#41: Reflections on a Middle-Aged Birthday

"If he loses hair on his forehead, he simply has a bald forehead. He is clean"

Today is my birthday. And as my new theme verse for my 41st year of living I have chosen Leviticus chapter 13, verse 41. It just seems fitting as I see more and more skin on my head each day. (Thankfully, it's only year 41 and it's not yet 42 because, while 42 is an epic number in baseball, it is, unfortunately, a remarkably disgusting verse in Leviticus chapter 13.)

Ugh. 41. Doesn't get much more middle-aged than that, does it? Maybe it does.  The Big 40+1 is way-beyond young. But you can't really say it's old. Forty-one just is. At 41 I don't have my whole life behind me (I certainly hope not at least!) but I don't have my whole life ahead of me either.

Today I woke up and discovered some presents my body has given me in the form of some new physical features— like the new kangaroo pouch at my waist and this reflective mirror on my aforementioned forehead. I can hardly wait for what other gifts my body has in store for the future…

But I also awoke today with some interesting new outlooks on my life which grant me both freedom and fear. The freeing perspective is that the mistakes of my youth are further away than they have ever been and also that I am more convinced than ever of God's faithfulness. The more decades I see of God's hands the more I know His salvation and companionship. The fearful perspective, however, is that it has taken me 41 years to learn what I know today… and it seems so infantile compared to how much more there is to know— and I have 41 less years to explore and discover. Just like the feudal kingdoms of the Middle Ages, the feudal reflections of my middle-ages create an interesting time of life.

Overall, I am happier than I've ever been. I am secure in myself. I am blessed with a wonderful family, with remarkable friends, with inspirational networks. After all of these years, I confidently state that the greatest wealth in my life is my walk with Jesus – who listens and challenges and wrestles and gives peace and strength in the joys and uncertainties of my middle-aged life.

And yet, I'd be dishonest if I didn't say that at 41 I also struggle. The years of carrying burdens as a pastor have been so rewarding… but they have also been straining. Add this to my history of being a human being (i.e. the womb + 41 years worth) with my own stresses and fault-lines… My soul is more tired than it used to be. In fact, there have been a handful of certain experiences that have crushed the wind out of me… and I just don't seem to have the same bounce-back that I had in my Twenties or Thirties. I haven't lost my optimism… God gave that to me to keep. But I seem to have wearied in my quick runs back up the mountain top. I seem to stay a little longer in the valley… and hike a little slower on the hills.

But I'm not sure this is a bad thing. In fact, I am glad for the struggle. I'm growing deeper in a longer way. And if my roots can continue to grow down into Jesus, I am actually quite excited about the strength that will emerge in the years ahead. I told Kathy a couple weeks ago that in 10 years I expect to be an even better man than I am today… because I expect the patterns of my life to become richer and fuller in their dependence upon God.

My 14-year-old son wrote this birthday message to me yesterday. This is the greatest gift I could imagine receiving at this stage in my life. I think his words might sum up what I've been trying to say better than my birthday ramblings in this blog post ever could: 

Happy birthday dad!!!!! Thanks for being my inspiration in so many things including my Faith and thanks for being there for me in the good and the bad times. God bless you for all you are doing in my life, our family's life, and the lives of others around you. You have a natural talent of speaking about God, doing lego with us, and just loving me. You are such a great dad! Love you much!

– – – – –

God, please help me continue to grow down into the soil of your marvelous love. As you already have, I ask you to strengthen me for another 41 years… if only to encourage others to grow down too. Let me walk alongside my wife, my kids, my family, my friends, my students, my peers, my neighbors, and my networks as they increasingly respond to your profound calling. And Lord, let them minister to me as well. May this day, and may this year, be yours. Your child, Ken.

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