The breeze whipped across my back as I bent over to catch my breath and then continued walking along the river. It felt good to run, as it always did, and now I let my gaze travel alone the river itself, and the ducks swimming in the reeds, watching as the fading sunlight glinted across the calm waters. Occasionally I passed a couple out for their after dinner walk, as well as a few young families. I watched one dad as he lifted his little girl, pointing out the geese swimming in the shallow water just off the shoreline. I felt quiet tonight, not sad exactly, although watching the young father caused a twitch in my stomach. Today wasn't like any other day. Today was my 34th birthday.
Happy Birthday, Steve.
I continued along the path, my eyes drawn to the sun twinkling off the water and the happy sounds of the kids playing in the shallows. I'd told friends that turning 34 was like crossing an intersection without a stop sign. But it was still a birthday. As a kid I'd always looked forward to celebrating them, but as the years had passed, I found myself looking back as much as I looked ahead.
I remembered my 25th birthday. Newly engaged and excited about my life, my wife had thrown a great shin dig at her apartment, and my friends and family had come to enjoy a wonderful time together. I remembered my 30th birthday, having survived an early separation my wife and I were back together, this time, we'd thought, for good. And she'd thrown a truly memorable surprise party with all of our old friends and acquaintances that had left me in tears.
And then there was today.
The night before I'd celebrated a quiet evening with a few close friends. And the week before, a similar gathering with close family members. But today it was difficult to think about anything but how much my life had changed. How my expectations and dreams had changed. Most of the time, I could stay focused and positive on what God was about to do, but on this day, I could not help looking back. And as I did, I began to think of someone else, someone who'd never celebrated his 34th birthday. And wondered what it was like for Him...
I stopped for a second to look out across the water. There was something about the water I'd always felt calming, and I found myself wondering what Jesus had felt the first time he'd stepped on the boat with his disciples.
Until the time he was 30, Jesus stayed at home, working at the shop, helping to support his family. But for the next three years, throughout his ministry, he spent most of his time traveling. Most Christians did not think of Jesus as person anymore. They thought about Him as God only, a strong Divine force, or something equally abstract. That's how I used to think about Him. It was easier to think of Jesus as something other than a man. Considering His humanity somehow it made me think too much about the things I went through, and how I handled them.
I turned along the path. An older couple smiled at me as I passed by, and for a moment I repressed the silly urge to tell them that it was my birthday. I'd often wondered if Jesus thought about the things I thought about. We don't know for sure, but I sense from my understanding of Scripture that Jesus knew that he would never have a family, that he would never hold a grandchild in his arms. Or that he would even hold a wife, a confidante, someone to share His life with. And yet, at the not so ripe age of 33, he followed his path, obedient to the end. And for that, he took all of our sins upon himself.
Clouds moved across the sky, for a moment hiding the sun as I headed up the sidewalk towards my apartment. Some men claimed that they were born to be single, like the Apostle Paul. I'd never felt that way. I still didn't. In fact, I wasn't at all sure that I was anywhere near where I was supposed to be. Wife-less. Child-less. In an old apartment building in an unsavory neighborhood. I wondered if Jesus thought about that too. If He wondered what His father was doing. Surely he must have wondered if the cold nights on along the Sea of Tiberias, when He was cooking fish over a small fire, if it was exactly what the Almighty had in mind for Him.
I stopped outside my apartment, watching as the sun flickered off the houses on the other side of the road, and the two families sharing a meal on the picnic table. I'd never expected to end up in this place when I was 34. No, I'd expected something quite different. (And far more extravagant!) So many people I'd talked to wondered at where they'd ended up as well. Life had not brought them what they expected either. I'd often thought that it was the disappointment of life's expectation that was the hardest thing to deal with. Especially for those who'd believed God would or should, somehow bring them more.
I pulled out my key and headed up the walk. I started thinking about Jesus around the fire cooking the fish with his disciples, laughing together and sharing stories. I thought about Jesus restoring a woman to her community, a woman the people had been ready to kill. I thought about the way he touched every life around Him.
And I started thinking about my own life. It was difficult at times. No point in sugar coating it. But if anyone looked hard enough we could always find the blessings in our life, too. I thought about my friends. My kids at school. The teams I coached. The great joy I received from writing. And I thought about my relationship with the Living God which, through all of my tribulations, had grown and matured into the bedrock of my life.
Thoughts swirled in my head as I marched up the stairwell. My hero had faced the challenges of life, and though He'd never turned 34, He'd shown me the way. I smiled, as I began to think about the future. Life would always hand out its share of pain, and the heartache of disappointment, but I could sense His reassurance that my life did indeed, have a purpose. He'd walked this way, too. And though my birthday had reminded me some of what I'd lost, I began to see that there was more in this unexpected life of mine. Not only for the future, but for today as well. The road was already marked for me, the one my Hero had walked so many years before. And all I had to do was follow in His footsteps...
"I have come that they may have life. And have it to the full."