A couple of days ago had an invitation to attend a celebration of a couple that had been pastoring a church for five years this Sunday. Nothing unusual in that you might think, but it was from the church in Tonyrefail where just over five years ago I resigned as Pastor and in many ways started the journey that I am still on today (although I realise the journey starts when we start journeying, we just do not appreciate that at the time). A journey that began with much rejection, pain, disillusionment, bitterness, loss of identity, wilderness, doubt and many, many twists and turns. A journey that now continues with many, many twists and turns, but a lot more healing, hope, sense of adventure etc. I can honestly say I would never want to go back to that life. There is no choice. The new landscape is home. Of course part of that new landscape was beginning the night shift in the holy aisles of Asda. That will be five years in October. What an adventure that has been in my new community of believers, non-believing believers, thinkers, non-thinkers, people, just people. Many have come and gone since the start of the store five years ago. But all of them at some stage would have had a conversation with me about belief, non-belief. Some would have shared life’s joys, others life’s pains. No one has ridiculed my beliefs, most just wonder how an ex-church minister ended up working on the night shift of Asda. Many want to hear some parts of my story. This will never make a classic Christian novel because revival has not broke out, swearing has not stopped, I have no reports of people getting healed or delivered. But what I do have is a story of walking with Jesus in the night shift. Sharing love, hope, grace, joy. One guy once told me he had become a Christian after thinking about our conversations and debates, I never started a nurture group for him or told him how he should be discipled, maybe I should have done, but he seems to have lost interest now a young lady has come on the scene. Life, just life. Other people who told me they were atheists became agnostic, at least that is a step forward. Two are practicing pagans, and I have great relationships with them both. We talk about loads of things. At Easter one of them wanted to know why Christians had stolen their festival? I liked that one. I love the people, all who are on a journey. Not one yet at destination land, and neither am I. Sharing life together. And those aisles where I get to spend loads of quality time thinking, praying, chatting to God. What a privilege. Getting paid to do the night watch with Jesus. Those aisles are holy places.
The biggest enemy at first was isolation. From having a diary full of speaking engagements, conferences, coffee with people who wanted to talk God and the prophetic, to having page after page of empty entries. It was painful. It hurt. It tipped me well over the edge for a while. I had to detox to reboot myself. I had to find me in the middle of the clutter. At my lowest point I realised the most powerful thing, even though I had ignored Him for a while because I probably blamed God for the mess, He was still around, watching, waiting, willing me on. Once I woke up and smelled the coffee isolation was no longer an enemy but an opportunity. Not many people have the opportunity to paint with virtually a totally clean canvass. I did. One thing that I learned very quickly was not to paint too quickly, and the other was always to use temporary paint as the picture constantly shifts. I have thought about starting 101 different things, but never felt the grace to do it. Maybe one day, who knows. I have no concrete plans, just ideas. I have learned that the greatest thing in life is true vision. Jesus, only Jesus. Seeing everything then through Him brings colour into the grey. I see Him and feel His breath everywhere I look and walk. And then just when you think you may be the only one along comes a new connection of others walking off the beaten pathways. Individuals, small groups, people who have stepped out of the boat, drowned but who have had the kiss of life. People with scars that tell stories and hopes that reach for a hundred more. My life is no longer dependant on having a full, active diary, but I have had the privilege of finding amazing connections, friends for life. Lives that resonate together to create a beautiful sound of adventure. This has taken me to Sweden, Latvia, Kenya, Cramlington and Romford. Where next? Who knows. But these are for more than preaching engagements, this is life, walking, talking, kitchen table fellowship. Eating, laughing, sharing, breathing. Not people to impress with personal prophecy but people to stand with and love. This year alone so many dots joined, what a picture emerges, I am full of awe. The new landscape is glorious and full of hope for the future.
I now realise my identity is not what I do but who I am. It is not what others expect of me, it is me. It is not what others hope of me, it is me. The pressure to perform to please is off, I can just walk. I realise that even in the new landscape people will paint a picture of who you are, especially if they think you are of a prophetic nature. Sad really that even under the umbrella of prophet our understanding and definition are so narrow. People still look for the personal prophecy or word for the city. This bothered me at one time because I thought I would be a disappointment if I did not perform. But I have just realised the weight of expectations and the image people draw of you. I do not journey to impress anymore, I journey to walk and share and journey. This may include prophesying, but it has to flow from who I am not what others want. That should be the same from us all. To be free from the bounds of expectation. I am me, and I do not want to be a clone of anybody else. I have learned to be happy in my own skin.
What did I do with the invitation marking five years of that couple in Tonyrefail? I graciously declined. Not out of hurt, there would have been a time that would have been true, but because that was about then, this is about now and the invested future, whatever that may be. I will be spending the weekend doing something completely different. On Saturday I will be taking my first wedding in the new landscape. A young pastor that I have built a great relationship with over the last couple of years, is getting married and asked me to do the business. That makes me laugh, but what a privilege. This young guy has gone through separation and divorce, and now has found a new love, and all he has received is grief from other ministers in the valleys. Funny how two marginalised, misunderstood people have found connection and a point of reference to which we can share life together. So instead of spending the weekend stepping back, I will be spending the weekend looking forward. A day of new beginnings for this couple, what a sign for these days. A day of grace, laughter, happiness, food, friends, love, joy, people. What better way to spend a Saturday. The five year+ non-plan has been great so far. I’m sure there is so much more ahead. Here’s to the next five years.