Mother Hen’s Third Birthday

I have a problem. Is the year after Gideon’s 2nd birthday his 2nd year or his 3rd year? The year before his 1st birthday party was definitely his 1st year of life, but to say the year following that was his 2nd year implies that he is 2 years old, doesn’t it? Oh bother!

So what I’m trying to say is, the year after Gideon’s 2nd birthday (his 3rd year of life) was all about Peter Pan. Of course, he still adored Little Bear, but he went from being solely fascinated with the moon and balls and sticks to daydreaming about pirates and Indians and mermaids and flying. This thrilled his Mother, as Peter Pan has always been one of my favorite stories, capturing my heart and my imagination for decades and even inspiring the way I raise my children, in one big Darling family-inspired nursery upstairs. (And just for the record, my kids can stay in “the nursery” as looooong as they want. I only just moved out a few years ago…)

Which meant that Gideon’s 3rd birthday party simply must be pirate-themed. What else?!

This birthday threw me for a bit of a loop, for it landed on our biggest and busiest day of each week, the Lord’s Day…that’s Sunday for you heathens out there. I wrinkle my nose at having birthday celebrations on days other than the actual birthday, but I also didn’t know exactly when we would find time to celebrate. We had church from 9:00 – 12:30, naptime from 1:00 – 3:00 or 4:00, bookclub at 5:00 and evening church at 6:00. After much thought, I decided we would spend Saturday at the zoo with family (not the monkeys…we actually met our extended family there) and then have a church-wide party on Sunday at 7:00 in the evening. Who better to celebrate with than the brethren? We could have teensy little plastic cups of sour grape juice and little bitty stale crackers for refreshments…it would be great, right?

But in all seriousness, I had no idea how truly sweet this birthday party would turn out to be…

For starters, I was running behind, trying to get the entire party set up before evening church started, which of course did not happen. Thankfully, my sweet friend Chrissy (the same one who painted our fence!) swooped in and helped me do everything, decorating tables, hanging up a pirate map and “BEWARE” banner, setting out the treats, and proving yet again that “a friend in need is a friend indeed.”

And you all probably know this, but a mother in need is also a mother indeed…my Mom can always be counted on to lend not just a hand, but two hands, two feet, a brain, a checkbook and a smile, making my life half as difficult as it should be. She made enough festive cupcakes to feed the entire church, leaving me to deal only with Gideon’s homemade birthday cake (see? I really did learn my lesson the year before – this one only cost about $5!), the decorations and the overall birthday festivities.

Somehow, maybe with the help of a little pixie dust, the party was completely set up and Gideon and I snuck into church during the last point of Chris’s lesson, slipping into the usher’s pew at the very back of the sanctuary (in the hopes that everyone would think their pastor’s wife had been there all along instead of flitting around the building like a heathen who doesn’t even know what “the Lord’s Day” means).

And I should add that Gideon was sitting quietly beside me in a complete Captain Hook costume, a definite first for our church. We’ve never had the pleasure of having Captain Hook in one of our services, as I am sure you haven’t either. Too bad he didn’t go forward to follow Jesus; I am sure we would have won a plaque for that one!

When the church service ended, Gideon, about to burst at the seams from patiently sitting for ten minutes, was led by his Papa on a scavenger hunt all through the church with his friends to find a treasure…which was the birthday party! I’ve said this before, but the great thing about kids this age is that it really doesn’t take much. You can spend days of labor and piles of money on parties for them or you can give their Papa a big map at the last minute and tell him to wing it, and the kids have just as much fun, oblivious to the fact that they are being led on an off-the-cuff wild goose chase. My sister-in-law Amy also contributed to this party, hiding a treasure chest full of eye patches and pirate bandanas for each child to wear. This was one of the last stops on the scavenger hunt and I’ll never forget when this group of little pirates came bursting into the fellowship hall decked out in their Oriental Trading Company party favors, grinning from ear to ear. They did not make a very fierce looking group of pirates, that’s for sure, but then, the nice pirates are actually our favorite kind…

But the highlight of this birthday party was definitely spending it with our entire church family.

You see, this is the church I grew up in…I was kept in the nursery by the same couple who kept Gideon, I visited the same library with the same librarians, I met my husband here, our choir sang at our wedding, we were tearfully sent off to seminary from here and then welcomed home with open arms, and now my husband has been our church’s senior pastor for three years…and so it means the world to me that Gideon is growing up in the same local body, surrounded by many of the same faces that have been there for me my entire life. We have as many ups and downs as any church, but I think our story is particularly beautiful, and I am ever aware of what a unique blessing it is to spend a lifetime not just with your family or your husband or your kids, but with your church family, as well. I would be happy to stay here forever and have requested to be buried underneath the baptistry (so I can haunt the next pastor’s wife)…

As the guests entered the fellowship hall, I passed around a paper that read “What is your favorite thing about Gideon?” It was nothing special, just a piece of lined paper I yanked out of a spiral notebook at the last minute, but I will always love having that memento to show my son, as each person had something in particular that they cherished in Gideon, whether it was his imagination or his humor or his pretty eyes. It was also so touching to see all the special little gifts that he received from our church friends, some his age that he attends Sunday School with, some adults who dote especially on him, and some of our senior adults who never come to a party without a gift…he received so many presents from special people on this day, and though he may not remember them, his Mama can name them, one by one.

And then came one of those moments that I can close my eyes and experience again in a near play-by-play remembrance, when my amazing Mr. Gore held Gideon in his arms and asked our church to gather around as we prayed together for our son. Tears filled my eyes as that roomful of beloved friends and family members stood beside us as we beseeched our Heavenly Father on Gideon’s behalf, thanking God for his life and praying for his future. It was more than just one of those happy birthday “Dear God, we thank you for Gideon” prayers…it was a corporate crying out for the soul of our little boy, visibly backed by our brothers and sisters in Christ. As the Mother responsible for keeping him alive and for aiding in his spiritual nurturing, I was nearly undone right there in front of everyone, and I remember thinking to myself “Now THIS is a birthday party…”

And you might find this difficult to believe, but after our time of prayer, before singing “Happy Birthday” and bringing out the cake, we all stood where we were and joined Gideon in the singing of his very favorite song, Be Thou My Vision. I couldn’t think of a better way to finish our prayer than with those words I had heard Gideon and his Papa sing night after night for months…

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart; naught be all else to me, save that Thou art: Thou my best thought, by day or by night, waking or sleeping Thy presence my light.

For the party of  a three-year old, a hymn singing is probably unprecedented, and if I was nearly undone by the prayer, this almost sent me into sentimental hysterics…I will never, ever, forget that night and especially that moment. How dear is the memory…

But a day in the life of Gideon always includes a good laugh, which came when he opened his gift from Granddaddy and Grandmother, his very first toy gun, a camoflauge rifle with a sling, a scope and a working trigger. Gideon immediately pulled it out the box, leveled it at his gathering of party guests like a seasoned hunter, squinted his eye into the scope and dramatically fired off a shot at the whole lot of them. I suppose it was his way of saying “thank you.” Thankfully, it made us all laugh, although you can be sure that mine was a bit nervous, as usual.

So what did Mother Hen learn at her third birthday party?…

1.Pirates are people too and should be welcomed in the church.

That inludes such codfish pirates as Captain Hook himself...

 

...and even THIS one, Jackson the Terrible

2. Little boys are just as happy with their $5 M&M-decorated cake as they are with a $56 ice cream cake.

Thank God for M&Ms...

3. Mrs. Gore definitely prefers that old-time religion (it IS good enough for me!) where people pray and sing at birthday parties, and…

Ummmmm...Gideon has his eyes open during the prayer! I hope it still worked.

4. There is no group of people that I would rather celebrate my greatest treasure with than my church family…again, we are one diverse congregation, but Jesus draws us together in such a way that singing an ancient hymn at a pirate birthday party seems like just another day’s work.

Look familiar? That's because our church looks and feels just like home.

Ah, Happy 3rd Birthday Gideon. If you ever doubt it, just watch the video of this party; you are loved and loved indeed. Even though you had a hook for a hand and shot everyone who loved you…

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