A year ago I was concerned about what it would feel like to turn sixty. That age seemed elderly with an awkward awareness that "the end" was somehow nearer. For months before the actual date I fussed and fumed and found quotes to qualify my fear.
- I have always known that at last I would take this road, but yesterday I did not know that it would be today. (Narihara)
- There is a time when you think nothing will end.(A. Voskamp)
- Live your life and forget your age. (Norman Vincent Peale)
- Today, right now, is the youngest we will ever be. Let's make the most of it. (Susannah Conway)
But all that agitation did little to make me feel better.
Then the surprise hit. The Party. The party to end all parties. The biggest surprise of my life. The celebration of "can-you-believe-this-is-happening-to-me" party.
Those who know me, know that I am not overly confident. I don't think of myself as anything great or unusual. But after the party you would have found me convinced, beyond a doubt, that I was cherished, seen as unique and known well by those who are closest to me.
Let me explain: Six months before my birthday, Hannah told me that there was going to be a party to celebrate my turning sixty. I was to get a dress and be ready but no more information would be given. Time moved on and I just did nothing about getting a dress. On Halloween 2013 Hannah orchestrated, without my knowledge, the arrival of my family dressed up as trick-or-treaters. When the doorbell rang and I opened the door to give out a treat, lo and behold those little candy seekers turned out to be - my family! First to arrive, Joel, Rachel and Lucy, were dressed as a family of minions. I was so delighted to see them, wondering why they had driven two hours from Pella to trick-or-treat in Cedar Rapids. But I felt happy to be with them. Next Onalee showed up as a hippy squaw! (Oh my, something was happening!) My siblings were next - Dale and Kathy from northern Wisconsin (Little Red Riding Hood and the big bad wolf), Ann and Max from Colorado (orange Denver Broncos) and Don from northwest Iowa (Jason, I think). Now I KNEW it , this was my party!
But Hannah said, "No, its MY party."
What in the world did that mean?
Two masked folks showed up and pushed their way into our house and left me wondering who they could be until I recognized the voice of our dear friends from Charleston, Rich and Carolyn. Oh MY GOODNESS! We were all hugging and laughing and I was thinking that this was the party and it was happening right then and there and no, I didn't need to buy a dress for it. I could just remain Rosie the Riveter for the rest of the evening. But the surprises were not quite finished. The doorbell rang once more and there stood Kerstin, Axel and Abigail our dear framily from Germany who, after the cries of surprise and delight with numerous hugs, handed me an invitation to the real party, to be held the next night. What?? This was almost too much. All this love in one room. Jonathan was our last to arrive with his beloved dog, Baxter, in his arms. My surprise was complete. My family was home to celebrate me.
The next day Onalee and I headed to Iowa City to find a dress. Thankfully I had this classy dresser friend to accompany me. After several hours and lots of laughs we purchased the complete outfit, ate lunch and even got our nails done, a first for me. I loved being with Onalee!
That evening, as in a dream, I entered the Shores Event Center on Brian's arm, an ever present steady man, eager to please, wanting this to be the best night ever. Hannah met us at the top of the stairs where a huge balloon hovered, inviting us to A Heart of Gold birthday party - for me.
Walking down the stairs and into the main room felt somewhat like walking down the aisle at First Lutheran thirty-five years ago. But here and now stood the seven most precious people in my life. The ones in whom I have invested the largest portion of my heart, all of my energy, focus and love. Jonathan, Joel, Hannah, Rachel, Greg and Lucy...with Brian at my side. They were all dressed up and smiling at me, each stepping forward to hug and welcome me into the evening.
Looking toward the dining area, I found round tables elegantly set with black table cloths, gold linens and classic, fine china. Wine and water glasses sparkled invitingly. Charming flower arrangements sat elegantly in the middle of each with stylish black chairs promising to seat us comfortably. My seven and I were seated at the table in the center. Looking down I found a special touch. Our table was set with my mother's china! What a meaningful way to include her in this joyous evening. As guests arrived they were seated at tables around me: dear House of Hope staff behind me, siblings to the right, close friends ahead of us and our German and Charleston dear ones to the left. The room was full. Fifty of us. Ready for an evening together.
Brian stood and welcomed our guests. My brother, Dale, thanked God for our meal and for the evening and for me.
With that, the festivities began!
The meal was more delicious than one could imagine. The caterer had been carefully selected so I tried to savor every bite. I'll have to admit, though, that I could hardly swallow sometimes, so overtaken by it all. These dear people traveled many miles to honor me and my entrance into the next decade. Being honored this way felt quite overwhelming.
But this was only the beginning. There was a program. Greg's brother, Alex on piano and Joel, on violin, played a John Denver piece, Sunshine on my Shoulders. Ah...John Denver, a favorite of mine since I was sixteen. Having few albums we listened to Poems, Prayers and Promises over and over again. My heart tried to take in the melody as I welcomed each note from Joel's fingering on the violin, another dear deep memory of pleasure.
Seven people had been asked to pick a word to describe me and to speak briefly about how that word fit. My loved ones stood up behind the microphone to speak. One by one they said things that people rarely get to hear said about themselves. My brother, Dale, Onalee, Kerstin, Jonathan, Joel, Hannah and Brian shared their thoughts. They talked about God's presence in my heart, my care, my faith, my mothering, my friendship, my mother, my love. I tell you it was almost excruciating. I could hardly bear it; I loved it so much. I kept breathing and begging for feelings because it was almost just too great to be true. But it was true. They were saying words that filled me up and almost burst me open.
Too quickly the program was over. Brian stood, microphone in hand with his final words. When he was finished, they all stood, clapping for me, as I gazed around in awe of the moment. When I found myself walking to the microphone, I wondered what I was going to say. I have never stood behind a podium with out first having thought through my words. Not this time. At first I felt like Sally Field as she received her first Academy Award, "You like me! You really like me!" I quickly squashed the impulse to imitate her and proceeded to speak. I know I thanked them. I thanked God for his work in my little life. I thanked my family for doing this great thing and when I sat down I wondered just exactly I had said! I just knew I was full of emotion and was exactly what I wanted to say. No one could not have been more appreciative or more blessed than I was at that moment.
The evening ended with cupcakes, coffee, photos and tons of laughter and talking. What a night. What a family!
Looking back I'd say the gift in this party was the feeling I came away with of being loved and known. Their words felt warm, true, endearing and somehow completing.
All of this was orchestrated by our dear talented daughter, Hannah Jane. I thank her with all my heart for a truly surprising, enriching and amazing experience. One I will never forget.
So after that, how can the sixties be anything but wonderful? Not a chance.