It wasn’t even my birthday yet, and the gloom was already settling in. I thought I’d gotten to the root of it, beat it and gotten free from it, this dark birthday cloud that has followed me for the last sixteen years, but there it was, hovering above me. I woke up on Sunday morning, the day before the imminent age change took place, feeling rejected and overcome with self-doubt and loathing.
I struggle with expectations . . . at least I’ve been told that I do, and I know that there is some truth to it, evidenced by the fact that I don’t really like surprises. When someone tells me they have a surprise for me, and they build it up really big, I start to close up a little, for fear that it won’t mean as much to me as it does to them. I also don’t enjoy being the center of attention, which might sound odd considering how many years I’ve spent on stages and the fact that I’m trying to promote myself and my book(s). That attention is for a purpose though . . . I suppose it would be more fitting to say that I don’t like being celebrated, but how dumb does that sound? It makes sense in my head though. Before my book release party back in August, I stood in the shower and cried my eyes out over the stress of it all, over being the center of attention for an entire evening.
I trudged into the bathroom to get ready for birthday brunch with some close friends from Dallas, feeling crummy and sad, not wanting to to celebrate anything. I just wanted to crawl back in bed and go to sleep for the next year. I stared at myself in the mirror and and saw all the things that were wrong with me, and I remembered all the stupid food choices I’d made during the week, I replayed them for myself as punishment and dug myself deeper into my hole.
Rejection started knocking pretty hard then and I opened the door and made room for it on the couch next to self-pity, self-deprecation and insecurity. I heard a very familiar voice telling me that there was pity involved in my brunch date, which made zero sense at all, but this what that voice says to me around my birthday. I listened to it explain why some other scenarios in my life were shaping up in certain ways, and that dark cloud pressed in closer, making it difficult to breath deeply.
On my sixteenth birthday . . . you know, sweet sixteen, my expectations were far from met. There are many reasons why that I don’t need to go in to, but I know that that birthday was the catalyst for the rest to come. Things said that were meant to be funny were received as truth and I really believe this is where the pity thing comes from. “Oh it’s your sixteenth birthday so I guess I’ll give you the attention you deserve.” From that point on it was difficult for me to receive gifts, so much so that if you look at the pictures of my 18th birthday, the day my parents gave me my first car, I don’t look the least bit excited, even though I loved that car and today I look back and have such fond memories with friends and “Cassie the Pontiac.” I wounded my parents that day w/ my lack of excitement. I just couldn’t muster it up, birthdays were just another opportunity for me to see how unimportant I was and who of my friends wouldn’t really care that I’d been born.
I left the house too early, actually attempting to be late. My time frame was off though, so I had thirty minutes to kill. I drove to Walmart because I needed a few things and I sat in the parking lot for a long time, fighting tears. I didn’t want to show up to my birthday brunch with my makeup smeared and my eyes red-rimmed. How could I explain the tears to my friends? So I prayed in the car for a long time and I blinked back stinging moisture over and over again, taking deep breaths and asking the Lord to speak.
My present this year was miraculously provided for, and I’ve been incredibly excited about it. I’m going to a retreat this weekend, a retreat that has been a highlight for me since it started. God was really sneaky and fun in the way he provided for it, even when I had serious doubts that I would get to go. I’ve been so thrilled to go until the whole rejection thing popped up again and I began to let the lies about who I am play on repeat in my head. Picked last for dodge ball again.
Julie. Why would I give you rejection for your birthday?
My eyes opened wide and I stared out the car window. “Oh,” I said quietly, shaking my head. It wasn’t an incredibly victorious moment where God tore the cloud from over my head, but it was like I could breathe again. Even though, the entire time, in my head I knew what was going on, I knew that lies were trying to take root, I knew that the enemy was trying to ruin things, I just let it go on. I just kept sinking deeper and deeper into the darkness.
“I’m sorry, Lord. You’re right. You would never give me rejection, or anything else like it for my birthday. My friends are not gathering to pity me. They’re gathering because it’s my birthday tomorrow and they want to celebrate me.”
I felt the pressure in my heart begin to ease, and I went into the store and even purchased a small gift for myself to prove that I wasn’t bowing to the darkness anymore. I was celebrating.
Sometimes I think that kid’s birthday parties really set us up for the kinds of things I deal with on my birthday. They’re all about how many presents you get, and how cool they are. That changes so much as you grow. The number of gifts decrease, it’s harder to buy for grown ups that have most of what they need and you don’t know what they want. We are trained to expect excess on our birthdays, so then what if you only get two presents, and one of them sucks?
I got to the restaurant and met up with my friends and we had a great time together. I didn’t feel like it was all about me, and I didn’t have to be anything other than who I am. Then the gift came. The gift that my friend was so excited about giving me. The one I was afraid to open because even though my husband said I would love it, the pressure of it all was just too much. The pressure to react in a fitting way no matter how I might be feeling inside.
Last Christmas there was a pretty big misunderstanding surrounding my present from my husband and we both spent the day in a horrible funk, frustrated with each other, and I was embarrassed because his whole family witnessed it. When it was cleared up, I felt like such an idiot, and I was actually really excited about the gift, which . . . coincidentally was a plane ticket to attend last year’s retreat, the same one I’m going to this weekend. Hmmm.
I took the gift bag and pulled away the tissue and found . . . such an incredibly intuitive gift. Something I’ve wanted for awhile that you can’t get in stores anymore, and is hard to win on Ebay b/c of it’s popularity. My friends, it’s this blend of Starbucks coffee that I’ve fallen in love with that only comes out once a year (is it important to note that I was introduced to it at the SAME retreat? hmmm.)
I had no problem reacting properly to this gift. None whatsoever. It was perfect, and so incredibly thoughtful.
On Monday, I didn’t expect anything else, maybe a card in the mail or something, but nothing else. I was stunned to find that every single time I opened my door on my birthday, one of my friends in the neighborhood had left me a gift. From vegetable plants and wine to chocolates and treats and gift cards. Materially speaking, it was the best birthday I’d had in years! Emotionally speaking, it was one of the best birthdays I’ve had in years.
Julie. Why would I give you rejection for your birthday?
He was so gentle and good to me this birthday, in spite of my desperate humanity trying to eek its way out from underneath who I am in Christ. He showed me that who I am in Him, in this neighborhood, with my friends and family, is someone who people love and think about, event though that is really hard to believe sometimes.
I’m re-learning to receive only good gifts from the Father. Nothing else will do.
New International Version (NIV)
11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for[a] a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”