On July 22nd I will turn 40.  I typically don't make a big deal out of my birthday and don't particularly enjoy being in the spotlight.  This year, I do feel like celebrating though.  More of a quiet, introspective celebration of all that I have learned (and have yet to learn) and all that I have to be grateful for.  

Here's what I have learned:

1) You can't depend on someone else to make you happy.  You have to learn all the big and small things that make you joyful and then fill your days (every day) with as many of those things as you can.  My happy list includes (but is not limited to): My morning tea, a walk in the woods with a friend, reading a good book that I can't put down, hugging my kids (like really hugging them where I lift them up and they wrap their arms and legs around me, and their heads rest in that special spot between my neck and my shoulder and our cheeks are touching and I swear I feel my heart filling with all their sweet love), a clean car that I have had no part in cleaning, a clean house (that I have had no part in cleaning), the smell of zucchini bread fresh from the oven, rollerskating (preferably to 80's music or some techno sounds that bring me right back to my childhood days at MainStreet USA Skating Rink), waking up slowly when I'm all slept out and not to an alarm or a crying child, the first moment you dive into a lake and the coldness takes your breath away and the water whooshes past your ears and you feel free, pedicures, ice water with a lemon wedge, riding my bike, my house, my parents' summer home on a lake in Michigan, going to the movies.

2) It's more important to listen in order to understand instead of listening to respond.  I spent a lifetime organizing the words people were saying into neat and tidy boxes, drawing conclusions, and determining what I would say before they had even finished speaking.  I don't like uncomfortable silences, I don't like not knowing what to say.  But I'm learning to appreciate the space between the words and after the words.  To attempt to understand all the things they are saying (and all the things that have been left unsaid) and to acknowledge what has been shared whether I agree with it or not before saying anything.  Speaking when angry can leave a mark so there are times when silence is truly golden.

3) I've learned that I can be deeply grateful (like down to my core) in the face of hardship.  That  two seemingly opposite emotions can intersect in my soul and live there for some time as cordial neighbors.  Yes, my heart is broken and yes my heart is so full.  Yes I am tired, and yes I can go on.  Yes I care about you, and yes I care about me too.  Yes, my life can be full of sadness and yet I can genuinely laugh with abandon (see photo below). 

4) I am not the one in the driver's seat.  This one has been a tough realization.  Those that know me best know that I am a planner.  I plan the family Christmas card in July.  I called the movie theater today to see what movies would be playing in 2 weeks and was appalled to find out this isn't determined until Tuesday of that week.  I once sent out an email to my family around Halloween titled Trick or Treat but it was a "trick" because I was asking for their Christmas lists.  I like to be prepared (perhaps I was a Boy Scout in a former life).  I like to live with the end in mind.  I set a goal and bulldoze anything in my path that prevents me from meeting that goal.  But my path has taken some right turns, and left turns, and the occasional U-turn as I feverishly tried to stay on course, only to realize that the course itself may have changed without my knowledge.  And sometimes you have to put it on cruise control and enjoy the scenery even if you don't quite know where you're headed.  Truly, Jesus take the wheel.

5) The power of your thoughts can change your life.  I've read countless articles on the power of thought.  How it can literally change your DNA.  How you can think your way to a healthier life by letting go, appreciating the present moment, and focusing on the positive.  Your self talk matters, so speak to yourself like you would a good friend or a small child.  Be kind, be gentle, be forgiving.

6) Priorities matter.  I need to think about what matters most in life and be sure I am giving the best of myself to the things that are my top priority.  Sure, we may need to work or clean the house or run errands but if someone were to follow us around for a few days, they should be able to fill out a pie chart accurately and be sure that the people that are most important and most deserving of our energy are getting it.  I've had many moments along the way where I've needed to re-adjust my priorities and I need to check-in often.  Ask anyone at the end of their life, and they will agree that the "stuff" doesn't mean anything.  No one regrets spending authentic and genuine time with the people that matter most.

7) Your self worth and self esteem come from.....your SELF.  I can't depend on my worth to be reflected in the eyes of others, or in a glowing review on my website, or the number of Likes on my Facebook post.  I was worthy the second I was born and don't need to prove my worth with a list of accomplishments or a busy calendar or a long list of things to do or perfectly behaved children.  If someone says or does something that makes me feel "less than" it's not as much about them as it is about an unresolved issue I have with myself.  Once I figure out why their comment or action struck a nerve, I can make amends with myself and move on.

8) Being beautiful is about being full of beauty.  It's almost impossible to appreciate something beautiful without that beauty being transferred somewhere into your soul.  Putting yourself in the way of beauty means filling yourself with beauty from the top of your head to the tips of your toes.  Truly being beautiful isn't a passive process.  It's an intentional and lifelong practice and it's reflected in the way you interact with others, what you pay attention to, and the way you treat yourself.  It is not reflected in the mirror.

Leading up to my 40th birthday, I've done all the things that are a traditional part of this milestone.  I've taken some amazing trips with friends and family, and I have made plans for how to celebrate the BIG Day.  But my favorite celebration was participating in a very tasteful and classy boudoir photo session in Chicago (http://www.theatelierchicago.com).  It was a gift from me to me and a way to appreciate where I am in body and spirit right at this very snapshot in life.  It was almost as if time stood still for just a moment in order for me to capture myself and to have a visual reminder that laughter really is the best medicine! (And that's the 9th thing I've learned).  Happy Birthday to me 🙂

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