Today is my last involvement in the JUSTembrace birthday parties as an intern. As I think, once again, back on twelve months of birthday parties thrown at a local homeless shelter, I started to think about the drastic difference of a person who doesn’t have many people around to celebrate with, who have people around that even know it is their birthday. Very little family connections, no happy homes, no successful jobs, or full wallets. Not all of those things, or maybe even any of them, guarantee you have a good birthday…but I think they certainly help. At least, the expectations that our country, our media, our relationships have put on birthdays, we think these things help.
In the four years that I have lived in Chicago, I have been a babysitter in Lincoln Park, and am now a nearly full-time nanny for the first time. These families that I have spent countless hours with live in a high-rise right across from the Lincoln Park Zoo, Lake Michigan, with aerial views of the City. These dear children go to birthday parties each week, in addition to school outings, play dates and vacations with their families. The parents take trips to the Bahamas, San Francisco and Michigan. This sounds like happiness bottled up in a magical mason jar, now doesn’t it? It isn’t of course, we all know deep down true happiness can’t be bought or achieved. I love these moms and dad and children, and the one’s I have watched for years have pictures on my fridge, in my bedroom and in the living room; sweet, smiling faces.
Though I can enter almost seamlessly into the life of a Lincoln Park nanny (A Lincoln Park mom, though, I don’t look like much), my heart is here, with those that don’t have as much. My bank account matches the Uptown neighborhood much better than Lincoln Park, too. I will always be drawn to the neighborhoods, the people, the places that don’t have as much, that are unkempt, misplaced or broken. Jesus put that in me. Sher has said that here in Uptown, and neighborhoods like it, people can not hide their pain like they can when they have something else to cover it up. Here, most people who walk past our house and down the streets are exposed, they can’t hide even if they try.
The streets of Lincoln Park are beautiful; they are well-kept and tree-lined, they are quiet and sprinkled with flowers and parks. The people’s exterior matches the neighborhood’s. Please don’t misread, I do not want to say that all the people that live in LP are hiding, covering themselves with a facade that will one day break… and those that are, well, I am right there with them, hiding underneath my layers. What I do mean, is that the mere appearance of happiness, of beauty, of perfection, is not reality.
And that’s beautiful. Because, in both places, in all people, our happiness, our beauty, our perfection will never be ours, it will never come from anything we do to ourselves on the inside or out. It only comes from Jesus, and being with him, and knowing him.
In both worlds (because they do feel like two completely different worlds) everyone will experience pain, everyone will have things they will want to hide about themselves, about their families, about their appearance, about their past. Some will hide forever, and some won’t. Some have a choice of whether they want to, and some must live and walk everyday in the reality that they can’t hide, and that they will be judged for that. Jesus came to change all this, to flip our expectations upside-down of how things are supposed to look and work and be. How we look on the outside matters very, very little. Who God made us on the inside matters very, very much.
And everyone has a birthday, and some will celebrate and find joy on that day, and some won’t. Some will realize that on that day they were born for a purpose, and to be loved, and some won’t.
It’s our mission to live like Jesus everywhere, because he is everywhere. My days spent in Lincoln Park, and my remaining days spent in Uptown are for the same reason, with the same purpose–to restore some of that love and purpose back inside of the people around me. By introducing them to an identity not found in anyone else except for the God I believe is the true God, the transcending God, the near-to-us God, the one who is after us. The one who has been at all of our birthdays, the God who gave us our first birthday, because he wanted us here.