It’s my birthday weekend. I’ll be 34 on Sunday. I don’t think it feels much different than 33. Will 35 feel different? It sounds more serious somehow.
Birthdays always make me feel like doing some reflection. What have I learned? How have I grown? What has surprised me about life this year?
I think if I could tell my younger self something, Haley in her early 20s, it would be this lesson: embrace the cards you’re dealt.
Embrace YOUR life and the people in it just as they are. Waste no time comparing. Poison no relationships by failing to accept the people you love in all their messy beauty.
Everything from how your baby sleeps to your big kids’ behavioral challenges and quirks to the ways your spouse’s personality is mysteriously different from yours—embrace it all.
I’ve had four natural labors to bring my children into the world. I don’t say that to brag (I’m not brave, I’m mostly just scared of the epidural needle) but to explain that I have FELT those labor pains in a big way. While a contraction is hard to get through no matter your attitude, letting it wash over you rather than fighting it makes it worlds less painful. Embracing the struggle and letting it bring forth new life from you is this strange good pain. Pushing back against the pain is misery–it hurts so badly and hinders the progress of labor.
Life is the same way. I am not a discontent person. I’m generally optimistic and happy and content. And yet, I have wasted so much energy on wishing for a different life in small ways. If only my kids would sleep in later like so-and-so’s kids life would be so much easier, I think to myself. All the energy wasted trying to make them sleep later when my kids are just wired that way. They’re early risers! Embrace it, work with it, adjust my own bedtime accordingly. But waking up every day cursing the gods of sleep? That will make you miserable.
Or, if only this child did not have the behavioral struggles that drain so much energy from the rest of the family. If daily life situations that should be simple and easy were not so exhausting and complicated! Wrong attitude. If I could go back in time the one thing I would do is love the people God put into my family better–love them just as they are. Not entertaining the what ifs of having an “easier” kid or the fruitless work trying to make them different than God made them.
I wish I could go back and just scoop up every bit of each one of my kids to treasure. In the past couple of years, this is where God has been doing good work in my heart. I have far to go, but I can feel it now–the joy of just embracing the all of each of them, reveling in the goodness of what we’ve got. Nurturing maturity and bringing out all that makes them wonderful, yes–but loving all of them and not wishing away the hard stuff, even when it brings me to my knees.
There will always be “if only”s knocking on our door. If only we hadn’t joined the work force just as the recession hit and everything went to shit. If only American health insurance wasn’t such a nightmare. And while supporting good change is something worth fighting for, that’s where I want to expend my energy, not on toxic discontent.
And then if we come to embrace our life and our relationships we can work on embracing ourselves. Instead of the shame and disappointment of realizing we’re not good at praying, not able to shake off sin, not able to snap our fingers and become instantly holy–embracing our littleness, our weakness, our desperate need for the mercy of God and the grace of the sacraments. Acknowledging that instead of being surprised at our failure to do any of it on our own, we should have the humility to see that failing is exactly on brand for us and that God loves us anyway.
We can embrace the very slow journey toward holiness that can feel discouraging and stagnant and yet the grace that little by little is transforming us. To hold fast to God’s promise that He will not abandon us and He will finish the good work He began. To cling to the Cross, the Eucharist, to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to turn again and again and again back to God. To waste no time wishing we were like someone else and instead be fully open to what God has planned to do in our own souls. To say “your will, not mine” and start to really mean it.
This is what I would tell my past self. Also, buying sugar cones for after dinner ice cream will make your kids lose their minds with glee. And replace those cheap blinds with curtains when it’s in the budget, you’ll enjoy your house so much more. And play more family board games. And babies don’t keep. All that jazz, too, but mostly: embrace the cards you’re dealt. There’s more joy on the other side.
If you’re just chomping at the bit to get me something for my birthday, here’s some ideas:
-Come hang out with me in November in Waco for the Anne of Green Gables retreat/shindig/party: The Raspberry Cordial Catholic Literary Gathering. Seriously, I would LOVE to see you there. Can’t make it? Share the info with one friend you think would enjoy the weekend!
-My book came out exactly one year ago yesterday. Haven’t read it yet? You can order it here or request it at your local library (I love getting pictures of my book on library shelves!) You’ve read it? Leave a review on Amazon!
-Go to confesssion. My friend Meg Hunter-Kilmer (who is going to be speaking at our Anne gathering!) always asks for this gift for her birthday. All it will cost is a few minutes of your time. There is so much grace waiting for you in this sacrament!