Much to the surprise of many, not least of which is myself, today, May 20, 2019, I completed my fiftieth journey around the sun on this beautiful green-blue marble on which we live. That notion in and of itself makes me feel incredibly small. I am but a tiny grain of sand on the vast beach of the universe and my fifty years is less than a single frame in the grandiose film of eternity.
The philosophizing pugilist, Muhammed Ali, made some version of this statement on several occasions,
“The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”
I look back on 20-year-old me, university student, and I wonder what he would think if he knew where I am today. My essential personality is the same, of course, my likes and dislikes haven’t changed much, but I do believe that God has allowed me to grow immensely in my understanding of the world and of his Kingdom work. Seeds were planted during those years as I was transitioning from high school to the University of Texas, but God was just beginning to stir within me.
I could not have possibly imagined 30 years ago that at 50 I’d be living in one of the most vibrant and exciting cities in the world, halfway around the globe from where I grew up. (To be honest, 10 years ago I couldn’t have imagined it either!)
But that has been the great blessing of my life, not knowing exactly what the road ahead would bring, but never doubting the path that I’ve been traveling. In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien pens a poem which includes the line, “Not all those who wander are lost.” While my journey through adulthood has been anything but linear, God has graciously provided me with a wide variety of opportunities and experiences under the umbrella of a calling to ministry, which took hold of me almost 30 years ago and has never let go.
When I was younger, I used to hope and pray that God would use me for some great purpose in this world. As a seminary student focused on drama and creative ministry, I had big plans to use my gifts in very public venues. I never wanted to be a “star,” but I did have some grand dreams and ideas that never came to fruition. As I look back, I am ever so thankful to God that he did not take me down that path. Mainly because as I’ve gotten older and learned more about myself, I realized that is not what I’m created and equipped to do. I’ve learned that our idea and God’s idea of what is “extraordinary” can be radically different.
Instead of trying to be “extraordinary” or trying to accomplish “great things” for God, I’ve learned through my days to focus instead on legacy. Am I making daily and regular decisions to be a person of faith, to be the encourager that I’m actually created to be, and to live as an example of a man after God’s own heart? Will I love profoundly and care genuinely for those God has placed in my path? I want to leave a legacy of a life-well lived and people well-loved.
The older you get, the more you realize the less we are really in control of our lives and situations. We’re floating on this rampaging river and the current takes us where it pleases, sometimes through calm waters, sometimes through chaos. I’m so thankful that along this journey God has allowed me to wander but to never be lost.
So as I round the corner of this numerical milestone, completing a half-a-century of life, I do believe I see the world differently now than I did at 20. God has provided me with experiences, places and people that have enriched my life and each one has helped me, as Obi-Wan says to Luke in Star Wars, to “take a step into a larger world.” The last 30 years have certainly not been wasted.
Some of the most important lessons I’ve learned include…
Knowing yourself and being honest and willing to accept your abilities and limitations is the greatest gift you can give yourself. Life’s decision-making becomes so much easier when you are confident in knowing who you are.
Romantic love is absolutely great and all, but there is nothing more powerful than parental love. This I’ve learned first as a receiver and now a giver.
God is likely less concerned than we tend to be with the where and when and how than with the who and why. We often obsess over the wrong things.
A good story, either real-life or fiction, has incredible power to move and impact us unlike anything else.
The older I get, I find it amazing how little things matter less and less and the significant things become even more meaningful.
“Grace” is the most beautiful word in the English — or any other — language.
I am eternally grateful for the fifty years I’ve lived and for all of you reading this who have played a part in it. May God bless you beyond measure for how each of you has blessed me. May God’s grace and peace be yours for all your days.