Fifty years ago, on November 30, 1961, I was born. So yes, today is my fiftieth birthday. In some ways, the number fifty shocks me. I can’t believe I have really been around that long. I feel so much younger than what I thought fifty would feel like, and some days I still don’t feel like a grown up.

But in other, more important ways, fifty thrills me.  I have lived for fifty years, and I have lived well for fifty years. I have fulfilled my dream of teaching and have had the blessing of teaching in two fine Baptist seminaries. I have had opportunity to know, love, and be loved by students. I have been published. Books and articles that I have written have actually been read (well, I am hoping some people read my books). Plus, I absolutely and completely love the work I do! I get out of bed every day excited about the possibilities of the day!

I have been to places I never thought I would see and fallen in love with traveling. I have had conversations with some of my Baptist heroes. I had multiple phone conversations with two pioneering Baptist women, Addie Davis and Ella Mitchell–before their deaths. I once had lunch with Leena Lavanya, our Baptist Mother Teresa who works for peace and justice in India. And just a few weeks ago, I met Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter.

In my fifty years, I have been connected with churches that have loved and cared for me, including my current church, Cornerstone Church in Grayson. I have also had a whole host of friends who have walked alongside me, friends who suffered through graduate school with me and who I now “talk to” on facebook. I have friends who have shared meals and wisdom with me; friends who have climbed mountains with me; and friends who have told their stories to me and listened to my stories.

At fifty, I am very much aware of the precious gift that is family. Parents and sisters, aunts and nieces, brother-in-laws and nephews–family becomes more and more important the older I get. And I have also have my a husband and two teenage children, who keep me sane and drive me crazy all at the same time. They have taught me and continue to teach me about trust and hope, kindness and forgiveness.

But perhaps most importantly, on this my fiftieth birthday, I remember that I have had a fifty-year faith journey. I was born into a family of strong faith–and my earliest memories are of a God who loved me unconditionally and who welcomed me into relationship.

Looking back at fifty years, my strongest feeling is of gratitude. I am thankful for family and friends, for communities of love and support, and for opportunities of service and ministry. I am thankful to God for fifty years! And today, on November 30, 2011, I am celebrating fifty!

Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.