A friend told me this encouraging story recently, about one of her cousins. He was in his mid-fifties and had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and given one year to live. He spent the year getting things ready and preparing his estate for his wife and kids, when he was informed by the doctor he had six weeks to live. He and his wife did some research, and he was offered an opportunity to try some experimental techniques in Washington. The doctors told him he had a fifty per cent chance of surviving the efforts. Amazingly, he survived the experiments. Not only did he survive, but two weeks ago received word that the cancer was completely gone. After living with the prospect of death for over a year, he had his life back.
After she told me, I couldn't stop thinking about this man, about what life would surely mean for him now that the immediate prospect of death was removed. Every day, I thought, would be a tremendous gift. We hear stories like this, and while they happen to be true, we scoff at the sappy conclusions when someone reminds us that we live under the shadow of death every day, that each one could be our last, and that all we have is a gift. And yet, it's true, isn't it? I think we resent the sentimentality of it because sometimes the people who do the reminding are so busy being happy, they make everyone around them a bit depressed. But that doesn't mean that the idea is wrong.
I think about that quite often these days, more as I get older, and especially on days like today, which happens to be my birthday. (I'm turning 23 for the 15th time.) I like getting older, frankly. I like that I have a better feel for who I am and what the world is like. I also like that it's okay to not party all weekend (so exhausting) and that no one thinks anything of it that I like to nap, errr, now and again. It strikes me how easily we forget the important things though, even now. That a life without relationships, without love, is no life at all.
I received a note from a friend of mine today that brought tears to my eyes. She was so kind and so encouraging, her note left me speechless. But it was the kind of thing she always does for others, and so consistent with her character. My life would be considerably less without her friendship. But then, that was true of so many people in my life. If you would have told me four years ago or eight years ago that I would be happily married to a beautiful and brilliant woman, that I would have a number of wonderful friends who accept me for who I am, and that I would live a life where getting out of bed in the morning at 5am is a joy, I would have called you crazy. (Especially the 5am part.) That doesn't mean I am without struggles or issues, as I've documented so often on this site. But the older I get, the more treasures I see in the people around me, and for that, I am extremely grateful.
So my birthday wish then, for all of you, is to know this more deeply. To know that tomorrow is the treasure we build up today. To know that your relationships are the brick and mortar of your life, and what you do with them will determine how you live. And finally, I'd be remiss if I did not mention my deep and abiding love of God, a love that has been nurtured by many people over the past thirty years. As I've gotten older, I've become less sure about the details of my faith, the ones that seem draw so many people into arguments, when by all accounts, we should be doing the much harder work in mimicking the love God has for us.
I first started hearing about this Jewish Rabbi when I was very young. He seemed so wise. So loving. Well, that's how everyone described him at least. That was what you found in the stories, those I was confused by some of the people who said they knew this Rabbi.
These days, it can be hard to distinguish between those who follow Jesus, those who think they're Jesus and those who think only they can speak for Jesus. It's frustrating, and I completely understand why so many of my friends give religion a wide berth. But without God, my life is an empty shell. I have known him since I was a small boy. I know how that sounds, and hey, I understand if people are skeptical, especially if someone has used religion to clobber you and hurt you. But it doesn't mean that I can deny the role God has played in my life. He has given me so many blessings, but more than that, his persistent love pushes me towards people when I don't feel like loving, and pushes me towards a mirror when I need to rethink some things, and when I'm alone, he's there with me. And that, I think, is the greatest thing of all about getting older. The older I get, the less I know. The less I know, the more I see. And the more I see, the more I realize that to exist without the presence of God would be the greatest loss of them all.
NOTE: Why not send an encouraging note to someone today. Perhaps an old friend or family member you haven't talked to in a while. Trust me, you won't regret it.