Birthday Surprise

Blog / Produced by The High Calling

I turn 40 next month, the official gateway to a place called "over the hill."

My husband smirks when he reminds me. He’s got one hand on the steering wheel, and his other hand squeezes my knee. I give him a gentle punch to the arm.

“Hush, old man,” I tease, reminding him that he beat me to 40, the statistical halfway point of a life.

I wag a finger his way and raise my eyebrows, reminding him that I don’t want a surprise party. A nice dinner with friends will suffice—a party without prune juice, black balloons or adult diapers.

I’m not in denial about turning 40. I like to think I’m a realist about these things. I’ve never taken an interest in reversing the effects of aging with creams or surgeries. I maintain a healthy view toward my wrinkles, my failing memory, the way I wix up merds … er, um, mix up words.

Aging, I can deal with. Surprises? Not so much.


At 39, my ears function well enough to hear the gravel crunching under our tires. We drive past a long row of hay bales, stacked end to end, then past our mailbox affixed with three letters—LEE. This is how we’ve marked our tiny piece of the planet.

I didn't figure on being a farmer's wife at age 40. I imagined our name on a mailbox outside of a Manhattan brownstone—or at least somewhere with stoplights and a Target nearby.

But here? Where a row of bales serves as a natural fence, a farmer’s way of keeping snow off the driveway in winter?

My strong man has work-worn hands and a shelf stacked with seed-corn caps. His law degree is tucked into a filing cabinet. And my dress-suits fell out of fashion long ago.

“Who could have guessed it?” I ask. I sweep my arm toward fields tended by Lee men for 125 years. I lean back into the head-rest, smiling contentment. "Maybe some surprises aren't so bad after all?"

Life is simple here. I know my mailman, my banker, and the hatchery owner by their first names: Stan, Dan, and Glen. I know the farmers by their pickup trucks. A mile from our front doorstep, we worship at a small country church with three generations of our family. We have two healthy girls and a well-stocked pantry.

Sure. Life here has its ... challenges. My man's chore-clothes fill the laundry room with the scent of livestock. Yipping coyotes wake me at 2 a.m. The nearest grocery store is ten miles away. No, it's not a perfect life, but it's my life. You might call it a farm wife's version of being Surprised by Joy.

As we drive along this country road, my husband shakes his head and laughs.

“We had very little to do with this, you know,” he says, adjusting his cap. “Everything is God-willing.”

His words fill me with both comfort and uneasiness. Comfort, because if he’s right, everything passes through God’s hands first. Uneasiness, because it means I don’t have as much control as I thought. But then again, maybe I’m just now learning that I never really did. He drives past our church, silhouetted by the setting sun. Across the road, I see the cemetery—our cemetery.

I don't know how many days I've got left. I guess that's part of the surprise, too—one that I'm beginning to accept. But I do know that I have this day, which holds sweet surprises of its own.

I reach down to put my hand on the hand of a farmer. And I pray that I will do the same thing tomorrow, God-willing.

Image by Maira Gallardo. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post by Jennifer Dukes Lee.