I suppose we get some choice in the matter when something terribly tragic happens. While we can’t control the tragedy, we can control our response. We get to decide how our life will bear witness to the loss, how we will wear the mark of pain. Bitterness is often the fruit of such things. The stinging truth about going that direction on the pendulum is that it rots out your own heart from the inside, I speak from knowing it too well.
The other end of the spectrum is learning to live in grace. To give it and receive it are among the greatest gifts of life. A piece of living out grace is receiving what today holds as something sacred. It would be so easy for me to look at my daily happenings and not see sacred. But in the midst of the mundane and repetition there are people I am blessed to know, lives that bump into mine in all sorts of different ways.
Years ago, I would often write notes to people in my head. I would have grand ideas about appreciating the small things and expressing thanks to those around me whom I treasured. But they rarely came to fruition. A great many things existed in the “someday” of my mind.
Then our life changed in a day and there were so many words unspoken, moments stolen forever and the searing loss that cut so deep. The world became so small. Time stood still. We held our breath for a long, long time. We held our children and each other tighter, longer. The sacred sifted to the surface and life was suddenly very simple.
Nothing was guaranteed to us. We weren’t promised six decades of marriage or stable health or the gift of watching our children grow to adults or any other thing that we hoped for. Today was what we had. And it would never come again. Our only options were to watch it pass by or to enter in to the gift that it was. We learned the latter, one day at a time.
We’re still learning. But one way that I’ve chosen to embrace the gift is to plan my own birthday. In some beautiful, mysterious sort of way, I feel like my life is a compilation of little bits and pieces of so many treasured people. Four birthdays ago in 2010, freshly aware of life’s unpredictable nature, I decided to invite those closest to me to dinner out on my special day. We shared great food and conversation but most importantly I forced myself outside of “comfortable, normal” and shared with them how precious they were to me. I wrote notes, gave them each something small that I had enjoyed picking out for them and just made sure that they knew that their life meant something special. I communicated in word, attitude and in deed that they were in fact the gifts, my gifts and that I was profoundly thankful.
It became one of the highlights of my year. And I’ve done it every year since, with two weeks ago being the fourth time. I spent all afternoon of my birthday sitting writing from my heart on beautiful paper to the beautiful women that I count myself grateful to know. I reflected on who they were and delighted in the chance to affirm the ways they were walking out their unique and wonderful lives. Something unexplainable comes from looking outward. Instead of bemoaning being another year older or fretting because no one planned anything fun for me, my heart was plum full because it wasn’t about me.
So if your birthday has ever left you feeling less than lovely, my challenge is this – look around you. You might wish your husband would throw you a big surprise party. You might be bummed because you know no one will get you the awesome gift you really want. But I would argue that people, life itself is actually the best gift there is. You may think those you love will be there for years to come and you can tell them later how special they are….but next year isn’t a given.
Today is what we have and it’s the only one of its kind.
Be it your birthday or any other day, try telling someone how incredible you think they are and see if your heart doesn’t lift just a little as a result.