This weekend I hit forty. I thought it would be a good time to reflect on what my life has been so far!
Well, here I am, with a fantastic family (both close and extended), great home, good job, what I consider to be a strong and developing faith and training to be a self supporting priest.
It's not always been an easy time, but then I would challenge anyone who says their life has (may be there are those people out there). I don't remember huge amounts of my childhood as it was a tough one in respect of my school life and the bullies that didn't make my time at good schools an easy or enjoyable one. No-ones to blame and if I met those same bullies in the street today I would not hold it against them. Children can be very nasty and cruel and they get carried along on the waves of what everyone else is doing. But that's also not to condone it - if one of my children were bullied I would do whatever I could to stop it. Things have changed these days, though - bullying is recognised, I sense, more quickly.
I most definitely don't blame my parents - although I think they still have a sense that they could have done more. They couldn't. Simple as that. I think children are good at putting a brave face on things and hiding various things from their parents - and I am certain I did. I had a fantastic home life and I'm not aware of wanting for anything, although I do know that money wasn't plentiful. I do remember fantastic long family holidays in the summer (although the one in Northumbria wasn't good when it rained most days!).
Not surprisingly I got out of school almost as soon as I could. I wasn't a natural studier anyway. Into Insurance - nobody goes into insurance deliberately and I certainly didn't. But into a family firm working for a bit of a dragon who taught me so much; I grew up and, most importantly, was treated like an adult. That was when my life began.
Not long after that I discovered the Taize Community (see www.taize.fr/en). It changed my life; truly. I spent 18 months there at the age of 18 and it did remarkable things for me. I needed something to try to understand where my life was going. I thought it was going in the direction of the monastic life and the community, but it wasn't. I returned, and in another landmark of my life met Nikki just after my 21st birthday. Not sure whether it was love at first sight, but it wasn't far off! Engaged after 6 weeks and married 2 years later. 17 years ago this summer. We have had our challenges, but nothing serious. A glorious 17 years.
At that time I put myself forward for the ministry. I was 'conditionally recommended'. I had to do what was called the Aston Training Scheme. Whilst the idea of the course was good (to prepare those with little academic qualifications for theological college), those involved on the staff side lacked any pastoral skills and thought that, despite most students having full time jobs, Aston was the only thing in life that mattered. It was a tough 2 years of my (and Nikki's) life; and at the end to be non-recommended for training was a huge blow (to be told via letter as well wasn't particularly sensitive pastorally either). Anyway, life went on and we were expecting our first child.
Christopher was born in the September. Fit and healthy and he has continued to be - there have been the usual hospital trips for broken leg etc., but he's growing up to be a wonderful son. I'm not entirely sure where he gets his amazing intelligence from, though!
Life went on, I got a new job 10 years ago and have had various roles with my current firm, in recent years on the management side and it gives me a great deal of fulfillment. I also managed to obtain a post-graduate diploma in marketing management so proved to myself that I can do academia! Ever since I have been fascinated in sales and marketing.
Nikki and I managed, though not easily, to have two more boys to complete the family (together with a neurotic cat).
Anyway, a few years ago I sensed that my life in the church wasn't 'done'. I was being called to something. I was afraid after what Nikki and I had been through at the hands of Aston. I explored this through weeks in silent retreat in Taize. Through the last visit and at the guidance of my spiritual guide, Brother Thomas, I had to test the call again and started the 'discernment' process. I had a wonderful Director of Ordinands and went to a Bishops Advisory Panel last May and was recommended for training. A year later I am finishing my first year and had a thoroughly fulfilling 9 months of study and fellowship and look forward for more.
So, a snapshot of 40 years. A party will be had this weekend. Unfortunately a few dear people won't be there. My maternal grandfather, who died when I was 2 or 3 but for whom I, strangely, I guess have a great affection (a priest) and my grandmother who died when I was seven and whom I remember again with great affection - more clearly though. I will also be missing my Uncle and Aunt as my Aunt is having an op next week. Despite these absences, it is a great opportunity to have my wonderful family around me and drink a few glasses of wine.
On Sunday I have the privilege of leading worship at church. I shall look forward to that immensely. And look forward 2 years to when I will be an ordained minister. Time I am sure will whizz by, but just now it still seems like a while away. And I certainly don't feel 40. Life is good and I thank God daily for that and rejoice in everything he has blessed me with.