Turning 50: Surprised By A Birthday Like No Other, Moved by a Friend’s Letter

Last week, I celebrated my 50th birthday in isolation. Actually not total isolation but with my wife, together quarantined in a hotel at our hometown Shillong because of our recent travel history. The two of us had been stranded in Brazil for three months because of the global coronavirus crisis which led to several countries shutting their borders even to their own citizens. And we are quarantined here for a few weeks before we get to go home to be with family. 

I did not have great expectations for my birthday except to receive normal wishes and greetings like it happens every year on the 22nd of June and perhaps a small gift or two. But even before the day had properly begun, I was flooded with love and affirmation and sincere words of blessing that came in the form of video recordings, text messages and phone calls from family and friends. The deluge continued throughout the day in the form of coffee-flavoured cakes, packed meals containing my favourite dishes, old buddies doing James Taylor recordings on video, a group call on Zoom with extended family that had in it songs, banter, words of encouragement and prayers, and surprise emails that moved me deeply, driving me to tears. It was one of the best days of the five decades of my life, the best birthday out of many that were truly wonderful, priceless gifts that I will take with me for the rest of my life, perhaps forever.

As the day was winding down, I opened my email and found a letter from a friend who now lives in a different city, a fellow-traveller on a path that has sometimes been treacherous, someone who has seen my weaknesses and knows my vulnerabilities yet who allows me to be me, who reaches out with his hand to pull me up when I am really down. He, like a few other buddies, now separated by geography but connected through technology, is one of those people who refuse to judge me even when I rightly deserve to be judged but yet, at the same time, calls me to a higher standard that he himself knows he cannot attain without an enabling that is beyond him. He is someone who is very aware of his own brokenness but who has also learnt to live in the shadow of grace. 

I was deeply moved by his letter. His affirmation and encouragement together with celebration of our friendship gave me great joy. Simultaneously, I was also impressed by the creativity of his thoughts as he typed his email to me. The next thing I did after reading it, I decided to ask him for permission to share the same on my blog. I was delighted when he agreed although he prefers to remain anonymous on public space. So, here it is:  

Almond,

Happy Birthday !! 

Turning 50 are you ? well I beat you to it !   It isn’t so bad. … reaching this invisible milestone that some jokingly tease others saying we have arrived.   I am not sure what we have arrived at, but since I am leading the way, I can tell you it is ok.  

Not much has changed since yesterday…   I mean same wife and kids, same beliefs, same friends,  still like coffee…. but you now have some new numbers you will have to remember to write on official forms. 

And yet so much has changed….

You didn’t get to this point just coasting along doing nothing.  You’ve actually done quite a lot !  You have accumulated many years of plodding this path of life, this path of being a Christ follower.  It has had smooth, flat, easy-to-walk places, it has had some difficult, dirty, steep, smelly places.  It has had joy and sorrow, beauty and ugliness, slippery slides and maybe even a mucky, murky alley or two . Sometimes we have journeyed with people who have brought blessing and joy, other times people we wish we didn’t have to interact with.  Nonetheless, we have gained a wealth of experience and understanding of which streets and paths are good ones to follow, which ones are treacherous, how to navigate some of the unpleasant obstacles that we might encounter and even the value of not walking alone through some places.

Almond, as a fellow sojourner a few steps ahead of you, at least in age, I commend you for the fabulous job you have done and for how far you have come on this journey.   I have been so blessed to be able have you as a friend to walk with through various parts of this journey.  I am so glad we have been able to be an encouragement to one another to keep pressing on when the journey has taken us through sometimes difficult and unexpected valleys and when we have rounded a turn and encountered some deeper understanding a realization of who God has made us to be. 

I am grateful for your friendship.  May God continue to reveal the deeper things of his heart to you. May He continue to give you glimpses of His beauty, wisdom, understanding and most of all, of his incredible love for you as his child.  May you continue to find new ways (and old ways too )  to express the life he has put within you in rich and meaningful ways as you have done so often already.

Praying you have a great day, a blessed year, and a rich and meaningful journey all along the way.

Your friend. 

P.S. Today I heard a quote from an author that I thought you might find thought-provoking. It went something like this:

As we go through life, we either move toward a greater Christ-likeness or, through our lack of faith and obedience we move toward our own created image of a false Christ.   It stopped and made me think.

____________________

Photo credit: Jonathan Francisca @ https://unsplash.com/photos/7httEEXyxrc

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