How do you feel about your birthday? Dread it, love it, celebrate it, pretend like it never happened? It IS the only birthday at that age that you will EVER have. I wonder if people understand the significance of that? I turned 50 this summer. I wasn’t about to celebrate my 50th with a black balloon mentality. No way! I didn’t want this particular birthday to just go by with a flutter and a pffft either. I planned my own birthday trip!
I don’t expect or need big birthday celebrations but I was particularly excited about this birthday because some significant changes had taken place over the past few years. 2018 has been by far, the healthiest year for me in the last 11 years since I became sick with Lyme Disease. Also, we have been on a wisdom ride that I will never forget. We have experienced the full range of all the heaviest emotions crammed into a five-year period. It felt like a friggin’ tornado.
We moved from one end of the country to the other twice, we lived in our camping trailer for a few months because we couldn’t find a house, my husband changed careers and jobs three times, I had two really terrible Lyme flares, and during that time we also had to deal with some ongoing significant extended family issues. We were experiencing several of the top ten things on those lists psychologists put out in articles about extreme stress – all at once. But we knew we wanted something different, so we powered through. Once we were settled into our new house, I hit the ground running. Going through all that stuff at once had stirred up some questions for more and I needed to figure out how to get them answered.
I felt like I needed a new approach to an old way of thinking. I read everything I could get my hands on that was related to what I wanted to learn. Then, I went completely out of my comfort zone and joined a support group run by an out of the box family and relationship therapist. The people in my group were from all walks of life with past experiences and current challenges to share. If I wanted growth, I was going to have to share too, which meant setting aside my fears of exposing all of those emotions and scary questions we all try so hard to cram down.
When I let go of the fear of being totally transparent, it became one of the top three absolute best experiences of my life. We were all working toward one common goal – personal growth and a better understanding of relationships with ourselves and others. I had found my tribe. After the first couple of weeks, I could clearly see that healing and growth is a full body experience. You must work on the not so obvious as well as the obvious. I know, it sounds like a fluffy new age book. But it was nothing like that. It was an intense, humbling, and fulfilling experience that no self-help book (and I am an avid reader) has ever provided.
There’s a lot of wisdom in people’s stories even when you have nothing in common with them. Their choices, and how they deal with life can be a significant learning experience for you if you choose to really listen and apply it. I came out the other side about two years later knowing myself better than ever. I thought I already had that down, but it turns out there were some old patterns that were allowing negative things to happen that I didn’t think I was in control of. And because I took the time to really practice pulling the wool from my eyes – I came away with a very clear view of the underlying issues all of us face, and how those issues play out in our lives based on our own belief systems, patterns of behavior, family influence – and the choices we make based on how much or how little value we think we hold in other people’s eyes. I am the master (on earth) of my own destiny as far as my relationships and how I my experience with life pans out. I learned how to say no, how to better recognize red flags, and to set boundaries and it opened up endless growth opportunities.
That journey is a very large part of why I was so excited and looked forward to turning 50. I thought to myself, Now THIS is what celebrating a birthday feels like. Beyond the surface of fun, lies the true reason to celebrate: Growth. I cannot sit stagnant in my life just going through the motions when I know there’s blossoming to be had! We need growth and pruning because it all works together. Then when we come to the end, we’re a beautiful full blossom – not some number we should dread! I can see concrete changes in how I feel, think, and react to what life has to offer whether it’s an irritating challenge or a welcome one. THAT is certainly worth celebrating along with a year of pretty dang good health!
There is another side of growth that doesn’t involve all the unicorn and rainbow feelings. Growth doesn’t just fall in your lap. Your mentality doesn’t just flip without a fight. It’s painful at first. Sometimes excruciatingly humbling. Changing ingrained patterns of behavior and choices that have been with you all your life and recognizing how they have played a role in the things you’re unhappy about, takes time and some serious nerve. I had no idea what would come of joining that support group. Several times I felt like turning around and running the other way. Just quitting and pretending like I’d never stirred “that” pot. But I forced myself to stick with it and the others did the same and it created a really unique and amazing bond that I’m not sure I’ve ever had with any other human being. I forced myself to stick with the work of being fully transparent and it paid off in ways I never could have imagined. Real growth provides a clear lens and when you get used to living with those wool free lenses, you can’t believe you ever lived any other way!
If you are seeking a new way of doing things, you may have to be your own cheerleader for a while or find a group like I did. Being transparent and strong in your character and convictions isn’t truly promoted and celebrated in the outside world. Some people will say they are supportive but really they just want you to fall in line and not think outside the box. They’ll try to convince you to keep quiet and that not upsetting the apple cart is more important than living your best version of the life God has planned for you. They’ll think you’re selfish or crazy or that you’re not Christian “enough” or forgiving or empathetic “enough” when you change long ingrained patterns that people are used to. They’ll take it personally and it will make them mad. But that’s OK, because when you stick to what you know is best for you and the people you love, there are no negative outcomes regardless of other’s opinions.
For your next birthday, I challenge you to lovingly embrace that number. Make it something special and CELEBRATE IT! It’s your gold medal for that year and it means you’ve made it through like a champion. You have marched through 365 days of every single challenge and every single dip in the road and over every mountain and every amazing thing that you’ve had the pleasure of experiencing and being a part of.
You didn’t compromise on some of the stuff that shouldn’t be compromised (you don’t have to be perfect), and you lived your best life that you knew how to that year. That birthday number people try to outrun, represents miraculous growth if you let it. Championship level growth if you focus on what you want.
Your actual outer “age” means nothing when you’re busy getting wise and slaying demons and seeking your most joyful, peaceful, loving life!