February 15, 1985, twenty-four years ago, I stood in the front of the U.S. District Courthouse in Pensacola, Florida, and I took public vows to become a "naturalized" citizen of the United States of America.
Judge Vinson asked my wife, Rebekah, to offer both the invocation and the benediction, and - along with around thirty others from every corner of this globe, I was sworn in. The only glitch in the proceedings was an error in the printed program that listed my country of origin as "Spain." I'm guessing it was my dark complexion, heavy Mediterranean accent and raven black hair that must have confused them!
So of course I got presents! I do every year, because I celebrate Feb 15 as another birthday. This year, Rebekah got me a piece of classic Americana - the original Blues Brothers CD, and then a new book about Abraham Lincoln (click on the book for a fascinating New York Times article) that focuses on our 16th president's contributions to the language as a remarkable writer.
In actuality I celebrate three birthdays. There's my birthday into this world, March 26; there's my birthday as an American, February 15; and then there is my birth into faith, something I try to celebrate every day.
Fact is, I can't pinpoint a particular day or hour of the day when I first decided to follow Jesus. I have loved God all my life, it's a relationship that has been honed over time, since before I could even talk. My parents provided the kind of home where Jesus was already present - down to the details, and faithfully evident in the way that they lived.
As for the classic "Personal Decision..." I probably made a hundred such commitments, both as a child and as a young person - each time with sincerity and conviction. One moment that stands out was the day I "went up to the front" at a Billy Graham meeting in London; it led to my decision to be baptized. Today I consciously choose to follow Jesus every single morning.
I have been a disciple for most of my life and, while my faithfulness has faltered, God has never wavered. I have supreme confidence in the Redeemer's gracious love and I know God's promises are sure.
So there it is. Happy birthday to me! I have so many reasons to celebrate.
Peace and love - DEREK