I woke up on the first day of my 37th year full before the day began.
This is not the norm for me. On my birthday or any other day.
The weather promised to be perfect–sunny, 80 degrees, not too humid.
And the day was pregnant with promise.
Birthdays are, for me, a love-hate affair. I enjoy the celebration. I love cake and ice cream. But in recent years, my birthdays have been anti-climatic, to say the least. While my husband was in seminary, he almost always had finals the week of my birthday and May 4 would become like any other day. I got used to lowering (or abandoning) my expectations for the day. I’m not big on surprises, but a part of me has always wanted to feel special on my birthday.
That’s normal, right?
So, on Sunday night, knowing that Monday was packed full of meetings and a birthday celebration was going to be hard to squeeze in, I did something I rarely do.
I asked for what I wanted.
“It doesn’t matter what we do,” I said, as we finished up dinner. “But tomorrow, I’d like to do something special for my birthday.”
Rather than feel selfish or needy by that declaration, I felt grown-up and free.
Maybe that’s why Monday dawned with such hope. I was grateful before the day began for this life I’ve been gifted, with all its messes and miracles.
What happened throughout the day was icing on the proverbial cake. (There was actual cake, too.)
As my husband got up to make my coffee and breakfast for me and the kids, I read tweets from my brother, and opened an e-mail with a generous gift inside from him and his wife. Breakfast is my favorite meal, so it’s always a gift to have someone else make it. (And for it to not be cereal or toast. Egg sandwiches, in case you were curious.)
Phil and our son left to head to the grocery store to plan a special dinner, and the Facebook greetings rolled in from across the country and across the years of my life. I said, in reflecting on the day, that a Facebook birthday is like “This is your life.” College friends. Hometown friends. Online friends I’ve never met in person.
Some made the tears come, like this one from a pastor friend in Illinois:
Today, look back in awe at how God has shaped and led you; then look forward in anticipation of all that God will do to complete the beautiful work of art that is you. Experience God’s blessing on your birthday!
Look back. Look forward. Both together, not either or. A day before, I read this quote from Madeleine L’Engle, and it is fitting for birthdays:
I have wanted to lose some of the ages I’ve been, but in my 37th year, I am increasingly grateful for the ways those years have shaped me.
When the guys returned, I headed out to my counseling appointment. Going to counseling on my birthday might not seem like a treat, but it’s becoming a valued part of my life and routine.
“Don’t cry too much on your birthday,” my husband said as I left because I have left a lot of tears in my counselor’s office. I did cry, but they were mostly happy tears because maybe for the first time in my life I love who I am and who I am becoming and I feel loved. By others. By God. By me.
I spent the afternoon with my son. We volunteered at the school library, which we hadn’t done for a couple of weeks. We enjoyed the outside weather. The porch is my favorite place in the spring/summer/fall. I read. I tended my small collection of plants, including a hanging basket of flowers that arrived while I was gone. A sweet couple from church dropped them off just to say “thanks.” I continued to read the messages of well wishes. I talked to my grandparents. I picked up my daughter from the bus.
And I watched my husband prepare a birthday feast for dinner. He grilled some of my favorites: bell peppers, shrimp, steak. Paired with rice it was a satisfying and special meal, topped off with a moose tracks ice cream cake. The day would have been perfect without it, but I’m glad I said something the day before.
We headed off to church for meetings my husband and I lead, once again grateful that we are part of a community of faith that recognizes and values our gifts and lets us use them.
We fell into bed exhausted and my heart was fuller than it had been when I woke up. I can’t think of a better way to have spent my birthday than being with people I love, doing ordinary things, celebrating life and health. It was extraordinary in its ordinariness.
This morning it was a little harder to get out of bed, but more birthday wishes trickled in, including a video from our 3-year-old nephew. In the middle of singing “Happy birthday,” he asked his mom if they could come to our house and share cake. We are too many miles apart for that, but the sentiment warms my heart.
We still have cake, and a birthday date night scheduled for Friday, but for all intents and purposes, the celebration is over.
The gratitude continues, though, and my hope for the year to come is to find these ordinary graces in my life no matter the day.
I am 37, and it is good to be alive.