I woke up on my birthday knowing it would be different. The way you know pancakes and bacon sputter on the grill from your warm spot in bed.

Thoughts of close friends living in distant cities swirl dust halo over my dream fragments in early morning. For a brief moment, I close my eyes again, return to the smiles I sat next to in the nursery, laps full of flailing arms and tiny toes of weary. The girlfriends of shared lament during the no sleep stage, women I raised my hands next to in worship and cried with in prayer circles.

My heart aches to sit on the bench of belonging on this day in particular. To laugh with the ones who finish my sentences and order for me while I’m in the restroom. Instead, I rise to the day making peace with the seat of loneliness among strangers.

As my toes burrow into the carpet, I pad slow through the stillness of fresh day when I hear Him repeat the question he asks the blind men sitting at the gate, “What can I do for you.”  It’s a question echoing through weeks of prayer since reading the Circle Maker by Mark Batterson. The first time he asked me, I sat tongue tied and walked away mute.

However, today, it’s my birthday.

Instead of a new dress, a manicure or lunch on square plates, I ask for what brings true satisfaction: To feel His presence with me in a tangible way.  Then I ask him for a place to write in community on a regular basis.

Because isn’t this the greatest gift? To know His presence lingers long over the crumbs lying on the table of communion.

I open my screen of crowds sending birthday wishes in tandem with the rising sun. And as I scroll through them, one from a Rwandan friend catches my eye.

She and I, we linked arms helping orphans for five years until she left the country silent, without explanation. For two years, I linger in murky unanswered questions.

Only God knew how my heart would awaken to a greeting to break the silence, the same day I publish a story about her on my blog. A story picked from thousands for an essay contest. She didn’t know I wrote it. Didn’t know it was my birthday.

There are no coincidences with God, just clumps of small miracles, tangible grace creating a nest to hold new life.

And later that day, as I stand in a dressing room trying on birthday presents, I rummage through my purse to respond to a tweet.  A direct message from Duane Scott asking, “Would you ever consider writing for an editorial I am in charge of called Living the Story.”

Yes, definitely, I reply.

Then I jump up and down in the mirror, screaming silent joy in the dressing room, thankful for the gift of exactly what I asked Him for my birthday. As it turns out, I was never going to be alone to celebrate.

when you wonder if anyone is listening

by Shelly Miller time to read: 3 min