6 Lessons from a 35th Birthday

This past weekend, marked another year—breath and beating, sorrow and pain, laughter and joy, brokenness and heartache, health and strength—another year of life! After a long, full, filling day, that birthday night a few days ago was capped by one of my most favorite, though most neglected, things of all—reflection. Reflection of lessons that perhaps could only be taught to me that birthday day, about this broken-beautiful life we all lead.
Lesson 1: Spilled lattes are not a day killer
I am kind of uptight. I kind of like things to go as I’ve planned. I kind of like to sip intentionally. (Kind of is kind of an understatement).
So when a certain wily 6 month old tipped my completely full double-tall-decaf-soy-latte this morning, my first reaction was (ask D, he was there) less than roll-off-my-back.
After my initial exasperation and even momentary cajoling for D to walk four blocks back get a new one (yes, i asked him to do that), I talked myself down from the ledge. I looked at the unassuming, smiling face of that little menace, and was filled with gratitude—knowing that at one point that same place of gratitude once held longing. And in that longing from years past, what my heart would have done for a latte spilled by a rambunctious baby.
Spilled latte = no big deal = enjoy the day anyway.
wily guy
Lesson 2: Some things in life are just hard
Out of all honor and respect for the woman I love most in this whole, broken world, I have not reflected here about her journey. The basics of her condition, our supplications, and our hearts have been laid in other places, but the writing of my soul have been just there—on my soul.
This year, for the first time in 35 years, I did not hear from my mom on my birthday. She is here, so I have to believe, she is here with purpose. She certainly continues to touch and bless and instruct our family, even in the brokenness of her body. Mostly, she sleeps.
I am blessed by her spirit, even in her absence—reflecting on the intentional way she has loved me and loved so well.
The blessing is real. It does not change the fact that some things—the broken, unexpected, gut-wrenching things—are just plain hard.
mom and loss
Lesson 3: People are thoughtful and generous 
I had a table full of gifts from family and an inbox full of messages—thinking uniquely of me for the day. I am not one to think about my birthday all year long and am rarely the first to even remember the event as the day rolls around. People care.
(Of course social media creates an influx of well-wishes that would not have existed prior. But I have to think that it still took an extra moment, to “reply 1” or post Happy Birthday. I mean I see bday wishes every day and don’t pause to send my thoughts for all of them—sorry to admit!).
Regardless, I was struck by how well people care.
Maybe especially because I don’t.
Well, I do, but not in that natural exuding way that others do. One time my sister texted to ask if I had sent my nephew a gift. Nope. Not that thoughtful…or organized or on top on things or whatever combination of things it takes. I have to schedule my caring. Somehow, that’s just not quite the same? Or maybe it is.
But either way, I was filled by the thoughtfulness and generosity of the people closest to me. And it is a reminder that there is generosity woven into our souls, to be unleashed by love. A lesson I need to remember over and over.
gifts of care
Lesson 4: Feet-throbbing is strength
In my work’s journey, I have been learning that finding what is filling and energizing is the absolute best way to determine passion and strength. When you’re beat but totally jazzed. When time flies by. When you feel stronger and lifted up. That is filling. That is strength.
For me, that feet-throbbing feeling in the last moments of the night, that comes from a day of giving, means I did something filling and hopefully touching. Something strong.
Activities planned and details arranged, lunch prepared in love, mini-desserts created for a group of families doing life together, vegetables chopped for grilling and sharing, kitchen cleaned before sitting, thank you notes written with thoughtfulness, tentative new friends brought in to the fold.
I am grateful for the message sent by those throbbing feet. All standing, all giving, and all filling me up. It is like those sore feet are a gift to myself this 35th day.
serving strong
Lesson 5: I want to be the one who joins in
My guy will respectfully testify (but testify nonetheless) that I am extremely task oriented. Pathetic or not, just about nothing excites me more than getting things done. As a result, I often find myself as the spectator. And, actually, I tend to like that role. It goes hand in hand with Lesson 4, I suppose.
But, in my role as mom, as much as I want to hand down the work-ethic that has been passed down to me, I also want to be remembered for participating. So that birthday day, I chose to join in. Well, actually, I created the fun and then I joined in.
Slip n Slide. Exhilarating and laughable and goofy and an absolute blast.
A friend posed a question to her social community of moms recently—swimsuit or no swimsuit (eh, hem, of course there would be clothes involved if the latter) when hanging at the pool or beach with our kids? Overwhelmingly, the sentiment we wish to scream is “yes, swimsuit!”—to demonstrate confidence (even when we’re not feeling it), to normalize normal, to declare worth beyond the self-conscious comparison-plighted magazine-ready world.
So, I think that’s part of it, too. Bare the post-baby mama body and just join in.
We slid and raced and tanned and laughed. While they will still have me, I’ll join in.
join in fun
Lesson 6: Experience is the only sure cure to self centeredness
All lessons above inform and support this lesson #6. It is one that has been bouncing around in my head the past weeks.
A dear friend and I were just recently talking (and when I say talking, of course I meaning texting) about how it is experience that is really the only thing with the power to change us. We can hear and read about needs and others over and over. We can even have compassion and feel moved. But we can never truly be changed without the gritty, dirty finger nails that come from the grip of experience.
Or at least I can’t. Not with my filter. I cannot put myself into someone else’s shoes enough to be moved to genuine change of heart or action.
But now, by experience instead of by intuition, I can see into the worlds of others and connect—to parents doing life with kids on their own, to grown kids living life without the parent they thought would always be there, to the young couple whose waiting turns to crying out for hope, to moms who (are trying to!) embrace the post-baby version of themselves, to the family that looks differently than they ever even thought to think, to the ones who find themselves accepting and receiving beyond comfort, to those who serve to be filled.
Each of those experiences opens me to connect outside myself. To give of my learning, sure. To give of my experience, ok. To give of my less-than-perfect living-it, absolutely yes.
spilled latte
As quickly as mid-August came, it is already rapidly merging into the next. So, today, I both celebrate and cheer to another year of life!
To another year of broken-beautiful.

To savor. To reflect. To really learn.


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