The weekend of my 19th birthday, the boy I’d been dating for over two years raped me. He later told me it was because I wasn’t ready to go when he arrived to pick me up that night. The relationship had been abusive for a long time; this was just a new layer.
A few months later, I found the courage to leave that relationship, but since then, my birthday has been a day of mixed emotions for me. In our society, birthdays tend to be a reason to celebrate. But for me, it’s hard to celebrate a day that also holds memories of a devasting experience. It took me twenty years to admit what happened that night was rape. I don’t dwell on the details of what happened, but it’s hard to forget that the day is also the anniversary of that incident.
For the first several years, I didn’t want to be alone on my birthday. That was easy enough when I was in college or in my early twenties with friends around. But in my late twenties, I moved out of state for a job. About a month before my birthday, I realized since my roommates worked evenings, they wouldn’t be around. A friend from college that visited often had a conflict that week. I wasn’t looking forward to being by myself that day. Thankfully I made some new friends and hung out with them that night. When I arrived home, my voicemail was full of good wishes from friends. It made my day!
As I got older, married, and had kids, it was nice to do something simple for my birthday. But in the back of my mind, it was also a day I hoped something really good would happen, something to take away the pain of that day.
When I ended the abusive relationship, I moved on but didn’t take the time or effort to heal. Twenty years later, when I realized the baggage I was still carrying and finally healed, I also grappled with my birthday and the conflicting emotions. I discovered I didn’t want big celebrations; a simple meal with a friend or family is nice. I also like to volunteer and help someone else.
Sometimes I still feel the weight of the day. As the day approaches, I start to think of what I might do or who I might spend part of it with and start to look for volunteer opportunities. (I’m divorced now, and my kids are getting older and starting their lives as young adults.) I never want the day to be an obligation for someone else.
This year, I’d been trying to visit a lifelong friend that had moved out of town, and the time that finally worked was two days before my birthday. It was wonderful to get away and spend two days with my friend and her husband. I got back home the night before my birthday. This year it was on a Sunday, so I went on an early morning bike ride, then to church, and home for lunch before working on a volunteer project and dinner with family.
It was a relaxing and quiet day. I had lots of time to reflect. I had some conflicting feelings, but as I prayed, I heard God say, “This is the day the Lord hath made, let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). And then I felt Psalm 139:14 press on my heart “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made, your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
Just as God taught me many years ago, the abuse is something that happened to me and doesn’t change who I am; He started to show me something similar for my birthday. Something happened that day many years ago, but it doesn’t change the work that God did or who I am. The day started to have a new meaning for me. Meaning that brought me peace instead of pain and contentment instead of conflict. God created me, and the day I was born. That is something to celebrate.