As an old man with five increasingly strapping offspring, I love nothing more than talking about how fast time flies. Everything seems to be getting faster and more frantic these days. Daniels words in Daniel chapter 12 v 4 seem very apt; 'many shall run to and fro and knowledge shall increase.' In a frantic world we desperately need to slow down and reflect on the past and think about the future.
This year, if we are spared, my ever patient wife and I will be celebrating 20 years of marriage and I will be officially entering my mid-late 40's. How did that happen? A few days ago my small army of children were screaming and shouting on Bayble Beach where it feels like only yesterday Kirsteen and I were sitting and chatting the night before our wedding which took place in the wee Bayble Mission House in 1998. She is like a fine wine that gets better with age and she has lost none of her Island charm and beauty.
For the first time in 8 years we find ourselves up in Lewis over Christmas. The last time we drove up we had 4 children including a 6 month old baby, a Jack Russell from South Lanarkshire with an attitude problem (no major developments in that department) and we drove up through 6 inches of snow at about 4am in the morning to get the ferry. The tactful Cal Mac guy at the car park in Ullapool said 'your 5 minutes late' seemingly oblivious to the worst weather conditions in decades. Over the last 20 years Lewis has always been like a haven. A place to recharge and refocus after a busy time at work. I'm still missing my trips to Point but gradually adjusting to the big smoke of Stornoway.
Last year has had many highlights. It is a joy to see my boys growing up to be young men. Like all siblings they fight and scrap but generally they are a pleasure to be around and love each other dearly. The two oldest boys in particular dote on their wee brothers and I love seeing the wee ones snuggle up to James and Calum for stories in the evening. The boys are very resilient and generally are very content with what they have. There are many wonderful moments as a parent where you get to drop some reassurance into a child's life or give them a hug when they least expect it.
Highlights last year were taking my boys to see some great music and, as always, getting to some great shinty games. Calum and I sped up to Killin in June to see the amazing Tidelines and a slightly larger posse made the trip to the Best of the West Music Festival in September to see Argyll's brightest new band Heron Valley and the incredible Skippinish. It was great to see my boys play in a senior match for the 'dubh is gorm' (Lewis Camanachd) despite being hammered at Kilmallie. It is wonderful as a parent to be a 'memory maker' and so often with kids it is the journey rather than the destination where the memories are made. David and I have great times at the Real Food Cafe in Tyndrum on the way up and back to shinty games. James and I also had a great day at the 'Beast Race' in Inverness in September and Kirsteen and I were delighted with his profession of faith which I wrote about here.
A couple of small but significant things happened in the last 12 months. Around Easter time we started a Celebrate Recovery group in Livingston Free Church. It has been a real roller coaster ride but it has been a privilege to journey with a small group through their brokenness and recovery. I feel blessed working alongside a dear brother from Elim Pentecostal Church in Livingston and we have a great unity in the gospel. I think the best word to sum our discussions around the Bible are 'authentic'. There is a reality in the recovery community that I have rarely come across in any other circles. I am constantly humbled by the brutal honesty of the members of that group.
Another small change I made in May/June 2017 was to go completely gluten and dairy free. It's amazing how this has changed my life in all sorts of ways - from going out to restaurants to visiting people. I have also given up beer and whisky which I should have done a long time ago. My waistline is much smaller than it was and I spend a huge amount of time studying ingredients!
Two big highlights stand out over the last year. The first was the Skye Shinty Camp. For years I have wanted to organise and run a camp where kids could enjoy the amazing sport of shinty in a good environment where they can also hear about the good news of the gospel. It finally happened in July/August this year. Almost half the camp had little or no church background which made it very challenging but all the more rewarding. You can read about all the ups and downs here. Amazingly the emotional scars have healed quickly and plans are well underway for next year.
Another highlight of last year was celebrating a certain lady's 40th birthday. I could write a short book on my negotiations with the behemoth that is the Dalmahoy Country Club but the night went off well with Kirsteen surrounded by close family, good food and music. The setting was beautiful and was a suitably special occasion to mark 40 years of a remarkable woman. We never know what is ahead of us so family occasions are so precious.
As I look back over the last year I made the classic mistake of pushing through exhaustion for weeks and months towards the end of the year. I had to cancel my October holidays for various reasons and fully intended to take the time back but it just never happened. Despite decades of hard lessons that I am not Superman, I thought I could work long hours, speak most weekends, be out most evenings and somehow everything would be still standing at the end. As has happened so often before, my family and particularly my marriage suffered. I forgot that while relationships are resilient, they are also fragile and need to be nurtured and treasured.
I've been enjoying Bill Hybels book 'Simplify' recently. It has been a word in season to me. Two of my top five strengths or traits are 'responsibility' and 'arranger'. This basically means I feel incredibly responsible for everything and constantly take on too many responsibilities! I find it hard to say no. While this can be exhilarating when I have energy, when I get depleted, what Hybels calls 'toxically depleted', the results are not pretty. As Hybels points out in his book the two biggest traits of being depleted are irritation and resentment. Over the last few weeks I had both of these traits in spade loads. I tend to withdraw further and further into myself and quite happily avoid time with family while all the time making very legitimate excuses.
This quote from Hybels hit me like a bus;
Sometimes, people derive a disproportionate amount of their self-worth from being over achievers. They keep doing and doing, thinking that what matters most is the end product not the process. Sometimes, people feel an undercurrent of guilt for taking time to do things that fill their buckets, as if somebody will judge them for having fun or for spending time doing something for themselves rather than for others. This is especially true of those who work in compassion related fields.
The result was I started the Christmas holidays with full blown flu and complete exhaustion. But often when God flattens us he reminds us of our frailty and utter dependence on himself. The last two weeks have been a time to kick back, rest and refill a very empty bucket. I've been thoroughly enjoying getting to grips with my new ESV Systematic Theology Study Bible. Space and time to read, pray and listen to God have been a life saver. Reconnecting with Kirsteen has also been critical. Being around somebody and being present with someone are two very different things.
This blog post entitled 'Fighting for your Wife' was another word in season for me. Most of us only get one marriage. We will have lots of jobs and will probably attend several churches, but we have one marriage and we need to fight for it. Great marriages don't just happen, we need to work hard at communication and affection. When you have kids you need to fight for time with each other with so many competing priorities. I've resolved to love my wife better in 2018.
The Utterly Amazing
Last Sunday morning in Stornoway FC we were treated to a great on sermon on Matthew 13 v 24-33 on the 'little leaven that leavens the whole lump'. Often leaven is used in scripture to describe the widespread and insidious effects of sin, but in this passage it is used very positively. It is incredible to think with all our flaws and failings that God still chooses us to build His kingdom in this earth. Leaven or yeast is such a minor and insignificant ingredient and yet it can and does have a transformational effect in baking. As we go into into a New Year my prayer is that I am used more in his kingdom to bring transformation and change in my family, in my church and in wider society. I need to remember I am not Superman, I need rest, I need recreation and I need to keep my family close. It is when I drift from the Lord that I get my priorities all wrong. I can only stay focused if I stay close to the Lord and His word.
I was reading a few days ago in 2 Chronicles 34 about the reforms of Josiah and I was greatly struck by verse 27;
because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before God when you heard his words against this place and its inhabitants, and you have humbled yourself before me and have torn your clothes, and wept before me. I also have heard you, declares the Lord.
My prayer is for a tender and humble heart to serve the Lord in 2018. What is your comfort and hope as we start a New Year? Who knows what is ahead for any of us. God is offering you the greatest gift of his son the Lord Jesus Christ. I am sustained by the amazing fact that God loves me and gave himself for me. As J.I. Packer says in Knowing God; 'What matters supremely is not the fact that I know God but the larger fact that underlines it - the fact that he knows me. I am graven on the palms of his hands (Is 49 v 16). I am never out of his mind.' What a great thought to take us into a new year.