I’m celebrating my 36th birthday at a hotel in Portsmouth, New Hampshire today. Last year I celebrated my birthday at a hotel in Houston, Texas. It’s a little weird to wake up alone in a hotel in a strange city on my birthday, but it’s also kind of fun because the reason I’ve been at hotels the past two birthdays is because I was speaking at events.
This week I’m speaking at a women’s Christmas gathering. The church has more women attend than their sanctuary can hold, so they host it on two nights. I spoke last night, and I’ll go back again this evening.
After I gave my talk last night, I went to the book table in the reception hall and did a book signing. The line to buy books was an hour long. I got to talk to hundreds of women who were encouraged by hearing the story of redemption that I’ve lived over the past few years — surviving cancer, moving to Portland, and meeting a Somali refugee family that changed my life.
I woke up this morning thinking about the year that’s just passed, and the year that lies ahead.
I remembered something my friend Karina told me a while back. She said Dorothy Sayers once wrote that in order to be good at something, you have to choose to be bad at something else. Someone who wants to be a master sculptor must, in most cases, choose not to be good at a different medium, like watercolor or charcoal drawing.
In order to hold something in your grasp, you have to let go of something else.
A few months ago I started thinking about that in my own life. I started praying about what God’s calling was for my life. What was my unique gifting? What were my strengths and weaknesses? What did I need to let go of in order to grab ahold of what really mattered?
I came to the conclusion that my calling/gifting/passion is speaking and writing about the radical love of Jesus — and not just talking about it to other people, but really experiencing and expressing it in my own life, too.
Two months ago I took an indefinite leave of absence from my job. I sold all my furniture and moved out of my apartment. I packed all the clothes I’d need for 6 months into a large duffel bag and hit the road. I’ve been traveling to speak about the story of The Invisible Girls, and to raise money to send these little girls to college.
I spoke in Maryland, then went to Europe for 5 weeks, where I was the author-in-residence at an art school. I’m speaking in New Hampshire this week, and in January I’m planning to go to upstate New York for a few weeks to visit the Invisible Girls (they moved there 9 months ago).
It’s been interesting to let go of things I used to hold onto so tightly — like a steady income, a permanent address and well-planned future.
But, as I’m reminded today, each of us has a finite number of birthdays in this world. And I want to spend my time on what matters most.
I’ve decided that, at least for this season of life, I’d rather write stories of radical compassion than punch a timecard. I’d rather know that I’m in the palm of God’s hand than in a loft apartment with an unobstructed view of downtown. I’d rather collect hugs from people in tears who tell me after my talk that it was just what they needed to hear than to watch my bank account grow.
Today I’m deeply grateful for my life (especially after my cancer diagnosis at age 27). I’m grateful for the people in my life who love me. I’m grateful for Divine Love that loves me. And I’m hopeful that when I write a birthday post one year from now, I’ll have even clarity about how to spend my life well, and even more reasons to be grateful.
If you want to help me celebrate my birthday, here are three meaningful things you could do for me:
Support my book, The Invisible Girls, by buying a copy (or ten!) and/or spreading the word about it to your friends or family. It makes an awesome Christmas present — it’s a great story, plus the proceeds from the book go into a college fund for the five little Somali girls I wrote about
Send in a contribution to the girls’ college fund to
Invisible Girls Trust Fund
c/o Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc.
1400 NW Irving, Suite 324
Portland, Oregon, 97209
Thanks for being in my life!