“I’d love to throw myself a little birthday party this year,” I admit to my husband while schlepping another load of soaked snow pants and dirty mittens into the washer. He stands at the kitchen sink, rinsing lingering hot cocoa and melted marshmallows from our kids’ mugs before loading them into the dishwasher.
I’m embarrassed to admit that amid the holiday hustle and crammed calendars, I’m considering adding a birthday party (For myself! A grown-up!) to our already brimming schedules.
Who has time for that? How selfish could I be?
But still the desire lingers so I text a few friends to see if anyone might be available on an upcoming Friday or Saturday, attempting to coordinate an evening birthday bash at our house. I’m not celebrating a milestone birthday. There’s not anything particularly big to celebrate. And as my fellow December birthdays will tell you, none of our celebrations hold a candle, ya know, to the birth of Jesus.
Visions of charcuterie boards and fizzy drinks dance in my head as it looks like we’ve finally landed on a date a handful of neighbors and friends can make work. A murder-mystery party game has been collecting dust in the corner of my bedroom, and excitement bubbles over as I imagine finally getting to bust it out at my birthday soiree.
The laughs we’ll share! The costumes we’ll wear! The photos we’ll snap!
The email comes soon after.
“You and your children are invited to the PTA’s Elementary Winter Wonderland Dance!”
I scroll to the end to find the party’s date and time.
You guessed it: The same night I’d just managed to secure for my own little celebration. I swallow a swig of coffee and collapse on the couch.
“Maybe our three elementary schoolers won’t want to attend anyway,” my husband offers.
I hear their anticipatory chatter as they tumble out of the bus.
In real-time, my heart seems to shrink two sizes too small. I feel myself morphing into full Grinch mode.
My mind swirls with whispers of resentment like, “Why can’t I ever just have anything for me?” along with guilt-laden musings like, “It was selfish to plan a party for myself anyway.”
Have you ever been left reeling from hopes dashed and plans scrambled?
Maybe you’ve felt foolish for trying to plan something for yourself only to be left unwrapping disappointments. Or perhaps you’ve put everyone else’s priorities in front of you, and now you’re tangled in resentment like a toddler playing in the Christmas tree tinsel.
Complicated experiences and complex emotions are real, especially for those of us who tend to hold everything together for our loved ones throughout the year, particularly during the holidays.
But we’re not doing anyone (our friends, our family, ourselves) any favors by not tending to our own needs.
Caring for others includes caring for ourselves.
While I did pivot my plans so our family could sip punch together while boogying to “Jingle Bell Rock” in the elementary school gym, I didn’t let my hopes to celebrate my birthday completely fizzle out either. Instead of hoping someone would surprise me with a cake, I called up a local bakery and placed an order myself!
The give-and-take of life together means we pivot sometimes – this is true. Dreams change, and expectations shift as we create spaces for the flourishing of all. But all means all. When we put ourselves on the back burner, rage or resentment will boil over.
In this season of Advent, we anticipate the arrival of God breaking into our world with the birth of Jesus. It’s cause for celebration! We marvel at Mary, who cared for a little one who, out of the deepest divine love, would change the course of history forever.
And as we marvel at the manger, I’m also reminded of something that happened when Jesus was older; we’re invited into an interesting interaction between Mary and Jesus.
In John 2:1-11, they’re at a wedding party, and the celebration is running low on wine. Mary, who knows that Jesus could do something about it, mentions the dwindling libations to Jesus. And He performs His first miracle, turning water into wine – good wine, we’re told.
It was the first time people caught a “glimpse of His glory.”
Milestones bring big feelings. Holidays hold taut the tension of both joy and grief, celebration and disappointment. But perhaps when we, like Mary, name what we want, we can catch glimpses of glory beyond what we could even dream of.
It’s difficult to fathom the passing of time. It’s why we light the Advent candles in anticipation of the birth of Jesus. It’s why we gather around the table and sing together, marking time with cake and candles, friends and family.
Life together is illuminated with the glow of both giving and receiving. Of glorious miracles and mismatched schedules. In the busy schedules and mounting pressure to create picture-perfect birthdays and holidays, let yourself take a breath.
Remember that you are loved by a God who doesn’t desire how much you can do – but calls you beloved because you are.
That’s something worth celebrating.
Find prayers that put words to your ordinary and extraordinary family milestones and holiday celebrations in Kayla’s book To Light Their Way: A Collection of Prayers & Liturgies for Parents.