On turning 59…

Posted by on Jul 15, 2016 in Blog | 8 comments

I turned 59 on Wednesday. It’s an awkward kind of a birthday 59 – it feels like an unspecified space. When you turn 39 or 49 people joke, ‘almost 40’ or ‘almost 50’. But 59 is different. People politely say, ‘I would never have guessed it’ – as though you are about to enter territory too sad to fully acknowledge.

Whatever, I had a ball on Wednesday, and am feeling remarkably positive about life. As I look back on 59 years, I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude and delight… life has been a far more enjoyable ride than I ever imagined. I know that everyone’s life does not turn out the same way, and when I talk of my good fortune I consciously link it to the emotion of gratitude – I have made more than a fair few mistakes and yet in spite of them, life is good. I don’t deserve this – God is good beyond measure.

So what am I grateful for.

  1. A wonderful marriage – now in its 36th year. Rosemary is a very different person to me, and that works really well. I’m surprised that so many people think they must marry clones of themselves – that must get a tad boring. True, Rosemary and I think alike in many areas, but there are plenty of others where we are very dissimilar, and over the years that has enriched us greatly. I think it was Ruth Graham who when asked if she had ever considered divorcing her famous evangelist husband Billy replied, “Considered divorce – never. Murder, yes – but divorce, never.” I’m glad that Rosemary and I went into marriage with a comparable mindset – that come what may, we would sort things out. It’s no longer a common mindset, and if we hadn’t had it, we might not have lasted the distance. We would have been infinitely the poorer if that had been the case. I suspect that with the normalization of divorce people give up on struggling marriages prematurely. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not a hard liner who renounces divorce in every circumstance. There are times to call it quits. But I worry that we conclude there is no future too quickly. I am glad that was never a part of our mindset. We have always known we were together for the long haul – from South Africa, to New Zealand to Australia. Lots of ups and downs, but overall a wonderful (wonderful) journey. In the early days of our marriage someone told us, ‘You  spell love “commitment”‘. Wise words.
  2. Fantastic children. I can’t imagine life without them. I am perplexed that an increasing number of couples consciously decide to remain childless (obviously its different if it proves impossible). I find it hard to believe that the vast majority will not ultimately regret that decision. I accept that some find the pain of life so difficult that they feel it would be immoral to pass that on to another generation. But I don’t experience life like that at all. Life is a gift – and to deny a future generation the right to exist because there are challenging and threating problems to be solved… well really. When in history have there not been challenging and threatening problems to solve? But back to my own children. They have matured into wonderful adults. Did we have any worrying moments? Many… many… At one stage when we were deeply concerned about one of our children and the path they had taken a wise friend said, “Sometimes they have to test another path to know the one they are meant to be on. Life is a book, not a chapter, and after a while they will realise this chapter is discordant with the book they have been writing.” It did indeed turn out to be so – for which we are immensely grateful (there it is, that word grateful again). No, it wasn’t the result of wonderful parenting skills, but a deep commitment to show and keep affirming our love for them which has never wavered, a ready realisation that prayer really does make a difference, a genuine effort to see things from more than one perspective, the commitment to talk things through – again and again and again if need be, the love, support and counsel of great friends, a fantastic church, and a willingness to invest time. At 34 I resigned as principal of Rosebank Bible College because the demands of the job were taking me away excessively from my then young children (Jett was not even born then). I had only been in the post for 3 years. From a career perspective, it seemed a huge step backwards – but I still consider it one of my wisest decisions. I’ve never regretted it. Your children are only young once – seize the day…
  3. The church. In an age when it is common to criticise the church for what she isn’t, I am so glad for what the church has been to me and to my family. Although not perfect, we have never doubted the overall goodness of the people amongst whom we have been privileged to serve. Have there been disappointments? A few… but they pale in comparison to the essential kindness and humanity we have found in the vast majority. I know there are those whose experience has been different. I can only speak of my own… great people, committed to doing good, living as best they can in the light of the wonderful narrative that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself… They have been the salt of the earth.
  4. My career. I still remember announcing to my matriculating class of 1974 that I planned to become a pastor. I had done pretty well and was considered bright enough to tackle any career I desired. A fellow classmate on hearing this announcement proclaimed, “what a waste, what an incredible waste…”  What nonsense… It has been (and continues to be) a wonderfully enriching, stretching, rewarding and fulfilling vocation. It has seen me live in three countries, travel the world teaching and preaching in several others, meet amazing people, make a difference in the lives of many, listen to the story of so very many, be present at critical points for many, speak on radio, appear on TV, write books, run educational institutions, serve on the boards of many not for profits, get involved in many entrepreneurial enterprises, be involved in building projects, sing a solo in a church concert (but only once!), be paid to read and get a better understanding of the Bible, and experience the faithfulness and love of God over and over. And that is just for starters. God is no one’s debtor (one of my life maxim’s), and has stretched and grown me in ways I never believed possible. True – I could have signed up for many other careers, and what a waste that would have been…

So I’m 59 and grateful. Why? Because so many people I listen to are deeply unhappy about their marriage, or children, or church, or career. By contrast, I am delighted with each. I have no explanation for why some people suffer so… and I have met many people who genuinely do. But for myself, I am grateful for the path God has placed me on. Could it change? Of course… Of course it could… but even if it did, God would not stop being good, and merciful and compassionate… God reigns – and that knowledge is enough for me.

A retired pastor who was part of a congregation I previously pastored advised me to read the Psalm that corresponded to a persons age on their birthday. It doesn’t always work (Psalm 22 really isn’t birthday fare) – but here are the closing two verses of Psalm 59: But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. O my Strength, I will sing praise to you; you, O God, are my fortress, my loving God.

Nice chatting…

8 Comments

  1. Happy Birthday Brian.
    I share a common sense of thankfulness as I reflect on my life, though SIGNIFICANTLY shorter!
    Thanks for those years and moments that we have shared together.
    My life has been enriched by your presence along the journey.

    Grace and Peace
    Steve Izett

  2. Fantastic! As Graham Maybury says, turning a year older is better than the alternative. My sense Brian is that you are just starting! Your effectiveness is growing, not diminishing. In fact the best is yet to come. Thankyou for your faithfulness, passion and unwavering hope.

  3. Happy birthday, Brian. And all the best for your 60th year.
    Interesting how you listed relationships above career. I think that’s true for most of us as the years roll by.

  4. Your birthday reflections are encouraging and helpful. How blessed we are to have God as our guide and friend in life’s journey. Blessings.

  5. Thanks for your insights. Celebrate 59 as the next 10 years will pass as if a breath.
    Happy birthday Brian. Blessings. June Pascoe.

  6. Thanks for all the kind comments, and for how much you each mean to me.

  7. Happy Birthday Brian! I turned 49 on Thursday and on reflection similarly deeply grateful for God’s hand in my life and times, which of course includes your influence at a particularly impressionable stage whilst a student at Stellenbosch. I am heartened by the realisation that God’s work in my marriage, family, church and career have prepared me for this moment on the cusp of a new decade. Let’s make it a good one. Time to really get this show on the road! See you in another ten?

  8. Happy birthday Brian
    Thankyou for your wise counsel here and encouragement. Indeed a life of gratitude is a life lived well.
    Amanda Rowe

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