I’ve been thinking recently about dates and anniversaries. September/October time is a period in which I celebrate a number of key milestones. Here are a few key things which happened to me around this time of year.
Milestone #1: Meeting my first love (24 years)
My first milestone takes me back 24 years. Around this time of year 1993 (5th September to be exact) I first committed my life to following Jesus. I was 14 years old at the time and it happened after a talk at Church by my former Pastor Peter Seccombe on Isaiah 5. That was the point when I realised that I had to make faith my own; not resting on my parents faith and not just going through the motions. The passage in Isaiah 5 is called “The Song of the vineyard” which is a name sometimes used of God’s people in the Bible. The passage is a warning from God that they had taken him for granted and were living without reference to Him. It was a timely prod for me to begin to relate to and walk with the one who had made me, who sustains me and who had sent His Son to die for me.
Milestone #2: Arriving in Southampton (20 years)
Secondly 20 years ago this coming weekend I arrived in Southampton as a bright eyed, bushy tailed fresher embarking on a new adventure away from all that was familiar. Soon after arriving I found my way to Above Bar Church which would become a spiritual home for me for the next 20 years and counting. These are significant milestones because they make Southampton the place where I have lived most of my life. I have in fact only lived consistently in two places, St Albans (18 years) and now Southampton. In time Southampton would be the place where I would settle and make my home for many years to come.
Milestone #3: Meeting my second love (16 years)
We now jump forward to 2000-2001 when I was coming to the end of a graduate development programme, ‘Connect’. I had been doing Connect with the Navigators UK and during that year I met a beautiful young woman who would later become my wife. I first met her on a conference at Hebron Hall in Cardiff (Feb 2001) at a weekend away and then again in Moffat, Scotland (June 2001) on a summer conference. In Moffat we formed part of a cooking team which also included Gez (who was often away looking after children) and a french girl who did not speak English very well. Suffice to say that we had a very exciting week but it wasn’t until October that we would begin seeing one another. Debbie faithfully sent me numerous letters while she was away on camps in Poland that summer and she also invited me to her birthday party in Cardiff. I decided to surprise her but somehow I got my wires crossed and I turned up the day after the party while Debbie was off with her parents. This got Debbie’s housemates particular excited as I waited for some hours for Debbie to return. To make it even worse during those hours I listened to Tottenham Hotspur squander a 3-0 lead against Manchester United and eventually lose 5-3! Debbie’s mobile phone was in the boot of the car and when she found it there were quite a few messages from excitable housemates. 16 years on and we have been married 12.5 years and have five wonderful children. Could things have worked out any better?
Milestone #4: Work and service
There are also many milestones in my work life; roles that I have had and so on. Typically in the world of education things change around September time because that is the beginning of the academic year. Our children for instance have just moved classes and/or begun new things. I cannot say I ever expected to be in full time ministry especially in those early student years when I was trying to work out who I was and how I fitted with my new world. This all changed however with ‘Connect’; a Graduate development programme working in student ministry. From that point on I developed a ‘can do’ attitude that I most likely believed could take the world by storm. After a 6 year break working in Financial services I was back and alongside Debbie have now led a student ministry officially since 2006 (I went full-time in 2008). It is easy to fall into the trap of doing things in your own strength and I think that was (and most likely still is) a real challenge for me. During the difficult years we had between 2013-2016 God seemed to be working hard to humble me and cause me to trust Him. He has taught me to boast not in my strength but in my weakness. For as Paul says ‘God’s power is made perfect in weakness.’
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
Given that I am now quite a bit older than the students we are working with there is a growing sense that we need to work through others and fruitfulness will only come through reliance on God.
Milestone #5: The House of blessing
It would be hard to write of milestones without mentioning the house in which we have received so much blessing. Ten years ago we had an offer rejected for what we thought was the perfect house in Swaythling. We owned a flat through the housing association and selling it was something of a formality. Nevertheless the owner of the house we wanted to buy preferred to accept a lower offer and so we missed out on the house. We wondered what God was doing in this situation but very soon after that our income increased and we were able to buy a far better house, the house that we have been in ever since. We moved into the house in October 2007 and soon after noticed that the other house we had originally wanted was back on the market! We thought we knew best but God had an even better plan for us. if you know our house you will will notice that it has changed quite a lot with extensions in most directions. Time and time again God has provided all that we have needed both in terms of our growing family and the student work. In all these things God has taught me so much about faith and that nothing is impossible for Him.
What’s in a milestone?
It is good to reflect back, not so much to dwell on the past or to live on the back of former glories but to learn and remember from all that we have been through. I’ve been trusting Jesus for 24 years which is almost two thirds of my life! So the question I reflect on is what has changed. I’ve certainly got older, I’ve grown up (well mostly anyway) and all number of responsibilities (some by choice and some not so much) have come my way. At my age I am beginning to get cards from friends likening me to a fine wine that gets better as it gets older. To be honest it doesn’t really feel like that’s the case. Twenty four years on and many battles are still raging. Perhaps it’s more that I am more aware of my short comings! What is clear is that Jesus has led me. I’ve not always been great at either listening or following but I have been serving God in the things and in the place that He has called me to. Looking forward I wonder what further milestones God has in store for us and our family. Only God knows but we do what we can do go forward with Jesus in faith, in hope and in love. What are your milestones and what are the lessons that God has been teaching you on the way?