Some folks turn forty without a second thought. My husband will likely try to get away with such craziness. Not one for public acknowledgement or parties in his honor, he’d rather allow his day to pass quietly, like any other day. I learned years ago that if I want my day celebrated, I need to “manage up” and give him ideas. Which begs the question… What DO I want for my fortieth birthday? How do I want this next year to go down in my personal history?
I’ve thought about the usual suspects: a weekend getaway with my mom and sisters, a cruise with my family, maybe even a return trip to Paris. I’ve explored options outside of my comfort zone like inviting my mom and sisters on a three-day walk for breast cancer. Noble, yes, but not quite “me.” In fact, for all the fun celebrations I dreamed up, none of the ideas felt inspired.
When my oldest sister first tipped “over the hill,” we girls celebrated together with a weekend of shopping, wine, and pampering at the Ritz. It was a time to honor the coming of age for all the women in our family: the birthday girl, our sister and myself, as well as our beloved mother who raised us so gracefully. We four take every opportunity to weave our bond as tightly as possible; being together for this milestone was no exception.
My middle sister marked the occasion more solemnly. She had recently faced a health scare and was as thrilled to celebrate life itself as the four decades behind her. The four of us gathered at a friend’s vacation home for time together, a few tears, and a lot of laughter. The birthday girl then returned home and hosted a joy-filled autumn harvest party with dozens of her family’s closest friends.
Just before my 39th birthday, my mind was preoccupied with what I would do during the coming year to make it special. Something to make me feel more mature, like I found my place in this world, like I was finally a grown-up. That’s when God spoke to me, directly to my heart.
At the age of 16, I heard God ask me to serve Him through missions. I felt a tug (pull, yank) on my heart and I answered Him. Yes, I’ll go. When the time is right. But first I needed to finish high school and start college. Then I didn’t want to miss a semester, so my commitment would have to wait. After I graduated from college, I was too busy proving myself to the world to bother with God, much less missionary work. When I finally settled down and found a church home with my new husband, the topic of international missions seemed as foreign to our relationship as the languages I had never learned.
For twenty years, I watched friends go on short- and long-term trips all over the world. Surely they were better prepared than me, holier and more righteous. And perhaps I was mistaken all along. Maybe I had been a sappy, heartsick teenager who just imagined the “still, small voice.”
This time there is no mistaking. Missions. Go.
For my fortieth birthday, I will ask my family to give me the gift of the opportunity, to care for my children, to support my husband as I go. I’ll ask my friends for the gift of prayer as I seek God’s direction for the place and time (please, Lord, not much longer than a week away from my daughters). I will finally fulfill the commitment I made decades ago and admit that forty-year-old me will never feel like a grown-up, I’ll never find my place in this world until I take that first step: Go.