40 years of Mark Arnold

Ten long years ago I wrote these words: (quoted below)

My brother Mark:
He owns lots of red jumpers.
He has secret sides that few people get to see. I love it when others are let in to that side of him and see how amazing he is.
He can be very annoying, wonderfully stupid, deeply profound and caring all in one day.
He loves Jesus. Lots.
For someone who owns practically every theological book there is (and has read them) he is remarkably practical and real about faith, the struggles and the reality of God.
He seems to just get on with life, a fact I am constantly amazed and bemused by.
He’s really really grumpy in the morning and a simple conversation can send him into fits of rage. I find that very very funny.
He always has to argue, even if he agrees with me, he always has to argue.
He’s really, surprisingly, secretly stubborn.
He laughs at me.
He can’t be put into a box, even though he sometimes wears evangelical man clothes. .
He says ‘probably’ and ‘I think so’ FAR too much. Even about things that should be definite. Eg. ‘Are we going left at the next junction?’- ‘probably’
I love spending time with him.
He’s not cool, at all.
He reads me cool quotes from books.
He can be really really silly. I love that about him.
He can still play ‘lets pretend we’re in Lord of the Rings’ up mountains when he’s 29. I hope he will in his thirties.
He really really loves the Bible and making sure everyone can understand what’s going on in it.
He never humours my self pity but helps me laugh at myself.
He laughs at me. A lot.
He’s my friend. One of my best friends.
I think he likes me too.

My lovely brother had turned 30 (how how young that seems now) and today he turns 40. 40. Blimey. Time is a funny, funny thing. I wrote that blog post out of a deep appreciation for the wonderful Mark Arnold. Little did I know the even more wonderful long term implications at the time. It was a blog post that encouraged my friend, now sister in law to be intrigued by this man. Which led to a holiday engineered with other friends so they could meet and hang out in a stress free way over a number of days and get to know each other. Which led to an amusing car drive home where I asked my brother cheekily which one of my friends he liked best, and knew from the insane giggle in response that I could smile and let them get on with it. Which led to meetings and emails and asking out and a marriage and a family. (I get less credit for that but I like the narrative of my blog post led to their wedding… it suits my ego… but…all credit to them and God).

Anyway, where were we, ah yes, 10 years have passed. 10 years in which mine and his life have changed dramatically.  We somehow find ourselves with amazing spouses and 5 children between us. It’s been a crazy 10 years. He’s lived in another country, got an Mcs, a Phd and racked up a whole load of sleep deprivation with 3 beautiful children. Our paths have taken very different ways in these years. Our lives are full of small people and exhaustion and trying to love the people in front of us. We no longer talk every week on the phone. I don’t think I could write another list about him in quite the same way, and that’s OK.

He is a different person to the man I wrote about 10 years ago. Obviously those things are still fairly true of him, but, rightly, he has changed. I am incredibly proud of his love for his wife and family, his sacrifices for them again and again. I am in awe of his ability to write a Phd in 3 years with 3 children under 6 who have interesting relationships to sleep. I am in awe of his putting his family first and still managing to do that. I am proud of his carrying on trusting God in the darkness, in the not knowing where the next step is. I love that his theology has altered and changed shape over the years but at the core he remains someone deeply in love with God and all he has done. I love the brief snatches of time we have had on family get togethers to share tales of sleepless nights and small people. I love seeing him as a Dad, he’s a natural, so brilliant at being with them. I love how he loves, enjoys and parents his children. He’s still an amazing man and I am still so so glad to know him and I look forward with hope that the next decade might bring our paths together more.

As ever Bruce Springsteen sums up the depth of feeling I’m trying to convey here. Blood Brothers is a beautiful tribute to friendship changing over the years but at it’s core full of love and gratitude for each other.

We played king of the mountain out on the end
The world come charging up the hill, and we were women and men
Now there’s so much that time, time and memory fade away
We got our own roads to ride and chances we got to take
We stood side by side each one fighting for the other
And we said until we died we’d always be blood brothers

Now the hardness of this world slowly grinds your dreams away
Making a fool’s joke out of the promises we make
And what once seemed black and white turns to so many shades of gray
We lose ourselves in work to do, work to do and bills to pay
And it’s a ride, ride, ride, and there ain’t much cover
With no one running by your side, my blood brother
On through the houses of the dead past those fallen in their tracks
Always moving ahead and never looking back

Now I don’t know how I feel, I don’t know how I feel tonight
If I’ve fallen ‘neath the wheel, if I’ve lost or I gained sight
I don’t even know why, I don’t know why I made this call
Or if any of this matters anymore after all

But the stars are burning bright like some mystery uncovered
I’ll keep moving through the dark with you in my heart, my blood brother

Whatever the next decade brings I ask you to raise your glasses in celebration of 40 years of Mark Arnold. He’s a good one and, someone, somewhere, give him a job eh.

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