“O bless the Lord my soul – all that is within me – bless God’s holy name.”
In just a few hours, it will be my fiftieth birthday. I’ve been spending the whole day today thinking back over the last decades. My twentieth birthday I think I was at home with my parents – spending a few days at home before heading to another summer at camp. My thirtieth birthday I was at my first call as a pastor in New York. I was single and my congregation threw me a little birthday party. Soon after that, Chad and I fell in love and we continued on this journey together. By my fortieth birthday we had two young children, my dad had just died, and I was in the brief lull between my call as a pastor in Colorado and moving to my next church in Texas. The boys and I were visiting my mom for a few weeks and the boys gave me a crooked little cake. And now I will be fifty. The last decade has flown by in hyperspeed. My boys are many feet taller. Mom died. I got my doctorate. I was on a Norwegian reality show. I moved back to Minnesota. I wrote two books, traveled to Norway three times, and the South Pacific, and a few big road trips, and collected a lot more silver hair.
I’ve tried to commemorate this occasion in various ways. First, I began a project while I was still in New Zealand back in February. I made a list of fifty things I wanted to do before my fiftieth birthday. It was a great list and I was having so much fun checking off items bit by bit. I was trying new kinds of ice cream, learning how to make new recipes, taking classes, making plans to meet people I admire, and complete difficult tasks. I completed well over half the tasks but then the pandemic struck and made a few of my items necessary to delay. The list will still be completed, but not before my fiftieth birthday. Then, I made a list of fifty things I Know – I thought it would be a fun writing exercise and a super blog post – but some of the most important things I’ve learned in the last decades aren’t things I’m comfortable blogging about or talking about. I’ve always been pretty private. I’m only ready to tell my stories and secrets when I am ready. I can’t be rushed.
In fact, I dig in my heels if I feel I am being rushed. I’ve always been that way. I don’t like to be told what to do and I will not be hurried along. I go at my own pace. I do what I want when I want. Stubborn. Steadfast.
But there’s something about turning fifty that makes me less proud of that quality – even though in the past it has served me well. Because I sense time getting shorter now. Anyone will tell you that the years pick up speed as we go – and I have begun to suspect that if I continue to demand to go at my own pace, to not be rushed, to pride myself on my steadfast nature rather than nurture the ability to move and be moved, well, it will not go well for me. I’ll age brittle and bent, not how I want to age – with my hair flowing long and free, laughter and wisdom brimming.
I want to remember my fiftieth birthday as the threshold of “yes”. A “yes” to motion. Less of my death-grip on control and measured responses and worry. More of letting go, exploration, and messy. Less of buttoned up. More of the scenic route. More of “why not try this?” Less of “this worked last time.” More of looking forward and appreciating what is right next to me. Less of ruminating on the past.
In two hours it will be my fiftieth birthday. I thank God for each year. Each person I have known. This life! The flowers, the meadows – how the grass looks like waves on a North Dakota prairie, how the snow sounds different on a really super cold day, how the smell of woodsmoke takes me back to a thousand summer nights, how listening to the Samples always makes me happy, how good friends and good food make life worth living, how glad I am that Chad and I found each other and decided maybe we did want kids after all because my boys are my heart, how I am such a disaster 68% of the time and yet my congregation loves me and lets me be their pastor, how the right turn of a phrase, or the sunlight setting just so, or plants pushing up through the earth in my garden, or the sound of the wind in the leaves – how any of it, all of it – is so beautiful! So precious! So good.
I understand the psalmist – “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.” How can I offer up anything but praise for these years, this life? For all that has been and for whatever remains, “O bless the Lord my soul. O bless God’s holy name.”
And so, dear listener, for what or who do you give thanks today? What do you hope to have more of in the next years? Less of in the next years? How is God moving in your life? What are you yet becoming?
Who know all that will yet be? But we know God is with us. God is with you, dear friends. “O bless the Lord, my soul- all that is within me – bless God’s holy name.”
Grace and peace to you, dear friends. In Jesus’ name – Amen.