*Today is my birthday. In four and a half years of blogging I have never written about my birthday until now. I debated writing this because it's personal and it could easily be interpreted as whining or sour grapes, although neither is actually true. I decided to go ahead and write this entry because I know from conversations, from speaking engagements I've had, (especially when I've spoken to kids) and from countless e-mails I've received, that this is something that touches the hearts of a lot of people. A lot of people. So when you read this, keep in mind that I have learned this lesson, but that many folks desperately need it.* --Craig
Today is my birthday. I received over 100 birthday greetings today on various social media and I want to say thanks to everyone who let me know that they care. It was more appreciated than you know.
I haven't always enjoyed my birthday. In fact for a lot of years I have purposefully ignored it. But this year it's different. I think I need to tell the story behind the difference.
The story doesn't begin with my birth...although ultimately it does I suppose. It begins, in fact, with the birth of someone else. Two people to be exact. You'll need some background...
In January of 1992 I started attending Praise Assembly in Newark Delaware. I had attended only one other church for most of my life until that point. I instantly fell in love with Pastor Paul Walters, whom I consider my "spiritual Daddy" and with the people and attitude that his leadership fostered there.
I was also pleasantly surprised to run into not a small umber of old friends from years before. Amongst those friends was Pam Owensby and her husband Fulton.
I had met Pam and her sister in the 1980 when we had all attended Summit Lake Camp with our various youth groups. Pam was a genuinely sweet and absolutely breathtaking beautiful girl who had become a sweet and breathtaking beautiful woman by the we reconnected years later.
I had been attending this church for maybe only three weeks when the beginnings of life-change for both Pam and Fully...and ultimately for me as well...commenced.
One particular Sunday morning, We had an altar service, as pastor Walters frequently did, and Pam was kneeling and was surrounded by several women of the church, praying fervently. I stood in the back and for whatever reason, I was drawn to watch Pam and the other women in prayer. Pam was visibly emotional. I watched for a few moments and suddenly, just as sure as I can hear my own voice, I heard the distinctive voice of God internally. "Tell Pam to get ready to have a baby!" was the very clear command. To be honest, it scared me...terribly. I was raised in an ultra-conservative Baptist church who kept the Holy Spirit on a very short leash and things like this were never "of God". God's one and only means of revelation was the Bible. If it wasn't written between the leather covers of a King James Bible, God had nothing to do with it.
That line of reason was still firmly entrenched in my mind when I heard that voice. So I did nothing. I said nothing to Pam and Fully and kept this to myself, doubting the authenticity of this word from God.
Three weeks later, we were sitting in the auditorium for the annual Valentines Dinner the church always held. The folks my age all managed to congregate at one large table. I was sitting there during dinner, cracking jokes and enjoying my new friends and the friends I'd rediscovered. After dinner as we sat and chatted, I was holding Nathan, the then-one-year-old son of Heather and Dwight Walters, the pastors' son and daughter in law. Nathan was laughing and I was in my wheelhouse. I was a natural with kids long before I became a dad. At some point, Heather said "You need to have children Craig" to which I laughingly responded "I know...I decided that if I don't get married by age 30 I am going to adopt...so I have a year!" Thinking I was serious, Pam looked at me and said "Fully and I have been thinking of adopting too. have you checked into it?" I instantly remembered the voice I'd heard and the message I was supposed to have given Pam three weeks prior. Wanting to be sure, I asked "How come you're adopting, Pam?" She smiled a bit painfully and told me "We've been trying for almost 7 years now and we can't get pregnant. The doctors can't figure it out...everything comes back okay, but it's just not happening. We really want a family."
Now, I am a notoriously emotional man, but usually I don't cry in front of a table full of friends as I try to explain that I heard from God. But I could not fight the tears as I told Pam; "Pam I am so sorry...three weeks ago I absolutely heard from God and I didn't know what it meant. I didn't know you guys were trying to have children and it never occurred to me to ask." I swallowed hard and spilled out the message I was supposed to tell her before... "Three weeks ago God told me 'Go tell Pam to get ready to have a baby'. To be honest Pam, it scared me so much I thought I was hearing things and kept it to myself. But now I understand. So...Pam, God says get ready to have a baby!
One Friday night about two months later, we were sitting in the dugout at our church softball team's game. Pam was not in the stands and that was unusual because she never missed. Fully pitched or played third base and was a centerpiece of our very good team. She showed up around the 3rd inning, walked to the fence and whispered something in Fully's ear. He broke out in a huge smile and then told the rest of us...Pam was pregnant. We whooped and hollered and shouted and smiled. They were our friends and they wanted this so very badly. I was coaching first base at the time, waiting for my turn at bat. I watched the whole thing from 30 feet away and had to hide my tears. God had permitted me a tiny role as a messenger of hope to these two dear friends of mine and I was watching the last scene of the play He had begun a few months earlier.
The entire church had already heard the news by Sunday morning and we were all celebrating. Pam and Fully are so well loved by those folks, and we all knew what this meant to them. There had been so many people praying for this miracle and finally it was here. We were all collectively celebrating with them.
The months that ensued were very eventful and not without worry and fear. Pam had a difficult pregnancy and so prayers for conception quickly became earnest prayers for safety, blessing, and the completion of the promise. The worry was punctuated by even more great news...twins! Pam was going to have a boy and a girl. God had truly blessed them back for their faithfulness.
All that summer and into fall and winter we prayed, worried, hoped, and thanked God for each continuing good report. And then on January 18th 1993, we all let out our collective breath when Kelsey and Ryan arrived...a little early but arrived they did.
Our happiness was immediately tempered with concern as the twins had to remain in the hospital long after their arrival. We prayed for their health just as we had prayed for their safe arrival and for their conception before that. Good news kept coming and finally the word passed...the twins were going home!
This is where it really becomes personal...
Some time that spring...I want to say it was in May...the day came for Kelsey and Ryan's baby dedication. It was a truly beautiful, sunny warm Sunday morning. Both grandparents and families were there. The twins were simply beautiful as was Pam. Fully was proud and beaming. It was a wonderful sight.
Dear, sweet pastor Paul Walters called them to the stage and the families stood there with those two beautiful babies and it was a scene of victory and celebration. We had all prayed these two children into this world, it seemed. This was the most special baby dedication I ever saw. It felt like the children had about 400 additional family members that day.
Pastor Walters said some wonderful words about parenthood and blessings from God. His voice broke frequently as he recounted all that these children encompassed. Then he invited the church...anyone who wanted...to join them at the altar and pray a dedication over Kelsey and Ryan. About half the church responded, probably 200 folks praying, extending their hands towards the family and pronouncing a blessing of their own. People wept, they sang, they celebrated. Kelsey and Ryan were here at last and safe in our arms.
I sat in the back watching and taking it all in. I wept too, but my tears turned from celebration to sadness. I walked to the very back of the church and stood next to the audio booth where my friend D.J. was manning the controls. I watched people finding happiness because of the arrival of two babies. I saw a mom and dad who had been married for 7 years and all they really wanted was right there in their arms. I saw grandparents beaming with pride and a church weeping for joy.
Right there I asked God the questions that had been screaming in my heart for years. "God.." I began, "Was anyone happy when I arrived?" "Was my birth a good thing to anybody at all?" On September 7, 1963 I arrived to a single mother who had only turned 20 that spring. My dad had recently arrived in Vietnam as a member of the 101st. He was fighting for his own life as I was beginning mine and my mother was doubtless wondering what would become of hers. Kelsey and Ryan went from the hospital to a beautiful home that had been awaiting their arrival for years. I went home to my grandparents house. To a grandmother who had been damaged by life but who held to her faith, despite her quirks and idiosyncrasies, and a grandfather who was more chained to his vices than any man I will ever know. His demons caused him immense pain and he had crawled inside a bottle many years before. he was a sad and tragic man.
I wondered to God who might have been anticipating my birth. I didn't have a dad who was eager to teach me a curve ball or buy me my first Eagles helmet. I didn't come home to a freshly painted nursery, and a roomful of stuffed animals. I arrived to whispers and hushed accusation. I wasn't a long awaited bundle of joy, I was an interruption. Instead of having great plans for his newborn son, my father was trying to stay alive and get back to college and finish the plans he had dreamed of since he was a boy.
That morning as the twins were dedicated and celebrated, I felt as if I were a study in contrast. Whatever they were...I was not. Whatever longing and desire they represented, I represented shame and secrecy and the scarlet letter of a mistake that you pay for forever. That's what was raging in my heart as I watched my dear friends dedicate themselves to doing whatever it took to raise these two sweet gifts of God to adulthood...and they took this vow before God that morning.
I asked God again..."Who was excited about my arrival God? Who celebrated? Who anticipated?" By now I was weeping and I had to sit down in the back row because I was far too visible for me to be comfortable. "God...is there a plan for me? Is there a reason for this life of mine?" I asked plaintively.
As God often does...his answer was surprising in it's simplicity. It came in the form of a song. Instantly, as the tears were still burning hot in my eyes, I heard a line from a Rich Mullins song. The song is "Sometimes by Step" and the line says: "Sometimes I think of Abraham...how one star he saw had been lit for me." Without hesitation, I heard the words of Psalm 147:4 echoing in my soul; "I number the stars, and call them each by name" I had always wondered what that verse meant. Numbering them I understood...but naming them? Why would God name stars? In one split second He connected those two elements...that song and that verse. They merged at Genesis 15:5: "Look up at the heavens and count the stars--if indeed you can count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." There it was. From zoom to pan in one moment God showed me the specific promise to give Abraham a child for each star in the sky...and those children...each one of them...was a personal fulfillment of the promise He made with Abraham. Each one was part of a detailed plan...a plan so detailed that God already knew my name as He placed my star in the sky while He was creating the world. A plan that promises to bless me and that I am the central figure of. A promise whose fulfillment is embodied in me.
I was weeping again but for joy. I was part of a great plan and I was important to it's continued fulfillment. Then I heard God in an unmistakable voice..."Son...I couldn't wait for you to arrive. I couldn't wait for you to be born, and I celebrated your birth. "I danced over you while you were unaware" and I still do. I know exactly which star is yours and I know it's name. It's not "Craig"...it's that secret name that only I know. The name I have written on a white stone that I will give you one day when I see you face to face." I couldn't wait for you to get here. I am your Daddy, and I have loved you from the moment I placed your star in the sky."
In the 18 years since this truth first burst into my soul I have learned to accept it slowly. It hasn't been easy letting go of the desire to know a dad who doesn't hold that same desire for me. As I held to that dream and goal of establishing a relationship with my earthly father, I continued to stiff-arm my heavenly Father. This summer I finally let go. I have a great dad...he is the God of heaven and he has never spent a moment where He didn't love me...and you...fantastically.
I know this is intensely personal...I also know there are a lot of folks who needed to hear this.
Please listen to me...you have a star in the sky...it is there to mark the promise God made. A promise that you are the fulfillment of. You matter...you are at the center of the very God of the universe. Abraham went out to the mountain that night and "one star he saw had been lit for me..." and for you! He has a wonderful plan. You are at it's very heart! Never again feel unwanted or unplanned..because you were never that! God paced the halls of heaven until he heard your first cry. He danced and sang over you while you took your first breaths. He began the detailed moves that put His plan in place. he did this for you. You are a promise! He sent his son to die for the love of you! You are not alone.
Your birthday was happy indeed!