Today is my birthday. I turned 37 years old today. That just doesn’t sound right. It doesn’t sound right when I say it in my head and it sounds even worse when I say it out loud. It seems like I should still be a teenager, but regardless of what it seems, I have been on this earth for 37 long years. For those of you who are weird like me – that is 13,505 days. I like birthdays and I think they should be celebrated – they should be special. I think there should be breakfasts in bed and cards and singing and parties and balloons (even though I hate balloons) and cake and ice cream and gifts – of course, my love language is gifts – I love giving them and I really love receiving them – so there should be lots of gifts followed by more cake and ice cream. I guess I just subscribe to the view that a birthday should border on being a spectacle. I have one friend who really loves celebrating his birthday – in fact, he has more than a birthday – he has a “birthday season” which seems like it lasts a month. I think my worldview on birthdays comes from my belief that your birthday is the one day of the year that it is all about you. Maybe that sounds selfish or self-centered but your birthday is a celebration of a very significant event – your entrance into this world – nothing else. Birthdays are special because they represent the greatest gift you have been given in your life – it is – your life.
My birthday has been fantastic so far! I woke up to my beautiful bride caressing my cheek and softly saying “Happy birthday love.” I then got to have two incredible kids come into my bedroom and sing their own version of the “Happy Birthday” song. They both wanted to do it individually so it would be special, and trust me it was! Ironically they both sang the song, which has many interpretations, the exact same way. Here’s how it went – “Happy birthday to you – cha cha cha – happy birthday to you – cha cha cha – happy birthday dear daddy – happy birthday to you – cha cha cha.” There are few things on earth that can top the sound of happy children singing. I was then given a fantastic gift from Sonny – a very cool military green watch from ALDO – here is a picture if you are interested. I then met Sonny at her least favorite restaurant in the world – Denny’s – for breakfast. I know it sounds trivial but it meant a lot to me that Sonny would temporarily lower her culinary standards and eat at a greasy spoon just for me. Our schedule is pretty hectic so Sonny has actually been doing little things all week to celebrate my special day too, like getting a baby-sitter and taking me to see The Social Network on Monday and taking me to the mall yesterday to buy me a sweater from Banana Republic and to take me to lunch at Fuddruckers. All in all, I couldn’t have had a better birthday.
Birthdays are not always so great for everyone though. Birthdays can be a time of tremendous grief. For some this is their first birthday withouth a special loved one. Others may be anticipating this as their last birthday because they’ve received the report that their condition is terminal. Whatever the specific circumstance, for many people a birthday is not a celebration – it is a reminder. A reminder of mistakes made or relationships lost. A reminder of bridges burned or deep hurt. I have lived on this earth for 37 years and I have had many incredible moments of victory and joy, but I have also encountered far too many moments of drastic defeat and pain. I have had opportunities wasted and a seemingly epic amount of time slip away. How did yesterday go so fast? I will never get those moments back. I have yelled at my kids when they didn’t deserve it or spent time mindlessly watching TV when I could have been talking to my wife. I’ve been on airplanes flying to speak at events that would feed my ego and missed monumental moments like seeing my daughter take her first step or hearing my sons first real words over the phone between sessions while speaking at some conference or convention. I will never get those moments back.
I know that when we think of grief it is generally in the framework of death, but I think about it more in terms of loss. I grieve the time I’ve lost. I grieve the opportunities I’ve missed. I especially grieve the relational equity I’ve spent striving for things that seemed important at the time but have since proved fleeting. I miss the days when my kids smelled like powder and cried in the middle of the night. I miss the times when they couldn’t feed themselves and needed me to take care of every little thing for them. All things that seemed like such a hassle when they needed them done, but now in retrospect were paramount to both them and me. Now my kids have the ability to feed themselves and dress themselves and are relatively self-sufficient. They don’t want me to pick out their clothes or the food in their lunches and they don’t really want me to kiss them or hug them too long when I drop them off at school and that makes me sad. I know they are only 7 and 5 but yesterday they were in their mommy’s tummy and tomorrow they’ll be gone. What will I do then? I grieve the moments I missed with them. Likewise, it seems like yesterday that I saw a foxy lady with killer calves walking through my college cafeteria. It seems like yesterday that I got down on one knee on a snowy South Dakota December night in her parents front gazebo with an embarrisingly small ring and asked her to spend the rest of her life with me. When she said yes, it seemed like my heart and time simultaneously stopped. Unfortunately time didn’t stop. In fact it feels like it has gone into fast forward. We will be married 15 years this February but it seems like we have 50 years worth of memories. We have gone through multiple miscarriages, the death of a daughter, and doctors telling us we would never have children together because we were “genetically incompatible.” We have been around the world and touched the lives of countless people and in the meantime we almost lost everything. Sonny is my best friend but there have been times I haven’t acted like that. Too many times I have taken her for granted and ignored her. I have gone overseas for weeks on end and thought nothing of not calling. She raised my babies and kept my household in order all while operating an incredible internship program that trained dozens of world-changing young people and being one of the greatest Youth Pastors I’ve ever known. I grieve the moments I missed and the opportunities that have flown by at the speed of sound. What I wouldn’t do to go back and cheer her on as she spoke to hundreds of teenagers, or to walk through the doors of our first house again just to see the excitement on her face. I would love to go back and pick those first paint colors and curtain swatches. Not monumental moments when they are at hand – but treasures after they are gone and they have been taken for granted. I would love to go back and walk through the process of losing that first baby to miscarriage just so I could comfort her like a man is supposed to comfort his woman. I can’t go back though – those moments are lost. Those moments are lost forever! I grieve those moments.
I have lived on this earth for exactly 37 years today – 13,505 days and too many of them have been wasted. I can never regain those days, but the good news is, I don’t have to. The Apostle Paul, in his second letter to the church at Corinth said this – “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” I don’t have to regain days lost or erase yesterday – I can start new today and so can you. I guess the best thing about a birthday is that it, quite simply, signifies birth. It signifies new life, so we may not be able to be physically re-born today, but we can be emotionally re-born or spiritually re-born. I have lived 13,505 days to this point and I am not guaranteed to have even one more, so I am choosing not to waste the ones I do get. Maybe you can make that choice too so you don’t have to grieve today – which ironically enough will be tomorrows yesterday. Make a memory today. Turn off your TV or your computer, turn down the radio in your car and have a conversation with your spouse or your kids or your parents or your siblings. Just love somebody today – consider it your birthday gift to me.