Overwhelmed. Speechless. Grateful.

These are just a few of the words that come to mind when I think of how I spent my fortieth birthday.

As I woke up to kisses from my kiddos. As I enjoyed brunch with my sweet husband. As I scrolled through comments on social media.   As a read texts from people I love. As I sat in a room that night laughing and reminiscing with dear friends and family. And as I sat in bed at the end of the day reading through letters and cards sent from friends and family that have been special to me in my 4 decades of life…

Overwhelmed. Speechless. Grateful. . .

There really are no words to describe the people that I have gotten to call friends and family during my 40 years of life.

When I turned 39, I made a mental bucket list of things I wanted to do before I left my thirties. There were places in my home state that I wanted to see that I had never gone to in all my years of being an “Okie.” There were friends from my past that I hadn’t seen in years that I starting making mental plans of traveling to go see. Friends that I never dreamed I would go an entire ten and surely not twenty years without hugging their necks. My dream bucket list included adventures to go see these special people from my past.

Well. Somehow 365 days passed by quicker than I thought. It is really true what they say…the days are long but the years are short.

I tend to have unrealistic expectations of myself. The bucket list was quite impossible for a mother of three who is a working momma.

I choose not to focus on the places and people who are still not marked off of my bucket list…I can still dream of those adventures, and I am determined that I won’t turn 50 before I mark all of those trips and hugs off that list.

For my “over the hill” birthday, my sweet husband reached out to a girlfriend of mine in town and asked her to help him pull off a scavenger hunt that would end in a girl’s night out. Together, along with the help of my sister and mom, I truly had a 40th birthday to remember.

My husband told me afterwards that he had told those helping him pull off a surprise girl’s night out for me “just something simple.”

Well, we all know the male interpretation of simple and the female definition of simple tend to be quite different.   And…well…if my big sis is involved in the planning, there is never anything simple….

It was not simple. But it was simply perfect.

A scavenger hunt to a couple of my favorite places in town to see faces of some of my sweet family waiting at each place to surprise me.

Cards and gifts to open in the car along the way that were sent by people from my childhood, college, and early adulthood who sent their birthday love.(goodness as I typed that last phrase reality set in that I likely am classified now as ‘midlife’…how is that possible)

So many words.  Sure to be water to my thirsty soul in moments when I begin to believe the lies of the enemy that often try to tell me that I am something other than what the Father above tells me that I am.

A scrapbook from one of my amazing cousins and my aunt. It was creatively documented the people for whom I was named and reminded me of the heritage of faith that I carry with me.

A flower of words that were one of my cousin’s memories of me.

A picture of me on my first birthday and the actual outfit that I wore in the picture.

Pictures drawn by my big kids who were waiting to surprise me at a local park we frequent.

And then what I thought was going to be a quiet, quaint ‘girl’s night out’ dinner with my friend who was my scavenger hunt chauffeur, my mom, and my sweet sisters who had driven up to surprise me…

…..turned into anything but simple, quiet and quaint.

I walked into a room filled with “my people.” Friends that have made Tulsa become “home” over the last 8 years.

On the table was my favorite pound cake made by my mom using my grandmother’s recipe.

Flowers arrangements in the middle of the table sent to me from childhood besties.

Letters and cards from friends of the present and past that hadn’t been able to come.

And purple shirts. Lots of them. I teared up when they told me my college basketball coach had sent them for my family. Sidenote…truth is…Purple was my favorite color in high school, and I thought going to a “purple” college was like a dream come true…until I realized as a collegiate athlete I would soon have a closet full of only purple attire…I seriously have not worn much purple in the past 18 years since graduation. Today as I type this I proudly wear a purple shirt not because of the color or because I am an alumni of the school….but because it symbolizes roommates and teammates who were more like sisters than friends.  The shirt reminds me of coaches and professors who saw me through being diagnosed with a disability that took away my ability to write with a pen and a broken engagement just weeks before the wedding….they were there for me encouraging me with words of wisdom when my parents were five hours away and couldn’t walk me through the daily tears and heartache during these times. For me my time at Ouachita Baptist University was not about the education or a sports team but everything about the amazing people that my life’s path crossed in those years.

Goodness. I have no idea why I have been given the life that I have been given. My family. My friends.

My cup overflows with love from family and friends.

Over the past few weeks I have been thinking about my crazy, impossible 39th year bucket list. I’m still going to chip away at that list.

I decided that I wouldn’t give up on the list, but that there was something else that I wanted to do. Something that is more realistic for my life right now.

After reading all the things that people wrote to me for my 40th birthday, I realized handwritten cards and letters is something that has almost become a faded memory of my childhood years. I teared up thinking that my kids will grow up in a world where a handwritten card is seen as the unusual instead of the norm.

So my birthday wish this year is to spark a revolution.

A revolution to reclaim the lost art of taking 5 to 10 minutes out of my day to handwrite a note to someone.

In an age of social media and quick text messaging, our home and work mailboxes are way too empty of things that matter most. Birthday cards have been replaced with a Facebook comment.

Handwritten letters checking in with friends and family to tell them they have been on our heart and in our prayers have been replaced with the quick text message that often don’t include heartfelt words. These well thought out words have been replaced with fun little dancing bunny eared emojis and abbreivations like ‘lol’. . .which I still always wonder if the person means lots of laughs or lots of love when they type that.

Thank you notes are written in our heads but they never seem to make it on actual cards.

When I lost my ability to write with a writing utensil, my life was forced to change. I had been one who was known to sit down and write several letters a week to friends or family. When it became physically impossible to do this…at the age of 20 I pretty much stopped writing letters and cards. I ceased chronicling my life in handwritten journals.

When I lost the ability to write, I lost a piece of who I had been since I was a young girl whose childhood and teenage years are documented in my own handwriting through the letters I wrote each week to my best friend who moved away in 4th grade.

As I was thinking through committing to writing a letter or card each day this year…my 41st year of life…fear sunk in at first.

“But it’s painful to write.”

“The few sentences I will be able to write may not even be legible to those who I want to read them.”

“Is this another commitment of an overachiever who makes impossible to do lists for herself?”

I started writing this reflection of my birthday celebration the evening of my birthday as I sat in the bed of the hotel room where my mom and my sisters and me were ending the surprise girl’s night out celebration.

I got too tired to finish it up after all the festivities, so I put it aside to finish later. At that time I was not writing out my reflections of the day for anyone else to read. I simply wanted to record the feeling I was having in that moment.

That changed Monday morning. I had just finished up my early morning exercising and I got a call from my mom….early calls aren’t that unusual for us so I really didn’t really think twice when I said ‘Good Morning.’

But this wasn’t one of our usually early morning conversations.

She had called to tell me that my cousin’s husband had suddenly passed away over night.

I collapsed in my chair as I listened to my mom share with me the course of events that had happened in the night. A perfectly healthy 60 year old man being rushed to the hospital and then the unexpected news that no wife or child wants to hear about their husband and father. “He’s gone.”

You see. I had just spent my entire weekend celebrating life. Celebrating my own life and the lives of the people who have journeyed it with me.

One of those people who has been in my life since day one was this cousin. My sweet cousin Traci.

When I got off of the phone, I immediately went to find the card she had sent to be a part of the surprise scavenger hunt. I flipped through the amazing scrapbook she had spent hours creating. It was filled with pictures and words that documented the history of where I got my name…Holly Ann. It was truly one of the gifts that almost sent me into the ugly cry on my birthday scavenger hunt, so I had to put it away to read later when no one was around.

Surreal. Ending a weekend filled with the celebration of life, only to be confronted with the reality of death.

I had planned on finishing up my birthday reflection on the computer Monday morning after I exercised….instead I spent the time thinking about my precious cousin and her family.

As the day passed and I prayed for this sweet family, I knew what I had to do.

I had to follow through with my commitment to write a card every day this year. . .in honor of Traci. . . the cousin who was in high school by the time I came into the world, but always made me feel special by sending me cards and letters in the mail. I still remember the feeling I got as a child when I would find a letter in the mail from cousin Traci. Every card. Every gift I ever received from Traci was filled with such well thought out meaning.

I wasn’t going to tell anyone about my commitment. I really didn’t want “likes” or attention for my new challenge for myself. This commitment was about me.   It was about reclaiming territory of my life that the enemy had stolen from me 20 year ago when I lost the ability to write long handwritten letters and journal entries.

But as I thought through it, I thought….I need accountability.

And “what if there are people who want to join me in this commitment?”

What if instead of brightening the day of 365 people in this world…I had a couple of friends join me and this number turns into over a thousand.

What if together we spark a revolution of taking time each day to tell the people in our lives what they mean to us. . . to let them know that we prayed for them.

In my mind there are words in my heart that I need to write out to childhood friends, college professors, pastor’s wives from my past,

But then there is the coffee shop barista who treats me like family…even though we are quite opposites…she knows exactly what I want before I say it…even if I haven’t been in the store for a while…

And then there is this gal at the pizza shop we frequent. She knows me by name. When I walk in the door she sees me and goes to get my call in order and takes it to the register without me even saying a word. She takes the time to ask about my life and tell me “see you next week Holly.”

Those are the things that we love to watch in shows like Andy Griffith, and we assume are the things of days gone by…especially when you live in a city.  But do they have to be?

Then there are the custodian workers and lunch monitors at my kids schools…and those awesome people that clean the toilets at church….good grief if anyone deserves a thank you note it those people.

So, this is an invitation.

An invitation to hold me accountable. To text me and say “who did you write a note to today Holly?”

An invitation to join me in the commitment. Nothing would bless my heart more than to get pictures on my phone from cards that have been sent to people because you have read this post.

And hey…even if it only turns into one handwritten card or note a week…that’s 52 and still about 5 times as many as I wrote last year.

So here’s to walking each day of my 41st year of life remembering that tomorrow is not promised. Remembering how the impact of all the words written to me to celebrate my birthday made me feel like my life mattered.  And may I use my words to do the same for others.

Stop one of the scavenger hunt included my mom and sister in law. And this. My first birthday outfit. Along with letters and cards from people from my childhood and college years.

Stop one of the scavenger hunt included my mom and sister in law. And this. My first birthday outfit. Along with letters and cards from people from my childhood and college years.

The scrapbook made by my cousin Traci...seriously...it is truly unbelievable.

The scrapbook made by my cousin Traci…seriously…it is truly unbelievable.

I'm named after my two Aunts. . what an honor to carry their names with me everywhere I go.

I’m named after my two Aunts. . what an honor to carry their names with me everywhere I go.

Stop two included these faces. Flowers and cards and pictures drawn. And a sleeping toddler...now that's a birthday gift.

Stop two included these faces. Flowers and cards and pictures drawn. And a sleeping toddler…now that’s a birthday gift.

My big sister was waiting at the final stop...a room filled with people I love waiting to help me celebrate the life I have been given.

My big sister was waiting at the final stop…a room filled with people I love waiting to help me celebrate the life I have been given.

And purple shirts.

And purple shirts.

baby b purple shirt