At a time when covid-19 has made many of us stare face to face into our own mortalities, this seems like an appropriate time to express something I have never written about – my Christian faith. So this post will provide a brief account of how I believe the providence of God has been with me, well before I was aware of it. The post will finish with me introducing an album of mine that I think at least partially verifies this assertion. For the moment – consider listening to it while you read the rest of this post – I suggest starting with ‘It’s September’ – the 2nd track below, then go from there.
Firstly, I need to point out that most of you who know me will not even know that I am a Christian, due to me having the somewhat selfish tendency to a) not talk about it and b) not always display the glory of God in my behaviour. So, although I describe myself as a ‘Christian’, I have to say upfront that it is only through Jesus’ grace that I reap any of the ‘rewards’ promised in the bible. I am a ‘work in progress’ who struggles with many things – in particular ego. So, before I get on to introducing the aforementioned album, set out below is a plotted story of how I ‘became’ a Christian around 15 years ago.
My first memories of any church are related to my great nanna occasionally taking me to Sunday school in Winlaton (where I grew up, near Newcastle), although I don’t remember much, apart from seeing people in ‘strange uniforms’ (I later found out that I was attending a Salvation Army Hall). Aside from these isolated memories from around the age of 4 or 5, although brought up in a very loving caring family, God was not overtly part of it in terms of family routine – there were no prayers or overt acknowledgment that God was a reality. As I moved into secondary school, my next Christian memories involved my fascination toward a team of young Christians who occasionally performed at our daily morning service, the fact that their music included guitars was a welcome relief for me, as opposed to the usual piano based hymns.
By the time of my 14th birthday, I had my great nanna to thank once again for my next excursion into church – which was prompted by me noticing she hopped onto a private bus every Sunday evening from outside her front door at the bottom of our street, she was aged around 80 at this point. After me and a friend deciding it would be a good way of doing something different on a Sunday evening, we found out that this bus took you to a place called Bethshan Church in central Newcastle, about 5 miles from where we lived. I was intrigued, so this started a regular weekly excursion through the council estates of north east England with a group of pensioners who were at least 60 years older than us – the generation gap was noticeable. However, when we arrived at the church, it became apparent that the place was littered with young people like us and the worship music did not feature a church organ – but once again guitars!! At this point I was becoming seriously interested in music, being a fan of bands like Slade, T.Rex and in particular Queen, so visiting church was one of the experiences that led me to buying a guitar later that year with some money I got for Christmas. I attended that church for about a year and at one point, really believed I was ‘saved’ – but at this point the Word of God ultimately landed on ground which was also populated with ‘weeds’(Matthew 13:24-43), which simply crowded it out. This was not the time – but I now know that the seeds had been planted.
After this, I progressed to finishing off school, working on a building site, attending music college, getting my first professional gig (in the Middle East), and moving to London in my early 20s. I then met the love of my life Deb, and eventually moved to Dorset in 1994 for my first full time teaching job. When we moved to Dorset, we moved to a house with a church next door – Verwood Road Evangelical Church in Three Legged Cross. After we enrolled our then one year old daughter to a mother and toddlers group in the church, both me and Deb became fascinated by the love that those running the group showed for us – so we started attending church again. This time, God’s word penetrated deeper than ever before, but once again, life’s events, in particular the death of Deb’s dad, drove us away.
By the time we moved to Wales 17 years ago, we had been blessed with two beautiful kids and our life seemed to be very ‘rosey’. We lived in a lovely house in a nice village and I had a good Job. However, 2.5 years later our life took a twist, in the summer of 2006, Deb was diagnosed with breast cancer. To say it destroyed me is an understatement, however, out of the ashes of those first few months, a positive emerged – we once again started going to church. This was prompted by a desperate prayer for support one evening, which was clearly answered the following day. Yes, even though we were not Christians, we cried out to a God, who we instinctively knew was listening. After that, due to the blessings of a young trainee paster (Paul Meredith, one of the most godly men I have met), God’s voice gradually became ‘Louder’ and the bible started to speak truth to both of us. It is difficult to explain this due to the logocentric limitations of words, but all I can say is although it has been very slow, God is gradually changing us to be more like his Son. One of the massive blessings of this walk is that I have done it alongside Deb. We have also been blessed to have the right people in our journey at the right time – too many to mention, but God knows who they are because He put them there!
So, how does this story relate to the album I mentioned at the start of the post, which I have now had the chance to ‘release’, nearly 20 years after recording it – well before I became a Christian. Well let’s start with the track names, which I have copied below
The Way (Hardy’s Lament)
The Mount (6.20)
As you can see, five of these nine tracks have direct references to the bible – ‘Prodigal Son’, ‘The Way’, ‘Mantle’, ‘Salvations’ and ‘The Mount’. I have no explanation for how I came up with these names aside from believing that God was ‘speaking’ to me, quietly – in a similar way to the famous ‘Footprints’ poem. For those that don’t know it, I have copied it below
One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.
After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”
He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”
When I look back over my own life, I have no doubt that during trails like when Deb was diagnosed with breast cancer, that there was only one set of footprints – and they were not mine! I realise that I have been ‘carried’ during these times, but that even during these times before I was a Christian – He was ‘whispering in my ear’. I believe this is the reason why the track names mentioned above have clear Christian references. Indeed when I think that the first ‘jazz-rock’ piece I ever wrote (well before I recorded this album-when I was aged around 21/22) was called ‘Tarsus’, which I now know is the birth place of the apostle Paul, it leads me to believe that He has been with me for many years. When I look back at these track names however, they represent a clear reference to how God was ‘speaking’ to me – well before I was aware of his voice. Although the tracks are all instrumental – I hope you enjoy them and their associated meanings. I hope this short story also encourages others to look out for God’s providence in their own lives – He is there – even if you don’t realise it.