Friday, August 03, 2012

Thoughts on turning 50

I turned 50 last week. Typical, I was too busy to sit down and write a piece that’s been ruminating in my mind for the past few weeks. I don’t want to write a novel, but I do want to say a few things. First, I want to thank my wife for making my birthday very special. She put on a party at the local park and invited many friends to attend. In addition, she quietly collected more than 50 cards and emails from friends and family. It was totally unexpected. Because 50 is apparently an important milestone, now she’s set the bar high when her turn comes next spring.
I also want to say how much I appreciate my three girls. They bring a great joy to my life. (I had to correct a word in that sentence because spell check didn’t catch it—could it be a Freudian slip when I used the word “job” in place of “joy”!) You make life fun and interesting. I also appreciate my family in San Diego. Before Dr. Dobson was dispensing advice, my folks did everything they could to raise their children the right way, and I am truly indebted to them.

Below are some of the things I’ve most enjoyed over these past 50 years (in no particular order): 
  • Teaching: I did this for 17 years, serving as Bible department chair at Christian High. Serving with other excellent teachers, including my friend Craig Breuninger, helped me grow in my theology as well as my thinking process. I also taught English classes at Grossmont Community College in El Cajon for eight years—other places were San Diego Christian College (Bible and English), San Diego State University, and Bethel Seminary San Diego. Probably no matter what I do for the rest of my life, I will be most remembered for being a teacher…and that truly satisfies me.
  • Traveling to the Holy Land: Since 2009, I have taken three different groups of 40 or more to the Holy Land, including Israel, Egypt and Turkey. Most of those traveling with me have been high school students (mostly mine) and their parents. What a joy to lead devotions in some important places, baptizing several dozen and leading a communion service.  I’ve had a chance also to share this land with my three children. And it’s not stopping. My wife and I (along with Bill McKeever and Sandra Tanner) are taking 50 adults next February. Then, in April, I’ll lead a trip with senior citizens, on a much slower scale. Pinch me, what a great side-job this has become! 
  • Working in Utah: Since 1989, I have assisted Bill McKeever of Mormonism Research Ministry. In 2010, I moved my family to Utah so we could work side-by-side once more. Based on my slip from above, I don not consider this to be just a job but a joy.  From working on articles to traveling to churches and even coauthoring another book (Answering Mormons’ Questions is due out Oct.1—I need to turn in the final edit this week), I have enjoyed sharing my faith in a land that needs the Good News.
  • Working in the grocery industry: I did this for 16 years, and while many would ask what good could come out of what appears to be a monotonous job, it actually played a large role in shaping me. For example, I credit this job for helping me get out of a shy shell I had created.  If you had told me in high school that I would become a teacher/preacher, I would have laughed. And starting this month, I am now officially retired from the industry that I haven’t worked in since 1994, as I am scheduled to receive a small check each month. It was a great job to get through college and seminary.
  • Traveling with my family: I’ll never forget a number of small trips taken with my wife and children. But we also had the chance to take a two-week trip to WA DC/Philadelphia/VA in 2005, and in 2007, we spent two weeks traveling on a train through 33 states, ending up in New Orleans, Boston, Chicago, and Seattle. I recommend every family travel together in such a way—a creator of great memories.
There’s more, but space limits me. Let me close with five ideas/pieces of advice, again, in no particular order:  
  1. Money is important but not all-important. My advice for students and my own children is to find a career where you won’t starve but in which you find great satisfaction. Recently an Israeli citizen asked a friend and me how much it would take to live comfortably in Southern California. This friend stated, “$100,000.” He truly meant it because he makes much more than this in his successful career in SOCAL. I’ve never made close to this figure and yet I have never been in want. I’m satisfied, even though, on paper, the jobs I’ve had would not be considered lucrative. Would I have the same priorities if I became used to a six-figure income? I wonder. 
  2. Hard work will go a long way. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my parents, it’s a work ethic. Nothing has ever come easy, but I have been creative in manufacturing my own opportunities. Whichever hat I’ve worn in my different careers, I’ve always tried to dedicate myself 100%. I believe this is what has made my life full and satisfying.
  3. Take time out for God. We’re so busy in our culture today that many well-meaning Christians tend to forget about God, His Word, prayer, and the other disciplines. Throughout my life, I’ve tried to focus the beginning of each day on Him. For the most part, I read the entire Bible each year, using different formats, and it doesn’t get old. I have found that seeking first His kingdom makes the rest gravy, and my relationship with God has grown over the years.
  4. Get educated, and keep getting educated. I’ve told my girls to get their college taken care of before marriage and kids. In college, I taught too many moms who went back to school with their 18-year-old kids, trying to earn a degree while working a full-time job and still managing a house. Taking one class at a time will seem like eternity before you’re done. While marriage is worthwhile, it can wait. Then, after graduation and even marriage, consider other educational opportunities.  And even when you’re not in school, read—I find reading so much more beneficial than the CD versions—and stay abreast of current events. Read the newspaper or magazines. Read good books. Don’t get lost in your own little world.  
  5. Invest in your family. I’ve tried to spend time with my kids, however that looked. Having summers off with them was very beneficial. In addition, we turned the sport of softball into a family experience. In fact, I coached my girls at East County ASA. A year before Carissa got into junior high, I began to help coach the team with my mentor, Roma Dawson. This allowed me to coach Carissa and Janelle in junior high ball. I later became the JV softball coach and got to coach Carissa for two years before it became too much for me and I “retired.” But I have great memories in a simple but fun activity. Although my kids have grown up so quickly, I’m glad I had the chance to invest in their lives.
But my life is not over. Halftime might be finished, but it’s time to go out and play the second half. As the Chargers know, it’s not how you end the first half. The score at the end is what matters. Time to buckle up the chinstrap and finish strong.


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