The passage between fifty and sixty, they say, is a woman’s best decade. Health is still strong. Children have flown. Some women stop working and take time, blessed time, to enjoy our spouses and grandchildren, and pursue personal interests.
I had all that to anticipate, on the afternoon of my surprise fiftieth birthday party. At Glenda’s house, in the company of my daughter, my seven-week old first granddaughter and several other precious friends, I ate far too much. Didn’t try to resist the chocolate fountain, the pinwheel sandwiches, the dips and dippers — or the magnificent carrot cake. Laughed more than I’d laughed for weeks.
I don’t deserve my girlfriends. They blessed me with gifts that afternoon. This one, I’ll never forget: Circling me, they placed their hands on my shoulders and one by one, began praying. One prayed a blessing. Another asked for strength for whatever the year ahead would hold. Someone else expressed hopes for a deeper, closer walk with God in the days to come.
If you’ve never been prayed for — aloud — by precious friends, you’ve missed a holy and humbling experience. As I sat, warmth flooded my flesh and spirit.
I never got that decade so many women revel in. Before I turned fifty-one, a West Nile virus-carrying mosquito disabled the Preacher. Our life turned inside out. His long ministry career ended, and so did my casual approach to writing and speaking.
Of necessity, we switched places. Instead of coasting toward retirement alongside a strong husband, I began making decisions I’d never made before, because he could not. At fifty-one I bought a car and took a job as a magazine editor. When I lost that job, I published a book. Then another. Then sought and bought a house.
The dream of gradually easing into retirement became a thing of the past. At fifty-five God shifted me to another job, well-suited to the communication skills he had already developed in me. Increasingly I depended on Jesus for wisdom, provision, strength, affirmation, protection. At fifty-six, life became even more complicated when we added cancer to the list of my husband’s health challenges. As I write, he’s (happily) finishing chemotherapy treatments.
Normal is so far behind us I’ve forgotten its meaning. Nevertheless, occasionally I catch myself reflecting on what might have been — but only until I review nearly seven years of remarkable gifts carried on the platter of adversity. Deeper faith and greater opportunities to share it. Boldness. True friends. Increased gratitude. Laughter. Appreciation of life’s priceless simple things. Greater compassion for others.
I recall my fiftieth birthday with gratitude. God orchestrated it perfectly. My best present — the prayers of my girlfriends — swirled directly into his ears. His answers have girded and guided me in every hard year, week, day and moment since.
This year, don’t let a close friend’s birthday pass without giving the best gift of all: your prayers. Even if you have to write them in a card, send them.