The first birthday party that I remember was my 5th. I had 5 friends over to have a dress up-tea party. As a child, my mom took great care to celebrate me and my sister. Birthdays always seemed like a big deal and I have always wanted to celebrate mine well. In fact, this is just what I thought everyone did. The rule in our house for a long time was that you could invite as many people over as you were years old.
That worked for a while but it wasn’t long before my friends were more plentiful than my age and I needed more room to invite everyone that I loved to come together to celebrate. Most of my kid birthdays I did not ask for presents, I just asked my friends to give money towards a charity of some kind. Looking back on it, I have no idea where that came from. It makes me sound like a really philanthropic child but I don’t know if I particularly was. Mom and Dad always seemed delighted when I wanted to share my birthday with others like this which is probably why I liked doing it.
All my kid birthdays tended towards the same thing, I’d invite all my friends over (guys and girls primarily from my youth group at church) and we’d cook out, bob for apples, and play on a massive slipping slide in the back yard. Those parties were so much fun. Dad would put two wide, long plastic drop cloths down in the yard, we’d soap them up with baby shampoo and then turn on the sprinkler. Cheap fun for hours and every year my friends seemed excited to come back and slip n’ slide again.
When I was 16, I had a big dance in our church gym. It wasn’t a formal dance, like you see on TV. It was a casual, all my friends just having fun in one place sort of dance. I remember it as a blast and being so amazed that over 50 people came to play, sing and dance the night away.
I was fascinated by how people really were drawn to the simple parties where we could just be and just play. It seemed the more money that went into it and the more complicated it was, the less fun it ended up being.
My teenage birthdays started something special that brings me to today’s post. My family bought a cabin in the mountains and from then on, I hosted most my birthday parties as a weekend retreat from the routine.
Apart from my 21st birthday which was at our giant country bar/club called Coyote Joes and my 22nd birthday which was a huge sleepover at my childhood home with all my friends from college and high school attending in their pajamas, jumping on our trampoline, and piling in the living room for a night of relaxing fun and mojitos; aside from those two, my birthday celebrations have been sent cabin-ward.
My cabin birthday weekends have become much more than a weekend of celebrating my life. They have become a true retreat for everyone I love best in this world. Family and friends join me and Joel at the cabin for as much time as they can take from the daily grind. We will be there all weekend. While we are there we will stay in our comfy clothes the entire time, most people don’t bathe unless they want to, and brushing your teeth is entirely optional. We cook delicious food or heat up hotdogs just depending on how we feel. Breakfast is served around noon and it is ok to start your day with a beer. We stay up late, sleep late, watch for shooting stars, sit by a bon fire in the driveway, burn Christmas trees, skinny dip at night in our pond, play all day in the river just skipping rocks, throwing bottles or pushing each other into the frigid waters of the river’s bend we live on. We watch really old movies that my Dad collected, write music, turn everything into a song and use my mom’s “country jam band” kit that gives everyone a percussion instrument to contribute to the wild and sometimes tuneless ballads we create. We sit on the porch for hours eating, drinking, talking, and always continually calming our souls with the back and forth motions of the rocking chairs. We play ping pong in the basement, blast 90’s rap, dance our hearts out, and swing in the Mayan hammocks that creak the whole house when you put 4 too many people in them.
I look forward to my birthday weekend all year for many reasons but none of them really have anything to do with celebrating my life. What makes this weekend special is that it has become a life of its own. It is a tradition that we all look forward to and choose not to miss. I believe it is important to everyone because it has turned into a gift that is both given and received by each of us. When we are all together at the cabin we are being totally ourselves. There is no drama, there is honesty, there is openness, there is deep love, and there is this pure, judgment-less freedom to just play as hard as you want. Most of us nap in the sun, drift off on the porch, or curl up on a couch somewhere. We are all busy people with very full lives. My birthday weekend has become a time to truly retreat from all demands and obligations we face and just very simply, be.
That is all I want for my birthday. This is what I love most about celebrating my life each year. New friends, old friends, life long friends all gathered together to be, just be. What I receive is what we all receive: the fullness of God’s love. “He takes pleasure in YOUR pleasure.”
Happy Birthday to me!