Birthday parties in America are a study in over indulgence, if you ask me. Of course you didn’t, but if you read on maybe it is something worth considering. As a new and very young mom I enjoyed throwing parties for Donny because I liked having time with his friend’s parents, my friends. But when the expectations of the party attendees who were not yet in elementary school exceeded my budget I quit. It was an unspoken competition among parents to outdo the last party that was thrown. I explained to my boys that they could go to parties of their best friend and that was it. We boycotted throwing parties and made up traditions of our own. A family our size is enough of its own party. Well, I admit when we made a moved out of state that is when we moved away from the competitive sport of throwing the best birthday party. Every time we moved we solved social problems, there are some benefits to moving.
I’m not an ogre, really, but the sight of children expecting piles of presents twists me up inside. The worst of all is a child who opens it, makes a disgusted face and throws it aside. It is like a training exercise to become materialistic. If I analyze it a little deeper we take the day of birth and make it into the day the child should expect to be worshipped and showered with gifts. Why is that a good idea? As a woman who gave birth four times I tend to think the mama’s out there need a little recognition on that day. I usually open my eyes the morning of my son’s birthdays and think, “I’m so glad I only had to give birth to him once. I wouldn’t want to have to do that today!”
My personal birthday is a day I enjoy and I am usually reflective and cheerful about aging. Becoming more of who God wants me to be is fulfilling. Maturing takes time and it causes wear on the outside but I see renewal and youth on the inside. I’ll take the trade. I like birthdays, I do. I just don’t like spoiling children.
Not one of the children in our family in Uganda has a birth certificate. No one recorded the day they were born. No one could even remember the day of their birth. When we asked them, “when were you born?” The children turned up their faces searching and not finding, not terribly bothered by it at all. Most of them weren’t sure what year they were born. In fact most of them didn’t grow up feeling they were special at all, and isn’t that the point of celebrating a birthday? Many of them were told they were a burden, a problem and they listened quietly in the corner as adults discussed what to do about them. How would someone who could barely find the resources to feed herself be able to clothe, feed, and educate a child? That is a problem. It is a problem that Kirabo Seeds has embraced and we know and trust that God will take the body of Christ and provide for the needs of these children. The great problem now though is these children have been told they are expendable for so long they believe it.
We are trying to break the children free from the old messages they heard and believed about themselves, and we are trying to give them the truths of who they are in the eyes of God. They are special, they are valued, honored, forgiven and loved. Why not select a birthday they can call their own and we can all say, “I’m so glad you were born. We love you and appreciate what is special about you.” Maybe we’ll make some cupcakes blow out a candle and sing a song in your honor. That’s what we did in October on the very last day of my trip, hours before I went to the airport to travel back to America.
I brought traditional birthday decorations with me. The little curled up hooting horns were a smashing hit. I taught Auntie Julie how to make cupcakes and outfitted her kitchen with all the necessary supplies. She smiles so wide when I give her kitchen gifts, and I get big happy hugs too.
The party was a surprise for the children! Kiah and Phiona took all the supplies to the park near her apartment and decorated tables while I went with Robert to the garden so the children could show me what they had grown. They were so excited to show off their hard work. I can only think how God can turn a horrible situation like the mess of acquiring this land into something so meaningful, beautiful and productive to his glory. When we finished picking pumpkins and inspecting the corn we piled into the van and took the kids to the party. (We hired the “venue” for $75 which included music and the use of their bouncy castles.) When they saw everything they became filled with surprise and wonder. It was precious. They looked around as if to ask, “are we allowed to go explore?” Everyone nodded and said, “Go!” They ran to the swings, the merry go round and the slide and it was an instant party. They had never played in a bouncy castle before and it was a great joy for them. Just watching them have so much fun was so satisfying.
They had never been to a birthday party before! At one point we explained to them what we were celebrating and why. They agreed it would be important to choose their birthday so each year we could all stop and say “Happy Birthday” and make sure they know they are special and loved. The kids cheered. We made a list and spread the birthdays out over the year. We passed out party favors and sang the birthday song. We put candles in the cupcakes and one by one we taught them how to make a wish and blow it out. Then they ate it and enjoyed it so much. Not one wrapped present was given and no one cared or noticed.
When the regular birthday games and activities were complete the whole crowd stamped it as a real party by breaking out into an hours of dancing. O my goodness, Africans can dance. They are so free. I was deliriously happy watching the scene of all these people I love so much having the time of their lives. The kids and the team leaders were dancing up a heavy sweat, laughing, smiling, and celebrating. I could not have scripted a better end to my visit. Some day in the future I will post the video I made of them all dancing. It is on my phone and every time I watch it I am taken back to that happy time when we celebrated and felt like a family for the first time.
As the sky turned dark we cleaned up the party. The children lined up to hug me good-bye. These were real hugs, not the obligatory respectful things they give adults. This was something hoped for and it was as sweet as I imagined it would be. Robert drove them home with their heads and arms spilling out the windows of the van taking one last look at me, the only person glowing in the dark. They’ll never know how much I love them. Someday though they will know how much God loves them, and he is the source of the love I have so if they only truly know God’s love that will be all they need to know.