Sometimes I feel as if I'm the "odd woman out" in my family.
Maybe that's the inevitable outcome when a family is composed of only four people. Maybe if I had more than one sibling, there would be someone who was like me.
But as it stands now, I'm the only one in my family who thinks Christmas colors should include purple, pink, and lime green. The only one who doesn't like chocolate. The only one who hates the sound of a ticking clock. The only one who has curly hair. The only one who reads and writes poetry. The only one who has more art supplies than any sane person could ever use. The only one who would rather make a gift than buy one.
And I'm the only one in my family who believes that birthdays are not about getting older or getting presents but about celebrating life and celebrating the people God has made us to be.
Tomorrow is my 29th birthday.
No, not the "I'm 29 again!" birthday but the real one. I do reserve the right to be 29 again next year, but this time it's the real deal. Honest.
And I guess I've had a sort of love-hate relationship with my birthday for a long time now. I love having a birthday, choosing a special dinner and dessert, and blowing out candles after an off-key serenade of "Happy Birthday"--all of it done while surrounded by the people I love. Somehow, it leaves me feeling special, feeling like I matter, feeling like I am loved.
But having a birthday in the middle of December means having a birthday in the midst of one of the busiest seasons of the year. It means many people are traveling to visit family, attending office parties and church events, and hosting gatherings of their own--all of it done while madly rushing around to complete a long list of things to do before December 25th. Trying to coordinate even a small birthday celebration during this holiday season is a challenging proposition. And when it seems that most people are too busy to stop and celebrate with me, it leaves me feeling anything but special, feeling like I don't matter, feeling like the people I love do not love me back.
Some years, things work out beautifully. Last year was one of those time. In fact, I just got a big smile on my face while looking through the pictures from that birthday celebration and remembering how fun it was and how loved I felt.
But other years, things don't turn out quite so lovely. This year has definitely been one of those times. In fact, during the week leading up to the chosen day of celebration, I probably cried more tears than I've shed in the last several months combined. Tears of disappointment, frustration, loneliness, and hurt. And then there was that little voice in my head saying over and over, "You don't matter. You don't matter."
It was a hard, hard week.
But during all this drama, I had a few important revelations about myself. And I am left feeling more than a little grateful for the chance to see things differently, however painful it has been to get there.
When I pondered the question "Why is it so important to me that I feel special on my birthday?" the answer took me by surprise. It's because I spend the whole year trying to make other people feel special--not just on their birthdays but whenever I think they need it--and all the while looking forward to and hoping that I will have the chance to feel special on my birthday. It's my one day of the year to be special.
The biggest flaw with this thought process is that it ignores my own responsibility to take care of myself. Sure, in an ideal world, I would take care of you and you would take care of me. But it doesn't exactly work that way, does it? I want to give. I'm called to give. But I also need to have something to give in the first place. I have to balance what I give with what I take in. And standing around waiting for someone to notice what I need and give it to me on my one day to feel special isn't really the answer. How can I expect others to celebrate me when I can't even celebrate myself? And why am I not living a life of celebration all year long--in the big and the small, the struggles and the victories--so that all the burden of celebration doesn't fall to just one day of the year?
The second thing I have come to realize this week is that I expect people to love me in the same way that I love them. I'm not talking about the depth or strength of someone's love. I'm talking about the way they demonstrate it and act upon it. Because I love people in a certain way--with gifts, with words, with empathy and sympathy, with birthday celebrations galore--I want them to love me back in the same way. And when they don't, all my old struggles with Shame erupt and tell me that I'm not loved, that I don't matter to the people who matter to me.
But it's a lie.
I am loved. And I do matter.
I just need to open my eyes to see that love doesn't always look the way I expect it to or even the way I want it to. But it's love. And love is a beautiful, mysterious thing that we all so desperately need--both from the One who is the Lover of Our Souls and from the ones who are the lovers of our flawed, human selves.
And I don't want to miss a single drop of that love because I am waiting for it to show up the way I expect it to.
So tomorrow, on my 29th birthday, I will be doing two things I've never done before. I will be teaching myself to celebrate on my own, and I will be starting a Love Note Journal--a place to record all the ways people show love to me throughout the year, no matter how varied or strange those ways may be.
It isn't the birthday I had planned or wanted or hoped for. But I am quite certain it's exactly the birthday I need.
And, of course, I'm pretty sure God knew that all along. Because He has a habit of showing me love by teaching me hard lessons. I guess we all know Who'll be getting the first entry in my Love Note Journal tomorrow.