Yesterday I turned 29.
The last and what is looking to be most exciting year of my 20s is now underway. My first birthday in Japan is now complete. And you know what? It was a great day. I woke up this morning feeling so incredibly thankful. More thankful than I expected or imagined. Heart-brimming-thankful.
I was actually a bit worried that I’d be homesick. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love Sapporo. I am fully-enjoying the various twists-and-turns of settling-into-life in Japan. I have met some amazing people and am being blessed with what I pray will develop into some wonderfully-lasting friendships…
But, I can’t change the fact that I have only been here 11 weeks. And that is not a long time.
And I’m kind of a birthday-person.
Like, I know some people don’t really do the whole celebratory-occasion-thing and it’s not how they’re wired at all. But I am the total, complete opposite. Occasions are important to me. Not because of expensive gifts or extravagence or anything, but just because of thoughtfulness, and quality time and the chance to really and truly appreciate the people you really care about. I like markers. I’m a birthday-kind-of-person.
So something within me was actually wondering how I would feel about not being with my longer-than-11-week-friends-and-family on such an occasion.
I prayed about this on Monday in a very unarticulate-kind-of-fashion: ‘Jesus, I know this is a completely narcissistic prayer, but please let me have a happy-kind-of-non-home-sick-heart on my birthday’.
Yep. Something like that.
I’m really and truly thankful that God is gracious enough to answer some of my narcissistic prayers…
I had a great birthday. In no particular order, some highlights have been…
1) Kayoko and Obaa-chan. Just everything about them. They baked me Sakura cake. They got two full sized candles and one 9/10 size candle to mark my age. They wrote me hand-written cards in traditional and beautiful Japanese script. They sang ‘Happy Birthday’ as loudly as they could. They just loved me.
2) My amazing friends and colleagues at JaLS. I work at a great place with some great people. We ate cake. Had fun at work (yesterday’s publicity event is probably worth it’s own blog post, but at the end of it we had given out about 200 flyers, received free 5* tickets to a Korean hotel, and met the most random array of people on the planet!). And laughed. Alot.
3) The amount of beautiful and loving words, gifts and messages from new friends in Sapporo. I love and appreciate you guys so much. I also have some amazingly talented friends! Like, Haruka-sensei, who drew me in manga-form, and my dear friend Fah, who wrote the most beautiful letter and picture in English! Seriously, I’m so glad and blessed to be in this city and joining in God’s purposes here!
4) Yesterday was the first longboard-to-work-worthy-day of the year. And it was just great. Sapporo is pretty flat, so it is definitely a good way to travel here… there really is nothing better than skating to work on a sunny day… I resisted the temptation to skate in the underground walkway… But it was a tough call… 😉
5) Birthday Skype calls. Second best to being able to have all your friends in one place on your birthday, is being able to have hilariously joyful Skype calls across the world. My highlights were a late night catch up with my best friend, and a singing Skype message from a crazy-English-friend. Perfect.
6) Packages from home. Yep. My friends and family did an awesome job of getting cards and presents here on time. And they did an even more awesome job of supplying me with British treats, memories, notes, and chocolate limes (they deserve their own category, right?). Becca outdid herself completely and even managed to find me teenage-mutant-ninja-turtle pyjamas. Legendary.
7) Ok. And probably other stuff I’ve forgotten. Like, if you sent me a card, an email, a LINE, a message, a gift, a cake, a whatever…. Please know you helped to make my first birthday in Japan a wonderful and beautiful day and I love and appreciate you TONS!!
You see, I’m a birthday kind of person.
And this is where I’m going to get serious for just a moment.
Because this is something I’m celebrating. In itself.
These past two years, birthdays and Christmasses and occasions-that-can-be-remembered have become memories and moments I treasure. I have been learning how to celebrate in joy. Because, and this is the big because… I spent 5 years dreading occasions.
My birthdays or holiday seasons were marked with bad memories, and twisted truths and a feeling of entrapment so strong that the darkness seemed inpenetrable. They were moments that intensified what was already fearful, and became outlets for all the things I was scared of. They were days that I learned to cry and cling to Jesus in. If you’ve ever been in a bad relationship you’ll understand something of this reality. Occasions which should bring joy become almost toxic. You fear them and dread them and don’t know what to expect on them.
And that was me.
But these days, right now, are not dark, but light. I was reading the end of 2 Samuel this morning, and it says it right there in the song of David, ‘You are my lamp, O Lord; the Lord turns my darkness into light’ (2 Samuel 22 v 29).
Because that’s the thing. That’s the truth. The truth that doesn’t deny the darkness, but sees a future past it. There are points in my story that have been dark and that has been so very real and so very black. But the Lord doesn’t finish the story there. Because in our darkest-deepest-blackest-times, He is our lamp. When there is no other light, He still shines. Faithful and constant and brighter-than-the-sun-in-its-glory. And our darkness doesn’t stay dark to Him. He turns my darkness into light.
And that is my testimony.
And in all my thankfulness, that is what I am most thankful for.
Because I’m a birthday-kind-of-person. But that in itself speaks of a restoration I didn’t expect, deserve or anticipate.
And the light, there’s something about the first light of a new day that is all the sweeter because it’s followed the darkness. The rising dawn. The glint of sun. The hope of newness and resurrection.
It isn’t lost on me that it’s Easter week. That this Friday we remember the death-and-blood-spilt-by-a-Saviour-doing-everything-to-be-close-to-us. But more than that, we remember His resurrection. The reality that death had no hold on Him, and so it now has no hold on us.
Because He lives we live.
Because He lives I am alive.
And I am so incredibly thankful for His rescue.
Which is why I’m a birthday-kind-of-person…