Birthdays Are a Very Mixed Blessing…

At my advanced age, I have to admit that I am not a particular fan of birthdays. Oh, don’t get me wrong – I love the attention, the loving gifts and notes, sharing good food with people I care about. It’s the aging part I’m not so crazy about. It’s a young world out there in church leadership land – to be young, cool and with-it is desirable. To be old, decidedly un-hip and on the edge of the technological revolution is definitely not. The party part I love, it’s the numbers I have mixed feelings about. Every January 23, another one gets added to one of my vital statistics, all of which are much larger than I might like them to be.

So last week, I was delighted to be able to share a birthday with someone I loved who was reaching the smallest milestone possible for a natal day – our grandson Griffin Stenzel turned ONE! His actual birthday was on the 23rd, but that was a Saturday this year, and weekends are tough for us to be away from Santa Barbara and Sunday responsibilities. So we celebrated on my days off, enjoying a yummy, home-cooked meal on Wednesday night the 27th. Griffin was happy as a clam during dinner, thoroughly enjoying his meal – especially the rice, which stuck to every crevice in his adorable face.

After dinner, we brought out the cake(s – chocolate for the rest of us, a large piece of white cake for our birthday boy. Perfect I thought, white cake for one-year-olds, decorated with a bright blue birthday rose for boys.) Immediately, a crease of worry crossed Griff’s face. Candles on food? Then we sang, and the alarm level raised another notch. “Everyone singing together, loudly, with lots of giggles at my expense? What is this?”

But once the candle was removed, he did test the waters (or the icing, as the case may be.) He tentatively explored the terrain of sweet stuff by dipping his fingers right into the center of that blue rose. And that’s when the real tears began!

“What have you done to me?” his anguised cries seemed to ask. “My skin is changing color right before my eyes! Wahhh!” And he would not be consoled. The birthday cake was abandoned, the party was over.

Smart boy, that Griffin. There is something fundamentally alien, at least in our culture, about getting older. Try as we might to put ribbons and bows around it all, I see little evidence in the culture at large that being an elder is a desirable and worthy thing. Even within church circles, people over a certain age are most often viewed with at least a tad of suspicion. As in so many other ways, we humans tend to think in categories, categories that too easily can become stereotypes. It is sometimes helpful for me to remember that in the grand scheme of things, NONE of us is particularly old – or particularly wise, or hip, or with-it, either. All of those labels are ones we have created in an attempt to build up our own self-image as human creatures. Remembering that all of us, whether one or sixty-one, are children of God, called to fellowship and to following in the way of Jesus, can help to keep things in perspective. At least sometimes. Just not around the 23rd of January. :>)

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