I vividly remember my last birthday party. I was in 4th or 5th grade.
I had excitedly prepared for the day… invited all my friends, received RSVPs, planned games, picked out favors and decorations and snacks. I even hand-made little place tags for each friend we were expecting. And then, no one came. Well, I think 1 or 2 people came, out of 10 or more that said they would be there. I have this very clear memory of sitting at the table on our back porch surrounded by empty place settings and streamers, looking at the names I had written and decorated on each of those stupid place tags. I vowed to never have another birthday party. It was 15 years ago, but every time I think about it, it still burns the way it did that day. It was a defining moment in my life.
Since then I’ve had many more situations that seemed to confirm what I felt the day of the failed birthday party: people don’t actually like me. In junior high I had another defining moment. My best friend told me she needed to take a week-long break from our friendship. Our group of friends were informed of the break and everyone decided to hang with her, so for a week I sat alone on the bus, alone at lunch, alone in class. If you knew me in junior high you know I was already a weird kid, but my friends were weird too, so it was ok. Now I was weird and alone.
In high school I embraced my new identity and purposefully isolated myself… but that’s a subject worthy of several independent posts. The point is, since the birthday party, I’ve had this crippling lack of self-esteem. I’ve always seen myself as this awkward, unlikable person. Even now, as an adult, I have an idea in the back of my mind that while I may exchange pleasantries and small talk with my peers, people mostly tolerate me. They talk to me when I’m around but no one really cares. It makes me terrified to reach out to people. It’s exactly why I’ve always been so guarded, so eager to show everyone that I don’t need them, and, consequently, how I learned to be such a good listener (by turning conversations away from myself).
Last week, Thursday, was my 26th birthday. Early in the week I was on facebook looking at pictures from a friend’s recent surprise birthday party. I thought to myself, “No one has ever thrown me a surprise party. Of course, no one ever will.”
Stephen told me to get dressed up for a fancy birthday dinner Friday night. We were to swing by a friend’s house because they were giving us a gift certificate to a nice restaurant. The door opened, and standing in the living room were a large group of people… whose faces I recognized… even my sister was there. For a second I honestly wondered whose party we had accidentally crashed. Even after they all yelled “Surprise!” it took me 15 or 20 seconds to process the situation. This is for me? What? Why?
It was a wine and cheese party, so everyone was dressed up. I found out later that Stephen didn’t remember to put the party together until the last minute, so these people had less than a week’s notice and STILL came. Because, as it turns out, I am NOT a giant inconvenience. In a moment years and years of rejection and abandonment, both real and perceived, just broke off of me. Literally. Gone.
My little girl’s heart was broken on a birthday, a day that is supposed to be a celebration of who I am. And that little girl’s heart was healed on a birthday. God took this traumatic event and fully redeemed it.
I was telling Stephen all this after I’d had time to process everything, and tearfully asked him, “Did you have any idea this party would be so powerful and significant for me?” He nodded back, started to tear up himself. I just can’t get over how amazing my husband is for doing this for me; because of him I will look back on my 26th birthday party as one of the defining moments of my life.