I sit here at my keyboard, writing and thinking as the soft and unique crackle of my wood-wicked candle (a birthday gift from the girls) punctuates the quiet evening. I think birthdays are a wonderful time to reflect on who we are, where we are headed, and what matters to us. What does a person know by the time they have reached 51? Are they wiser? Kinder? Perfected?
I spent this birthday bathed in love from my family and dearest friends, both in person and via Facebook. I was treated to a special small cake as well as an enthusiastic round of off key "Happy Birthday" (anyone who knows our family cringes as I say this! Hahaha!)
Oh my, isn't THAT an attractive pose!
You know how kids have certain years where they mature a lot? Where you can see them changing almost every single day right before your eyes? This felt like one of those years for me. The past year has been one of singular personal growth for me, of new awarenesses, of gradually increasing acceptance of myself, and of spiritual shifts. It has been a hard year, but a very good one...a memorable one in many ways.
I have rediscovered my deepest sense of gratitude to God for all that is in my life...for relationships, for abundance, for life itself. I hadn't lost gratitude, it was just dulled, tempered, not flourishing as it has when I am at my best, most connected self. Gratefulness is not something I learned while young, other than in the most "surfacey" of ways. It was a gradual learning of how much better life is when walking in gratitude that came over me in my mid-twenties, when I realized how I had the choice in how I elected to experience my world...and the choice of having a grateful heart was a profound one for me that transformed my life in so many ways. Feeling less in touch with this part of myself was deeply troubling, and it was apparent in everything I wrote, and everything I felt. It wasn't that I didn't feel it or know it, but I wasn't walking in it, and that makes all the difference. How silly it may sound to say I am so grateful for gratitude returning full flow!
This year I began to understand how burned out I was. Eighteen years of being in the trenches of building and growing our family took its toll. Ten years solid of preparing international adoption paperwork alone was enough to send someone over the edge! The intense therapeutic parenting required to help our kids live into wholeness was harder than I can ever begin to explain, and continues to be as we truly are not done and there is always a new emotional chamber to explore. Homeschooling five kids at different grade levels, some with tremendous learning disabilities which confounded every specialist we have worked with, has been the challenge of a lifetime. Trying to keep ahead of my gifted ones, thinking creatively and out of the box for them while still meeting this wide spectrum of needs requires a mental nimbleness that is hard to muster every day! Adapting everything, resourcing myself, taking on every single role that is held by multiple people in a traditional school setting...as well as being a cheerleader for each of the kids as well as myself...all of it has been exhausting, and wonderful, and magical at moments.
So this year I finally put myself first. Well, in all honesty, maybe not actually first, but from time to time I managed to create much needed space for me. I "played" for perhaps the first time in my life! I finally took to heart that I will be the lifelong caretaking parent to at least one special needs adult needing regular, consistent guidance as well as allowing space for growth for him, and I will likely be assisting far more with the girls for several more years. Recognition of that is more important than I realized, as I need to take care of my own heart and soul so I can be fully present and attend to their hearts and souls as they maneuver a world that is far more challenging for them than for others.
Perhaps the single most important thing that happened for me this year may sound harsh, and yet perhaps others can relate. I always try to be very honest here, and hesitated to post this, but decided to share because it was part of those changes this year has wrought.
I decided not to hate myself as much anymore. I have spent years filled with guilt about not being enough for others. I have spent decades hating my size, and how overall unattractive I am. I have spent long nights agonizing over "woulda, coulda, shoulda's". I have spent my days trying to please people who would forever judge. I have spent excruciating stretches of time worrying about how others would perceive my choices and our family's non-conforming ways.
I don't think I am unusual for a woman my age. I think many, many of us have these same feelings of inadequacy as we work our way toward being able to care less about the superficial. I am ashamed it took me so long, and more ashamed that I will likely struggle my entire life with it...but I am determined to let go of as much as possible and simply be me.
After our cake, I opened a special gift that put so much of what I have shared above into perspective for me. The boys giggled as Matt kept writing on the outside of the package, "Matt loves you more than Kenny!" and "Matt loves you more than Josh!". They had purchased this gift months ago, each chipping in to get it. When I opened it, I was thrilled!
It was something they had a hunch I would love...and they were right.
It was a plaque of a quote found on Mother Teresa's wall in Calcutta, and I was quite surprised at the fact that the boys would think of something like this for me...not a typical teen dude gift at all. When I asked what gave them the idea for this for me, my own sense of self was turned upside down when the reply was:
"Because this is how you are with everyone, so we thought it was perfect for you."
This gift wasn't "inspirational" or "aspirational", this was "representational".
Really??? Flawed old me??? I bit my tongue and kept from saying, "You've got to be kidding me." and instead expressed my delight at such a thoughtful gift from my sons, whose own depth always amazes me.
People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you've got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.
Turning 51 has certainly been a gift, in more ways than one.