Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

March 18, 2007


75th birthday bash a blessing and a huge surprise


      Quite by accident I learned that my wife had planned a party to celebrate my 75th birthday. It would take the place of the regular meeting of the “Young at Heart” seniors group at our church. The site would be the old home place in Elmore County where I was born. Our son Steve lives there now with his wife Amy and their sons Jake and Josh.

          I thought that would be nice. Steve will grill hamburgers and we will enjoy a lovely spring day with 30 or so good friends, all old codgers like me who realize that every birthday may be your last. My friends can walk through the bedroom where I was born and marvel at the beautiful way Steve and Amy have remodeled the home my Dad built in 1930.

          Then I heard my siblings were joining us as well as a few of our dear friends from high school days. That news turned me nostalgic. I recalled my 12th birthday celebration at this same home. Several high school friends, including the girl who would become my wife, gathered for a Saturday barbeque that included goat, pork, and chicken grilled by my Dad.

          The highlight of that day in 1944 was a chance to ride my pony, Josephine. Some of the “city slickers” like Morris had no clue how to use the reins as my horse galloped away, spooked by our loud laughter.  Fortunately no one suffered an injury except to their pride.

          Last Tuesday I was stunned as more and more friends showed up. My wife counted 110. When I saw the Trinity Methodist Church bus driving in, I could not believe it. The last time I saw that bus in Elmore County was the day of my mother’s funeral.

          I wondered if I had died. Or maybe I have a terminal illness and nobody has told me about it. I thought of the remark a preacher made to me at a funeral one day. The church was packed with people standing in the aisles. The preacher said, “I’ll bet Old Bob would have died sooner if he had known this many people would attend his funeral.”

          My shock turned to gratitude as friends arrived from Georgia, Pensacola, Demopolis, many other places, and even Texas. Relatives I had not seen in years showed up. Some I had not seen in 50 years. I began laughing and I don’t think I stopped for two hours. Handshakes gave way to hugs as friends shared their love with me and made me feel so glad to be alive.  We shared good food, traded memories, and cut a cake.

          Many brought cards and gifts as well as smiling faces. The cards and the smiles were for me. The gifts were donations for homeless children in Zambia. More than a million children in Zambia have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS. Dean and I are working with a ministry in Lusaka to place some of these orphans in Christian homes. A gift of $333 will provide food, clothing, and education for one child for a year.

          The generosity of our friends was remarkable. They gave us more than five thousand dollars, enough to take care of 16 precious children for a year! Tears of joy filled my eyes as Dean told me the total amount of the gifts.

          Through the work of our Zambian children, Alfred and Muumbe Kalembo, a few of these helpless orphans will soon have a family and a home. Our friends will receive pictures of the children and know the names of the orphans they have helped find a new life.

          James says that “pure religion” is caring about “the fatherless and widows in their affliction.” That being true, those who provide for orphans are practicing pure religion. And surely God is pleased.

          There are days that are so good they should last forever. This “birth” celebration day was one of them. I cannot find the words to fully express my gratitude to the friends who took the time to share this day with me, or to my wife who engineered this surprise. All I can say is, she surely knows how to throw a party!

          Some days my body feels 75 but not today. Caring friends make me feel young at heart and full of life. They remind me that I am a very rich man, rich because so many friends love me despite my shortcomings. Their love is a treasure more precious to me than silver or gold.

          Often I ask the question, what have I done to deserve the wife God gave me, the family God gave me, or the friends God gave me? The answer is always the same: nothing. All our blessings are the result of grace, the undeserved favor of God. He makes love happen.

          “Thank you” seems hardly enough but I do say it – and from the bottom of my heart. + + + +