Looking back on 2015.
What a year 2015 has been! In terms of big life events it’s right up there with 2005 when I travelled the world and went to university & 2009 when I got married and started studying at Cambridge. Yet in terms of the effect it’s had on daily living it’s been the most dramatic and demanding year of my life.
Back in January there were only two of us and we were living in a rented flat. We had a son who was only a bump and we were still blissfully unaware just how much parenthood would transform our lives. But first we had to complete the purchase of our first house, which was daunting enough in itself. In 2013 & 2014 we’d tried and failed to get onto the housing ladder, so this time we weren’t counting on anything until those keys were in our hands.
I won’t dwell on the boring process of conveyancing, because that’s not what’s important. What counts is that God came through for us, vindicating our trust in Him as our provider. Not only did he get us a house, which is no mean feat in Cambridge, but He enabled us to get a far better mortgage than we’d ever thought possible. We’re loving having more room to entertain, space for our child to play in and little advantages like toilets that flush properly and being able to decorate, but the thing I appreciate most is the garden.
Having a garden for the first time was a nice bonus, but it is significant for us in a much deeper way, for it became part of an on-going metaphor that has shaped our lives. A few years ago we went to a conference in Bury St. Edmund’s called ‘Rooted in Good Soil’. An American pastor Tri Robinson unpacked a simple but many-layered analogy of how the Christian life is like the transition between a tiny seed and a burgeoning fruitful plant. He took the basic Biblical truth that we all need good soil to be fruitful in Christ (see The Parable of the Sower in Mark ch. 4) and added extra layers of detail.
One stage is when the seed is placed in a jar to germinate and left on a shelf in a dark room. It’s a time when you can feel forgotten and frustrated, like nothing is happening, but it is in fact an essential precursor to healthy growth when planted for real. That was how we felt in 2012.
But the move to a house felt like the next stage: being transplanted from that little jar into the outdoor soil. We’re now in a place where we can set down deep roots and prepare ourselves for future growth. I feel affinity with the bulbs I planted in the early autumn, which in this unseasonable warmth are just beginning to poke through and show above the surface. I take great pleasure in watching them grow, knowing that we’re doing the same. I’d never understood the deep love of an Englishman for his garden, but now I’m beginning to, because for me it’s a tangible reminder of God’s faithfulness, as real as the soil beneath my fingernails.
Of course, that tranquil horticultural image I’ve just conjured doesn’t really describe how life was after mid-Feb. Those philosophical musings slowly ruminating in my mind were in stark contrast to the chaos that was soon to intrude upon our daily life. Our acquaintance with our new house was interrupted at the end of March by a baby who just couldn’t hang around in the womb for a minute longer. Never mind that he wasn’t due until mid-May, this boy was desperate to meet us and see the big wide world.
That didn’t stop him looking dazed and shocked when he first came out, but it did force us to drop everything and completely re-order our priorities. We were as disorientated as that bleary little face staring up at me in the first few seconds of his life. The awe and affection I felt in that moment were as natural as they were all-consuming. There was a whole new person in our lives.
I’ve written elsewhere about my early experiences as a father, and my wife Lucy has written an excellent blog-post about life in NICU with a premature baby, so what I want to focus on here is how our church family came to the rescue. They had been a fantastic witness for Jesus during the move when our non-Christian neighbours at both ends were amazed at how we had come by such numerous and cheerful help without paying for it, but what they did in Ethan’s first few weeks was even better. We couldn’t finish decorating the house, so church friends came and did it for us. There was no time to cook for ourselves, so a rota at church supplied us with delicious meals every single day for six weeks. I still had to work, so more people from church helped Lucy get to and from the hospital, not to mention providing good company and moral support. I still can’t thank those people enough. Friends and family, both near and far, believers and non-believers, were deeply touched by these vivid demonstrations of the love of Jesus in action.
Indeed, 2015 is a year when we’ve been more grateful than ever for our church family at C3. They too have moved into a new home, a fabulous building in central Cambridge which we, in our own small way, helped to build. Just as our move gives us good soil to grow in, so this new home for the church will allow it to flourish like never before. And the fruit it is already bearing is for the good of the community around it: the lonely are being befriended, those in need have found practical help with food and financial advice, and best of all, lost souls are coming to know Jesus. It’s amazing to be part of.
We’ve watched Ethan grow and in October we dedicated him to God as part of that wonderful church family I’ve been telling you about. We’ve had many adventures, and now the year is drawing to a close. You can read about our summer travels and my photographic highlights from a golden autumn elsewhere on my blog, so now it remains for me reflect on what I’ve learnt.
I’ve learnt to trust God more, because every time He comes through for us my faith grows like the spiritual muscle it is. We feel Him calling us to put Ethan first and accept that Lucy won’t be earning next year, but I know that God will still provide. I don’t have to be in control. I’ve learnt that generosity is one of the most important things in life. I’ve learnt to keep cultivating it, no matter how much or little we have.
I’ve learnt to be content with whatever I can get done, knowing that I could only be more productive at the expense of quality time with my God and with my family. I can’t read or write as much as I used to be able to, but I also waste fewer hours. Despite having barely a tithe of the free time I used to, my novel Oron Amular is just one chapter away from completion. That’s another testament to God’s faithfulness. Please check out my blurb for that story, or my introduction to its setting, the imaginary world of Astrom, to find out more.
What does 2016 hold in store? Our little baby will become a toddler. He’s already so big and so able, but soon he’ll be walking and talking, drinking in the world and developing a personality I can’t wait to meet. Oron Amular will soon be available to read right through, and we hope there’ll be plenty of other creative opportunities for both Lucy and myself. The lessons I’ve learnt in 2015 I want to live out and remain mindful of. I want to see that next stage of growth, the flowering in springtime. Some more adventures would be nice; deepening friendships; more intimacy with God; an increased capacity to give and to love; all these things I look and long for. I can’t wait.