Today marks my 26th birthday. I’m not a massive fan of birthdays
but they are a helpful way of marking periods in life
and for reflecting on how things are going.
Instead of presenting 26 lessons from 26 years of life
(which would take a book to do justice
or else would end up as pithy, cliche platitudes)
I’m going to share 26 things I’m grateful for.
I’m grateful for turning 26, even though I don’t like birthdays, because every day of Life is a blessing to be appreciated; even the bad ones. While I’m breathing, there’s still meaning.
I’m grateful to those who read my blog, follow me on Twitter and interact through the email list.
The desire to write – I’m glad that I have an impulse of creativity, a sense of having something to say. There’s not much more satisfying than writing a good sentence.
Poetry – there is
something special about it
which captivates me.
Classical Music – This has been an ongoing journey since watching Lord of the Rings and Master and Commander. But recently I picked up a copy of Gareth Malone’s Introduction to Classical Music and have been liberated from any real expectations of what I’d need to know to enjoy a piece. Now I just submerge myself into it and follow what I like. A couple of my current favourites I’m spending time with are Bach’s Cello Suites and Handel’s Messiah.
My Hearing – It may seem weird to be grateful for my hearing when it’s been classed as a disability my whole life. But it’s a part of me. A difficulty which I have always faced yet which isn’t getting worse. And I can hear well enough to enjoy music, and badly enough that when I take my hearing aid out at night it’s nice and quiet, conducive to sleeping.
My sight – Another thing which it can seem odd to be grateful for given that the problems I’ve had with it have led to my no longer being allowed to drive. However, problems with your sight makes you especially mindful of the beauty of the colours around us. I routinely see the sunset painted skies and feel grateful that I can enjoy them. I feel similarly when I see my wife smile. I’m grateful for my sight and would encourage you to not take yours for granted. Take a moment to count all the different colours you can see around you right now. I lose track around thirty.
Brent Weeks – Author of the Nightangel Trilogy. I’ve read that trilogy more than ten times in my life and I love its world and characters. They have each shown me insights into different parts of my character and self-understanding.
Tolkien – it’s safe to say that the Lord of the Rings has shaped my life more than any other piece of fiction, with Aragorn being something of an archetypal inspiration for myself. It certainly explains why I first grew my hair.
Karl Barth – Barth is one of those theologians of the 20th Century whom you kind of have to engage with if you’re going to engage in any conversation on the development of recent theology. People either like him or disagree with him, but they can only avoid him through ignorance. I wouldn’t call myself a ‘Barthian’, he’d hate that anyways. But reading the Prolegomena, literally the introduction to the introduction of his series of Church Dogmatics, has changed and impacted my thinking more than any other thing I’ve ever read. No exaggeration or hyperbole. It was one of the foundational experiences in my life reading those first 80ish pages. Through him, the unity of the action and being of God became the heart of my theological make-up. And given my tendency to see virtually everything as implicitly theological, because reality itself is intrinsically theological, that has shaped my perception of pretty much everything.
TF Torrance – another Theologian, a student of Karl Barth though himself deeply influenced by Scottish Theology (particularly Mackintosh), who has impacted me deeply. I wrote my BA Dissertation on his understanding of the Eucharist – an adventurous project because he hadn’t written much on the Eucharist specifically, but did mention it regularly throughout his writings. This led me to study his metaphysical methodology, a form of Critical Realism inspired by Einstein and James Clerk Maxwell. I say inspired, when it comes to his stratified tiers of knowledge he mimics the same structure as Einstein does: Tacit, Theoretical, and Ontological. This threefold coordinated network of meaning grounded in the very person of Christ as the one who is fully divine and fully human permeates my perception of reality and gives a framework of meaning which I depend on in all areas of life. I have shared one of my favourite quotes from Torrance before.
Adam – There are lots of people who I’ve come to know and respect through Twitter and Adam is a good example. I’ve valued our conversations and it’s been great to get something of a behind the scenes look at the writing process of novels. The first one of Adam’s that I read was Making Peace. Gripping and thoroughly readable. It’s also been exciting to see his Kickstarter campaign for his latest book going so well – Maxwell Cain: Burrito Avenger If you haven’t already, check it out.
Fraternity of Excellence – Getting to know people on Twitter is one thing, but the Fraternity is a dedicated group of men who are all committed to both raising their standard of life and helping others who are doing the same. As Hunter Drew likes to say, a rising tide raises all ships. Hunter heads this up along with Craig James and both are solid men with a solid message.
Tex – The Fraternity is more than just online conversation. It spills over into real-world friendships. Tex is a prime example of this, as I had the opportunity to explore the Scottish Coast with him and his Son earlier in the year. I appreciate his advice and value his friendship. A man who backs up his words with action he has radically transformed his life through Intermittent Fasting. This picture hangs on my office wall.
Hunter Drew – Author of 31DTM and co-founder of the Fraternity of Excellence, Hunter Drew has become a solid friend since I first did the 31DTM challenges by myself in October 2017. Since then we’ve done them together with 100+ other guys, Including Craig and Tex, in December and again in March (they also did it in September). I’ve lost count of the number of push-ups involved but each one has been a physical expression of a mental commitment to becoming the best version of myself that I can be. I’ve yet to meet Hunter, but it’s on the cards for 2019 and I’m psyched.
My housemates from training. From September 2017-2018 I was fortunate to have three wonderful housemates who came to mean a lot to both myself and my now wife. They were there the morning I got up and ready to go and propose, and celebrated with us when we came back. I’m quite sure that God used all of us to bless each of us at different times and in varying ways. This last year, and how I’ve grown, wouldn’t be the same without them.
Our House – with my job I have what’s called a ‘house for duty’. i.e. in order to do my job I get somewhere to live. I’m acutely aware that this means I live in a much better property than I would otherwise be able to afford. Along with the house comes an appreciation for the often invisible blessings which we can all too easily overlook – having somewhere safe, dry and warm to sleep is a big deal.
Ordination – At the end of June of this year I completed two years of training for ordained ministry, and was ordained Deacon in the Church of England at Norwich Cathedral to serve in the Diss Team Ministry, in south Norfolk. It’s very hard to express in words the significance of the ceremony, the sense of anticipation and excitement mingled with a profound sense of honour and duty. As someone who was unsure what they wanted to do with their life in their teenage years, ordination was confirmation of vocation and is a constant reminder that my life, while mine, is not my own but has been surrendered to God and to all whom he loves (which includes you).
Job – My job is my lived reality of ordination expressed by being a Curate, serving, teaching, preaching, engaging, discussing and reflecting. It offers an opportunity to enter into the lived reality of others and to hopefully speak and embody meaningfulness into their situations. I cannot rest on my words. I must speak by my deeds and live with integrity. Not as someone who is better than or superior to others, for I have my own weaknesses and flaws, but as someone who by the grace of God has hope – and offers hope.
Marriage – The Church is one vocation, but it’s not the only vocation out there. I’m blessed in that I’ve been called to be married to Linnea. The wedding was on the 1st of September in her hometown in Sweden. It was a superb day (some pictures will follow below) but what is more important than the day is the commitment we’ve made to each other. Viewing marriage as something we are called to is both daunting and liberating. Naturally, we’ve established that we have chemistry and enjoy each other’s company, and we’ve got shared values and faith while also finding each other particularly attractive. However, the foundation of our marriage is not techniques or even as simple as each meeting our own personal criteria or preferences. It’s the sense that we are committed to sharing our lives together for better and for worse, through good and bad. We have an inkling of some of the challenges we may face, and we’ve already experienced something of the joys of being married and shared adventures. I am grateful for my marriage and the Church; neither are entirely the origin of my own sense of who I am, but they are both crucially important and foundational elements which will shape the rest of my life – and frankly, that’s awesome.
My parents – I’m grateful for my parents who have always had my back and loved me, even when I’ve felt unlovable. They were each involved in the Wedding. My Mum played Concerning Hobbits on the flute as we walked down the aisle together (as you do in Sweden), and my Dad officiated and uttered the complicated Swedish Declaration which made the marriage legal. I’m hugely grateful to each of them, and for their speeches at the reception afterwards.
My sister – My sister has dreams, and she has the talents to make those dreams a reality. She’s pursuing drama and always puts in a stellar performance, seemingly taking on a wide variety of roles with a natural ease. She’s also funny, thoughtful and having decided on her principles lives them out diligently and with integrity. As my sister, she’s also been a right pain at times – but then again, I’m the same as the eldest brother. Among her talents is a strong voice, and she sang Celine Dion’s The Power of Love for us during the ceremony. A favourite and meaningful song for us, she absolutely killed it and it was one of the many highlights of the day. You can listen to it below in the YouTube player, which should begin just before she sings. If not, skip to 42:23.
I’m grateful to my groomsmen – some of my best friends, the kind who pick up where they left off no matter how long has elapsed and who will be there for years to come. They’re each very different, yet each have made me who I am. It’s one thing to be friends with good men. It’s another to be honoured by them. Without them, the wedding day would not have been as smooth or splendid as it was. And really all I can say is that I’m grateful to them and proud to be a man with quality friends.
My brother, Jonathan – he has not been dealt an easy hand in life yet all who get to know him would characterise and love him for his winsome sense of humour. I have treasured his support, particularly over the last seven years. Despite his good-natured company, public speaking isn’t something he’s ever sought or been keen on. I proposed to Linnea while at the other end of the country and it was a couple of weeks until we went down to see my family for Christmas. When we arrived we were presented with an audio recording of Jonathan standing up in front of my home church confidently and eloquently announcing my engagement. It cemented my desire to ask him to be my best man – and he accepted. More than this he truly rose to the occasion. His speech is one of the ones I remember the most clearly (we had 17 speeches!), and he even ad-libbed extra anecdotes which weren’t in his prepared notes. Not only did he do a cracking speech, and act as a real blessing to me but he also chose a great suit. I couldn’t be prouder to have had him by my side as I waited for my beautiful bride.
My Darling Wife, Linnea – I’m not just grateful for our marriage, but for who she is. We first came to know each other through daily morning prayer a couple of years ago and our shared faith has created a firm foundation for the mix of exciting chemistry, playful humour, a joint love of adventures and wrestling with ideas. Life is never dull, and we bring out of each other the best in the other. I am proud of all that she has achieved, from being top of her class in her BA to acing her MA and co-presenting a paper at a prestigious conference and now starting her PhD. There’s an underlying and driving sense of curiosity which is clear in everything from her studies through to trying unexpected foods and exploring on adventures. Aside from all the lovely things, I appreciate that she has not shied away from my sense of vocation. Becoming the wife of a clergyman is no small thing, coming with a set of unique challenges. I appreciate her hearing and understanding my sense of purpose and being prepared to come alongside that to become a part of it. This is a real blessing. I said this at the time and I’ll say it again. Getting married to Linnea was one of the most amazing days of my life, but I fully anticipate that it shall not be the peak. If we were climbing a mountain getting married was that moment when you reach the first vantage point from which you can appreciate the view. But there’s more to climb, explore and discover before we get to the summit. And so I’m glad for this my first birthday with Linnea as my Wife, and look forward to many more to come.
God – My name is Samuel, and it has a trio of meanings. Each of which have gained meaning through my life. First, one who is heard God. Second, one who hears God. Third, one who is called by God. I’ve shared before in one of my sermons the story of being heard by God, even when I thought he wasn’t listening. I had been praying daily before bed but wasn’t seeing anything change in my life or the situations of those I prayed for. I gave up. Literally the following morning a woman at university stopped me before lunch to tell me that God told her in a dream to tell me to keep praying because he hears my prayers. I was blown away. It was too absurd to be a coincidence.
I’ve had plenty of moments where the scriptures have seemed particularly relevant to the situations on my mind, but equally it’s easy to downplay it and say that I’m just reading my situations into the text; I’m making my own meaning. However, I’ve also had several what could be called ‘charismatic’ experiences of God. Some of which have been written about on this blog, such as this reflection on the Lord’s Prayer. I am quite sure that my life would be utterly different had God not shown up in the dramatic fashion that he has. My blog logo is a witness to this and a reminder to me of a particular encounter with God where I knew that I was accepted and wasn’t just forgiven by Jesus but was also able to forgive myself.
This was crucial for my journey of growth both towards becoming who I am as a man and for accepting my calling to be ordained in the Church of England. Having grown up the son of a vicar in a part of the country where most of my friends were going to become farmers like their parents, I have grown up actively resisting the idea that I would become a vicar myself. I went through the discernment process (which took a couple of years to complete) in the hopes that I could finally lay to rest the idea. Many people are turned down for all sorts of reasons and if I let the process say ‘No’ then I could leave the idea behind me. In the event the first line of my report said: “We believe that Samuel has the potential to be a fine priest”. I accepted, reluctantly, and went off to train. My personal tutor and I had many conversations as I wrestled with the existential questions of ‘surely this is a mistake?’ People were helpful, but it was only the quiet and gently insistent presence of God through daily prayer and through the realisation that I never felt more alive Than when I was preaching or having conversations with people about Jesus and faith.
Personally, I like feeling alive. I relish living a life of meaning, and I’ve found my vocation and purpose in pursuing ordained ministry. Serving as a Curate has only confirmed this. And so, I am grateful to God for leading me to where I am now. Indeed, I am grateful to Jesus for all of the previous things on the list because ‘all good gifts come from heaven above’ (James 1:17).
And so these are Twenty-Six of the things I’m grateful for.
Here’s looking forward to the adventures of this next year.
All Wedding Photography Credited to Zeuxis Photography