IT'S OKAY TO NOT BE OKAY

Birthdays were a BIG deal in my house growing up. Our mom would start celebrating our birthday on Monday and celebrate throughout the whole week. She showered us with hand-written cards, small gifts, our favorite candy, and would decorate our bedroom doors with colorful streamers, dangling all the way from the top of the door until it hit the floor. It always made my sister and I feel so special and cared for.

In high school, we would invite our closest friends over for a sleepover. We’d do girly things you know, talk about the cute boys at our school, watch YouTube videos on make up tutorials, prank phone call our crushes, and of course, we stuffed our faces with junk food while we cried, laughed, and swooned over Ryan Gosling in The Notebook. Yup. That was how we celebrated our birthdays.

When I was seventeen, I remember my friends came over and we did the usual. When it was time for me to open presents, they all gathered around me. Honestly, this was (and still is at times) one of the most awkward and stressful things. Now, I don’t mind when all attention is on me, but when you’re being watched by people open a gift they think you needed and pretending you like it…it’s a struggle for me. My mom would have to coach me through it when I was little and would whisper to me “Julia, don’t forget to smile. Julia, say thank you. Julia, let them know how much you like it. Find one nice thing to say about it.”

The presents sat on our living room table stacked neatly waiting for me. I picked up the gift on the very top and placed it on my lap and began to unwrap the perfectly wrapped presents one by one. I made sure to read the card because that’s proper “gift-opening etiquette” as my mom would say. I tore off the wrapping paper, threw pink tissue paper up in the air, ripped, tugged, and tore off big bows. Only to find that none of the gifts were really all that great. They were wrapped beautifully don’t get me wrong, but underneath all the shiny wrapping paper was a gift that I would never use.

I had false expectations. I assumed that because the wrapping was well put together, that present would be also be put together. But after I opened the gifts, I was just disappointed. Now this isn’t to bash on my friends in high school or to say that they are awful gift-givers, but I think it’s something we can all relate to if we are being honest with ourselves.

When we think life is going one way and then takes a turn downhill, we throw a big bow on it. We mask our issues, struggles, sin, temptations, past, and our battles with pretty big bows, colorful tissue paper, shiny wrapping paper, and lots of scotch tape to hide the tears so no one will notice our imperfections.

It is in those times when we are focused more on the outside wrapping paper than what’s actually inside. We are more focused with covering up and hiding our struggle than being being real, genuine, and vulnerable.

We were not created to keep things bottled up or hidden, but rather to share our pain, struggles, and weaknesses with God and with people who will love us despite our struggles. We need to be more focused about the gift itself rather than trying to wrap it up and make it pretty.

“Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” –Psalm 55:22

The only gift that doesn’t need to be wrapped, masked, and hidden is Jesus. His sacrifice for us was the greatest giftof all. Because His gift was given to us without a gift receipt and it’s ours to keep. Embrace what is inside His gifts; He has something greater in store for you. God knows what you need, He knows your heart’s greatest desires, and dreams.

If you’re masking your mess with bows, colorful wrapping paper and trying to hold it together with scotch tape, I am praying for your heart. I am praying that God will give you the courage and strength to unwrap it and be real with Him and yourself. Despite your mess, God still desires to know you and to love you.

Julia Mann