Birthdays are funny things. When you are younger, you can't wait to age another year, and to be "king for the day". I remember being somewhat depressed on October 10 each year, knowing that I had another 364 days until the next time to score attention and presents on the same day. I also remember lying to girls during my teen years to make them think I was a year older than I really was (yes, even Mr. Robinson has a devious sin nature). But the older I get, the more this day either becomes like any other on the calendar, or becomes a reminder of the shortened time I have left to accomplish a million unfinished goals in my life. Honestly, I don't know how I feel about birthdays any more. I still get some attention from family and friends, but its just not the same as when I was 11 years old. Part of me just wants them to go away.
In my dozen or so trips to Haiti, it was interesting to find out that hardly anyone there celebrates birthdays. There are many reasons for this, but the main one is that a birthday celebration is primarily a western custom. Most Haitians have never been taught that their birthday is an important day to remember, so it just falls through the cracks. As a matter of fact, many Haitians have no idea how old they are, let alone what date their birthday falls on. While most never have to address this vacancy, some end up with a need to have a birth date so that they can get an official birth certificate (to obtain a passport, open a bank account, etc.). When this arises, they simply find a family member who was alive when they were born. That person goes to the government office, says something like, "Well, let's see...it seems that you were born in the spring about the time of that big rain in the late '70's. Probably mid-April...let's say April 18th!" All of a sudden, this becomes the person's official birth date (still no party, though).
These days, whenever my kids ask me what I want for my birthday, I always answer in the same way: "I just want a hug". I really mean that too! With all honesty, a big hug from my kids would make the day great. But, they can't accept the simplicity of that, so I still get T-shirts, tools, and snacks, for which I am thankful. I guess they are thinking, "What a rotten birthday that would be if all I got was a hug!", so they reason that I must be lying about my hidden feelings on the subject. The best news is that tonight, we will have a great meal together as a family, and tomorrow night, my girls come home from college for fall break. Those times will make my birthday a worthy celebration.
After 45 trips around the sun, I have come to the following conclusions (bear with me as I reflect):
- Investments are good, as long as they are prioritized correctly. Specifically, a wise investment in marriage, family, and children will pay eternal dividends. The thing about time passing, is that there are no redo's. Once you have passed your 10th wedding anniversary, or your child's 8th birthday, you can't go back, fix it, and do it better. These things deserve priority attention from day one, because once the time passes, it is gone.
- Raising children is the hardest task you will ever perform. On a related note, nothing gets permanent marker out of suede leather.
- Stuff is just stuff (as is money). Things are necessary on many levels, but they are also the greatest hindrance to eternal investments. When given the choice between earning a bonus paycheck at the office or spending time with the kids, take the kids. My dad passed away when I was 30. I have such rich memories of this amazing man. He left me virtually nothing of monetary value, but for my first 18 years of life, he was there to help me walk through every mountain and valley. I wouldn't trade a hundred 401K's for that time we spent together.
- Working with kids and their parents every day is the most unpredictable job ever. You just never know where your conversations might end up. I love it.
- Education is important, but not the end all of success. At HCA, we have a pretty strenuous academic program, but I am the first to tell you that it is of no value without a Biblical Worldview connected to it. When the world tells you that the right college will make all the difference for your child's future, be sure to check the scripture reference on that advice. There are other things that are more important. This is coming from a school administrator with two kids in a good college, by the way.
- I don't like coconut, salmon patties, or okra. Sorry, they are just not good. I will eat virtually anything else.
- An effective daily walk with Christ will fix 99.9% of your problems. Try it.
- The greatest regret I have in life is how I treated my mom when I was 15-20 years old. She deserved better than that. After all, she gave me everything she had every day of her life. Dads, don't let your son (or daughter) mistreat your wife. Protect her at all cost.
- I love my wife, and should show her more appreciation than I do.
- Carolina basketball > Duke Basketball. Face it.
- Every day is to be savored and met with joy. This is an area of failure for me virtually every minute of every day. But, on the few occasions that I do meet this directive, it makes all the difference.
I could go on, but these are the things that quickly popped in my head in the moment. Thanks to all of you for making my birthday a great one (even if you had no idea). The quality of folks that surround me each day is gift enough. God bless.