Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Birthday Party in the Wasteland

November 5th was my 30th birthday. I suppose turning 30 is strange for most people, saying goodbye to your 20s. But moving into a new decade of life is not the strangest thing about turning 30 for me. There has been so much change in my life recently that turning 30 almost loses its novelty in comparison. Maybe the lack of novelty is what's novel about it. Going through each day without Julia is still so strange that every other potentially strange thing just gets swallowed up by this deeper strangeness.

It’s even stranger right now as I think about the events of the final couple months of the year last year. It was right before my birthday last year that Julia went into the hospital for the final time. After hearing the words “palliative care” it was not easy to celebrate, but I was able to scrape up some joy for the occasion. Many friends and family, including distant ones, came to the hospital, so it was a happy thing to see them - though, painting a dark tinge over every bright moment was the fact that many of them would not see Julia again. And I knew, soon, I wouldn’t either.

What? Were you expecting a happy birthday post? Relax, it will get happier eventually.

I tried to imagine what I'd have said if you'd asked me at 20 what my life would be like at 30. Probably the usual "good life" stuff - happily married, 1.5 kids, a job I enjoy, etc, etc.  Ask me now what my life will be like at 40 and I might say the same thing. Except I'm learning that life is a series of unexpected changes (some good, some bad), so it's foolish to predict the future. When we plan and pray for specific things to happen far in the future I wonder if God just laughs and says, "that's cute".

So, I guess there is a significance to the number 30. It's a kind of rest stop on the journey of life. The tempest of the 3rd decade is gone, time to set anchor and take stock. And you find much of your precious cargo is gone, fallen overboard in the storm. But all there is to do is to go forward with the meagre cargo you have. And on going forward you discover you actually have a lot. Have I beaten this metaphor to death yet? You get the point.

But amidst the strangeness, there was a lot to be thankful for about my birthday (look, happy stuff!). I am forever grateful for the family and friends who surrounded me with love. So many great memories were made in the celebrations. I even had a surprise party thrown for me by some very thoughtful people. It was a reminder that there is still much joy to be found in the middle of hardship.

Navigating the holiday season will be hard in a lot of ways, but also joyful. I’m excited to be with family, see my brothers (2 of whom are out of the country), get away, think about the meaning of Christmas, and on a more serious note, drink egg nog with a touch of milk and some cinnamon (there is no other way). In other words, it will be an acute version of life. There’s a lot of pain, but if you keep muddling forward, you’ll stumble over many moments of delight. To steal from C.S. Lewis, you’ll be surprised by joy.

If that wasn’t a happy enough ending for you, here's a verse that’s been encouraging me in the past while.

"See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland."

- Isaiah 43:19


  1. Dear Andy: Thank you for sharing your journey as it is now. As I was reading it I remembered a time when Gary was chaperoning on a ski trip to Vermont and one of the Bayer boys (Not Luke) got to the top of the ski hill and was fearful of taking that first glide down the mountain. I can imagine that life must seem like that at times now. Our prayers are with you and please give our greetings to your Mom and Dad this Christmas.

    1. Hi Donna. Thank you for your encouragement. That fearful boy definitely could have been me (see last post) - no, Luke wouldn't have given it a second thought!

  2. Dear Andy:
    You are courageous, and You are still hopeful. You have been through a bucket load of loss, and your Julia would be so proud of your perserverence. It ain’t easy “keeping on,” and staying in the game.. Wishing you a happy 3oth, and that you will continue to be “ surprised by joy.” Thinking of you, and praying for your comfort, as this season of rememberence enters in... anniversaries of saying good bye... May you be surrounded by lots of love and care...

  3. Love Isaiah 43:19! (and 43:16-21 too) Thanks for sharing.

  4. Hi Andy I'm a stranger who followed Julia's journey and come to check on your blog from time to time... Just wanted to give you a virtual hug and let you know that people you don't know care and praying for your journey as you keep making one step at a time. May you be surprised by true joy in your 30s...

  5. Hey Andy, just catching up on your posts, today I remember my husbands last day on earth, knowing he is in heaven is a comfort. No more suffering. It's now been four years and things still seem strange without him. Hang in there.

  6. Thank you Andy for these words. For sharing so honestly. "And you find much of your precious cargo is gone, fallen overboard in the storm. But all there is to do is to go forward with the meagre cargo you have. And on going forward you discover you actually have a lot."

    "There is strength within the sorrow, there is beauty in our tears, when You meet us in our mourning, with a love that casts out fear."

    We are loved with a deep Love.

    May this be a season for you of seeing those streams spring forth in the wasteland...and through the pain being surprised by Joy.


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