published in The Lutheran, May 2008
Each year on the anniversary of my oldest child’s birth, I observe a personal holy day. It’s as sure as the rising and falling of the tides—and as reassuring and dynamic. Like a Jewish High Holy Day, my personal holy day calls me to a time of remembrance, reconciliation and praise.
The fifth day of May this year will mark Stross’ 17th birthday—my 17th Day of Awakening. At the break of day, I’ll feel a call to awareness that begins with a private review of my life as a mother. It’s a time of personal examination that draws me into a renewed relationship with the Creator—the One who formed me in my mother’s womb and shaped my son in the warm darkness of my own.
The previous 16 years have taught me what to expect. Sometime after Stross’ special birthday breakfast, the opening of presents and promises to save some cake for later, I’ll hear God speaking to me—Spirit to spirit. Then, during quiet moments of introspection, prayers will spill forth as tears of regret mixed with gratitude. Regret for all the moments I took for granted during previous years and gratitude for the gift of my son. Sometimes I find space to be alone. Other times I simply allow the day to unfold, accepting the moments as they come—whether driving in my car or choosing tomatoes in the grocer’s produce section.
It doesn’t matter what I plan to do that day. I’ve learned I can’t circumvent the experience anymore than I can halt the tides. Instead I’ve accepted its certainty, allowing myself to be awed by its life-giving force.
When Stross arrived in the early morning hours of that first Sunday in May, I was not prepared for the formidable force of his newborn life. Born with multiple birth defects—both physical and intellectual—he introduced me to a new way of looking at the world and the lives of those who inhabit it: My son, as imperfect as he was by the world’s standards, had arrived whole—perfect in my sight and God’s.
But I was keenly aware that others might not see him as I did. He was beautiful; he still is 17 years later. In comparison the awareness he brought me about God and the way God is at work in the world is beyond beautiful—even beyond human description. Yet I know I’ll experience it anew every May 5. The day when God, once again, sweeps in to meet me intimately, just as he did on the day of Stross’s birth.
I cannot explain how or even why. I just know it is. It’s my Day of Awakening, a day when God’s divine pervasiveness cannot be denied.
Perhaps God’s imprint of pervasiveness has forever been part of me—first bestowed on the day of my own birth then given anew on the day of my son’s. And perhaps this divine pervasiveness is what enables—not just me but anyone—to access God’s omniscience in moments of weakness or meekness, jubilation or celebration. Those times when God is—undeniably—in the midst of it all.
Sometime during my adolescence, I became aware of the heightened sense of introspection that my own birthday caused. Now, as the celebration of my birthday approaches each year, I find myself looking back over the previous year of life, searching for evidence of growth: physical, intellectual and spiritual. Am I healthier, smarter or wiser? If so, in what ways? I want to know.
And then I search for evidence of God’s divine partnership on my life’s journey. When did God and I collaborate the best this past year? Did I miss opportunities to mature because the impulse of my spirit got in God’s way?
The day of my son’s birth helped me see how my birthday is—always has been—a personal holy day too. But I regard Stross’ birthday as a High Holy Day. A time of remembrance that leads to renewal.
Reliving the traumatic experiences that occurred on the day of his birth guides my life into divine focus, just as it did the first time; only now, I better understand how recounting those moments—like reciting cherished scripture—brings fresh insights and sweetens the prospect of a new way to move through life with Him.
Each year I bind these lessons to my heart. They make it possible for me to face the uncertain days of my and my son’s future.
I know others encounter personal holy days too—days when they relive hearing the news of terminal illness, losing a spouse or living a nightmare beyond human description. I also know there are happier personal holy days—the kind that mark a person’s life with more joy than pain: a wedding anniversary, the commemoration of a coveted milestone or the birthday of a child born without limitations.
Regardless the measure of joy and pain, the moments that comprise a personal holy day are so precious, so sacred, that they sear themselves into our being, bearing witness to what God has done, is doing and will do in the future.
Personal holy days are not to be ignored but welcomed, and not feared but revered.
They call us to a Day of Awakening—a way to live in celebration of God’s kingdom come to earth.