Today I turned 52.
I have to introduce this entire story by telling you right up front…I hate my birthday. Absolutely, positively, despise the day. I try my best to ignore it and hope to God everyone else does. I hate the end of summer and with my birthday coming at exactly that time I hate it even more.
I don’t remember when I started feeling like this. Probably in high school, but I pushed it down inside because I didn’t understand some things. I had questions that would not have answers for a few more years.
This is going to sound like sour grapes, but that is not my intention. I decided yesterday to write this in the hopes that it might help someone else. I learned a valuable lesson at age twenty-nine and that’s the real reason I am writing these thoughts tonight.
The beginning is where we need to start.
52 years ago today, September 7, 1963, I was born in a neighborhood in Philadelphia to a 20 year old mother. My father was in basic training and by my first Christmas, would be neck deep in the hell that was Vietnam. They never married, and after he served two tours, and won numerous medals and commendations, he came home to find the mother of his now-four-year-old son was about to be married. Not much time was allowed for discussion or consideration. The offer was made to let this man raise me (an offer much more about eliminating another potential rooster from the hen house, and not at all about any desire to have me as a son) and my father took the deal.
That’s it. Plain and simple. I don’t pretend to grasp it nor do I desire to sugar coat it. I couldn’t have done it. I stopped trying to figure it out, about five years ago. It simply is what it is.
But it hurt. It hurt then and it hurts now. There was no bond between my mother’s husband and me. Being so young, and never having really met my father, I was told my stepfather was my father and without any prior knowledge…I had no reason to question it.
Except when I got older and there was no connection. In fact there was a connection vacuum. There could not have been a more opposite person in the world to me than her husband. He hated everything I loved. We had nothing in common. Even the scant things we did together, were more a means to an end. If he couldn’t get her permission to go deer hunting, or to the drag races he would simply take me along. That way she’d say yes. And so those two activities were all we ever did together, and when we did do them, it really wasn’t together.
The bond was noticeably absent especially at my birthday. My brother and sister had big parties, sometimes taking all weekend long. I remember only one party, my sixteenth. It took me a long time to understand why my birthday was never celebrated like my other siblings (his natural children with my mother) was. That is the real point to this story. It happened like this…
I was 21 when I found out about my real father. I could write for days about what that did to me. In this tech-driven world in which we live, I will explain it simply by saying this: it was like someone reached into my computer and pulled out the hard drive. I was left wondering who I was and why I was here and who really cared, and what family was I really a part of?
I went into my twenties with these questions growing louder in my ears and yet no answers. I was twenty nine when the answers came. And that’s what I want to share now.
I was attending Praise Assembly in Newark, Delaware. I had been there for about a year or so and I have to say, it was about the best church experience I have ever had. There were a lot of my school friends attending Praise back then and it was comforting seeing familiar faces right away as soon as I made that my church home.
One of those familiar faces was my friend Pam Owensby. I had known Pam since High School, having met at a summer camp. I knew her sister as well. Pam is one of the genuinely nicest, sweetest people you’d ever want to meet. She had already been married to her husband Fulton (“Fully”) for several years by the time I started going to Praise Assembly. As I reconnected with Pam and some others, and as we’d begun catching up with where our lives were by that point, I found out that Pam and Fully had been struggling to have children. It was something the entire church had been praying for on their behalf and, having reconnected, I was praying for them as well.
One day, the miracle news was announced…Pam was expecting twins. The church was thrilled. 400 or so people prayed and trusted and believed all through the difficult pregnancy. There were times when the twins surviving until birth was tenuous. But at last they arrived. A boy and a girl. Kelsey and Ryan. They were premature and it would be almost five months before the church family would actually get to see them. And that is where God began to teach me the lessons about my own birth, and my own special place in His world.
The day Kelsey and Ryan were dedicated was an incredibly special day for Praise Assembly. Pam and Fully and their families were beaming and happy. When Pastor Walters invited “anyone who wanted to pray” to come to the altar and gather around the twins and pray for them, at least half the congregation responded.
I sat in the back with tears flowing. Not tears of joy for my friends, as should have been the case, but tears of pain. I saw the joy on the faces at the arrival of these children. I saw Pam and Fully’s happiness. I saw two babies who were so beloved. So desired, So anticipated. And so cherished. Then I saw my own life. I saw a single mom and a dad somewhere in a place half a world away; both scared and both fighting for their lives in their own way. I saw no smiling faces at my arrival. No one who was happy. No lives changed for the better.
I began to weep openly at the back of the church. I started to ask God, “God was anyone happy when I was born? Was anyone excited? Was I a good thing for anyone at all?
The pain was tearing at my heart. Amidst the sounds of joy emanating from the front of my church, I was feeling pain and hurt and emptiness. Then I heard God…
It was so simple it startled me. I asked Him again; “God was anyone happy about my birth?
His answer came in the form of one line from a song. One of my favorite songs from Rich Mullins:
“Sometimes By Step.” The line says “Sometimes I think of Abraham. How one star he saw had been lit for me…”
That was it. That’s all it said. I sang it to myself through sobs. Then I heard God whisper a verse in my ear. It is Psalm 147:3-4 “He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds. He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.”
In the next instant, he reminded me of Genesis 15:5 “Then the LORD took Abram outside and said to him, "Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That's how many descendants you will have!"
Suddenly it was coming together. I saw Abraham as he tried –if only for a second- to count the stars. I saw God as He smiled at Abraham’s temporary foolishness. And it all came together.
I heard God, deep in my soul, asking me a question. “Why do you think it says that I “know each star by name?” I’d wondered that myself. Counting them I get…He is God. He knows the number before he even created them. But why would he name them. A claim he repeats in Isaiah 40:26 “Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”
Twice in scripture God tells us he names each and every star. Why? Because he made a promise to Abraham and he knew exactly how many stars would be needed to keep that promise. When God laid out the heavens on day four of creation, He already knew about me. He already knew I would one day accept the gift of his son. He knew I would choose the gift He offered and he set a star there so it would be lit on that night when Abraham saw a visible rendition of that promise.
I was a star that night.
Then God tied it all together. As moms and dads were celebrating their babies in the front of that church, for the first time, my Heavenly Father was celebrating me there in the back. I heard him speaking clearly now. “I placed that star there. I gave it a name. It’s not “Craig,” it’s the name by which you are known only to me. The name in Revelation 2:17. It’s the name I call you in my heart. The name I will call you in heaven one day. I longed for your arrival. I celebrated your birth by “dancing over you with singing and rejoicing.” I could not wait to be your dad.
I broke down in tears that day. Tears that are here now as I write this.
I don’t remind myself of this nearly enough. I needed to remind myself when I was homeless and broken and wounded. Sometimes I did. Sometimes when it was so cold that my tears froze to my cheeks, I looked out the window of the car I was sleeping in and saw stars and imagined that one of them “had been lit for me,” like Mullins wrote. But much of the time, I forgot this lesson. So I decided that I needed it this year. Things are difficult right now. My daughter is still adjusting to college life. I am still smarting from the damage of homelessness and loss. The relationship with my father has not changed. He does not budge. It causes difficulty with the rest of the family sometimes. It makes me feel “different” from them in a small but important way.
I needed to remember that there was a star place carefully in the heavens, thousands of years ago, and it was a placeholder for the promise to Abraham. It reminded God that I was coming, and once I got here it was a reminder that I was one of those promises.
My life has a plan. A plan that I have doubted more than trusted. A plan that I have resisted when surrendering to it would be so much easier. A plan designed by Someone I have not seen, but whom I know so well. There is a star out there, and If I will just look for it, I will be reminded again about the promise I am a part of. I was wanted. I was desired. I was longed for. There is a Father who sang and danced when I was born.
The same is true for you as well. You are not alone or unwanted in this world, no matter what this world will try to tell you. Whether you are living a full, rich, blessed life, or you are shivering in the darkness of homelessness as I was…God sees you, He sees your star, and he has a plan for your life. You matter to him. He knows you by name. A name only He knows.
Come as you are…