Embracing my 50th Birthday

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I was born in 1967.

Turning 50 is one of those “never thought it would ever arrive” milestones. I remember when my dad turned 50, in 1985. I always thought it peculiar how my dad could pull Frank Sinatra and Patti Page songs into his head from 1955 as if it were yesterday. Today, I find myself performing those same stunts, pulling songs from 1985 as if it were yesterday. I can still pick out each artist singing the different lines from 1985’s “We are the World.” But oh what another era that was, long before the internet, Michael Jackson was still alive AND black, Reagan was President, and phones were still tethered to these funny things called wires that required detangling (if your home did not have modular plugs). It’s easy for me to live in the past; it’s comfortable, but it’s deadly to my soul.

Celebrating birthdays is not my norm. Denial would typically be my modus operandi, but I can’t fathom denying my 50th. Despite not feeling like a quinquagenarian physically, I feel the years and the accruement of experiences on my soul. I see the gray creeping into my hair. And in case I forget how old I am, come next year, I’ll be receiving correspondence from the AARP and other such “senior” organizations. Normally, I would just “turn up” my denial of such realities. I’d just close my eyes and watch my 50th pass (and recycle all mail from AARP). That’s exactly what I did in the past; I rarely disclosed my birthday to anyone. So on birthdays, only a handful of people would typically text me well wishes, usually from my closest colleagues and my sister. And with the exception of my sister, I highly suspect that these close comrades knew only because my wife “secretly” told them. For years, decades even, I simply never wanted anyone to know nor celebrate my birthday. I even got angry at my wife for planning a surprise 40th for me almost 10 years ago. Such is life when one carries the legacy of shame, the feeling of being unaccepted for just being me, feeling I should be someone else, or somewhere else. Birthdays expose my shame; why would I want that? Today though, I mourn the lack of wisdom I’ve exercised for so long in this area. No wise person ever wanted to grow younger. If I want my wisdom to grow with my years, I must embrace this 50th milestone year coming up.

Part of growing in wisdom is knowing and embracing my own story. That would include the story of my passions, calling, what I’m up against, and what “risky creativity” I can take to steward this life. The fact that I’m in this “second half of life” summons me to be even more focused in my quest to not just know my story better, I need to own my story, and use it to aim towards what God’s called me to do. Forget the fact that I feel I’m off to a “late start.” The quest alone is worth it, regardless of how many more days I have on this side of eternity. The losses in my life the past few years have cleared the way for my current work and relationships to foster the stewardship of my story. The results has been more rich and fruitful than I could ever imagine (and this is not to say that grieving losses is no longer a part of my life. Grieving is part of the new normal and part of the story). There are many around us who continue to be emotional adolescents because they don’t know their own story. Mind I say we all know at least one person like that? Perhaps I hid it well to some, but I was that person! But no longer…

That’s why for my 50th, I will throw a party for friends and family and tell this story of my life, the story of this broken, engineer-brained fellow whose soul is awakening. Sharing my story will surely bring healing to me, but I hope it’ll also inspire others in their quest to uncover and own their own stories, perhaps especially those who also have milestone birthdays in 2017. I’ve already rented a banquet hall and am already “storyboarding” with colleagues and designers to create different displays to tell this story through different chapters of my life. And there will be a way for you to respond too. In addition, there will be a kid’s section, but I’m also thinking about including a way for kids to respond at each display as well. Frankly, this undertaking sounds a bit ambitious, but I can’t think of a better way to celebrate my 50th. I can’t think of a better way to share this milestone with friends and family.

One more thing: As much as my story will anchor the party, I don’t want this party to be about me. Rather, regardless of your world view, I want my story more than anything to point to the Master Storyteller. He is the Giver of my story, and I must give away what’s been given me.

There’s a slight awkwardness here, because I can’t host everyone who is going to read this post (and that’s partially why I’m not posting the whereabouts of the party). Let me bear the awkwardness! So please feel free to respond “publicly” in the comments below or email me at steve.hong@kingdomrice.org with any interest or inquiries.

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2 thoughts on “Embracing my 50th Birthday

  1. Great post, Steve. Thought-filled, intriguing, honest, and you make it look easy to write in a way that’s both clear and representative of your voice. (And I, for one, have never found personal pieces to be easily-written in the least.)

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