Friday, July 31, 2015

Threescore years and ten (1)

This week I celebrated what Carol calls my biblical birthday (more later).  In my youth I remember attending 70th. birthdays with a mixture of wonderment that people had lived that long and boredom that there were so many other old people present.  Well, having reached the same point I feel even more wonderment but absolutely no boredom!

Carol organized a surprise (and it really was) party on my birthday eve. Yes, eve - that's partly why I was not expecting it.  Around 7.30 pm she announced that we needed to bring in extra chairs from the garage as she set about organizing an extravagant array of desserts and drinks.  Apparently she had been quietly making preparations for some time but I in my normal oblivious state remained totally unaware.   Sadly, our house will not allow us to cater for larger groups but when 14 friends began arriving I was really delighted.  What's more Carol had the idea of inviting them to represent the last 35 years of my life. Before candles were blown out on my cake she invited certain friends in the circle to speak to the different connections with me.  As she bluntly put it: 'Don't wait until he's dead!' It was potentially cringing all round but people generously rose to the occasion with words that touched me.  I heard things I had forgotten or just did not know! (more later)

In reply I mumbled a few words of appreciation for them and expressed gratitude for their kindnesses.  It was only later, talking with Carol, that I could succinctly say what this occasion meant. First, I told her how on this particular birthday I looked back with wonder and thanks at the journey the Lord has brought me on.  It has been a full life with extraordinarily varied content.  As a Baptist minister  I am immensely grateful for God's purpose taking me through such experiences.  Second, I told her that she had been his greatest gift transforming the last 48 years in wonderfully rich ways.  Yet again she demonstrated her love and social gifting in organizing this surprise for me....I know how vastly impoverished my ministry and life would be without her.   So, thank you to all who remembered - 29 cards are on display - and very big thanks to God and to Carol!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Graduation Joys

Last Saturday proved to be a glorious Summer day for a delightful experience.  I returned with Carol to speak at Spurgeon's College Graduation.  We parked in neat rows on the main lawn and, grabbing gown and hood, headed towards the brightly decked crowds of graduands and families, posing for photographs and whooping with delight each time they spotted new friends.  After lunch we were driven to Croydon Minster in double-decker buses (by drivers who lost their way and needed local advice!)  Painstaking arrangements were sorted for seating and procession and we all lined up outside the main entrance for the Mayor to arrive.  A buzz of excitement circled around.

Far be it from me to comment on my address, except it was short and amplification meant I couldn't easily be heard at the back (where Carol sat)! But several things thrilled me to the core:
  • stories.  Time was taken to tell the story of each of the 55 students before they received their awards.  The range of experiences, of sacrifice, of achievement and of service was deeply moving and I could not have been closer as I shook hands with every single one, looking into their eyes and receiving their smiles.  It took over an hour but it was the highlight of the day, especially as families and churches celebrated with each in extravagant fashion. Wonderful.
  • singing.  The large church rocked with spectacular singing. Both old and new hymns took off with such enthusiasm.
  • network.  It never ceases to amaze me just how many connections spark into life in such a gathering. Of course, I met friends I had not seen since leaving Spurgeon's fifteen years ago, but many other meetings astonished me.  For one couple it was fifty-seven years ago that we were last together as students. I always marvel at the experience of belonging within the people of God. There's no sell-by-date.
So, a happy occasion and a genuine privilege.  Thank you to Spurgeon's for inviting me back and to the Lord for gracing the day with his joyful presence.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Farewells and chocolate drinks

At the beginning of this week we said goodbye to our US family after six amazing months living near us in Cambridge.  I have mentioned elsewhere the welcome impact of our two US grandchildren Elliot and Sophie. So often their presence was delightfully unplanned as they popped in from where they were staying next door. In particular they enjoyed chocochinos from my new drinks machine. Sitting round the table for elevenses, clutching their hot chocolate drinks and cakes these moments became a delightful routine in the last few weeks since they left school.  I say 'routine' but the surprise conversations with dramatic butterfly-lateral-thinking meant nothing was ever routine!  How we valued their breathtaking imaginations and confidence.

Well, like all grandparents whose children live a long way distant, we are now coping with inevitable sadness that the end has come. However, Rob our radio academic surprised us by leaving a CD to be played once they had left.  Of superb studio quality with editing that skillfully uses music, it contains a series of face-to-face interviews with all the other family members. Rob asked them about the highlight of the months together and quite independently (because the interviews were recorded over time) they each gushed about the holiday at Minehead - crabbing and just being together.  Bless them, they each said very kind words about us both which actually caused even more tears then their actual departure.  We are truly thankful for family life and are immensely grateful to kind people who let them to stay in their houses for two lots of consecutive three months.  Oh, it was good.  Now, down to the writing grindstone without the patter of tiny feet and heads around the door suggesting time for chocolate drinks.