All the greatest holidays have a prequel.
Mine was written in the sky last night. A cloudless expanse as black as midnight, like the puppy Brian and I walked next to, and stars more numerous than the birthday candles I’m qualified to blow out this year. There I was, a speck of sand in the sea of humanity and God gave me a personal lightshow, evidence of common grace and personal love.
My birthday list always looks the same. I write the number 1 in large print and circle it for emphasis. Next come the words, “Trip to Lake Michigan to watch the sunset.” It’s a rich family tradition, walking in the sand, waves lapping at our toes methodically, the sun kissing the past goodbye but teasing a fresh hello if we wait for it and lean in the direction it promises to rise.
I turned 50 today.
And started fresh with new adventures, mercies to set a trajectory for the next decade, inviting me into its mystery. Instead of trekking out to the beach, I went to a wedding.
Actually, I hosted a wedding, a sweet, simple ceremony, right here in our living room. My guy solemnized the event with a translator standing beside him. There were vows, a blessing, and signatures sealing the deal in the eyes of the State. Then there was kissing, so much kissing. But not between the bride and the groom. Instead, the small group of witnesses swapped cheeks, three pecks a person according to Middle East custom.
In God’s sovereignty, our lives intersected with these Kurdish friends last year when they relocated here from Syria. On my 49th birthday, our friendship was merely a sprouting seedling but over time and shared experiences, it’s blossomed because we’ve embraced the beauty in our similarities and differences. We have eaten Kurdish food and taken dancing lessons. They’ve shared our holiday celebrations, gone fruit picking and learned to play Uno from us.
Tonight, we donned our party wear for the wedding reception and danced the night away. Literally. A menagerie of people from all over God’s great big world, immigrants needing a fresh start who found it here and lily skinned Americans who welcomed them to our community and into our hearts. I couldn’t understand a word of the music blaring over the speakers, but I grabbed the pinky of the person on either side of me and let my feet do the talking, stopping only for an occasional rest and one more bite of baklava.
For me, birthdays are fodder for reflection. My thoughts amble to deep introspective places. This year, there’s less musing about the past and more wondering at the next chapter.
I tend to dream big. Why not? I don’t always get what I’m hoping for and I expect that on the front end, but if I suffocate desire, there’s little hope I’ll ever celebrate the dreams that might actually come true.
So in my story, the next decade includes exploring cathedrals in Europe with my big girl.
Helping another one build a tiny house for she and her puppy.
Sipping Frappuccinos all day long on some exotic beach with my princess who is a water magnet.
Admiring God’s creative design for animals in the African safari with my biggest little.
And with the guy who wears a gold ring on his left hand matching mine, I’d like to save our pennies for a 2 person jet ski and feel the rush and spray of the Great Lake on our faces as we ride into the sunset.
….And drive a 3- wheeled motorcycle along the Pacific coast through the towering redwoods of Yosemite and next to the pounding surf of the ocean.
My hopes are more closely tethered to reality. Our girls are growing up and mothering is morphing into something different creating new spaces in my life to direct my passions and service. I’d like to retool, to increase my knowledge and marry it to my giftings and experience in order to contribute to the Kingdom and society in meaningful, productive and profitable ways.
And who knows, maybe I’ll be loving on grandchildren before my fifties meld into sixties.
While dreams and goals may escape me as illusively as dandelion seeds, sprouting new hopes and dreams in unexpected places, reality is guaranteed.
And reality has it’s own gifts.
They aren’t all pretty packages—like achy joints and a thickening midline.
And honestly, a few of the gifts I wanted most, like relational reconstruction in broken places, I didn’t get.
But this is the story I am living in real and it’s a great story regardless.
It’s Kurdish dancing and a new puppy and my first iPhone.
And a Michigan address with a big bountiful garden.
It’s transitioning my second sweetheart into college and new friends funneling through my front door and at my dinner table.
And homeschooling my two littles.
It’s partnering with my husband as he runs this crazy professional race he’s running in order to secure place for his family.
And coming alongside our oldest as she launches into home and career.
It’s sponsoring refugees and shaping their formative experiences in my community.
And mentoring high school girls.
It’s investing my time, talent and treasure within my faith community.
And growing older with the friends, near and far, I love best.
Who would have guessed all the adventures God has in every season? Fresh, new mercies, each day, month and year. Decade after decade He continues to lengthen the story of his faithfulness written in my life, one chapter at a time. And, if today is a barometer for the future, I still have a lot to look forward to.
Great stories often have an encore and my celebration didn’t end when the carriage became a pumpkin. I dragged my achy joints out of bed and into church the next morning, headache pulsing and tears swelling in my ducts.
Maybe an adrenalin crash. Maybe mixed emotions demanding expression.
I feasted on steak grilled to perfection eating with our “You Are Loved” birthday plate and a hand crafted “Happy Birthday” place card for lunch. All of my loves plus a bonus gathered around the table gifting me with words—affirming that my life touches theirs with sweetness and making space for a few of those tears, not to be explained, only experienced. Then, the buds who know almost all of my secrets, surprised me with dessert.
Hours around the kitchen table.
Bathing me in love.
What can I say but….Grateful.