D is for Different
Today is my fortieth birthday. It might just be me, but when I was a kid, I never once thought about what it would be like to be this age. I could imagine being in my twenties, and all the milestones of life you think you’re probably going to achieve by the time you’re thirty, but after that it all feels like some distant fog that won’t really matter because you’ll be really old by then.
The first time I thought about turning forty was on my thirtieth birthday. We had hired a hall so we could have a party and I was setting up tables and things and looking at my brood of crazy boys running around, trying to make sure they didn’t lead the youngest one out into the car park. I remember a very distinctive flash of the future suddenly passing through my thoughts, and I held onto it for a moment. I imagined what it would be like to do this again in ten years time.
I started at the thought that my oldest boy would almost be an adult by then. What on earth would it be like to be a mother to an actual man? It seemed so far off and unimaginable.
I thought about having two almost sixteen-year-olds, probably towering over me by then, with deep voices and all the different things that would occupy their minds as teenagers, so different to the disagreement those twin five-year-old boys were having right then over a plastic car.
And my baby, darting through everyone’s ankles faster than we could watch him, would be an eleven-year-old, the last one to leave primary school and about to start a new season at high school with his older brothers.
I wondered about the church we were in the second year of leading, and imagined a room full of faces I'd not yet met that we had impacted and drawn together - hopefully it would need to be a much bigger hall by then because there would be so many. Maybe Richard would have organised it as a surprise (even though so far he’d never been successful at keeping anything a secret from me) and there would be speeches by him and maybe from some of those towering teenage boys if they weren’t too self-conscious at that stage, and I would sit awkwardly with everyone looking at me, but it would also be lovely because of all the investment it represented from the past decade.
And that picture of the future passed from my mind, and I carried on chatting with people and making sure everything was ready.
That picture has come back to my mind quite a few times in the last five years. It’s been one of the many elements of my life that I’ve had to sit with and examine and ask questions about why it mattered to me, then accept that it’s not going to happen, and let it go so I could find a new picture instead. I’m so glad that I’ve had fantastic resources that have helped me take these steps each time I’m faced with the challenge of discontentment.
Obviously, the three hugest elements of that picture are ones I’ve been dealing with for ages now. It’s been an almost ongoing process of letting go of that future that wouldn’t have one of those fifteen-year-old boys, my husband, and that specific body of people called Home Church in it. There’s been loads of scenarios I’ve had to unravel and rebuild in my mind, and this is just one.
The good news is, that for every expectation you let go of, you get to replace it with a positive actual reality. So, THAT isn’t going to happen, but THIS is happening, and that’s great too. It’s just different, and that’s okay. It was going to be different anyway - no-one can actually picture a scene in ten years time accurately! It’s just more different than I thought.
So here’s my new fortieth birthday reality:
I’m not having a party that someone else has organised, with lots of mingling time to sit around and make conversation, with speeches at the end where everyone is looking at me for my emotional reaction. The introvert in me sometimes doesn’t enjoy those kind of gatherings. I’m having a games day instead, where people will know what to do because there’s rules for the social interaction, and lots of choices of different things to do, and hopefully no one will feel awkward or left out because people can play games together if they know each other or not. And I’ve written a treasure hunt around the local area for anyone who wants to do it, because I like treasure hunts and other people might do too. I think I only pictured that other party for my fortieth because I thought that’s what people normally do for big birthdays.
Some of the people at that party ten years ago were people I already liked, but I had no idea just how much I would grow to love them over the next ten years.
My beautiful sister-in-law Beth was about to marry into our family the following month, and I couldn’t have imagined then some of the adventures we would go on together and the unexpected dramas we would carry each other through.
I remember chatting for a long time to my sister’s boyfriend about his family’s story, getting to know him more at that party, and thinking how amazingly encouraging and insightful he was. I didn’t know for certain (although I hoped!), that he would become my brother-in-law, and I certainly didn’t know he would become one of the people who would end up knowing me best, and one of my closest friends and greatest champions in the whole world.
I also didn’t know at the time how many complex and toxic situations were going on the lives of some of the people in that room, and how we were going to see God do extraordinary works to expose, release, turn around, and heal things that at some points we thought were impossible to fix. The new reality is far better than what was lurking under the surface ten years ago. They can’t be talked about on here but my faith and my relationships are better today than they were back then because of the miracles I got to see.
Today's reality is that I am part of a fantastic, friendly, thriving church that has fun as one of its core ingredients. It’s got a different name and location than the one I was in ten years ago, but it’s every bit as amazing as the church I envisioned being part of.
And of course, I had no idea back then that the reason I’d thrown up my breakfast that morning was nothing to do with nerves for the party that afternoon. Nerves like that don’t last for the next few mornings in a row. That turned out to be the hormonal effects of the new life growing inside me, someone I definitely didn’t imagine standing next to me on my fortieth birthday: my nine-year-old daughter. Of all the things in that picture, that’s the one thing I’m most glad is different to the way I imagined life to be right now.
D is for different. And different is okay.
The Lord gives and the Lord takes away: blessed be the name of the Lord