Hey there, Birthday Girl,
Wow, it’s been thirty six years I’ve known you.
We went through quite a few rough patches there in Middle School with the zits and the braces and the little pudge- pudge on your changing body. Then in High School, when self consciousness threatened to crush us, we pretended to be shy to avoid the apocalypse of NOT BEING LIKED. We *may* have bit off more than we can chew when we moved our tropically inclined self to the eternal-winter-that-is-Chicago for college. But remember seeing snow for the first time there? Remember walking to the school cafeteria in the dark, winter night, your face turned up towards the sky while light flakes of snow fell rhythmically on your puffy yellow parka, your face, and delightfully landed on your eyelashes? And remember even then, you didn’t dare blink your eyes for fear of missing just one moment of this white magic falling from the sky?
It was with those same widened eyes of wonder that you witnessed moment by moment the overwhelming life that followed. Along the way I got to know you more. I learned you were fascinated by people, and could sit for hours hearing someone’s story. This made it so you’ve always only had room for a few close friends, but that was okay with you. I learned the reason you cry so easily is because you are inclined to enter into another person’s pain. You have the good gift of empathy. But I quickly had to teach you how to draw boundaries with your tender heart; not to stop caring, but so the sadness of the world doesn’t pin you down.
When you birthed your first baby and carried her in her infant seat to finish up the last courses of seminary, you started showing your true colors: a compulsive drive to overcommit. I had to show you how to wear the many hats in your life. You were a daughter, sister, and friend. Then you became a wife, mother, and a grad student. When you were thrusted halfway around the world you said YES to every adventure that crossed your path. I learned you are driven, task-oriented, extroverted, and thrives on a full schedule. Vertigo, heartburn, and several health issues later, we had a quick pow-wow in which I said to you: “It is time to slow down.”
When we slowed down, our relationship leaned in even deeper. I started to recognize the brokenness which threatens to take what is good about you and turn it for destruction. Your desire to achieve became competition over and against others. You parent out of love, but also a lot out of social pressure and image crafting. The drive to stay busy began to be fueled by a deep seated, spinning out of control anxiety. You lie in bed at the end of each frenzied day, battling borderline depression, fighting the existential anxiety of life and death, wondering if you matter very much at all.
Last year, you decided to do a very brave thing. You decided to start writing and sharing your words publicly. I know you were terrified, and still are each time you pull up a new, blank page to write. You fear writing terribly, over-sharing, self-promoting, being judged, getting ridiculed, and not getting enough attention. But still you pushed past those fears and you showed up to write, because you really do want to become a better writer and deep down you hope writing will save you from the brink of insanity. You were brave, and you have survived.
Nothing much has changed since you started writing. You’re still the same neurotic, anxiety-ridden woman prone to over-commitment. Except now you are a neurotic, anxiety-ridden woman prone to over-commitment who writes; and this makes you a WRITER. I know, I know, you are loathe to claim this title for yourself because 1) you have yet to publish (for reals) and 2) very few people read your blog and 3) your general opinion of your own writing is that you suck.
Hear me say this loud and clear: you are a writer. Do you know how I know? Remember when your brother had to draft a difficult letter, in which every word mattered, and you helped communicate a deep part of his soul because somehow you had the gift to be that voice? Remember when you submitted the story of marrying your friends and the words moved her to tears all the way from this side of the ocean because your writing spoke the depth of your friendship? Remember when your coworker sent you an email and casually asked you to “do the writer thing” and edit his email, and you sat staring at those simple words and teared up because he used that word to describe you? You are a writer.
I didn’t know you could write. You didn’t even learn this language until you were 10 years old, and in HS English class you performed mediocre-ly. (<== See, that’s not even a word.) It took me 35 years to figure out you can write, so for the love of God, DO the writer thing.
Speak the truth with conviction.
Tell the stories with integrity.
Be a voice in advocacy for the vulnerable.
In the words of Frederick Buechner, let your deep gladness meet the world’s deep hunger. Don’t pay too much attention to the crowd. The rejections of your submissions do not diminish your value. The big name magazines, fancy websites, celebrity bloggers do not matter much. You know who does matter? Your brother, your friends, and your coworkers. They are the people you are called to create meaning with. Write for them. The truth is, you are ever only able to write, because of them. Despite your many imperfections, they’ve stuck around to celebrate your birthday with you.
Can we really ask for more?
Happy birthday, you are loved.
p.s. Just checked, husband said you’re still not fat. Go ahead and splurge on the chocolate birthday cake.