To me celebrating birthdays is like getting a new stamp in your “Passport of Significance” as you cross each border; sweet sixteen, adult eighteen, legal-to-drink-alcohol twenty-one, threshold thirty, every decade following and the years in between. Each year I commit to celebrating mine for the entire month of October, except on Halloween, and often have different events and outings planned with family and different circles of friends months in advance.
The office where I worked usually celebrated birthdays with potlucks, and on my birthday I made sure the potluck was over the top! One year I roasted a whole turkey and brought side dishes; another I baked a different cake every day for the entire week of my birthday, and each year I would make my ‘wish list’ of favorite potluck dishes known to all and sundry because as much I love to cook and bake, everyone knew it would be a win-win situation when their birthday came around.
I turned 50 years-old this past week without any of my usual fanfare or fireworks, and though I felt just as excited about this milestone birthday as I do every year, I deliberately chose not to instigate or plan any celebration. Instead, it was time to face down the unhealthy combination of fear, insecurity and pride (portions may vary), that says, “If I don’t do it, nobody will”; more specifically, that no one would care enough to celebrate with me and I would find myself home alone watching Jeopardy on my 50th birthday…no new stamp in my “Passport of Significance”.
That did not happen! Instead this birthday will forever remain in my memory as one of the most significant, deeply moving, liberating, and healing experiences of my life, not because of the number 50, but because of the gift God gave me from and through people in my life who cause my toughest challenges, bring my greatest reward, and are my only treasure in this life.
There was the friend who found out I had nothing planned and on very short notice arranged for a group of friends to meet at a local restaurant for a delicious dinner, punctuated with lots of stories and laughter. After dessert… and the game two World Series win by the San Francisco Giants baseball team…priorities…priorities,.. it was all business. I listened with a full heart as each of these people, who had taken time out of their very busy lives to celebrate mine, prayed for a specific area of my life; children, work, relationships, and so on, and promised to continue to pray even after my birthday was over. Unforgettable!
There were quite a few text messages wishing me a ‘Happy Birthday’ on ‘the day’, and forty-nine people posted birthday greetings on my Facebook timeline, but the first one to make me cry was from a young lady who was one of the teenagers I mentored when I was in my early twenties.
“What would I be today if God hadn’t planted stubborn discipleship leaders in my life like you? I value the times we shared together. And I pray that as you continue to invest in the lives of those around you God would continue to invest more of Himself and ‘X’ amount ah (of) blessings and favor in your life and your loved ones… I know Michelle, Lavern and I were a handful!”
Then yesterday my brother made me an awesome birthday brunch, complete with mimosas and my favorite fried plantains, and without any pomp or circumstance the final piece of the 50th birthday puzzle fell into place. It was only last year that we reconnected after being out of touch for thirty-five years; eight of which he spent in a persistent search for me. We have the same father but each grew up as the only child of different single mothers. From our first three-hour conversation till today, the connection was deep and immediate, and our similarities are uncanny. He is a super-smart, totally ‘chill’ version of me and an entirely different kind of stamp in my “Passport of Significance”.
For so much of my life I was never able to clearly identify or rectify the nagging, pervasive loneliness that would show up at the most unexpected times in my life; birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas,…no matter who I was with, the minute things got quiet, there it was; like a shroud. We had sat down to brunch with his family and my youngest daughter when the conversation turned to plans to celebrate Thanksgiving together, and suddenly it hit me…the shroud is gone; my heart suddenly feels whole and overflowing with gratitude. Happy Birthday me!
That hole in my heart that exacerbated my fear and insecurity has been completely repaired. Indeed, God has given me the best 50th birthday present; “far beyond what I could ask or imagine”. He used different people, in different ways to fill the empty space, seal it and make the thing whole again, and now it is up to me to live like Paul:
“…this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” Philippians 3:13-14
So, here’s the thing, I woke up on my 50th birthday with this song in my head and it has become my anthem:
When I Think about the Lord,
How He saved me, how He raised me,
how He filled me, with the Holy Ghost.
How He healed me, to the uttermost.
When I Think about the Lord,
how He picked me up and turned me around,
how He placed my feet on solid ground
It makes me wanna shout,
Thank you JESUS,
LORD, you’re worthy, of all the glory, and all the honor,
and all the praise…
So, if you come across me and I am humming it, singing it quietly or loudly, with hands raised and body swaying, just smile and nod; this “squirming concoction of misfit parts” has had a life-changing initiation into the Fabulous Fifties club and I’m still…just living the thing.