My sixty-eighth birthday
Carlos del Amo
I am days away from my sixty-eighth birthday, and no other birthday has ever caused me to be so reflective and full of questions. Was my past a series of random, purposeless acts that have propelled me to where I am today? Today, I am content, but what is it that makes me content? What about the future? Can I control it? How will I handle change and the inevitable endings that are coming? These questions arise in part from visiting my father every day. This once vibrant, strong, independent, unstoppable man has been reduced by the ravages of Alzheimer’s to a bedridden, semi-lucid shell of his former self. He spends his days sleeping, eating, and in brief spurts interacting with us. Is that all there is?
My past seemed to be a series of random, purposeless acts that have brought me to where I am today. Most of what has happened to me has not been in my control, and in those that I did control, I made plenty of mistakes. For example, I did not pick the time or the place of my birth, where I would live my life, my physical and emotional makeup, or my parents.
The timing of my birth was September 26, 1953. The world was still recovering from the devastation of the second world war that ended eight years before my birth. This period saw tremendous population growth with increased birth rates and the emergence of the baby boomer generation. I am a baby boomer. The Cold War was heating up. The ideological clash between communism and capitalism dominated the decade of my birth and significantly impacted my life.
You see, I was born in Cuba. On December 31, 1959, Fidel Castro and his forces entered Havana, taking control of my country, an event that signaled the end of life as I knew it. My mother worked for the American Embassy and was given permanent residency if she arrived in the U.S. on or before April 29, 1961. My mother, my sister (ten years old) and I (seven years old) arrived in the U.S. on April 29, 1961, “coincidently” the exact date Mirka, my wife, was born in Panama. My mother, because of illness and emotional strain, returned to Cuba. She left us in a boarding school in Miami.
As a child, I was severely asthmatic. When the asthma attacks constricted my airwaves so I could not breathe, the only treatment to stop me from dying was my mother putting me in front of the air conditioning, holding me, and passing a brush over my back. Later in life, during the Vietnam War, the government instituted a lottery draft. All men had to register for the draft. The lottery was based on your month and day of birth. The first 152 numbers drawn would be drafted and end up in Vietnam. The year I was eligible for the lottery, my birth month and day, September 26, was the third number picked in the lottery. Undoubtedly, I would have gone to Vietnam. I went to the physical, anticipating my induction. However, because I had been an asthmatic, I was given a 4-F designation, not fit for military duty in Vietnam. Shortly after that, the Vietnam war ended.
The feeling of abandonment at her departure and not being there to quiet my strangling asthma shaped the way I saw and treated women for a long time to come.
I have lived in Cuba and the U.S.A, in Miami, Harlem, Baltimore, and back in Miami, where I currently reside. Every move was unplanned, brought about by circumstances beyond my control. I moved from Miami to Harlem because my parents could not continue to pay for the boarding school. I moved to Baltimore because of a chance encounter with my father’s former business partner, who talked my mother into moving there. When we arrived in Baltimore, the partner abandoned us. It was there that I experienced poverty! At the same time, my father was arrested in Cuba, held for a year, and then released. He managed to leave Cuba secretly and went to Spain. My parents had planned to live in Spain, but my father ended up coming to Baltimore instead. Later, my father was presented with a business opportunity that required him to move to Miami. They left, but I stayed in Baltimore. The following year, another business opportunity presented itself. My parents asked if I wanted to be a part of that business opportunity, and I agreed. My leisure life was over, and I moved to Miami.
I was given the opportunity to go to a private school, all expenses paid. I wasted that opportunity choosing to play cards in the bathroom rather than learn. As a result, I failed the fourth grade and had to repeat it.
One summer, my father offered to pay me to be a helper painting the Annapolis Naval Base. I agreed. Every day, we would pick up the half-drunk painters and travel from Baltimore to Annapolis as they vomited. My job was placing the drop cloths on the ground while the painters sprayed lead-based paint above me, drenching me with paint that could only be removed with turpentine. The experience made me realize that I should get an education and work with my head instead of my hands.
After this, I was a straight-A and B student. However, outside of school, I chose to get involved with a gang. I did what you would expect gang members to do. However, my sexual addiction brought about by my feelings of abandonment trumped my interest in attending “gang events.” It kept me from being arrested, a possible record, and jail time. I also avoided several gang fights, severe injury, or death.
My career choice was to be a psychiatrist or a psychologist. I was admitted to John Hopkins University but chose to go to Loyola in Baltimore, where all my friends attended. After getting a D in chemistry, I no longer wanted to be a psychiatrist. I decided to be a psychologist. After college, I applied to over 50 Ph.D. programs in psychology and got accepted to none. Undaunted, I applied for and got into a master’s program in clinical psychology at Barry University. For a year, I worked at my business and attended classes at Barry at night. I had planned hastily and poorly. After a year, I realized that I had to do an unpaid internship for six months. With a wife and children, I could not make that commitment, so I dropped out. Later and inexplicably, I would become an attorney and have practiced law mostly in my law firm for the last thirty-three years.
My first wife and I were childhood sweethearts. We started dating when she was thirteen, and I was fifteen. We decided to get married when she was seventeen, and I was nineteen, but her father would not agree. So, we got married when she turned eighteen. We had two beautiful children, Christie and Carlos. The marriage lasted for fourteen years. I loved my wife and children, but my work, career, and worldly pleasures were my priorities. The divorce was bitter and devastating, and I vowed never to marry again. After my divorce, I decided to make up for all the “fun” I missed and led a wild life as I started my law career.
Then, Mirka came into my life. We have been married for 29 years and have two beautiful children, Karina and Steven. The first fourteen years were very challenging. Having been divorced, I was ready to do so again.
About fifteen years ago, I went to a church service. I was moved by what I heard.
The impact Jesus has can best be described in the words of Dr. James Allen, who wrote in 1926, “He was born in an obscure village. The child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another obscure village where he worked in a carpenter shop until he was thirty. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never went to college. He never visited a big city. He never traveled more than two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He did none of the things usually associated with greatness. He had no credentials but himself. He was only thirty-three. His friends ran away. One of them denied him. He was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing, the only property he had on earth. When he was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend. Nineteen centuries have come and gone, and today Jesus is the central figure of the human race and the leader of mankind’s progress. All the armies that have ever marched. All the navies that have ever sailed. All the parliaments that have ever sat. All the kings that ever reigned put together have not affected the life of mankind on earth as powerfully as that one solitary life.”
I wanted to know more about Jesus. I had known him all my life, but he was a stranger to me and I to him. For the next six months, I continued to go to church religiously every week. I continued to hear the Bible preached, and its message began to resonate in my mind. I also began to read the Bible. One day, I heard Him say inaudibly but clearly, “Here I am, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. I heard His knocking and opened the door to my heart.
I asked God to forgive me for all my sin. I thanked him for sending his only begotten son to die for my sin so that his sacrifice on the cross would pay for my sin forever. I promised to follow Jesus until the day I died.
My life was transformed. I was reborn, a new creation. The change is very noticeable in every aspect of my life. The blessings were enormous.
First of all, God the Father adopted me into his family. He promised that I would live forever after I die, a co-heir of his eternal kingdom with Jesus, God the son. He sent his Holy Spirit to dwell in my heart and my comforter and guide. But he did more.
With Jesus as my example and the Holy Spirit as my guide, I began to change here on earth. You see, the benefit is not only that you will live forever, but that he will begin the transformation now on earth. He has rearranged my priorities; God, Wife, family, and then the rest. He taught me to love Him above all and obey Him in all things. He opened my heart to love others as I love myself. He gave my family the peace that transcends all understanding as we faced Mirka’s incurable cancer. When we succumbed to His peace, He miraculously cured her. Our family has never been closer.
I am in a good place now because I live by faith. Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
I have faith in God. God is infinite, self-existing, without origin. He is immutable, and His plans never change. He is self-sufficient, He has no needs. He is omnipotent, all-powerful. He is omniscient, all-knowing. He is omnipresent, He is always everywhere. He is wise, full of perfect, unchanging wisdom. He is Faithfull, infinitely, unchangingly true. He is good, infinitely, unchangingly kind, and full of goodwill. He is just, infinitely, unchangingly right, and perfect in all He does. He is merciful, infinitely, unchangingly compassionate, and kind. He is gracious, infinitely incline to spare the repentant guilty. He is holy, infinitely, unchangingly perfect. He is glorious, infinitely beautiful, and great. He is loving, and He loves us, you and me, and wants the best for us.
I have come to have faith that life is not a series of random, purposeless acts but the purposeful acts of a God who loves me. I know that I am not in control of my life, He is. I am not the beginning and the end of everything, He is. He is in control and has lovingly taken care of me throughout my life and forever.
I have faith that the Bible truth is inerrant. It is his story, the book he left us to get to know him.
I have faith in his promises. He said: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand,” Isaiah 41:10. “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” Deuteronomy 31:8. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” Jeremiah 29:11. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” Romans 8:28.
Looking forward, I realize that my body is inevitably slowly breaking down. No matter how much I try to prevent it, I know that my body will wear down until it stops. However, I have faith there is life after death. My earthly father accepted God and the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ before he lost his ability to choose. In faith, I believe we will one day be together forever in the presence of our heavenly father in our perfect bodies sharing life with Him.
I pray that you give yourself a chance to know this loving God before you lose the ability to choose. My heart’s desire and prayer to God for you is that you may come to know him and accept Jesus’ precious gift paid with his blood. Give yourself to Jesus today. There are no specific words. Ask God to forgive you for all my sin. Thank him for sending his only begotten son to die for you so that his sacrifice on the cross would pay for your sin and forever be his child. Promised to follow Jesus until the day I die. If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. Romans 10:9-10.