I remember when I was 23 and turned 24 and all my friends and I would say, "Man 23 sounded so much better than 24."
Well, I turned 29 this week and things have changed. I no longer talk to many friends because I spend most of my time working and parenting Jake. I also need things I didn't used to need at 23, like vitamins and sleep and nutritious food other than pizza.
But 28 sounded so much better than 29. 29 is one year away from 30. And that's when things really get serious.
Birthdays have never really been a great deal for me. I was born at 12:05 midnight on my mom's birthday, so growing up we always shared a birthday. It was really sweet and cute at first I'm sure, but soon she got pretty sick of the fact that she shared her birthday with me, and even though she always tried to emphasize that it was my birthday, the resentment was pretty clear.
So as I got older I always tried to emphasize that no, it was her birthday.
Eventually I got to sort of dread the day because it was sort of awkward.
My birthday is also usually smack in the middle of Spring Break. Lots of years, we would take family trips that week. So every year, my present would be the trip. Which was awesome, except my brother always went on the trip, too, and he got lots of presents for his birthday at the beginning of the month.
If I was a grateful and giving and graceful sister and daughter, I would embrace this situation and not complain about it. But I was not always grateful, giving, and graceful. So again, there was some awkwardness around my birthday.
Last year, Ben tore his ACL the day before my birthday, and that night, he had to be rushed to ER due to passing out from the pain.
So this year, 29 ... what to expect ...
This year for the first time, due to an incident that happened a few months ago, I wasn't able to see or talk to my mom for our birthday. I was sad about this, but as God always does - God took my sadness and turned it into joy.
I turned 29 this year and what I will remember is not the fear of getting older or the pain of missing sharing this day with my mom, but what I will remember is the loving blessing of all the people God has put in my life and how they shared their love with me this year on this day.
Ben wrapped presents for me from him and Jake, and he even ordered a cake for the Sunday before my birthday and made sure everyone at St. Philip sang after the service -- with the song leadership help from Gemma, our do-it-all church leader and a treasured friend. Thank you St. Philip (more on that later).
I got several phone calls from girl friends spread all across the country, and it was one of those days where with lots of meetings at work and then time with Ben and Jake before church council, that I didn't even get to listen to my friends' voicemails until the day after my birthday.
I've been wondering lately if being a pastor has made me neglect my friendships. I have this whole new web of people now at St. Philip who I spend time with, and pray with, and often the church's needs come before my friendships outside the church. So part of what I wanted to think about today is valuing those friends. I can't name all of the incredibly precious women friends in my life -- guys count too but we're going to focus on the women now because I think female friendships are so important to women today, especially as we balance work and family and marriage -- so here's a few, taken down as I listened to my birthday voicemail messages and texts ... There are many more of you out there and I am so blessed by you all.
To my beautiful friend Lyz. Thank you for your message on my birthday. You are talented in so many ways, as an artist and an art professor - as an impromptu hair stylist for two of your fellow bridesmaids at my wedding - as a singer at my ordination -- even as a chef who helps me find ways to combat sickness. I hadn't realized until recently when I added it all up what an incredible talent you are, beyond the art that has hung in my house. Thanks for being my Lutheran sister.
To my beautiful friend Sonya. Thank you for your message on my birthday. Your kindness astounds me. You are so kind to everyone you meet, and especially to me - your friend since we were 9 years old and our dads taught Sunday School together (remember when Ryan Gust was kicked out from class)? As we've grown up together, I am so grateful and proud of the women we've become. I am so impressed by your loving marriage and the man you've chosen to spend your life with - and by the ability you two have to even run a business together. Thanks for being my BFF (remember our notebook?) since junior high.
To my beautiful friend Jenna. Thank you for your message on my birthday. You could be running from one end of the country to another, practically running General Mills and kicking butt all over the place, and yet I bet you'd still remember to call and check in with every one of your friends. That's just the kind of friend you are: dedicated and caring. I realize sometimes on the phone with you that I'll have been talking about myself for about 15 minutes and I feel awful. Often as a pastor I am called to take the time to listen and care for others, but you have a way of allowing me to open up and share, and I am so grateful for that. Thanks for still being my friend even though I was a ball hog when we played basketball together for MGO Stars.
To my beautiful friend Ellie. Thank you for your message on my birthday. I saw a photo today on Facebook of you and Jack, both smiling the smiles that each of you have that can light up the entire world. It reminded me of how honored I was to share that moment at your wedding with the two of you, as you read your vows and committed your love to one another. Your adventurous spirit has taken you all over, from basketball stardom to Nepal to teaching at a mostly Muslim school. That adventure inspires me, and yet I'm so grateful for those times when both of our wide-ranging lives bring us to the same place to just hang out together, even for a few hours. Thanks for inspiring me and for those conversations we've shared that have encouraged me to reach for more.
To my beautiful friend Katrina. Thank you for your message on my birthday - and for reassuring me that motherhood and becoming a pastor have not made me a bad friend. You spend your days - and sometimes nights - in an incredibly difficult and intense work environment, as a nurse in the ICU. I remember when I was serving my chaplaincy internship and calling you often to ask questions. I admire your work and the way you minister to patients so much. On the flip side though, despite your important and intense work, you also have taught me how to have fun. From Adult Spring Break and your search for "Kyle," to making sure we won our last Florida Beach Volleyball tournament (despite my sprained ankle), you are a player I'd always want on my team for fun and for the championship. Thanks for being my church friend, my volleyball friend, and my Spring Break friend - all rolled into one.
Friendships are important. Sometimes as we get to this stage of careers and marriage and parenthood, friends become less important. We come home and want to stare at the TV and not talk to anyone. We vent exclusively to our spouses. I find though, whenever I do get that spare 20-30 minutes to catch up with one of my girlfriends, my world changes. I am strengthened, empowered, and refreshed. My friends make me a better me, a better wife, a better mom, a better pastor. I am honored to be in their company.
I was also incredibly honored this week to be among the St. Philip church family for my birthday. As I said above, my birthday could tend to be awkward growing up, and I basically tried to avoid drawing too much attention to it.
But this year, the Sunday before my birthday the whole church gathered in the Fellowship Hall and sang to me. We had a church council meeting my birthday night and they brought me flowers, and cards, and chocolate bars. The next morning, I went to women's Bible study to find a raspberry angel food cake with a 2 and a 9 candle to blow out. We all took a photo together.
And I bet sometimes I still preach too long or make mistakes in the liturgy - but this week this pastor felt so loved. Sure friendships are different inside the church and out - my church members will never know about that one time in Naples, or what happened at MGJH - but I am honored to be in the company of these church friendships as well.
As I think again tonight about why celebrating my birthday, or having it be recognized, has always made me feel sort of uncomfortable ... I think it's because it feels so undeserved. Well I made it through another year - 29 to be exact - NOW CELEBRATE ME!!!
But this is the kind of love true, real friendships give - inside and outside of the church. Our friends - inside and outside the church - love us and they know us. They love us even though we don't deserve to be loved. Seeing that love in action can make us feel uncomfortable or ashamed. Surely I don't deserve such as love this.
But this undeserved love is precisely God's love for us. The more undeserved the more Godly it is.
Undeserved love is what we are about to celebrate this Easter.
"For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us." - Romans 5:6-8
Martin Luther said that Christians are called to be "little Christs" to one another. Thank you friends, inside and outside the church, for being little Christs to me this 29th birthday and showing me such undeserved love.