I turned 40 last week, which I wrote about here. I am happy to report that, so far, 40 is fantastic!
My birthday was one for the record books. I have talked about it in person to a few people, but haven’t really broadcast the extent of epic awesomeness that was my birthday weekend because I felt it would be in poor form. Because the truth is: it was so amazing that to talk about it might sound like I’m bragging.
However, this is MY blog and I want to write about MY birthday. Consider this fair warning: if you have unresolved issues with envy, you should close your web browser and skip this blog post. Come back next week/month/year when I write about struggling as a mother or how much I hate snow days or how I don’t understand why life has to be full of hurt and pain.
This post is NOT about hurt and pain!
My 40th birthday really began at 7:30am. I was getting the kids ready for school when Dan showed up at our house. He had been at his men’s group and was supposed to be heading to work, but he came home instead. I was puzzled until he gave me a gift bag with my birthday gift inside. As he handed me the gift, his chin trembled and he started to tear up. I was alarmed and didn’t understand why he was crying. I said, “What’s wrong?!” He told me he was so excited to give me this present and hoped it means as much to me as it did to him as he put it together. I didn’t understand until I pulled this out.
It is a three-ring binder full of letters he gathered from friends and family. Inside this binder are photos of beauty. Pieces of original artwork. Quotes from long gone ancestors. Poems and pieces of people who love me. Adjectives that have no business being attached to my name, but somehow, a few people think I matter in some small way.
I was completely undone by this binder. I cried at the breakfast table, and lost all focus on getting my kids to school. Dan saw them off while I read and cried some more. He sat beside me and cried with me. (That may be the most profound sentence I’ve ever written about my marriage. Ahem.) I cried off my makeup and laughed a lot too. It was – by far – the most thoughtful gift I’ve ever received. All those letters are priceless to me, but the most valuable of all is the very first one in the binder – the one written by my husband. Out of all the letters Dan has written me in our lifetimes, this one letter is the most beautiful because He talks about God’s love and provision. For a man who, just a few years ago, would hardly consider Jesus’ gift of grace – this letter is tangible proof of how much God has changed my best friend’s life.
Eventually, I had to leave and go to work. I carried that binder with me the rest of the day and gawked at it. I showed it to my coworkers and thanked them for writing a letter to me. The rest of the day was full of work, birthday wishes, and a general sense of joy.
That evening, Jackson had a Scout event and Katie had rehearsal at church. Dan and I split off after a quick family dinner, and I didn’t return home with Katie until 9:00. I pulled into our driveway and saw his mom’s car. My brain went into alert mode, and I started wondering if there was a surprise party inside. I quickly dismissed that thought, since it was 9:00 on a Thursday. I hoped maybe my sister had arrived from out of town to surprise me.
I walked into our house and found the kitchen lights off and a cake lit with candles. Dan, Jackson, Katie, and Dan’s mom were all smiling at me. I looked at them suspiciously, waiting for something to happen. Dan told me to blow out my candles so we could have cake. I did and said, “Why is your mother here?” I smiled at his mom, of course, but she knew I was puzzled and confused and didn’t mean anything rude by this. Dan explained his mom was there to take care of the kids because he and I would be leaving early in the morning. He told me to pack my bags and he would put the kids to bed. I asked where we were going, and he said I would find out in the morning. All he would tell me is our destination was somewhere “warmer than here.”
Immediately, my brain went into overdrive. In between random questions (Are we flying? Do I need a passport? Is it international? Do I need flip flops? Wait! I work weekends! Did you talk to my boss?), I fretted all the small details about Jackson’s dietary restrictions while we would be gone (and packed food for him too), I fretted my own dietary restrictions, and my brain ticked through all the appointments and duties I needed to cancel before we left. Then Dan told me he had already cancelled my appointments. He submitted my vacation request with my boss. And he had already packed the clothes and food the kids would need at Grandma’s. He thought of things I hadn’t thought of yet, even going as far as packing the kids’ lunches for the following Monday. [By this point, he had told me we wouldn’t be returning home until Monday.]
Now, here’s the point where I pause and explain something about myself. It is no surprise to the few of you who read this blog that I am a control freak. I often live under the prideful and false assumption that the world spins because of God and what I do to help Him. (I jest – sort of.) And while I have actually fantasized about my husband taking over the reins and planning a surprise trip for us, I never considered the ramifications of those fantasies becoming reality. Because the truth is taking control away from a control freak is like taking cocaine away from a drug addict. (At least I imagine it is; I’ve never been addicted to drugs.) Worry and fear reared their heads and the unknown shouted louder than the giddy spontaneity. In my anxiety over the loss of control, I panicked when I couldn’t find my swimsuit. I walked up and down the stairs in the house four times, trying to find it. Finally, in desperation, I sat down on a stool in our closet and prayed: “God, I know I shouldn’t be stressing about such a fantastic gift as this. I know in just 12 hours, I’ll be having the time of my life. But right now, I can’t find my swimsuit. And if I can’t find my swimsuit, I will have a very bad time. I know You know where my swimsuit is, so I’m going to let this go for now. I’m going to let You show me where it is when I need to know. Thanks, God.” I breathed and then I let it go. I stood up in my closet and focused on what shirts to pack. About 72 seconds later, I looked straight up at a shelf and saw my swimsuit right. there. “Thank You, God. You always help me!”
After another hour of packing and fretting, Dan and I finally went to bed. We were out the door at 4:00am, with only about four hours of sleep. Ugh. I still had no idea where we were going, but fully trusted my husband to lead me to something awesome. These are the roads at 4am – empty!
We got to the airport and the only people there were those dressed in flip flops, capris, and tank tops. (It’s January in St. Louis, people!) As we got closer to the airline check-in desk, I finally saw the sign that told me where we were going: CANCUN! I smiled, hugged Dan, and told him how excited I was.
When we boarded the plane, the woman beside me asked what resort we were staying at. When I answered, “I don’t know,” her face was shocked. (Later, one of my friends pointed out what a big leap it was for me [control freak] to say to someone “I don’t know” and not have an anxiety attack!) I slept a while on the plane, and woke when all the landing preps started.
We got off the plane, through customs, and onto the shuttle for our resort. We finally pulled up in front of this beautiful, open-air resort lobby and walked inside to check in. I could see the ocean from the lobby, and literally felt my heart exhale. It was like relief was flooding my soul. One of the hotel staff walked up and presented us with a fruity cocktail, and Dan turned and told me to go sit down. I obliged.
We couldn’t check into our room yet, so we left our bag with the bellman after I changed into capris (I was still wearing jeans and a long-sleeved shirt). We went to find something to eat, since we hadn’t had breakfast yet. Over breakfast/lunch, I smiled like a goon at my husband because he went to allthiswork for me. He took some time to explain how he arranged all the plans and when he started this whole charade, and also told me the details about gathering the letters for my binder.
I was so happy with the thought of spending a long weekend with my love, with nothing to do besides eat, sleep, and sit at the beach. So after we ate, Dan parked me at the beach (with our carry-on luggage), and went back up to find the bellman and get some shorts to change in to. I sat on the beach and let the wind blow over me.
I turned on some music from my iPod, then pulled out my mirror and tweezers. (Yes, I packed them! Remember, I’m a planner and I didn’t have time to tweeze before I left home?!) I enjoyed my fruity drink, and simply relaxed.
I sat there for a while, singing and praying and tweezing (ha!), and then noticed some movement behind me in my mirror. I turned and OH MY GOSH! OH MY GOSH! MY SISTER IS HERE! MY SISTER IS HERE! I was so completely shocked that an expletive fell out of my mouth, and I ran to her and hugged her with my full body. (I shrieked so much that I saw another person down the beach staring at me the whole time.) And then I hugged her husband, Wally, who was standing beside her. And I think I hugged him like 4 times, because I haven’t seen him since last summer – before he was deployed on a dangerous mission. I hugged my sister some more and hugged Wally some more, then hugged my spectacular husband.
A few days later, a friend of mine asked how the trip was. As I told her about the arrival of my sister on the beach, I explained it by saying it was the best reunion and it’s how I imagine heaven will be: I arrive in paradise with the Love of my life (I know Dan isn’t Jesus, y’all – it’s a broken analogy – but just go with it here), and He feeds me and sustains me and shows me around. And then I get to be reunited with those I love most, and I fly into their arms and finally feel at home again. I do all this with the Person beside me who planned this great trip FOR me, knowing that He hand-selected the details for me. What more joy could you imagine than standing beside the Giver and enjoying all the gifts He created for you?
From that point on, our surprise vacation flew by. We went to lunch together, talked over all the details from the last months of planning (and how they kept me from finding out), and I’m pretty sure I had this stupid grin on my face for the next five hours (at least).
After dinner, we had drinks on the lobby balcony, and Dan headed back to the room early (he had not slept on the plane like I did). I got to talk and laugh with Mary and Wally, and then we all headed to bed too.
Dan and I went to breakfast, and I’m telling you: simply sitting at breakfast with this man, eating good food (that I didn’t cook myself!), and drinking a lovely mimosa brought such bliss to my heart. Mary and Wally found us near the end of breakfast, and we stayed to eat with them and visit before heading to the beach.
Dan and I had a couple’s massage, and I fell asleep twice during it. It was that kind of relaxation that was so deep, I only woke myself up because I actually snored twice! Afterwards, we lounged by the pool on those breezy bed-sized couches that are popular at resorts these days.
And then it was time to shower and get ready for dinner. Dan headed down to dinner first, to get a spot for us (the reservation system at this resort wasn’t so great). When I came down to join him, the sunset was over but there was still enough light to see these awesome clouds over the pool and ocean.
We had dinner at what we called the “romantic” restaurant, and it was such great food. We laughed a lot and enjoyed ourselves. After dinner, the boys bought cigars from a vendor and we sat by the pool so they could enjoy their cigars. A band came to play, and we sang along. Oh, happy!
The next morning (Sunday), it was the same thing: sleep in, breakfast, chill on the beach. Dan and I decided to walk down to the nearest town, Puerto Morelos. Someone had told us it was a 30 minute walk, and someone else said it was about 45 minutes. WRONG. It took an hour to get there. I had only a swimsuit and cover up, because I didn’t think it would require shorts and walking shoes!
When we arrived at the town, I was a little bummed to find out it was very small and not very intriguing. There were a few sidewalk stores, but most of the store owners were pretty pushy (which I expected) and I was already dreading the hour walk back to the resort.
Dan and I found a sidewalk restaurant and had a Coke (it’s made with real sugar and not high fructose corn syrup in Mexico!), then decided to hire a taxi to drive us back to the hotel. We lucked out on finding another couple going to our same resort, so we shared the taxi and cut our costs.
After the game, we had drinks in the lobby and got to enjoy karaoke. Wally started the party off with “Sweet Caroline,” and I laughed continually for about 3 hours straight. (And I would LOVE to post a video of Wally singing, but will protect his privacy and opt out.)
And even though freezing cold WAS waiting for us, those three days in Mexico kept me from being bothered by it.
Mexico thawed my heart. It reminded this little control freak that the world DOES spin without me. My kids got fed, educated, and loved well when I stepped out and someone else stepped in. I survived just fine without the “perfect” sundress I forgot to pack and actually learned to surrender when the packing went astray. Mexico reminded me to let go of all the details in life that I allow to excessively weigh me down. Mexico helped me reunite with the sister I love dearly, the brother-in-law who makes me laugh more than anyone I know, and the husband who loves me in ways I don’t understand. And Mexico reminded me there is a Giver who loves to lavish me with grace and beauty, if I will slow down long enough to open my eyes. The Giver gave me the best gift of all: Rescue.
At one point over the weekend, I turned to Dan and said, “I love that you surprised me and all, but I miss the planning part of taking vacations. It would have been nice in November and December [two VERY hard months for me personally] to know I had this trip coming. On the hard days, I would have consoled myself by saying, ‘Rescue is coming’ because I would have known this trip was on the way.” Dan replied, “But that’s the thing: you just have to trust that Rescue is always coming. Even when we don’t know it, we have to trust that God has surprises in store and Rescue is on the way. Just because you don’t know exactly what it is doesn’t make the Rescue any less real.”
To hear those words come out of my husband’s heart? God, you are too good to me. You are so so so good!