All right, all right! Some people are impressed that today’s numerical date (not in Europe, since they do it backwards) is 11/12/13. I think that’s pretty cool. But it’s especially cool because today is also my 60th birthday!
That’s right! It is, as Dylan Thomas might say, “my” sixtieth “year to heaven.” Actually, he said “thirtieth,” but who’s counting, right? He actually died in my birth year (1953) three days before I was born.
And I was born premature, mother always said. I weighed in at just over 4 pounds, had to be put in an incubator, and stayed in the hospital for several days after mother had been released. That should have been ample warning concerning the trouble I would make in this life, I’d say. (You know, they eventually named a famous hurricane after me in 2004).
So, now I have officially begun my 61st year on this planet (having lived full lives on several others previous to this, of course). And it seems fitting that I should share six decades of accumulated wisdom with you (or three score and a day for those still using such archaic language).
As I have made by way through this day, so far, I have been inundated with little white note cards from my immediate family members; note cards that carry the sweetest, most admirable comments a man could want to read. And I have found them in the most unlikely places, scattered around the house: on mirrors, in the shower, under my laptop computer, taped on doors, etc.
The sentiments are priceless. I am told that by day’s end they will total 60 in all.
As I read each of them, I am reminded of a simple truth: the way I decide to live my life affects many people, and it affects them profoundly.
In the age of “do your own thing” and “be your own person” (actually, I was taught in high school English class that it was 14th century Chaucer who said, “let it suffice for each man to do his own thing” although I can find no reference for such a statement), it is quite clear to me that my actions have a significant and sometimes lasting effect on those closest to me.
And it is more than comforting to learn that 60 years of perfection (even if it were attainable), is not the goal. In fact, it is not even what is most helpful.
My life has been made up of many successes and many failures. Not unlike others, I am sure. But it is my birthday, today, so humor me! What I learned from my friend, Landon Saunders, in the 1980s, has stuck with me for 30 years:
“God has great tasks only for those who have demonstrated their ability to deal with great failure. The greater the failure, the greater the opportunity for service.”
Failure is a given in this life. No one is immune. What I do with my failure? Ah . . . that, my friend, is the key. Do I “shrink to fit my failure”? Or do I learn how to rise above it, and go on? Will I have the “heart of the fighter,” and will I learn to truly be “a great human being”?
One thing I have learned in my sixty years on this earth is this: your children benefit from your mistakes and how you deal with them every bit as much, if not more, than your successes.
How comforting! Then I have a wealth of wisdom to share, don’t I?
Oops! I have a wealth of mistakes. But that is not the key, is it? It is how I deal with those mistakes that makes them either a benefit or a curse.
Perfection eludes us all. Shame, the modern world tells us, is unhealthy, and should be eradicated. And so, we are tempted to deny our shame, deny our mistakes, do what is natural for us, and do it with total abandon.
As a friend of mine used to say, “And how’s that working out for you?”
It doesn’t work out well at all! There are things that are “right” and things that are “wrong.” Each of us crosses those boundaries on a regular basis, and ends up paying a price for our choices. But we compound the price we pay, we increase the cost geometrically, we multiply and intensify the effect of our error – when we deny it.
When we admit our wrong, and take steps to correct it, the effect on those around us is almost magical, because it proves that transformation is possible. Instead of bearing shame, we wear a badge of honor; instead of working to deny our weakness (which is quite tiring), we use our weakness as a tool to serve other human beings.
At any rate, that is what I have learned in my sixty years. And it has served to strengthen my family. If you disagree, or are simply not impressed with my words of wisdom, please bear in mind . . .
I was a preemie.