On the 29th of May, I will turn 29. It will be my golden birthday.
*This post will sound very narcissistic and self-centered, but 1) it's my birthday, leave it be and 2) I promise that the insights are worth trudging through my self-indulgences.
Every year as my birthday draws near, I realize that I get a sort of anxiety that seems to loom over me. At first, I thought they could just be insecurities that are unmet - which, at the core of it, is true, but an incomplete diagnosis. Then I wondered if they could be byproducts of past hurts or just a normal reality that other people face. I don't think that everyone necessarily experiences this anxiety in the same way that I do or about the same things, but I do think that at the core, we all share the same reality.
I've noticed that I try to downplay any effort to celebrate my birthday, but deep down inside, I want people to "up play" it. When I was young, it was all about how many people I could get to my party. I have pictures somewhere that show me in our backyard with 40-50 kids, none of whom I know at the present time. There was a clown, a mountain of presents, and of course a slip and slide. Then when I hit junior high, this one birthday made me the coolest kid in a new school I was attending for two weeks. Kids somehow got wind of this legendary birthday party that was going to happen and started to introduce themselves to me - I felt so powerful. We would go to eat at some awesome restaurant (probably TGIFridays or somewhere like that), then go to Navy Pier to play laser tag and games, and then have a basketball tournament on my driveway. The capacity was 12 kids (including me) so I could only invite 11. When people found out what we were doing, everyone wanted in, so kids I never knew existed or kids that never even acknowledged me, one of maybe 7 Asian kids in the predominately Jewish school, would come up to me and befriend me like never before. I wouldn't be surprised if they went on to be lobbyists in Washington D.C. Exclusivity was the key to fame.
Fast forward to my 25th birthday. After junior high, I began to move like it was my job. I moved from Chicago to Korea to Hawaii to Los Angeles to Guatemala back to Los Angeles then to missions in Kona, Hawaii and China back to Los Angeles to Wheaton (where I went to college) to Barcelona (where I studied abroad) back to Wheaton then back to Los Angeles. By this time, I was spending birthdays with new people every year. Not a single person, except my sister was present at any given birthday party that I had with friends. I've had some special ones while I was travelling, on missions, and even back home, but the most memorable was my 25th birthday.
For my 25th birthday, over the course of 5 celebrations, which included intimate dinners with friends in Beverly Hills and Anaheim, large gatherings at bars in downtown Fullerton, meals with friends at our local spot, and a large dinner at Yardhouse in Brea, I realize now that it was so special because people showed up to celebrate my life with other people. I can't say I remember everyone who was there at the time, maybe just 10-15 or so of the maybe 100 people over 5 events who I am still in regular contact with today. I would like to say that I mattered to every single person that came that that would rearrange their schedules to make celebrating my birthday their top priority, but most of the people who showed up, simply showed up because we had hung out in social settings and they probably had nothing better to do. But there were a few people who really made it special. Showing up is important, yes, but its what these few people did that really made it memorable.
I have learned to become someone who feels most loved when I feel prioritized above other things - especially when people change their schedules last minute for me - and when they express where I stand with them. I think a lot of this was caused by the fact that I was always moving around and never really knew where I stood with people, thus I just had to stand wherever it was I was standing and see if anyone would simply stand with me. I had been betrayed a couple times by people who were standing with me, then decided to stand next to someone else because they were a longer and more important friend (which I understand), but the understanding doesn't always alleviate the pain of being tossed aside or neglected. And being the new guy, you were always the first to go - especially if your friends were in high demand. Because I moved around so much, I grew a need to know what to expect so that I wouldn't be disappointed when I found out that I meant less to them then they did to me. As long as I knew, and as long as people were sincere with me, I could decide whether I wanted to be in their lives and whether it was worth having them in mine. I've been fortunate to keep many amazing friends along the way, but that was not without the great cost of being discarded by others as well.
The reason my 25th birthday was so special was because my sister, along with a small handful of friends took the time to see what made me excited and created a celebration that would make my favorite things the mode by which they showed their attention to me. I believe that care is demonstrated by attention to details, especially details that are unspoken because the person doesn't yet know how to articulate them quite yet. They knew I loved fine dining and fine wines - I was a snobby kid. They certainly knew that I appreciated home cooked meals - acts of service are my love language too. They also knew that I loved it when people made a big deal out of me - because when I moved, I had to be the one to gather people to celebrate instead of having others plan for me. Furthermore, they knew that I liked it when people I knew got together and got along - something about bringing the past to the present and the sporadic to the consistent together was enjoyable to me. Of course, I couldn't articulate this at the time (except that I liked fine dining and wines and thoughtful home cooked meals), but they picked up on it. It probably helped that most of my friends had always been older than I. Thus, the nice dinner in the Hills, the home cooked meal, and the mega-celebrations at Yard House and Downtown Fullerton were so special to me. It wasn't simply because I had 5 celebrations - although quantity does make up for lack of quality at times -but because each of the celebrations were perfectly catered to maximize my scale of feeling loved. People I knew for 2 years, paid attention to me, and made it their focus to make me feel special.
This anxiety that people feel, that I feel, can only come from these looming questions that we all have, "Do I matter to someone else? And how much do I matter?"
I think with some people, they simply adapt to their current realities in a way to minimize disappoint. This is a great thing as long as they aren't detaching themselves from the fact that we actually do need others in order to make it through this life in a meaningful way - not by using people opportunistically, but to be nourished by deep and genuine relationships that shape you and yes, can hurt you because they leave you exposed. After all, who wants to be forgotten as soon as they are of no use to someone else? These people who try not to need people take whatever they experience and build up theories about the world, how they cannot trust people and how they cannot let others in and how they cannot expect anything good to happen unless if they take it into their own hands, and they are all compelling experiences. One person betrays you, another person manipulates and uses you, another person attacks you, and the last person kicks you while you are down. Yes, its true, people make you want to give up hope, build up walls, and not jump into anything. They don't want to let go of the anchor of self-preservation, even if it means that they are drowning at the ocean floor. They don't realize that there is a 1000 foot chain that would give them plenty of freedom to rise to the ocean's surface without losing themselves in the process.
Other people elevate mattering to others too much. How others view them, what people think about them, how they come off, and whether people care about them become everything to them. They are unanchored. They jump from one person to another looking for safety and validation. They feel slighted quickly and don't have the patience to look beyond an isolated incident and focus on the trajectory of the relationship. They look at one performance without paying attention to the patterns. They become devastated when people ignore them, often times feeling rejected completely about minor things. They don't push through difficulties if they see that someone else is quick to take their side. They are unanchored, without a strong identity, adapting like chameleons without a spine. They cannot leave destructive relationships because the stability of being in a bad relationship is better than not being any one's significant other.
Some people need to learn how to keep people out. Other's need to learn how to let people in. Everyone needs to learn wisdom in all things.
As for me, I am both of these people. On the one hand, I am anchored and clinging to my anchor because I don't want to be hurt. After all, I've experienced it many times without really knowing that it isn't normal to accept feeling betrayed as a constant in life. On the other hand, there is a people pleasing spirit within me. I want people to like me and care about me, so at times, I give up who I am for it. Every relationship requires give and take, don't get me wrong, but Giraffes shouldn't try to be Ostriches. They should try to be the best giraffe they were intended to be.
So what then?
Inside all of us, there is an anchored person and an unanchored person. But beyond that, there is a person who wants to be cared for. I've realized that my anxieties about my birthday derive from a deep insecurity about whether or not I matter. This is why birthdays can be the most nourishing or devastating day of the year for people. For those who minimize expectations, they do so because they are tired of being looked over, they convince themselves that they matter by looking at other things they have been validated in, and move on with their lives. For those who want to matter too much, they scramble and scramble until they know that enough of the people they want to show up will be there. Then when people are there, they are counting to see if everyone who is supposed to be there actually showed up. One person becomes numb, the other person becomes too sensitive. Now, do birthdays really make that much of a difference? Probably not, but I think that we all experience these things to various degrees. Some of us talk ourselves out of it, which others of us freak out because of it. Whatever the case is, we must not ignore the deeper meaning behind the cry of our hearts.
For me, my birthday is a revelation that at the core of who I am, I want to know I matter to someone. The reason birthdays are so great in my opinion, are that people can demonstrate that care for you. By paying attention, carefully planning, meticulous consideration, and a pleasant understanding that your efforts to celebrate the life of someone will edify and enrich them is truly profound. We all get insecure, wondering if we are good enough, if we are worthy, or if we actually do matter to others. We all have our own lives, our own priorities, and our own responsibilities as well. When we take the time to make someone else's life our priority, I think its the truest form of magic. It brings a sense of wonder and awe, far greater than David Blaine or any other magician can perform on stage, because it reaches the center of someone's heart.
Here's the truth. We do matter. And we matter to the most important person in the universe. So much so that Jesus wanted to celebrate our existance. He did so even though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:1-11). You see, the way Christ celebrated our existance was by dying to himself so that we could enter into the ultimate celebration in eternity! He made us a priority, completely disregarding his own self, and then demonstrated that we mattered by footing the bill himself!
For me, I think birthdays might just be reminders of how we should celebrate the lives of others everyday - at least those that are closest to us. When its someone's birthday, you won't let them fall off the deep end (unless if you are at a pool party and throwing them in), you don't care about how much they make, what you get out of the relationship, but you simply just value them for living. You put aside any conflicts, any past wrongs, any present issues, and focus on them, because your aim is to be there to let them know that they matter to you beyond all the junk that goes on in life. You consider the ways they feel loved and you show up, standing with them, and assure them that you will not betray them or go stand with someone else. And I think, just maybe, if we learned to live like this, we can be, see, and show glimpses of what Jesus describes as the Kingdom of Heaven will be like here on earth to the rest of the world. After all, heaven will be the greatest celebration known to eternity.
*To all of you who made my birthday special, thank you. Especially those of you who took the time to help plan it, drove from long distances, shared words of encouragement, and went out of your way to make my joy a priority in your life. I doubt any of you will have actually read this, but just in case you did, know that I cherish you from the bottom of my heart for simply liking me and being my friend.
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