I felt the weight of 2023 as soon as I flipped the calendar; just 89 days to a major milestone birthday. An inescapable and irritating dread dampened my usual sunny disposition. To me, birthdays have always been the perfect excuse to celebrate with much ado. But this year felt different. I was entering a new decade that some would consider old, and as a person who has always declared, “Age is just a number!” that number was cruelly taunting me, making me feel ancient and irrelevant.
I snapped out of it when I realized I was acting like a victim of my age. I remembered what I had learned when I wrestled with aging not so long ago:
So, doggone it, party on! My husband was also turning 60 in March, so it seemed important to make it memorable.
But then came January 5th… and my world was rocked to the core.
Doctors discovered a mass in my sister’s brain that would require more testing to diagnose. By the end of the month, our worst fear was confirmed: brain cancer.
What was there to celebrate when my “ride or die” was facing a terrifying future, and the long life she imagined would be cut short?
Meanwhile, another storm was brewing.
My husband’s company had been sold last year, and one by one, his former leadership team shrank due to job elimination, forced early retirement, or leaving to find something more secure and less volatile. He began exploring different job opportunities himself as the climate became increasingly untenable, but on February 24th the decision was made for him. His position was eliminated.
Interestingly, we had plans that night to have dinner with four close friends and their husbands. It had been over a year since we’d gotten together as couples, and Courtney had invited us to her home six weeks in advance. Even though we viewed Tad’s job elimination as a good thing in many ways — he was fortunate to receive a severance package — it was still a hard thing, and we weren’t emotionally up for a couple’s night.
Not ready to disclose what had happened that afternoon, I texted my friends to let them know we had had an intense day and wouldn’t be able to make it. They weren’t having it. They texted back insisting, “You still have to eat!” Privately, another friend texted Tad and let him know they were doing a little something for my birthday … over a month early to surprise me.
He immediately spilled the beans because he knew we would have to show up and make the best of it. Though we didn’t know exactly what to expect, our suspicions spiked when we passed Courtney’s neighbor’s house and her yard was full of cars. Whatever they had planned was more than a few friends.
I apologized to Tad as we walked to her front door, feeling awful that something spectacular was planned for me, when his birthday was the following week, and, he had just lost his job.
Before we could knock, the double doors opened to reveal our two sons standing there grinning and a mob yelling, “Surprise!” Then our daughter (who lives a plane ride away) appeared from behind the door. I turned my back to the crowd, an instant, sobbing mess. I hugged Tad and whispered, “I’m so…sorry…” imagining how hard the next few hours were going to be for him.
“Turn around! See who’s here!” someone yelled. It was only then my brain finally caught up to what was happening. This was a surprise party for both of us.
Everywhere we looked we saw people we loved: our church family, my and Tad’s brothers, and life-long friends from all over. Then I spotted my sweet father-in-love . . . and my sister. I lost it all over again. She hadn’t even fully recovered from her biopsy surgery.
As the night unfolded, we learned that this party wasn’t cooked up by my friends. Rather, our children had been conspiring since Christmas to celebrate both me and Tad. February 24th had been the only day that worked out for our three kids and my four friends who helped them plan.
Our children’s concern that no one would be able to make it on a Friday night was unwarranted; people showed up en masse. Though they missed a few friends we would’ve included, we were amazed by how well they did. Every single person there was already praying for my sister, and this was an opportunity to meet her if they didn’t already know her.
Tad and I caught up with people we’ve loved as long as we can remember, and when we bumped into each other he whispered, “God sure has a sense of humor.” I laughed and agreed. Driving home later, Tad expressed what I had been thinking, “A night like tonight puts what happened with my job in perspective. It sure seems small in comparison.”
I fell into bed happy and exhausted, my mind reeling from our roller-coaster day. As my heart settled, I was completely and utterly overwhelmed by love. Not from the love of our family and friends – though that was palpable – but from God.
At Christmas, when our children had the bright idea to throw us a surprise party, they had no idea what the new year would bring.
But God knew.
When seven people selected a date that was the only one that worked for each of them, they couldn’t have known what that specific day would mean to us.
But God knew.
God knew about Lora’s brain tumor and Tad’s job loss and all the uncertainty, sorrow, and brokenness we were carrying. What I saw so clearly at that moment was how the story of our lives tells the grander story of God’s greatness. This is true for all of us, isn’t it? My children and friends thought they were just planning a surprise party, but the God who knows the end from the beginning and the beginning from the end knew what would happen in our lives leading up to February 24, 2023, and He put together a gift so spectacular no one could deny who it was from.
God knew that we were weary and burdened and He gave us the kind of rest we desperately needed (see Matthew 11:28-29). God is still writing your story and He knows the kind of rest you need, too. You can come to Him and trust Him.