Lucky to have another year

I am about to celebrate my 32nd birthday on Saturday. Thirty two birthdays. Thirty two birthday cakes/cupcakes. Thirty two times I've heard my grandparents sing the familiar "Happy birthday" song in their soft, sweet voices. Thirty two times I've felt completely spoiled without reservation.

But within the 32 special days, 1 birthday still holds my heart. I remember celebrating my 23rd birthday as if it were yesterday. I wish it were yesterday, but only because I long to be in the company of these friends again (but not to be 23 again...gosh no!!). I woke up to a cold, winter morning on the small island of Tierra del Fuego, located at the southern most tip of Argentina. Tiny notes were taped all over my door from several neighborhood children who came quietly in the night with their parents to wish me a happy day.

Later, I ate lunch with one of the most important women I have ever met in my life. I still remember awkwardly calling her and asking her if it would be okay to bring 2 extra guests along to my birthday lunch. She hesitated for a second (only because I think she wanted it to be a family event) but graciously permitted them to tag along. I was such a fool. So ill mannered. I still feel bad about it, but in the end, she didn't care a bit. She miraculously stretched lunch to feed 4 hungry missionaries, and we cut the cake slices a little smaller than she anticipated, but it worked.  I remember the way she hugged me just before I left. She clutched the back of my jacket while her daughter hung from my skirt, and we just stood there embracing in the cold doorway.  Before we left, she reminded me how lucky we both were to have an extra year of life. She was right. Twenty three was a very good year.

Jari and I spent the rest of the afternoon visiting people and eating more cake. My goodness, my cheeks must've felt so full that day. (They certainly look full!) We ended the night at another beloved family where the other missionaries of the area surprised me with a small party. I remember we danced to children's music. And I just laughed and laughed until my heart couldn't laugh anymore. I've never smiled bigger on a birthday. And I've had amazing birthdays since that day, but something was different about it. I felt completely loved.

My dear friend Trenton wrote me one of the nicest messages in a card. He said, "You are a light in the darkness. I hope you will always shine as bright as you always have in my life." He gave me a miniature lighthouse that still remains in my special box of mementos.

Over the past 9 years since I've read his message, it hasn't always been easy to shine. Life has a way of dulling even the most brilliant light. But even though I've succumbed to the darkness from time to time, this past year has once again been full of light. I have felt heavenly guidance, and I have begun to understand simple truths again.

Tonight as I think of my upcoming birthday, I can't help but remember Yanina. She was right you know. We are so lucky to have another year of life. Yani died in a horrific car crash a couple of years after my 23rd birthday. Every year, I think of her. She was wise and kind, and she loved me so much that day. She is now my angel, and she will somehow be present with me on Saturday.

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"Be kind and considerate with your criticism... It's just as hard to write a bad book as it is to write a good book." Malcolm Cowley