I have always loved birthdays. If you have spent much time on my blog, you probably know that one of my greatest delights is planning birthday parties. I can spend hours baking, crafting and fussing over the tiniest of details, hoping to make loved ones feel treasured on their special days.
But you might not realize that I have always eagerly anticipated my own birthday, as well. Of course, as a child I counted half-birthdays and quarter-birthdays. I could not wait to be another year older and looked forward to the opportunities each new stage of life would bring. The twelve months from one birthday to the next seemed an eternity away, and my future stretched as far as forever.
As I have grown older, the years seem to pass more quickly. Yet the brightness of my candle-heavy cake has not dimmed my enthusiasm for celebrating birthdays. Although I stopped counting half- and quarter-birthdays years ago, I still look forward to December 27th each year. I recognize that each new day is a gift from God and feel blessed to say I have really lived each year of my life.
I must admit, though, that recently my enthusiasm began to falter. My 40th birthday loomed ahead, and for the life of me I could not figure out how it got here so fast. It seems like just last year I was anticipating turning 25, 13 or even 6. But 40? That was so far away to the 5-year-old who felt like a queen in her sticker-covered paper birthday crown.
My reflection reminds me daily that I am not as young as I used to be, and my body has let me know that I am getting a little older each day. Issues of appearance and aging have troubled me, but with introspection I realize that my greatest sense of unrest has come from dread of the unknown.
Looking into the 40s, I have worried about what challenges this decade might bring. While in my 30s our household grew to welcome two daughters, in my 40s three out of four children will graduate high school and leave the nest. My mother was in her 40s when she was diagnosed with cancer, and I wonder sometimes if I will begin a decade of grueling treatments like she endured. And if I think about the health problems my husband has faced in the past few years, in my darkest moments I worry that during this decade he will die and leave me to continue this earthly journey without him.
I must admit, for a time I let fear steal much of my joy for the birthday that comes unbidden today.
My 30s were so good, I found myself thinking. Why can't I just stay here?
But recently a few things have become clear. First of all, my 30s were good. Despite years of back problems that culminated in a major surgery and extensive recovery, I look back and say that my 30s were good. Within months of my surgery, we lost my mother to multiple myeloma. And within weeks of her funeral, Joe was hospitalized with kidney failure. One after another the challenges came during that tumultuous few months, but throughout it all I knew that God was with me. Throughout the storms, I could feel His steadying hand. I was OK, God was in control, and life was still good.
I take strength from passages like Isaiah 43:1-3, which reminds me that God will never forsake me: "But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, 'Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior ... ." As the popular adage suggests, if God brings you to it He will bring you through it.
Second, God loves to bless me. I take such delight in planning birthday surprises for my children, but my generosity and love cannot compare to that of my Father in heaven. Matthew 7:11 reminds me, "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!" God has blessed me beyond my wildest dreams, and His joys are new every morning. I can look forward to the days to come, knowing that He promises "a future and a hope" (Jeremiah 29:11). And that even during difficult times, He will find new ways to demonstrate His boundless love.
Third, worries over losing loved ones are quieted with the realization that I will never be without love in my life. God's love is ever-present, but Psalm 68:6 also tells us that "God sets the lonely in families." Those dearest to me may grow up, grow away, move away or pass away, but God has set me in a forever family in adding me to His church.
My mind goes to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Scripture does not mention her husband, Joseph, during the latter events of Jesus' life, so most scholars assume he died at some point before Jesus' death. In the final moments of His life, Jesus asked a friend to care for Mary. How heart-shattering it must have been for Mary to bear witness to the brutal crucifixion of her perfect Son, yet her story does not end with Jesus' death. After His resurrection and transfiguration, Mary is listed among the faithful when we read about the early church in the book of Acts (Acts 1:14). How comforting it is to leave her, not weeping at the foot of the cross or lingering in the empty tomb, but living for Jesus in the bosom of His spiritual family. As part of God's family, I can rest assured that come what may, I can have all the love my heart can hold.
And finally, another year gives me more time to grow into the fullness of the person God wants me to be. What a blessing it will be to look back on my 40s if I am growing spiritually throughout this decade. If I am prayerful and devoted to His Word, imagine how much closer I will be to my Father in 10 years. Ephesians 4:15 tells us "we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ." If I greet each day of my 40s eager to learn, stretch and serve, just imagine the person I will become.
Even as I see my outer beauty fading, my inner beauty can shine brighter than ever. First Peter 3:3-4 cautions, "And let not your adornment be merely external -- braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God." That sounds like just the girl I long to be.
Forty. The big 4-0. Ready or not, here it comes. Although I still can't believe I have reached this number so fast, I no longer view it as a millstone to dread but a milestone to celebrate. I am grateful for the gift of another year and look forward to unwrapping it day by day.
So light the candles, make a wish and throw the confetti. Forty is fabulous!
Be sure to stop in tomorrow for a sparkly birthday surprise -- a little gift for you. And as excited as I am to turn 40, I am willing to accept comments of surprise that I am not 25.
(Photo from BigStock Photos. Used with permission.)