Happy Birthday to Me: Two things, 365 days, a life lived outward

celebrate; happy birthday

Welcome! I’m celebrating the big 5-0 today and I‘m so glad you’re here! My deepest hope is that you take the time to read to the end of this missive (true confessions: it’s a bit lengthy) and are inspired to dive off the deep end with me as I embark on a year of celebration.

Yes, you heard me right, a YEAR! (Go big or go home, I say!)

Over the course of the past year, I’ve probably spent a disproportionate amount of time considering my 50th birthday. It’s one of those things that looks like a milestone and should be marked as such.

However, I wasn’t considering the actual day nor the party planning: I was actually trying to dodge and avoid that, but my husband has been pretty relentless about it. Sometimes, people, he’s just not as laid back as you think he is.

The thing is this: I want my birthday to mean something. I don’t want to just mark the passing of another 365 days with the flip of the calendar page; one bleeding into the next while I go about the mundane day-to-day of my life.

It’s easy to lose track of the days, am I right? It’s easy to look back on a year and wonder how that happened. It’s easy to cram a day so full you forget to take the time necessary to notice the divine orchestrations happening all around you. And it’s easy to forget—in the midst of a full and busy life—to be intentional about living slowly and deliberately.

Looking Inward

2017 was the year that I shrank my life. In short, I stepped away from all the busy, urgent and pressing things that, for years, I used to define myself: busy, useful, contributing, valuable.

A year ago this month, I had news that shook me to the core. While I was waiting for lab results that could have a drastic impact on the prognosis of my disease, I committed to focus on doing what I could to keep myself healthy—physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

A year ago, my specialist at the cancer centre told me that treatment was imminent. She sent me off in the spring with a note to enjoy my summer because the fall would likely hold chemotherapy appointments.

A year ago, I didn’t think I’d be sitting here—a year later—still as healthy as ever. (Relatively speaking, of course.) No chemo. Just a perplexed doctor, scratching her head at how great I look, “all things considered.”

Admittedly, this past year has been a selfish one. I spent a lot of time in self-reflection. I focused on me: my health, my family, my sanity, the tasks immediately in front of me and—most importantly—my relationship with God.

And, I began contemplating 50, not having any clear idea of what it would look like, or even if I’d still be here to celebrate it.

Well, praise God, here I am!

Now that I’ve had a taste of it, I like living life at a pace that’s somewhat leisurely. In the words of my teenagers, I “highly recommend, 10 out of 10!”

It’s sane for our family, we have some margin in the calendar for breaks and family dinners and date nights and a good night’s sleep more than once a week. (I love my sleep probably more than is reasonable.)

The quality of our home life has improved (happy wife, happy life?) and, I believe with all my heart that this slower, more deliberate pace of life has contributed to my overall good health this past year.

“Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” ~Matthew 11:28, as paraphrased in The Message.

I like the slow “unforced rhythms of grace” that we’ve built into our lives over this past year and, moving forward, I don’t intend to change a thing.

But this year, I’m turning my focus around. Because we are not here on this earth to be all me, me, me…

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of another.”

~Charles Dickens

Living outward

The seeds were planted this past fall when I read a book called The Broken Way, by Ann Voskamp. (For those of you who generally like my book recommendations on Instagram, make sure you see my note about this book at the bottom of this post.)

In a nutshell that doesn’t nearly do the book justice, Voskamp surmises that the way to wholeness and abundance in this life is through breaking and giving.

She writes, “What if abundant living isn’t about what you can expect from life, but what life can expect from you?

 …Does ‘real life’ only happen when you get to pick some balmy destination and a cheap flight itinerary? Or is ‘real life’ when you choose to be bread to all kinds of hungry? And maybe this is how your soul truly gets fed anyways?”

Throughout the book, she explores human nature and the brokenness that exists in and around us—everyone has a story. She advocates for a “Give it Forward” kind of bucket list philosophy, because maybe, “Empty, poured-out buckets are actually the fullest buckets.”

This notion resonated with me, because I’m a bucket list gal at heart: trying new things, seeing new places, making the most of the time I have. These things get me going, but her perspective gave me pause.

What if, for the next year, my bucket list was outward focused? Giving instead of getting? What if I spent a year pursuing abundance by pouring out practical love to the people around me? Living outward?

The Bible assures us that God will generously provide everything we need, and there will be plenty left over to share. (2 Corinthians 9:8)

In fact, we’re asked to give. To be generous. To serve our families. Our friends. Our communities and even strangers. Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!” Hebrews 13:8

And so, after weeks and months of tossing various ideas around, I landed on two specific ways I’m going to mark my 50 years.

“We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”

~Winston Churchill

50 for 50.

This is my personal Practical Love Project.

Over the course of the next year, I’m going to aim to complete 50 random acts of kindness. My goal is for roughly once a week, but there may be weeks where I fit in more than one and others where “life” happens instead. I’m not going to overthink it.

I’ve generated a list of ideas from the Internet (Just Google “Pay it Forward” or “Random Acts of Kindness” and you’ll find more hits and suggestions than you’ll know what to do with.) picking 50 things, some that cost a little money and many that cost me nothing but a bit of my time and some effort.

And starting next week, I’m embarking on a journey of practical love!

I’d consider it a GIFT to me if you’d join me on this journey! Consider embarking on your own Love project.

It doesn’t have to be once a week, it can be once a month or just once. But take some time to identify some small need around you and then meet it. It doesn’t have to be an expensive gesture. Maybe it’s as simple as mustering the courage to say some kind words to a stranger.

  • Encourage a young mom struggling with a toddler, offer to babysit for an afternoon.
  • Sending some baking or a meal to someone who could use a break or a boost.
  • Stock up on $5 Timcards and keep them handy for panhandlers.
  • Drop some flowers off at a neighbour’s.

Seriously, the options are only limited by your imagination (and the beauty of the Internet!)

If you think this is something you can get on board with, send me a little note and let me know. I’d be honoured to journey alongside you and encourage you as you pour out some love around you.

“If you have much, give of your wealth; if you have little, give of your heart.”

~Arab proverb

Wings of Hope

My second Birthday GIFT (Give it Forward Today! – thanks Ann Voskamp!) is to get behind a worthy organization and support it.

Wings of Hope Breast Cancer Foundation came across my radar several months ago, after reading an article about their services. I’ve since done a bit of research and love what I’ve discovered.

One of the things that stood out to me was not only are they 100 per cent volunteer-run (keeping their overhead costs very low), but their primary services are front line. I love that!! Ninety-five per cent of the money raised by Wings of Hope goes directly into their patient-support programs.

Although, I know the value of organizations committed to research, etc… my heart is for the day-to-day struggles of people just trying to make ends meet.

I am so incredibly blessed to have a husband who provides generously for our family, and we have an amazing support network of parents, family and friends in place. I know that when the time comes that I’ll need treatment, we will not lack for anything.

But cancer can have a devastating toll on low-income families and single parents, who struggle to make ends meet at the best of times. Loss of household income and other costs associated with cancer can be catastrophic.

This, from the Wings of Hope website, “The costs of cancer are high, making the emotional and physical hardship of diagnosis, treatment and recovery even more difficult to deal with. Many breast cancer patients are unable to work during treatment due to side effects, including extreme fatigue. In addition, many medications and health supports required during treatment are not covered by health insurance. The combination of these elements can rapidly deplete financial reserves.”

Wings of Hope provide financial assistance through their programs to low-income breast cancer patients who are receiving or have received, treatment at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary. This support includes assistance with basic day-to-day living expenses when financial resources are limited.

 What that means in real terms is that a breast-cancer patient who is unable to work can still buy groceries for her family, afford childcare for her children, pay for taxis or parking for chemo appointments, buy necessary medicines and keep a roof over her head with dignity.

According to “Breast Cancer: Economic Impact and Labour Force Re-Entry: May 26, 2010” (a report from the Canadian Breast Cancer Network), 80% of the breast cancer patients surveyed in 2010 experienced a financial impact:

  • 16% had their jobs terminated and 12% were unable to return to their previous job with the same title and salary
  • 45% of respondents noted a reduced physical ability to work
  • 44% used savings
  • 27% took on debt
  • 20% returned to work before they were ready because of financial pressure
  • Those who had chemotherapy had a greater loss of household income and were 49% more likely to take longer than 16 weeks off work

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like those stats. I do LOVE that Wings of Hope is on the ground taking steps to ease the financial burden of breast cancer patients in Calgary.

I have need for absolutely NOTHING material in my life. In fact, I’m on a mission to simplify our lives and household—much to the chagrin of my family of sentimental hoarders, who love to collect and cherish all manner of stuff.

Me? I’m giving it all away! (Okay, well, not all… but I’m purging pretty ruthlessly.)

But, I would consider it a huge gift if you also considered getting behind this organization. And the beautiful thing is, there are a number of ways you can do it!

  1. Donate cash. Visit their website (https://www.wings-of-hope.com) and hit the “Donate Now” button. Easy peasy.
  2. Donate Shoppers Optimum and PC Optimum points. Donating your points supports the Gift of Hope program which provides low-income breast cancer patients with a gift hamper during the holidays. Wings of Hope fill the hampers with essentials and treats to help during treatments and recovery. From knitted hats for warmth to hand and body creams to ease side-effects.  https://www1.shoppersdrugmart.ca/en/optimum-new/donate-transfer
  3. Buy a piece of gorgeous jewellery from The 2017 Wings of Hope Jewelry Collection for yourself or someone you love and the organization gets 50 per cent of the sale. Win-win!Three female, Canadian jewellery designers have each produced a beautiful line of jewellery dedicated to Wings of Hope. Their designs represent the courageous and resilient spirit of the west; the same spirit that so many of Wings of Hope clients embody. If you want, you can read more about these brilliant artists here.
  4. Cash in some rewards miles and turn them into much-needed gas and grocery cards for clients and send them over. The mailing address is:Wings of Hope Breast Cancer Foundation
    PO Box 84007 Market Mall
    3625 Shaganappi Trail NW
    Calgary, Alberta T3A 5C4

Love Does

I’m currently reading a book called Love Does, by Bob Goff. He’s such an inspiring guy—and hilariously funny, by all accounts.

He’s making waves around the world as an ambassador for love. “But it’s not the kind of love that stops at thoughts and feelings. Bob is convinced that love take action. Bob believes that Love does. And when Love Does, life gets interesting! Each day turns into a hilarious, whimsical, meaningful chance to make faith simple and real.”

That, in short, is my birthday wish. I want my life to be a hilarious, whimsical, meaningful chance to make faith simple and real.

Two things. 365 days. A life lived outward.

Happy Birthday to me!

Thanks for coming along for the ride! 

A quick side note to those of you who generally like my book recommendations… although I LOVE Ann Voskamp’s message, I confess that I don’t LOVE Ann Voskamp’s writing style. That’s not to say that it isn’t great, it’s just not always for me.

Her language is flowery (poetic?) and liberally laced with metaphor and imagery and I personally find her books a bit of a slog to read because I have to re-read a lot of passages to actually get what she means. To me, it’s a bit like reading Shakespeare; it takes me a while to get into the flow and cadence of his phrases and language, but once I’m in the groove, I get it. Same thing here. (Maybe this just means that I’m a lazy reader?)

That said, I have read several of Ann’s books and she speaks to my heart always. I just want you to know that if you’ve never read her stuff before, it’s a bit different from what I usually read.

If you’re just starting with Ann, start with 1000 Gifts, which is bascially a life lesson in counting your blessings. We could all use a little reminder to do this some days, am I right?

If you’ve enjoyed this little musing, it would mean the world to me if you subscribe to receive future blog posts. On the sidebar of my homepage, you’ll find a Subscribe button. Feel free to enter your email and use it! Thank you to those of you who’ve trusted me with your inbox.

I’m doing my best at navigating the twists and turns of this life with faith, hope and humour. I’d be so honoured to share the journey with you. Putting one foot in front of the other, and—hopefully—not in my mouth.

Based on my previous track record, I don’t promise that my posts will be consistent, or inconsistent, but I’ll try for amusing. At the very least, I hope you’ll come away encouraged and feeling a little better about yourself.

Thanks so much for visiting,


9 thoughts on “Happy Birthday to Me: Two things, 365 days, a life lived outward

  1. Happy Birthday Janine,
    You’re in my prayers daily. . . and I actually mean just that!
    Love to you and Chris,
    Robin Sorenson

    1. Thanks so much Robin! How lovely to hear from you and sentiments that I covet. Thank you! Looking forward to seeing you soon!

  2. Happy Birthday Janine! I love your writing, your humour, your compassion and your generous heart!! You’re an inspiration to us all and I’m excited to see what this new chapter in your life holds! God is faithful!! Love you dear friend! Erika

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words and the encouragement you are to me all the time. I’m so grateful for your friendship!

  3. Happy 50 th birthday Janine! I truly enjoy the inspiration that your writing gives – may the Lord continue to bless you in your life’s journey; with love, Susan Plooy

    1. Thanks so much Dianne! I’m going to be in your neck of the woods soon! Maybe we can make some time for a quick coffee and visit? I’d love to hear how you’re doing?

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