It’s my birthday tomorrow.
Birthdays are milestones, rites of passage through time. We look back from this moment given, and we look forward from this moment given, to our future deathday.
I have lived nearly sixty-five years, and will embark on my sixty-sixth. I’ve been given a specific portion of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries in which to breathe, to think, to laugh, to cry, to love. I have been given a body and a mind for which I have been responsible. Have I been a good steward?
I have known joy and sorrow. I have done good and I have done ill. I have succeeded and I have repented. Have I made peace with my past?
I celebrate another year of life, another gift. It has been a year of unusually difficult challenges, and yet with God’s grace, I have survived, depending more on God each day. So I count my blessings.
When I was born my mother cried out, “Another girl for the mission field!” At the time they all thought the statement odd (so I am told), since I was her firstborn. But on reflection I have come to believe that my mother was the first girl for the mission field, for she in her own way had been a missionary. She didn’t go to China or India or Burma or the African jungles, but she led Bible studies and new member gatherings in her living room, their living room, our living room. My father, a Chaplain who served in the South Pacific in the Second World War, upon return became a Presbyterian pastor, and with my mother worked for Intervarsity, a group that evangelized college students. Later, they founded the Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church on a hill overlooking a valley east of San Francisco.
I too, in my own way, became that missionary my mother announced sixty-five years ago, for after a few wrong turns in my early life, I found God.
It is difficult for someone who has God in their life not to share him, for he pushes out, he is too big to keep hidden. All of the prayers offered, all of the Eucharists received, all of the words of saintly men and women read. All through this time, my time given, these layers of minutes and hours and days and weeks, all of it as I look back has formed me, filling me with God.
Other Christians have formed my life as well, in miraculous ways. We are like a garden of many shoots, thorny roses and wild daisies, pungent rosemary and poignant lavender, all growing together in the same soil, watered by the Church, the sacraments, the Word of God. Some are mighty trees and some creeping ivy. We brush against one another as we turn our leaves to the sun and drink in the rain.
Today was the first day of our Children’s Summer Program at church. We are learning about the colorful Church Year. I made a Church Year wheel from tag board, gluing the pieces on thick white foam board. The pie triangles all pointed to the center where I placed a simple cross. Most of the year was Trinity green – June through November – then slices of Advent purple, Christmas white, Epiphany green, Pre-Lent and Lent purple, Easter white, Ascension white, Pentecost/Whitsunday red, and back to Trinity green. It was an orderly division of time, but also rich with meaning, as the year revealed the enormous events in the life of Christ and God’s redemption of man.
In our class we are singing Hymn 235, “Advent Tells Us Christ is Near,” which follows that wheel through the verses. And as we consider each of the nine seasons, or “tides,” we shall also consider the words of the Apostles’ Creed. We shall learn what we believe about God and man.
As I looked at the colorful Church Year wheel, I knew that those seasons, year after year, had woven into my life an indescribable richness. Each Sunday, season after season, I lived out through liturgy and ritual, rich with symbol and song, God’s love for me and all my sisters and brothers in the pews, the Body of Christ. God wove us together to make a fine cloth, a colorful tapestry.
So as I consider my sixty-five years, I see a rough muslin life that slowly became multi-textured, multi-colored, like Joseph’s coat, like my Church Year wheel, like the garden of flowers and herbs, full of sweet aromas. And I am incredibly, or credibly perhaps, thankful.
What will the next year hold, the next month, the next week, the next day, should I be given more time to breathe, think, and love? Be given more Eucharists, more conversations with God? More time for him to ready me for my deathday and my passage to eternal life in heaven?
I pray that God continue his weaving me, his painting me, his molding me, his watering me. It is so good to be loved by God, so good to be nourished by him.
I pray on my birthday the words of Clare of Assisi on her deathbed: “Thank you, God, for having made me.”