Birthdays spark opportunities for good food, connections through social media of friends from around the world chiming in a “happy birthday,” and perhaps a special gift. All those things are fun and make the birthday person feel loved and special. And who doesn’t need that every once and awhile?
This morning as soon as I woke up there was a video from my mom and family at home saying, “Happy Birthday!” They wanted me to hear from them first thing though they are 12 hours behind. As I got kids ready, Joeli bolted out of the bathroom, “Happy Birthday mommy!” to which Phoebe began to sing to me at the top of her lungs. Eden had his birthday card ready. And Chad had his annual typed out birthday card full of wit, reflection, and promise. I did normal work/ministry and family things, experienced some cross-cultural frustrations, ate pancakes for supper with my family, had a traditional Thai massage, talked to my mom for over an hour, and ran. It was a full day (because of the time difference I actually had like a 36 hour birthday!).
But birthdays call out to something deep within me – a need for reflection, introspection, and a deeper desire to fulfill my God-given destiny.
I remember traveling the first time for international service to the nation of American Samoa. I was 19 and 2600 miles south of Hawaii. I watched the Samoans celebrate their birthdays. Depending on their years of age, they offered that many coins or bills to thank God for each year of life. That picture of recognizing the origin and sustainer of life – God – and using their birthdays to bless someone else deeply impacted me. And I have seen this in multiple nations throughout the world.
Thus, when I awake on my birthday each year, my mind immediately moves to introspection. What is life about? What is the purpose of my life? How is God using my life? What am I withholding from God? Is my life pointing the direction I want it to go? Where do I need to challenge myself more? What gifts can I give God today or this year?
This year, my first thought though, was a feeling of missing my roots. The autumn season has always been my favorite. But as the sun was coming up, I saw beautiful green, palm trees outside. I heard the whirring of the fan. I felt the wooden floor beneath my feet. I thought of my family – the ones who gave me life. And remembered they were literally on the complete other side of the world. And though, not young anymore, I simply missed my family, my November season in Tennessee. Simply put, I missed my roots.
And my first thought was, “Oh, no! The first ugly claws of culture shock just hit! Everything feels different!” And then I heard a Marco Polo video of my family wishing me Happy Birthday and tears gathered. So through fighting tears, I engaged my family. My first words were, “Yea, it’s spirit week at Grace International School. Go GI
S!” Chad heard my “pretend happy voice” and started to laugh. Then, I read his letter and one sentence made me crack up because it solidified all the “different” we have surrounding us. “I also have seen a possible movie option, but I cannot figure out what time it comes on. So that may have to wait for another day.” Simply figuring out a movie and a time and location is a challenging feat.
But back to my introspection on birthdays! After running all the kids to school and waking up my youngest in the car who fell into a deep sleep on the ride due to jet lag, I pulled in and bought a muffin (no culture shock there – unless it was shock I could find a blueberry crumble muffin within walking distance to my house!). I came home and made nescafe coffee and drank it out of my favorite coffee mug I just brought back from the states. I opened my fall plates to be used at Thanksgiving and used just one to “dine” on and lit my fall smelling candle beside my fall table runner. I opened my Bible to Psalm 139 and began to read, cry, repent, pray, and rejoice and in and through God.
When I read Psalm 139, I recognize that God has a destiny for us. I truly do NOT believe He will force it to happen. He did not apply for my passport for me, nor did he order my plane tickets. He never filled out one 501c3 paper to launch 10/40 Connections off the ground. God never did one of my background checks to adopt Phoebe. I did not just wake up one day in Bhutan or China or Pakistan or India or Thailand. But through it all, He has been with me, in me, around me, and through me.
God has a dream that all nations will know Jesus and worship him. He set up a strategy where His people could partner with him to accomplish his global priorities. He doesn’t force us; He invites us. And when we decide we want to be God’s friend and care for his concerns (the world!), we take on the burden of lining up our lives to His cosmic and global plans – including passports and visas and international shots and different birthday food, all while disrupting our roots and natural patterns and surroundings. Psalm 139 reminds me that He sees and knowns and recognizes and appreciates those details. He is weaving a tapestry beyond what I can see with my eyes and understand with my flesh. He is orchestrating eternity for me and for others through the lives of His people. And that on my birthday causes my flesh and my soul and my heart to say, “Oh Lord, take more of me. So much more of me. All of me!”
I love the Book of Mysteries by Jonathan Kahn. Today I read about the mantle of the Messiah. In this one page, Kahn shares how before Moses died he passed on his mantle to Joshua. While Elijah ascended to God, he threw his mantle to the ground for Elisha. In both instances, the Spirit and authority fell on the new leader.
When Jesus ascended, His disciples were also present at his departure. But where did Jesus throw His mantle? It did not fall on just one disciple. Jesus’ mantle is too large for one human. It is so large it requires the Body of Christ to receive it – collectively but also as individuals. When Jesus ascended on the Day of Pentecost, his mantle fell on the disciples.
Each of us needs to wear part of Jesus’ mantle – each of us. And as we wear the mantle and live out our calling, the anointing and authority follows (Matthew 28:18-20). Each of us, you and me, have been called and invited to share in the mantle of Jesus. Wearing and fulfilling that calling can only be done in the authority and power of the Holy Spirit.
So as my birthday comes again (hard to believe I have had so many!), I ask the question, “Oh Lord, help me understand more the mantle I am to wear. Who am I in the Body of Christ? Let me live up to your high calling.”
I am humbled and honored that God invites us to take place in His cosmic purposes. But Psalm 139 reminds me that as I partner with Almighty God, He remembers my humanity. He knows my anxious thoughts, my concerns, and my habits. He knows my fears and my insecurities. And still in the midst of all my weakness, His thoughts to me are precious and too numerous to count. And into that human frailty, he infuses me with His power and anointing to fulfill a calling that will literally tilt the eternal reality of someone else in the world.
What if we viewed the privilege and honor of simply being alive as an opportunity to discover how to give to someone else? What if on my physical birthday, I reflect on the “Happy Birthday” of someone else in the world who will receive salvation if I simply live out my calling on earth for His glory. As I stare into the autumn candle on my table, I get excited that someone else can have a spiritual birthday if I use my life for God’s purposes – His dream.
What about you? Are you living out your calling infused with the power and authority of Jesus Christ? He wants you too. Don’t worry. He sees your frailty, yet still and rejoices to use you for eternal purposes.
Happy Birthday to those who will receive salvation because you too lived out your destiny for His purposes.