One year ago today we arrived in Oxford! It feels simultaneously like ages have passed, and yet no time at all. This has no doubt been exacerbated by the fact that despite moving in April, I continued working for Christ Church London until the end of July (and indeed Helen only finished last month), and also the fact that the pandemic has entirely skewed my sense of the passage of time anyway. But it feels both that our season in London was a lifetime ago, and that we’re only just getting started here.
Our move was unexpected, and yet with the perspective of hindsight, God was preparing us for it in ways we didn’t perceive at the time. The story is here, but the TL;DR version is that we had a series of dreams and prophetic words about moving to Oxford, quite out of the blue, and got to the point where we felt like God was asking us to move without knowing what was next. So we did.
I’ve reflected a lot this last year on where we’ve come from, what the future might hold, and who God has made us to be and become. There’s plenty I could share, and plenty that’s personal and unformed and I couldn’t articulate even if I wanted to. But if I had to sum up how I feel one year on, I’d choose these four words:
Whilst there is plenty I miss about London – mainly people – my overriding feeling is happiness that we’re in the right place for this season. In the midst of all the questions we’ve faced this last year, we’ve had a pervading sense of peace. That’s not to say there hasn’t been anxiety or uncertainty about the challenges, struggles and questions we have had (and in some cases continue to have). There’s been plenty to make me nervous! But I can honestly say I’ve never once even wondered if we’ve made a mistake.
Friedrich Nietzsche said,
‘He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.’
‘God told us to’ is a pretty strong ‘why’, even if I’d have liked a bit more clarity at times! But I’d also say that having a ‘where’ and ‘when’ attached to the ‘why’ have given us peace in the sometimes seeming-impossibility of the ‘how’. Knowing we’re in the right place for this season has been a precious feeling, and I’m thankful for it, even though I still think there’s more to be revealed about why we’re here and what we’re meant to be doing for the long-term.
I’m grateful for provision we’ve experienced this year. Financial provision; a home that feels far more lovely than we deserve; new friendships; a new church; a new job; a great school and friends for our daughter… There are stories attached to each of those items, and I’ve learnt a lot this year about trusting God and recognising His provision.
Early on we felt God speak to us about the fact that provision would consistently come not at the last minute but a few minutes later. At every step of this journey we’ve had deadlines that we had set for ourselves, which have come and gone, and as we’ve continued trusting and praying, the provision has come shortly after. God has been good.
After finishing for Christ Church, I had a few months of applying for jobs, doing freelance work here and there, and starting some writing projects. It was a strange and not entirely enjoyable period! But at one point I remember reading the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah, and one verse leapt out at me.
‘After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion.’(Luke 1.24)
It’s not entirely clear why Elizabeth shut herself away for five months, and the commentaries didn’t help me. But I felt God say that I was in a period of hiddenness, and after five months I would emerge, and then after a further four months, the new season would be born. I took comfort from it that my timings were not His timings. And sure enough, five months to the day after finishing at Christ Church London I started my new job, and four months later, Helen finished hers.
God has been good to us. I’m excited to see what’s next.
Sometimes there are things you just can’t see properly when you’re standing up close to them, and they only become clear when you step away and gain a new perspective. That has certainly been true for me this year. I’ve gained perspective over good things I’ve experienced and I’m glad to carry with me, and other things I’m glad to leave behind.
I’ve found myself in various situations where I’ve discovered that I had skills or understanding I didn’t know I had. In those moments I’ve realised how much I learned and picked up in London which I wasn’t necessarily aware of at the time. Skills I didn’t know I was building. Experience I was racking up that just felt like ‘getting on with the job at hand’ but has now given me transferrable wisdom. I’m very grateful for opportunities I had in my twelve years in London; they were formative in ways I didn’t always appreciate at the time.
Being in a new context has also given me perspective on some of the things I don’t want to carry forward with me. I’ve been able to reflect more deeply on my own personal values. Things that really matter to me about life and integrity, models of leadership, church and ministry. Things I didn’t or couldn’t question while up close to them, but now with distance and perspective I feel a deeper conviction over. There are certain ways of living, leading and doing church that are now non-negotiables for whatever I do here, and wherever I connect in the future.
And with all of that, there’s been a lot of rejoicing, journaling, questioning, repenting, forgiving, grieving, healing and decision-making. I’m more certain now who I am, who I want to be, and who I certainly don’t want to be, than I was one year ago.
This has been a season of new connections and re-connections; getting to know new people, new churches, and new ministries, and also getting to reconnect with people, churches and ministries I’d lost touch with. Doors that had been closed have been reopened, and new doors have opened too. I’ve had ministry opportunities I would never have got before, conversations I would never have been able to have, and experienced breakthrough in preaching and ministry that I haven’t previously been able to see.
One of the phrases I’ve heard many times from people who have known me at different stages of the last decade and have met me again this year is,
“You seem broader, freer, more expansive.”
I’m surprised how many times I’ve heard it, and I’m surprised every time I hear it, because it’s something I feel, but not something I expect others to recognise.
When I moved to London, I felt I was stepping into something vast and expansive, and I grew enormously. 25-year old Liam is almost unrecognisable to me, and not just because he was skinnier and less-bearded. By the time we left, my world had got so small, and I was beginning to shrink to fit it. I felt that somewhat at the time, but I feel it far more clearly now. So I’m grateful to rekindle relationships across a network and across denominations; to regain a global perspective and feel connected to church plants and ministries across the world.
None of that is meant to criticise previous settings I’ve been in. As I’ve said, I have a lot to be grateful for – it’s about being in the place God has called you for the time He wants you there. The aeroplane seats are a necessary part of the journey, and you can’t get to your destination without them. But you don’t want to spend your whole holiday in them. I’m enjoying stretching, disembarking, and exploring new terrains.
I have little idea what the next year holds in store. A good part of it will just be continuing to put down roots and being ‘normal’ Christians enjoying serving and worshipping in our church, and seeking to be a blessing to those around us. I’ve got a few opportunities on the horizon that I’m excited about, and a few more things I’m praying about, where I suspect God may have some plans for us. But who knows?
It’s a fun journey to be on.
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Photo by Angèle Kamp on Unsplash