10 Happy (or not) Birthdays Lead to Joy

By Nancy Virden (c)2020

Yep! This week my birthday promises to be a nice and quiet, socially distant, and busy workday. It will not be different from most days of the last two months.

Walk with me for a brief summary of ten years of neck-lurching ups and downs and unsurpassed joy. Please remember there is always hope for you in any circumstance.

Ten Birthdays

2011. A major move in 2010 to Philadelphia from Ohio had me missing my grown sons, struggling within a terrible marriage, without nearby friends, and growing depressed. Hopelessness eventually led to attempted suicide. After two months of intensive psychiatric treatment, my birthday month was a powerful whirlpool of emotion. When a psychologist asked me to write an encouraging article for his clients, the task gave me a satisfying sense of purpose and kick-started my writing career.

2012. This birthday was pivotal in my ongoing challenge to face survival. Part of the day was spent on the phone with a crisis volunteer. The following evening I shared this with a support group. Their reaction of alarm shocked me into a different perspective. I made a deliberate decision to try to discover what enjoying life means. 

2013. An appreciation for life as a gift was budding. Since God is good all the time and He chose to give me another birthday, I chose to join Him in it and enjoy.  That evening I shared homemade cupcakes with my support group.  This apparently tipped off an Ohio versus east coast difference in traditions because everyone looked at me like I was the strangest duck they had ever seen. Treating them was fun anyway.

2014. My lifelong undercover self-protection named denial had slowly shattered, eventually calling for marital separation. Never before had I confessed and discussed such private matters, and therapy, as well as marriage counseling, had dusted off old blind spots. A nasty-tempered cat served as my birthday companion in the home where housesitting allowed my escape.   

2015. At first, alone back home in my own apartment, it seemed a good idea to offer shelter to a woman who was escaping severe physical abuse. Instead, most days were spent shut in my bedroom, often nervous to leave due to her behavior. Months later, my birthday passed in a hospital as I fought a sense of trapped helplessness and despair. Meanwhile, she spread false rumors about me to motivate mutual friends to move her out quickly and provide other housing. 

2016. Home. Ohio home. The issues with my roommate and deceived friends last year were the final catalyst for deciding to leave behind Philadelphia, its uncomfortable culture, and a husband who was divorcing me. Five years of lessons from mental healthcare professionals had taught me how to take control of my emotions. On this birthday, seeds of contentment instead of hopelessness emerged from four stressors as I practiced good advice: trusting God for provision; making amends with my dad a few weeks before his death; making difficult relational choices as a point of self-care; and the victory of tackling new financial, household, and legal duties on my own. This was a good birthday.  

2017. Apparently, one needs a hefty blood supply to function well and survive. An observant doctor took one look at me and blurted, “Oh my g..!” From that point, plans for the week changed. In the hospital, my sons brought games and a balloon, a friend visited with another balloon, and along with transfusions and surgical procedures to correct internal bleeding, my birthday was complete. 

2018. From the chronic and incurable diagnosis to a wheelchair to surgery for cancer, the previous twelve months had introduced a new normal.  Severe anemia forced a simpler life, daily choosing one task to accomplish before having to go back to bed. Generally unable to go out yet refusing isolation, I regularly invited neighbors, old and new friends, and both sons to my home for chats, Bible studies, and meals. No challenge had been able to stifle the newfound joy of meaningful purpose springing up in my soul. It was a Happy Birthday!  

2019. Two years of emergency room visits, transfusions, and home boundedness were made easier with help from my youngest son. I’d volunteered to speak at a woman’s retreat in May, despite wondering if I could pull it off. Nothing was scheduled for the two weeks after because I expected to be in the hospital.  One Sunday as I considered this, John 15:16 rose to mind, stirring my spirit. I prayed, fully believing that God would heal me. By my birthday, evidence of this healing was mounting. Emerging from two days of retreat one week later, driving, walking, climbing stairs, and standing to speak four times, I was amazed and grateful to have a normal supply of energy left. God truly had miraculously come through.

2020. It is ironic that one year later I am homebound again along with much of the world. 2017-19 prepared me for this. The willingness to ask for help, more compassion for shut-ins, stubborn emotional self-care, and an easy satisfaction with online fellowship all grew from my experience of debilitating illness. Eight weekly online gatherings, half of which I am hosting, keep me content. Last weekend, I met my oldest son’s girlfriend whom he may marry. Life moves on. This birthday week is one of gratitude for the powerful presence, love, and purposes of God that make both dark and brighter days worthwhile.

Today’s Helpful Word  

In Matthew 28:20b Jesus promised,

“… And I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Nancy Virden Seminar, May-2016
Photo Joe Boyle Photography

Always the Fight Ministries (ATFM) has been displaying compassion for those fighting mental illness, addiction, or abuse since 2012. Nancy is the founder and voice of ATFM and openly shares her emotional resurrection from despair. 


NOTE: I am not a doctor or a mental health professional, and speak only from personal experiences and observations. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental or behavioral health care.

If you are feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, in the U.S. call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or for a list of international suicide hotlines, go here.

If you are suicidal with a plan, immediately call 911 in the U.S. or go to your nearest emergency room. In the EU call 112. (For other international emergency numbers, go here ). Hope and help are yours!

*Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright (c) 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.., Carlo Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved

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