Tomorrow is my birthday, which means that today, I am on the eve of turning 29. 29..wow, where have my twenties gone? It feels as if just yesterday I was celebrating my 21st birthday with my sister and a group of close friends at a downtown bar (my sister celebrated a little more than I did ;). and now, I am one year away from turning 30!
In these 29 years, I have experienced the births of my children, and the deaths of several close family members and friends. I have met and married my husband, with whom I will be celebrating 8 years of dating and 4 years of marriage this year. I have been diagnosed with a chronic illness, changed professions, and questioned my life and my faith.
I have also experienced what I, until this year, would have considered to be a series of “bad” birthdays.
To be honest, for the majority of my life before I became a mother, I was very self-centered. My concern lay primarily with if my needs were met or satisfied, and I often damaged other people’s feelings in the process. The person I am now sincerely and genuinely regrets who I was before. Those who encountered me as I walked my path through life during these years when I was discovering myself unfortunately formed an impression of me that was very accurate..a portrayal of a person whose world revolved only around her. This applied to my birthday as well.
Every year, on the days shortly before my birthday, I recall counting down the remaining hours until the day finally arrived. It was all about me, and I couldn’t wait to remind others of this. In the moment, I was excited, but I realize now that in fact the only thing that I was being was irritating.
I can still remember the first of what I considered to be what would become a string of bad birthdays.
Several days before February 10th, I awoke with a piercing pain in my stomach and immediately felt nauseated. I presumed that I had likely reacted to something I had snacked on before going to bed the night prior, and wrote the pain and other symptoms off, assuming they would subside after I began to remove around. Unfortunately, these symptoms were the pre-cursor to a stomach flu that would last until Valentine’s day, affecting my annual birthday dinner and confining me to bed. I remember, as I laid with a glass of chilled 7-up on my nightstand and my comforter pulled to my chin to fight the persistent cool that was taking over my body, thinking that my birthday had been ruined. I was upset, but hopeful that the next year would be better.
It was, and for several years, I had what would by any standards be considered great birthdays. I was surrounded by friends and family who loved and supported me, even as the person I was during those times. By any measure, I was blessed. Yet I felt empty, and the only thing that I considered to be fulfilling was celebrating myself, as shallow as that may sound.
And then, in 2011, my grandmother died. She suffered an extremely long and painful few years as her body deteriorated with the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease. My grandmother was transformed in to a shell of her former self, and her spunk, energy and outgoing personality was reduced to a woman who did not recognize her family nor herself. We all ached for her, and we knew she was in pain. She began a rapid decline at the beginning of February, 2011, and just a few short days before my birthday, we weren’t certain if she was going to survive to see the 10th. Our family sit vigil by her bedside, and we waited, our hearts trapped in our throats as we monitored her condition.
On February 11th, 2011, my grandmother passed away.
At the time, overcome with emotion, I did not know how to respond to her passing. I was frustrated, that the disease had stolen her from us, and sad that she was no longer with our family. She was the center, the very core of who we were, and without her physical presence, we were all left scrambling to determine who we would be going forward. I remember thinking too, how upset I was, because it was the day after my birthday. That time frame would be forever associated with this devastating event.
How incredibly awful of a person did that make me? I was so selfish that rather than realize the pain everyone was in, I only thought of myself. It was something that I would not realize until years later, unfortunately, but at the moment, if I had been the person that I am today at that point in time, I think I may have realized just how ridiculous I was being.
Then, in February of 2015, I would have what would be considered one of the worst birthdays, to date.
I felt nauseated for many days leading up to the 10th, yet knew that unlike in previous years, this was not a stomach ailment. I assumed that it was my monthly visitor, and also used that presumption to justify my erratic and emotional behavior. I stood in the Apple aisle of Best Buy, in tears and feeling utterly sorry for myself, and remembered thinking that like many of the others, this was another bad birthday.
At the time, I was pregnant, and did not yet know I was expecting.
With a baby who would never be born.
I miscarried just one week later, in a restroom in my office at work. I could not even begin to comprehend the incredible devastation my heart felt as I suffered painfully through labor and loss. I had a complete mental, and emotional breakdown, but most of all, I was angry. I was bitter, not only at the world, not only at my birthday and it’s penchant for having negativity surround it, but at my God, for what I believed He had done. I believed he had failed me, and I vowed, in my broken state, that I would forever hate my birthday.
It is now February 09th, 2016. My birthday is tomorrow, and I look forward to it with joy. My heart has never felt as content, nor my soul as peaceful, as it does on this day before the “big” one.
How can such a drastic statement be made after what I have mentioned above, you may be wondering?
It’s all a matter of perspective.
Rather than be angry if things do not go my way, I am accepting that these are not the things God planned for me at this season of my life. Instead of feeling sorry for myself if something comes up and detracts from me, I realize that the world does not stop simply because it is my birthday. Instead of being selfish, I’m vowing to be selfless, and thankful.
Even after I became a mother, I will admit, a portion of my self-centered ways still lived within me. But after a true devastation occurs, one that shakes you to the core and changes your entire world, it’s hard not to look back on who you used to be, and realize just how silly all of those things were. I couldn’t change the world around me, but I could change myself.
So this year, the best birthday gift I am getting is perspective. I am thankful to be given the opportunity to celebrate another year, with my children, my family and my God.