A Rumination on 35

(This is a note I wrote on Monday evening to a little band of friends who support me in prayer and otherwise during this season of my life. It became a reflection on the past year.)

April 16, 2007

Dear friends,

Today is the last day of my 34th year. Tomorrow I turn 35. I’m halfway to 70, a third to my life goal: to die at 105. In high school I liked watching the weatherman Willard Scott. He worked for NBC’s Today Show. During his early morning stint he would dole out an assortment of bad jokes and onsite reports from state fairs and small-town parades. My favorite part, though, was his daily tribute to centenarians. I thought, “One day, I want to make it on his show. I’m going to live to 100. You watch me, Willard.”

Granted, he’ll be long gone by that time and only God knows whether I will make it to my centennial birthday. But I like to think of my life in 2s and 3s, and 3 times 35 is a long time to live and worth shooting for.

I usually get melancholy on my birthday. I love life too much; it’s a hazard of my personality. I don’t like watching my face grow older--more white hair crawling out of my red beard, more river deltas stretching out from the corners of my eyes. Goodness gracious, nobody in my family is doing their job. They’re all letting Father Time pull them inexorably into old age, without a fight. Or mostly. My mother’s putting up a pretty good fight. She supplies the family with a yearly ration of pink, goopy elixir, the blessed Mary Kay cream. Take that, laugh lines.

And thank God for Dallas Willard. This morning he reminded me that I have no need to fear aging and death.

“At this present time the eternally creative Christ is preparing places for his human sisters and brothers to join him. Some are already there—no doubt busy with him in his great works. We can hardly think that they are mere watchers.”

The evangelist Dwight Moody also lends me a helping word:

“One day soon you will hear that I am dead. Do not believe it. I will then be alive as never before.”

So I guess you can say I’m the living dead and the dying alive and none the worse for it.

There is much goodness around me. I am engaged. Yes, I shall say it again, I am engaged. I am actually planning a wedding—to the very phine and phantastic Phaedra Wendler! I confess, some days it feels like I’m planning a wedding inside a Salvador Dali painting. Or maybe it’s that my hands are stuck inside the painting: the planning is inside the surreal, my actual life is in the real outside, and the planning is happening to someone who resembles me but isn’t really me.

All this to say, it’s a weird feeling to plan a wedding at my age when you’ve lived so long unregrettably, unreservedly and mostly contentedly as a single man. Now marriage. Now the burning furnace of marital love. And I can’t wait.

Other good things. I can walk 12 minutes to a coffeeshop from my house. I survived my Lenten anti-yeast fast. (I got mightily cleansed in the process.) And now I can eat dark chocolate again. I have a digital projector and gigantico screen in my living room, courtesy of my housemate Eduardo Tschoepe, on which we watch very big movies. This past weekend in preparation for my sermon on wilderness and vengeance (via 1st Samuel 24, 26) I watched "Gladiator," "Man on Fire," and "Jarhead."

I am marrying a woman who loves gardening, and I can’t wait to eat fresh vegetables and fruit. I love fruit smoothies.

I can get creamy jalapeno any time I want (a sauce for chips that the local Tex-Mex restaurant Chuy’s inherited from the ancient Aztecs). I can walk to work and protect the environment at the same time. I have a terrific discipleship group in the pre-dawn hours of Thursday morning with three remarkable titans of artisthood: Mike Akel, Jeffrey Travis, Todd Garza. Together we’re reading the book Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, and hoping to recover exactly what the sub-title enjoins.

I meet biweekly with my beloved brother-in-law Cliff Warner to read through Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracy. I have a chunky-love nephew courtesy of my sister Stephanie and Scranton.

There are many good things. There are others, but these give a sense of the rhythm of my life and the things for which I’m grateful.

Meanwhile, I’m chronically worn out. I don’t sleep well at night. I struggle to not be driven by a need to achieve as a way to establish my worth. As an introvert, Sunday mornings are hard for me. Sometimes unconsciously I shut down when talking to people. One fellow yesterday told me, gently, that I consistently give him the arms-crossed, shut-out vibe. I received it.

I'm nervous about the transition out of Hope Chapel. Planning this summer’s arts festival has been harder than any other festival. I feel like I too quickly slot my family in to my relational schedule.

These are hard things. There are others. But these are the instruments of God’s work of sanctification in me. They’re my life. And they’ll be there tomorrow morning when I wake up as a thirty-five year old. It is what it is, as I say to Phaedra, or as Kurt Vonnegut sardonically once put it, “So it goes.”

Fundamentally I am grateful for my life. As I look back on my 34th year I see the grace of God sneaked in unbidden:

- an outburst by my eight-year old nephew Brendan (“Miss, uh, Phaedra, uh, um, aunt, no, miss, Phaedra—no!—uh—aiy-yai-yai!—I’m just going to call you aunt Phaedra because you’re marrying uncle David and that’s what you are anyway!”)

- the breakup with Phaedra in November that led me, later on, to sob for the first time since I was a senior in high school

- the free (à la mode) clothes that Stephanie and Scranton pass on to me that not only keep me from being fashionably stuck in the early ‘90s but become God’s material provision for me

- the no-wheat, no-gluten, no-sugar, no-fruit, no-vinegar, no-alcohol, no-dairy Lenten diet that injects a new compassion into my spirit for all the people who struggle with difficult food restrictions

On the eve of my 35th birthday I thank God for the good and the bad. I thank God for good books that remind me of the truth, for Dante’s Inferno and Willard’s Conspiracy, for Yancey’s Rumors and Chesterton’s Man Who Was Thursday. I thank God for those He has placed around me to support and keep me lovingly sane. I am intensely grateful.

As for the occupational parts of my life, here are a few updates.

We are about to go live this week with the website. Slowly but steadily we’re getting funding help from local churches and individuals. Our speaker roster is complete: Jeremy Begbie, Andy Crouch, Barbara Nicolosi, Eugene Peterson, John Witvliet, and myself. Larry Linenschmidt has proved to be a superb co-laborer. My dad’s kicking it with great advice. Samantha Wedelich is creating a beautiful website. Many things to be encouraged by.

While in Grand Rapids for the Visual Arts Summit I met with the editor from Baker Books. He encouraged me to keep plowing, not to give up, not to let myself delay too much as I might get stuck in an inertial delay. So my goal now is to send something to Baker by May, no matter what.

THE VISUL ARTS SUMMIT (back in mid-March)
Met with folks like Ena Heller, the director of the Museum of Biblical Arts in NYC, one of my favorite sculptors Lynn Aldrich from LA, Bill Dyrness out of Fuller seminary, the art historian James Romaine, Jaime Lara from Yale, Cam Anderson a board member with Christians In the Visual Arts, and various other museum directors, artists and educators. Very stimulating discussion, like a two-day mass brainstorm. . . .

Again, I am thankful for those who are walking with me through this little pilgrimage of earthly life. . . .

Many blessings,

(PHOTO: My two happy brothers-in-law and father on the occasion of our trip to San Antonio to see the Spurs play. Two out of three men had full stomachs. Good times.)


ellen said…
Congratulations David.
and your list has inspired me to reflect as soon as finals week is over. (It may be my final actually-difficult finals week of all time before the big treatise.)

Funny how much difference a year makes, eh? and YeS, God is pouring grace over all of us when we least expect it.
ceciliabrie said…
actually, it was the last day of your 35th year. you're now chipping away at your 36th. think about it :)
Faye said…
I know you don't know me, but my name is also Phaedra and when I Googled myself and came up with this, I almost plotzed. Especially about the part about breaking up--I was terrified that this was some kind of vaguely remembered ex boyfriend trashing me all over the net. Take this as a lesson, dear, and in future, stay FAR clear of women with names rooted in Greek mythology. . .

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