Storyteller. Grace Dweller.

I’m Jennifer — wife of an Iowa farmer, mom to two girls, new book author. I believe in you, because I believe in Jesus. You matter to Him, and you matter to me. more »

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Monday 3rd February 2014

The Best Birthday Gift Ever

Our pastor always starts our church service with announcements. So when he asked on Sunday whether anyone had an announcement, I shot my hand in the air. Pastor called on me, and I rose to my feet. I had something exciting to share.

I may or may not have looked a little bit like Elaine:

Or maybe like this happy little minion:

I did, in fact gush to my fellow parishoners: “It’s my birthday!!! Well, actually birth WEEK. I like to drag it out. And I brought a cake for you all!!! And …”

I talked with my hands. I used my high-pitched, happy-clappy voice.

I have no shame.

I’ve always loved my birthday, and have never been reluctant to tell anyone my age. (If you’re wondering, I turned 42 on Sunday). My favorite age has always been the one I am. Now, I’m not telling you that, to make you think I’m the poster child for contentedness. I’m not.  But I have discovered that humans truly are most content when we become fully present in our nows — to not wish away today. Sure, we can learn from our pasts, and we can make plans for our futures. But the only place to really live is now. 

And because my birthday fell on a Sunday, I wanted to celebrate with some of my favorite people under our country steeple. They tolerate my happy-clappy gush-y-ness.

My cake was shaped like a book, with the words of my favorite hymn: “I love to tell the story. ‘Twill be my theme in glory.”

I love stories. I love your stories. And I love the stories of the people under my steeple. I know their stories, because we’ve walked them some of them together. I know the tears of the widow, and the soothing voice of the cabinet maker. I’ve memorized the wobbly laugh of the grandma. I know the sound of their grief, and the taste of their potluck casseroles. I know how this one friend, she wants us to make sure the funeral director puts shoes on her feet in the casket and to make sure we use the real plates at her funeral, not paper.

I know who says Ahhh-men, and who says, A-men.

steeple hazel trishrosie

I know their stories, and they know mine. And we’re all just sort of helping each other along, as we make our way Home. I hope you have people like that, people you will help you have your birthday cake and eat it, too. People who tolerate you, even love you, in the middle of all of your you-ness.


The furnace wasn’t working properly in church on Sunday,  so we couldn’t have the service in the sanctuary. We had to gather in a room on the other side of the church kitchen, and we sat in chairs with our elbows on long tables. It felt warmer like that, and it wasn’t just because the heat was working in there.

Pastor Rich delivered his sermon. The ushers passed the plate. And it was time for communion. I am this month’s communion assistant, so after Pastor Rich offered the words of institution, he handed me the brass plate with communion wafers.

The widows and the cabinet maker and the grandmas and woman who wants her shoes on in the casket … they all came up front. And I picked up wafers, one by one, and pressed them into their palms — all faced up toward heaven.

“The body of Christ, given for you.”
“The body of Christ, given for you.”

It didn’t take long for that familiar feeling to rise up from deep within me. It felt like my heart was in my throat, and then the tears started.

Here I was, the 42-year-old birthday girl hand-delivering the gift that Someone else paid for. I pressed wafers into palms, and it was the very best gift a birthday girl could ask for. It was the gift that changed everything, and it’s the gift that is still changing everything.

Jesus Christ. Grace.

The body … given.
A birth-day gift … for you,
for you who were born,
and reborn.

Want to give your own self a bit of grace? A gift for your one precious heart? Consider this brand-new release by Holley Gerth. This book has been such an encouragement to me. In You’re Going to be Okay, Holley encourages us to spend less of our lives stressing or regretting, and more of our lives truly living. Find Holley’s wisdom here: You’re Going to Be Okay: Encouraging Truth Your Heart Needs to Hear, Especially on the Hard Days.
  • You never fail to grab my heart when you write your story! Happy Birthday! You are the Best!

  • Happy birthday Jennifer 🙂

  • Rebecca Presnell

    I love this! You are such a gift! So glad you had a wonderful Birthday!

  • Sarah

    Happy, happy birthday week. 🙂

  • Oh I want to be your neighbor in the worst way! So grateful to the God who made you and gave you to so many of us. My extreme compliments to your Maker!

  • Beth

    Happy Birthday week, Jennifer. You are a precious gift! Thank you for the stories you share. Thank you for your beautiful heart for others. So glad God made you. Blessings.

  • 1lori_1

    Ohhhh, Happy Birthday Jennifer. I feel the very same way you do about my Birthday. I am glad to see you still celebrating. I am kinda in a Birthday mood since I will be planning my Mom’s 85th in March! xoxox

  • this is magnificent. happy happy happy birthday, beloved.

    also I wish I could hug you, because I feel like we’d be really great friends.

    • Thank you so much, Rachel. I would love that hug! You’re dear to me.

  • pastordt

    Beautiful. Offering communion is one of the richest experiences in this life, I am convinced.

  • And you know what else? Not only were we studying the same lectionary scripture, but we were taking of the Body and the Blood together! On YOUR BIRTHDAY! That just makes me so happy to think, Jennifer. This invisible thread that is the love of Jesus tying us together …

  • Constance Ann Morrison

    Happy birthday to you,
    happy birthday to you,
    Happy birthday, dear Jennifer,
    happy birthday to you!
    (pretend you can hear me singing)

    • I am pretending. And I am singing along with you. We make a great duet. 😉

  • Lynn D. Morrissey

    Happy Birthday Miss Forty-two/y/o birthday girl, who doesn’t look a day over twenty! I’m a shameless b/day girl, as well, and celebrate for at least a month. When I turned fifty, I started with a butterfly-birthday party (leaving the boring chrysalsis of youth and spreading my colorful wings of maturity–did I just say that?) and tried to celebrate for a year, off and on. When I saw the light of the next decade, Mike gave me a sixtieth birthday serenade, complete w/ an opera singer (formerly with the NYC opera). Wow, was that fun. No gifts! Just the gorgeous gift of song. But I must say that the Gift that was given at the ultimate price, and one for which we didn’t ask and do not deserve, is the best gift one could possibly conceive (and the gift that never stops giving). How precious that you got to help distribute the emblem of this gift and that you witnessed firsthand what it means to receive. You are precious Jennifer Lee, and I love you!

    • I love you, too, Lynn. Thank you for the gift of your friendship.

  • Karmen

    Happy Birthday! This was just beautiful. You had me laughing at Seinfeld and the Minions and smiling at you and your beautiful cake in the beginning and the getting misty-eyed right with you during communion at the end. Thanks for taking me along.

    • Don’t you just love minions?

      • Daniel Farrow

        Love ’em! The minions make laugh EVERY time! 😀

  • I am learning the art of celebration…I love that you announced to all it was your birthday and brought a cake…and I too have decided to embrace each age…especially since I turned 50 six years ago…each age brings a blessing along with it…so glad you celebrated the gift you are!!!!

    • I positively LOVE birthdays. I had the very best weekend, and am feeling so blessed. Check out the fun “secret” message that Anna taped to the back door. 🙂

  • pat

    Happy Birthday Jennifer!

    • Lynn, I just got back in the house from the mailbox. And guess whose card I got? Thank you so much, friend.

      • Lynn D. Morrissey

        Glad you got it! Was the cake at church? Wow, it’s a beauty, and I noticed a butterfly on it. Love those butterflies. Happy Day 2 of your birthday! Remember you get a month at least to celebrate! =]

  • Happy Birthday, Jennifer! Beautiful cake, beautiful way to celebrate

  • Maggie

    Wonderful post as always, Jennifer. And blessings on your birthday! Your life is a blessing to so many, including me!

  • KristinHillTaylor

    I adore you. And I’m so love these words here because I too love my birthday. I hope your year of being 42 is so joy-filled.

  • Kim’s County Line

    Hope the celebration is continuing into this week, birthday girl! I guess I celebrating with you yesterday, and I didn’t even know it. We had communion. (We aren’t a denomination that celebrates communion each week.) So, I got the gift, too!

  • HolleyGerth

    Happy Birthday, Jennifer! God sure gave the world a gift when he made YOU. So grateful for you, beautiful friend! XOXO

  • Daniel Farrow

    I totally agree with you Jennifer that the only place to live is in the now. Thank you so much for consistenly sharing your story. Oh, by the way, My 38th birthday is tomorrow!!!! 😀

  • Kelly Goodman

    Happy Birthday, Jennifer! I was the birthday girl Saturday. I got to share your gift as well yesterday! How remarkable that we were taking communion, the bread of life, together! I turned 54 and proud of each and every year. Your cake was beautiful! You are such a blessing! Love you and look forward to each of your posts! ♥

  • Kim Vander Poel

    Happy, Happy Birthday! Oh, how fun and delightful to discover that someone else likes to celebrate their birthday too! Thank you for sharing this delightful post!

  • lindalouise

    Reading your beautiful posts always makes my eyes “water.” You are a precious gift, happy-clappy girl. Love you.

  • bluecottonmemory

    Happy Happy Birthday, Jennifer! What a beautiful way to celebrate – awesome cake, too!

  • Jody Ohlsen Collins

    Oh, Jennifer, that is some beautiful cake! And yes, doesn’t our Jesus give the best gifts. You are a beautiful 42!

  • Megan Willome

    i was not looking forward to my birthday this year because of the losses, but God was good. Lots of love from friends. I wish you a 42nd year that is absolutely nothing like my 42nd year. So far (one week in), 43 is looking cautiously optimistic.

  • MargaretFeinberg

    Happiest birthday sweet friend.

  • Trish Lombard

    We don’t “tolerate” your happy-clappiness; we desire it, and need it and lovingly enjoy it. Search it out, rest in it, and emulate it! You’re quite a 42-year-old; livin’ it proudly!

  • Such a beautiful gift…Happy Birthday lovely lady and wishes for a blessed year ahead! So thankful each time I visit here.

  • GrammaT

    I just now read this and it is again ONE of my favorites. I was on the way to Grammas while you celebrated, but NOW I was there! I felt it. Love the picture you put in words again for me.

  • Gina Smith

    Happy Birthday. I don’t know you…but I do LOVE you!
    (I talk with my hans and clap etc. too!)


  • Loved to see the people in the congregation. And I could hear those warbling, lovely voices singing that wonderful song. And happy birthday

@jenfulwiler You model this well, Jennifer. Loving Jesus and serving him boldly with your gifts.