The Secret of Life

Today I am 54. Five-freaking-four. And I just have one question…

How in the world did I get here so fast?

I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately – days, hours, minutes, moments – and how I don’t treasure it like I should.

Whether you’re on the upward climb or over the hill like me…

Time is a precious commodity.

A coveted invitation.

An equal opportunity employer, if you will.

Time affords endless opportunities to those who make the most of it.

But who really knows how scarce it is… until it’s slipping away…

Or gone.

Carpe Diem and all that.

Somebody a whole lot smarter than me noted that how we spend our days is how we spend our lives:

Work/school/apprenticeship.

Chores/errands/obligations.

Talk/text/tweet.

Run/spin/swim.

Eat.

Sleep.

Shower.

Repeat.

Every. Doggone. Day.

That, my friends, is what’s known as the rat race… the hamster wheel… Groundhog Day.

(I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not be likened to a rodent. Of any variety.)

The secret of life?

Pretty sure JT nailed it.

(No disrespect to the “other” JT, but I’m referring to Sweet Baby James here.)

Once upon a time, he wrote a song about how to live happily ever after:

The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time
Any fool can do it
There ain’t nothing to it
Nobody knows how we got to the top of the hill
But since we’re on our way down
We might as well enjoy the ride

The secret of love is in opening up your heart
It’s okay to feel afraid
But don’t let that stand in your way
Because anyone knows that love is the only road
And since we’re only here for a while
Might as well show some style

Give us a smile
Isn’t it a lovely ride?
Sliding down, gliding down
Try not to try too hard
It’s just a lovely ride

Now the thing about time is that time isn’t really real
It’s just your point of view
How does it feel for you?
Einstein said he could never understand it all
Planets a-spinning through space
The smile upon your face

Welcome to the human race
Some kind of lovely ride
I’ll be sliding down
I’ll be gliding down
Try not to try too hard
It’s just a lovely ride

Isn’t it a lovely ride?
See me sliding down
Gliding down
Try not to try too hard
It’s just a lovely ride

It is a lovely ride.

If you’re not stuck in the past… or frantic about the future… (or lost somewhere in the middle).

Most of us find ourselves fluctuating wildly between the two. More often than we ought.

Shackled by past losses/wounds/regrets/mistakes.

Or dreading what lies ahead.

The future isn’t even here yet. Yes, it’s inevitably coming. But the good news is God’s already there… and if you know Him at all, you know He’s got you.

He’s got plenty of grace for your past and a firm grip on your future. And He’s always, always present.

So… it’s (really truly) all good.

Whew.

So savor today.

Smile.

Be kind.

Listen closely.

Stay humble.

Learn to cook one really great meal.

Give thanks.

Get real.

Notice beauty.

Be still.

Keep learning.

Share what you’ve got.

Say I’m sorry.

Pray.

Push yourself a little. (Comfort zones can be traps.)

Look for the good.

Laugh at yourself.

Love. Everybody. Always.

(Don’t fake it.)

We get one swing at today… and then it slips away.

So we oughtta enjoy it while it lasts. Cherish the good and gratifying. Toss the rest. Celebrate small blessings and minor victories and tiny miracles. Relish every last joyful, beautiful, wonderful thing.

Today is a gift.

That’s why we call it the present.

(And the present calls for CAKE.)

With love and buttercream,

The Birthday Girl

P.S. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined the things that God has prepared for those who love Him.” ~ 1 Corinthians 2:9

 

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The Dash

Birthday girl. Vintage 1965 here.

As of today, I’ve taken 53 trips around the sun, and I’m pretty pumped for this next one. ‘Cause it’s a bonus trip!

(More on that here.)

Not sure why some people choose to keep their birthdays hush-hush. Not me. I’m all like…

IT’S MY BIRTHDAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I’m kind of a party girl. Not the lampshade-as-fascinator type; more the confetti-and-cupcakes variety. If there’s something to celebrate – birthday, half birthday, dog birthday, holy day, holiday or Hallmark holiday – count me in. There’s so much hard and bitter in life, I’m darn sure gonna relish/revel/rejoice over anything happy, sacred or sweet.

Yep, I’m pretty much all in for anything that involves balloons, bouquets or buttercream. I will savor every single birthday treat/text/call/card I get today. And I will be using French words like “fete” and “soiree” to describe my little dinner party this evening… rather than “crockpot tacos.” (Because birthday girls get to be all sorts of fancy for a day.)

Though I fretted a bit about turning 30 (full-fledged adult, married with two kids, unrelenting responsibilities and piles of laundry, a perpetual state of sleep deprivation and the unfortunate appearance of fine lines and wrinkles while still sporting the occasional pimple), 40 was a breeze. And 50 felt all kinds of fine.

I have very little angst about getting old. Heck, I’m already there. And the view’s pretty good. See?

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Note to all you young ‘uns: Over the hill has some pretty spectacular views. (This one’s in Ojai.)

Yes, I’m a bit saggy/raggedy/wrinkly and all that. But I’ve tried a bunch of anti-aging creams, cleansers and concentrates, and here’s what I’ve concluded:

  1. They are pricey.
  2. They do not prevent aging.

Bummer.

Despite that disappointing discovery, I’m not planning to have anything lasered, peeled or injected either. That all sounds rather unpleasant. (And if a birthday is anything at all, it ought to be pleasant.) Why would I choose pain and suffering when there’s already plenty thrown my direction by… well… life?

Plus, I try to avoid things that are poisonous. Even those little packets that come inside shoe boxes and bags of beef jerky freak me out. I don’t want to keep them… but I don’t want to throw them in the garbage either, for fear of a deadly dumpster-diving incident involving a lost dog, city mouse, night owl or alley cat. (Or a bar-hopper with a bad case of the munchies.)

I’m the girl that buys Clorox Surface Sanitizing Spray in bulk. Because it kills 99.9% of bacteria, that’s why.

Including – wait for it – botulism.

So I’m not gonna let someone inject it into my face. (Duh.)

Physicality is overrated anyway.

And aging is inevitable. However, aging “gracefully” isn’t a concept I fully understand. Don’t get me wrong; I have no interest in fighting it. It’s unavoidable. But I do want a say in how I “reel in the years.” Personally, I like Hunter Thompson’s approach:

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

It’s now how we look that matters. It’s how we live.

It’s all about the dash.

1965 — 20??

(Only God knows my expiration date. And His timing – even when He seems terribly late or startlingly abrupt – is always impeccable.)

The dash is the thing.

I want my dash to be brimming with beauty, mercy, goodness and grace. I want to devote my entire dash to loving God and the people He’s given me… with gusto.

I’d like my dash to look a whole lot like this:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it…

The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him…

Let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.

If you preach, just preach God’s Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don’t take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy; if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate; if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face.

Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.

Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.

Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.

Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”

Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good. 

~ Romans 12, The Message

That’s my itinerary for this next trip around the sun – offering and embracing, helping and holding, giving and forgiving, smiling and celebrating. (Every chance I get.)

Because from any view, that looks simply… dashing. Don’t you think?

Cheers!

The Birthday Girl

P.S. I suppose some people would say I’m just one year closer to dying. But I know – perhaps more than I’ve ever known anything – that I’m one year closer to really living.

Because heaven’s ahead!

“Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.” ~ C.S. Lewis

Like I’m Dyin’

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My dear reader,

I know this is a rather odd (ok, morbid) title for a birthday blog, but let me explain. I am 52 today. Five-O (sadly, Hawaii did not precede that milestone) is in the rearview mirror… and double nickel’s on the horizon. So what’s the big deal?

52 is a touchstone for me. You see, it’s the last birthday my mom celebrated on this earth. She didn’t live to see her 53rd. She fell ill on a Sunday morning, and she went home to Jesus two days later. God gave her a half century… and then He gave her heaven.

The truth is… we’re all dying.

Young, old, middle-aged… each day, we’re one stride closer to the finish line. We just don’t know when we’ll cross it. Why are some lives medically extended or miraculously saved… while others are suddenly, inexplicably ended or lost? Honestly, I have no idea. The whole “life expectancy” thing seems rather arbitrary to me. But here’s what I do know:

Though some lifetimes are seemingly “cut short” by cancer or car wrecks or catastrophes, every single human life has been perfectly (painstakingly) marked and measured by the One who breathes life and bestows it.

God wasn’t far off when that tiny baby was stillborn. He doesn’t ignore the grim diagnosis or disregard the storm brewing off the coast. He isn’t inattentive to the precious souls who die by suicide… or by suicide bombers. He didn’t abandon those who succumbed to Alzheimer’s or addiction. God wasn’t off duty when the fire started or the train derailed. He wasn’t oblivious when the towers fell or the tornado hit or the driver ran the red light. He doesn’t miss – or dismiss – the cries of wounded warriors or starving children. Or the suffering of the sick-and-dying. God didn’t abandon, forget, or fail any of those whose lives were stricken or taken or embattled or brief.

Not one.

This past year, I lost two dear friends. One to a terrible accident, another to a dreaded disease. Both my age. “Gone too soon” was the common refrain. And it sure felt like it. But later I realized they had lived their lives – fully, freely – in their God-given lifetimes. He knew the when and the why of their deaths. And despite the circumstantial evidence, He had not forsaken nor failed my friends. Or their families.

Still, when someone close dies, grief issues a gutwrenching reminder:

Life is fleeting.

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. (James 4:14)

That’s some hard-hitting truth right there.

I haven’t the faintest clue what tomorrow holds. And I have very little say in how my story will end. So I really ought to make the most of this day – my birthday! – and every day thereafter. Because who knows how many more I will have?

God alone.

God knows how many days I will live and breathe on planet Earth. Just like He knew all my mom’s days.

19,209.

That was the sum of her days. She had 19,209 days of living and breathing. Learning and growing. Giving, forgiving, and being forgiven. Working, playing, parenting and praying. Holding, scolding, counseling, cuddling… and muddling through. Making beds, making dinner, making mistakes. Living, laughing, loving, being loved.

And just shy of 20,000 days, she crossed the finish line.

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)

Yes, Lord, teach me.

Several years ago, Tim McGraw wrote a song about his daddy, who died at 59. Along with a fistful of memories, Tug McGraw left his son a good life lesson… and some award-winning, heartwarming lyrics:

I finally read the Good Book, and I
Took a good, long, hard look
At what I’d do if I could do it all again
And then…

I went skydiving
I went Rocky Mountain climbing
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu.
And I loved deeper
And I spoke sweeter
And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying.
And he said,
“Someday I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dying,
Like tomorrow was a gift
And you’ve got eternity
To think about
What you’d do with it.
What could you do with it?”
What did I do with it?
What would I do with it?

I’ve been thinking a lot about that. What I will do with the gift of tomorrow. And the day after that, if God grants it.

A while back, I took out a pen and started a “bucket list.” (No kidding.) And every time I cross something off, I add something new… because adventure is out there, that’s why.

I want to grow watermelons and write a bestseller and perfect my scorpion pose. I want to make Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon and French Quarter beignets. I want to taste sea urchin, see the Alps, float in the Dead Sea, and hike the red rocks of Sedona. I’d like to see Sade live in concert (preferably in Sydney or Sao Paulo, thankyouverymuch), snorkle off the Caymans, tour the ruins of Pompeii, and take a cooking class at the CIA (the Culinary Institute; no espionage required).

Just for the record, I’m gonna pass on the China Skywalk and the Australian “cage of death” (because survival is key to completing the bucket list, am I right?) And also… I’ll probably go a grand total of ZERO seconds on a bull named Fumanchu. Or any other bull. However, I would consider a leisurely trail ride on a retired workhorse named Slow Moe.

This next year, I want to love deeper, speak sweeter, and forgive freely when someone wrongs me. (Easier said than done, I admit. But I’m dang sure gonna try, God helping me.) And I’ll keep reading the Good Book. Because God’s got a lot to say about life and death and number of days.

Lord, you have seen what is in my heart.
    You know all about me.
 You know when I sit down and when I get up.
    You know what I’m thinking even though you are far away.
 You know when I go out to work and when I come back home.
    You know exactly how I live.
 Lord, even before I speak a word,
    you know all about it.

 You are all around me, behind me and in front of me.
    You hold me safe in your hand.
 I’m amazed at how well you know me.
    It’s more than I can understand.

 How can I get away from your Spirit?
    Where can I go to escape from you?
 If I go up to the heavens, you are there.

If I lie down in the deepest parts of the earth, you are also there.
 Suppose I were to rise with the sun in the east.
    Suppose I travel to the west where it sinks into the ocean.
 Your hand would always be there to guide me.
    Your right hand would still be holding me close.

 Suppose I were to say, “I’m sure the darkness will hide me.
    The light around me will become as dark as night.”
 Even that darkness would not be dark to you.
    The night would shine like the day,
    because darkness is like light to you.

 You created the deepest parts of my being.
    You put me together inside my mother’s body.
 How you made me is amazing and wonderful.
    I praise you for that.
What you have done is wonderful.
    I know that very well.
 None of my bones was hidden from you
    when you made me inside my mother’s body.
    That place was as dark as the deepest parts of the earth.
When you were putting me together there, your eyes saw my body even before it was formed.

And then, there’s this:

You planned how many days I would live.
    You wrote down the number of them in your book
    before I had lived through even one of them. (Psalm 139:1-16)

So, I’m going to savor every second of my 52nd birthday. And every birthday I celebrate from here on out, I will consider a bonus. A great big birthday blessing. A beautiful, bountiful windfall of life-and-breath.

Every single day is a treasure trove of precious moments and untold possibilities.

Cheers!

The Birthday Girl

P.S. I started my birthday bright and early with an emergency dental appointment. (I would have preferred a venue like a botanic garden or day spa or tea room over the dentist’s office, but I did get a lovely little serenade and a numbing agent, so I’m not complaining.) In other news, Tanya B. of Illinois was the winner of last month’s Back-to-School blog contest! Congrats – and cookies! – to my new reader!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birthday Backstory

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My dear reader,
Today is my birthday. Just a regular one, really. The big ones (the good ones, some might say) are in the rear view mirror at this point: 13, 16, 21, 25, 30, 40, 50. Flew through them all. Honestly, how did I get here? To fiftysomething? I just graduated and got married and grew a family. . . and suddenly, here I am. Over the hill. Over a lot of things, honestly. But that’s another story. The story I want to tell today is the backstory. My birthday backstory. So I decided to interview the person who’s been there since the beginning: my dear ol’ dad.
(Excerpts from our daddy-daughter interview below.)
Wendy:  I know you and Mom eloped, and I was rather… well… unexpected. Tell me about your whirlwind romance and fast-forward to fatherhood.
Dad:  Mom and I met at a fraternity party, a mixer. That’s what we called it when we invited a group of girls from another school to come “mix and mingle” with the guys at our house. Mom was a student at Hartford College, and she was supposed to attend a party at a different fraternity house, but she got into the wrong car. . .
W:  And the rest is history.
D:  Yep, we were married the following year.
W:  Did your parents know you were going to elope?
D:  Nope.
W:  So you snuck out? Mom was only 19, right? What did they say?
D:  I think they knew we would get married at some point. In fact, when I introduced your mom to my folks, Papi (his dad) told Nonnie, “I think we just met Freddie’s future wife.” They really liked her, right from the start.
W:  What did Gram and Gramps (my mom’s parents) think?
D:   They seemed OK with it. In fact, I think Gramps may have been a bit relieved. Weddings are expensive. Take it from me, I know.
W:  Thanks for that, by the way.
D:  You’re welcome.
W: Tell me about my Birth Day.
D:  I took your mom to Hartford Hospital early in the morning. She was having contractions, but your uncle figured it would probably be a while before the baby – you – arrived. So we went golfing.
W:  You went golfing while Mom was in labor?! (I’ve heard this story before, but I gave him my “incredulous” tone, for the sake of the interview.)
D:   Just nine holes.
W:  Was Mom upset?
D:  She didn’t know. Back then, they whisked the mom away for labor and delivery, and the dad was left back in the waiting room.
W:  So you snuck out? (I think I’m seeing a pattern here.)
D:  Sort of. But I didn’t think I’d miss anything. We really thought it would be several hours before you were born.
W:  Wow. Ok, so when did you come to meet me?
D:  Somebody must have called your grandmother right after you were born, and she sent word to the golf course. So we left mid-round and headed back to the hospital.
W:   And that’s when Mom found out that you had left?
D:  Yep.
W:  Was she upset then?
D:  No, not at all. She really wasn’t.
(That woman was a saint, I tell you.)
W:  Incredible.
D:  She was. (He sighs. And that says everything. I miss her too, Dad.)
W:  Back to me, your baby girl. What did you think?
D:  Just. . . wow. I held you and looked at you. You were a beautiful baby.  And you grew into such a great little girl. Sweet, bright, fun. No trouble whatsoever. Until you were a teenager.
W:  Yeah. Sorry about that.
(He chuckles.)
W:  Let’s change the subject.
D:  I wouldn’t say you were rebellious. You were just intent on exerting your independence.
W:  That’s a nice way of putting it. What advice would you give me, now that my own daughter is a teenager?
D:  Just keep everything in perspective. Don’t let the little frustrations cloud the big picture. Or damage the relationship.
W:  What’s your favorite thing about our relationship now?
D:  Your kids.
W:  You’re welcome.
D:  Happy Birthday!
So that, my dear reader, is how my story began: A frat party, a secret wedding, a tee time, and a Birth Day. (Or, perhaps more pointedly: a mixer, a mix-up, a love match, a golf match. . . and a GIRL!)
Cheers!
The Birthday Girl
P.S.  I’d love to hear your birthday backstory.  Or any silly/sweet/surprising/special birthday stories you’d like to share.  Click on “comments” to the left (and near the top) of the page.  I look forward to hearing from you!