driving home from work that evening at dusk, Gail accidentally hit something with her vehicle. “I thought it was one of those cement barricades in the middle of the road. I got out to assess the damage to my van and I didn’t even realize that my windshield was caved in and that there was glass all over the van.” Then, the unthinkable happened – she saw a man lying in the middle of the road.

“As I bent down to help him, I heard someone shouting ‘Stop! Don’t touch him! I’m an off-duty paramedic!’ The next person on the scene was an off-duty nurse, then a lady came and took me away from the scene – she was a psychiatrist. As I turned back, I could see they were performing CPR. I broke down and the lady stayed with me until my sister came. After speaking to a crisis worker, my sister was allowed to take me home. About an hour later, the police officer handling the case came to the house. He bent down in front of me, put his hand on my knee, and informed me that the man I hit had died in hospital.”

Gail says that so many things were running through her head at the same time. “Was I going to jail? Were my kids going to be taken from me? I wanted to run ... run and never stop.” Very early the next morning, Gail woke her sister up with an intense need to go see the sun rise. “If the sun was rising, this was not a dream ... it made things real.” The two sisters went to Nose Hill Park and sat together to watch the sun begin to appear on the horizon. It was as Gail sat in stunned silence during those early morning hours that she felt Jesus appear to her and speak to her heart. “He told me He has always been there for me and will always be there for me – that He loves me and has great plans for my life. He does not blame me and neither will the family of the man I hit.”

Gail felt the quiet confidence that her prayers had been heard and that despite the chaos spinning her world out of control, God was with her and He wasn’t leaving.

Other powers fought for influence, however, during that vulnerable time right after the accident. One of her sisters was involved in New Age activities and connected Gail with a spiritual advisor who believed in a higher power which changed with each person’s belief. “I was going to angel seminars, energy balances (chakra healings) and meditations that were not centered on God.” Thankfully, Gail had begun attending Centre Street Church during this same time, and as she heard the truth of God’s Word preached from the pulpit each week, she recognized light from darkness and turned from all the practices, which weren’t focused on Christ. “God won! I won!”

Not only did God win the battle for Gail’s soul, but He also had deep healing in store for her in the years to come. It all came about through connections that only the Lord could orchestrate.

The evening after Gail’s accident, her friend Sharon was supposed to meet a girlfriend named Sandy whom she hadn’t seen in over a year. Sharon cancelled the meeting with Sandy in order to spend time with Gail, explaining to Sandy what had taken place. On Sunday, when Sandy went to her church, the pastor asked for prayer for some members of the congregation in distress – the family of a man named Larry who had died in a car accident over the weekend. He also asked for prayer for the driver involved. After the service, Sandy went up to the Pastor and explained that she knew who the driver was. This Pastor very much wanted to speak with Gail, and eventually the two were able to connect.

A year later, Gail felt led to go to Larry’s gravesite. “I contacted this Pastor again to find out where Larry was buried. We talked for some time and I told him how God had come into my life, where I was at spiritually, that I was attending church, volunteering and involved in ministry and about my dream to open a retreat centre to help others in conflict, hurt and pain.” He was thrilled and contacted Larry’s family, who gave their blessing for Gail to visit the gravesite.

“What was so amazing,” says Gail, “is that the family wanted me to know that once the police showed them the results of their investigation and they knew the accident was just simply an accident, they had begun praying for me and had asked their whole congregation to pray for me. I could not believe what I was hearing, this family had been praying for ME! Why would they forgive me? Who was this family?”

Gradually, those answers became clearer. “The more I dove into the Word of God and heard the many messages preached, I understood more and more how this family could forgive me. Jesus was in them and they had the same love Jesus had.”

For seven years, Gail prayed that she would one day meet Larry’s family because their forgiveness and love is what helped her heal. Then, during the Christmas season of 2006, Gail shared her story with the staff of Centre Street Church. “One of the staff members knew Larry and his family. She phoned Larry’s Uncle and Aunt and asked them if it would be okay if I contacted them.” They were thrilled, but sadly it was a difficult time for the family because the Aunt was very sick with cancer and going through treatments. Gail felt overwhelmed and not sure what to do, so she prayed for wisdom. God said ‘For now, pray for her just as she has prayed for you for so long.’” Gail then dedicated herself to praying for the Aunt every day. In January of 2007, the Lord gave her the courage to contact Bill and Esther by phone. As it turned out, they had been attending Centre Street Church and Maranatha for three years and had known Gail’s mom for all that time!

“Finally, in the Fall of 2007, I met Larry’s Aunt and Uncle. “They just kept on hugging me and telling me they loved me!” When Gail was baptized on April 19, 2008 – wearing a wedding dress to represent being the Bride of Christ – they were in attendance! “They were one of the main reasons I was there,” says Gail. “I saw Christ in them. I felt Christ’s love, forgiveness, hope, joy and compassion from them.”

The way in which Larry’s family embraced Gail helped heal her grief-shattered heart, but it did something else so important as well. It challenged her. Matthew 6:14 says, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”

“About three months later, says Gail, “I felt God’s call telling me it was time for me to forgive those I needed to. If Larry’s family could forgive me for this accident, then I, in turn, need to forgive.” For years, Gail had blamed her father for leaving the family and for all the hurt he caused, but she felt God leading her to take the step of forgiving him. “After 30 years of not seeing him, I contacted him and met one afternoon to talk. I allowed myself to forgive him. Wow...I can’t even express the feelings I felt!” Gail asked her father if they could build a new relationship, and the two of them did meet again on two other occasions. Sadly, he then chose to walk out of her life again and has since passed away.

Gail says, “I could only bless him, in his decision.” Sometimes the outcome isn’t what we expect or desire even when we’ve followed through with what God has asked of us, but the important thing for Gail is that she was obedient to God’s clear call on her heart to forgive.

“A huge weight comes off your shoulders. You hang on to such anger and pain for so long that you don’t realize how that affects your life, but releasing it is like a weight off you.” Going to her father’s funeral was a difficult decision for Gail, but blessing came in learning from the pastor that her father had given his life to Christ before he died. She also learned that there was, indeed, a deep sense of regret he had felt about not making amends with her.

The same year she forgave her father, Gail also found it in her heart to forgive her ex-husband for leaving. They are now friends, with their children’s best interests as their common goal, and Gail has even had the opportunity to share Christ with him.

In so many ways that only He could, God has faithfully redeemed and used all Gail has gone through over the years. “I will say this ... I do not believe that God caused all that has happened in my life and continues to happen, but He has used my life’s experiences, my choices - good and bad, and my openness to help others find their way to a closer relationship with Him ... to find healing and peace and to know that there is a way out of everything, and that is turning your life and your direction to God.”

Gail has served for eighteen years on staff at CSC, and is a vital part of our Inner Healing and Deliverance Prayer ministry. “My passion is prayer. I know there is absolutely nothing that you can do in your life without prayer.” What propels Gail forward in her ministry is the great passion she has to see people set free. She says that through her own healing journey, she discovered the lies she had believed about certain things, and by working through that and having God speak truth to her, she’s now able to be used by God to help others in emotional pain.

“When people come in with shoulders slumped in shame, guilt or depression and they leave with a flicker of hope and a light and smile on their faces, that is more rewarding than anything else. I want to see people living in freedom and healed long before they get to a place where it affects everything in their lives. Even though my life has had its struggles, and the pain and difficulties of others has sometimes overwhelmed me, God enables me to sing for joy at what His hands have done. I have learned to have a heart that acknowledges and can experience every day, the source of all joys and blessings, especially the ones I take for granted, and expand my awareness of God’s blessings in my life. What that might look like…. having breakfast with my sons, daughter in law, grandson; stepping out on my balcony and seeing the most beautiful sunset; the aroma of freshly brewed coffee; praying with someone seeing God setting them free; watching someone dance in the rain not caring about what people think, being that dancer.”

1 Thess 5:16 says, Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

Friends He wants us to be people who experience joy! How are you experiencing joy in your life today?

From personal experience, Gail is able to share that Jesus Christ is Forgiver, Redeemer and the Source of true freedom. She was once broken and in emotional turmoil, but today she is the Bride of Christ. She says that for her, that means feeling safe and protected and knowing without a doubt that He’s ‘got her.’

“I always picture myself as this little girl with a pretty dress on, big, bouncy curls, black shiny shoes with a strap sitting in the palm of God’s hands, legs dangling down swinging back and forth. I am His child I am His bride, no matter how old or big I am, I’m STILL small in His hands. Unbelievable warmth of love goes along with that.”

One of my life verses Zeph 3:17, “The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save, He delights in you, He quiets you with His Love; He rejoices over you with singing, and I add, and He loves you with and everlasting love.”

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