My thirty-seventh birthday dinner at the local Chinese buffet felt more somber than usual, at least for me. Another year had gone by, and I was coming close to the big “4-0,” which moved my inner spirit into a quiet and self-pitying melancholia. The moo goo gai pan was great, the coconut shrimp, the chicken and broccoli stir fry, it was all just as wonderful as before. My vanity was the problem, not the food. This was one of my favorite restaurants, and of course, I tried to enjoy the meal for my family’s sake. My inner monologue encouraged me to shoot for a better mood, remembering my mother’s wisdom on getting older: “I’d rather go on having more birthdays, considering the alternative.” Yes, to be present with loved ones another year is a blessing.

Consider all the old guys in the Bible. God let Methuselah live something like 900 years. I calculated that I was only a small fraction of his age, which was a cheerful comparison.  “But is this as good as it gets?” I wondered. I began a little God versus me conversation in my head. “Hey, I’m pretty sure I don’t have anywhere near 900 years left.” I argued with Him. “Are the great parts of life already gone for me? Am I three steps away from arthritis and inactivity? Worst yet, have I lost whatever beauty I might have had?” He wasn’t giving me any comforting answers, and my faith crumbled a little more with each vain thought. I knew that I should have been talkative and congenial with my surrounding well-wishers, but I could not make myself pretend to be what I was not. (I have always known that acting is not my forte!)

Distraction seemed the thing to do in this case. I did not wish to spoil the evening for those who had so graciously come to wish me a bonne anniversaire. I played with my food using the gratuitous wooden chopsticks, trying my best to eat white rice without losing a single grain down my blouse. The place mat caught my eye, and out of habit, I looked up my birth year on the Chinese zodiac. My list of attributes read like any vague horoscope, but due to my ill humor and upcoming mid-life crisis, I added some of my own thoughts this time.

Ah, yes, the dog…faithful and loyal (code for boring), trusting (unbelievably gullible), a great friend who gets along easily with almost everyone (doormat, I thought.) Beware of the dragon and the monkey. (Don’t I know it!) That was a big joke in our family, as my husband, son, and youngest daughter were all under the signs of dragon and monkey. Score one point for the ancient Chinese, I conceded that we actually were true opposites in every sense of the word.  I continued to peruse my zodiac description: The dog is fierce in the defense of justice and fair play (unrealistic idealist, I mused), loving in relationships (hopeless romantic, I quipped), a hard worker and very forgiving (hmm, enabler, forgetful, pushover?)

My mood was definitely getting the best of me, so after scrunching my straw wrapper, wetting it, and watching it grow like a little white caterpillar, the only thing left to do was to grab one of the fortune cookies in the middle of the table, desperately making a preemptive move against anymore birthday blues. I chose the imperfectly sealed cookie that was crumbling at one edge and a darker brown color than the rest. It was right in front of me. Its half- opened mouth called to me. I tore open the plastic and broke the hard shell in two. “Who eats these things?” I crabbed, as I popped a pointy, unforgiving piece into my mouth. The tiny fortune was in my hand now. It read: “The best years of your life have not yet been lived. Lucky numbers 3, 7, 37, 38, 40, 45.” Learn Chinese: river – ‘ku-wa.’”

I was stunned. I read the tiny paper again. “The best years of your life have not yet been lived.” A little smile curled at one side of my face. “You certainly have a sense of humor,” I whispered to the ceiling. “You even got the lucky numbers right- thirty-seven, thirty-eight, and forty.” The crowd around me was oblivious to my tête â tête with God. A few scriptures came to mind:

All things work together for good, to them that love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.”

“Come, all you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.”

“These things I have said to you, that in me you might have peace. In the world you will have trouble, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” I felt my confidence in Providence grow for the first time in months.

Upon exiting the restaurant, hot July air hit my face, but spicy aromas lingered. The whole birthday entourage was close behind me, and I felt as if I were a part of them again, more cheerful, ready to celebrate the day of my birth and look forward to the coming years. At home, I taped my little fortune note to the refrigerator to remind me of my new promise. The best years have not yet been lived! Yes!!

I still had a few questions for Him, though. I read the parchment again, and asked, “Why isn’t thirty-nine on my lucky numbers list? And what on earth am I supposed to learn from the Chinese word for “river?” I am sure He was shaking his head and laughing at me. “And one more thing, God. Are you sure you should be talking to people through fortune cookies? I mean, it’s a little superstitious, isn’t it?” I hope He tilted His head back and had a good laugh. “Typical,” I am sure he said. Yes, it is typical of me to limit God. I suppose He can use synchronicity and tiny fortune cookies to teach lessons of faith and trust, if He wants. You can bet I pay more attention to them now (in a good way, not in a weird, superstitious way, I promise.) As a matter of fact, a few months later, I got a fortune cookie with no fortune. It was a dud, a meaningless cookie.

Not to worry! I think I can get through life without depending on Chinese fortunes. For goodness’ sake, I already have the best one of all, taped to the fridge door!

One response to “Fortune Cookie Faith”

  1. Mom Avatar

    Ah remember Robert Browning and who knows he might be related since Grandma Perry was a Browning.

    “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made. Our times are in his hand who saith, ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid”

    Love you!!


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