I live in a world of words. Each week I spend a good portion of my time trying to find the right words - the right words for a sermon, the right words in a prayer, the right words during a hospital visit, a phone conversation or in response to a query from someone who dropped by my office. I believe words are important.
I enjoy reading the work of those who are gifted with words. A well written book, blog or article can capture my attention as its words carry me forth into thoughts and ruminations that are unexpected but welcome. Often the written lyrics of a hymn will cause me to pause as we sing it in worship - catching the meaningful intent behind the words. In the same way a well crafted and delivered message (whether spoken or written) will always hit my ears with appreciation. I am grateful when persons have taken the time to choose their words carefully and order them with intent and meaning. I believe words are important.
For these reasons, and others, I've been surprised of late that a number (and not a word) has me a bit flummoxed. It's the number 52.
I reached this number last Wednesday. It was my birthday - my 52nd birthday. No biggie. I had already successfully navigated through the big 5-0, and was even a couple of years removed from it. In fact, I had a terrific birthday. I celebrated it with my family, friends from Facebook, and friends in person. Because the day hit the middle of the week, we even extended the celebration to the weekend, when all of our immediate family could be present (see picture above, including cake marked "52").
Shoot I've been 52 now for almost an entire week, so what gives with 52? What indeed?
There are 52 weeks in a year - those of us who measure life by Sundays can tell you there are 52 of those too. 52 times a congregation will gather for worship. 52 times someone will plan and prepare for that gathering. 52 cycles of Sabbath keeping.
There are 52 cards in a playing deck. I'm not much of a card shark but I was touched by one of my family gifts - a set of 52 cards with "52 Reasons Why We Love You" printed on them one by one. It really took some effort to shuffle together that deck - I'm not sure I'd have come up with 52 reasons.
Another gift was a $52 dollar gift card to Lowes. I guess the checkout clerk was puzzled by the request when asked what monetary value to assign the card. "My husband is 52 years old," came the explanation. "Oh!!!" (at least she didn't add, "that's old!")
But long before the gift card, playing cards, or cake candles the number 52 had been sneaking up on me. It just took arriving at it to make me realize it. You see 52 in my thinking is mostly associated with the age at which two of my sisters passed away. (Technically Ruth died at age 52 and Kristi at age 53).
I had remembered the number not because it seemed old, but because it's always felt way too young. And now that I am there - at the same age - I've spent time once again thinking about them at that age - my age. I've spent time thinking about how much they brought to life and how their families could fill decks of playing cards with the multiples of 52 reasons they love them (and vice versa).
When I turned 50 I wrote down on a 3x5 index card the following statement: "Every day over 50 is a gift in my life. I choose to live this day in celebration of that gift!"
That index card is pinned above my desk. I'm not sure how I've done with the goal, but I do know that my perspective has changed. Life's losses have made me realize that there are no guarantees - no guarantees for a long life, a chapter called "retirement", or a life without disease and illness. Being a pastor I've watched this "no guarantee" theme play out again and again in the lives of congregants. I've lamented with retirees who watched their spouse succumb to early onset dementia as their plans for those idyllic retirement years blew away. I've prayed with young parents and their family members as they dealt with unexpected tragedy and unresolved grief. I've known widows who after 50 or even 60 years of marriage still struggle with the emptiness that comes from the loss of a life partner.
The truth is every one of us has a number - maybe even more than one. It's the number of our age when . . . . When . . . you name it happened. It's "18" - the age of our friend who died in a car accident. Or it's "40" the age of their dad when they lost him to cancer. Or it's "70" - the age of my father-in-law when he drove himself to the emergency room in full cardiac arrest. Or it's "102" - the ripe old age of great grandma who was our rock.
"In our family it was 57," one gentleman at church shared with me as we talked about what it was like for me turning 52 last Wednesday. It was helpful to know I wasn't the only one with a number. He may never know how much I appreciated our conversation and his words.
You see, I believe words are important. Don't you?