I will celebrate my birthday on Labor Day. Not an epic birthday this year.
But last year was.
Last year, I turned forty.
My sister-in-law, Dale, assured me that I would really start living at forty. I remember sitting with her in Starbucks, sipping on a coffee. “It’s when you’re in your forties that you really begin to live! You stop being so hung up on what other people think about you,” she assured me. “And not worrying what other people think is so freeing! Your forties is the perfect decade. You aren’t so young. You’ve lived a little and gained some life experience and are hopefully wiser because of it. But you aren’t decrepit either. Embrace forty!”
I resolved last year on my birthday that my fortieth year would be different. It would be the year I let go of my insecurities and really, truly started living.
And I have, more than any other year, I think.
There have been many triumphs, joys, and successes.
I’ve traveled to many new places.
I’ve run a marathon.
I’ve jumped out of a plane.
I’ve whitewater rafted one of the most notorious rivers in the world.
I’ve made new friends and reconnected with old ones.
There’s also been hardship, sadness, and unspeakable grief.
I’ve cared for Paul as he recovered from two broken arms, a difficult injury for anyone, but more complicated for someone who already has so many challenges.
I’ve stood beside my mama’s hospital bed and sobbed, holding her hand, kissing and stroking her face, trying desperately to memorize her features, praying for help and peace, as she went to be with Jesus.
I’ve held and rocked my tiny niece for the few hours she was alive in this world, loving on her, telling her all the things I’d miss about her.
I’ve lain with my head against the fur of my good dog Andy, stroking his back and whispering in his ear as he drew his last breath.
I’ve learned that grief is hard on relationships. It’s very messy and not at all fun. Grieving people can be needy, overly sensitive, and terribly sad. Holding tight to a grieving friend can be heavy a burden.
Last year Paul insisted on throwing me a rather large birthday party. Mama baked not one, but two cakes for me. I, thank goodness, took a picture of her cutting them.
Most of my closest friends were there, and we enjoyed sitting on the back deck, just talking, laughing, and loving.
At one point during the evening, I was standing next to Mom, and she put her arm around me, squeezed me against her, leaned over and whispered in my ear, “My beautiful girl.” I’ll never, as long as I live, forget it.
Instead of gifts, I asked everyone to just write me a letter. I LOVE letters! They are so much fun to receive, to open, to read. And they can be kept, reread, and cherished forever. (Letters are also nostalgic of my school days, when the communication of choice was to write a note and slip it to a friend or boyfriend when the teacher wasn’t looking!) So at my birthday party, friends and family gave me tons of beautiful, handwritten letters. I didn’t even realize it last year when I asked, but those letters were a special gift from God, and the timing was just right. I can go back and reread those sweet notes anytime I need encouragement, a reminder of who I am. And because so many of them are handwritten, I feel the person’s voice speaking to me.
One letter in particular is priceless. You see, my precious mama handwrote one of those letters to me. When I see her handwriting, read her sweet words to me, I can hear her voice and remember how much she loved me and how special our relationship was. I wouldn’t trade that letter for all the money in the world.
In fact, those letters, written for me by some of the most important people in my life, are a treasure, more valuable than any gift could ever be. They are words of love, encouragement, and special memories that will speak to me for the rest of my life.
Because those letters were so timely, precious, desperately needed-true heart and soul gifts-I’m inspired to write letters this year to the people I love most. It will be vulnerable and scary to open my heart and lay it completely bare, but after this past year, I’m willing to take the risk because I want to make sure the people I love know how important they are to me. I want to speak words of truth and love over them, words they can go back and look at as often as they want or need.
Wanna join me?