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Today is my birthday.  I know this because I just got an AARP card that reminded me.  How thoughtful of them!

I woke up this morning in my own bed.  In my house (well, the one the bank and I are buying).  I woke up next to my wife.  I am in a place where I am close to people I love and who love me.  I am so thankful for the blessings this morning brought me.

Last year I woke up in a small bed set up in a barn.  The floor was dirty and the shower was small.  I went to work in an environment that wasn’t exactly friendly at that point and I was separated from everyone I knew.

I have been on a journey for several years now that has led me through some dark and painful places, through some periods of great hope, through lessons about myself and lessons about others.  The contrast of my birthday last year and this year simply highlights what the journey has been like for me.

I have learned that I am strong emotionally.  I have been on my knees in tears and screaming out to God but always got up and moved forward taking on whatever came my way the best I could.

I have learned what friendship means.  One of my dearest brothers drove 3 hours just to have dinner with me.  Other close friends called me regularly to check on me.  Others texted and sent emails.  I knew people cared and that carried me far.

I have learned what loneliness feels like.  I thought I liked to be alone.  I have learned I need some space at times to think, process and regroup but I do not want to be alone.  It’s one thing to live alone knowing with a phone call it is likely I can meet someone to eat or grab coffee and another thing to live alone and not know anyone within a 3 hour drive.  I have much more sympathy for people who are lonely and hope I will continue to learn how to minister to them.

I have learned that thankfulness is a choice.  I learned how to be thankful when I was in an emotionally and spiritually challenging place and I have learned to really appreciate what I have during the normal course of life.  Choosing thankfulness allows me to see the world and the people in it very differently and it changes my mindset minute by minute to focus on positive thoughts.

I have learned that 50 isn’t near as old as it seemed just a few years ago.  Life flies by in an instant.  I wish there was a way to share that with people but it seems so many, like me, only learn it when so many years have gone by.  I hope I cherish my next 50 years much more than I have the past 50.

On this birthday, my 50th, I am full of thankfulness.  Full of hope.  Full of joy.  Full of amazement.  I thank the good Lord for all he has done and is doing in my life.

Grace and peace.