There are birthday presents piled in my bedroom, only barely hidden, because the Lord is good and the Conqueror of death. That’s right — my oldest quail turns 16 years old this weekend. And my mind is blown.
All birthdays are mind-blowing, really. Think about it. What were the odds that you would even be conceived? Behold the majestic miracle of every human life, all the obstacles overcome on the cellular level, the dangers of birth successfully travailed, the millions of ways that we should have died falling off our bicycles or heck, just falling asleep with a blanket in a crib! The miracles are endless — and that is just in a healthy life.
But if you have read my little book (and one of you has — I got a hilarious email the other day from my publisher, alerting me of my quarterly royalties of $1.47. The only thing missing was a glib “Don’t spend it all in one place”), then you know health is a precarious thing, and Quail the First has overcome more odds than the average bear. Her first birthday is etched in my mind. She had already suffered a horrible decompensation. Her hair and fingernails didn’t grow, she couldn’t sit up, her drool was uncontrollable, she didn’t sleep so much as she had to be sedated.
We covered the house in pink balloons, hung on ribbons from the ceiling at the right height for her to lay on the floor and bap them, an uncoordinated but ecstatic activity using all the energy she had. I was pregnant at the time. Her cake was a Beezus cake — the little pink rabbit that kept her company at the hospital, that Daddy would send on wild Mission Impossible adventures all around her hospital bed, making her giggle wildly amidst IV tubes and oxygen masks. She wasn’t really able to eat it, though she tried.
She wasn’t expected to live to meet her little sister, the girl destined to become her best friend, the mirror image of her soul. How do you celebrate a birthday that is supposed to be your last? How do you fit 70 years, 80 if you are strong, into 1?
That is how we developed a theology of birthdays. That is why I cannot tell you what the plans for this weekend’s celebration are — because it must be a cascading, building, explosion of surprise and joy and festivity. If we do it right, the quail with have no recollection of how they get to bed that night and will wake up a couple of days later, still limp with fatigue and happiness.
That is the goal anyway, and without bragging, we have a pretty good track record of getting these results.
But it struck me that as that theology of birthdays has grown and pushed its way into the corners of our family culture, there is no need to go to radical lengths to hide the gifts. A sticky note on the door alerting the birthday quail that “secret things, boring things” (downplaying is key) are afoot is sufficient to cause that quail to steer completely clear of the room. There is an entering into the joy, embracing the undeniable fact that the good and delightful is being planned and executed and to peek it before its time would be to ruin the giftness of it. I can hide gifts in plain sight, because my kids trust me that I have thought of something more amazing than what they could have asked for. I have a reputation with them. Incidentally, that is why no one writes birthday lists here. They expect to be loved, to be seen, to have us pay attention to what thrills them at this age — they expect the unexpected.
We are making humble beginnings, a feeble start at thinking God’s thoughts after Him. He is the ultimate Gift Giver — do you need to try and push open the doors that hold your future? Why would you blow past the sticky note on the door? He has hidden His gifts in plain sight, and you have no idea when He will hand you the next one, whether it is a spouse or a child or relief from a disease or simply a day of sunshine when the darkness is oppressive. Keep your hand over your eyes, follow the sound of His voice with excitement at His love — expect the unexpected.