This is the first year that he understood what a birthday really was. So much so, that in the days leading up to his own party I would hear him sporadically busting out in the happy birthday song just for the pure joy of it.
He had no idea what was in store. And I loved that. I was able to plan a very Type-A Mother Lion safari party. I wanted to show him how much his spirit and passion for life (and animals) had inspired me over the last year, as well as drove me crazy. That passion had caused me to curse the ground I walked on from time to time (especiallly when I happened to step on another plastic rhino in the softest parts of my feet.)
But he is the only kid I know who cares that there is a difference between a White-Faced Saki monkey and a Mandrill. He also knows that a Bufflehead and a Spotted Towhee are two different species of Pacific Northwest birds. These oddities are something to celebrate.
From Cheetos masqueraded as tiger tails to a snake sub sandwich with a red-pepper tongue, I even hired a family friend who happened to be a local reptile man. Once the party started, it was clear that my son was having the time of his life. Every picture from that day he has a different candy or junk food in hand- a ridiculous smile across his face. And for one day I didn't chastise about candy. For one day, I didn't feel guilt for letting him indulge. I just let him be a kid.
That's what birthday parties are about: unadulterated fun. The party wasn't about how cool of a kid's party I could throw, it was about celebrating my son's loves.
Loving and encouraging our children's gifting is a natural tendency in parenthood. However, I came face to face with my misunderstanding of the Gospel when it came time to sift through my son's gifts.
I wanted to manage. To limit. To categorize.
He had a large turnout, which in turn, meant A LOT of gifts. I didn't even think about that before I noticed a ridiculous accumulation of brightly colored packages overtaking the middle of the room. It looked like Steve Irwin's wedding gift table. I found myself in a state of panic. He can't handle this many toys. He will be in complete overwhelm. It's too much.
After we got home I put a large portion of the toys away. I decided he couldn't handle all that goodness. Too much for one day; let's spread it out.
The next day I went to church. And my pastor Brian launched into this message, "God gives us grace upon grace. Insert the word "gift" whenever you see the word grace. His gifts pile up and up. Who Jesus is is completely overwhelming."
And I humbly realized that I am so limited in my view of the gift of Jesus. Just like my son's toys that were hand-selected by family and friends to bless him on his birthday, I want to let the reality of Jesus' life in place of mine- that ridiculously undeserved gift into my life, little by little. I want to put some of it away for later- I just can't handle all of His goodness in one sitting. I've struggled with grasping what He's done and accepting who He is. It just seems like too much- I don't deserve it. And I'm a Christian.
Brian continued as if he could hear my thoughts, "Be in awe of the Giver, not the gifts."
And I matured in that one moment.
God made clear to me that the point of giving and receiving good gifts is not to gain more, but to give credit back to the One who gives. My son's gifts that I had stockpiled in the linen closet and in the play room to bring out on another day (when he wasn't crashing from a sugar high), were not just things that he had been given, they were physical representations of the love and generosity from people that God had placed in our lives. Stuff suddenly became sanctification.
And Brian explained that sanctification isn't entirely on my shoulders. I am not responsible for refining myself. Jesus deposits His spirit in us and then everyday from that moment on we undergo a day-by-day process that He walks through with us.
Tears filled my eyes in church. I hung my head and shook it in amazement of God's goodness and in his insane talent for perfect timing. I had missed an opportunity to lavish overwhelming love on my son even when I thought he had reached his own "gift limit". (In my defense, CPS needn't be called, he did open roughly, I don't know, 15 gifts.)
But regardless of my reasons then, it's clear now that my son and I are going to have a second birthday party in our living room. We are going to throw wrapping paper everywhere and open present after present. But this time I am going to make a big deal out of the people who gave him these blessings out of their generosity- not the things themselves. I want him to make the connection that these gifts aren't just things to distract us from boredom- they are living, breathing reminders of love. God's love through other people.
We don't always get it right as mothers. But if we leave our hearts wide open, God can use our mistakes.
Here's what I learned from what my pastor presented and my son's presents interchangeably: we aren't good enough–but he gives us His life, an overwhelming, ridiculous, way-too-much-too-handle (no matter what age you are) gift anyway.
We're in this together,