June 6, 2014 by Renee Griffin
On the stage, your posture changes. You stand taller, straighter, & do your best to hold your gut in all the while trying to appear calm and relaxed. You feel every eye pointed your way. The stage is frightening and exhilarating. Prickling heat from the spotlight blasts against your skin as the white glow temporarily blinds you to the many gazing, penetrating eyes. My heart beats wildly like the wings of a hummingbird when I stand on any stage, and yet strangely, I love it there. Like most of my life, it’s yet another area where I just don’t make sense.
I discovered my first stage in a Southern Baptist church where I grew up singing my first solo in a Christmas recital. I pretended to be just like my beautiful voice teacher who was also our youth choir leader. She had recorded an album of songs (which I still have), and in my mind, she was a superstar. Her love for Jesus flowed into the lives of the young hearts around her. I wasn’t that good of a singer, but she made me feel like I was far better than I actually was. With her encouragement, I took the stage and sang my heart out. Thankful to have survived, I found that the experience was quite enjoyable after the nervous shaking subsided.
During my junior year, the local pageant came to town and all my friends were taking part. So, I decided to join in the fun. It was a hoot. I had the best time being part of the rehearsals and learning the routines on my high school auditorium stage. No one in that building was more shocked than me when the announcer called my name as the winner. What?!?! Standing in the middle of my gorgeous friends (all wearing the state level required white evening gowns) looking like a giant lobster in my hot pink satin dress I’d designed for my junior prom, my shocked response was completely legit. I had won, and the stage had won me.
The next level of competition was the state pageant. As I prepared, my parents and all their friends in our small, rural town gave me incredible support. I was reminded of this recently after running into an old family friend I haven’t seen in over 18 years. This friend reminisced about all the supporters who came to cheer for me as I represented our fair city on the stage in Macon. I hadn’t thought about it in a long time. As my mind drifted back to the competition, one thought rose up to the surface of memories. My parents have a dear, dear friend that was a huge help and support during my preparation. We wouldn’t have known what to do without her. She was instrumental in my success. She was also the loudest voice in the audience. Every time I entered the stage she’d start screaming my number with a booming, commanding voice. “16!” “16!!!” “16!!!!!” While I waited on the judges’ final decision (which miraculously turned out to be another success), I was literally glowing in the love coming from those cheering voices shouting my number above all the other sounds in the crowd. On that stage, the little girl inside of me unsure about exactly who she was in this great big world, felt a few precious moments of validation.
On my 34th birthday, I sat on another stage of sorts. There was no microphone or bright spotlight, but the event was one of the biggest in my life. This stage was actually a back porch off my kitchen. It’s a small area with two wooden chairs anchored by a red brick floor. I sat in one chair surrounded by my adopted family and my birthmother and her family and 34 presents. In the chair facing me sat my birthmother. It was my birthday party, the first one we’d celebrated together in the same place since begin reunited.
My birthmother and the hubs had planned this event. It was a dream come true for me as my adopted family met my birthmother and her family. Under my roof, I was surrounded with the past and the present. The air was thick with nervous tension. In all honesty, not everyone present for the party really wanted to be there. I knew this day would not easy for some.
Doors that have been kept comfortably closed don’t open easily.
I was not blind to the different emotions swirling through the air like tornados. I knew it would happen this way, but the risk was worth it. I’d asked my families to do this for me. I needed them to meet. I needed to have one birthday with us all together.
My birthmother had brought the 34 presents to celebrate each year of my life that she had missed. When she told me there were 34 gifts, the steady flow of tears that had taken residence in my eyes fell a bit faster. I sat on my porch “stage” as all of my family gathered around to watch. It was the stage of all stages. She’d numbered the gifts in a special order each one holding a specific purpose and requiring a description. We sat facing each other as I started with present number one. She announced each gift with carefully chosen words. In each package, a precious treasure laid quietly until the veil of tissue was removed. Each one I opened unveiled a layer in my heart. As I listened, unwrapped, and cried, the packages revealed pieces of china from both her grandmothers, a square of fabric from her wedding dress, and of course the hidden pink outfit. These are just a few of the treasures showcased on my stage that afternoon. I took my time as I soaked in the meaning of each gift and soaked my face with tears. It was beautiful time. The friends and family watching us were so gracious, but they got tired after the first hour of my present opening marathon. Some tried to drift off and sneak away, but I would yell and call them back. Nobody was leaving. This was my day. I was shining on my birthday stage, and everybody had to watch. (I’m kind of a brat sometimes). I tried really hard during the party to be coherent and respectful of all the jitters and emotions each person was having, but I felt like I would burst. I LOVED us all being there together and wanted to scream with joy and grab everybody into a huge group hug. My emotions were going wild and it was pure bliss as past, present, and future pages of my life story talked and ate and breathed under the same roof.
Three months before this party took place, something terrible had happened. There had been another gathering. I never saw it coming.