As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. -- Isaiah 55:10-11

Sunday, January 10, 2010

My Birthday

I lied. I admit it. And it wasn't even a "sort of lie". This was a big fat "I know I'm lying" lie.

My family asked what I wanted for my birthday, and I told them I really didnt' know. But I did. I not only knew what I wanted, I wanted it a lot. However, I couldn't tell them that, so I lied.

However, now, I have to tell you the whole truth about it because--no lie--it was amazing.

The week after Christmas I turned 41. Note the candles. Four blue and one green. Great idea by the Man of my Dreams. Kept him from going through all the matches we owned, and the fire department didn't have to come check out the glow over the horizon, and I didn't have to hyperventilate trying to blow them all out.

In the past my birthday hasn't been a big deal. It comes a week after Christmas and right after New Year's. Folks are still trying to convince themselves to finish off the turkey leftovers and wondering why they stayed up to watch that crazy ball in New York. Really, it has just never been that important.

Until this year.

And that is what makes it so very important.

When I was growing up, there was a person of significance in my life that told me multiple times over several years that they* wished I had never born, that their life would be easier without me, and in fact, the world would be a better place if I weren’t in it.

I now know statements such as that are called “word curses” because they steal, kill, and destroy. They steal identities, kill dream, and destroy destinies. They are lies from the pit of hell, and they can only be overcome with the Truth of God. Thankfully, over the years, I have come to know the Truth.

The Truth is I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Before the beginning of time, the Lord already had plans for me. His plans for me are always good, and they entail hope and a future. He plans to do me good and not harm. I am here, not by some cosmic freak accident, but because the God of the universe deemed it so, because He has things planned for me to do. According to His Word, all He made is good, and as one of His creations, I am good. He delights over me with singing. His love for me is beyond my wildest dreams, and His greatest desire is unity with me.

I know this. This is the Truth.

And yet, when the bravado drops, honestly digs deep, and I answer the question of what I really want, I sheepishly confess I want to know the world is better because I’m here. I want to know I am sharing the important part of me, the God part of me, the only part of me that matters. I want to know my being here makes a difference because of the difference He has made in me. It isn’t enough to simply take up space and do no harm. I want to know whatever realm I enter is better when I leave than it was when I arrived. I want to know people’s lives are richer because He put me in them…because He is in mine.

The fact is I have a pretty ordinary life. I am a wife and mom, which I love. I don’t take big trips. I don’t do glamorous things. When I write the family Christmas letter, I have a hard time filling up a paragraph about my life. When people ask what I’ve been doing, there really isn’t much to say. As I said, a pretty ordinary life. Can an ordinary life really mean that much? I wanted to know.

How does one ask for such a gift?

Does one dare? Is that shallow? Is it immature? Is it…dumb? Unsure, I lied and told my family I didn’t really want anything in particular, and I told God my heart.

A few months ago, my friend Rhonda Harkin told me the Lord always gives her a gift on her biological birthday and her spiritual birthday. I had been asking for a promise for the year to come for several years, but I had not asked for a birthday present…until this year.

I try to never put parameters on God’s gifts. I miss things when I do that. Sometimes I’m so busy looking for one thing that I don’t see the wonderful gift He set before me. This year, I was brave in that I told Him I wanted a Word, the kind of Word that rips off lies that dangles over my life and affects me in ways I don’t always realize. I wanted the kind of Word that I could go back for the rest of my life and say, “This is what God said.” I wanted a Word declaring destiny, something that screamed, “This is how amazing I declare my daughter to be,” and I wanted to not miss it.

But, knowing God is infinitely more wise and amazing than I can imagine, I left it up to Him.

But…in my heart of hearts, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be utterly cool to get a mailbox full of cards from people telling me I make a difference to them and their lives are better because of me?” Really, though, how likely was that to happen?

On the morning of my birthday, I got up before the rest of the house and enjoyed my quiet time. I waited to see if God had anything big to say. Nothing. And yet, I felt He had a smug smile and a sense of anticipation, like He had something planned and was just waiting to yell, “Surprise!”

When my family got up, they made me breakfast, gave me pens and books. The perfect gifts for me. But what struck me were the cards.

Each one had given me a card, and in each card were words that said, “Mom, my life is amazing because you are in it.” “My wife, my world is better because of you.” “Mom, you are so important to me.”

Words I had requested in secret lay before me. I read them allowed, letting them soak the atmosphere, letting them soak my heart. The Lord had heard my heart’s request, and He had given me these gifts. I sat amazed.

The Man of my Dreams let me know that there was another gift, but it was coming in the mail, so I had to wait. I didn’t care. I had what I had asked for. It hadn’t been the mailbox full of cards, but it had been cards full of the exact words I had said I wanted to hear. And I was so thankful.

A few hours later, I sat in the same chair with another box in my hands. Although it was brightly wrapped, it was obviously a shirt box. However, when I shook it, it didn’t sound like clothes. In fact, I had no idea what it could be.

I carefully pulled the tape, unwrapped the box, and folded the paper. Then I lifted the top.

My breath caught.

The box was filled with envelopes. In each envelope was a birthday card.

At first I looked at each envelope, the writing, the return address. Friends for decades and friends for only a few months. Cards from all over the United States.

A box full of them.

I couldn’t help but laugh.

“Back in November, I borrowed your computer and got email addresses from your sent items list. I emailed everyone, told them about your birthday, and asked them to send a card. I had them send it to (our neighbor’s) so you wouldn’t know. I feel bad because it really isn’t anything I got you, but I hope you like it.”

How does one say, “It is perfect,” and not sound cliché?

But it was. It was the exact thing I wanted, the thing I had no words…or courage…to ask for. There it sat in my hands.

For a full half hour or more, I opened envelope after envelope. Again, I saw my words lying before me. “My life is richer because you are in it…You have made such a difference to me…The world is a better place because you are here.”

There were a variety of material gifts tucked in as well, and I liked them, but they weren’t the real gift.

A few hours later, a friend stood at the door. She held out a card and a gift, but I knew. She was the gift. Her time. Her thoughtfulness. Her sharing my day. Everything she said by what she did. That was the gift.

That night I sat in the quiet of my study with a box of cards in front of me. The perfect gift. And yet, I knew that wasn’t the real gift. The real gift was the people who had filled the box, the ones who fill my heart.

Pretty amazing, isn’t it?

Wondering about the gift the Lord gave me or what He said? He said I’m so important that even before I knew what I really wanted, He was already putting it together. In fact, before Rhonda had told me about her birthday gifts, He was already working on mine.

I think the greatest gift He gives me, other than salvation, is His ongoing expression of love. I am in awe of His intimate observations of me, not as an omniscient God, but as a devoted friend and Lover. I am forever amazed at the details He makes into important things...the ways He makes me important.

He overwhelms me.

I am left in awe of how important my ordinary life is to such an extraordinary God. And knowing that makes all the everybody's life.

That's the Truth.

Copyright Jerri Phillips 2010

(For all those who were part of this amazing gift, please know you have made a difference in my life, and I am so very thankful for each of you. The cards, goodies, and kind words are so deeply appreciated, but YOU are the real gift. I love you.)

*Please note, I do know I am talking about one person and am aware that “they” is a plural pronoun. I have chosen to be gender unspecific on purpose.


tonya said...

What a wonderful post, Jerri! I love God and how He blesses his children. May you have extraordinary year in Him.

I too, am so blessed by "knowing" you through your blog. You are such an encouragement to so many. Many more than you realize. :) Hugs!

Jan Parrish said...

What a blessed birthday! God is so good!