Sitting in Mt. Zion’s quasi-indoor/outdoor church service in Butare, Rwanda four and a half years ago, I listened to a man get up on his 30th birthday and publicly proclaim his gratitude for one more year of life.
Somewhere in this testimonial, I realized a great paradigm shift. Twenty four years old at that point, I had never once woken up and thanked God for permitting me to live another year. I sort of just assumed, subconsciously, that I was entitled to another year of life. Birthdays came and went as an annual occurrence, not as a shock or surprise. Those whose lives are cut short by tragedy or disease are the exception and those of us who live on year after year are the living example of how it’s supposed to be.
It’s not “supposed to be” in Africa though. This man thought every year he lived would be his last. Amidst genocide, disease, AIDS, poverty, and malnutrition, each new year of life was not expected, but rather unexpected.
Yesterday, I turned 29. And there has been a lot of expected and unexpected in these last twelve months. And in all those expectations, both good and bad, and in all those (un)expectations, both joyful and painful, there have been God’s blessings. And so, in no uncertain order, I want to, like the Rwandan, name and claim these blessings, not as entitlements, but as gifts received.
1.) For the prayers of my parents. Yesterday, for the first time ever, I sat as my parents laid hands on me and prayed for my next year of life. I wept the most during my dad’s prayer. There was a tenderness and a perception I’m not sure I’d ever been struck by so much in my dad’s voice. To hear his heart for me in such a way I’d never audibly heard it before, reminded me of how much greater must be Heavenly Father’s heart for me, and I wept, unabashedly. I weep now, just remembering it.
2.) For the prayers of my friends. Prayers gone unanswered for years, but parallel in their unknown existence, are coming to fruition in my life, thanks to the persistence of dear girlfriends.
3.) For an intimacy with God that I have never before known.
4.) For God beginning to develop in me the heart of a mystic that I asked Him for so often during the ugly of 2011.
5.) For the pure, childlike, simple and generous love of students.
6.) For a community at church, a place in the local body of Christ which I have not had since leaving my childhood church.
7.) For healing, happening now, happening as I write, happening when I see it, and even when I don’t.
8.) For the provision of a perfectly suited new roommate, and the constancy of the one who has been perfectly suited for 2 years now.
9.) For writing again.
10.) For the joy of loving a man, who, although I did not get to keep, taught me so much about sacrificial love, honor, dignity, perseverance, kindness, patience, and excellence. Who restored my faith in men and taught me never to settle for less than a “crucifixion type of love.” For a bar raised beautifully high for whoever comes next. It was long awaited, sorely needed, and gladly given.
11.) For my ecumenical heart that grew immeasurably this summer, thanks to #10. For the understanding of the communion of all the saints, whether Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox. For Christ’s body, varied and vast.
12.) For the many tears I’ve shed that have softened a hard heart and wrought out of the fire, a paradoxically fragile yet strong glass Empathy.
13.) For Eucharisteo. For giving thanks in the hard.
14.) For happiness to more deeply feel pain, and pain to better cherish happiness.
15.) For the redemption of Texas. It is no longer a place that only takes; it now gives as well.
16.) For a closer friendship with my brother, back from Boston, with whom I discuss both the intricacies of theology, and the simplicity of following Jesus.
17.) For a much larger understanding of how to identify with Christ in His sufferings, albeit how infinitesimally small mine by comparison.
18.) For a third half-marathon, in beautiful La Jolla. For health that enables said half-marathon.
19.) For a community of coworkers.
20.) For friends who love me, even on my ugliest, most despair-ridden days.
21.) For a second job, one that enables me to grow stronger financially, and offers opportunities to build a resume to lead to future days.
22.) For discomfort, and pain that leads to change. I would not move if not for the sting.
23.) For transformation, and the desire never to return to my carpe diem days of 2011.
24.) For a prayer life I never thought I would see this side of heaven.
25.) For mended friendships.
26.) For friendships that have stood the test of time, and actually grown closer in their elder years than in their youth.
27.) For conversations that reveal purpose, even if answers are not yet forthcoming.
28.) For safety.
29.) For the hope of things yet to come, and the belief that 30 blessings will be even greater than I can see or imagine.