The weekend before my 40th birthday, Dennis and I had plans for dinner with my dear friend Christina and her boyfriend Tom. We were planning to go to their favorite Italian restaurant that they rave about! I was excited about trying the food and having a fun night out with our friends. However, the day before was a rough one for me. I was very down and felt like I wouldn’t make very good company. I texted Christina: “Just want to forewarn you that I’m struggling with some anxiety right now so I may not be my typical cheerful self. But, I love having the time to connect with you!” She quickly replied: “Oh my sweet friend. I love you regardless of your mood. Thanks for your honesty.”
This brief exchange calmed my nerves and my heart. When Dennis asked me later that evening if I felt up to going out the following night, I was able to reply, “Yes, I want to connect with my friend. It’s okay if I’m not feeling great.”
Emotions truly are like the weather; they’re always changing. I decided to dress up a bit for dinner and had stopped struggling with the anxiety by the time we left. Sienna took pictures of us by the fireplace (like we were headed to prom!) because she said we looked so nice together.
As Dennis drove and we chatted about my upcoming birthday, I thought about how supportive and caring he is, especially when I’m in a dark place and need to lean on him. We got to Christina’s early and sat in the car talking when suddenly I touched his hand and said, “You really love me.” I can’t remember what prompted me to say that, but I remember feeling so loved. We were meeting at Christina’s to take an Uber to the restaurant. It’s in a busy area near downtown so I figured we were trying to avoid parking issues. We went inside and were directed to an upstairs room.
The upstairs is small, with just enough room for a long table for one large party. When we got to the top of the stairs I was met with cheers of “Surprise!” by most of my dearest friends in San Diego! I was shocked. I instantly gave Christina a long hug and then turned to Dennis, “Did you know about this?!” He had the biggest smile on his face and conceded that he knew. Turns out he and Christina had been hatching this plan for weeks.
As I looked at the gathered guests I thought: “These are exactly the people I would invite to my party!” Which made me feel seen and known by my husband and friend. As I tried to recover from the shock, another thought flashed in my mind: “I’m not up for this. I can’t be on for everyone.” Fortunately, I took a moment to pray and the Holy Spirit quickly comforted me with another thought, “Just let them love you. You don’t have to perform for them.” I got a little teary as I sat down and started talking with my friends.
My friends love me. Dennis loves me. These thoughts occurred to me within a half an hour. Why did this feel like a revelation? When you repress your feelings, you don’t just repress the “negative” or painful ones, you also repress joy and tender moments of connection. When I open my heart and allow myself to feel my emotions, everything becomes heightened and intensifies. When I let myself feel, then I could actually feel loved.
The surprise party was utterly delightful! I soaked up the time with my loved ones and enjoyed the conversation. Many of my friends didn’t know other guests at the party, so it was very fun to watch them connect and find commonalities. After being “in my head” so much, it was such a joy to be present and have fun! The food was delicious too. One of the fun things about surprise parties is hearing all the backstory that you weren’t aware of when it was happening. To think, all this planning and plotting for me!
Being able to feel joy and true happiness within a period of anxiety and darkness is a lesson I will remember. When we don’t feel upbeat or happy, that’s precisely when we should engage with our loved ones and lean on them for support, encouragement, connection, joy, and fun. Our feelings are constantly changing. Moments of tenderness and joy may be just around the corner.