Saturday, February 7, 2015

Birthday Blues to Birthday Blessings

It's that time of year again, my birthday.  I remember as a little girl I would run into my parent's bedroom, full of anticipation for my special day.  I would crawl up on the bed, waking them up in my excitement.  Gifts wrapped in colorful paper were stacked on the kitchen table begging to be opened by little hands eager for a new toy.  When my girls asked me today what flavor cake I wanted I replied "Bill Knapps chocolate."  We always went there for our birthdays.  A free meal was not only a treat for me but for my mom as well.  I've grown up and am more sophisticated now, but I still love a grilled cheese sandwich made with two slices of American cheese grilled a soft golden brown.

Then there were the junior and senior high years of school--awkward and uncomfortable, never knowing quiet how I fit in with my group of peers.  My birthday always fell on homecoming week, in fact there were a few years when my birthday was actually on homecoming day.  I remember one birthday in junior high.  It was a year when I didn't make the cheerleading team.  In a small school where everyone is able to be on every team and try every activity under the sun, it was rather devastating to be the one girl who did not make the team.  It meant all my best friends were on the team.  Game after game I sat on the sidelines, aching inside while my friends had their memories to create and share that didn't include me.  So when homecoming came around it tended to be a double whammy.  Many years I dragged my feet to the games going only out of an obligation and because it felt even worse to be completely absent rather than present but not included.  But this particular year a friend had invited me to sleep over after the game.  With my pillow and sleeping bag in tow, her mom drove us to her house.  We dragged our stuff down to the basement and when she turned on the light all my friends jumped up and screamed "happy birthday!"  I felt included that year and my birthday didn't feel so out of place.  

When I began a family, birthdays began to mean quiet dinners shared with our little cluster of five or if extended family was around then little nieces and nephews and parents all joined together to create a festive atmosphere.  I loved those years with my family joining in and celebrating together.  

With the birth of facebook came this feeling of obligation to post a greeting on everyones timeline.  I hated that feeling of reading my birthday wishes knowing I had missed my friend's birthday because I wasn't online or couldn't figure out how to see when the birthdays were.  I created a great deal of unnecessary stress around a day that I hadn't figured out how to share with other people.

Now I'm to the point where age actually means something negative rather than positive.  Gone are the days of getting a driver's license or being able to vote.  Now I'm plucking out the grey hairs and wondering how my kids grew old enough to be attending college.  Comments of "your 29 this year, right?" really do wear thin.  

The expat life adds another layer to the birthday dilemma.  We move every two years.  That's barely enough time to make a friend before announcing your birthday.  It's slightly awkward so my strategy has been to avoid mentioning it.  We work hard to make it special within our family.  Go out to dinner, make a special cake, love on one another.  

I've been feeling the itch lately to have an excuse for a girls night out.  I could tell several of my friends were feeling that itch too, it's been cold and dark and cloudy.  Spring feels very distant and we need something to celebrate now.  I decided to take a risk, invite them to go out to dinner and used my birthday as an excuse.  It felt vulnerable.  I didn't want gifts or even well wishes, I just wanted to go out and laugh and be lighthearted.  I made a list and sent out an invitation.  Then I sat there for a few days watching all the rejections fill my inbox.  Everyone had an excellent excuse, we live busy lives and an expats second job is to travel, but I still began to feel crummy inside.  Then I heard a quiet voice whisper to my soul.  "Kris, you have a beautiful group of women to invite to share dinner with you.  You are blessed."  I am blessed.  In eighteen months I have built deep relationships with women who fill the void of family.  As I sat around the restaurant table and looked around at the women who joined with me to celebrate I saw how God brought each woman into my life to fill a very specific place.  We ate and talked and laughed.  We need one another when we are so very far from home.  I must not forget to find reasons to celebrate, then take the hands of those around me and invite them to join with me.  

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