Today I’ve been blessed with so many bithday wishes. The way I have celebrated my birthday for over 30 years now is to have a Birthday Person(s) to thank and honor as someone who has blessed my life. My birthday persons for 2017 are two of my first cousins.
First cousins share your early childhood much like your siblings do (minus the rivalry and fighting). Being the eighth child of a father who was one of eight, I had so many first cousins. They are mostly all gone now. When we had family get-togethers, I was in heaven.
Cousins share your likes and dislikes. They are your age. They play with you, watch over you, keeps secrets and never tell. Plus, even when you fuss, they go home to give you time to miss them again.
Recently, my closest cousin, Linda “Rikki” Shaw Willsey, found me on Facebook after twenty years apart. This was extra special because I not only have lost my mom and dad, brothers, and sisters, I lost two special cousins and my last aunt. With Linda’s post a flood of memories poured over me, and I was once again running through MacKenzie Park, singing with the family, eating amazing fried chicken and taking turns sitting on the homemade ice cream maker while it was being turned. In November Linda and I took a trip to our other cousins’ house in South Texas. She was recovering from a serious illness. This precious cousin, Evelyn Costley Cole, is a bit older, but she took care of us, held us in pictures and probably the one that fried the chicken. Even as a youth she was a great cook and excellent seamstress. She made my wedding dress and going away suit, plus hat! (It was a ’60s thing.)
Another thing about cousins, no matter how long you are apart, you pick back up as if there was no gap in time. However, as you get older you know the value of your connection.
My birthday persons for 2017 are Linda “Rikki” Shaw Willsey and Evelyn Costley Cole.
This story from my book Cruisin’ Thru Life, Dip Street and Other Miracles explains the premise behind choosing a birthday person.
Giving Yourself a Birthday Party
When I turned thirty-three, I hated my birthday. I found myself in an emotional waiting room, dressed in my party clothes,wondering who would give me a party? Who would bring presents, bake a cake, blow-up balloons? Who would say I’m of value even though I’m getting older?
“Well, what do you want to do?” my husband asked in an exasperated voice.
“I … I want … I don’t know,” I stuttered, “something special.”
“You want to go to the new restaurant?”
“Go out with friends?”
“Something special, so I don’t just feel old.”
“Hmmmm.” He disappeared into the garage. (I’ve always thought garages were built just so men had a place to escape.)
With no party in sight, I decided to give my own. How to celebrate? I couldn’t really think of any event that would turn my depression into joy. I had no idea what I truly wanted or needed.
Down through the years, Christmas time had remained my favorite celebration. I loved to give gifts, especially to those who meant a great deal to me. This is where the idea to select a Birthday Person formed.
Now each year I select someone who has blessed my life. I chose my mom first. I was her eighth child. She gave me life and added a great deal of fun and love to my life along the way. Next was my sister, Ouida. We shared everything. Best of all, she shared her faith in Christ with me and many others. She died a few years after I made her my Birthday Person. We never know how long we have to say “thank you.”
In the months before my birthday, I think of all the people who have blessed me. I search for a small token—a gift. Then I plan what I want to say. After writing my first rough draft, I get a clean sheet of paper that doesn’t have tear stains on it. And then I create the finished product and mail it with a simple present. There have been many tears involved in writing notes to my Birthday Person, tears of joy, tears of healing—tears shared on the giving and the receiving end.
I’ve chosen a Birthday Person each year, all my sisters, brothers, daughters, youth directors, pastors, grandchildren, family, and friends—all have changed my life in amazing ways. Some years it has been more difficult to choose a birthday person and several times I’ve included a group—my Sunday School class, Facebook friends and more. It has blessed me beyond any gift I could have received. By focusing on others, I have eliminated the fear of more wrinkles and gray hair looming in my future. I’m amazed when glancing back over the copies of these letters to see many people on my list have now passed away—my mom, sisters, brothers, and friends. People who changed my life and who gave me so much, people I could never thank enough, now gone. I’m glad I thanked them when I did.
Thankfulness feeds a healthy soul within us. My “Birthday Person” celebration has spread to many of my friends. The healing power of saying “thank you” and praising others can keep you young—that and a box of hair color and really good facial serum.
I now look forward to my birthday. I hope you look forward to yours. Try celebrating with a thank you gift.
Life Lessons: In Psalms100:4 it says: “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.” In the culture of that time, the gate was like the courtyard or the entryway of a home, but the court was the living area—the place to be at home with special friends. Taking the time to say thank you and offering a little praise not only makes you happy, it can change someone’s life, especially your children. Teaching your kids to say thank you and to praise is a huge gift to them. But the greatest gift is to teach them to be thankful to God and to praise him. Enjoy your birthday.