Yesterday was my 35th birthday. I love birthdays. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t love the fact that they represent another year of my life has been completed. But I relish the opportunity that a birthday provides for reflection, remembrance, and review.
I decided to take a hike with my 3 year old son, Liam, on my birthday. I didn’t want it to be a quick excursion. I wanted it to be long, significant, rejuvenating and taxing. I had a lot to think about. So I loaded the backpack into the trunk of the car, strapped Liam in, and headed for Clark’s Creek Greenway.
After a quick stop for some provisions (diet Sun-drop and gum for me, sweet tarts for Liam), I parked the car, put Liam in the backpack, and started a 12-mile hike down memory lane.
I love this particular hike. There are so many different landscapes to see along this greenway and there are quite a few smells, as well. The various animals, flowering trees, the creek, the marsh, the fields, the gravel paths, even the large wooden bridges all trigger memories linked to specific sights and smells. Since I was wanting to remember and to reflect, this environment was necessary and supportive.
As with any hike or run, there comes a point that the spring in my step begins to get a little sprung. The exhilaration of the first few miles turns to thoughts of, “You know the further you go from this point, you still have that many MORE miles to complete when you decide to turn back.” My mind begins to play tug-of-war with my body as they fight to see who will determine the next step; forward or back?
My hike down memory lane was nearing that same point. I had been walking for nearly 3 hours and thinking about my last 35 years. My back was a little sore. My feet were barking. And the tug-of-war game was getting harder to maintain. The memories I had of my childhood and adolescence were changing to memories and thoughts of a more difficult nature.
While navigating bikers and runners, Liam’s requests for candy, and wondering if I would finish this walk in time to get Ellis from the school bus, I was trying to figure everything out. Like many people, I want to know the plan. I want to feel as if I can answer with confidence and clarity, “Where do you see yourself in 20 years?” Questions like, “How did I get here?”, “What decisions were made that determined this direction?”, “How do I know I’m doing the right things?”, were all rattling in my mind as I remembered my life. (These are all the typical questions you ask when on a hike, right?)
Did I mention that I had my phone with me, too? It is rarely far from my side (a fact to which my wife will attest with great annoyance) and it keeps me tethered to the greater community of which I am a part and that I love to serve. I was using it to track my speed and distance and as I was reviewing my progress, I noticed several notifications in my inbox from my Facebook account. I knew that they were the typical and expected “Happy birthday” sentiments that we all love to give and receive. Since I needed a break from all the remembering and questioning, I decided to check out “the wall”.
As I was reading through the postings and smiling, I came across a particular post that put me back on my hike down memory lane. It was a post from Mary, a lady that once served in a choir I directed a few years ago. In her post, she shared with me that her son and I shared the same birthday. She shared with me that she had lost her son 11 years ago. She shared with me that my life had impacted her life. She instructed me to take time out from the busyness of my life to “be still” and to listen to God’s voice.
Mary had done something significant. She had taken time out of her day of remembering, to share with me during mine. She effectively guided that day’s journey to its final leg. She reminded me of something critical to our faith; to be still in Him.
I walked in silence. Allowing the memories and thoughts to be still.
Within a few moments, I heard a song.
Time measured out my days. Life carried me along. In my soul I yearned to follow God but knew I’d never be so strong. I looked hard at this world to learn how heaven could be gained. Just to end where I began, where human effort is all in vain.
Were it not for grace, I could tell you where I’d be. Walking down some pointless road to nowhere with my salvation up to me. I know how that would go. All the battles I would face. Forever running, but losing the race…were it not for grace.
Our birthdays are not just another day. They provide us with an opportunity to look back, to be deeply and honestly aware of our present, and to ponder the path ahead. Our birthday marks the beginning of our progression from our mother’s womb towards His destination.
On my 35th birthday, I determined to rest upon Proverbs 16:9. In his heart, a man plans his course. But the LORD determines his steps.