Wednesday, June 19, 2013

When Your Little World Conspires to Love You Big

Early in the week he told me we'd go out Friday night. Nothing fancy, just a casual dinner for two in order to kick off my birthday week. I couldn't wait. We could eat tacos for all I cared. 

I was turning 40 in a few days and a girl needs all the celebration and consolation she can get; I'd relish every birthday opportunity that came my way. 

Friday finally rolled around and so did my giddyness. A birthday dinner, just the two of us. And my parents had the kids for the whole night. Even though it was casual I changed outfits five times like a fickle and fussy 20-year-old instead of the resolute and "mature" 40-year-old I was fixin' to be. 

"Reservations aren't until 7:30," he told me, "you've got time." 

"Great," I said. "We can just leave early walk around downtown. You know I love that."

We got in the car and when we reached the interstate he went south instead of north. North would have taken us to my favorite neighboring big city with the perfect downtown and the strolly streets I was hoping for. 

"Oh," I mumbled. "I thought we were going the other way."

"Yeah. Um, I know you love going downtown but I have other plans. I hope you're not disappointed."

And truly, I wasn't disappointed. I was just happy to be together and happy that he'd made plans days ahead of time and so thrilled that the birthday fun was beginning. Plus, he told me a few weeks prior that he'd already gotten my present so I was about to burst. {Even though, in my mind, we were only having tacos.} 

"We have some time to kill before 7:30 so I've planned for us to go look at some houses."

"Houses!" I shrieked. "We're going to look at houses?!? I love you! We could just look at houses and call it a night and this would be the best date! I can't believe you mapped out houses for us to look at!" 

I have this thing about looking at houses and I'm always trying to drag him into my little world of crazy house love. So the fact that he planned for us to look at houses? Well. It was positively awesome. 

After we'd looked at several homes and I was high on house love and birthday air and date night, he pulled into a nearby park and told me he just couldn't wait to give me my present. Wide-eyed and pulse racing and terribly sweaty, I just stared at him as he handed me a brown envelope and said, "Here it is." 

My 40th birthday present. In a brown envelope with "Hallmark" embossed on the back flap. It obviously wasn't jewelry or my dream dress from Anthropologie or a new house. A million ideas flashed through my mind and my hands shook as I read the hilarious card about turning 40 and the beautiful note he had written inside it. I was crying already. 

Inside the card was a folded piece of paper. Fingers trembling, I fumbled with the tape and unfolded the white letter and read the words and could not speak

Which was ironic. Because I was going to She Speaks. 

Some backstory. I've wanted to go to the writing track of this conference for five years. I've prayed and begged and dreamed and written scholarship contest entries. Every year the conference would come and go but I could not. 

To make all of this even more unbelievable, I'd gotten a message two months ago from one of my dearest friends from college. She lives half-way across the country and does a lot of speaking. She was flying to She Speaks and wondered if there was any way I could go and we could room together. 

My heart sank when I read her message. I knew I couldn't go. And honestly, I was mostly at peace that once again, this was not my year. 

But I did pray. I prayed right in the middle of the attic I was cleaning out when her message lit up on my phone. I told God that I wanted to go, that He'd have to work a miracle to get me there, that I'd be fine even if the answer was "no" but that please, if there was any way and if the timing was right, could He send me this year? 

We sat in the car and I wept. Shoulders heaving. Tears streaming. Mascara running. 

I had no words, only the raw emotions of someone who had been given a gift that seemed too big and too impossible but there it was in black and white, for real

It took some time to get my wits about me and clean up the drippy cosmetics that had run off my face like a river. My husband told me that we had one more house to look at on our way to dinner but he wasn't sure exactly where it was.

As we wound through a neighborhood I said, "Oh I know where we are. This is right around the corner from so and so and what's the address again that you're looking for?" 

We rounded the corner and there, stretched across our friends' driveway, were people that I knew. My sister and my brother-in-law, women from my book study and their spouses, friends from our small group...

And eight of them were holding a sign and each sign was a giant letter and the letters spelled:

It took a split second to register. And a few seconds to catch my breath and then the nervous giggling came and I started hitting my husband on the arm, squealing, Shut. Up. And then more laughing and some tears and finally, finally I got out of the car and hugged our friends. 

All of these people! They {and my husband} had conspired to throw a surprise party for little ol' me. I'm not sure if I'd ever felt more loved than I did that night. It was humbling, a tad embarrassing, exciting, but mostly overwhelming in the most wonderful ways. 

For a girl who loves a party and loves surprises more than anyone else I know, this surprise birthday bash and the She Speaks gift felt like a lottery win.

But that's not all. In lieu of regular birthday gifts, these friends and our families had chipped in to send me to the conference. I guess it takes a village to raise a writer. 

It was all a bit much to take in but I did my best to savor the moments and to be grateful instead of sheepish and all, "You shouldn't have done this!" 

Everyone brought food and there were fun drinks and cupcakes with Pioneer Woman's frosting and the cutest decorations you ever did see.

How cute is this? Paper straws with flags to label your beverage
and tie-on paper tags to label your stemware.

The party planners actually had a craft night to make all of this cutesy stuff. {What?!?

And my sister scavenged my parents' house for old photos of me across the years.

We all munched and sipped and laughed and made s'mores down by the fire-pit. Friends came and went and when the evening was over, the hostess sent me home with birthday cards and cupcakes and those adorable decorations. 

I couldn't have asked for more.  


Though the party has come and gone and my 40th birthday is now behind me, the love lingers. I didn't deserve the fanfare or generosity. Even now, it's so very humbling. 

Like most women I know, I have many moments of insecurity, I struggle to know my place, I have dreams and hopes and an equal number of fears that try to quash those hopes. 

But in the most unexpected ways, the party and the love and the community effort to send me to the conference--it's made me braver. Bolstered by so much support and goodness, I feel a little less afraid, a little less insecure, and a little more willing to take some risks. 

I tend to wince when I feel like something is over-spiritualized and I don't want what I'm about to say to be that. But here it goes...

This whole 40th birthday experience was like a divine gift, a message from God himself that said, 

These last 2 1/2 years, they threatened to swallow you up, steal your joy, and smother your spirit for good. But I had other plans. I love you more than you can possibly know and I'm showing you tangibly, in ways that you can appreciate because they're so personal and so real and kind of ridiculous in their bigness. I'm loving you through all of these people, my people and your people. Just receive it and receive them and know that it's all love.

And so I have. And I am. My birthday will sort of be this ongoing gift because the conference isn't until late July and I hope that the fruit from it will continue long after it's over. 

Perhaps there's one more take-away from all of this. Celebrate your people. Not everyone loves a surprise or longs for a big party or a writing conference or book-page accordion decorations. But I think we all long to be loved in big ways once in a while and loved regularly in little ways that surprise and delight and keep us going. 

Because you never know, cupcakes and celebration may be just the expression someone needs to show them just how much they're loved and to make them just a bit braver.

1 comment:

  1. Girl, left you a message know you made me ball like a baby. Happy 40th my sweet precious friend. I have been praying for so long for you to be able to write as a career. God's on the move. Your friends, your decorations, your husband, your party, your gift are all so precious and perfect! I'm so glad you have so many who love you and that you were encouraged and strengthened and lifted high!
    Scream your story from the mountain tops girl! I'll be listening for your voice!
    I love you dearly.....


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