For twenty years of life, and the great beyond!

Twenty years has taught me that: no matter what, life is good.

In the old time church I guess the preacher would say, “Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say: it is well, it is well, with my soul.” It took me twenty years to learn that, and this fact will shape the rest of my life. There’s no secret that I love to write. Over the last few weeks, maybe even months, I have stayed up late at night, spent many early mornings, shed many tears trying to figure out the right words to say about twenty years.

It’d be much easier to just gather each and every person in my life, pop some popcorn, rewind it back to July 11, 1997 at 11:59pm and lets all watch it from the start. Then again, what the last few days have shown me is that my story didn’t start there. My story starts long before then. It goes back farther than grandma’s prayers. It goes back to the ancestors. And finally I remember, “before I formed you in your mother’s womb, I knew you.” God saw these twenty years before anyone else, and he knew exactly what would happen — this brings a whole new meaning to “Author and Finisher of my faith”. I started this day with a lot of my mind: a lot of ideas, life events, people (past, present, and future), and all I could do was talk to God.

(Photo by Nancy Shia)

I thought about counting my blessings today, but after 20 years there are far too many to count, not enough numbers in the world, and even if I had a thousand tongues I still couldn’t say thank you enough. So I start with this: today, above everything else, I am thankful for life. This most precious gift that many times I have thought I do not deserve, but God keeps giving it to me — for the last 7,300 days. Life is a blessing and I do not take it for granted.

I’m thankful for friends. I remember crying and praying as a little boy that God would one day send me friends. I was never the popular guy, never had a ton of friends (didn’t want and didn’t need them). Instead I asked God to send me real friends. Friends who listen, care, support, fight with, and pray for — I got them. I could count them all, name them, and probably tell you most of their numbers and addresses. Today, I am thankful for each and every one of my friends: for thinking enough of me to stop my world, and meet me. Most of them met a quiet and awkward kid who was just a little afraid of the world. Now, they all watch a fearless young man that each of them has played a role in shaping. In fact, I don’t have friends. I have a ton of brothers and sisters who have found a special place in my heart that I would give the world for.

Twenty years has given me two incredible sisters. Kiki and Jasmine. Each of us, uniquely different in almost every way possible, and I happen to be the baby. I have had the opportunity to watch both of these young women grow into great human beings. I admire and love them both. For being the best big sisters they could be. Even when you thought I wasn’t watching, I was — I was watching, praying, and taking notes. I couldn’t have been more fortunate. I may miss some of you all’s marks just to make marks of my own. But your marks set the standard and remind me to always aim for Gold.

FAMILY: I cannot and will not name every family member. But each of you has made me who I am today. Every interaction (big or small), even when you thought I wasn’t listening. I come from a family (maternal and paternal), with deep roots as I learn more and more as I get older. I’m blessed with parents who love and support me. A mom who nurtures, and a dad to show me the way. I take traits from both of them but I was looking at a picture this week and I had to face the fact that at heart: I am a direct photo copy of my father. It isn’t necessarily every physical feature but its in the eyes. How I look at people. How I see the world. Over the last few weeks I have found myself stopping myself to say: Wow, I look like my dad! Luckily he’s an attractive man, although I am sure I will look better than him when its all said and done. However, the lessons my dad have taught me are ones I am sure I will never forget and will pass on to my son.

Twenty years had given me amazing grandparents that I love to the end of the earth. Catherine and John Lamb are in heaven watching the whole show unfold. They’re with me when I need them most, I hear them, I feel them. I never met John Lamb, he went to heaven a year before I was born, but the stories I hear and the legacy I see now, proves that I am because of him (particularly whenever I have the opportunity to share God’s word). Catherine Lamb, my grandma — I only wish I could talk to her today. We celebrated our birthday together. In fact, the last time I saw her was at OUR birthday party. Every year, she’d ask me what I was doing for my birthday. I always reminded her that her birthday was coming up to. Without a doubt, she assured me that the greatest gift for her was to celebrate with me. She’s with me today. Her voice, her song, laying in bed with her, showering and listening to her sing, like the beautiful days of a faded childhood. Barbara and Levon AKA Penny and Mr. Levi — I sometimes think they will outlive me. I am because of them. They’re special people to me, and each day they give me more life than I think they know. They give me the old soul that I have come to be known for. Teaching me how to tie my shoes and how to hang clothes out on a line are just a few lessons that have made me who I am.

Washington, DC: my home. The nieghbors and network of people that make up a true village. I got involved at a young age, and that was the best decision of my life. I don’t work in the community for my own personal advancement but for my neighbors, and with hopes that my children will one day run along a familiar Sherman Avenue, and live in a city that is built with them in mind. For every community supporter, the 49,869 voters who supported me (even at the age of 18), and those who will continue to support in the future.

Twenty years gave me two great institutions for growth:

Duke Ellington School of the Arts: where I started the incredible journey of self discovery, realized my passion for theatre, and met a brand new family that has changed my life forever. The lessons I learned at Ellington will last me a lifetime.

Ark of Safety Christian Church: I found a place to be planted spiritually. A family of people that watched me grow into the young man I am today- supporting me every step of the way. Men who stepped up, and stepped in, without hesitation to show me the way: surrogate dads. Bishop and Lady Muse, 2 spiritual parents who have taken personal interest in imparting into my life. For showing me the importance of ministry in my life.

Earlier this year I was in a very difficult space. It was actually in January, as both of my parents celebrated birthdays, that I realized no one is ageless, not my parents, not even me. It’s being able to see age that scared me. I had a lot on my mind, I had recently lost an election, one of the SCARIEST, daunting, and rewarding things I have done to date. It was a difficult time. In February, I made a new friend, Kera— she didn’t know me from anywhere, a mere coincidence that we would meet. She didn’t know young Tony, preacher Tony, Candidate Tony, or Actor Tony… she met a me that I was in the process of becoming, she just met Tony. She was interesting. We talked, got to know each other, we grew on one another, and I simply remember telling Tommy: I met a girl, and she makes me happy.

This friend has flipped my life upside down and onto a never before experienced axis, in a matter of months. I am blessed to have her in my life. Kera balances me out. She’s beautiful, she’s creative, and I love the way she thinks and sees the world. I celebrate her today for meeting me where I was, accepting me for who I am, and walking and growing with me. She’s been an incredible friend to me — a best friend, and I thank her for being up for the journey.

Destiny — my partner and crime. For being one of my first friends, and a REAL friend. Being honest with me and everything that we do. Loving and supporting me in all that I broach. A sister-friend.

Mommy — twenty years has taught me that today is just as much about my mom as it is about me. Everyone has a special bond with their mom/mom-figure, but I believe I have the best mother in the world. Everything that I am is because of her. For never taking a day off, making necessary sacrifices for me and my sister because she knew there was a greater cause than self. For challenging me to be my best, and supporting me in EVERYTHING that I do. For praying for me and nurtuting my spirit-man. For being my number one lady, and listening, and teaching me along the way. She has wiped many tears, and sometimes just with her words that remind me of who I am. Mommy is the best of the best, and I can’t find the words to say thank you enough.

I guess the moral of this birthday is that it’s not about me. I cannot stand and celebrate today and think I got here on my own. I celebrate each and every person who has gotten me to this point. A village. I am thankful for these twenty years teaching me how to see the world in such a clear way. Each lesson that will shape the rest of my life. Every enemy that has prayed against me and the will of God. Every angel that God has sent to encamp around me each and every moment of my life. I thank God for taking the right turns in my life.

To an incredible God — for being better to me than I’ve been to myself. God has been better than good to me. I don’t know what the next 20 years has in store for me, I’m sure it includes many more challenges, obstacles, tears, and lessons. But I am also sure that it includes blessings beyond my wildest dreams. Lord I love you, I honor you, I adore you, and give you all the glory, honor, and praise.

Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy. To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.

No matter what, life is good.

with love and a prayer —

Tony E. Donaldson, Jr. [at] Twenty