I was going to start this blog by saying, “I used to hate my birthday,” but I realized that wasn’t really true. I never hated my birthday. Let’s just say I had a mixed relationship with my birthday. I’ve never been one to dread the passing of another year. My ill-will toward my birthday never stemmed from a fear of aging or lamenting lost youth.
It was just that if no one noticed that it was my birthday, I would not have minded. I liked having a small party, but I didn’t like any of the parts where all the eyes were on me. I didn’t particularly like the spotlight. I liked the presents, but I didn’t like opening them up while everyone watched. I liked the cake, but I didn’t really want the wait staff at the restaurant to serenade me.
I liked my birthday just fine, but I didn’t want to make a big deal about it. I really liked that my birthday was in the summer. That meant I was never on the bulletin board in my classroom. It meant that my Mom never brought cupcakes to class. I never had to wear a goofy hat all day. That’s why I was so mortified the day my Mom showed up at basketball camp with a cooler full of popsicles.
I think I was turning 11. I was at basketball camp, toiling on my birthday as if it were any other day. A few of my friends probably knew it was my birthday, but I wasn’t going to tell anyone. I just wanted to play ball and go home. My party was probably later that night with a few friends. When camp was over I didn’t find my Mom in the car waiting for me as usual. Instead, she was right outside the door and had a big cooler. As the kids filed out of the gym she was there handing them all popsicles, making a big fuss over my birthday.
Looking back now I know that it was an act of pure love. She wanted to make a big deal on my birthday because to her, it was a big deal. Her baby was turning 11, and she thought everyone should know and celebrate. At the time though, I was humiliated.
For most people, their love for their birthday wanes as they get older. What was once a big deal and cause for celebration becomes a source of stress and anxiety. As we pass the big milestones of youth, we start to look toward those nice round numbers with dread. Each decade becomes a symbol of aging that most want to avoid.
I’m the opposite. I actually enjoy my birthday so much more as an adult than I ever did as a kid. Why? Because I like myself more now than I did as a kid.
Yesterday was my 34th birthday. As one friend said, I “made it through my ‘Jesus Year.'” So on the plus side, I wasn’t crucified. But there is so much more that I can chalk up on the “plus side.”
The last year of my life was incredible. I became a father again. I went to Africa. I played football. I started boxing. I started at a new church in a new community. I believe I’ve taken my preaching to a new level. I’ve made new friends and stengthened relationships with old friends. My marriage is stronger than ever. Relationships have been reconciled. Tears have been shed. Laughter has endured. I’ve been forgiven and I have forgiven others. I’ve learned. I’ve grown. I’ve fallen. I’ve gotten back up.
Why would I not celebrate another year? Why would I not look forward to the next? I woke up on my birthday and held a strong, healthy, growing baby girl that loves to snuggle and coo and eat and crawl. Another little girl came running into my room and hugged me and squeezed me and kissed me and just let me hold her tight because she knew that was all I wanted for my birthday. She is brave and kind and compassionate beyond measure. I held a woman that loves me with a strength and passion that I fall far short of deserving.
Above all, I woke up with a God that loves me unconditionally. I think realizing that was the moment my attitude toward my birthday started to change. When I realized that nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus, I knew that a birthday is something to celebrate. When I learned that I am created by a great and wonderful God that made me with a mission in the world, I knew that it was okay to be in the spotlight every now and then.
Yesterday dozens of people commented on my facebook page. Each of them wished me a happy birthday. I can say with conviction that I had a happy birthday – I had a party that was greater than my wildest dreams. And what’s more, I have had a happy day-after-my-birthday. And I will have a happy year, and a happy life.
I don’t believe that my life will be without hardship. I know that pain and sickness and death will come to me and to those I love. I will endure aging and stress and anxiety. I will suffer injustice, hunger, sickness, and oppression because the world does, and as long as one child of God is in pain, I should be too. Yet I know with all of my heart, with all of my mind and with all of my strength that I love God. God loves me, and there is nothing I can do about it.
So yes, I had a happy birthday. Thank you for the well-wishes. Thank you for reading. Thank you for sharing this space on the internet with me. Here’s to another year of striving to live well and do good in the world.