September birthdays are awkward. They’re at the beginning of the school year, so you don’t know quite who your friends are this year. Or you’re at a new school and nobody knows it’s your birthday. Or maybe you’re (I’m) just an awkward person. For whatever reason, my birthdays are often anticlimactic: the day in high school when not one person remembered; the party I threw for myself while I was teaching that almost nobody could come to; the cafeteria chow mein I celebrated with my last year in Kansas. Much like New Year’s Eve, my birthday just doesn’t live up to the hype.
So a few years back, I started to look at my birthday a different way. Instead of spending the day getting other people to celebrate me (which I’m not averse to), I try to take a good chunk of time with the Lord to look at what he’s done in my life over the past year.
For some people, birthdays are about presents or parties or long phone calls with faraway friends. For me, they’re examens, days of gratitude and contrition and petition. The day I turned 20, I learned to be grateful for the suffering I’d endured that year. The day I turned 23, I was so overwhelmed by the blessings of the previous year, I asked God for fewer consolations. The day I turned 25, the Lord asked me to be his bride. These are days that stand out in stark relief against the confused background of my busy life.
Today I am 29—which seems much older than I could possibly be—and I am just so grateful. I wanted to take a moment to share the things I am most grateful for:
1. My vocation. More than anything else, I am so grateful that the Lord has called me to belong completely to him, to give him my undivided heart. The greatest joy of my life is the promise that I will be his bride. He has given me such a deep love for him—despite the nonsense that I try to fill my heart with—that I’m really beginning to hunger for him, to delight in him and to rest in him.
The day he called me—4 years ago today—I sobbed. I told him I would be his, but I “knew” I’d never be happy about it. But God is so much bigger than my shriveled little heart, and gradually it’s been swelling with love for him and his Church and his people until there’s so little room left for envy or anxiety. I almost don’t long for marriage any more. I almost don’t ache for children. I almost don’t worry about being alone. I almost don’t feel bitter. And each time I forget how enraptured I am by the gift of my vocation, he lifts my chin and gazes on me and I know—I know—that I am radiant with his beauty and captivating. I am so beautiful and so worthy–by his grace–and oh just so blessed to be his.
The more I love him, the more beautiful I am because he begins to shine through me. Most of the time I’m just little fallen me, but more and more I’m reminded of who I am in Him. More and more he draws my attention back to him and I fall in love again.
Marriage is so beautiful and so holy and such a blessing, but this? This is so me! This fits the joys and the struggles of my heart so perfectly—there’s nothing I would trade for this. Nothing.
2. My faith. I so very nearly wasn’t the person I’ve become. Everything good in my life is so clearly a product of grace. I am so grateful for having been chosen and claimed. It’s not just loving Christ that brings joy to my heart but knowing him, especially in the Eucharist. I’m so blessed to have been drawn into the Church and led to seek truth in his Word.
I was too cynical and too arrogant and too enamored of my own intelligence to accept the truth of the Gospel. I’m still a self-important mess but–wonder of wonders–he’s given me the gift of faith. Every once in a while, I get a glimpse of the life I could have been living if not for his grace. I am so blessed.
3. My ministry. I haven’t written anything that wasn’t assigned since I was in grade school and I never would have started had it not been for the Lord—but I love this! I love expressing myself in this way and I love that my work is touching hearts.
But more than blogging, I’m so grateful to be able to travel and speak to such different groups of people. This week, I got to talk to a group of holy young women about discernment and my particular vocation and answer their questions. The next day, I was off to a youth group to talk about God’s desperate love for us. Yesterday, I presented on defending Christianity and the divinity of Christ. Then this morning, I met a young woman for coffee and an incredible conversation about discernment and prayer and mortifications and consecrated virginity.
I feel outrageously blessed that the Lord continues to use me with large groups and in one-on-one settings to speak his truth to souls. I’ve wanted to be a missionary since I was in high school and I’m so grateful that he knows how to use me best and that he’s entrusted some part of the mission of his Kingdom to my weak hands.
4. My loved ones. I’ve mentioned before that I hate to be needy or burdensome. All this living out of my car and off the generosity of others? It’s really hard for me. But I’m surrounded by beautiful people who are so gracious, people who don’t think they’re doing me a favor by letting me stay with them—people who even ask me to stay longer and longer still. They offer prayers and spare rooms and graphic design and introductions—and they’re happy to do it! It’s so humbling to be so well loved by so many amazing people.
5. You! I can’t believe I have so many subscribers (almost 500)! I’m so grateful to you for reading my posts and sharing or liking or commenting. Thank you for praying for me, for offering a place to stay, and for helping out financially. Thank you especially to those who’ve invited me to come speak! God is continuing to surround me with generous people who are so willing to help me even if we’ve never met and I’m so blessed by all of you.
This year, I got the rug pulled out from underneath me—again. After 15 years of wanting to be in the classroom until the day I died, the Lord asked me to teach in a new way. After a lifetime of wanting roots and stability, he called me to drop everything and follow with nothing but a walking stick. He is providing, as he always does. He is blessing me, as he always does. And he is holding me close and drawing my heart gradually, gently, with such tender love. I just—I can’t—friends, there aren’t even words. I am so blessed. Praise God with me.