Last October, I sat across from my husband at a small, white-clothed table, the stars above hidden by thick clusters of palm trees. I’ve cried in some bizarre places, but I never thought I’d cry while dining on a tropical island. And yet, I fought back tears as I was serenaded by one of the restaurant’s employees. As I listened to her mellow voice crooning out the words to “Happy Birthday,” the sound took me back to 2011, a Houston living room, and a bald young mom with desperate prayers.
I can still see the twin upholstered chairs with stacks of magazines between them, the coffee table books, and family photos on the built-in bookshelves around the television. I spent countless hours there in the living room of my “Houston parents,” the strangers-turned-family who let me live with them during my months of treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Center. When your body is wiped out from chemo and your husband and young children are 600 miles away, there’s not much to do but watch television.
So there I sat, curled up under a blanket with a knit cap covering my head and a central line coming out of my chest, watching for hours. I used to love TLC, but I had to avoid “Say Yes to the Dress” and all those moms picking out wedding dresses with their daughters, bickering and not appreciating that they were alive to see their daughter’s wedding. Cooking shows might trigger nausea. HGTV was usually safe territory.
But without fail, I’d see at least one commercial for the American Cancer Society. That year they ran an ad campaign featuring celebrity musicians singing “Happy Birthday to You.” Their tagline was “Here’s to a world with more birthdays” and they were the self-proclaimed “Official Sponsor of Birthdays.” I remember watching Celine Dion, alone on an empty concert stage, belting out her acapella rendition with emotion and heart, as my own emotions ran down my face.
I came undone each time I saw those commercials. I was diagnosed with cancer the day before my 34th birthday. I didn’t expect to celebrate many more. Because of my treatment in Houston, I missed each of my children’s birthdays that year. I watched them open gifts via webcam as they turned 7, 5 and 2.
Every single day, I begged the Lord for more birthdays. I pleaded with Him to let me see my children blow out more candles, to let me live long enough for my two-year-old daughter to remember me. My idea of growing old had changed dramatically. I wasn’t shooting for age 70 or 80. In my mind, turning 40 was more than I could dare to dream.
But God. BUT GOD. But God, in His mercy, has done more than I could have hoped or imagined. I’m turning 40 tomorrow! You’ve never in your life seen anyone as excited to be 40 as me. Being “over the hill” doesn’t bother me, because I’ve spent years thinking I might already be near the bottom. I’m thrilled to find I’ve got more of the hill still below me.
With all due respect to the work of the American Cancer Society, my Heavenly Father is the official sponsor of birthdays – He is the one who gives me life and breath. I’ll take each and every birthday He gives and proclaim the power and glory of His name. Through it all, He is good and faithful.
Happy birthday to me. (And many more!)
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