I've continued to glance your way for almost thirty years now, and I'll say it again: forty looks good on you. Yeah, you've always had that confident grin that melts me and a sense of humor that makes my sides ache, but I'm talking about something else. I'm talking about the beauty that comes when two people grow up together, hang out in their teens, marry when they're super young and don't think it's at all unusual.
Because those are the kids-turned-adult that actually get to see what forty means. They watched it happen, they watched it become.
I see it in the grey streaks you've earned over the years. Years of joy and ache, every streak tells a story. This patch, just above your ear? I'm pretty sure you developed those flecks when you rushed our Bethie to the hospital, her tiny toddler body gasping for breath. It was croup, and oh, how my heart found rest when I later heard your reassuring voice on the phone. Or perhaps the grey made its way during the graveyard shift you took to support your young family and a wife who was still in college.
This grey streak? Probably the year you started your own business and worked yourself to the bone to make it work. You didn't give up. You fought for your passion and it worked. This grey is most likely from the year our basement flooded (yeah, we laugh now), and you and I spent an entire night trying to keep the water from destroying our home. It worked. Our home wasn't destroyed.
Our homes have never been destroyed.
That's why forty looks good. Because forty works hard and loves like mad and remembers what it was like to work dead-end jobs at 3:00 a.m. and empty the coin jar to buy diapers for the baby and a bag of pasta for dinner. Forty has learned how to really build a home, not destroy it. Forty has earned that grey. And it looks good.
I see the lines around your eyes. You've earned those, too. And yeah, they look good. They remind me of the way you laugh with your brothers about sending your little brother down the stairs in the rocking chair. The story makes us laugh every time. Or the laughter around the campfire when you tell Moscow Pie and we can't wait to hear the ending (even though we already know it), and the way you Lawsons can make a game of cards (or jacks or horseshoes) both fierce and hilarious.
And they remind me of the way your face lights up when you talk about your kids. Our kids. You would light up when little Drew used to point out over a hundred countries on the world map and we were sure he was the most brilliant child to ever live. He gave us all Thomas the Tank Engine names (I was James and you were Duncan) and planned to dress up every Halloween as a different animal from his encyclopedia. Starting with Aardvark.
Your eyes crinkled with laughter at my horror when Bethie chopped off her hair and the three-year-old chided, "Mom, it's only hair!" You beamed as she flitted about in her leotard, tutus and tiaras with her rosy cheeks and big blue eyes that had a way of going straight to your heart.
They light up when you tell the story of racing me to the hospital (you still won't tell me how fast we were going), hoping to make it in time. The story continues to unfold and your eyes shine brighter when you get to the part about those nurses just not believing that I was really that close. I was. And Aidan was born three minutes later.
Your eyes dance every time Avery walks into the room, her defiant chin jutting forward, eyebrows raised (likely wearing a feather boa and sunglasses) saying, "Artists can get away with anything!" You're up for the challenge (because you know you were one, too), and you help her make tin can stilts so she can stomp around the house like Ramona Quimby shouting, "Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall."
I remember when our parents and their friends were turning forty. They had parties and decorated with black and laughed about that hill and how they were goin' over it. I believed it. I thought they really were old and that's what it would mean to be forty. But I know better now. All those years before forty? Those are really just the prelude. Those are the years that get us ready to be who we are. The years that prepare us to be okay with the grey, okay with the wrinkles around our eyes, okay with the fact that we just can't keep up with the twenty-somethings anymore.
Those are the years around which we set up stones of remembrance. They point, again and again, to God's faithfulness. And that remembering, that steady faithfulness, gives us confidence in who we are. In who God has made us to be. It's that confidence which allows you to hop over the ocean to join my brother in Slovenia because you're passionate about reaching students through video ministry.
It's that confidence that burns in your heart until you can't stand it any more and you just have to find a way to teach God's Word again. It's that confidence which jumps at opportunities to join a poet in ministry who is crazy about his God, and it's the same force that will send you to Haiti next month. We look back and we look ahead, and we have confidence. Not because of who we are, but because of who Christ is in us.
So yeah. You're turning forty today. And when I stroke those grey streaks around your temples and kiss the corners of your eyes and tell you I love you, it's because forty looks good on you. And I could give you a thousand reasons why.