Giving the gift of words

We just wrapped up what I like to call “birthday season” at our house. All four of our children have birthdays in the fall. That means that during the 10 weeks between Sept. 14 and Dec. 1, it feels like we are always getting ready for someone’s birthday.

Over the years, I’ve tried to create birthday traditions for the kids to anticipate. We usually serve a special breakfast. I decorate their bedroom doors with wrapping paper and streamers. And we go out to dinner as a family.
But one birthday tradition has become really special as we’ve grown more consistent in practicing it the past few birthday seasons. It’s the gift of words.

At some point in the birthday celebration, we ask the honored child to share the highlight of the past year and what he or she is most looking forward to in the coming year. Then, we go around the table and each person shares what he or she appreciates most about the person who is entering the next year of life.

I’ve realized that blessing people with this gift of words isn’t something that we do on a regular basis. The birthday child waits in anticipation as each person pours out words like, “I appreciate you because you bring so much joy to our family,” “I love your creativity,” “You always listen to me when I need to talk.”

Don’t get the wrong idea. We still have our share of: “I appreciate you because you get in trouble more than me,” or “I like having another person to make fun of.”

But for the most part, our family has gotten into the habit of showering the receiver with heartfelt, genuine, loving words.
When it’s my turn, I almost always cry. It’s emotional for me to think of how each of our kids has grown and matured the past year. When our oldest son turned 18 a few weeks ago, I was overwhelmed thinking of his traumatic birth experience, some of the tough years of school, our time home schooling, his battle with food allergies, and all of the ways he has persevered and become a stronger person.

We often have special guest appearances at our birthday celebrations of friends outside our family. We’ve drawn them into our birthday custom, and it’s been fun to hear them think about the words they can give to bless the person we are celebrating.

Our youngest daughter, who just turned nine on Saturday, usually prepares for this tradition for several days in advance. She writes a letter that feels ridiculously too mature for her age and place in the family. She will use phrases like: “You are an inspiration” to describe a sibling or parent, along with a picture she draws of her with the person.

Realizing these letters must be her love language, I asked each of the kids this year to write a letter to her as part of our birthday celebration. For the most part, they gave generously.

On Sunday, our daughter celebrated her birthday with nine of her friends. As they were getting ready to unwrap gifts, I spontaneously had the idea to ask them to also give each other the gift of words. Before opening each gift, my daughter told her friend what she appreciates most about her. The friend then described what she likes most about my daughter.
Speaking words of love and encouragement can be super awkward. Some of the girls knew what they wanted to say immediately. Others had to think about it and work to compose their thoughts. Still, they all seemed to enjoy getting to hear what my daughter likes about them and reciprocating with their own words.

“You’re always there for me.”

“You always listen to me.”

“You are always kind.”

“I like you because you are so fun.”

“You understand my ‘gymnastics language’.”

I choked up a few times listening to these sweet girls bless each other in such a special way. Our daughter soaked up each of the words.

This birthday tradition has made me realize how uncommon it is to take the time to really bless people with heartfelt words in our everyday life. As I’ve seen our family members floating on this gift of words, I’m becoming more aware of the need to do this on a regular basis.

It takes intentionality to make this happen even once a year. But I’m thinking of ways I can be more generous with my words even when it’s not a birthday.

How about you? Do you have favorite birthday traditions? Are you good at blessing people with the gift of words or is this something you need to work on?

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