My dear reader,
I know this is a rather odd (ok, morbid) title for a birthday blog, but let me explain. I am 52 today. Five-O (sadly, Hawaii did not precede that milestone) is in the rearview mirror… and double nickel’s on the horizon. So what’s the big deal?
52 is a touchstone for me. You see, it’s the last birthday my mom celebrated on this earth. She didn’t live to see her 53rd. She fell ill on a Sunday morning, and she went home to Jesus two days later. God gave her a half century… and then He gave her heaven.
The truth is… we’re all dying.
Young, old, middle-aged… each day, we’re one stride closer to the finish line. We just don’t know when we’ll cross it. Why are some lives medically extended or miraculously saved… while others are suddenly, inexplicably ended or lost? Honestly, I have no idea. The whole “life expectancy” thing seems rather arbitrary to me. But here’s what I do know:
Though some lifetimes are seemingly “cut short” by cancer or car wrecks or catastrophes, every single human life has been perfectly (painstakingly) marked and measured by the One who breathes life and bestows it.
God wasn’t far off when that tiny baby was stillborn. He doesn’t ignore the grim diagnosis or disregard the storm brewing off the coast. He isn’t inattentive to the precious souls who die by suicide… or by suicide bombers. He didn’t abandon those who succumbed to Alzheimer’s or addiction. God wasn’t off duty when the fire started or the train derailed. He wasn’t oblivious when the towers fell or the tornado hit or the driver ran the red light. He doesn’t miss – or dismiss – the cries of wounded warriors or starving children. Or the suffering of the sick-and-dying. God didn’t abandon, forget, or fail any of those whose lives were stricken or taken or embattled or brief.
This past year, I lost two dear friends. One to a terrible accident, another to a dreaded disease. Both my age. “Gone too soon” was the common refrain. And it sure felt like it. But later I realized they had lived their lives – fully, freely – in their God-given lifetimes. He knew the when and the why of their deaths. And despite the circumstantial evidence, He had not forsaken nor failed my friends. Or their families.
Still, when someone close dies, grief issues a gutwrenching reminder:
Life is fleeting.
Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. (James 4:14)
That’s some hard-hitting truth right there.
I haven’t the faintest clue what tomorrow holds. And I have very little say in how my story will end. So I really ought to make the most of this day – my birthday! – and every day thereafter. Because who knows how many more I will have?
God knows how many days I will live and breathe on planet Earth. Just like He knew all my mom’s days.
That was the sum of her days. She had 19,209 days of living and breathing. Learning and growing. Giving, forgiving, and being forgiven. Working, playing, parenting and praying. Holding, scolding, counseling, cuddling… and muddling through. Making beds, making dinner, making mistakes. Living, laughing, loving, being loved.
And just shy of 20,000 days, she crossed the finish line.
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)
Yes, Lord, teach me.
Several years ago, Tim McGraw wrote a song about his daddy, who died at 59. Along with a fistful of memories, Tug McGraw left his son a good life lesson… and some award-winning, heartwarming lyrics:
I finally read the Good Book, and I
Took a good, long, hard look
At what I’d do if I could do it all again
I went skydiving
I went Rocky Mountain climbing
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu.
And I loved deeper
And I spoke sweeter
And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying.
And he said,
“Someday I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dying,
Like tomorrow was a gift
And you’ve got eternity
To think about
What you’d do with it.
What could you do with it?”
What did I do with it?
What would I do with it?
I’ve been thinking a lot about that. What I will do with the gift of tomorrow. And the day after that, if God grants it.
A while back, I took out a pen and started a “bucket list.” (No kidding.) And every time I cross something off, I add something new… because adventure is out there, that’s why.
I want to grow watermelons and write a bestseller and perfect my scorpion pose. I want to make Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon and French Quarter beignets. I want to taste sea urchin, see the Alps, float in the Dead Sea, and hike the red rocks of Sedona. I’d like to see Sade live in concert (preferably in Sydney or Sao Paulo, thankyouverymuch), snorkle off the Caymans, tour the ruins of Pompeii, and take a cooking class at the CIA (the Culinary Institute; no espionage required).
Just for the record, I’m gonna pass on the China Skywalk and the Australian “cage of death” (because survival is key to completing the bucket list, am I right?) And also… I’ll probably go a grand total of ZERO seconds on a bull named Fumanchu. Or any other bull. However, I would consider a leisurely trail ride on a retired workhorse named Slow Moe.
This next year, I want to love deeper, speak sweeter, and forgive freely when someone wrongs me. (Easier said than done, I admit. But I’m dang sure gonna try, God helping me.) And I’ll keep reading the Good Book. Because God’s got a lot to say about life and death and number of days.
Lord, you have seen what is in my heart.
You know all about me.
You know when I sit down and when I get up.
You know what I’m thinking even though you are far away.
You know when I go out to work and when I come back home.
You know exactly how I live.
Lord, even before I speak a word,
you know all about it.
You are all around me, behind me and in front of me.
You hold me safe in your hand.
I’m amazed at how well you know me.
It’s more than I can understand.
How can I get away from your Spirit?
Where can I go to escape from you?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there.
If I lie down in the deepest parts of the earth, you are also there.
Suppose I were to rise with the sun in the east.
Suppose I travel to the west where it sinks into the ocean.
Your hand would always be there to guide me.
Your right hand would still be holding me close.
Suppose I were to say, “I’m sure the darkness will hide me.
The light around me will become as dark as night.”
Even that darkness would not be dark to you.
The night would shine like the day,
because darkness is like light to you.
You created the deepest parts of my being.
You put me together inside my mother’s body.
How you made me is amazing and wonderful.
I praise you for that.
What you have done is wonderful.
I know that very well.
None of my bones was hidden from you
when you made me inside my mother’s body.
That place was as dark as the deepest parts of the earth.
When you were putting me together there, your eyes saw my body even before it was formed.
And then, there’s this:
You planned how many days I would live.
You wrote down the number of them in your book
before I had lived through even one of them. (Psalm 139:1-16)
So, I’m going to savor every second of my 52nd birthday. And every birthday I celebrate from here on out, I will consider a bonus. A great big birthday blessing. A beautiful, bountiful windfall of life-and-breath.
Every single day is a treasure trove of precious moments and untold possibilities.
The Birthday Girl
P.S. I started my birthday bright and early with an emergency dental appointment. (I would have preferred a venue like a botanic garden or day spa or tea room over the dentist’s office, but I did get a lovely little serenade and a numbing agent, so I’m not complaining.) In other news, Tanya B. of Illinois was the winner of last month’s Back-to-School blog contest! Congrats – and cookies! – to my new reader!