I’m two months into my 41st year. Turning 40 last year felt monumental. It seems like such a milestone. Maybe 40 is the “new 30;” I don’t know, but either way I had attached some significance to this event. The big day came and went with not a small amount of disappointment. I’m not complaining (or I don’t mean to be); Kirsten did her best as she always does to help me feel valued and loved. Nonetheless, I wondered what I had to show for my four decades of existence thus far at that point. As I had been anticipating turning 40 for some time, no doubt, I found myself hoping that the day would come and I would find myself surrounded not just by (my immediate) family but also by friends and maybe some colleagues and hopefully whilst immersed in a faith community of which I was a valued part. However, having just recently moved across the country again when June rolled around again last year, that certainly didn’t happen. I was just weeks into a new job when my birthday arrived, and we had yet to make a solid connection upon returning to House of Mercy (and sadly, probably still have yet to do so). Obviously, then, there had also been little time to develop new friendships or rekindle local old ones. That latter part still hasn’t happened, and may not. As for the former part, the developing new friendships part, that’s certainly slow going at best, and near nonexistent at worst.
It’s not that I don’t have friends, though. Had we been in OH, there are a few dear friends there that I’m sure I would have celebrated with. Had we been in TX, I’m hopeful that the same would have been true. The fact is that moving as often (and as far) as we repeatedly have, even if “only” every 4 or 5 years and even if we wind up repeatedly returning to places we left; nonetheless moving that far that often has a way of limiting the relationships that can be successfully cultivated and maintained. There’s certainly something to the “wisdom of stability,” and as always I’m hopeful that our last big move was, well, our last.
There’s another truth at work here, too, one that I continually struggle to come to terms with. I’ve been very fortunate over the years, especially my early years, to have benefited from good relationships with a few mentors that have taught me so very much about how to become the person I want to be. After one of these big cross country moves many years ago, as I was probably complaining to one of these mentors about my struggle to find a new one where I was, he said something that I would paraphrase as, “Well, maybe it’s time for you to give what you’ve gotten.” That is, maybe it’s time for me to be less focused on finding a mentor, and more focused on being one to somebody else. This is, after all, how discipleship is supposed to happen, right? “Each one” should not only “win one,” but teach one. The healthiest version of me is the one that is both teaching and being taught, the one that is simultaneously a leader and a follower.
I think this is salient because of the old adage, “If you want a friend, be a friend.” In other words, I need to focus less on myself and quit wishing for folks to surround me in loving, supportive relationships (that is, community). Instead, I need to love and support those I come across and offer the bonds of friendship without expecting anything in return. After all, it is of course only through giving that I might hope to receive. Thus, I plan to reach out over the next little while to those friends, wherever they are, that I’ve been blessed with thus far over my 41 years, mostly to thank them for their friendship and do what I can to maintain it. If you hear from me soon, you’re among those I want to express my gratitude to in this way. In the meantime, I need to much better do the basic work of following Jesus. I’m working to teach my kids how to do this (follow Jesus) and why we do so. I’m trying to better introduce them to the “big story” of a God who is for us (all), and that because this is the case we can truly be for one another and for the good world God gave us. The better I model this ideal- loving and being for those around me, whoever they are- the more likely I’ll celebrate my 42nd birthday not by wanting to be blessed by all my many local friends, but instead by wanting to bless those that I’ve been lucky enough to come to know and love over the past year, and beyond. Lord, let it be so.