I turned 51 years old last week. In the picture above our boys' eyes are filled with anticipation, wondering if the old man has enough air pressure left in him to extinguish even a lone candle. To their delight, the flame disappeared as fast as the chocolate cake and ice cream would moments later. I have to thank Katie for simplifying the ancient tradition of lighting a candle for each year of life to a single candle. Because of her, even if for only one more day, the image of my undefeated record is alive and well in our boys' eyes.
In scenes like the one above people are quick to wonder - sometimes even ask out loud - what did you wish for. I would say, even though I'm not to old to blow out the candle on my cake, I am too old to wish over it. In the very moment of drawing up the breath that will eventually send 51's flame smoking into year 52, I'm given only an instant to decide whether I should wish for something I don't have or give thanks for the things I already do. Surrounded by the adoring eyes of these two guys, and a loving photographer capturing it all, it's quite the simple choice.
A couple of years ago my dad was in town to celebrate our son Elliott's birthday. They just happen to share a December 18th birthday. We all knew it was Elliott's 7th birthday, but he wasn't sure which birthday my dad was celebrating, so he asked him, "How old are you today, Papa Hoss?" My dad informed Elliott this was the year he officially stopped counting birthdays. Elliott looked puzzled by that and asked why. My dad informed him he'd put the brakes on birthday counting because "this is the year I turn 70."
Elliott stared at Papa Hoss for a few seconds. His face filled with disbelief, his mind frantically wondering if he knew anyone who'd ever counted to 70, let alone lived to it. Based on what came out of his mouth next, I'm guessing he concluded no.
"Papa Hoss, how are you not dead?"
For many of us, and I can fall into this category, that's what birthdays become. A day to recognize and celebrate that for one more year we outlived death. And maybe as we're blowing out the candles, we're wishing for just one more of those celebrations. Same time next year, please. I've been there, but not this year. My 51st birthday marked the end of my first year in the 50s. With it, I had a chance to celebrate the year that, likely more than any other year, I spent more time devoted to living life than surviving it.
It took me awhile, but when I hit 50 my life collided with a nugget of wisdom only slightly smaller than the Hoba Meteorite. And through various circumstances this is what the nugget revealed: I've spent entirely too much of my life waiting by the phone for God to call me when I should have been dialing His number. If you've hung around with people of faith - if you've hung around me - you've likely heard it said "I'm just trying to figure out what God's calling me to do." Some us us will go 10 or 20 years saying that before we start wondering if God ever misplaces phone numbers.
This year I took a new approach. I started doing things and called on God to do them with me. I'm not talking some things, either. I invited Him everywhere I went. I started writing projects, took on jobs, and ran half-marathons that years before I might have skipped out on because I hadn't received the magical call from God. You know what happened with my new approach. God started calling me. I'm talking some days he rang my phone off the hook.
What time should I be there.
Do you need me to bring anything.
You're not going to believe some of the people I'm bringing with me today.
Don't worry about the weather - I've got that covered.
This past year I've come to look at life like a puzzle. God's puzzle. And we are the puzzle pieces. Here's the important thing to understand about that. God didn't make the puzzle because doing puzzles is his thing. He made it because putting it together with us is his thing. If God told us where we fit in the puzzle then he'd be putting the puzzle together by himself, robbing him of the joy he intended to receive from putting it together at all. We also have to understand this. Less than anything in the world God needs us to be a part of his puzzle. But more than anything - he wants us to.
There was a day I would have thought of this analogy and considered God to be some sort of a puzzle-assembly control freak. That was before I had my own kids and experienced the joy of watching them struggle their way through a challenge. Maybe a puzzle. Or learning to ride a bike. Young kids are great about just diving in, but also about asking - often begging - us to be a part of it. They're rarely interested in waiting on us to tell them where they fit in, but oh how they love to drag us along on their adventures as they figure it out themselves, in the off chance they might need our help or guidance. And oh how I love that my children do that.
We are God's children. Sometimes we forget that's the relationship he chose for us.
So for this birthday, and all of them to come, I offer myself this reminder. I no longer have time for wishes, I have a puzzle to put together.