(Photo Credit: Erica Chambers Photography)
It is a frigid morning where I live. It is a frigid winter morning to turn fifty but I’ve been anxiously waiting on this particular birthday for a long time. The arctic blast that blew in last night will not deter my mood on this fabulous fifty day.
Yes, there are silly self-indulgent things to enjoy, like my husband inviting his entire 1000+ friend list to bomb my Facebook page with well wishes and memories. Facebook birthdays truly are the bomb. Mark Zuckerburg should win an award just for inventing that. People who would never have bothered to buy, stamp and send an birthday card can casually but sincerely offer birthday wishes over the miles. It’s fabulous.
I also fully intend to frivolously eat more calories today than I need to exist. One day of feasting never killed anyone (well, within reason, I suppose). I’m dreaming of my favorite desserts at various restaurants and anticipating a lovely meal out with the love of my middling long life.
I am also excitedly expecting our far-away child with his beautiful wife and their precious babe to arrive for a weekend of celebrating. I don’t know much about what is planned, but I don’t need to know. I know there is a party in the works and it is not at my house. I’m pretty sure cake and friends will be involved. Perfect.
All I requested was a session with a photographer so we could get frame-worthy family pictures without anyone in a wedding dress. I can’t wait. Arranging a photo shoot with eleven adults plus four and a half young grandchildren takes a little finagling. It’s gonna be an event.
I’ve always thought birthdays should get a week, like weddings in antiquity. For years, our family has celebrated birthday week for each other and it involves all manner of specialness. As some moved away, we instated the birthday text bomb. As a family we all coordinate to text the birthday person at the same moment, hopefully when they are not expecting it. We send multiple texts, memes and stickers, spelling out our greetings one letter at a time. 142 texts blowing up your phone at the same time nearly crashes the server. We love it.
And here they come….flooding in as I write this piece! Some are serious, some are lighthearted, all make me feel loved and appreciated.
Call me a brat if you want, but we serve a God of celebration. We serve a God of parties. We serve a God of decadent feasting and decorations. Have you read the description of the tabernacle? Have you read about the wedding celebrations and dinner parties in scripture?
I am not advocating being a diva or overextending our wallets. Birthdays aren’t a time for people to be self-serving nor excused for bad behavior. We don’t have to sulk around waiting on cupcakes to be delivered to us, whining and wondering if anyone is going to remember us. We can take our own birthday donuts to work and share with those around us in celebration. Jesus’s parties often had strangers in attendance. Everyone benefitted from celebration.
Who can benefit from my special day? I think the waiter tonight will benefit. Once a year, I can match my dinner bill in tip to someone who has no connection to me. My celebration should spill over into some else’s life. Celebration should be powerful.
Ecclesiastes 3 (NIV)
1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
As I look into Ecclesiastes, I realize God set up a life of extremes. There is a time to mourn and a time to celebrate. We need not avoid either one.
Unfortunately, in our modern world we tend to strive for some flat-line life where there are no bumps in the road, a boring, pain free predictable life. When bad things happen, we medicate ourselves into complacency. We can’t bear to touch pain. When good things happen we are afraid to make too much of it. We tamp it down lest anyone else be offended by our good fortune. Instead we need to visit both extremes. If we grieve well, chances are we won’t have to revisit that pain in the future. Likewise, we should give ourselves fully to celebrating that which is worth celebrating.
For me, birthdays are a wonderful time for self-reflection and it doesn’t hurt that mine is so close to the new year. Perhaps I am already in a self-reflective mood. But THIS birthday is a milestone. FIFTY. I likely won’t live to 100, so this is the downhill slope. Or is it?
Some women abhor aging so they dodge the question, tell us they are only 29, *wink wink* and work diligently to erase the signs of time on their skin and hair. Skin products have been around for centuries but this is the age of serums: magical potions promising to erase years of hard won wrinkles.
Now let me be the first to say, I am no prude. I enthusiastically color my hair, apply skin creams and generally try to maintain a youthful appearance, but not because I am ashamed of my age. Seriously, if no make-up and half-grey hair were the current fashion for fifty-year-old women, I would be all over it.
I want to age gracefully, but not reluctantly.
I also never avoid the age question. Think about it. If I tell everyone I am 10 years younger than I am, they will probably smile but think to themselves, wow, those must have been some tough years. On the other hand, if I am honest about my birthdate, I am more likely to get a congratulatory statement on how I don’t look my age. I prefer the latter.
This preoccupation with youthfulness is deeply rooted in our culture but I cannot find it scripture. God celebrates age and wisdom. Our bodies are not designed to be here forever. Visible age should be a matter of splendor and a testament to our accumulated experiences with God.
Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness.
Fifty truly feels like the perfect age to me.
I finally feel (in the words of my father) old enough to know better. I’ve learned a few things over the years that now help me discern what is in front on me. I’ve accomplished a few ambitions, but don’t feel at all finished. I find myself with new goals out in front of me; goals I didn’t have the sense to formulate in my twenties.
If God gave us a time to live and a time to die, fifty seems solidly in the middle. In any sporting event, no one comes out limping after half-time. This is when you come out strong. You come out with confidence. It is not the time to give up in discouragement. This is the 3rd quarter of the game. Regardless of how the first half went down, it’s time to make some things happen. That’s what fifty feels like for me. I am absolutely energized with hope and ambition. I have more confidence than I had in my thirties. Having weathered some pain, it hopefully takes more to daunt me now. Stuff still hurts, but compared to my own past experiences, perhaps I’ve seen worse. I don’t want to be cocky, I just want my energy more fully focused toward kingdom work in this next stretch.
I also feel more available to God in this next phase of my life and perhaps I can even be more obedient. I have more uninterrupted time with Jesus now than I have had since I was single. With grown children and the rigor of active parenting behind me, I am finding a new role as mentor and friend to my children. I am discovering the intense joy of grand parenting the next generation. More importantly, I am relishing the hours and days spent with my very best friend. 31 years has only deepened the connection between us.
But my new hopes and dreams for this season are not set in stone. I want to remain pliable in the hands of my heavenly Father. I don’t want to set my sight on things below, but be ready to move at His nudge. After 43 years of walking with God, I have learned that he doesn’t talk any louder I just recognize his voice more readily. I hope that the miseries I have waded through can be used for the next half of my life.
At fifty, I want to embrace the extremes of life that come to me: life and death, sickness and health, planting and uprooting, laughter and crying, mourning and dancing. Yes, dancing sounds like a plan.