“Happy Birthday To Me!” Or “Why 31 is the New 47”


I woke up at 5am this morning and couldn’t go back to sleep.

After using the restroom and getting a drink of water to soothe my smoke dried esophagus, I looked at my watch and saw those haunting numbers at the top, numbers I only see once a year, “8-21.”

It must be my birthday.

After tossing and turning and fretting over anything and everything for an hour, I decided to call it what it was and climbed out of bed.  I brewed myself an extra cup of coffee, since it is my birthday after all.  The coffee maker must have known because the coffee that emerged was delightful.  An hour or so later, when I got to the bottom of the pot, I found out why.  Something happened to the filter and the last 1/8th of my mug was all grounds.  They were a small price to pay for the tiny bit of heaven in that cup.

I sat on the couch before my kids woke up, watching the birthday greetings from my 300 Facebook friends roll by my feed.  A bit later, my 3 year old daughter came barreling up the stairs.  She climbed into my arms and asked with her wide eyed curiosity, “Is it your birthday today?”

My son was a little bit less adorable, finding any and every reason to scream as the morning went on.  Though, after a bit of funny faces, tickling and blowing raspberries on his belly button I got some crazy cute giggles and smiles out of him.

That aside, there is a melancholy to the morning, and not just in the thick, smoky haze that has filled our valley.  “Another year older and deeper in debt” as the old song goes, only this past year I climbed considerably out of debt and swore off taking out any more loans for anything.

That small victory aside, it hasn’t been the best of years.  My failures far outnumber my successes, both in my professional life and in my personal life.  As I get more and more disillusioned with myself, I also am getting more and more disillusioned with the church.  We seem to still be struggling with this heresy that claims that outreach events, better programs, bigger buildings and more politicians “on our side” will save us from annihilation, when Scripture and a bit of experience plainly testify that the route to salvation is in the simple prayers of the humble, “Lord have mercy on us.  Lord, show us your glory.  Lord, sanctify us through and through.”

I haven’t prayed those prayers enough this year.  Add that to my ever growing list of failures.

All this reminds me of a time not too long ago when I jokingly told an older colleague that, “I only have 2 bad days a year.”

That was true then.  I had two days a year, on average, where I had sort of a meltdown, where things came crashing down hard.  But I was always able to get up the next morning, laugh it off and continue onward.

When I told him that, he laughed and replied, “Really?!  Wait a few years.”  The laughter was a little bit cynical but held with it the wisdom of age, himself being in his late 40s and having 4 kids at home and a career that required huge amounts of skill and patience, that I now know he didn’t yet have.

It turns out, he knew what I now know, that being a mature and responsible adult who is trying to do right by yourself, your family, your workplace and, most importantly, your God, is nowhere near as easy as a younger fool might assume.  This road is fraught with peril and failure.  It is full of doubt and frustration.  And its travelers are quickly foiled by good intentions and well meaning swings at shallow opportunities.

And this last year has been full of all those things, missed opportunities, failures, doubts and frustration, all adding up to strike outs at the home plate of life.

Still, what my older friend may not have known then, is that I looked up to him and still do.  He was a saint of a man who took a job no one else wants and did it to the best of his ability.  I soaked up his wisdom and passionately studied his work ethic and demeanor, longing to one day be like him.

Maybe I am on that road after all, not the road of happiness or success or pleasure or money or power, but that narrow and treacherous path we call holiness.

During this time, I have found so many meaningful songs, statues, portraits, movies and books to guide me.

However, I finish with this old song from one of Newsboys early albums.  I loved that song when I first heard it 20 years ago and I still adore it to this day.

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