On Monday of this week we celebrated my wife’s birthday. Without sharing a specific number (a woman never tells her age), I will say that it was a ‘milestone’. She and I went ‘in town’ to a fancy restaurant for lunch, then returned home for presents and cake with the kids, and finally had supper together (all the while enduring the hottest June 12th on record). While some may say that our festivities were meager given the circumstances for celebration, it was exactly what the birthday girl wanted – a time to break from the routine of laundry, dishes and ‘taxi service’ and simply enjoy the blessings of life with those we love.
I don’t believe I am ‘telling tales out of school’ in saying that milestone birthday can be hard. In the days leading up to her birthday, as was the case 16 months ago with my milestone birthday, my wife voiced some uneasiness in acknowledging another candle was being added to the cake. It is at these times that we all tend to reflect on those missed opportunities, regret those unwise decisions and recalibrate to what now seems possible. We joke with one another about being “over the hill” (as long as it isn’t our birthday we’re talking about) and wonder if our best days are behind us.
Milestones, like big birthdays, also remind us of where we’ve been and how far we’ve travelled. I have known my wife since she was sixteen and celebrated it with her ever since she was eighteen. We’ve celebrated a few times during summer break from college, once while planning our wedding and as even newlyweds and new parents. We’ve celebrated at her parents’ home, at our six different homes and at dozens of diverse restaurants. We’ve celebrated some birthdays after long days at work, others on warm weekends and one at a High School awards ceremony. Each year has been different. All those celebrations have now become mental snapshots of a life well lived and a life well loved.
I know that I have given Jeanine a present or two each of the years we’ve been together, but, for the life of me, I cannot remember a single one with any specificity. I think this is because, in my opinion, the best gift given on her birthday is not the one she receives from us but the one she is to us. She is the anchor of our family, preventing us from drifting toward disaster. She is the glue in her relationships, keeping us together. She is the optimist in the most pessimistic of predicaments. All those who know Jeanine understand that the world is a better, kinder, sweeter place because she is in it.
May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. Proverbs 5:18
As the cliché goes, age is just a number. While that may be true, birthdays are special; it celebrates the day God gave us one another. I praise God that I could spend so many days celebrating the important people in my life, especially Jeanine. Happy Birthday to you.
Everywhere I go, I find evidence that people are jerks (mind you, I’m not speaking about the spiritual content of their character but only the behavioral expressions of their character). We are all witnesses of the big stories – the accounts of shootings in the street, of abusive treatment of all of God’s creation and of acts of terrorism around the globe – and we all witness the little affronts – getting cut off at a stop light while the driver gestures and shouts obscenities to your minivan or getting elbowed out of your chance at the cashier by a fellow shopper. But not everyone is a jerk; a few people I know are genuinely good.
One such genuinely good person is my wife, Jeanine. As a way of explaining, let me share what her day will be like on Sunday. She will get up at 6:00 AM when her husband’s alarm goes off and then try, likely unsuccessfully, to try to catch a few more winks of sleep. At about 7:30, just as her husband leaves for work, her 8 year-old will get up and ask for breakfast, which she will provide dutifully. Then, for the next 110 minutes, she will awaken and reawaken her two middle children, making sure that they are fed and dressed for church. At 9:30 she will teach Sunday School, then attend worship whilst wrangling a rambunctious young boy who will reluctantly sit beside her. After church, she will assist in an Ice Cream Social. This will take her to 1 PM.
At 1 she will leave church, ride home with the family, insure that the majority of children (and her mother-in-law) have some idea about lunch. At that point my wife, myself and our daughter will rush over to Cambridge to attend Rebekah’s High School Prize Ceremony scheduled to begin at 2. Assuming it will be over by 4, and we can get through past the Sunday drivers, we will be home around 5 PM. Then, and only then, will we all gather together as a family to celebrate her birthday – oh, did I forget to mention that Sunday, June 12th is Jeanine’s birthday?
There will be no complaints about schedules or grumblings about plans; Jeanine is genuinely good because she genuinely loves those around her. She follows the ‘golden rule’ –
Do to others as you would have them do to you. Luke 6:31 (NIV)
She will treat her husband, her children and the myriad of others who cross her path as she would want to be treated: as harried, hurried and (occasionally) hurting human beings worthy of respect, recognition and (occasionally) rescue. She will not retaliate or seek revenge; she will care for those close to her, even on her birthday.
Happy birthday, Jeanine, a few days early. We are all looking forward to sharing some cake and ice cream on your special day. But know this: on Sunday there will be a time when you will open some presents, yet, for those of us who have the privilege to know you, we are the ones who have received the gift.
On Sunday, I entered the second half of my first century and celebrated my fiftieth birthday. For some reason that I cannot really explain, this milestone in my journey of life feels to me like a checkpoint, like a high vantage point where I can see all the places through which I have passed. Instead of focusing on all the wonderful experiences I have had during my travels, my thoughts for the last few months have gravitated upon all the places I thought I’d have gone but never reached. I thought I’d be a home-owner, be successful in my chosen career and be financially stable with some savings for retirement. I must have been distracted when I drove past all those exits on the highway of my life.
I feel as if I have fallen victim to the theological truth expressed by John Lennon:
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
At various times I wanted to be a school teacher, a lawyer, a financial planner and a bank vice-president. Instead, I became a Baptist minister and in the process taught children during vacation Bible school, became an expert in the Law of Moses, managed charitable funds and offered insights on how to store up treasures in heaven. I want to ask myself if I have been successful, but I think that is the wrong question. Have I used the gifts, talents and abilities I have been blessed with to the best of my ability? From this vantage point I can say that it is likely.
I wanted to have sufficient disposable income to travel the world – to see the Grand Canyon, the Leaning Tower of Pisa or the Sydney Opera House. While I have been to Tijuana, the Bahamas, more than half of the US states and a few places in Canada, my greatest memories are insignificant spots. There is an outdoor chapel in my hometown with my fingerprints on it. There is a restaurant, no doubt now closed, in Worcester where I asked Jeanine to marry me. There were four delivery suites at Brigham and Women’s where the loves of my life took their first breaths. There were trips the Disney, Lakeside, Shawme Crowell, and a hotel in Chattanooga where the kids acted like prairie dogs. I want to ask myself why I haven’t seen more, but I think that is the wrong question. Have I seen the things and the places that matter? From this vantage point I can say that it is likely.
I wanted to have my own house. That will likely never happen and that is okay with me. I have become the beneficiary of something better – I have been given a home. I have lived in seven houses in my life and every one of them has been a home; I have always lived in a place of love and laughter, a place crammed with family and friends and fun. I don’t need a deed or a mortgage to give my life meaning. I have a home filled with loved ones and lovely memories for that.
All in all, I thank God for the way the first fifty years have developed. These days were much better than I would have planned. And now I cannot wait for what He will reveal in the next fifty years.
The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way…. Psalm 37:23 (ESV)
Yesterday was our youngest son’s eighth birthday. Joshua had been looking forward to his ‘special day’ for a long time, but not for the obvious reasons. Sure, he was excited about presents and cake and ice cream, but he was anticipating his eighth birthday for another reason: it was the day that he was no longer required to use a car safety seat. We were counting the days with him until he could sit in the van ‘like everyone else’ and, to his youthful delight, yesterday we moved the car seat out of the car and into our curb-side recycling.
For me, as his father, this action was bittersweet. A car seat/booster seat had taken up permanent residence in the backseat of our car for more than 21 years (7,765 days to be exact). The combination of black plastic, metal and fabric (or one of its numerous predecessors) that we removed from the car has faithfully protected my precious cargo, my four babies, but now it is gone. One final layer of protection and one final thread drawing me back to my children’s infancies is now gone. Joshua, like his brothers and sister before him, have reached an age where his body can withstand the impact of a car crash.
As I worry about my eight year old surviving without a safety seat, my mind drifts to Christmas and the love of the Father as he gave His only begotten son to us. I wonder if God the Father and God the Son had a conversation prior to that moment of conception in Nazareth: “We have spent an eternity together, but Adam’s children need help. I need You to surrender all You have and be born of flesh, trusting those who have rebelled against Us to care for Your every need.” “I will go, according to Your will.” No safety seats, no safety nets and no safety pins – God became defenseless and lived among us.
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14
The Almighty Creator of the universe who harnessed His power to speak the world into existence became embryonic; the one who breathed life into Adam was birthed among the livestock. He required His crowning creation, a limited human being, to supply His every need – food, shelter, comfort and protection. He who dwelled in sinless and perfect paradise from before time began was now deeply embedded in the earthly environment of dirt, disease and danger. As a father, I struggle with letting go of a car seat…I cannot imagine turning over my pre-born progeny to imperfect strangers to raise as their own.
There is just one question that remains: Why? Why would the Father give His son to us? Because He loves us so much that He will refuse us nothing we require. In a much less spectacular way, it is the same reason why there is no longer a safety seat in my back seat; I love Joshua so much that I would deny him nothing he requires, even if it pains me to do so.
Today is my mother’s birthday…and, no, I will not reveal her age. As I think about Mum, I realize that, while she is many things, I tend to see her only as a mother. She is smart (valedictorian of her High School class, I believe). She is hard working (a master in as varied fields as retail, design, banking and insurance). She is a college graduate (receiving a B.S. in sociology ‘later in life’). She has marvelous culinary skills (being able to prepare dishes that rival those of master chefs while maintaining a tight budget). She has been a member and leader in the church (serving as secretary, clerk and substitute teacher). She is a sister, a daughter, an aunt, a cousin, a grandmother and a great grandmother. But, to me, she is simply my mother.
All accomplishments in the real world aside, I know her as the one who kissed my boo-boos and soothed my rashes. She is the one who took her boys to ride go-carts and swim in the ocean. She is the one who forgot to save room for dessert when there wasn’t enough to go around. She is the one who comforted my broken heart and confronted my stubborn streak. She made birthdays and Christmases special despite the limitations of her financial condition. She went to football games in November in New England to see her kid in the marching band. She attended concerts, plays and courts of awards and cheered on a child with more passion than ability. All this was done with little recognition, at least from this child, of the sacrifices she made for my benefit.
“Honor your father and mother” – which is the first commandment with a promise – “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Ephesians 6:2-3 (NIV)
Much has changed in the nearly 50 years since I first met my mother: we now live 1,300 miles apart, we don’t speak every day and I have a wife who will kiss my boo-boos. I am tempted to say that I don’t need her anymore, but I know that would not be true. I guess you never outgrow your mom: you never get so old that you no longer need the cheerleader in the stands, the champion in your corner or the virtually unconditional love that is found in a mother’s presence. I am so grateful to God that He blessed me with such a special mom.
So, I appreciate the opportunity to indulge a selfish impulse in writing this week’s post. Allow me to conclude by encouraging those who are reading this to contemplate God’s hand of blessing in granting you your mother. If she is living, might I suggest you give her a call? If she has passed, might I suggest you tell someone around you how wonderful she was? God truly made something great when He made ‘mother’.
Happy Birthday, Mummy. I pray that God will bless you as greatly as you’ve blessed me.
Tomorrow, September 26, 2015, my daughter turns 18 and will be a legal adult. She will be allowed to register to vote and enter into contracts. She will be able to sign herself out of class and, according to Massachusetts laws regulating junior operators, drive unaccompanied between the hours of 12:30 and 5AM. She will be charged fees for maintaining her bank account and reported by name on census forms. While much will remain the same for my little girl – she will still be in High School, living at home and subject to my rules – I can see that so much is also changing for her.
I have mentioned this week to acquaintances and colleagues that Rebekah is turning 18; the replies have been nearly identical every time: “What? That’s not possible!” But, alas, it is true. The little princess, our only girl, is a child no longer. The days of baby dolls and dressing-up are over. The time for bedtime stories and checking brushed teeth has passed. The pictures of her younger years are all that remain – snapshots that capture her cute smile, her occasionally crooked bangs, the frilly dresses with frilly collars and the frilly socks that three year-old young ladies love to wear. I am left only with wondering how all those years could have so quickly passed.
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4 (NIV)
There is a thought that new parents sometimes entertain – that if their children can only reach adulthood relatively undamaged, they’ve done their job. Speaking as a parent of two adult children (beginning tomorrow), I am unwilling to relinquish my role and cease to provide parenting to my over-18 offspring. I will acquiesce to a few changes in the relationship with my soon-to-be-adult daughter, as I did three years ago with her now-adult brother:
- As an adult, I will allow her to make her own mistakes and, hopefully, only offer advice when it is requested;
- As an adult, I will try to remember that she may hold different opinions than mine and have different experiences than me, but I will reserve the right to confront stupidity and sin;
- As an adult, I will try to encourage her in following the course she chooses without forcing her to change courses for my benefit; and
- As an adult, I will not attempt in any way to treat her like a child.
While those changes are being implemented, one thing will remain the same: I will constantly and unconditionally love my daughter – no caveats, no small print.
Now, isn’t that the way mature people of God ought to treat one another, with mutual respect and mutual encouragement? Isn’t that the way we’d like to be treated by others? As my daughter enters adulthood, I’d like to think that this is the treatment she will receive from her peers. Perhaps that could be our gift to her and her generation – acceptance as adults – flawed, faulty and fragile like the rest of us.
Happy Birthday, Rebekah.
“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” Hebrews 3:13 (NIV)
“You got this.” “I know you’ll be great.” “I trust you.” These are all phrases of encouragement, and, like oxygen and water, everyone needs them. The act of encouraging is mentioned multiple times in the Bible, usually with a Greek word literally meaning “to call alongside”. We all need someone whom God has called alongside us to be an advocate and cheerleader for us. We all need someone who shouts out, “you go, girl” or “atta boy” at our games and meets, at our parent-teacher conferences and at our review meetings. We all need someone who will always be “in our corner”.
Even the best of us, the most qualified among us, need an encourager. One of the most gifted people in the Bible was the Apostle Paul, whom God introduced to Barnabas (“the son of encouragement”) soon after his conversion in Christ. It was Barnabas who introduced Paul to the early church leaders, who risked his reputation to allow Paul entry into leadership, who traveled with Paul to provide whatever he lacked and who offered advice and counsel whenever a difficulty developed. Barnabas was happy to live in the shadow of his companion and willing to be used for God to further another person’s ministry.
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of participating in an ordination council (a presentation and defense of an individual’s theological and philosophical beliefs before a panel of peers). At one point in the discussion, the candidate mentioned his wife and stated that she would not be the stereotypical ‘pastor’s wife’. What he meant by this comment was that she would not be attending every church event and head up ministries such as the children’s program. However, he was deliberate in stating that she saw her role as being an advocate and encourager for her husband. His comments made me think of my wife, Jeanine.
My bride of 25 years is likewise not the stereotypical perfect pastor’s wife, but she is the perfect wife for this pastor. She cannot play the piano, is more-than-capable but less-than-excited to teach, and inclined to wear pants to church in the winter. But truthfully, those qualifications are not found in the Bible. The qualifications for a godly wife that are found in scriptures are the qualities that embody Jeanine’s character, especially encouragement. She is the first to boost my confidence by standing alongside me and whispering the things that feed my soul and motivate me to attempt great things for God.
Today is Jeanine’s birthday. Tonight we are going to gather together around the table as a family and remember all the gifts and goodwill of the birthday girl. In other words, we are going to spend time giving Jeanine what she is always giving to those close to her: encouragement. In honor of my wife’s birthday, give someone else a gift today: look around you and appreciate those who have been called alongside you who empower you to attempt great things; or look around and empower great things through those to whom you have been called alongside. We all need an encourager; I thank God that I am married to mine.
Today is my daughter Rebekah’s seventeenth birthday. For months she has been requesting that I devote a post to her (and maybe a little about God). So, in celebration of her, here are 17 things I have learned from my daughter:
- Losing a tooth at 14 months creates a beautiful smile.
- Father- Daughter dances are magical.
- Taylor Swift was cool before Taylor Swift was cool.
- People only say “agree to disagree” after they’ve realized they are wrong.
- Leggings are pants.
- The ending to “How I Met Your Mother” was just wrong.
- An argument can be made that having only two children, especially one boy and one girl, is the perfect situation.
- If you think “erging” is easy, you are probably doing it wrong.
- You can never have too much makeup or nail polish.
- There is nothing wrong with having a doll named Smelly Baby.
- If someone writes “I am Stupid” on the inside lining of a purse, it is safe to assume they are talking about themselves and not the person who will open that purse regularly.
- P.S. Coffee is always worth the walk.
- No matter how hard a daughter may try, dads will still never fully comprehend the proper usage of teenage slang.
- No one ever got sick from “writing on yourself” ink-poisoning, despite what parents may claim.
- Soup is a meal.
- There is no such thing as an inappropriate time to take a selfie.
- Almost nothing beats walking along city streets on a brisk autumn evening with a colicy snuggly bundle of joy.
Seriously, as I think back over the past seventeen years, I marvel at the woman who has grown up and matured before our eyes. She has seen success and weathered adversity, at all times remaining humble. She has shown wisdom and she has made mistakes, ever willing to learn from the experiences of life. She has brought us inordinately more joy than sorrow – despite what the scriptures say, her joy typically reveals itself after noon. She has surrounded herself with good friends and immersed herself in good books. She has a unique fashion sense and an uncommon common sense. We have been blessed.
An added blessing that Rebekah has given me, as a father, is appreciation that girls are different than boys. I took High School biology, so was fully aware of the physical differences, but I was unaware of the emotional and relational differences. My only reference to girls was my sister (eight and a half years older than I) so I was unprepared for the hugs, the tears and the talking that comes from a female child. I am blessed in always knowing how Bekah feels, what Bekah thinks and when Bekah hurts. My life has been enriched by the little girl I still can picture with a bow velcroed to her head or smiling with her front tooth missing, her eyes sparkling and her joy beaming.
Now, if I could just keep her from dating for a little bit longer, that would be perfect.
Then our sons in their youth will be like well-nurtured plants, and our daughters will be like pillars carved to adorn a palace. Psalm 144:12
Today is my oldest son’s birthday. Jonathan turns 20 years-old today. I have a child in his twenties! Where has all the time gone? I was reminiscing earlier this week and stating that I can remember when Jonathan was born; actually I remember when our 6-day old baby went back into the hospital. I remember the wonderful nurses at the NICU at Mass General, I remember dropping off Jeanine at the hospital as I went up to Seminary and meeting her after lunch to spend time with our little boy. I remember ‘hep-locks’ and IVs and ‘billi-lights’ and ‘neonatal sagittal sinus thrombosis’. I remember God being merciful and restoring our baby to full health.
Strangely enough, this was not Jonathan’s brush with mortality. In addition to a few visits to the emergency room to ‘dermabond’ his head (twice) and stitch up his severed fingertip, he was hit by a moving vehicle and hurled into the air like a piñata (before his mother’s eyes) – only breaking his collarbone. It seems nothing could keep him down for very long. I pray that the next twenty years of our son’s life are slightly less dramatic than his first twenty. I also pray that God will continue to hold him in the palm of His hand.
Today I am trying to reconcile competing memories – memories of my son, who really can’t be 20 years old and memories of me at 20 years of age. At 20, I was aimless and lost. I was in the process of failing classes in college and accumulating debt like my kitchen counter accumulates junk mail. I was a few months from a real job and a few years from a personal relationship with Christ. I got into trouble in ways I do not wish to disclose and thank God that He rescued me from so much.
“You and Aaron are to count according to their divisions all the men in Israel who are twenty years old or more and able to serve in the army.” Numbers 1:3
In the early years of Israel, a man was accountable to serve the community and be counted upon when they turned twenty. At twenty, a man was required to register in the census and serve in the army. How times have changed. At twenty, many males today are “boys that shave”. I know this because I was one. So what can a father do to prepare his offspring, now in his twenties for the realities of life? Hopefully, I have done these three things:
- Instill in them a need for a personal relationship with Christ as Lord and Savior;
- Instill in them a knowledge of God’s unique purpose and gifting for every individual; and
- Instill in them a hope that whatever they do for Christ will make a difference for eternity.
There is still time for each of us to stand and be counted. If you have not started teaching these things to your young children, begin today. If your children are twenty or over and you think you’ve lost the opportunity, think again and begin today. If you have yet to grasp these truths for yourself, begin today. God longs to know, equip and empower each and every one of us…especially those of us over twenty, like Jonny.
Today is my birthday: I was born on this day 48 years ago. Later today, I will enjoy cake and ice cream while surrounded by loved ones who will lavish me with heart-felt greetings and presents. If you think about it, celebrating birthdays are a bit odd – we sing, give gifts and offer well wishes to someone who had no choice in the matter of their birth and accomplished nothing more than arriving. It is almost as if we are simply celebrating the fact that an individual has survived another 365 days.
I appreciate the fact that I have survived the year, that I am, indeed, celebrating another birthday. However, as it is my birthday, I have to say that some of those days I merely survived; a number of days over the past year I was not “more than (a) conqueror” and was I more like a struggler. I battled fear and lost; I battled anger and lost; I battled temptation and lost; I battled the culture and lost. I am grateful that the days of victory outnumbered the days of defeat and have only the Lord to thank.
“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12 (NIV)
I was up late last Saturday (later than I probably should have) with the television on. The show I had been watching was over and a televised sermon by Andy Stanley came on. Part of his message related to Psalm 90:12, at which point he told his audience that the Moses (the writer of the Psalm) was saying that “we ought to number our days because our days are numbered”. My days are numbered: 11,688 left if I live to be 80. Sounds like a lot, until I do the math the other way: I’ve already spent 17,532 days. This also doesn’t account for the fact that my 80th birthday is not guaranteed, and for that matter, neither is my 49th. So, allow me to celebrate today, for today is what I have.
Today is my birthday. Thanks in large part to my father and an even larger part to my mother I have been blessed to have been around for 48 years. I guess I am no longer young (a truth that came clear to me recently when I realized most of the cultural references on SNL who foreign to me and the music I own is now relegated to the oldies station). I am also not old (I can still beat most of my kids in a footrace and have yet to yell at hooligans from my front porch). I am comfortably middle-aged. So, allow me to celebrate that I am 48 today; I rejoice that I have a pleasant view from the top of ‘the hill’.
Today is my birthday. I have, hopefully, about another 12 thousand days to accomplish what God has for me to do. As I blow out the candles and make my wish tonight, I’ll tell you what I’ll be thinking: Lord, help me to know my days are numbered. My wish for my birthday is that I will not waste a single one of them in fear, in anger, in lust or in envy. And that is my birthday wish for you as well.