I had been working in the big factory for almost fifteen and a half years and had probably unconsciously believed that I would spend the rest of my working life there. The pay was good, the working conditions were good and I was part of a company pension scheme that would hopefully help out if I ever reached retirement. I was settled and reasonably comfortable with my life.
That was until one day whilst operating the state of the art C.N.C. machine God spoke into my heart unexpectedly and told me that he wanted me to stop working with machines and to start working with people. At that moment I had absolutely no idea what God had in mind or whether or not I was actually hearing from God. My immediate response was to dismiss the inner voice from God and continue with my relatively comfortable life.
There was plenty of opportunity to work extra hours of overtime and I took most of the opportunities offered to me. In fact there was a period in my life when four things dominated my life, work, squash, family and God. The order that I have placed these four things in are probably an accurate order of the priorities in my life at that time. During my childhood years I had hardly been out of the country, the furthest would have been a school trip to Dorset in England and a cross community trip to London that almost ended in a mini riot when the Roman Catholic boys would not stand for the national anthem at a big theatre event in London.
I wanted to give my children opportunities to travel to nice places and the only way I could do that was to work extra hours to pay for it. On reflection I may have not been as wise as I could have been, I think now it would have been more beneficial to my wife and children if I had spent more time with them at home rather than doing twelve hour shifts sometimes seven days a week just to take them somewhere nice for two weeks in the year.
The other activity in my life that I almost failed to mention was that of playing squash. I mentioned earlier that sport was very important to me as it was the one thing in my life that I was any good at and made me feel good about myself. I cannot remember how I was introduced to the game of squash but I can honestly say that as I once lived to play football at this period in my life squash very powerfully took its place. So much so that I would spend hours and hours on a Squash court by myself practicing different shots and strengthening my weak backhand.
In my early squash days I was humiliated by two men who played competitive squash for a local team. My partner did had not turned up and these two men had finished playing on the other court and had come to see if the other court was free. When they saw me on the court by myself they offered to play me a game and I innocently accepted. They ran me ragged and I came off the court dejected and very angry. A man who I had never met before observed the destruction I had just endured and introduced himself to me.
He was a local man who had a business in Australia and was home on holiday for a few months. He for some reason was as angry as I was because of the humiliation that I had just endured at the hands of the two men. He told me that he did not like what they had done to me and asked me if I wanted to take squash seriously, my reply was yes. He took my phone number and told me he would be in touch. True to his word he contacted me and he became my unofficial squash coach. He was a far better player than the two men who had destroyed me and being a more than willing pupil I quickly began to improve.
He advised me to Join a squash club in Portadown where he played quite a lot and get to know the best players and get as many games as I could with them. He returned to Australia and promised to look me up when he returned the following year. There was no doubt that I had improved greatly and I got way ahead of myself in thinking that I was now ready to take on someone who played for the squash club that my good friend had recommended to me. I would sometimes see this man’s photo in the news paper with a write up about the squash team that he played for. It just so happened that he was my former teacher in the Technical College that I referred to earlier and was one of the very few teachers that I liked and had any time for.
I contacted him and asked him quite arrogantly if he would like to play me a game of squash. To my delight he said yes and I suggested booking the court for an hour but he said half an hour would be enough. My former teacher had taken me for many school lessons but he was soon going to take me for a lesson that I would never forget, even till this day. He was a very quiet man and had a pleasant way about him he was also a very good tennis player but there was no sense of arrogance from him. I wish that had been the case with me.
We greeted one another on the court and began our first game, I won’t bore you with the details of how the game unfolded but the score at the end of the first game was 9-0 to him, the second game and third game surprisingly ended with the same scores, 9-0. 9-0. The strange thing was that I was not angry with this man as I had been with the other two, even though he had demolished me I did not feel humiliated because I knew that he was not trying to do that to me.
I do think however that he sensed a certain arrogance and confidence in my ability that was not warranted and he like any good teacher felt it his duty to correct me and boy he did. I had still not grasped the difference in the standards in squash players and the standard that I thought I was at was nowhere near as good to what I thought that it was. He thought that by giving me seven points up and the serve that somehow I might be inspired to get the next two points and win, dream on as they say. The scores of the next three games were 9-7/ 9-7/ 9-7.
To say that I enjoyed the hammering would not be accurate but I enjoyed playing a good squash player and was even more determined now to become the best that I could become. He also encouraged me to join the squash club that my Australian friend had recommended, I did and from then on I gradually became addicted to squash. The more proficient I became as a player the more time I would devote to personal practice and seeking games with the best players in the club who I knew I had no chance of beating but with each defeat I would learn something and become a better player.
You have probably guessed by now that I was very passionate about sport, passionate to the degree where squash in particular had become an idol in my life without me recognising it as so. I will finish my squash adventures by telling you hopefully without boasting, that I eventually played for the first team in the club and played division two squash. I humbly share that I later on met up with the two men who had humiliated me. It was at a local squash competition.
Who am I kidding, I am not being humble at all, I took great joy and delight by running them into the ground, it was pay back of the highest order but I was beat by a better player in the final. My good friend and coach came home from Australia the following year and he contacted me and we played our game. I was never sad after winning a game but I was that day, I had beaten my mentor but I think he was proud that I had taken his advice and become possibly as good as I could be.
Sorry for being diverted from what I was originally saying about God speaking to me at work but for some reason I felt I had to. I learned a lot about myself during my squash years, some good and some not so good, maybe that is for another time. I tried the best I could to ignore and dismiss the inner voice within me that was directing me away from working with machines and towards working with people. I told myself that I was too comfortable to chance giving up my secure job and I was lucky to have got the job there in the first place due to my lack of qualifications. I had other excuses and reasons for dismissing this inner voice as well.
God has many attributes and one of them is persistence. The inner voice would not go away; no excuse or reasoning that I could come up with would silence the voice of God in my heart. Finally I prayed to God and reasoned with him, I simply told him that I could not make the decision on my own to leave the big factory and step out into something as vague as being told by an inner voice. I told the Lord that if he really wanted me to leave and go and work with people then it would be up to him to somehow do it because I was afraid to take that step of faith and believe him for whatever that meant.
Even though I was afraid to go into something new to me I had an even greater fear of disobeying the revealed will of God to me. I had covenanted with God when I was eighteen that I would be his witness and never by the grace of God refuse him again. Have you ever heard the old saying that, “God works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform”? Well he was about to start his mysterious ways and his wonders to perform in my life.