Tuesday was my birthday and sadly, I’ve reached the age where birthdays feel like less of a celebration and more of a memory test: how old am I again? This actually happened to me earlier in the year when Heather had to correct me…I had actually forgot if I was 37 or 38. Is it too early for dementia?
But birthdays, though at my age not marked with huge celebrations or landmark coming of age movements, are still incredible moments to stop, pause, look around, and do an inventory on how life is being lived. It seems when I talk to people, there is often a notion that “back then was the good ol’ days.” I don’t really think this is true anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I have great memories from the past. But I don’t want to live in the past; I want to cling to the belief that life continues to get better. Yes, these are good days. Perhaps the best is yet to come. Our head pastor Richard preached about this on Sunday: “Sentimentalism about the past leads me to disengage in the present.” I’ve seen this happen again and again. I often meet people who want to go back in time to be in high school again, or college, or before they had kids. But this kind of thinking causes bitterness and aloofness for the present, and hopelessness for the future. No, there is a better way to live, living in the glorious present. We only have today, tomorrow, and that which lies ahead; we can’t go back.
And though the days are sunny right now, with a new son and so much to be grateful for, I’m also mindful that others are struggling. The reality is that yes, life is hard. I have a friend who recently reminded me of this as we drove to the funeral of one of our closest friend’s father (who died much too young). We drove south on I-5 and as he discussed the challenges of his workplace, of being the light of Christ in the midst of a very dark place, he said, “You know, life is hard. And if you don’t see this, you’re either living with your eyes closed or you’re not paying attention.” Yes, life is hard.
I was thinking of this as we sat through the funeral. The funeral was a very touching celebration of my friend’s father, a good man who had a big impact on those closest to him. Midway through the funeral, a young woman stood up to play a song of tribute on her flute to her deceased grandfather. The song was a religious song of some sort, I’m now forgetting the title. But as she played, the emotion of the moment caught up to her and she began to cry. But with both hands on the flute she couldn’t wipe the tears away, they merely rolled down her cheeks and puddled on the instrument. And as she tried to keep her now sobbing breaths measured to exhale the notes into her flute, she would pause between notes and take a deep, sobbing, tearful breath, and play again. This continued for the duration of the song, beautiful notes punctuated by deep breaths of tearful inhales. Each crying inhale filled the church with her emotion. I realized, with tears standing in my own eyes, these sobbing breaths were the real song, not the notes from the flute. And don’t get me wrong, the flute playing was flawless, but the raw wordless emotion from this young woman conveyed more than words could convey, more than musical notes could convey. For her crying breaths told the real story of her heartache, but also of her love, and of her hope in Christ to hold her in this difficult time.
For this man who passed, though his life had ended too soon, had lived a good life. His life hadn’t merely unfolded; it had been sculpted. In the program of the memorial they printed out a page from his bible that had all his favorite verses written down. And then they read this verse, Isaiah 40:31, his favorite: “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” I’m thinking of this today as I think of my 38th year. Lord how will I sculpt a beautiful life out of the clay of my existence? How will I allow God to help me build? What greatness awaits? Time will expire on us all…will I be ready?
In the book of Jeremiah, God sends the prophet Jeremiah to a potter’s house. After watching a potter fashion a vessel, throw it away, and refashion another vessel the Lord asks: “as the potter molds the clay, can’t I do the same with the nation of Israel?” The question is rhetorical; Jeremiah knows the answer. Yes Lord. You form our lives, collectively and individually, like a master artist forming mud into something useful, something beautiful. The ability to be great rests not in the inner superiority of “my dirt”, rather, my value comes when I let God move over me, through me, within me to make me into something better than I could be on my own. It’s not up to me. My life rests in God’s hands. This is good news for this means the pressure is off and I can live boldly into the future knowing as I follow God, He’ll be remaking me and forming me to do things for the Kingdom.
In the new Avett Brothers song “The Once and Future Carpenter”, there are lyrics that have been rattling around my brain all week:
“Forever I will move like the world that turns beneath me,
and when I lose my direction I’ll look up to the sky
and when the black cloak drags upon the ground
I’ll be ready to surrender, and remember
well we’re all in this together
If I live the life I’m given, I won’t be scared to die.”
Yes, in this 38th year, I’ll live the life I’m given. I’ll seek to live a life of integrity and purpose and rest and joy. I’ll give thanks for all the good that surrounds. I’ll rage against the darkness that I see destroying the joy and hope of those around me. And I’ll cling to God. And I won’t be scared to die. I’ll be more scared of not really living. That’s the danger facing many of us these days.