On Turning Forty

Forty

She wasn’t big on birthday celebrations, especially her own. Being in the limelight just wasn’t her thing. Most of the past years her birthdays were little more than dates on the December calendar that was already filled with holiday plans. And with a birthday two weeks before Christmas, the two days’ celebrations were easy to blend together.

Her parents always made sure to treat her birthdays as special days with friends and family, parties and presents. But by the time she went to college those parties had come to an end. There were finals and moving out of the dorm instead of birthday celebrations. The truth though was that she didn’t really mind. She liked being busy about her own things. She liked the college life. She wasn’t the partying kind. When she first got to college she was seventeen. Her roommates and friends wanted to take her out the clubs, and she was ever so glad to have a reason not to go – She was under age.

No, she liked the classes and the studying. It was predictable and measurable. It fed her need for being successful. A four year degree for many could take five or six years. Not for her. She’d do it in four. Nothing less would do. Yes, that is what defined her. Success and accomplishments. Those were safe areas for her introverted personality.

When she wasn’t in class or studying, she was busy with extracurricular activities. It was through these activities that she met a boy. She’d gone on a mission trip and while there he unintentionally knocked her out with a basketball. Of course he felt bad for such a dumb move, and spent lots of time over the next two days telling her so. They were complete opposites. They looked in no way compatible, but against all reason they developed a friendship that brought the best out in each of them.

It wasn’t long before they were full of young love and temptation. They were still in college, but they thought it important to not cross those lines before marriage. Eager to marry, they chose a date in December – between semesters – and right between her birthday and Christmas. They were twenty-one and twenty-two years old.

It was a beautiful Christmas wedding that she would always cherish, but it was also another date crammed into her December calendar. It made skipping over her birthday even easier.

Years passed and babies came into the picture. Four of them. And as those babies became kids and teenagers with schedules of their own, Decembers got even busier. Multiple parties, cookie making, gift shopping, family get togethers… They were all good things, and most years she was thankful for the diversions.

* * * * *

She stared at herself in the mirror and contemplated her upcoming birthday. Her fortieth birthday. And somehow, she looked forward to it. She had learned a lot about herself this year. While she still dealt with some insecurities they were nothing like the ones she’d fought in her younger years. She’d learned a thing or two about resting in God’s provisions as opposed to her own. She was more often at peace.

She wasn’t thrilled with her fading leg muscles or the idea that she needed to take more time to tend to them, but she was liking the white hairs that were slowly appearing at the edge of her hairline. She’d always loved long white hair on older ladies, and she knew she’d like it on her own head as well. She was one of the lucky ones that didn’t appear to age for a long time. But now, as she looked in the mirror, there was not doubt that her face that was beginning to show some age. It had bothered her for most of the past year, but now she could remind herself that with that age came wisdom, a deeper understanding of her God and therefore of herself. Instead of criticizing herself, she’d remember that a smile and an inner peace were more attractive than any young skin or make-up. Not that a nice coat of make up didn’t help some. And for that she was thankful. She’d never worn much make-up until recently. Spending time in the mirror didn’t fit her busy life and attempts to keep the attention off of herself.

But this year things were changing. She had grown more comfortable with herself, more at peace with who she was and how she was valued by God and that was what mattered most. She’d learned those lessons through many, many hours of tears that were the result of struggling to be strong and in control of all of the outcomes and failing. It was exhausting, really. It was also impossible. And this year she really got that. And believing that truth freed her up from the bondage of striving for perfection. It was a battle she would still have to revisit from time to time, but the difference between the occasional battle and the daily, no, hourly, battle was monumental. This was the reason she had more peace these days.

Her phone to do list reminder chimed. She had titled the list with the date as always. December third. In seven days she would be forty. And this year she not only wouldn’t try to skip over her birthday, she was actually looking forward to it. She had already decided that she wanted frozen lemon cake and chocolate ice cream and that she would make time for a family get together. She was careful to get the Christmas shopping done and not to overbook the calendar this week. She’d take time for herself this year – another thing she was learning to do. Thirty-nine had turned out to be a good year. A hard fought one, but one with many victories. Forty would be good too. She felt sure of it.

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