Birthdays are a big deal around here.
It’s not totally my fault, really.
Without being extravagant or excessive, my parents always made our birthdays extra special. We could always count on waking up to dad’s drawing on the fridge marker board. Birthday parties, silly games, lots of singing, a well decorated cake (and turns for everyone to blow out the candles), presents for us, and a carnation for my mom.
We knew we were special. Loved. Valued.
Birthdays are a celebration of LIFE. I appreciate them even more after experiencing the life of one of our “little lights” being snuffed out. So I will unashamedly cherish each candle on my kiddos’ cakes. Thankful for another year, another day, another minute with these gifts God has given me.
I’m not entitled to or promised a new candle on the cake each year. It’s undeserved. Unmerited. A gift. Pure grace.
“But as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you – see that you also excel in this GRACE of GIVING.”
– 2 Corinthians 8:7
In an attempt to teach our son about giving, last year we started Isaiah’s Birthday Giving Challenge after borrowing the idea from a friend who made one for her husband. I was so excited to do it again this year. I love getting to celebrate Isaiah’s life out of the overflow of our bursting hearts…and in so doing, getting to pour out the grace we’ve received to others…and hopefully teaching Isaiah to do the same.
We had lots of special things planned for Isaiah’s birthday, but this challenge is quickly becoming my favorite thing each year.
This year I chose to walk Isaiah through Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians, focusing on an aspect of giving each day. He memorized 2 Corinthians 9:11 (a hodge-podge of 2 translations so it would be easier for him to learn) and he received a different “challenge” for each of the 7 days leading up to his 5th birthday party.
Isaiah is really into “Wild Kratts” right now, so I tried to make a big deal out of the “challenge” aspect of it…reminding him that these challenges of helping people were even more important than the “creature power challenges” to help the animals. We reminded him of how blessed he is and how much he’s been given. It’s hard for any 5 year old (or 30 year old, for that matter!) to understand that the world doesn’t revolve around him (or her!), but we’re praying that his heart will begin to follow the actions that we asked of him during that week.
“You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, so when we take our gifts to those that need them, they will thank God.”
– 2 Corinthians 9:11
Thus, we began our week by praying that God would use Isaiah’s giving to produce and awareness of and gratitude to our Heavenly Father in those in need.
Day #1: Fill a backpack for another kindergartner.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich.”
– 2 Corinthians 8:9
We were told of a little girl that would be starting kindergarten with Isaiah whose family may struggle to get her school supplies for this year. Isaiah’s first challenge was to go with me to Walmart to pick out a backpack and all the stuffins’ to provide her with. Isaiah enjoyed picking out all kinds of girly stuff for her and I let him pack it himself the following day. Yesterday he excitedly took the filled backpack to his kindergarten orientation so that the school nurse could deliver it.
Day #2: Encourage a widow.
“…for God loves a cheerful giver.”
– 2 Corinthians 9:7b
Isaiah came up with this challenge himself. I had other plans for the second day, but I scrapped them to go with what God was laying on my sweet boy’s heart. While at Walmart the night before, Isaiah was helping me look for birthday party plates. While I was busy browsing the selection of plastic table cloths, Isaiah yelled,
“Mom, I want to buy this for a sad lady!”
In his hand he held a $1 balloon weight. You know, the shiny heavy weights to tie to a helium balloon to keep it from floating away. As odd of a request as it sounded, I knew what was going on in that little mind of his. He wanted to buy it and give it to a widow.
You see, a few days before we had read in his devotional book about taking care of orphans and widows. I was SUPER impressed that he remembered (it doesn’t always seem like he’s even paying attention)…
We agreed that night that I would buy the weight that night and that he would use his own money to buy a balloon for a widow the next day. Thankfully when we got out his piggy bank the following morning he didn’t even flinch.
He happily counted out $4.00 worth…
…and we were on our way in search of a balloon for a widow. I quickly learned that this was not an easy task…for me at least. For Isaiah, it seemed to be a no-brainer.
“I think widows like Lightning McQueen, mom.”
And so, Lightning McQueen it was. It was fun watching people’s reactions when my almost 5 year old explained to everyone in the grocery store that yes, he would be paying in change, and no, the balloon wasn’t for him. It was for a widow. 🙂
We chose a woman from our church that lost her husband shortly after we moved here. Because her house was in walking distance, we decided to take a stroll to surprise her.
Unfortunately she wasn’t home on our first try, so we waited and went back later for a visit as a family. Isaiah could hardly wait to deliver his gift to Ms. Shirley.
Ms. Shirley is a widow that is very well taken care of financially. There doesn’t seem to be much that she lacks or needs. But a widow is a widow. Her heart still lacks her husband and she needs reminders that she’s loved and not forgotten. She just loved having us (and the chaos that the 4 of us bring) in her quiet home.
Then…the preschooler sin nature came out. Isaiah was vocally disappointed that Ms. Shirley’s house wasn’t “fun” and that she didn’t have toys for him to play with. I was mortified. I realized that a lot of his excitement to visit Ms. Shirley that day was based on having a new place with new toys and new attention put on him.
We had to talk through, again, the reason for our visit, reminding Isaiah that this giving was to be cheerful not about himself. I began to worry that maybe “making” him give made his giving insincere and therefore meaningless. Thankfully, God used these words to affirm what we were trying to accomplish…
“It is definitely commendable to want your child to speak and act only out of right motives. And yes, godly obedience goes beyond just saying the right words; godly obedience is right actions plus right motives, doing the right things for the right reasons. But how is godly obedience instilled? How is it trained? The answer might surprise you. Unlike adults who typically learn by reasoning, young children learn by doing. Adults must usually be convinced a course of action is the correct one before they will pursue it. Children, on the other hand, learn to perform the correct action before they are developmentally able to assess the reason it is correct. Doing the right thing actually precedes understanding why it should be done.”
– Jen Wilken
Children learn by doing.
Doing the right thing actually precedes understanding why it should be done.
We’re praying that as we encourage (and at times even mandate) the action, that his heart and mind will soon follow…some day making the actions as natural as breathing.
Day #3: Collect food for the food bank.
“For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness.”
– 2 Corinthians 8:13-14
This was Isaiah’s favorite challenge last year, so we wanted to be sure to do it again. This year Isaiah went over to the church offices the day before and went door to door explaining what he was going, why he was doing it, and asked everyone to bring food in for him to add to our collection. The day of the challenge he had fun using his muscles to try to lug all of the food around.
Isaiah also remembered his challenge last year to choose one of his toys to give away and wanted to do that again. He picked 2 cars and we decided to take them to the food bank, as well.
Day #4: Take cookies to people at Homewood.
“For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.”
– 2 Corinthians 9:12
I realize that cookies are definitely not a need. But many old folks need a reason to smile…and there’s not much that will add a little sweetness to their lives than a cookie and a hug from a cute little boy. Adam took Isaiah to Homewood, a retirement village/nursing home in town, to deliver cookies and shoot the breeze on the morning of his actual birthday. Adam said he did great in carrying on conversations…and that everyone there now had a new (and very important) knowledge of “Wild Kratts” and stag beetles. Oh, and of his “driving gloves” that he insisted on wearing the entire day.
Day #5: Return carts at Walmart.
“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”
– 2 Corinthians 9:8
For this challenge, Adam took Isaiah to Sam’s Club and Walmart and talked with him about the importance of manners and doing random acts of kindness for others. My pint-sized little boy energetically returned stray carts in the parking lot, as well as approached strangers (under his daddy’s watchful eye) and asked if could return their carts for them. Not surprisingly, he really enjoyed this one. Plus, his “driving gloves” really came in handy. 😉
Day #6: Collect gifts for Jaden at your birthday party.
“Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!”
– 2 Corinthians 9:15
Actual day #6 was postponed given that the birthday boy came down with a nasty stomach bug. We, once again, scrapped what I had planned and spent a lot of time snuggling and watching movies.
The following day was Isaiah’s birthday party. In preparation for his opening of gifts, I talked with Isaiah about the absolute best gift we’ve received: Jesus!
We’ve always tried to avoid an overabundance of birthday presents at our boys’ parties and this year we chose to do something special for Jadon, our friend that is waiting to come home from Ethiopia.
Because his mama is concerned about his language development, we asked Isaiah’s guests to bring a book or DVD for Jadon in lieu of gifts. Isaiah, of course, still had plenty to open from his guests, but he was also excited to open gifts to share with his new friend.
Day #7: Help provide for an orphan.
“…they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others…”
– 2 Corinthians 9:13
This wasn’t initially on my list, but we heard this story’s family in the midst of Isaiah’s Giving Challenge. Given that he was already learning about caring for orphans and widows, we definitely wanted to get involved. Plus, their story hit a little too close to home.
The little boy in the picture is 2 year old. His name is Chase and he is now an orphan. His daddy was a youth pastor. His mommy was pregnant with his little sister. They were on a bus bringing their youth group back from summer camp. And because of a tragic accident, his daddy, mommy, and baby sister were ushered into the presence of God…leaving little Chase behind.
I showed Isaiah Chase’s picture and explained that his mommy and daddy were now in heaven…though I left out other details for fear of Isaiah thinking too much about it and causing him anxiety. We came across a fundraiser for Chase and decided together that we wanted to help. We talked again about tithing – giving back a portion of our money to Jesus, as well as the need to also set aside a portion of money to help those in need. I told him that I would take a portion of the money I had received for taking senior pictures to add to whatever he chose to give. I asked Isaiah how much of his money he wanted to give to Chase, to which he replied, “Um…probably a lot.”
The reality of giving up a portion of the “ice cream money” given to him for his birthday was not a pleasant thought to him. But he did it. And we prayed for Chase.
It’s been hard to think of, pray for, or read about this sweet family without tears flowing. How many times had I, as a youth pastor’s wife, accompanied my husband and son on a trip with the youth group? How many times had I stretched a seat belt over my growing belly, completely taking for granted the fact that I arrived home safely?
These candles on a birthday cake are a big deal. A very big deal.
“…because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!”
– 2 Corinthians 9:14b-15
So we will thank Him for grace.
We’ll thank Him for another year of health and breath and life.
We’ll thank Him for the moments that remind of us of our desperate need for Him.
And we will thank Him for the blessed opportunity and gift of being the feet and “driving glove” covered hands of Jesus.
A Quick Glimpse of Isaiah’s 5 Years: