So here we are again, on Christmas Eve, and not only is it well before midnight, I did all my present wrapping on Saturday so there is no pressure and I can go straight to bed after Midnight Communion tonight at Ballyholme! (Yes, supposedly)
Before I set keys to keyboard, I looked back at my prayer letters over the last three years since I started these letters in 2005, looking at my optimism, my disappointments, my frustration, my pure cynicism, and how thanks to God I have never lost my faith that he is with me, cares, and positively wants the best for me and I will see that best for me.
I saw that several times this year, but I also ran into health problems, as I did in 2001 and 2005. I started having singing lessons with Eve Williams in August, but mainly due to a series of coughs and colds which have now to all intents and purposes cleared up (and long may they stay cleared up!), I haven’t had a lesson for a couple of months. I’m very disappointed by this, because Eve’s tuition has made a considerable difference to my voice when I’ve been able to sing properly – but I hope to get back in the New Year. Together with other multitudinous commitments that kept coming up, it also meant that I dropped out of Beautiful Feet for several months.
My health’s nadir was earlier this month when I woke up on the 1st, went to have breakfast, threw it out, rang my boss, and went straight back to bed! In the end I stayed off for two weeks, because I lost my voice in time for that Sunday and caught a second cold.
Work has been interesting this year – I completed my clerk training in March, proceeded with my Supervisor training, and then in June I was trained in the new State Pensions software. My permanent role is as a Customer Advisor Specialist, calculating pensions for widows, divorcees and those who have put off claiming their pensions for a period of time (usually at least a year, rarely more than five), and dealing with whatever case work comes through on the old system from the staff I work with. They have their own Team Leader who manages them – I solely deal with the casework.
Unfortunately, due to the training, I was unable to take leave for Summer Madness, so my photo galleries are rather curtailed this year – but they’re still on my website! I did however have time to produce Total Recall, the compilation DVD of all the talks from Summer Madness plus photo galleries, from scratch, including the interface. To date, the only error I have detected has been that the DVD doesn’t autorun – my excuse is I use a MacBook and therefore didn’t notice that I had goofed when I wrote the autorun file!
Due to training and the sick leave of one of my colleagues, I wasn’t able to take any leave over the summer – truth be told, I didn’t have much to take leave for after Summer Madness. I had already gone to Spring Harvest for two weeks – they rang me in February and asked whether I would serve for an additional week, covering Venue Security Week 2 and Stewarding Week 3. Thanks to God, I had a great time both weeks, although due to Easter commitments at church I can’t do this again in 2009, so one week on Venue Security it is.
I took a day here and there, but I finally took a week’s proper leave in November, and spent it volunteering and being fed in the Summer Madness office. I was actually surprised at how much work was required in November, but on the other hand they had recently moved from the top floor of their offices to the middle floor, and there was still some moving to be done – they don’t have any gap year students this year.
As I write, I still have five days annual leave to take in January, although my boss says she will authorise me to carry them over to next year as well as the nine I can carry over as a matter of course – my own feeling is that I will have enough work using up 30 days (minimum) without having to find another five to use!
So those were the woes (admittedly mixed with joys!) of the year. There was however considerable joy – I met a young lady from Portadown in July. Karen is a trainee psychiatrist but also a qualified GP, and appears to have chosen me as her special case! We have especially enjoyed learning to dance together on Monday nights in Lurgan – so far we have learned the jive and the salsa and are an unknown distance into the cha cha cha. Kevin Conwell is much to be recommended as a tutor, taking his classes (up to about two dozen people) at a patient yet good pace, and looking out for those who need help.
Getting to know Karen is an adventure, but also very rewarding. Once again by God’s grace, we are rushing into nothing, which has had the great advantage of slowing me down and making me relax and enjoy. I can dream of the future, certainly, but it is essential for both my heart and Karen’s that I live in the present and take that to God in the first instance!
Strand Presbyterian has gone well, apart from my health difficulties affecting my ability to lead effectively, especially in the weeks ahead of the Carol Service last week which saw me without much of a voice. The actual Carol Service went very well – as we still hope to demolish the church next year and build a new one (subject to funding, which we had hoped to obtain from Presbyterian Mutual), I asked my dad to play the organ for the traditional hymns, which he did extremely well, and went down very well indeed with the congregation. We have been without a minister since March when David Thompson left to take a post with Mission Ireland, but Danny Rankin, currently in Markethill, is to join us in late January. I’m looking forward to having someone to work with on worship instead of trusting that I am actually listening to God and not just doing my own thing.
The other highlight of the year was playing keyboards for David McIlveen on his forthcoming album. I spent a day with him and his producer working on seven songs, which ranged from a one-take wonder to one which I don’t like talking about! I’m looking forward to hearing the results later in the spring.
In other news, I’m practically out of debt. I finished paying off my loan to clear my credit card this autumn, and right now that leaves me with an overdraft that will clear itself at the end of January, and the loan on my Macbook which will clear itself in April or so. This is a situation I thank God for every time I think of it, because I could not have got to this situation on my own. Even now to look at my overdraft and see that even with Christmas, I used little more than my savings account balance as it will be at the start of the New Year, is mind-blowing.
It is things like that that remind me how good God is, and how much he cares about me. When I look at my life, I can only stand amazed at how much he loves me despite everything I do.
So, on this Christmas Eve, and always, in everything you do, may you know God’s grace, love, presence and his sustaining power, whatever struggles and joy you face. God bless you now and always.