2 b : to mark (as an anniversary) by festivities or other deviation from routine
I turned 40 forty-one days ago. I know this with such precision because last night I marked the event with a 40 years + 40 days party. While I had the idea for this party over a year ago, I struggled with its execution. I had been in a such a dark and lonely place I wasn't sure I could summon the effort to prepare my house, the food, myself. But when I talked it over with J and he asked me what I really wanted, the answer my heart gave was to have the party. So we had the party. And J made it all so very easy for me by telling me to hire a caterer, pay a housekeeper and buy cupcakes. These things made a world of difference. I found myself able to read a few chapters of my current book before guests arrived last night - unheard of on a party day. Logistically, it all went well once I made the decision to move forward.
My heart was not so compliant. After months of silence from God, I finally began to hear the still, quiet voice I have missed so much. And one of the first things he said to me was that maybe the people in my life see me better and more accurately than I see myself. That planted the seed for a journal that joined last night's festivities. On a table in the living room sat a leather journal with my favorite pen atop it. Friend after friend took a turn sharing how they see me and what they see in me. Amongst my last thoughts last night before I fell asleep was the gift that it was to have friends willing to sit at a party writing in a journal for me - not exactly your typical party behavior.
Yet the journal idea almost didn't happen. Between the seed planting stage and its fruition at my party, I worried that I was merely shirking my own responsibility to learn who exactly I am. Was it wrong to try to see myself better by asking others how they see me? In the midst of my indecision, I shared the idea with a trusted group of friends - the Ish Girls (so named because we want to be Christ-ish). They were encouraging - one said the words would only penetrate my heart when I was ready, another said I can only go about learning who I am in the way that suits me - trying anything else will be fruitless.
I've only read a few entries in the journal. They aren't appetizers to be consumed quickly, but a series of feasts to feed my soul. When I tried to take a similar approach to opening my birthday gifts by stretching it out for several days, there was a general outcry from my children. So the gifts were opened in just two sessions - leaving me overwhelmed at how well my friends know and love me.
Also overwhelming was the word "celebrate." It just kept coming up. Several friends said in their RSVP that they were looking forward to celebrating me. Now, I love to have parties. I'm much more of a party-thrower than a party-goer. That's because when I host a party, I know everyone there, I like everyone there and I love seeing all of the disparate parts of my life come together. But I don't have parties in order to be the center of attention. I don't have them to celebrate myself. I have them to celebrate all of the wonderful people we know and having a home we can share. The idea of celebrating myself is, in fact, a little frightening. But it kept coming up - which always means I should stop and listen.
When I imagined this 40 years + 40 days party, I thought I would pick a charity and have friends donate in my honor - or find some other way to make the focus on something other than just me. But as I pondered those ideas, I felt that same still, quiet voice say to me, "No. Let this be about you. Just you." Hmm. Really? "Yes." Every time I prayed about it or even just thought about it, I could not get away from the idea that this party was mean to celebrate me. This required much setting aside. Setting aside my own expectations. Setting aside the judgment others would have about me. Setting aside my traditional mode of operating, whereby I deflect attention from myself.
A few days before my party, a friend e-mailed to say her plans had changed and she couldn't make the party. In my reply, I confessed my fear of the word celebrate. She replied, in part, "You are honoring the truth that God in you is real, good, and something to treasure. I will pray for you, as I know it isn’t comfortable. These things he leads us to rarely are. The things he asks are often what we would never choose for ourselves in our own willpower, but you are brave, and I see that in you even when you don’t see it yourself."
Did you see that word brave? I did. It stood out to me like it was written in neon. I had never even thought about celebrating myself as being brave. I was just trying to walk where God was pointing me, even though it wasn't where I expected to go or how I expected to get there. When I stop to think about it, that is a pretty good definition of bravery.
So I am trying to be brave, to read the words of my friends with a heart that is ready to receive, to keep my eyes open to seeing who I really am. I tried last night to celebrate with a clear conscience and willing heart and I will confess it was fun. And therein, I suspect, lies much of the lesson - that our bravery in listening to God's direction leads us to joy and celebration.