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Happy Birthday to Me

My husband and I were born on the same day. I pampered him. Why didn't he do the same?

My husband and I share the same birthday. Some people think that's fascinating or sweet or wonderful. During our early years of marriage, my brother-in-law always made a big deal out of it at our small church where milestones were lauded and celebratory songs sung.

With renewed focus on honoring my husband, I found joy in making his day terrific. But a tiny particle of resentment burrowed deep.

Same birthday.

Fascinating? Yes.

Sweet? Maybe.

Wonderful? No. At least that's how I felt for the first too-many years of our marriage.

As a child I enjoyed the pampering of a family who figuratively crowned the "birthday child" prince or princess for a day—great presents, no chores, favorite foods for dinner, homemade devil's food cake with fudge frosting, name scripted by my mother's loving hand. I loved birthdays!

At times I thought it romantic that Steve and I shared the same date of birth—his seven years before mine, which I never let him forget. But the stars-in-my-eyes fascination eventually morphed into resentment.

What about me?

It all started before we dated. On my eighteenth birthday I returned from a summer-long missions trip expecting a little TLC and a family dinner, only to find a surprise party at our house with a dozen young people from the new church we'd begun attending before I left. Steve's sister-in-law had been inviting the same crowd to a party for him that night, so she and my mom combined the celebrations at our home—though I barely knew the guy. Exhaustion fueled dashed expectations.

Then over the next several months I got to know this fellow birthday child. I wondered how two people born on the same day could be such opposites, but love grew. Within 15 months Steve and I married. And the romantic fascination with our wonderful, sweet, shared birthday phenomenon faded.

But I loved my husband dearly. Year after year I wore myself out planning the perfect dinner for him, finding the perfect present for him, even taking out the garbage on his special day. With great panache I calligraphed his name on a devil's food cake with fudge frosting. And I never forgot that these above-and-beyond preparations required heaps of work—on my birthday.

When our budget allowed, we dined at a fine restaurant. But even then I figured that a joint celebration deprived me of one dinner out a year!

And no one made a cake for me anymore on my birthday. No one planned a whopping shindig just for me. No one said, "Don't bother with the dishes tonight, Honey." I grew frustrated with Steve's apparent insensitivity. Couldn't he see I'd like a little pampering on my special day, too? Somehow neither banging cupboard doors nor the silent treatment have ever effectively communicated to him my discontent over unfulfilled expectations. I'm not sure why it was so difficult to tell him outright, but I suspect it's somewhere in that X-Y chromosome difference.

I hated my self-centeredness and struggled to shake it. With much prayer and a yearly renewed focus on honoring my husband, I found joy in making his day terrific. But a tiny particle of resentment burrowed deep. Why couldn't he do the same for me?

The perfect gift

A few years ago, while struggling again with this issue, a thought occurred to me. It wasn't a thunderbolt from above, yet I recognized God's voice.

Responsibilities for my aging parents gobbled my time when we had to move them quickly into a nursing home. For me that meant cleaning their apartment from top to bottom, packing nonessential belongings for storage and a garage sale, and settling financial and legal affairs. All this left little "together time" with my husband. Yet he didn't complain. Instead, he embarked on a muscle-building program (hauling boxes and furniture) and sacrificed a great deal to make my home workload easier.

That's when I heard the voice of my heavenly Father, the greatest gift giver of all time: "Don't you see, Joyce? I love you so much I gave you a birthday present seven years before you were born."

Tears filled my eyes in awe of God's love. I felt ashamed for not fully appreciating the gift he'd given me. After all, the Bible says that "every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father" (James 1:17). No, my husband isn't perfect, and he doesn't always meet my expectations, but he's God's perfect choice for me.

I remembered a marriage seminar we attended where the speaker talked about the importance of "receiving" your mate as a gift. The former football receiver described catching a pass as "looking it in." You keep your eye on the ball until it's safely tucked away under your arm. What perfect imagery for the way God wants me to receive his gift of my Green-Bay-Packer-loving husband.

I realized that whether or not Steve and I share a birthday, we are a precious gift to each other. Every day God gives us new opportunities to receive that gift all over again, to nurture intimate eye contact, to tuck that precious person into our hearts, to cherish what God has graciously given.

That day, I decided to ditch my self-pity and wholeheartedly receive my husband as the gift God had intentioned for me.

Accepting each other "as is"

First, I realized I had to accept Steve—his thoughts, feelings, and failures. He may not measure up to "ideal spouse" criteria (and neither would I, I know!), but God gave us to each other "as is." Extending grace in our areas of imperfection develops character and Christlikeness in both of us.

While Steve and I don't always agree, I can respect his thoughts and feelings enough to listen without judging before I express my views. Sometimes he's even thanked me for helping him see things from a different perspective.

Second, I began to thank God for knowing exactly what I needed in a husband and saving this one just for me. I brought a lot of insecurities into our marriage, and we've struggled through angry quarrels, heartbreaking job loss, and life-threatening medical emergencies. I haven't always told my husband what I was going through, and when I have, he hasn't always reacted the way I'd hoped. But he has stuck with me, and he's my biggest encourager.

It's easy to take a gift—even a fascinating gift—for granted after a while, so I've also been working on thanking my husband more often for what he does for me. When the kids were little, I often complained that he didn't do enough to help me with overwhelming household chores. I have a feeling no matter how much he would have done, I wouldn't have thought it was enough.

But as I tell him my needs, Steve has assumed tasks my physical maladies make difficult, rescued me from over-scheduling myself, and anticipated potential trouble spots. And I try to remember to thank him for little thoughtful things he does, such as putting the tea kettle on so the water's hot by the time I'm ready for my morning eye opener.

Finally, I'm making time to understand and enjoy my present.

Just as today's electronic gadgetry requires we study the manual and then "play with the thing" awhile to enjoy it to the fullest, Steve and I keep making time to get to know each other better. We recognize our need to reconnect, to talk deeply without TV or other interruptions, to understand our male-female differences in both actions and reactions, to simply have fun together.

Few things frustrate me more than putting a lot of thought or work into presents and finding the recipients stuffed them into a drawer, never fully enjoying them. So we're trying not to "use" each other, but to cooperate, playing to our strengths to become a better team.

As for birthdays, I realized finally that my easygoing husband's family didn't create such hoopla on anyone's natal day (his sister-in-law notwithstanding). Because I didn't tell him, he didn't realize how important birthday celebrations were to me. When I finally did let him in on my "secret," he began to make more of an effort on my birthday—still not to my level of birthday expectations, but at least it's an effort.

I often wonder how many other irritations in our marriage have been gifts in disguise. What other joys am I missing? That's when I pray God will help me be the best birthday present my husband could have ever received.

Joyce K. Ellis, author of The 500 Hats of a Modern-Day Woman (Vine), lives with her husband in Minnesota. Contact her at www.joycekellis.com.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Celebration; Differences; Fun; Gifts; Marriage
Today's Christian Woman, Fall, 2005
Posted September 12, 2008

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