(From the August 11, 2016 issue of the Grand Haven Tribune)
She doesn’t want me to say anything. She doesn’t want me to do anything special.
I am going to anyway. Because it is really something. And she is really special.
My wife is having a birthday in a little over a week. It is a special birthday, one that ends in a certain number that signifies not just the marking of a single year but a period of time. She will be a woman of a certain age.
Some might wonder why I would go against my wife’s wishes and make something out of her birthday instead of letting it quietly pass. Well, some people wonder why there are those who climb mountains, and the best answer is simple: because they are there. I am defiantly celebrating my wife’s special birthday for similar reason: because she is here.
Some of you know the back story. In 2012 my wife was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. We found out on my birthday. I said at the time that rather than let that dark day mar my birthday for the remainder of my days, we would let it signify the joy that she has beaten the beast of cancer for another year for the remainder of her days. I told her then to no longer get me birthday presents. All she had to do was be here.
So, if she is here on her birthday, we do the same thing. We celebrate just because she is here. We were born two-and-a-half years apart. I am the older one, I freely admit. But having birthdays exactly six months apart gives us perfect semi-annual occasions to appreciate life. Every February and August is a precious reminder of beating the odds, that considering life a gift is not a cliché, that the grace of God is as real as cancer.
Actually, she is worth a birthday celebration not merely because she exists, but how she lives. Let me give you just a few examples.
She can make grown men cry with a mere bucket of blueberries. My wife has always loved blueberries. She picks them and serves them fresh and also freezes and dehydrates them to use throughout the year. Recently, she knew of several people who had knee surgery. So she picked extra for them and dropped them off for them to enjoy while recovering. One gentleman said it brought tears to his eyes when he saw the bucket and note she had dropped off at their house. This is just one selfless act my wife does. While some cancer patients mope, complain and feel sorry for themselves, she deals with the frustrations of scheduling surgeries and scans and other appointments, and then rushes to the fields to pick blueberries—for others.
She is the most social person I know who does not have a Facebook account. My life likes to talk when we run. On the occasions when my schedule is too packed for me to run with her, she talks to other people. She talks a lot, apparently, to people at their mailbox, in their yards, backing out of their driveways. A recent five-mile run we did together took considerably longer than planned because we stopped no fewer than three times to chat with people she has met over the years. She knows about them too, about the circumstances and struggles in their lives, and asks about their well-being. And she shares her story, boldly sharing details, humbly giving glory to God for the battles won.
She works harder than a team of Guatemalans. That may sound racially insensitive, so let me explain. We knew some people who had landscaping done at their house and hired a company to do the work. It happened to be a group of guys who were all Guatemalan. And we noticed how hard they work, long days accomplishing a lot fast. So our inside joke when we recently completed a major landscaping project of our own was that she works as hard as those five or six Guatemalan men put together. She defies the odds. Even through the worst of cancer treatments and the lingering and bothersome side effects—the muscle pains at surgical sites, the lost toe and finger nails, the difficulty sleeping, the hot flashes—she maintains an energy level that defies reason.
She worships with hands held high. She does not sing well, and I don’t particularly either. But when she sings in church or at a Christian concert, she does so with enthusiasm and meaning. We have both been Christians since we were children, but never with such heart. But the view from the mountain is majestic when you’ve come through deep valleys. So she sings, with hands up. Even if off key, the sound is sweet for me. What greater harmony is there than to be spiritually in tune with your spouse?
For these and many other reasons, I can not imagine my life without her. We know three couples personally who had the same struggle as us. And now three women are no longer with us. This hits home. My birthday is a celebration of the gift I have that she is part of my life. Her birthday is a celebration that her life continues.
You have my permission to wish her happy birthday next week if you know her and see her. You do not need to mention which specific birthday it is. Just tell her it’s good to see her. I think you’ll agree that’s the truth.