I’ve been thinking about your birthday for five days now. Thinking about how on Friday, you’d be twenty years young. Twenty years bold and bright and wise. And I’ve been thinking about the day we met in Detroit—both boarding a plane to Paris, ultimately bound for Goa, India.
That day–our almost identical outfits and our first conversation about elephants and relationships turned into late night conversations and morning prayers, whispered amidst the sound of early monsoon rain. Coconuts falling in the early dawn. Napoleon staring down at us, hung ever so poignantly on the painted wall, orange.
I’ve been thinking about the days of sweating out fevers and the fearful moments when I couldn’t lift my head. I sat there on the sandy floor, ants crawling all over my ankles, holding a plastic bucket, red. And when you couldn’t keep me from vomiting up cherry flavored Sudafed or crying or turning unrealistically pale, you came in and said, “Do you think you’d want to watch Alias?” because you knew it was my favorite show.
Sitting in the beach shops with the ladies, all of us reading and holding hands. The sound of nothing but the rolling waves. Sometimes I ache for that haunting, silent sound.
Days at the stitching center.The way the detergent we used to hand wash our clothes smelled as I scrubbed and twisted and squeezed. Discovering carbonated coffee and eating way too many chickpeas and Garlic Naan and learning how to use a machete to open up a coconut. I’d sing each day about a mango tree, and when we ate it for breakfast, it tasted sweet and soft and so perfectly juicy.
Bus rides where all we wanted to do was dance to the Hindi music. And the day that you wore your Kurta inside out and I simply couldn’t hold in my laughter.
These are the things I’ve been thinking about all week. Because, a year ago, we were across the ocean. We were watching plankton light up the Arabian Sea and drinking Chai around the dinner table and allowing our hearts to be radically changed by Jesus.
And that’s what I want you to remember, my sister. Today on your birthday.
We are cut from the same cloth, you and I. It is bright and colorful and a patchwork of personality. And when I turned twenty, I wish someone had written me a letter. I wish they would have told me these things.
You feel different, like no one understands you. Like no one will every understand you. They might not. Only the Father will ever know or understand the way your hearts pulses. The way your mind wanders to far off places and grows angry at the idea of innocent people being treated unfairly. He who knit you together understands you. And never let those who lack the ability make you feel like you aren’t exactly who you were made to be. Because you are. And if we are all being honest with ourselves, we all feel misunderstood.
Learn to be content where you are.
Days are slow. And dreams often don’t come quickly. In fact, sometimes it feels like they won’t come at all. Go after them anyway. Be patient with them, because they’re mulling like spiced tea. Enjoy the monotony of those beautiful mountains you do life in. Enjoy every morning cup of coffee and basketball practice and stroll in the sunshine with the Roy boy. Those moments are worth soaking in and smelling—the way we suck in the smell of Southern rain and lightning bugs and hot asphalt in the summer.
I love what Shauna Niequist writes in her book Bittersweet. She says,
“For a while in my early twenties I felt like I woke up a different person every day, and was constantly confused about which one, if any, was the real me. I feel more and more like myself with each passing year, for better and for worse, and you’ll find that too.”
It’s true. We are so close in age, but when I think about who I was four years ago—so much has changed. I have changed. And so will you. And one day you’ll glance over your shoulder and realize you’ve shed off layers and layers of other people’s expectations. And you will begin to understand who you want to be. And what you want to believe in. And that at the end of the day, you can’t make everyone happy so you might as well figure out which you is the real you and do the best you can to be that person.
Sometimes on my drive to work, I sit back and laugh. I think about those nights scrubbing dishes in the dark and the night we all sat around the dinner table singing and playing Cups.
A year ago today, we were at an Indian birthday party that lasted until 3am. And when I think about how you ought to be celebrated—its this memory I hold on to. May this be the way that we always celebrate your birthday. With happy memories of a hilarious, awkward, and joy filled celebration.
And tonight, on the eve of your birth, I sit back and revel in the fact that we are friends. And that we met in an airport terminal. And good grief, am I glad that we did.
So to my sister on your twentieth birthday, Happiest of days and what a grand, beautiful reminder you are of rebirth and life.