My birthday is one of the most important days of the year. You can fight me on it, but I’d win. For starters, I was born on that day, automatically making it a holiday. But, it turns out, my birthday is actually a national holiday. It’s the day we honor our armed forces for their sacrificial service.
It is also the day I witnessed my nephew make his world debut. Let me tell you, there is nothing that can really prepare you to see a human life entering the world. My sissy, may she rest in peace, gave me one of my all-time favorite birthday gifts.
I love gifts – both giving and receiving. As I turned 40 this year, I wanted to spend a little time giving thanks for the many gifts in my life. I also wanted to gift you a bit of what I have learned as I’ve taken these 40 rotations around the sun.
Let’s start with the gifts I recognize in my own life.
- I am alive to see 40; my life experiences alone make this miraculous
- I am surrounded by people who truly love me and would probably fight you on my behalf if you tried it
- I have been able to bless the people I love with gifts and experiences I only dreamed about growing up
- I am fully persuaded that God knows me, loves me, and is for me
- I know who I am and have fallen completely in love with the gift of me
Have you ever taken time to give thanks for the gifts in your life? I recommend you pause now, and remember and look back and say thank you. You don’t know all the ways things could have gone differently for you. Even if they aren’t perfect … whatever that means … you are blessed to breathe.
Now, I want to share a bit of what I have learned over the past four decades. Consider it my gift to you.
The early years:
My love affair with words began early. I have always loved stories. Learning to read was probably the most magical thing to ever happen in my life. I wrote my first story in kindergarten and I haven’t stopped writing since. Words saved me. The first decade of my life was a little on the chaotic side. I probably heard and saw things unsuitable for my young ears and eyes, but as long as there was a book to escape into, I knew everything would be alright with the world. I might not have been the wisest kid 10 or under but I knew that my ability to string words together allowed me to shape my reality and the realities of those around me. To quote King Crissle, “words mean things.” So, to you I say, mind your words. Remember that what you speak becomes what you believe and see. (Shout out to my mom and my pastor boo for the recent reminders of this irrefutable fact.)
The teen years:
Let me tell you, puberty was not kind to ya girl at all. That ugly phase was brutal. I was awkward, sullen, and struggling to figure out exactly where I belonged in the world. The chaos of my first decade of life shifted to include new challenges. There are a few things people don’t seem to understand about being poor. For starters, there is an assumption that poor people are lazy. The truth is poor people work their asses off because that’s what you have to do when you live in survival mode. You work longer, harder, and for less; only to be accused of being ungrateful and shiftless. During my teenage years, I learned that it was mandatory for me to learn how to define myself for myself and live the life I wanted, not what was presented to me as possible. People will always have their own ideas about who you are and who you can be. Usually, they are restricted by all kinds of limitations and an utter lack of imagination. Figure out who you are to your core, and embrace that being. You will never fail at being your authentic self and you will achieve more than you dreamed possible when you release the limitations that come with you trying to be someone other than you.
Those roaring 20s:
Although I was raised in a Christian/Catholic family (my mom baptist, my dad’s family catholic), I didn’t really encounter God until I was a college student. It wasn’t that He wasn’t already the homie, it was just until this season of life, He showed up differently for me. I knew God, I didn’t understand what it meant to trust Him or rely on Him. In college, I started developing a relationship based on being empowered by the Holy Spirit. Suddenly my faith became a whole new ball game. I had the history of God as a foundation, but I discovered the divinity of the Godhead and started to form my own questions about who God was and how He chose to show up in the world around me. You see, growing up poor, black, and female shapes a lot of how you experience the world. You are an inconvenient truth that reflects the injustice and degradation inflicted by those in power. I learned in my 20s based on how people responded to my pain that my place in the world was at the bottom of the hierarchy. So I started asking God questions. I remember growing up in church, I would be full of questions until my Sunday school teachers made it clear I was never to question God. It silenced me and even though deep down I sensed God was bigger than the box religion put Him in, I allowed their fears about their own relationship with God to squash mine. The truth is, God is not bothered by your questions. He can handle every single one of them. And all those emotions attached to them. Don’t be afraid to trust your instincts and listen to your intuition. Just because those around you have never done a thing doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Seek out a relationship with your creator that intuitively connects you to Him. Allow Him to show up for you in a way that makes sense and let it grow from there.
The dirty thirties:
A lot of people start freaking out about aging as they near 30. I have never understood it. It wasn’t pretty. And honestly, it made me angry. Why do we allow people to tell us we are incomplete or unworthy because we haven’t reached certain milestones in life? And who decided what those milestones were supposed to be anyway? I’ll be honest, having people in my own family shit on my life constantly was hard. But what I learned having lived through my 30s is that miserable people need you to want what they have to make them feel better about having that instead of what their hearts really want. Never let someone project their junk on you! During one of the first sessions I had with my therapist, she did something that has changed how I permanently interact with people. She held out the pen she was holding in her hand to me as if offering it as a gift. I took it because what else do you do when someone holds something out to you? After I took the pen from her hand, she asked me why I took her pen. Confused, I responded, “because you handed it to me.” So, she asked me if I needed the pen, to which I responded no. Why in the world did I take her pen then? Here’s the thing. People have stuff and most of the time they just want to unload it on someone, any one who will listen. A lot of times it comes out as an attack on you. But you don’t have to take it. You don’t need it. You weren’t seeking it. Don’t take it. The most important thing I learned in my 30s was to stop allowing people to project their junk – unhappiness, unworthiness, insecurities, and self-loathing – on me. And it is the best advice I can give you.
Although I’m just a few weeks into these here 40s, I’m going to tell you that ya girl is feeling herself. When I was a kid, I used to think being 40 was equivalent to being the crypt keeper. Seriously, 40 was old. Ancient even. I had no idea what people in their 40s did. It’s crazy how your limited perspective can shape how you feel about certain things in life. Over the past few years, I have challenged myself to live outside my comfort zones. I sought out opportunities to stretch myself so I could grow into the woman I desired to be. Leaving the comfort zone is never easy, but the rewards are always great in the end. I don’t have much advice to give you about living in my 40s. What I can offer is this: never be afraid to grow. What once served you as an asset can become a liability. Embrace growth in all areas of your life. You will experience seasons of harvest and seasons of drought, but you will become wiser with each season if you surrender to the joy of growth.