2009 was not the busiest year for this blog. As you can imagine, there’s something of a story behind that which I am now sufficiently distanced from to be able to tell. It’s been a year of ups and downs and at times the downs were almost overwhelming. Looking back over the year’s posts, I’m amazed, in retrospect, that I managed to put out the number of posts that I did.
One was definitely the chance to move back into theological teaching when I took up a new job as Dean of Non-residential Training at St Michael’s College in Llandaff. I had missed being a teacher of theology over the past ten years and this is one of those things I think I’ve been put on the planet to do. So, although I now miss the rootedness of parish church life, I have the chance to teach again, which is lovely. I’m currently teaching a course in Worship at Cardiff University, which is a very different experience to teaching in a theological college. Also, directed non-residential theological studies is very enriching – people are so motivated and enthusiastic.
Another up was the satisfaction of seeing both of my children at University, with Jonathan doing joint honours Philosophy/History at Sheffield and Caroline doing Biomedical Science at Manchester. Both conveniently located for walking breaks in the Peak District.
There were two: one was my wife being ill around this time last year, which was very worrying at the time. She is well and healthy again now, but neither of us would wish to go through something like that again in a hurry. We are very thankful for vigilant doctors.
The other one, which though less intense, was more dragged-out, was the saga of our house-move. We had planned to move over the border into Wales so that we both had an equal-length drive between our respective places of work. Eventually, we decided to buy a new-build house. However, one week away from the move date in May, our solicitor called us to say that they had been unable to register the title of the property because part of it was erected on unregistered (ie. unowned) land. Further legal investigation followed, which showed that the house was therefore not worth the money agreed. So we had to pull-out. There followed five months of legal dispute between ourselves and the building firm. There was a horrible point in late May when we were facing the need to buy another house, but with our deposit still being held by the builders and the possibility of having to move out of the house we were in. We had to instigate court proceedings and eventually, the deposit came back, then, after many more months, costs – the legal part of which were nearly £12000 by the end. In the meantime, we had to unpack a house (the diocese, who owned the vicarage, were brilliant) live out of boxes for several months and buy another house. They say moving house is one of the highest stress-points in life. Well, we (almost) did it twice this year. Being one of the parties in litigation proceedings must also be right up there amongst the most soul-destroying activities on the planet.
I realised this year how cumulative stress ultimately gets to you. Add a few little other things, like empty-nest syndrome and the stress (alongside the enrichment) of starting a new job and for a good bit of the summer I was in a bad place. But, thank God, things don’t stay like that forever.
We ended up in a lovely, lovely house, this time a victorian one in Bristol, around the corner from lots of good, old friends. The builders settled our claim out of court two days before it went before a judge in October. Although we miss our children and are looking forward to them coming home for the vacation this Christmas, Sharon and I are loving the space, flexibility and relaxation which come from being ‘just a couple’ again. Empty nests are not really empty, when you can both spread yourselves around a bit, and there’s also always a bit of space to squeeze up again when the kids come home. We had some wonderful support from our friends and family and learned to live on a tight budget, with a simple holiday spent camping.
A week or so ago, I was nearly killed on my bicycle by a bus whose driver was not looking in the direction of travel. Mercifully he heard my shout just two inches away from me. I am so grateful to be alive, enjoying the blessings of a healthy wife, a lovely home, two children I am proud of, and the prospect of working out whatever amount of life is left to me in the best and most honourable way possible. For me, 2009 was about the fragility of life and the blessings it carries. I come to the end it with a strong sense of the value of what I have, and a sense of perspective (I hope) about its permanence. The blessings of life seem very tangible at the moment, as is the fact that none of this can be taken for granted. Now back to blogging …