|I spent part of my birthday teaching this crew how to skip rocks.|
I was scrolling back through my memories of birthdays past, thinking about some of the particular January 29ths that really stand out. I thought I’d share some.
1976 — On my 7th birthday in the wintry cold of Bend, Oregon, I broke the two middle fingers on my right hand shortly before my friends arrived for my birthday party. I snapped the tips of those fingers in an unfortunate incident involving a wheelbarrow full of firewood, a rickety ramp consisting of a single flimsy board and a big drop down some steps on our back patio. Oh, and my older brother was in the mix. I soon adapted by learning to write left-handed. So I guess you could say that on my 7th birthday I learned about overcoming adversity. And not to use your writing hand to try and hold up a ramp beneath the weight of a wheelbarrow full of firewood being driven by your brother, even when he tells you to hold the ramp up with your hand.
1985 — I would turn 16 this year and mark it later that summer by competing on an “All-Star” track and field team from Oregon and Washington that traveled to Hong Kong, South Korea and China. I discovered firsthand the meaning of “abject poverty” on our train ride through the rice paddies and villages of rural China and recall how hordes of Chinese people would crowd around in awe and touch the hair of a girl on our team who had blond hair that was nearly white. I competed in a 5,000-meter race in a rustic, dirt-track stadium in Guangzhou, China, finishing third in sweltering heat. I remember distinctly three things about that race: 1) I was sure I was going to either burn up or melt to death, perhaps both; 2) You couldn’t drink the water in China so after the race I “quenched” my agonizing thirst with the only liquid available, a warm, fizzy orange soda pop; 3) I was overjoyed that our second meet got canceled because I was sure I wouldn’t survive another race. After the race we traded trinkets and jerseys with our fellow Chinese competitors and I remember one tiny, rail thin guy wanted my beloved Nike Spiridon racing shoes. I turned him down. To this day I think about that poor kid who had literally nothing and rue my selfishness: Why didn’t I just give him the shoes?
1993 — I turned 24 in the frozen tundra of Ontario, Oregon, which at the time was gripped in a brutally long, cold, snowy winter. I was married to Julie and we had two boys with a third on the way — Imagine that! Julie was pregnant! — and I was working for $1,200 a month as a sportswriter at the daily Argus Observer covering high school sports. Often I would leave my 1986 diesel Volkswagen Jetta with Julie and run the mile or so to work through the campus of Treasure Valley Community College. I remember distinctly on one frigid night running home for dinner through the crusty snow and underestimating how bitterly cold it was, thinking someone might come across me frozen solid in mid-stride sometime the next day. It took me a month to thaw out from that jaunt and to this day I hate to be cold, perhaps partly because of that moment of idiocy. But I get the warm fuzzies thinking about Ontario as well. The farming outpost on the Snake River next to Idaho is where we discovered the Calvary Chapel movement at a church on the outskirts of town and where we learned about expository Bible teaching. It changed our church lives forever. We also made lifelong friends who taught us so much about raising children, homeschooling and a family where Jesus Christ is at the center.
2001 — I turned 32 in a couple of finished rooms of an old dairy barn on a 3-acre patch of land at the edge of Corvallis, Oregon, where we were holed up while we built a big dream house. We had seven kids, an eighth on the way — yes, Julie was pregnant! — and it was a hard time. Very hard time. All I can say is that God carried us through it. I learned plenty in that season of life, like DIY and how to use power tools such as a compound mitre saw, how to kill skunks nesting under your barn (it’s ugly and smelly and I don’t wish it on anyone) and what true friends look like (thank you Jim Bass and many others). I remember the strength of Julie in those hard times. A gritty perseverance and a deep, abiding faith and belief that God in His power will get us through anything. I’ve never met another woman like her. Don’t think I ever will. I’m so thankful for her.
2009 — After living in Virginia for four years, we returned to Corvallis in fall of 2008 so I could attend Cornerstone School of Ministry. On my 40th birthday at school I remember how one of my classmates ornately and rather gaudily decorated my car in embarrassing fashion, writing passages drawn from Song of Solomon referencing my “abs of carved ivory” on it … except it wasn’t my car. It was someone else’s. Now THAT was funny and made for a memorable birthday. But from 2009 I learned many things, above all that God is in control. And that He is a very good and loving God.
2017 — I awoke on my 48th birthday next to my wife of 26 years, who’s not pregnant I might add, in a little house a few blocks from the York River where around Christmas time all 14 kids were home. It’s 15 kids when you add in Taylor’s wife, Bethany, then 16 kids when you count the wee little lad she’s carrying in her womb. (We’re so stoked to be grandparents this year!) Then you add another to make it 17 for when Ethan’s fiancee Mandi, was here, plus throw in another “kid” to make it 18 when Brenton’s — and ours too! — good friend from Oregon, Parker Smith, stopped in for several days to visit. Julie glowed because all her babies were home and the house was just so full of life. And a ton of food. Literally a ton of food. I remember thinking that, yes our house is small and there’s kids everywhere, but there’s so much laughing and joy and love and I’m so thankful for all the Lord has done in our lives. And then a few days ago I got this text from Evie, who’s out in Oregon studying at Cornerstone School of Ministry for the year: “Okay. We were in prayer yesterday and I remembered in It’s a Wonderful Life at the end when Harry toasts George and says, `To George Bailey, the richest man in town.’ I know this is really mushy but I always thought of you when we watched that movie.” So yes, Evie is right. On my 48th birthday I woke up as the richest man in town.