Wife-unit and I are emptying out our house at the moment ahead of our move to Scotland. We keep finding fascinating things. There was a book that my friends compiled for me ahead of my 21st birthday, which was at the end of November 2002. Wife-unit just found it. It is full of notes and photos and stories that represented who I was to them at that point in my life.
This was back when Wife-unit was just “Spacebaby”. It was years until she settled and I became her husband. But the last entry is a newspaper clipping, carefully cut out by some anonymous person and pasted on one page, while on the facing side of the book is a letter written in response.
I submit it as a weird demonstration of something like the sovereignty of God. I had forgotten entirely about this article, how it impacted me and how I was moved to respond to it. It can’t have been written later than December 2002. (It turns out it was written the week before my birthday.) It might have been 2001. In my memory, my Christian faith was barely visible at that point. I was a closeted Christian in most parts of my life. But here I was writing this curious little letter. I can’t quite imagine that I ever voluntarily read the Sunday Independent. Today, I’d want to change bits and pieces here and there; it needs more nuance. But here’s the proof:
The thing that struck me is that today, my wife is a prison chaplain who has spent the last two years ministering in the prison that serves as the Irish centre for the rehabilitation of sex offenders. This is the prison Ivan Payne was released from in 2002, after serving a sentence of only four and a half years. Seeds blossom, even after a very long time in the dark. In 2002 I didn’t know anything. I was still a computer programmer in training. At that point, I had never even participated publicly in worship, through prayers or an odd children’s address. It was years until I would even preach.
Now we are packing up the house we have lived in for seven years, while I served as an evangelist and trained as a minister. In that time, amongst other things, Wife-unit became a chaplain and a spiritual director. We’re moving to Aberdeen so that I can complete something that now feels like the most remarkably natural thing in the world, which is a PhD in theology. We’re saying goodbye to friends knowing that it will be at least six years until we move back to Dublin. After Aberdeen, there will be three years in Belfast, doing more training for ministry, probably for both of us.
The world we occupied in 2002 and the lives we led are figments to us now. By the time we get back to the city that we love so much, the lives we now lead will be even vaguer figments. There will, in all likelihood, be children and concerns that we cannot even imagine. When I wrote this letter I was in my early twenties and terrified of what would happen if people found out I was a Christian. When I open the box that this book has just been sealed in, I will be in my late thirties and well-established on a life patterned by the desire to tell people about Jesus.
And at the beginning, there was this seed for seeing Christian faith as the action of God that allows us to love enemies. Here in the middle, that seed has blossomed in the testimony of my wife. And here, from the middle, I can look forward to an end where this hint of a suspicion that we’re building our lives on will be vindicated.
God was directing my desire before I knew it. By the end, I’ll know that I don’t even begin to know the ways he is working now and will work in the future.
Your Correspondent, Has to go back to packing things away