Last year I turned 40. There, I said it. Of course, it's taken turning 41 for me to admit it out loud. As the big one became imminent, I made two things clear: 1) I wanted to cross something off my bucket list and 2) I didn't want any presents, I wanted a party. I decided that I was not going to let this age thing get me down. I wanted to celebrate and celebrate BIG.
I have wanted to go skydiving for forever and turning 40 seemed like a reason enough to go for it. A few months before my birthday, my brother and dad arranged a trip and took me along for the ride of my life.
It was scary and fun and exhilarating. The scary part was when they opened the side of that plane and suddenly I thought, "Who in their right mind jumps out of an airplane?" Of course the other scary part was when it was my turn and my tandem partner stood up and said, "Let's do this!"
I said, "I'm scared. I'm SCARED. I'm really, REALLY SCARED!" As if he didn't hear me the first time. I'm sure he heard me but that wasn't stopping him. And quite honestly, by the time we reached the edge, he was shouting instructions in my ear and before I knew it we were tumbling out of the plane at a rate of 120 miles per hour.
Here's a little fact that will come in handy if you ever try this: it's really, really hard to breathe when you're falling at that rate. So as I was plummeting to earth I was thinking more about trying to catch my breath while following instructions than I was about the possibility that I could die.
Once the parachute was open, it was smooth sailing. It's unbelievable how peaceful it was floating back to earth. I smiled so much my face hurt. The landing was perfect and it was a high that I held onto for the rest of the day.
The thrill of the skydiving itself combined with the fact that one very big bucket list item had been checked off, left me feeling totally empowered and I loved it.
And that feeling of empowerment is how I decided I would embrace turning 40. This was part of the reason I wanted that big celebration. I refused to feel sad or depressed about this birthday. Age, after all is only a number right?
After 40 years of life, I realized a few significant things: 1) I could no longer include myself in the group called "the younger folks" 2) That was okay by me. With age comes experience and wisdom and a self-confidence that is truly wonderful. I know who I am, what I like, and what's important.
My wonderful husband planned a big surprise party for me at one of my favorite local places. My birthday happened to fall on a Tuesday, a day that this particular place is not even open (which I didn't know). Did he let that stop him? Of course not. He simply talked to the owner, a friend of ours, and arranged to rent the place out...just for me.
So there I was surrounded by people I love. There were people I grew up with, people I run with, people I've been friends with most of my life, people Nelson works with, and family. I felt loved, really, really loved and honored...very, very honored.
And seeing this photo while remembering this one
really drives home the fact that I use my hands to do the talking....even when I'm holding a drink and a purse. See, self-knowledge.
I am fully aware, at least as fully aware as I can be here on earth, that I am a blessed woman. I have led an incredible life so far filled with bounty, grace, miracles, experiences. I have a family who loves me and who I love fiercely. I have a husband I adore and children who have taught me more than I learned in all my years of school. I am in great health and good shape. I live in a beautiful home and have more than I need. I have nothing, and I mean nothing, to complain about.
Forty was a good number for me and I've been on that wave all year long.
And then came 41. After all the hoopla of turning 40, I didn't give much thought about my birthday this year. That no thought, well, it kind of back-fired.
Warning: This is going to be totally honest and humiliating but in an effort to share some wisdom, here goes...
Yesterday I suddenly realized I had no plans for my birthday. My mom offered to cook dinner but other than that, my day was totally open, an unusual occurrence for a birthday. I made a few calls to the sweet ladies I share my birthday with to make lunch plans only to find out they already had some.
There I stood, in the middle of my kitchen, with the phone in my hand suddenly overcome with self-pity. Instead of thinking how great it was to have a whole day with no plans, I thought, "Why doesn't anyone want to have lunch with me?" Silly I know, but it didn't stop me from feeling bad.
My mind went to all the birthday lunches I had been invited to for other friends. Instead of basking in the knowledge of how much love I felt last year, I wallowed in the pitiful-ness that no one wanted to celebrate with me this year. Why am I not the friend that gets asked out to lunch?
I brushed off those feelings a few minutes later in the full knowledge that what I was feeling was a bunch of baloney. I stood my ground in all that wisdom I acknowledged gaining merely a year ago and got over it.
Last night, as I was brushing my teeth, Nelson came into the bathroom. "Happy Birthday!" he said, as it was after midnight. Then he took a kind of meek tone and said, "I have to go in to work early tomorrow, so I can make you breakfast, but I'd have to wake you up really early and I'm not sure that's what you want on your birthday."
"I want to be at the office by 6:30," he said apologetically.
"Yeah," I don't think I want you to wake me before the kids are up," I admitted, having risen for an early run that morning. He apologized and I told him it was fine. And it was.
Except that it just added to my earlier feelings of nobody celebrating with me. When he left the bathroom I realized that the toothpaste was tasting pretty salty because tears were rolling down my face. Then I was mad at myself for being such a big baby. I'm 41 after all. None of this is a big deal.
But no matter how I tried to pep talk myself out of those stupid tears, they kept rolling down my cheeks anyway. I knew in my mind that this was crazy. I knew in my heart that I was wrong. But no matter what I tried my emotions continued to ride the wave of self-centered pity. I wiped and wiped and wiped the tears but my eyes were on a mission of their own. I blew my nose and made the simple acknowledgment that I was in a particularly emotional part of the month...ahem, I was hormonal and I knew it. No amount of knowledge, self-talk, frustration or wisdom could stop the flood.
I looked at my red, puffy eyes in the mirror and after giving up the whole "let's pull it together girl" failed speech, I gave in. I moved over to the "let's cry them all out now so when I wake up, I can be over it and enjoy my birthday" camp.
Then I heard it, that still small voice that has given me every single bit of wisdom and grace I've ever received, that voice that calms and comforts and calls me forward.
"It is by forgetting self that one finds."
This comes from the Prayer of St. Francis, one I love and pray almost daily. I knew exactly what God was telling me. In fact, it was what I was trying so hard to tell myself. Somehow, when God said it, I listened a little bit better than I do to myself (thank goodness!).
It was going to be a challenge to forget myself on the one day that is kind of centered on me but I was willing to take a stab at it. It had to be better than dehydrating myself via tears.
I woke up the next morning and was wished a happy birthday by each of my beautiful children. I had a phone full of sweet texts, the first of which said, "Have a glorious day with the Lord!" God was driving His point home.
My mom called and sang to me and offered to take me and the kids to lunch, "...unless you get a better offer." What better offer could I have than to have lunch with the person responsible for me having this birthday in the first place? I chose a place the kids adore and we all had a wonderful time. We followed that up with a visit to a local nursery so I could pick out a plant I wanted for my porch.
The rest of the day was full of phone calls, hugs, cards, emails, Facebook notifications and texts all from people who stopped long enough in their busy days to wish me a happy birthday and tell me how much they love me. Each one of my brothers called and sang to me. After dinner, every person at the table honored me.
By the end of my birthday I once again felt overwhelmed by how good my life is and how blessed I am to be surrounded by so many people who care about me and love me very much. I went to bed content, peaceful, grateful, humble and a tad bit wiser.
Here are some things I learned:
Lunch invitations do not equal love.
It is normal every once in awhile to feel like nobody likes you.
It is not okay to believe those feelings.
Feelings are just that, feelings, they are most certainly not facts.
With age, comes the ability to do a little self-analyzing and lose a little bit of self for the sake of your own greater good.
I am loved, very, very loved by lots and lots of people, most important of all God.
If God was the only one who loved me that would be enough, but it sure is nice of Him not to make that the case.
Do you see my face up there? Do I look sad or depressed or lonely? That right there is a picture of the
face of a woman who is confident, happy, and loved. That was exactly how I felt that night that I turned 40 and at 41 I expect to feel no different.