29 year old me….

Today is my 41st birthday.  I love birthdays — mine and everyone else’s.  I think we should celebrate all month, instead of just one day.   Last night, I had a group of women over — not to celebrate my birthday — but just to celebrate our friendships – most of them very new.  I didn’t even really want anyone to know it was my birthday and didn’t include it on the invitation, but a couple of people knew already.  One of the women brought me a cake — It said “Happy 29th Birthday”.  I laughed and said that it was the 12th anniversary of my 29th birthday.  But, as I reflected on it a little bit, I realized that there really isn’t any part of me that wishes to be 29 again.  In fact, when I was 29 — I was at one of the lowest points in my life.  Here’s what 41 year old me has to say to 29 year old me.

Dear Stephanie,

You’re 29 today.  I know that life isn’t what you thought it would be.  28 started out so awesome.  Remember that surprise party your husband threw for you — at Oregano’s in Scottsdale?  What a great night.  You were surrounded by friends and were actually in awe of all the people that were there.  You and your friend Julie had the time of your lives — she made you laugh so hard, you nearly peed your pants.  But, that was pretty much par for the course when you were with her.  You were healthy and happy.  Sure, there were a few bumps in the road – you had decided you wanted to have a baby.  That proved to be a little harder than it seemed.  You grieved the lost pregnancies, but it finally happened — and 28 was the year you became a mother!  And, then it all seemed to crumble.  Your baby was premature and had a heart defect. Your best friend, Julie was diagnosed with lung cancer.  You begin to wonder if your marriage is going to survive the stress.  Here you are — 29 years old and wondering if the things that bring you the most joy are going to be taken from you.

I’m not going to lie.  You think it’s bad now and it’s actually going to get worse.  You will see your baby go through 2 more heart surgeries.  You will beg God not to make you bury and infant.  Just when you think things are getting better with his health, he will start having seizures.  You will lose your best friend.  You will have to leave the job you love because you just can’t do it, you have to put your family first.  Basically, 29 is going to suck.  Luckily, we don’t have crystal balls, so you don’t have to know what’s in store and you just keep swimming, just keep swimming (oh wait…that movie hasn’t come out yet.  You’ll get it eventually).

But, I’m here to tell you that it gets better.  Your marriage will not only survive — it will get stronger.  Your son, the one who is so developmentally delayed right now, is going to thrive.  You already know he’s smart.  What you don’t know is that he’s an artist.  A musician.  And, he’s funny.  He is so funny.  He’s also a lot like you.  He’s going to challenge you and frustrate you, but he’s the greatest gift you’ve ever been given.  All of this pain and  heartache is someday going to be a distant memory.  And, yes…there is going to come a day when you don’t even think about his heart defect.

Losing Julie is going to be really hard.  There won’t be a day that goes by that you don’t think of her.  And of course, you’ll never replace her in your heart, but there are going to be people who “get you” and make you laugh just as much as she did.  You haven’t even met some of the best friends you’re ever going to have.

It’s not always going to be easy.  Money will be really tight.  You’ll wonder how the bills will get paid.  But, I promise you that you’ll always be provided for.  And, there will come a time when the money won’t run out before the next paycheck comes.

Best of all, the relationships that are so strained right now?  They are going to get better.  They’ll be restored.  The resentment you feel in your heart is going to be replaced by forgiveness and love.  I know you don’t believe me now, but it will happen.  It won’t happen overnight — it will take years.  Be patient.

That heartache you feel right now over Jake?  You’ll feel it again, but in a very different way.  You’ll open your heart and love.  And you will  lose.  Your heart will break into a million pieces, but it will change you in ways you could never imagine.  It will make you a better person.

So, the years ahead aren’t going to be easy.  But, they won’t break you.  You are strong.  You will be surrounded by amazing people who love you and will lift you up when you’re in a pit.

And, when you turn 41, you’ll look around and realize that life is better than it’s ever been.

“I am lucky
to be what I am!
Thank goodness I’m not
just a clam or a ham
Or a dusty old jar of
sour gooseberry jam!
I am what I am! That’s a
great thing to be!
If I say so myself,
–Dr. Suess

Loving the unlovable

There’s a character in The Secret Life of Bees that I relate to.  May Boatright is a complicated personality. Highly sensitive to the pain of others, she carries the weight of the world in her soul.  She built a wailing wall in her backyard and goes there when she is upset.  I often joke that I need a wailing wall of my own.

A few years ago, I started praying that God would break my heart for the things that break His.  It’s one of those “be careful what you ask for” prayers because sometimes the pain of the world and the people around me are crushing.  I’m not meaning to sound dramatic and I’m certainly not going to drown myself in a river over the things that weigh on my mind and heart, but sometimes it is exhausting.

For several weeks, I have been exhausted by the Casey Anthony trial and discussion surrounding it.  Let me first be very clear — my personal feeling is that she probably had something to do with her daughter’s death.  But, our justice system is one that puts the burden of proof on the prosecution — everyone is innocent until proven guilty.  It is my personal belief that the jury took their job and the instructions given to them about reasonable doubt very seriously.  And, I suspect this case will haunt them forever.  I was obviously not in the courtroom and did not watch the trial on television, but I do know that there was never a cause of death determined.  I don’t know how a person can be convicted of murder when there is no cause of death.  All of the evidence was circumstantial and as unfair as that may seem at times like this, a person simply cannot be convicted of a crime based on circumstantial evidence.  How incredibly ironic it was that this verdict came down just hours after we gathered together in communities across this country to celebrate the Declaration of Independence and the freedoms that we enjoy as a result of that historical document.  How often do we hear of innocent people being held prisoner in other countries because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.  We often regard those countries as barbaric and backwards. Our judicial system is not perfect and I believe that sometimes criminals go free on technicalities or by lack of evidence.  We are right be enraged at the injustice of it all, but at the same time, innocent people often spend years — decades — even lifetimes — in prison. Where is the outrage when it’s discovered that somebody has been wrongly convicted of a crime? What about when we discover, after it’s too late, that somebody was put to death for a crime they did not commit?  Where are the mobs of chanting people then? And then I wonder why Caylee Anthony’s story gripped the nation and stories like Christian Choate’s don’t spark a greater public outrage (I’m not saying that there isn’t outrage…just that it didn’t make the news cycle in the same kind of way).  Believe me, my soul aches for what Caylee endured at the hands of somebody she trusted.  But, that’s not the only thing that makes my heart heavy.

In the days and weeks that have followed the shocking verdict, I think that the most disturbing things I have heard is professing Christians saying things like “I hope she burns in hell”.  Often they are the same kinds people who attend evangelical churches and wear WWJD bracelets.  Really,  I do not think  that Jesus would say, “I hope she burns in hell”. In fact, I am 100% certain that He would not say that.   The reality is, if you are a Christian, you believe that Jesus came to save us from a destiny just like that.  It is the very basis for why we worship Jesus.  On Sundays, we lift up our hands and praise Him for the work that he did on the cross.  A work that, in a very uncomfortable way, looks a lot like the picture of Casey Anthony leaving the jail in the dark of the night.  Guilty.  And yet set free.  Now, I realize there are fundamental differences — not the least of which is that nobody has paid the price for the crime that was committed.  It can be argued that many have paid a price.  But, for the crime itself, nobody has been held accountable.  And, I think that is what outrages people the most. 

But my point is this:

As Christians, we are called to love God and love others as much as we love ourselves (Mark 12:28-31).  And, if only we could live up to those two seemingly simple commandments, we would not have situations like babies being found dead in a swamp. But at the same time, wishing somebody eternal damnation in hell is just something that my heart cannot even fathom.  Because I think that if you really believe in hell — and you really take the words of Jesus seriously as He calls His followers to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:16-20), then you would be on your knees praying for Casey Anthony’s soul.  Because if you look back at that verse in Mark — Jesus doesn’t command us to just love the loveable neighbors. He just simply said we are to love our neighbors.  And by neighbors, He meant everybody.

I don’t even know how to end this post because it’s so complicated.  I don’t even know why I feel so compelled to post this in the first place.  I know how I feel, but I don’t have any answers — especially for people who don’t believe what I believe about Jesus and God and Heaven and hell. What I can tell you is that I believe that God’s heart breaks for what happened to Caylee.  But, I also believe that He grieves for the way that people who claim to be His followers behave in the aftermath of such a tragedy.  We must think before we speak…because I think that our words reflect the state of our hearts (Luke 6:45).  And, we cannot testify to a God of forgiveness and love if our words are hateful…about anyone.