Happy Birthday to Me


On birthdays there should be Big Thoughts. You should of course ruminate on how old (or not) you feel, how much more mature (or not) you could be, how you’ve failed in your aspirations for the last x amount of years, how you’ve completed your aspirations in the last amount of years, what you hope to accomplish in your next however many years. (I’m afraid my Dickens is showing–forgive me!)  But on my most recent birthday, I accomplished few Big Thoughts.

I did, however, manage to make a cake in our new (much larger! so nice!) toaster oven that is actually big enough to bake something in without the top burning long before anything else is even warm.

And while it almost melted in the Singapore heat in spite of being stored in the freezer whenever it was not being built, it tasted great. Although anything with four layers of homemade lemon curd covered in lemon cream cheese frosting would probably taste great anyways.


Did I ever imagine that when I was 25 my main accomplishments would consist of making a cake for my birthday and not getting mad at the baby (and doing dishes, of course–one can always do more dishes)? I don’t really know. I’m not one of those people (like Jared) who was born ambitious. When I was ten I had a breakdown when I had to write an assignment about what I wanted to be when I grew up, because I had no ambitions to be anything! (I finally settled on teacher as the least bad option…and now I’m a teacher. So maybe 10-year-old me knew something after all?)

What I’d like to think is that one doesn’t have to accomplish great things for life to matter. I try to comfort Jared with this platitude when he’s feeling especially down after only reading one million books instead of stopping wars or advising world leaders; somehow he doesn’t particularly appreciate it.

But I think of it this way–if everyone was busy doing great things, who would have time to stop and comfort the baby, or to make a lemon cake for all to enjoy, or to teach English to small children? Who would be involved in the business of helping the little ones become great?

We need great men and women. But we also need the homely sorts, the ones who contribute the less obvious comforts, like lemon cake. So even though I’ve accomplished little to speak of in my life these past twenty-six years, I think I may have contributed some good to the world in spite of myself.





To Boldly Give

I’ll admit it. I’m not the best musician (or writer, or photographer, or painter. . .you name it) in the world. Not even close. But even though I’m not the best at any of those things, I am still an artist.


I used to worry, to focus only on how I compared to others, how I didn’t measure up. Or else I would feel proud that I was better at playing violin than other people were. It was all about the competition–was I going to be the next Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart?

Sadly, I never practiced enough as a child to make THAT dream come true. And really, even with all the wonderful benefits of playing a musical instrument, who wants to sacrifice their childhood to playing seven hours a day? Only the most dedicated, and I’ve never joined their ranks.

Random violin picture because what’s prettier than a well-made violin?

So now I’ve given up my dream (if you can call it that) of being the next Itzhak Perlman or Hilary Hahn, standing on stage to thunderous applause after I just finished playing the hardest piece of music ever written for violin. It’s far more practical to stand on stage to thunderous applause for playing something simple, like Silent Night. Fewer heart attacks for all involved.

But even though I’m not the world’s greatest, I’ve learned so much from playing the violin. I’ve always been a quiet, private person, unsure of what or how much to say. Playing the violin, though, has made me aware of what I want to say–and it provides the perfect way to say it.

The most important thing about being given a gift is not whether you’re at the top of the list, the most practiced, the most coherent, the most put-together. The most important thing is to use that gift, to share it with others. You don’t play the piano (or cello, or violin, or saxophone, or clarinet, etc) perfectly? That’s ok. You didn’t write the world’s best-selling novel? That’s ok. You don’t keep your house perfectly clean all the time? That’s ok.


You can still play your instrument for people: I assure you, they’ll love it! You can still take pride in your writing–it can still bless others. You can still invite people over to your slightly messy house–they’ll still feel welcomed. Having a gift isn’t about having the perfect environment to show it off in, or even the perfect gift to show off. Having a gift is about giving, sharing yourself with others. Don’t let fear stop you–take pride in your gift. Give boldly. You never know who you’ll be blessing.