the art of celebration (birthday reflections)

There are few things that I love more than birthdays…and I love a lot of things…a lot.

I am a sucker for any holiday, because I love an excuse to celebrate.

Valentine’s day? I’m totally that girl who wears a pink dress to class and draws little hearts in the margins of her paper during the entirety of the class lecture.

Christmas? You’d better believe I’m pre-gaming the season in the late fall, blasting festive music and mass-producing an unholy amount of Christmas cookies.

And so it goes. Now, I grew up with holiday spirit hardwired in my DNA…every February 14th, my mom gave the kids in our family Valentine’s Day goody bags and made pink heart-shaped pancakes. She also dyed our milk with pink food coloring and snuck glittering lacy valentines into our lunch boxes. One of the best things I learned from my mom was the art of celebration.

Since today is my birthday, I am taking some time to reflect on this art of celebration. Birthdays are special; they only come once a year, but for those 24 hours, people take the time to demonstrate love to you in a way that is so evident, vibrant, and life-giving. For an entire day, people pause their busy lives to verbalize their love and appreciation.

I love birthdays, because they are a reminder to celebrate the people in our lives. My family always makes me feel so special on my birthday, so birthdays are a pretty big deal to me. On birthdays, my mom would put a special present by the side of our beds, so when we fluttered our tired lashes in the morning, the first thing we saw was a colorfully wrapped gift; a reminder that it is your  day. When you walk down the stairs, you will be greeted with the sweet aroma of cinnamon rolls which you will eat off of the “You are Special” plate (this is a big deal, because you ONLY get to eat off of it on your birthday, and then you get to sign the bottom with the date after you finish your gooey Pillsbury delicacy). In my house, if you utter a single negative comment to the birthday boy/girl, you might as well be committing the eighth deadly sin, because sassing the person of celebration is clearly an unforgivable faux pas that is punishable by dish duty.

My Mom taught me to use birthdays as an opportunity to verbalize the appreciation that I have for someone; the kind of appreciation that you might gloss over from time to time. I love birthdays because I get hit by a full fledged tornado of every single love language, and this just makes me giddy. As I am writing this, I have only been awake for 6 1/2 hours, but I have been shown an overwhelming amount of love. My mom took me out to breakfast and gave me my “morning” present while I ate way too much food (birthday calories don’t count, right?), my French class serenaded me in broken, groggy morning French in the way only first year foreign language students who haven’t had their coffee IVs yet can, but it was the most heartwarming, beautiful melody possible, and I appreciated it immensely even though I blushed the whole time. I have gotten numerous snapchats saying, “HBD, u gone turn up?” (thanks Nate, this was a personal favorite). I have been blown away by the number of texts and facebook messages and phone calls and well wishes…and it’s only lunch time!

I am feeling incredibly blessed by all of the people in my life right now, and I have been shown far more love than expected or deserved. This is my thank you note to everyone who has made the first day of my 21st year kick off at such an unbelievable start! Gifts are my love language, so I always feel excessively loved on my birthday, but the greatest gift of all is the kindness I am shown by everyone around me. I have so much appreciation for every single act of compassion and celebration and warmth that has been shown to me, not just today, but over the past year.

20 was a wonderful year for me, but it was also a difficult year filled with a lot of transitions and changes. As I reflect back on the past year, I cannot help but notice all of the blessings God provided. There are so many gifts God places in our lives each and every single day, and not just on our birthdays. Today the blessings are more obvious; they glitter vibrantly, just about as subtle as neon lights in Vegas, and I am in awe of the love that I am experiencing today. However, I want to make sure that I build an awareness for the subtler blessings.

Life becomes so magical when we start to celebrate the simpler things. Some days it means letting your jaw drop at the sunrise when you would rather burry your tired face in your scarf. Some days it means pretending you’re in a snow globe as you walk to class when you’d rather be cursing the cold. Some days it might mean dropping your phone as you wait for a bus so you can appreciate the kind brown eyes that belong to the person beside you. When we pause to enjoy the simple gifts we are given, each day becomes exactly that—a gift.

I hope to live a life in which I celebrate others like each day is their birthday; I hope to verbalize my appreciation more—to others and to God. I hope I give God a standing ovation for His next sunset. I hope I get up and dance the next time I hear my favorite song. I hope that each day I can make someone experience a fraction of the love and appreciation I am experiencing today. Each day has so much worth celebrating, and when we take a little bit of time and effort to notice it, we increase our joy. I want to tare into every day like it’s the birthday morning present my mom sets at my bedside.

“I want a life that sizzles and pops and makes me laugh out loud. And I don’t want to get to the end, or to tomorrow, even, and realize that my life is a collection of meetings and pop cans and errands and receipts and dirty dishes. I want to eat cold tangerines and sing out loud in the car with the windows open and wear pink shoes and stay up all night laughing and paint my walls the exact color of the sky right now. I want to sleep hard on clean white sheets and throw parties and eat ripe tomatoes and read books so good they make me jump up and down, and I want my everyday to make God belly laugh, glad that he gave life to someone who loves the gift.”

-Shauna Niequist

Cheers to 21 great years! Thank you all for making them so special!


An incredibly giddy and appreciative Kelly Marian Doles


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