Last Sunday I woke up on the first day of the second half of my life.
A card leaning on the mirror of my dressing table with Happy Birthday in H’s handwriting reminded me that breath is a gift. And I’m aging.
I stared into the mirror backlit by sun streaming through an open window, wishing the fine lines away; wondering over passages of time and the sly swiftness of sagging skin.
Why couldn’t I have been scheduling a professional photo shoot for my first book jacket a few decades earlier, when products for reducing puffiness around the eyes weren’t part of my morning ritual?
After five months of physical separation from my daughter, our first morning together in London she crawls onto my unmade bed with a bag of cosmetics in her lap saying, “I want to show you the new things I bought.”
Did I mention my daughter is here? In London? For a month? And I am no longer out-numbered by testosterone?
After she pulls each product out with an explanation attached, I invite her to sit at my dressing table where she tutors me on a new-to-me way to apply foundation.
As we walk to church, I point out which way to look before crossing the street because it is now the opposite of what I taught her as a toddler. We pass our favorite curry restaurant and make note of the number of pubs in the span of a short distance.
And I realize I also woke up to the first day of the second half of parenting.
We walk into the church of stained glass windows where I lose myself in the community hug of welcome and is this your daughter and I just found out today is your birthday.
“Who are all those young people sitting together over there,” I ask Jan, the Vicar’s wife.
“Oh, I think they’re from a school in San Diego,” she says, “it starts with a P. Pa, pah, poi, she stutters trying to remember. A Nazarene school, I think.”
“Oh! Point Loma!” I exclaim while throwing my purse on the ground and jumping up from my seat. I have less than one minute before the guitar starts strumming. Conversation will be an unwanted interruption during worship.
Taking bold liberty, I stand in the middle of a section of seats like a conductor cueing a student choir looking for eye contact and loudly ask, “Does anyone here know Caryn Christensen?”
All I receive back are blank stares and odd looks.
When I ask again, waving my arms for attention, a palm slowly raises shoulder height in shy hesitancy.
“I do,” says a girl rather sheepishly. “She was my elementary school teacher.”
I introduce myself and learn her name is Ellen. Sit behind her, lean in close so we can hear each other speak and explain why I’m asking if she knows our mutual friend.
My confidence that someone in the group would recognize the name wasn’t a fluke or even a prophetic leaning. It was a sign of God’s nearness and love for me on my birthday.
You see, a few days before, Caryn messaged me, asking where I live in London. She tells me her best friend’s daughter is living short term in the Kensington area with a group of students. “Is that anywhere near you?” she asks, “If you two are anywhere near each other, I’m hoping you have an opportunity to meet.”
This is becoming commonplace – people connecting me, their American friend living in Europe, with friends and family who are visiting the city. And I love it!
“Yes,” I tell her, “our church is St. Barnabas Kensington, we’re in the area.”
We end the conversation with hope that our worlds will somehow collide in London knowing I’ll soon be on holiday in France.
Ellen has no idea Caryn and I am in virtual conversation about her. She is oblivious that her elementary school teacher is attempting to connect her with a blogging friend, because we are both passionate about Jesus.
And that’s why the serendipity is meaningful for all of us.
It turns out the host couple for the student groups bring them to St. Barnabas shortly after their arrival to the city, because it is one of their favorite churches in London.
The day I awakened to begin the second half of my life could’ve happened anywhere but God knew it would happen in my favorite place, the city of London and the place I call home now.
I could’ve celebrated without my daughter except God knew being with all the members of my family was the only gift I asked for.
Caryn could’ve chosen to ask me where I lived any day of the week or not asked at all for that matter.
That group of students from Point Loma could’ve chosen another church to visit that Sunday but they didn’t.
They could’ve visited our church on a Sunday my husband wasn’t speaking and never realized he also was once a student at another university in California. And missed all his jokes about Zonies in California during the introduction.
H could’ve chosen to speak on any subject for his sermon that morning. But on the Sabbath which was my birthday, he told us how God illuminates our eyes, our heart and our path; how we reflect the Light of the world around us.
When you are tempted to second guess the past, live in regret or wish for a do-over, remember that God sees you. You are known. He remembers. The details of your life aren’t random.
He is the divine quilt maker, pulling all the threads of your life together into one vibrant tapestry declaring his faithfulness. A Father knows how to put a smile on the face of His children best. He thought of you first, when you were still in darkness.
“May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah That your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!” Psalm 67: 1-2
How is His face shining upon you lately? Tell me in the comments.
I love this story and you and Caryn…and that Murielle was with on your birthday and is going to be with you for the family holiday. I love serendipity and the way God makes “quilts.” And I love that you have joined me in living the second half of life because it really is more fun to live in the company friends on our ascent toward toward forever. (There are other things I love but I won’t fill up the comment box today.) God is good.
God is good indeed!! Love you and all that God is doing in your life. It’s so fun to be doing this together.
Bek and I were in Ethiopia waiting for visas. I was missing get Neil/Vancouver like crazy. On each morning I go downstairs for breakfast and sitting at our table are three university students wearing shirts that said,
UBC. University of British Columbia, Vancouver. I hopped over, introduced myself then said, I don’t know any of you but you are getting a hug from me. Right time, right moment.
One better… Those students were in Ethiopia to participate in a meeting that was led by our cousin who travelled with his son. Bek met his first (new) family in Ethiopia.
I have many of those kinds of stories from stepping aside in the moment and looking back to see God’s sovereign hand in my life.
I’m so happy your daughter was home to share your milestone. Notice I didn’t say tombstone???? You’ve got lots of life left in you darlin.
God is gracious.
Love that story. Only God! Thanks for your encouragement Celeste! xx
God chose today for me to have a visit from a neighbor who is excited to join a group that I am in and so is Caryn! His ways, timing, choices are always best and exciting.
Ronda, thanks for stopping by. Any friend of Caryns is a friend of mine!
So true, He is a wonderful giver of gifts! All we need are the eyes to recognize them when they come. 🙂
Yes, this — Eyes to recognize the gifts when they come. So true! Thanks Karla.
I just love how God brought you two together…in a way not even I was aware of at the time. Ellen said she really enjoyed her visit to your church and hopes to return there during her stay. His timing and “stitching” is impeccably perfect. Love you to pieces my friend. Thank you for sharing your end of the story. <3
Yes, I hope to see her again. It looks like a few of the students will be interning with us which is exciting. God is so good. Love you too Caryn!!
That is so cool Shelly! <3
You know my friend that our birthdays are bookends of each other and I, too, longed only to have my kids around for my birthday. Leah and William visited in the evening and left me the loveliest hand made card; son Aaron and his tribe of 5 called me during our time together and the cacophony of the speaker phone call was music to my ears. “Did you know, Nana, I did the eye chart today for Kindergarten and I knew all my letters?!” from precious grandson Paul.
Those are the ways I know my God smiles on us and He indeed orchestrates every jot and tittle of our lives–because He sees us.
love you, Shelly.
Oh, I love that you were also surrounded by the people you love on your birthday Jody. It does seem that the older I get the more life comes into focus — relationships are what matters most in this life. Happy Belated Birthday!!
I love how God brought you together on your birthday in London before you left on a trip. God loves surprises! I recently contacted a woman at church that I met once, but God nudged me, and now we are planning an IF:Pray event at our church. She felt nudged to do a women’s prayer event. I knew about the prayer event in Orlando, FL, and I wanted to host one by simulcast. God brings us together, and voila! https://ifgathering.com/ifpray-map/ This is the link to see where all the planned events are, and to find out more about IF:Pray. Maybe you will want one in London…
I’m so glad you are involved in IF Janet. Sounds amazing. Especially because God orchestrated the details!
Thank you for reaching out to my daughter. I’ve never met you, but we are family in Christ, and I look forward to the day we will meet on earth or in heaven. You (and Caryn) have blessed our family with your obedience to the Spirit…bringing us the comfort of knowing God is orchestrating Ellen’s life and time in London….that He sees her and her needs. Thank you, Shelly. Blessings. Sharon Maley (Ellen’s mom and friend/sister of dear Caryn).
Sharon, I loved meeting your daughter and learning about the student group she is with here in London. I know how important it is as a mother, to know that God’s face is shining upon our children. Hopefully, we’ll see each other again while she is here. Thanks so much for connecting.
Oh, I love serendipities such as the ones you describe! And to think they all occurred on your birthday! What superb gifts God gave you for this milestone occasion. God smiled upon us just recently as he engineered some schedule conflicts into a very workable plan. He is so incredibly gracious to us! P.S. Happy belated birthday, Shelly. As one who has been over the hill for some time now, I can tell you this side is just fine. In fact, it has its advantages!
It seems that the serendipity comes more often lately but I really think that I’ve practiced noticing it enough now that I more highly attuned to it. He is always with us, near and present, but we don’t often see it when we are in the busy seasons of life swirling all around us. Glad you had something work out for you too that reveals his love for you Nancy. Because you ARE loved!! Thanks for the birthday greetings.