on birthdays.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

I turned 24 today.

The last few days have been full of celebrations, the tail-end of Spring Break on campus, culminating in a quiet evening at home with friends. I blew out candles, we ate cake, laughed, and celebrated another year of life. I remember staring into the candles, flickering on top of the cake Paul had made, thinking about this past year and the year to come.

I remember that distinct moment from most of my birthdays, when all eyes are on you, as you look at your dimly lit cake, awaiting the moment when you take that deep breath and blow out the candles. When I was younger, I had my birthday wish ready, for that moment when I would say my wish in my head and blow out the candles, ushering in another year.

I wish for a new guitar.
I wish I could become a better tennis player.
I wish for a trip to Disneyland.
I wish for someone to hold my hand.

Somewhere in my late teenage years, that shifted. I now looked at the candles trying to piece together a wish, or desire, to mark those candles before they were extinguished. I hadn't thought something through, and I found myself scrambling to choose something that meant a lot to me, that was important enough, or significant enough to be given the label of a birthday wish. The last few years I didn't even find a single thing, and those wishes became more simple and more linear.

I just wish for a good year. 

From what I remember, that was what I had wished for, for the past few years. A good year.

Birthdays come paired with nostalgia for me, as I look back on the past year and attempt to decide if it was a good year. Usually it's pretty easy, the strongest memories come to the surface fairly quickly. Graduating college, dancing in Spring Sing, traveling abroad, starting college, graduating high school, winning my first tennis tournament, making the varsity basketball team, starting high school, and on and on. After I said farewell to my friends tonight, as I was cleaning up my apartment, I started the same routine. What was good about year 23? What are the distinguishing memories that will mark this year of life for me?

Somewhere in between wiping down my counter tops and carefully placing foil over leftover birthday cake, I found myself feeling rather emotional about this past year of life. Looking back at everything that has happened over the past twelve months, it hit me for the first time, just how significant this last year has been. At this point in my life, I think I have decided year 23 has been the hardest year for me. There were more valleys than mountains, and the mountains took a lot of time to climb, and they were hard. It was just plain hard. As I placed the leftover cake in the fridge, I finally accepted the thought that maybe this past year wasn't that good.

I don't like to think that, because I've always tried to see the best in situations. Things might be hard, but there will always be a reason to be thankful. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel, that I kept running towards this year, not stopping along the way. I knew once I reached that light, things would be okay. And I am okay. But I feel much better knowing I can close the chapter on this past year and look forward to a new one.

I haven't posted an update since October of last year. It's been five months, and life is steadily moving along. "we're on our way," detailed Paul's improving health and discharge from City of Hope, along with somewhat of a conclusion on that season of life. It continues to be my most-read post on my blog, almost to 1,000 views. Other writing pales in comparison to what I wrote in that post, and often times I find myself rereading those words, especially recently. Life has returned to normal, if you can call it that. Paul and I are both back at work, enjoying weekend trips, and life as it was before the diagnosis. Here and there, we find subtle reminders of what last year brought for us, and often it finds it's way back into my mind. I sometimes find myself going back to what life was like in September, when Paul was in the midst of his fight, and I found myself sitting next to him, concerned with nothing else in the world, not class assignments, not work, not my own selfish needs. That entire journey, was the marking moment of year 23. And yes, there were triumphs, and victories, and an eventual resolution, but I will be frank and I will be honest...it was so incredibly hard. The valleys were dark, and deep, and there were only a few mountains along the way. And when you reached a mountain, you still had to climb it.

Reaching the heights of those mountains took a lot out of me. I reached the peaks exhausted, tired, relying on the support from others around me, who carried me in the moments I needed it most this last year. The moments from this past year that made me smile, made me laugh, reminded me of why we choose to climb those mountains in our lives. In retrospect, I don't know if year 23 was a good year. But I know that I learned why we climb the mountains we face in our lives, why we face them instead of avoiding them. The lessons you learn along the way, the people who come alongside you, the journey you take teaches you more and more with each mountain, with each year.

Year 23 wasn't that good, but year 23 taught me more than I could have ever imagined.

About myself, about love, about self-sacrifice.
About trusting the Lord, deeply, honestly, truthfully.
About vulnerability.
About the power of community.

I looked at the candles on my cake tonight, slowly burning and flickering in my dim apartment. It seemed like a lifetime I looked at them and thought about closing the chapter on year 23 and beginning year 24. A million thoughts, desires, wishes, ran through my head. And I didn't settle on any of them.

I blew out the candles, confidently, and joyfully.
If anything, I know this to be true.

Whatever year 24 holds, there will be mountains to climb, and lessons to learn.


Respectfully submitted,
Leah

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