13 + Jay = Good Stuff

Celebrate This Week [No. 233]


I am thrilled to share with you this week’s celebration. Usually I share small and ordinary celebrations, finding joy in the daily grind of life. Today’s celebration is a little bigger. Jay celebrated his 13th birthday!

For the firs time ever, he is having a group of friends over to celebrate his birthday. In the past, he’s had his best buddy over, but this year he is celebrating BIG. He invited three buddies + Sam to go laser tagging, eat “Dad’s Wings,” and spend the night. He has plans for a fire in the fire pit, a backyard game of football, and a few video games. He’s already talking about “Dad and Mom Waffles” for the next morning. (We have two waffle makers — Cardinals and Cubbies irons.

Thirteen is a milestone year, and for Jay it is extra special. This kiddo has worked hard to heal and become who he is made to be. His early years were not peachy. He has seen the very worst of humanity. When humans experience trauma like Jay did, things change. They experience high levels of toxic stress and their brains are altered.

Jay is the very best kind of evidence that brains can change back and children can overcome hard starts to life. He is proof of the power of recognizing yourself as a survivor rather than a victim.

Maybe I should apologize for gushing, but this kid is so incredible. He has overcome so much and the person he is now is fun, compassionate and witty.  Here are some highlights of turning 13.

Jay didn’t ask for much for his birthday. His siblings knew what he wanted and picked it up last weekend. Andy and I thought we would offer to give him extra games of laser tag instead of a traditional present. When we offered it to Jay, he said he’d rather have a present.

“Is there something you want?”

Jay shrugged. “Not really.”

“So let’s do the extra games of laser tag.”

“Naw,” Jay said.

Andy and I were a little perplexed.

“Do you want to give us some ideas for presents?”

“I don’t really have any ideas,” Jay said.


The King Crab legs were “perfect” according to Jay. “You guys know the perfect gifts for me!”


The siblings game him a copper pan, another perfect gift. Jordan loves to cook and he has been waiting for a copper pan.

For his birthday dinner, the conversation went the same as the birthday present. He didn’t have any preference for his birthday other than: “You guys just decide what to make.”

We made steak, baked beans, steamed caulifower, tater tots and cheesy garlic bread. King crab legs and Key Lime pie rounded out the meal.

Jay said, “See? This is why I didn’t say what to have. I would have never thought of this and it’s all of my favorites!

Uncle D came over to celebrate. He and Jay have a special bond.


Uncle D brought beef jerky for Jay from the Jerky shop. Of course there was a ghost pepper flavor. They tried it together — counting down to bite together.

They beelined for the kitchen for milk.


And another glass…


My parents stopped by to see Jay and eat Key Lime pie. Sam and Jordan shot hoops in the driveway until bedtime and then they went to bed to “get lots of rest” in order to be ready for tomorrow.

Jay is the celebration we all need. Not because it’s the milestones that make the difference, but because when someone does the hard work of healing, it makes the milestones even sweeter.

Jay said, “This is the best birthday. I don’t feel worried.”

“Just think, every birthday after this could be even better.”

Jay chuckled. “I guess you’re right.”


It’s not always easy to choose the path of healing. It’s not always easy to walk alongside someone as they heal, to keep loving more when you’re tired and tattered. I celebrate so much more than Jay turning 13. I celebrate the power of love and the determination Jay has to live life well.

This post is part of a weekly offering to celebrate in the middle of the muddle. I hope you join the celebration!

Share a link to your blog post below and/or use #celebratelu to share celebrations on Twitter. Check out the details hereCelebrate This Week goes live on Friday night around 10(ish). Whenever it fits in your life, add your link.  Please leave a little comment love for the person who links before you.

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  1. What a long hard road you have been on. This post makes every bump worthwhile. Happy Birthday, Jay! The world celebrates with you!

  2. Becoming a teenager is a special milestone. I’m glad that Jay has had a wonderful birthday, and wish him an awesome party with his friends. Happy Birthday, Jay!

  3. I love that big smile that he has. You can see that the work that you all have done to help these kids heal is bearing fruit. That birthday meal sounds delicious! Happy birthday, Jay!

  4. This just made me cry. Seeing that big smile. Knowing he trusts you all to find the right presents, fix the right meal. Amazing. Love to all of you. And Happy Birthday, Jay!

  5. It is impossible not to smile when I see Jay’s smile. It strikes me that maybe he counts on his family to reflect back to him the person he has become. What a gift you all gave him–the reassurance that he truly is this amazing teenager who has come so far down the road of healing!

  6. Happy Birthday, Jay! His celebration is perfect – it’s about his family, and trusting that they will know what he loves, because they love him. Just beautiful!

  7. What a celebratory post, Ruth. Happy birthday to a teen who weathered the miles to get here. Jay’s smiles shine through on each photo. What a great day of celebration your family had.

  8. Oh, Jay, happy birthday! The pics with this post tell the story of a forever family willing to walk the road to healing. Love that smile on your face gazing at those 13 candles.