A few weeks ago I attended a birthday party. While at first that may not sound all that exciting, it was unlike any birthday party I’ve ever attended.
It was for a survivor of sex trafficking. And it was her first birthday party ever.
She’s older than I am (I’m a very young 36.), and I’ve never seen such joy at a birthday party. Sure, there’s the six year-old who is super excited to open his new Angry Birds t-shirt, or the teenage girl who squeals while waving around her first iPhone, or the twenty-something who over-shares on Facebook about her birthday cruise. But this experience was pure, unfiltered, full-on thrill. It was one of the greatest days of her life. And it was pretty darn amazing for the rest of us too.
We had the usual—streamers, balloons, flowers, party hats, cake and gifts. But to her, we hosted the Oscars. Everything we did during the party or gave her was like an answer to prayer. There was gratefulness displayed like I’ve rarely seen over such simple things most of us take for grated like a cute watch or a pretty handbag or sweet-smelling lotion or a nice pair of jeans. But for someone who went from having nothing, to personally owning a few lovely things, it was a milestone. She held up her new clothes excitedly saying she would wear them to her very first church service in the morning. Nothing was taken for granted, and everything opened a new conversation full of hope and a different future.
Funny enough, one of her favorite things was the balloons. She said she loved balloons and always wanted one of her own, so she was excited to take them to her room afterward along with her gifts. And she didn’t open our cards in public, but instead tucked them neatly inside her pretty little purse and told us she would read them when she was feeling lost or scared or alone. She said they would comfort her in desperate times when her past would creep back into her thoughts. Our words would communicate love when our arms couldn’t be there to embrace her. It was so ordinary and so extraordinary all at the same time.
We laughed with her and cried with her, and drank in every second of her. She couldn’t believe we would do anything like this for her. She’s been used and abused her whole life, and in many ways still showed the scars. She animatedly talked about her brand new faith, and asked questions and shed tears when she remembered God would always be there to listen to her. She said if she’d only known that before, she would’ve started talking to him long ago.
Before we all left, we prayed with her because this was a birthday in so many ways. It was a landmark occasion. It was a symbol of a new future. It was a party for leaving “the life” behind and entering a new one. It was a day just for her.
“Happy” birthday just didn’t do it justice, and I’m not sure any words ever would. But I know I’ll never quite look at birthdays the same way again, and I certainly hope I get to attend a few more like that. I also hope I can make mine more meaningful. I plan to make my birthday as much of a happy day for me as those around me, and those I can help like her. And that would certainly be worth celebrating.