On Turning 34: A Birthday Reflection

I turned 34 yesterday. Weird.

There was a time in my life, not long ago perhaps, when 34 seemed old. A very long time away. I’m not altogether sure what I thought I’d be when I got there, but I would no doubt be old by then. I remember my parents at this age (I was seven or so). Mustaches. Poofy hair. Lax fashion sensibilities. Ford Tauruses. They were the definition of old. Am I that?

I constantly have the experience of meeting people who look old to me and then finding out that they graduated a year before (or after!) I did. It’s disorienting… do I look like that?? I must…

Mandi and I recently went to former Packers quarterback Brett Favre’s induction into the Packers Hall of Fame. On the way over, she said to me, “Do you know he has two grandkids?” I replied, “Do you know he’s only about ten years or so older than us?” “Noooooo….” she gasped, incredulously. Sure enough. Our childhood hero has grandkids, is getting inducted into Halls of Fame, and only has a decade on us.

Old.

When my mom was around my age, she asked my younger brother John, “Do I look old to you?” His reply: “Just your face…”

Ha. OLD.

I’m a romantic at heart, so the idea of letting go of childhood and coming into a full, ripe adulthood is an inspiring one for me. I’m not sure what exactly I thought it would “feel” like to be the age I am now, but this is what it feels like, to me… this is where my heart is:

I’m so grateful for what I’ve accomplished, and still feel like I haven’t done a darned thing. I think I thought at 34 I would be walking around with this sense of, “Man, look at all the cool stuff I’ve done.” That there would be more in the rearview mirror than in front of me. I don’t feel like that. What I do feel is immense gratitude for what I’ve accomplished and where life has taken me… and still feel like I’m just getting started. I hope that I feel that way for a very long time. Kierkegaard once said that the intersection between time and the eternal is not in the present, as many assume, but rather in the moment that is rushing upon us, in the possibility that constantly presents itself anew. Therein is hope. I want more of that. A heart full of eternal possibility.

In like manner, I’m so grateful for what I’ve come to know of God, but feel like I’ve only just begun to explore. That wasn’t always the case. There was a long period I went through where I could feel something like a sad resignation creeping around the edges of my heart, whispering, “It will never get better than what it was.” Those were hard days, and I am glad that they are over. God’s infinity eternally beckons us to more. He is the Far Shore we never reach. The Country we will forever explore. The Name whose mystery eternally unfolds itself. I love God. I want more.

My family is more important to me now than it has ever been. Mandi and the kids. My mom and dad, my siblings, their significant others, my extended family. The older I get, the more stabilizing and orienting and identity-shaping family becomes. Ministry in particular has taught me that firm, stable relationships can be really hard to come by. You fall back on what has carried you. My family has carried me. I love and trust them, and am so grateful for them.

I am less impressed with celebrity than I have ever been. That doesn’t mean I’m not still a little impressed with it :). Just that it’s not as important as it was to me. Knowing “so and so” and being able to say that you’ve met “such and such” a person, and even becoming the kind of person that people might name-drop in a conversation… blech. It’s meaningless. The older I get, the less impressed I am with it. And I’ve learned this: There is absolutely no correspondence between celebrity and truth. I know that now. I didn’t always. More and more, what impresses me are lives lived with full integrity, rooted in the truth.

Which is what I want my own life to be. I am bent on living now, in a way that I’m not sure I have ever been. I want to love my wife and kids. I want enjoy the life I’ve been given. I want to be a great help to the church I serve… and a blessing to those beyond it. I want to keep growing in wisdom and grace, and keep finding my life “hidden with Christ in God.” I want to know and gaze upon the Beauty, and find thereby that my own soul is beautified. I want to live.

Not too long ago I sat down for lunch with an older pastor (and by that I mean a pastor older than me; he’d probably be offended at being called an “older pastor”… ha). His encouragement to me: “You’ve got your whole life and ministry out in front of you. Enjoy it all. Spread your wings. Experiment. Don’t be afraid of living. This decade will be about a profound self-discovery. Soak it all up.”

Good advice. I intend to :).

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