My most blessed 53rd birthday

I awoke Saturday morning with my son pressing his loving self into my bubble.

Big brown eyes. Innocent face. Nose to nose.

Good morning!

What a wonderful sight and feeling to experience.

He made me a card.

It was of a person on a bicycle.

He put a sticker on it that said, “Happy Birthday.”

What an inspiring way to begin your special day.

I roused myself out of bed. We got our stuff packed in the van and off we went for our birthday biking adventure. We attacked the 20-mile Swamp Rabbit Trail, which was our first biking excursion of the year.

We made it to Travelers Rest (TR), SC by 1PM. After pumping 10 tires–whoosh, and getting our water bottles and snacks configured, we were ready to set sail toward Greenville.

My 6-year old daughter had two wrecks, but persevered. She does not know how to stop her bike. The first wreck was when a lady got too close to her and my daughter overreacted.

This lady, named Emily, was so excited to see me. She said something like, “Oh my…you’re Dennis. How are you?” Awkward. I have no clue who Dennis is and was saddened to know there is another person in the world with my face.

She ran into the second lady. It was a tight spot and my daughter did not know how to navigate around her. The lady was quite nice and apologetic and we were too. I was hoping for better favor on the trip back.

We made the almost 10 mile trek in no time at all. When we hit our destination, the kids were ready to play in the Reedy River. It was refreshing after the long hot ride from TR. We ate a little, nibbled a little, and downed a lot of water.

I got Lucia her favorite Frap from Starbucks. I had the passion tea. It wasn’t southern, but anything cold and kinda sweet was a relief. It was Happy Hour at Starbucks. All Fraps were half price. Coolness.

We eventually moseyed back to TR. Going back was hard. (Our bottoms were not hard, which was a problem.) The seats were tough on all of us–all but my son. He did great.

My legs were nearly shot. I’m out of shape. I have been mostly flat on my back the past 10 weeks with the worst back problems of my 40-year history of back problems. (That’s another story.)

Mercifully, the Father gave me much grace and it was amazingly okay to do what we did. I hardly hurt except for my rear end.

We made it back to TR around 6:30PM to begin our “food adventure.” Lucia gave me an envelope full of free coupons for my birthday. That was super awesome. More on that later.

Tristen sewed me a small pillow for my back. This was wonderfully kind, thoughtful, and very practical. I drove home with it pushing my lower back out from the seat. It felt relieving. I’m going to keep it in the van so I can use it everyday. She made it out of worn out blue jeans.

Ansa gave me a card that had a personally crafted wheel on it. (See picture above.) You spin the wheel and a word appears through the cut-out, e.g. kind, loving, fun, caring, and so forth. It was perfectly edifying. My son gave me the aforementioned card with the bicycle on it.

The “Food Adventure”

We figured out which coupons we could use and began hitting the various restaurants. We went to McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A, TCBY, Red Robin, and Moe’s. We had to stop after that. We could not eat any more. Here’s the list of what we got for nothing:

  • Two chocolate milks from Mickey D’s
  • One apple juice from Mickey D’s
  • One hamburger from Mickey D’s
  • One chargrilled sandwich from Chick-fil-A
  • One regular sandwich from Chick-fil-A
  • One very large tea from Chick-fil-A
  • One very large Sprite from Chick-fil-A
  • A cup of white, chocolate moose from TCBY (Gave this to the kids.)
  • One humungously large Whiskey River onion ladened hamburger from Red Robin (1,119 calories)
  • One amazing amount of french fries from Red Robin
  • One homewrecker from Moe’s (had to bring that sucker home and put in the fridge. I wasn’t man enough to wolf it down.)
  • A big bag of chips from Moe’s

I was planing to head over to IHOP to get my free tootie fruity pancake stack, but my stomach was groaning and the Spirit was convicting. (For the record, my children ate most of these things.)

We would stop, get the food, and go to the next place. It was kinda like a motorized five-course-meal with the dessert tossed into the middle of it–a hit and run. We were not interested in Emily Post’s rules of etiquette.

Our primary interests were saving gas, saving time, seeing how much food we could get for nothing, and the main thing: make a lot of memories.

Geography and common sense ruled out the what, when, and the how of eating. Of course, the kids did not take issue with eating dessert in-between the main courses.

One of the cool things was that we had time to digest the food while heading to the next place. We also planned stops at Rita’s Ice and Texas Roadhouse, but Rita would not take our coupon and the Roadhouse required the purchase of an entrée with the free birthday appetizer.

Five restaurants. Two hours. Lots of laughing, sharing, and a couple of belches. It was a memorable and unforgettable time. That’s what we did on my birthday.

What do you want?

My children ask me each year what I want for my birthday. Every year I tell them some version of the same thing. I’m like Paul in the sense of what he communicated in Philippians 4:19.

God has most assuredly supplied all I need through Jesus Christ my Lord. My only request, the version they always get, is a paraphrase of what John told us in his third letter:

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. – 3 John 4 (ESV)

My family has generously given me all sorts of things throughout the years. Most of those gifts have been forgotten or broken or both. But there is one gift I regularly long for and I think about it all the time: do they love Jesus and others more than anything else (Matthew 22:36-40)?

That is all I want from my wife and my children. If they can give me these two gifts, then I will be satisfied. All the other gifts, though I appreciate, will rust and vanish. Their living out the love of God toward God and others is the height of other-centered generosity.

Each year I do think about gifts for my birthday. I think that is normal. And each year I ask my wife not to get me anything. Sometimes they will buy me something. Sometimes they don’t.

This year the gifts they gave me were probably four of the best they have ever given me. They were not store-bought. They were handmade. They came from the hearts of my wife and my children.

I had the joy of opening each one, knowing I was opening part of who they are as my friends. Before each gift was opened, I saw their smiles and perceived their anticipation. They anticipated me being blessed. It was a brief but beautiful thing to enjoy each one of them in that moment.

It’s about the relationship

But the best gift of all was them giving me 12 uninterrupted hours with my family. That was priceless. They could have bought me something from the store. I could have opened it. I would have said, “Thank you.” They would have gone out to play. I would have been left with my gifts.

They chose not to do that to me. They gave me themselves–for a whole day. We rode hard. We played hard. We fell hard. We laughed nearly the whole time. Tristen, Haydn, and I shot into a parking garage and rode up a car ramp.

My son practiced leading our family down the Swamp Rabbit Trail–he took the point. He stopped at each crossing, jumped off his bike, and caught his little sister’s bike–the only way she could stop.

My oldest daughter spread her usual cheer and creativity through the family. She finds joy in everything. God has given her a gift to make much joy out of the simplest and most overlooked things.

My youngest daughter fell twice, but winced very little. She was up for a big mission and hardly complained–though I pushed her through a bush. After we crossed the various roads I would shove her, to get her started again. My last shove had a bad trajectory and she split a bush, promptly stepped off the bike, and maintained composure.

My wife? She is Christ to me. She is the stabilizing force in the family. She plans and perseveres. She is my reminder of the Holy Spirit–never drawing attention to herself, but always serving others.

This is what my birthday gift looked like–unwrapped and presented. This is what I received from my best friends. It was a beautiful day. On top of that, the Father gently reminded me about my priorities, wants, and cravings.

He reminded me that I have everything a man could ever want. He reminded me of His faithfulness, love, and mercy. He let me experience my family through His eyes. I saw a glimpse of what He sees and experiences. It’s not about the gifts, but about enjoying each other.

The gift of the Giver?

  • What is it I want most of all?
  • Do I want Christ or what Christ can give me?
  • What do I really cherish?
  • Does Christ + Nothing really = Everything?

In some sense Christ’s gifts and Christ the Person are inseparable. You can’t have Christ without Him giving you the gift of salvation. It’s the gift that opens the door to the best thing of all, which is Himself. The gift becomes a means to a greater end for sure.

The things my family gave me on my birthday were wonderful, but not the main things or even the best things. My birthday, like salvation, was merely a door to the main thing–enjoying a relationship with my family. It was an opportunity for reciprocal enjoyment of each other.

Isn’t that what our life with Christ is all about? It’s about Him and us. We have Him. He has us. It’s not about getting more when we already have all we need. While gifts may have been a nice expression of my family’s love, I received a better expression of their love when they gave me themselves.

It was not about what I received, but about who we were–together, and the pleasure we found in each other. My big day was about them, me, us. We were one on the Swamp Rabbit Trail and we enjoyed each other.

This is analogous to what Christ wants from us. He gave us the gift of salvation so we could enjoy Him. Sometimes I can lose this perspective, while setting my gaze on what He’s giving or what I want or what I’m not getting from Him. What interests you most of all:

  1. A relationship with Christ?
  2. Or what Christ can give you?

I have all I need

Oh, the shallowness of opening presents when that is the extent of our relationship we each other.

Dear Jesus, give me you and with that give me the wisdom and the grace to know that all other things in my life are merely doors to walk through in order to enjoy you more fully. If you choose to give me the gift of suffering, enable me to enjoy you in the suffering. If you choose to give me more desirable gifts, enable me to not lose sight of what is most important. It’s you. I want you most of all.

Today, because of the grace of God, I had the privilege to reexamine my heart regarding my priorities, my gratitude, and my wants. Though I appreciate gifts, the Father reminded me of something deeper and richer. It’s relationship.

I don’t want my eyes more focused on what I’m getting or not getting, but on the One who does the giving and the taking away. It’s not about the gift, but about the Giver. Dear God, change my heart.

The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. – Job 1:1 (ESV)

The Father reminded me of these things through my family. They gave me the greatest gift of all. They gave me themselves. In time, the homemade pillow and the cards will go away. The coupons are already gone.

The memories that were born out of our relationship will never go away. That was Saturday. My son asked me on Sunday if we could go on another “food adventure” on Monday. I’m thinking he liked the gifts, but if you pressed him, he would tell you he enjoyed being with his best friends.