Friday, March 16, 2012


I find it hard to believe that I have finally caught up to my grandmother’s age-- twenty-nine. For my whole life, my grandmother claimed this magical age. And, since she was such a special character throughout my childhood, I believed her, at least at first. It was puzzling to me that she could somehow manage to be my mother’s mother and still be younger than her, but as most grandmothers do, she wielded her power of persuasion well. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you how old she is today, without looking a few things up and doing higher math than I am used to these days. But if you met my grandmother, chances are you wouldn’t know what age she was either. Between her road trips up and down the East coast to cross country travel to sorority conferences, she still acts like she is twenty-nine. That must be what matters most in calibrating age.

If there is one thing I learned from my twenty-nine year old grandmother, it is the importance of celebrating, everything from small successes at our summer swimming lessons to the bigger occasions like birthdays and anniversaries. She may not have advertised the year in which she was born, but she sure knew, and still knows, how to throw a good party. Her parties are not specific to herself or her interests, but she celebrates everything and everyone, making both homemade soup to take to church shut-ins, some of whom are younger than she is, and homemade fudge to send to my soldiers in Afghanistan. Her fudge is still, months later, the most popular baked good I have shared. Occasionally, someone will inquire if there will be more. The good news is with my grandmother-- there always is more to come.

As the chaplain of my unit, I have spent the past five months helping to celebrate a lot of birthdays. There has never been a formula for this, but certainly each soldier is acknowledged with an email or a card or a pound cake, if one is available, and we try to give them as much of a hard time as possible, given our limited resources. Sometimes soldiers, the ones who are a little more gruff, give me the hardest time about celebrating their birthday. But, a piece of advice, spoken by chaplain of Duke Chapel, Dean Sam Wells, has stuck with me over these past years. He was encouraging people to be grateful for Happy Birthday wishes instead of trying to deflect them. “Saying Happy Birthday,” he said, “Is just another way of saying I love you.” With that in mind, I remain undeterred in my birthday celebrating.

What goes around definitely comes around, at least where returning the birthday favor goes, though I can’t entirely blame my soldiers. A few weeks ago, a group from my church decided to “friend” one of my soldiers on facebook and hatch a plan to throw me a pink surprise party. I didn’t have a clue, though. Perhaps it was all the presents and the cards that the church sent to me which lulled me into complacency. I honestly didn’t think there was anything else that they could do to make my birthday more special. Sunday night, walking into a room full of more pink decorations than Afghanistan has ever seen before, I was overwhelmed. What made it even better, besides the twenty-nine pink presents and the fun Bible verse guessing game we played, was that I got to share the day with a new friend I have made in Afghanistan who was also born on the eleventh of March, too. Even though we were away from home and family and friends, surrounded by our Bagram community, both of us felt very loved.

Turning twenty-nine, like turning any other age, is certainly a milestone, one in which we take stock and decide if the ways we have been traveling our journeys are worthy of continuation. Reflecting on what “twenty-nine” might mean for me, I take great comfort that I have had one of the best examples to learn from over the years. If I live my twenty-ninth year, and all the years to come, like my grandmother has demonstrated, I know, whenever I look back in reflection or forward with expectation, I will never be disappointed.


  1. Beautiful post! I'm delighted to know you celebrated an amazing 29th birthday in Afghanistan. Here is to many more 29th birthdays to come...

  2. M, you should be proud to know that as I read your blog today, "Mama Jean" is busy throwing a reception for a friend and fellow church member who is getting married today. This friend's first husband passed away a few years ago and they both were pillars of the church as well as best friends of Co-Coach and Mama Jean. I believe they were married for around 60 years before his death. I am telling you all this to let you see, life definitely does not stop after your 20s!

  3. I'm glad you had a fun birthday!