Today I celebrate my 38th birthday and I’m reminded that it has also been 20 years (gasp!) since the very first birthday I celebrated with the kind young man who would become my husband. Turning 18 marked the beginning of many firsts that I would share with him. I entered adulthood with him by my side. God was so good to orchestrate that!

I spent a great part of my 18th birthday looking at him already understanding the treasure that was mine. We had started as friends, been dating for a few months, and already I knew that this was the man that I had prayed for. I had found the one. He truly was, and became even more so, my dearest friend. My husband was the only one I have ever given my complete self to. He helped me clearly see how God sees me. Perhaps that is why I feel forever indebted to him and why I know God is good. I never knew unconditional love and God’s love for me until I met him. 

I decided to start my birthday celebration out today with breakfast at a local favorite. There was no way I was going to get up and cook today of all days! Plus, I wanted breakfast tacos and copious amounts of really good coffee. As I drove to breakfast this morning, I shared with my children how I had celebrated my 18th birthday with their dad and how crazy it was to reflect back on how much has happen since that birthday. 

The last 20 years: meeting their father, earning my degree, traveling and going to school abroad, several jobs and even more moves, getting married, the death of our first child, the birth of the three children celebrating with me today, the death of my husband and their father, a gigantic move across the country, the starting of a new life…it…is…bananas! And oh how I miss him!

It’s not that I miss him on my birthday because of what he would have done or given me today. It is more that he is the one person I so desperately want to share my day with – any day with – and cannot. 

I want what I cannot have again in this lifetime and that is hard for me to accept. 

I know it so well that all the things that I can buy myself, be gifted, or do won’t ever be a substitute for him. It is really a life lesson but it is one that resonates for me on my birthday (and the birthdays of my children) all the more so. I am so blessed that I get to celebrate today with our three children yet it is just not the same without him. It is not the intent or condition of my heart to sound harsh or unappreciative. This is how I feel. It is honest.

He always made me laugh and feel special like no one else ever has. When I would catch him looking at me, it was with such endearment, admiration, desire and affection and I would loose my breath just for a minute. I always felt undeserving and grateful for the way he loved me yet, I felt the same way looking back at him. I would give anything to again have those exchanged looks…that full heart…him by my side. 

Friends and family eagerly have asked me what I will do today. How will I celebrate? I responded that I planned to just spend the day with my children. I have no negativity about this day and am actually quite enjoying my day. It is just that I am just somewhat indifferent to the day in general. I found that is how I feel about a lot of holidays since he died. The expectation that they should be celebratory and joyous and fun feels burdensome and inorganic. It is not that I don’t enjoy many of them, they are just usually a mix of emotions for me. I am never quite sure how I will feel, never certain how to handle the expectations and traditions of them all. 

Birthdays have always been something for me that were a love-hate relationship. Even as a child, birthdays were not my favorite. I am grateful to be alive and glad people are glad I am alive too (haha)! However, celebrating my birthday (perhaps celebrating as others do or seem to expect me to) just never really has been my thing. As a child, I would hide in my room and play alone in complete bliss during my birthday parties. I remember feeling guilty or rude that that was what I preferred.

I actually really enjoy getting older. There is a part of me that finds it so odd, since we were the same age, that he will be forever 33 and I will continue to age. Yet growing older is most certainly a privilege denied to many that I now understand all too well. I love many aspects of my life and who I have become with each passing birthday. I just have never liked things pushed on me. I’ve always known what I liked or didn’t like.  Unfortunately, I still spent a good many years not being true to myself and too focused on pleasing others, my birthday being no exception.  

That said, one thing that I’ve considered a blessing since becoming a widow, is that I no longer feel the need to please anyone other than God and myself. Tremendous growth that seemed to just happen overnight and I’ll take it! One of the absolute greatest things I have learned on my journey as a widow is that with the coming of each holiday, but especially with each birthday, it is important to spend them in whatever way feels good to you. This is a lesson that I dabbled in understanding but finally in the past few years has become concreted in my heart and mind.

In all things honor your feelings. You don’t have to dwell in them but recognizing and acknowledging them and the thoughts producing those feelings is critical. It is how you know what you really want. It is how you are able to work through grief and loss and come out the other side without grief and loss coming out of you sideways. People who love you may not understand but being true to you as you grieve is essential to your overall well being and quality of life. I am pleased to report that I am enjoying this birthday just as I desire and need to. So this is what day one of age 38 looks like. Okay 38, let’s do this!