Birthdays and anniversaries are times for celebration, and reaching “three-score years and ten” years is certainly worth A Big Three Cheers! But special days are important for reflection as well.
Gratitude to God and to the most important people in my life over these 70 years are features I’d like to be emblematic of me. I am still surrounded with so many loving and kind people, I have enjoyed wonderful peace and excellent health, and my contribution in several circles is still wanted and apparently appreciated.
Renmark is the town closest to where the borders of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia meet; these are also the three Australian States where my wife Helen and our 4 children live. Ten days ago Helen and I gathered in a superb Renmark holiday park to celebrate my 70th birthday with our 4 children, their spouses and our 11 beautiful grandchildren. A wonderful 5 days . . . cloudless skies, moderate temperatures, a sparkling River Murray, and lots of good times and things to do for all ages.
Allow me to reflect on some of the blessings we counted…
Walking with God
It is rare for all the adult and married children of a family to have chosen to walk with God, meaning God as we have (and can) come to know God through Jesus Christ.
In our family it’s not “done” to be noisy or pushy about our faith, but it’s there; it is deep, thoughtful, open, respectful, and I think quite well integrated with who we are as people. This faith is a gift of God, but it was taught and modelled by our four parents and further shaped by some beautiful image-bearers of Jesus – as we reflect.
All religious and non-religious belief systems are by their nature subjective and selective in the evidence and criteria they choose to believe and reject. And face it, this true of all of us when it comes to our core beliefs and their application.
The Christian church and people at their worst are ugly, horrible and damaging, as are many if not all faiths, beliefs, and ideologies and their followers. But after 70 years I believe I can say that Christian faith at its best is wholesome, sensible, and truly “good news” for individuals, communities and the planet. Of course when I write this I realise I am again being selective.
I believe that I am truly privileged to have been born into a pretty good Christian family. My marriage to Helen has also helped me greatly to address what I saw as my parents’ few weak areas as well as to build a healthy basis for life, family and a productive life in our current time.
What a privilege it is to have all our children and their partners recognise that and build on it!
Healthy and happy
Ten days after my entry into the world (that’s 70 years to the day as I write this) I was put on an operating table in a Friesian (Netherlands) hospital to have my stomach outlet adjusted to working order. This gave me a second start at life for which I’m also deeply thankful. It also left me with some deep-seated issues and passions about which I have written much on my sister blog, and which have grown in me a heartfelt empathy for the often hidden battles faced by some of the people with whom I have worked.
Since then neither I nor any of my children and grandchildren have ever been seriously ill. I understand that my hospital stay lasted over 2 weeks, far longer than any of our family since (including the maternity ward stays). Nor have any of us had to battle chronic mental or physical maladies to a life-debilitating extent. Nor have any of us broken bones or been injured in “accidents”. Sure, we are not high-risk people, but this seems remarkable nevertheless.
My life with Helen and my family have probably been as harmonious and tension-free as is possible. Our children have been able to spread their wings and then leave the nest without dangerous experiments and damaging crashes.
Of course there are things I and our other family members would have done or handled differently if we knew then what we know now. We all make mistakes, but most of us learn how not to keep making the same ones. There are also skills I would love to have conquered, and costs associated with Helen and my life choices. But we have learnt self-acceptance and contentment whilst enjoying to the full the many gifts we do have.
How grateful I am that although none of us are high-flyers, we have a track record of being quiet achievers, folk whom other people like to have as a friend, helper, or encourager. Our own and our children’s steady employment stories are just the tip of that iceberg.
Doing paid work in five churches between 1971 and 2010 has involved us in some inevitable scrapes and scratches, but God has taught us important things about ourselves and church dynamics through these dark times, and all but one of the churches we’ve worked for have survived – and the 5th was on life support before we got there. Several indeed have flourished in part because of the long-term work we did there. And it has been heartening to have been asked to “help out” in five other churches in the 5 years since my retirement.
Besides, none of the tunnels we transited have left any of our children worse off.
Reading what I have written here, this post may seem like a gloss-job or gloating, but (1) it’s the truth, and (2) I repeat: my family and I recognise that God’s mysterious ways have been so good to us. Why we have been so privileged when others miss out on so much is one of life’s greatest mysteries and a reason why many find it hard to believe in a personal and good “God”.
The good things I have received against the background of a few tough things has helped me to have a heart for hurting people, just as Jesus’ signature compassion was one of the most important ways in which he touched people for health and life.