40th birthdays are kind of a big deal. Surprise celebrations thrown. Cleverly phrased memorabilia purchased and worn. Entire sections of party stores dedicated to the event, brimming with black as the choice color. For those arriving at this milestone, emotions run high. Sometimes they experience anxiety, sadness or frustration over getting older (which may have something to do with being gifted unnecessary walking canes, ugly readers, and adult diapers - ugh!).
It was a Tuesday in March when mine rolled around, looming dismal and deflated like helium balloons at 12 days old. Cold rain drizzled slowly from bleak gray skies making the heavens appear to be crying. I was tired, achy, and crabby after spotting a glistening patch of silver above the trio of wrinkles that the past decade had carved into my temple - but who was counting? No parties were planned. Present weren't really expected either, as my darling family was admittedly frugal, practical and low key. It was also a work and school day. Life must go on.
By 7:45am, the husband was driving off with our teens in the backseat, and I was left alone. I parked my weary frame at the kitchen counter, setting fire to the hungry wick of a cinnamon spice candle in hopes the aroma would liven my mood. The liquid caffeine I enjoyed most mornings steamed up my favorite mug as I read the white letters on its pink surface: ‘Too blessed to be stressed’. A girlfriend had snagged it for me insisting it 'had my name all over it.’ Blessed was a term I used frequently. Family and friends knew me as a glass-half-full kind of gal with an outgoing personality, a generally bright outlook, and a song for every occasion.
Still today, my emotions were nursing the blues, and happy was playing hide and seek. Our son, the baby, was a sixth grader, and our daughter was prepping to graduate eighth grade in a few short months. High school at the next turn seemed a final reminder that the window was closing for that third child I’d wanted. My two offspring were quickly growing up and away and I was perched on top of 'the hill', about to go over. Presumably, down was the direction I was headed. This birthday signified the end of a delightful season.
But maybe it didn't have to.
Could this landmark occasion be, instead, a wonderful beginning to a new chapter? Could I think of each new day as 24 hours of fresh opportunity? Every sunrise ushering in a morning, ripe with possibility? A song from my childhood popped into mind. ‘Count your blessings, name them one by one. Count your blessings, see what God has done…’ Moments later, the lyrics had squirmed their way to my lips, becoming a quiet chorus as I grabbed a few sheets of paper and listed numbers 1-40 under the title, “My Blessings”. Where would I start? Well, I had woken up breathing, moving and thinking - with a pain-free body. My husband’s kiss still rested on my cheek where he’d planted it just minutes before. Our teenage daughter had tossed her backpack over her shoulder with the usual goodbye “Love you, mom.” Spoken affection. Music to my ears. A grateful wave washed over me up as I scrawled in the first five slots on my list:
Life. Family. Healthy body. Kisses. Love.
The corners of my mouth turned up to smile. More consideration brought the next thank-filled words: God. Faith. Coffee. Candles. Birthdays.
Glancing around my kitchen, I noticed simple pleasures I hadn’t previously labeled as ‘blessings’: refrigerator, clean water, towels, light switches. A short walk through my home brought even more realizations of abundance: flowers, hairspray, colors, toothbrushes, toilet paper. Life with each was certainly sweeter and - let's be honest - splendidly sanitary.
As the minutes moved forward, my sadness moved away, naming came easier, and I reached 40. But, instead of stopping, I forged on, running out of space before running low on blessings. The praise, pouring from a pen, permeated my soul, and blasted my blues away. Happy was found, and it had brought contentment and joy along with it. Here I'd unwrapped a beautiful birthday surprise! I secured the list to the face of our pantry door, knowing I would walk past it often.
Transferring "My Blessings" idea to a journal was the start of a new habit. Notebooks would later burst with the fullness of God’s favor and prayers of appreciation to the Giver of every good gift. German Theologian and Nazi concentration camp victim Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “It is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” I agree. Discoveries of incredible wealth can be found even in the midst of the mundane, in seasons of sorrow, and in times of trial. Choosing to see through the lens of gratitude makes all the difference. Eight years later, that list - without a number limit - is still gracing the door of my pantry.