When I think of my 21st birthday, tears flood my eyes.
It was about two weeks after Chad died and I remember dreading it and dreading it. I remember so clearly that day because it was the first time that I felt as though I truly needed to pretend or act happy.
It was the very first time that I felt the need to try to be happy because I knew how happy Chad would be.
Year one of my birthday- once again, Chad made me feel like I was being filmed for yet another Nicholas Sparks movie moment.
Freshman year of college, my first birthday with him- he showed up and showed out. He worked for weeks and weeks on my present, I know for a fact as nervous as can be about what to get me. Knowing Chad, I know he called everyone he knew and was close with to see what he should get me. He needed to know if what he was getting me was too much, too little, or just the right amount- and somehow he seemed to believe that everyone else would know the answer.
It was only about two weeks after we officially started dating- not so good of timing for him 😉 and I wasn’t expecting much, to be honest, I was just expecting dinner.
But it was so much more then that.
I walked in my freshman year dorm room and found an absolutely beautiful dress laying on my bed, next to it- a pair of earings to match, next to that- a beautiful diamond infinity necklace. I look at my dresser and found a note and couple of roses in a vase and the card read-
“Put this on and I’ll pick you up at 8.”
My heart melted, I was in shock and as I stood there in disbelief- I remember thinking to myself that I truly felt happy, that this was something different.
He picked me up and as I was getting ready I heard my roommates in the next room without group of guy friends talking about Chad and what he did. As I walked out I got a little teasing and the basic guy friend response of “I haven’t met this guy yet”. Blah, Blah.
When Chad picked me up in his little blue car, I was SO nervous- this is was my first official date with just the two of us (since our first date was with his brother and brother’s girlfriend) and my body felt numb. What if the conversation was awkward, what if it wasn’t what I was expecting?
While I will not share the conversation that Chad and I had over dinner because it is one of my most favorite memories, I will say it was probably one of the weirdest, most interesting, and strange conversation I think I have ever had- but it was just enough weird, out there, and memorable conversation I’ve had to this today. I’ll never forget the way Chad made me laugh that night.
It was a night I truly felt happy.
Year two of my birthday- as much as I say this, it’s probably one of my favorite memories of Chad- I just have too many.
You see, I thought that he had blown off my birthday. I mean besides the phone call and text in the morning wishing me a happy birthday, not much else was said about it. As I waited around all day to see if he was going to ask me to dinner or have something planned- I began to feel hurt and impatient that he seemed to have remembered how much I love birthdays..
I led community group that night and still didn’t hear much. After it was over, it was around 9 pm and at this point- I was mad. As soon as I sent a text raging at him for forgetting how important I thought birthdays were and how unimportant he made me feel- I heard a knock on the door.
And there he was, flowers in hand, dressed in a blazer with that quirky, “I got you” smile of his. I opened the door and said “Babe this does not make up for how you’ve barely acknowledged my birthday today.”
I’ll never forget when he looked at me, gave me a kiss, and said “Oh but I will.”
He told me to put something warm on and to meet him outside. So I did and we got into my car and he drove away, silent and so stinkin cute. I said, “Babe where are we even going this late?” and as always, he said, “You’ll see.”
We parked at the battery and got out. He opened my door and said, “Babe will you take a walk with me.”
I took his hand and we walked along the water, chatting and as always, laughing. I was already so happy, he knew exactly what I love and my love language- quality time.
While I love gifts and they mean the world to me, to me the best gift you can ever give someone- is your time, and that’s all I wanted and all I needed.
With another romantic trick up his sleeve, Chad walked me over to the little pavilion in the middle of the battery, pulled out his phone, turned on Wanted by Hunter Hayes and pulled me in close.
As we stood there in the cool air, as I stepped up onto his feet as I always did when we danced, I laid my head on his chest and thought to myself how unbelievable Chad Cooke really was.
And that night, I knew I was truly happy.
Year three, two weeks after watching the love my life lay in a casket, the year 21 for me rolled around.
And let me tell you, it was a birthday like no other.
I remember dreading the day, thinking about how much Chad and I had talked about our 21st, how much fun we would be having, and how he would be making me have a beer every chance I got.
21- now that’s a day I’ll never forget.
That’s the day I went off on a “friend” like I never had before, a day where she treated me as I didn’t exist, as if I was nothing- and I had enough. That’s the day that I had an anxiety attack in the afternoon- my first one and slammed my fist so hard into the wall that it left a dent in the wall and a bruise on my hand. That’s the night I drank to either try to feel happy or because I thought I needed to have fun- I’m not sure which one and was a complete wreck. That’s the first night I slept in my house downtown since Chad died. That’s the first night I 100% lost my control (yes because of alcohol) and kicked everything off of my living room table and sobbed harder than I ever had. That’s the night I woke up the next morning absolutely miserable in every aspect of life.
I did not think I was going to make it through the day between throwing up, crying, serious stomach pains (alcohol and no food for two weeks was not a smart decision). I really thought a hospital visit was in my next few hours.
And I remember thinking that day that I will never be happy again.
Year four- ‘feelin 22’.
I can’t say how it is or what it’s like because the day hasn’t even happened. But what I can say right now, is that I’ve been dreading it.
My heart has felt so heavy knowing that a celebration of my life, the life I’ve lived thus far, the day I was born, is going to be celebrated without the man I love more then anything.
My heart has felt so full thinking of where I am now compared to where I was a year ago. I was at the lowest of the lows. I really don’t think I could ever be at the low of a point in my life as I was during the surrounding time of my birthday last year. When I say low, I mean low.
It’s such a mix of emotions being so hurt yet so thankful.
This year is different, throughout the year I’ve lost some really good friends, I’ve lost some really bad friends, I’ve had people walk out my life, and I’ve had people walk in. I’ve felt the absence of God like no other, and I’ve felt the presence of God like I may never feel again. I’ve seen people’s worst self, and I’ve seen people’s best self. I’ve seen many unfaithful people and friends, and I’ve seen many many selfless and absolutely incredible friends. I’ve seen many lonely nights and days, and I’ve seen many content, happy days.
For me, this birthday is different. This birthday isn’t a birthday to me. People keep asking why I’m not excited about my birthday and it’s not that I’m not excited- it just that for me, this day is something different for me, something more important to me.
This day is full of some of my favorite, most sweetest memories of my forever love. It’s a time where I remember falling in love, falling deeper in love, and mourning and grieving like no other.
And this year, this year I am choosing to make it a year of complete thankfulness, because to be honest, after the year of 21- I didn’t think I was going to make it, I didn’t want to make it.
Today I don’t want to think about myself, about my celebration, about my day. Today, I want to think about my journey. I want to think about how 22 years ago God breathed life into me. He established a set purpose and plan for my life. 22 years ago he ordered my steps and he designed me to be the person I am today. 22 years ago, I was welcomed into a broken, cruel world- no one knowing but God the path that I would walk.
Today I am remembering that a year ago- I was at the pit, the darkest pit I think there ever is. Today I am remembering that God turns ashes into beauty, He carries us through our darkest days and nights, He covers us with mercy and love without us even recognizing it.
Today I am remembering that it is never too late for you to trust God, to give Him the hurt, the pain, the ugly, the brokenness. Today I remembering that it is okay to beautifully broken.
Today, on this 22nd birthday, I am thanking God for not just another year of life- but for this past year of my life. I am thanking Him for showing up, for covering me with His wings, for sending me people in my life who would carry me until I could walk again, for being far greater of a God and Father than I could ever even imagine. I am thanking Him for showing me all that He can do in the midst of darkness, for showing me that He never gives up on me, no matter how much I feel like He has or I even want Him too. For showing me that darkness, tragedy, and pain does not define me.
Today I am remembering just how precious love and life can be. Today I am thanking my babe for making birthdays a little different for me, for showing me how true love can change your world, and for reminding me today and every day, just how loved I am.
Today I am thanking God that he can take this brokenness, this pit, this heartbreak, this tragedy, this unexplainable darkness, this pale, 119 pound girl that didn’t take this shirt or sweatshirt off of Chad’s for months…..
into a girl who is trying, pushing, smiling, feeling, loving, finding her passion, seeking the Lord, ridding the toxic things of life out, and finding her focus and purpose back in the Savior’s arms. For showing me who Emily is again, for continuing to break me until I am no longer my own, for making me realize the beauty of thankfulness, the beauty of life, and the beauty of death.
I don’t know where you are right now or what your pain is. I don’t know who or what has hurt you. I don’t know the insecurities you are facing or the lies you can’t defeat. I don’t know who has walked out of your life or who has walked in. I don’t know how far away you feel from God- but what I do know, and take it from me- your pain, your hurt, your struggles- it means something. I don’t know where the year 22 will take me, I don’t know if I will find pain and trials as great as this again this year, but I know where God will take me, where He will lead me, and where He will carry me to.
This pain and this journey isn’t over yet, and neither is yours- so stand up, wipe your tear or sit down and release your tears- no matter what it is- choose a heart of thankfulness for the way God leads us through darkness and believe in the promise that God will not leave you.
Take heart. You are being trusted with a great deal of responsibility to glorify the Lord through this pain of yours. You can do this.