January. I think of it as a birthday month. My dad's. My oldest granddaughter's. And mine.
Last weekend we helped celebrate that sweet little beauty's sixth birthday. My own 56th was a week earlier.
Fifty-six is not all that significant a milestone, though I've noticed that a lot of survey-type forms bump people into another category once they hit 55 or 56. But I don't see it as a very noticeable bump in the road. I felt exactly the same the moment after I reached 56 as I did the moment before when I was 55. I'd actually spent a good bit of that year thinking I was 54. I've never been very good at math.
At one point in my life (was I maybe 15?), I reckoned that the perfect age must be 30 or so. I remember thinking that 30 would be old enough to have life pretty much figured out and young enough to have at least a few good years left. I also knew that theoretically I'd likely live to see the world's odometer slide past 2000. I'd be over 40 and probably starting to decline, but 2000 seemed a long way off. I know better now.
Yes, 30 was a perfectly fine age. But, no, (are you surprised?) I didn't even nearly have life figured out at that age. Maybe, by the time I was 30, I was beginning to realize that life holds many, many more questions than I'd ever imagined. But maybe I was also beginning to realize that life's questions that truly matter can probably be numbered on one hand, and that knowing the answer to just a couple of the truly big ones puts all the others into their proper places of relative unimportance.
And now I'm 56, and we're thirteen years past 2000, and, yes, I'm sure I'm in decline. But I realize now that I began declining even before I began declining — (Latin nouns, that is) in Mr. Craddock's 8th grade Latin class in Amarillo's Sam Houston Junior High. You see, if I understand the physiology involved, we all begin declining pretty much from the moment of birth. So I can deal with that.
No, 30 wasn't the perfect age. And 39 wasn't. Nor was 18 or 22 or 32 or 45. I don't think 56 is, either, though I haven't been 56 long enough to know yet for sure. But it seems okay so far, and I know now for sure that grandparenthood much more than compensates for any of 56's down-sides!
So far, you see, I've enjoyed some fine blessings at every age (none as much fun as grandparenthood!). They've all been, in their own ways, very good, and I'm genuinely thankful for that. At the same time, I mean no disrespect to any of the ages in my rear view mirror to tell you truly that I have no desire at all to go back.
Yes, I've done the math. Even being pretty generous, I'm not sure how much longer I can claim to be "middle-aged." I neither expect nor desire to live to see birthday 112, so I'm well past my life's mid-summer, even barring the kind of surprises that really should surprise no mortal.
Faith makes a very practical difference here. I can't know what will happen tomorrow in the story of my life, but I know the end of the story. I believe God's promise that once His people have finished their chapters here, the very best part of the story remains—and it will never end. If I was (perish the thought!) 18 again, I'd be that much farther away from the story I can hardly wait to read!
Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org