It’s just 24 days until my 33rd birthday. And if I were still 13 year-old me, I would be super pumped and probably have a paper countdown on my bedroom door but 32 year-old me, not so much. Not sure when this transition from elation to trepidation took place, but since that time, birthdays haven’t felt like anticipatory milestones, they instead feel like checkpoints. Like judgments. Like letdowns.
I love to listen to my friends when they talk about their toughest birthday, toughest age to turn. For my one friend, it was 27. She could no longer say she was in her early twenties, or even her mid twenties. It was official; she had crossed the threshold of (dare we say) late twenties. For another, it was the more obvious 29. Just one year till the dreaded thirties so what was she going to do with her last year of her 20s? For me, I thought it was the aforementioned big THREE ZERO. If you were to ask my students that year, they would all agree. I was a little more than dramatic about my “coming of age.” However, they showered me with love and affection so what I had predestined to be my most dreaded birthday resulted in one of my absolute bests, concluding with a week night date night with my one and only. It was a simple but perfect day.
So, that brings me to this year, 33. When my mom was 33, she had two children, an 8-year-old, and a 3-year-old. When my Granny Simmons was 33, she had four children. That amazing woman continued to give birth until she was 42 resulting in six youngsters, beginning with her first at age 20 and my dad, number five came at age 40 after an 11 year birth sabbatical. I guess dad was a blessing of surprise. But not wanting him to be alone at the bottom of the birth order, Granny added one more to the mix, my Uncle Ray.
I know that comparison is the thief of joy, yet I can’t help but compare. I again look at my dearest of friends and they all have children, well 99.9% of them. Some have one. Some two. Some three. Some twins, some are in pre-school, some in elementary school. Some have middle schoolers (Bless them!) and one has a son that will graduate this year and will head off to college. Some dear friends have beautifully round bellies, percolating life inside of them until that moment when that life is ready to make its debut. And then . . . there’s me.
I think what also seals the deal is that May really is a defining month for me. Not just because it’s my birthday, my anniversary (coming up on 10 amazing years! Woo Woop!), or a month so jam-packed with professional craziness that it makes even Jason’s head spin; finals, banquets, yearbook day, graduation, etc. For the past several years, May sets the cutoff for motherhood, at least for me. If I’m not pregnant by May, then I know I won’t give birth that year. With just seven months lefts in the calendar year (really eight since May is still fresh and new), even if I were to get pregnant, 2017 would still be another year without a birth, another year without all the feels and experiences of motherhood. 2017 began just like all the years before it; excitement, expectations, and of course anticipations. But right now looking eye to eye with May, I pretty much can already see how this year is going to end, unfortunately not with a birth.
And to add insult to injury, May also celebrates Mother’s Day. Probably a day where I feel the loneliest, the most awkward, the most out of place. Having discussed this with a dear friend who is also in my unfortunate fertilely-challenged shoes, we both feel heartsick this day; we both often avoid this day, especially at church. Even though she is a fearless and compassionate foster mom of two, she doesn’t know what it is like to hold life inside her body. To look down and see the round crest of squirming and wiggling growth. To hear a heartbeat that also makes your own skip with elation.
Last Mother’s Day, I was just seven weeks out from my greatest loss. Seven weeks numb. To soften the blow, Jason took me out of town for my birthday weekend. I needed to get away but in reality I was running away. Literally, I would have run all the way to the Highlands if he had let me. You see last Mother’s Day was also my birthday. Talk about irony. I told you God had a sense of humor.
While Jason slept peacefully in our dog friendly bed and breakfast in Highlands, North Carolina, I curled up on the couch in the living room adjoined and allowed God’s presence to wash over me. I was reading Do Over by Jon Acuff, hoping to gain some clarity on a career year with also more than a few pitfalls on my behalf when God poked His head into my room. In the midst of reading motivational career advice, tears sprung up out of a cavernous well that I had been so cognizant to keep covered. What began as deep, hot tears of sorrow, tears of pity, frustration, and anger, slowly turned to tears of joy, of gratitude, and thanksgiving for those precious weeks of young motherhood.
Out of that dark room, God brought to light a memory. One that over a year later I keep recalling and clinging to for hope. Sometime last February, I was driving to work headed south on 365 and my normally lively Mini with “The Pulse” satellite station blaring was uncharacteristically quiet. With my super secret pregnancy still warm in my heart, I chose to spend that morning talking to my baby and to my God. Out of the stillness of that morning I began thanking God for this long awaited miracle and then I spoke out loud words that to this day, I’m still shocked I uttered. “Father God, even if this life inside me doesn’t last, I am so profoundly grateful to finally be a mother. I am so grateful for this feeling of life at this moment.”
In hindsight, what kind of mother speaks that kind of scary possibility into existence? What kind of dooms day prepper had I become that I would verbally anticipate a tragic outcome? It has taken months, a year even, but God has reminded me over and over again about that gratitude. Even in the midst of my greatest joy, God, my Father, was preparing my heart for His will. He was preparing my heart for the reality that the newly created life wasn’t made for this world. It was made for His. I had been praying so hard for so long for God to finally allow me to be a mother and in His infinite mercy, He allowed that desire to come true. God is good!
Hardest season of my adult life? Yes! But also the greatest season. When I am the most discouraged, the most human, the most self absorbed in my own little bubble of pity, I bring it back to Christ. Christ was not a father. He was not even a husband and yet He lived a life full of joy, fully satisfied and complete. He knew His fate and yet He lived a life, all 33 years, with gratitude.
That’s what I’m aiming to do now. In a countdown towards my birthday, and also Mother’s Day, that would normally send me down a dark and twisty spiral, I am choosing to mark each day with an act of service, an act of gratitude for the life that my Father has created in me. Now, these are not ginormous gestures of gratefulness but simply small acts of service. I want to christen this season of 33 with love, with thankfulness, with the mindset that even if my desires do not result in fruition, I am forever grateful for that life He created last January, for the life He has created in me, for the eternal life that I am so immensely far from deserving. Father God, even when this life doesn’t last, my unworthy life, I am so profoundly grateful to be a daughter of God right now, in this very moment.
So far on this journey of gratitude, I’ve baked cookies, mailed thank you letters, lottery tickets (so far, no one has won) books, showered friends flowers, and wine, and lunch, and dinners (yes, during tax season, I eat out a lot), and sprinkled Hall County with random acts of kindness, (more random ones clearly to come). The ultimate goal is to make sure that those closest to me, those I chose to share my life and my heart with, have no doubt their impact upon me. I want them to have no doubt how much their lives mean to me, how truly grateful I am.
If you want to follow along, I’m posting each act on Instagram with the hashtag #33actsfor33years. Let me know your thoughts. Tell me what I should do with the time, energy, and resources I am so richly blessed with. Who or what should I support as I inch my way closer and closer to what will ultimately be the best year of my life?
Maybe comparison isn’t always the thief of joy, maybe comparison magnifies what we struggle to see with our own eyes. This year, I’m choosing to compare myself to the only one who truly matters, Christ. He was given 33 years. This is my Christ year so what am I going to do with it?
I am going to follow Him.
I am going to love.
I am going to serve.
Today, on this incredibly Good Friday, I am so profoundly grateful.
The Big Bang Theory, Series 03 Episode 23 – The Lunar Excitation