The sun was shining. The ice and snow were melting. Our backyard creek was gurgling. Birds were finally chirping from branches of the white birch trees. Spring was actually peeking its head from our harsh winter…and it was my youngest child’s ninth birthday. Nine. Oh, to go back to simpler days that seemed exhaustingly hard at the time but in retrospect now seem so easy…
Honestly, I had been selfishly dreading Charlie’s 9th birthday. I wanted to hang on to #8. I told myself that it was because “NINE” sounds so old. It’s like when your three year old turns four. Or your six year old turns seven. Or your nine year old turns double-digits. Or your 12 year old becomes a TEEN (which is next month for me… great.) There’s just something about certain years that reminds us of the passing of time and how it is one thing we cannot control.
On Charlie’s ‘Last Day of Being 8’, I watched him from our kitchen window, playing basketball for hours. I stood there and just let the tears fall, over and over. And then I began to feel guilty, because I know that there are precious souls out there who have or would give up everything they had just to be able to celebrate the birth of a child of their own. And here I am, wanting to temporarily halt another year for mine. And it was then that it struck me– why I wanted to hold on to #8. Because not every child is guaranteed a ninth birthday. And not every Mama or Daddy gets to see it.
And there it was again. Regret. Guilt. But this time it was different. It was guilt that Charlie was getting to turn nine. Wanting to keep him “8” because of the number’s significance. Feeling like if I am excited about nine, that it was somehow selfish. But what was actually selfish …was wanting to hold on.
So I woke up on Sunday, March 8 and decided that my heart would celebrate.
It was sunny. We were going to finally have a Sunday with the whole family together in Church. With the help of a sweet friend (with whom I usually co-teach) serving as his Sunday School teacher, Charlie got to have a sillier-than-usual Sunday School class with lifelong friends. Charlie told me he had eight donuts (eek). And his teacher even let him blow out the Christ candle after his classmates sang to him. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t count as sacrilege.
My heart continued to celebrate. I got to spend the morning rehearsing with the upcoming Confirmands, witnessing their colorful, poignant banners being carried through the Sanctuary. Then Charlie served as an acolyte the morning of his 9th birthday– bringing the light of Christ down the aisle, and then taking it out into the world (with a very cute co-acolyte, I might add).
Let light shine out of darkness
…and a little Child will lead them.
Immediately after worship, Charlie celebrated a sweet Semi-Finals basketball victory with his buddies, only to fall hours later in the Championship game. That loss was a very tough pill to swallow for Charlie and his buddies, especially when it’s on your birthday… but that’s life, right? Plus, a trophy on your birthday isn’t so bad.
It was a beautiful – then messy – then beautiful day that turned into a celebratory night. Impromptu celebrations sometimes turn out to be the most meaningful, and we had an unexpected one with good friends. Slowing down to remember that life is indeed good, we celebrated the birth of two pretty cool people.
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:11
It was a day worth celebrating, and then it was over. As I was cleaning up the next morning, I was about to move the nine ‘spent’ candles on the counter. Oh, those sweet nine little candles. (I like to personify things.) They had done their part in the celebration. Burning their wicks and shortening their lives, so that their light could shine. Light that reminds us of life and why we celebrate it.
Then I noticed them. The red stars that I had sprinkled onto the table and counter on the morning of Charlie’s birthday. In those early morning hours, I didn’t even make the connection. I could have chosen handfuls of other random confetti from the party bag in the basement. It wasn’t until I saw the candles the morning after that I noticed.
Oh, the tears. How they fell again. Because on that September afternoon of Michael’s celebration of life… THIS.
It was a painful yet beautiful moment following the funeral. Together with Michael’s family, friends, teachers, and school staff, our family gathered for a balloon release to celebrate Michael’s eight years of life. Each year worth celebrating, individually. But the balloons don’t stop at eight. They keep going… because so does Michael.
With each passing year of a child’s life, there are lessons they learn. There are lessons we learn. And so far, this is what “Nine” has taught me: