Today is my eldest daughter’s 20th birthday. This was going to be her “big” birthday. I know, usually it’s 21 that’s the biggie. But Jasmyn is turning 20 on the 20th of May in the year 2020. She’s been anticipating this as the “big” birthday for years, and thinking through the specifics of this one for the last year: what she wanted to do (invite some of her friends to come out to CA to celebrate with her), what she wanted as a gift for this special day (the promise of a mom-daughter trip up to some place she could really see the stars), where she wanted to go to have dinner with family as well as friends, what kind of dessert she wanted me to make. Even the last thing on the list hasn’t worked out: we get our foods from Imperfect Foods. Generally I love what they do. But this time they left off an entire box of the foods we ordered which unfortunately included milk, eggs, and flour among other things. This usually arrives late Tuesday, so we didn’t know we wouldn’t have these things until about 10PM last night. I called them about this mistake and they are “getting back to me” which probably means they will just discount the box. That doesn’t help me today, however. Wednesday is the day we record our worship services, so I just don’t have time to stand in the long grocery store line to get the items we need to make her dinner and dessert. I could go on, but you get the point. It’s just disappointing. Today is disappointing, for my daughter, which somehow makes it doubly disappointing for me. As I’ve said to all of you many times, grief seems to bring up past griefs. Trauma brings up old traumas. So this little thing, of a birthday not being what it should be, feels much bigger for me than it should, no doubt. I woke up under a cloud, one that I will have to try to shake off before recording your service for Sunday morning, but a cloud, none the less.
I know that many of you are thinking “wow, that is such a little thing compared to what many are suffering” and you are right in that. It is a very little thing in the big picture. We have a house, we have work, we have our family healthy and whole. We have church, extended family, friends, we have community (even though we cannot gather yet), we are blessed today with bird song and sunshine, the flowers are in bloom and it is a beautiful day. I am very aware that this little thing is just that, a little thing.
But I am also giving myself permission, as I give it to you, to feel what you feel this day. Grief during this time when things are not what they would be, could be, should be, is an appropriate emotion. Sorrow for things that our loved ones have lost makes sense, even if it is not as big as what others suffer. We don’t make it better for them by denying our own pain in the midst of this. If anything, our own senses of loss can give us a glimpse, an opportunity for understanding and compassion for what others are going through as well.
So I share this with you for three reasons: First, to let you know I understand. I understand the feelings of grief and loss that you are also experiencing. This is a hard time. And it is okay to name it as such. Second, I extend this as an invitation to be gentle with yourself around your own feelings. God has given us our feelings as a gift, and we are called to experience all that it is to be human. I realize our culture tells us to “buck up”, but we have the psalms to show us another way: one of being genuinely and humanly authentic. Denying our feelings and our reality is, at some level, pushing God away, who is the author of all feelings and experiences. Finally, my own experience is that acknowledging the grief and pain often makes way for the feelings of joy to return. I think about the movie “Inside Out” in which it was sorrow that opened the door for healing and joy. So allow yourself these feelings too. Move through them, rather than avoiding them. See what doors of feelings, ideas, thoughts and creative solutions are opened on the other side.
Happy Birthday, my dear 20 year old girl.
I am looking towards next year for a better celebration.
For the rest of you, love and peace this day.