I love birthdays.
I don’t think adults are supposed to like birthdays. We’re supposed to act embarrassed by all the attention or depressed that we’re a year older.
Screw that. I LOVE birthdays.
I gotta thank my mom for that. When my sisters and I were growing up, our birthdays were nothing short of magical. When we opened our bedroom doors, there was always a hand drawn poster with balloons hanging from it wishing us a happy birthday.
She had this uncanny ability to give us gifts that we never knew we always wanted. Almost like she knew us better than we knew ourselves.
And they weren’t just recycled gift bags with recycled tissue paper, like I do. Oh no. These were brand new, often involving some aspect of our personality. There was plenty of glitter, bows that would make Pinterest jealous and all day long, I felt like a celebrity (on the inside).
Of course I don’t expect Brad and the kids to have the same mind-reading ability. So I remind them repeatedly every year: I want a family dinner out (involving queso or zingers), a cookie cake, some flowers, homemade cards telling me how much they love me and NO SINGING. (I have a strange aversion to the birthday song. I don’t know.)
But seriously. I am SUCH a cheap date.
Then there’s Brad (whose birthday was yesterday). He DID, in fact, get the memo that adults aren’t supposed to like birthdays. And it’s not about getting older or anything like that. He just doesn’t really care.
I do not understand this.
We go through the same thing every year. As soon as September hits, I start asking him what he wants to do or what he wants to GET for his birthday. He reminds me that he doesn’t care. I remind him that I do. And round we go.
Although he did have a legitimate point this year: If it’s HIS birthday and I’m so hell bent on giving him what he wants, wouldn’t it make sense to GIVE him what he wants? Which is nothing.
I actually considered that for a couple seconds. Then quickly blew it off.
I wrote Happy Birthday on the bathroom mirror in lipstick and I bought him a balloon (but it was NOT a birthday balloon. Loophole!). I set out a few gifts for the kids to give him and reminded them to write him cards. Several times. (Teenagers. Gyah.)
The day started off well enough. It was Brad’s early morning of his pre-work men’s Bible study. But he felt loved by the lipstick on the mirror and the non-birthday balloon.
I put a birthday post about him on Facebook and got about my day. A couple hours later, a text from my mom changed everything.
A friend of mine, one of my Bible study girls from Ocala, had suffered a brain aneurism. She was brain dead and on life support. There was no hope.
I felt like somebody had kicked me in the stomach and knocked the wind out of me. It didn’t make sense. A young, vibrant wife and mom, always full of life and energy suddenly just…gone.
We weren’t super close and I don’t want to pretend that we were like some people do to get attention when somebody dies. But she was one of my BIBLE STUDY GIRLS, which is a special sorority of amazing women of which there are no words to describe exactly how precious and important it is. She was a particularly wise and encouraging friend when I was going through my divorce and spoke form her own experience.
And, probably the most painful thing to me, she had recently signed up for a coaching package and we were getting ready to team up and set the world on fire.
Except that was never to be.
I’m sure her calendar is lying somewhere full of plans for this week, this month, this year. But those plans have all been cancelled. Permanently.
I was sitting in my daughter’s open house last night, not hearing a word of what the teachers said, furiously texting for information when I got the word that they had let her go. My eyes welled with fresh tears, I fake-smiled my way out of the school (damn, those hallways go on forever) and walked briskly to my car, hearing the desperate line from The Raven repeating in my head, Is there, is there balm in Gilead…
I noticed the beautiful sunset and stopped a moment to savor it and its Creator.
Lord… You still got this… Right?
I didn’t wait for an answer. The dam was about to break and I made it to my car just in time. It wasn’t a diagnosis, something we all had time to prepare for. She was gone in an instant. (Not sure if either one of those is any better. It’s the same pain.)
I pulled myself together enough to make it to Walgreen’s for a couple things we needed on my way home. I walked out to my car.
God… I know better than to ask…
My heart is just screaming… WHY?
I felt His sad smile all the way through my body. You humans never get tired of asking that, do you? (Sigh.) Oh My child, there is no answer I can give you that would satisfy you.
I know that. I tell other people that all the time.
He pushed in as gently as ever. Well… maybe you should tell yourself that.
I released a breath I had been holding, nodded and got in my car.
As I pulled out of the parking lot, I made a sharp turn toward Publix and grabbed an ice cream cake and some candles. Brad said he didn’t need a cake or anything. We’re both trying to eat healthier anyway, blah, blah, blah. But I could not have cared less about his desire for a muted celebration in that moment.
Later that evening, Brad opened his presents. I slipped into the kitchen, stuck the candles in the cake, yelled for somebody to get the lights and we sang. He closed his eyes tight for a moment and then blew them out.
“I love ice cream cake, babe…”
But before he could say but-you-didn’t-have-to anything, I jumped in a little too intensely. “Look, my friend died today. And we’re going to celebrate. Because you’re still here and I’m still here and we’re all still here.” My voice wobbled and I thought, For now.
Clichés annoy me and I try to avoid them at all costs. But the thing about clichés is, well, they’re cliché for a reason. They’re cliché because whatever they say is such a common, universal experience that it may not even need to be said.
But it does.
As I think about the husband and daughter my friend left behind, the urgency, the NOW of life is pounding through my veins stronger than ever.
We don’t have time.
We don’t have time for stuff that doesn’t matter.
We don’t have time to waste on things that are outside our purpose.
We don’t have time to procrastinate or wait till the right moment.
None of us are guaranteed 80 years. We act like we are, but we were never promised that. And we feel robbed if anyone we love gets anything less.
We were promised now. That’s all.
And this is not a suggestion to go do as much as you can before you die. I’m starting to realize that life is more about quality than quantity. Slowing down. Being present. Soaking up every ounce of NOW.
Shauna Niequest said at a conference one time that her life’s mantra is, “Do your thing with great love right now.” And then she broke it down for us in pieces.
Do what? Your thing. Not somebody else’s thing. YOUR thing.
How? With great love. And if you can’t do it in love, don’t do it at all.
When? Right now.
Because now is all we’ve got.
My friend was an organ donor. Four or five people will now live because she died. I don’t know who they are, but they better not waste a SECOND of the time she gave them. But I have a feeling they understand the fragility of life better than most of us.
Let’s take a lesson from them. They’re getting more time. And so are we. We don’t know how much.
So let’s carpe the crap out of this diem.