One month from today I will be turning twenty-eight and I am thrilled. I love birthdays. More than Christmas. More than tacos. More than spontaneous road trips with friends. I love birthdays. I’ve been counting down the days. It’s not that I’m vain and I like the attention. Don’t get me wrong, that bit is lovely, but I like celebrating life. Mine, yours, my cat’s, your cat’s. Everyone’s. I genuinely do not understand why some people do not want to make a big deal out of their birthdays. I try to be respectful of this and give said crazy person their space, but I usually fail. Just ask my friend Kimberly, she said she did not want to celebrate her birthday so I set up a mini celebration for every day of her birthday month. Ok, I don’t try hard but I do try.
To be honest, I did have a moment of hesitation about celebrating this particular birthday. My friend Annah and I were chowing down at our weekly Old Lady Dinner (We eat dinner and are in bed before 6:00 every Monday because you know, Monday.) when I did some quick math. In thirty-two years I will be sixty. I have no idea why my brain chose sixty or why it was even doing the math – I never do math. But there I was crunching numbers over 燒烤 (shāo kǎo; Chinese bbq). This thought process goes directly against my love for birthdays. I don’t fear growing older. It’s something I relish and look forward too. Yet the thought of turning sixty gave me pause. Annah chalked it up to a fear of impending wrinkles and insufficient plans for retirement and moved on with the conversation. My brain however, did not.
I laid awake that night, trying to sort out what it was about sixty that was freaking me out. Thirty-two years is a long time. That’s longer than I’ve currently been alive. And sixty is far from old. Clearly this was not an issue that was pounding down my front door, begging to be dealt with. And that’s when it hit me. That was the problem. There is no way I can control the outcome of this. Imagining my life at sixty is quite literally impossible, I have no idea what it will be. To be honest, I don’t even know what I want it to be. Turning twenty-eight or even turning sixty is something I have absolutely no control over.
Each birthday I celebrate all of the things I have done over the last year. I look back. I don’t look forward. For whatever reason this time I looked forward and that’s where the fear started. I cannot fathom where I will be for my twenty-ninth birthday let alone my sixtieth birthday. My life has become far more transient than I ever anticipated. For the longest time I had simple yet ridged goals and never in a million years did I think I would deviate from the path that would lead me to them. Well I did and I have and all of those goals have been tossed out the window in favor of new ones that resonate much more deeply with my soul. But they are abstract ideas, not ones that I can map out and plan my years by. So sixty? I have no idea what that will look like and I’m realizing now that that terrifies me.
On a day to day basis I love that I do not know what the universe and God have in store for me. I know I have love in my heart and that will bring me to great things. That is more than enough for me. But when I look out, beyond tomorrow I realize how little control I have over it all. That’s when my not so well hidden control freak and anxiety bust out a frenzied dance with complicated steps that leave all three of us breathless and weak in the knees with our heart in a knot that would stump even the best Eagle Scout.
This is the part of my faith that is a constant struggle. That love in my heart that I mentioned earlier, I know that if I keep doling it out in big handfuls like I try to do, that same love will come right back to me. And on the days when I struggle to share it, it’s ok because no matter what God is there, loving me. That is all I need to carry me through my life. But it’s not always enough. I want more. There’s that icky part of me, riddled with jealousy, anger and other not so great qualities that craves for more. That’s the bit of me that is worried about turning sixty because it has no idea what that will look like and that is terrifying.
In theory I should sit here keep passing out love by the bushel and work, work, work. Then, whatever my sixty is, it will be beautiful. That makes sense in my head and my heart. My glorious faith has tied up that glowing logic in a beautiful bow and I’m set. Until that icky party of my rears up and stomps its gnarly feet all over the beautiful gift that my faith gave me and says, “Nope. Not today. I need more.”
So how do I get past this? How do I let go and let God? How do I set aside the jealousy and anger that are learning over the fence, threatening to ruin my birthday party? How do I stop worrying about being sixty? In three weeks I move back to the United States. In four I turn twenty-eight. In six I move into a new house. In seven I start a new job. With so much newness happening in such a short time, how can I possibly predict what my weeks will look like thirty-two years from now? I can’t. In fact, I don’t know how to answer any of these questions.
What I do know is that it is a process. One that I’ll probably be working through until I’m sixty, if not longer. I also know that it is something I can start working on right now. I can focus on that love. I’ve got loads of it so there is plenty to keep me busy. I can spread it around on my birthday and every other day until I figure this out and keep doing it after. I can build up my faith, protecting it from that icky part of me. Building it. Trusting it. Learning from it. And someday maybe I really will be able to give it all up to God. No hesitation. No anxiety. I won’t worry about what my life will be at sixty or eighty or even one hundred. I cannot imagine a more perfect birthday gift. So I’m going to keep wishing and working until I get there. Bring it on sixty. I may not be ready for you now, but I will be.
Margaret Russell is an almost thirty something who has looked for God just about everywhere – even China. Nothing about her journey has been traditional and it turns out that is exactly how it was supposed to be. She thinks. Maybe. With a background in education, a self-awarded doctoral degree in tacos and a propensity for the ridiculous, Maggie hopes to spend the rest of her life loving as loudly as she laughs and sharing the joy that is her faith.