A Lesson From My Birthday

I just recently found this early blog post I wrote several years ago just after my 28th birthday. Reading over it again years later, I realized a couple of things:

1)   I’ve been trying to start a blog for years. Here’s hoping the timing is right, and this is the one that actually sticks.

2)   I used to really love my birthday—like really love it. I’ve got to take that birthday joy back this year!

3)   I wrote this with so much hope for what would come in my 28th year. Now I know that it was the year that kicked off one of the most difficult seasons of my life—unexpected health struggles, a life-changing diagnosis, horrible anxiety, career changes, and so much more. In the moment, it felt like one of the worst years of my life. Looking back now, it was actually one of the best. Broken down, defeated, and totally worn out, I had nothing left but to turn to the Lord. I’ve learned more in the years that followed 28 about total dependence on God and the people who love me than I had in any year prior. So as it turns out, 28 was a good year—because what the world meant for evil, God used for good.

So today, I want to share this glimpse into Sara at 28 years old. She was standing on the brink of some incredible things that she had no idea would come and they certainly didn’t look like what she thought they would. But it all started here, on her birthday.


Two weeks ago I turned 28.

Then I totally freaked out.

And today I started a blog.

The days leading up to my 28th birthday were unlike those leading up to any of the 27 preceding it. I was nervous at the thought of it, uncomfortable with any discussion of its acknowledgment, and generally disinterested in its arrival. I can neither confirm nor deny that many of these days involved the shedding of tears.

For those of you who know me, you’ll recognize that this sudden disdain for a birthday celebration is completely out of character. I love a birthday- anyone’s birthday, but mine especially. I attribute the start of my affection for birthdays to my mom, who went out of her way to make them a big deal every year. In my house, birthdays included countdowns leading up to the big days each year, birthday cake for breakfast (a tradition I have gladly continued now that I live on my own), special birthday lunches that allowed you to leave school for an hour, the privilege of selecting the radio station both to and from school, and a dinner where the entire family of picky eaters had to eat whatever you chose without complaints. Needless to say, I looked forward to April 3rd with great delight every time it rolled around.

But this year, as 28 was fast approaching, I entered into what I like to call “The Birthday Funk.” I didn’t want to talk about it, I didn't want to acknowledge it, and I certainly didn’t want to celebrate it. And I had brought it all on myself.

Five years ago I was graduating from college, moving to a new city, and starting a job I didn’t necessarily want while pretty much everyone I knew (and I mean EVERYONE- I went to Christian college) was getting married and starting in on their long desired career paths. To say I felt a little left behind and out of place would be quite the understatement.

“It’s fine,” I told myself. “You have years ahead of you to get to that place. You are fine where you are right now.”

In an effort to support this mantra, I decided to set some goals. Achievement is innate for me; goal setting, list making, and dream chasing have always been natural. So I sat down and made my list of things I hoped to accomplish over the next five years- or by the time I turned 28.

Complete your Master’s degree.

Resolve your health problems.

Get married.

These were just a few of many that I wrote down, shared with a friend (whose advice that this was a bad idea went ignored), and went on with my life.

Over the next five years, as things would happen to derail these goals from being met, I’d push it aside, reminding myself again, “You’re fine. You’ve got until you’re 28.”

And this worked out alright- up until I was a week away from turning 28, still in school, still working out health problems, and still single. There was no way I could get married, cure my health issues, and complete graduate school in seven days!

Cue the freak out.

I woke up on April 3rd and the first thing I did was cry. Then I got mad at myself for making a stupid list and putting myself in this position. Then I cried again.

As I lay in bed that morning, I kept asking God how I got here- how does the ultimate birthday lover end up crying as soon as she opens her eyes on her big day? I knew the answer before God even spoke it to me.

How did I end up crying on my 28th birthday?

Because I made a stupid list of things that were completely out of my control in an attempt to control the direction of my life instead of trusting God with it.

When I really sat back and looked at it, it wasn’t the unmet desires or goals that had me so devastated. It was a lack of faith. I was no different than anyone else struggling through the disappointment that is sure to come when we stop trusting God with the whole of our lives.

No matter how much I didn’t want it to, my birthday came and went. It was celebrated with phone calls and text messages, dollar store balloons, dinner with friends, and cupcakes over the kitchen counter with my roommates. And it was a good day.

Several days later as I was sharing the tale of “The Birthday Funk” with a friend, she reminded me of some valuable truth. It was okay to have dreams, okay to set goals- it’s just not okay when we set our sights on that which we can’t really control. Or when these things become more important than our ultimate goal as Christians- to love God and others with our whole lives.

Together we sat down, got out a pen and paper, and made some new goals- some silly, some more serious, all achievable, but none whose failure would indicate my lack of worth or accomplishment.

As one of my goals was to become a better writer, she suggested I start a blog. I laughed at this immediately. Doesn’t everyone who thinks they’re a writer have a blog?

“We all have a voice,” she reminded me. “We all have something to say.”

So here I am, 28 and two weeks, trying to figure out what it is I have to say.

Today it’s what I wished I had said when I woke up two weeks ago:

Hello there, 28. I think it’s gonna be a good year.

Sara Shelton