My family would tell you that I have a long memory. I remember dates and numbers quite clearly – something passed down in my genes, I think. For the most part, being able to remember things like birthdays and anniversaries is an absolute blessing in lots of practical ways.
But it can also be a strange way to walk through the year: I don’t just remember the good dates and the happy stuff but also remember the days when things weren’t quite so good. And, of course, we now have things like Facebook memories to help me, even if I have tried to suppress an uncomfortable date!
A memory popped up this week which reminded me that this weekend marks 10 years since I and around 250 colleagues heard that the organisation we worked for was to be shut down completely. All our jobs would be lost as part of the wider government spending cuts in 2010. And all of this was compounded for me personally by the fact that my brother, who worked for a similar organisation locally, received the same news in the same week. My wider family groaned under the weight of these announcements.
I remember it feeling like a sucker punch – we had expected some cuts but not complete closure without warning – and then feeling very numb. And, as I and others around me worked long hours, trying to work out how to shut down an organisation with lots of ongoing connections and initiatives and keep everyone informed and supported through the process, I remember feeling huge waves of anger and pain and sadness that a place full of brilliant people who cared about education and learners wasn’t going to exist for much longer.
And it wasn’t just about the work: I was heavily emotionally invested in an organisation I had worked for over 11 years and where I had brilliant, close friendships.
God was kind, though, and gave me time and space to carefully disengage. By the time I was one of the last to leave the building a few months later, the initial shock and grief had passed and I was ready and excited to step in to a new, very different future. God had spoken into the waiting and the sadness and turned my mourning into dancing, as Psalm 30:11 says. He had first told me to sit tight and do my job (which I did) and then, gently, he gave me a vision for an altogether unexpected future as a singer and vocal coach.
Obviously, the fact I’m writing this as the Curate at St Martin’s reveals that the story doesn’t end there but that’s a tale for another day! Instead, I’ve been thinking about those weeks and months between the 24th May 2010 and the 3rd February 2011 and the rollercoaster of emotions and reactions that I and so many others rode as we processed the news and prepared to close down and leave.
Everyone who has experienced redundancy (and I know that there are many who have) will react in different ways but, for me there was a mixture of everything – shock, grief, pain, anger, sadness, numbness, hope, optimism, pessimism, confusion, excitement and ultimately joy that I would be starting a brand new chapter that was unexpected and full of promise. God genuinely did use that time to turn my sorrow into joy and my mourning into dancing. The sadness was justified and appropriate but it didn’t settle in for good, and for that I’m forever grateful.
Maybe there are echoes of that time a decade ago in what I’ve been feeling during lockdown? I think I’ve felt almost all of the emotions I listed just now in the last few weeks. That’s not wrong – like redundancy and other life events we can’t control, it’s a defining moment in all our lives and that’s bound to carry a huge range of emotions with it.
The question I’ve been asking myself is whether I can lean on what I learnt about the kindness of God during that time to give me hope and reassurance 10 years on? The answer, of course, is a resounding yes! A few years later, as I embarked on the next, unexpected chapter of God’s plan in my life, I was given two verses from Psalm 31: ‘But I trust in you, O Lord, I say “You are my God.” My times are in your hand….’ Those words stopped me in my tracks because I knew them to be true from that difficult experience previously. I continue to return to those words now, in these strange times.
My times 10 years ago were in God’s hands. My times in 2016, when someone read those verses from Psalm 31 to me before I went for selection for training for ordination, were in God’s hands. And my times now, here in lockdown and in the midst of a global pandemic, are most certainly in God’s hands.
So perhaps I will rest in the memories, however uncomfortable, of 10 years ago for a while. I will remember that God was at work then and he is at work now, however I am feeling and however difficult and uncertain things seem. And I will choose to trust in our loving God, knowing that my times – all our times – are in his hands.