Making Family Milestones Meaningful
By LESLIE LUDY
Twenty years ago, Eric and I were married on a bright December day. While our wedding was traditional in many ways, it was certainly not ordinary or run of the- ill. Almost everything in our ceremony was a unique, symbolic remembrance of the significant ways God had worked in our relationship; a celebration of the milestones and memories we had experienced throughout our love story. We also emphasized the significance of the solemn covenant that we were entering into. We hallmarked our commitment to serve each other through a foot-washing ceremony. We demonstrated our dependence upon God’s supernatural enabling grace by having the church elders, as well as our family members, surround us in prayer. We took communion as a remembrance of what it means to love each other the way Christ loves us. And we saved our first kiss for our wedding day, as a symbol of the reality that two lives had now become one. Our goal was not simply to have a beautiful wedding; it was to remember, hallmark, and celebrate all that God had done and all that He was yet to do in our relationship.
Looking back, there are things about our wedding that I would do differently if I was planning a wedding today. (For example, instead of hosting 300 guests in a fancy church, I’d probably just do a simple family gathering in a quiet outdoor setting.) But even twenty years later, I do not regret the fact that we took time to commemorate the sacredness of our marriage covenant or to testify to God’s amazing faithfulness throughout our relationship. When I look back at pictures or video from that amazing day, I am brought immediately back to the wonder of all that God did when He wrote our love story. It reminds me of the importance of always keeping Him at the center of our marriage and family relationships, and how beautiful those relationships can be when we do.
As the years have gone by, I’ve noticed that when I let the discipline of celebration fall by the wayside, life can seem grey and ordinary. But when I take time to hallmark all that God has done, it brings sparkle and beauty back into my daily life and relationships.
At one point before we had children, Eric and I realized that we hadn’t taken the time to create memories or celebrations in our home for quite some time. We were busy working and traveling, and suddenly we noticed that some of the color and sparkle had drained out of our daily lives. We decided to begin a tradition called “Scraps” in which we would remember and record all the special, funny, and/or significant things that happened in a given month. We created memory albums that contained photos, cards, letters, and anecdotes of funny or meaningful things that happened in our lives, and suddenly life had sparkle again. Not only that, but taking time to commemorate special things that had happened in our lives helped us continually remember God’s faithfulness and providence in our lives.
As our family has grown throughout the years, Eric and I have tried to be purposeful about hallmarking and commemorating significant milestones and celebrating special moments. Celebrating special milestones has been one of the key principles that has built our family unity strong and kept our relationships thriving.
For moms today, life is almost always busy, but it’s so important that we take time to slow down, appreciate each other, remember what God has done in our families, and celebrate His faithfulness. Every mom will be different in how she chooses to accomplish this, but I encourage you to spend some time thinking about creative ways in which you can celebrate the things that are important to your family.
To help spark some ideas, I’d like to share a few of the celebration activities that have made the most impact in our home:
A Welcome Ceremony
When each of our children came into our family (through birth or adoption), we’ve held a special ceremony in our home with close friends and family. During the ceremony, we prayed over the new child and read special letters of love and welcome written by each significant person in his or her life. Afterwards, we placed the letters and other memorabilia from that “welcome ceremony” into a special memory album for the child. I love looking back at these wonderful memories, and my kids love hearing me read their special “crib notes” to them. It helps them recognize how much they have been loved and cherished from the first day of their arrival into our home.
A Yearly Album
Each year, we create a digital photo album highlighting all of the special moments and significant memories from that year. Eric and I have a tradition each night where we remember all the cute or funny things our kids did and said that day. I keep record of these little anecdotes in a special file on my computer, and at the end of the year I combine these memories with photos we’ve taken (or had our photographer friends take) of our family and compile an album, using a simple digital template (I would never have time to do elaborate scrapbooking, so I love how easy and quick modern technology makes this!). I order hardback copies of the album and give them out as Christmas gifts to close family members, and have an extra one printed for our coffee table. Our kids love looking through these albums and remembering all the family memories we have made together. And even during seasons when our kids’ behavior seems to have gone south and our house feels like a disaster, looking through those albums reminds me how beautiful and fulfilling our family life really is.
For the really extra-special things that happen in our family, we compile memory videos. These are short videos that blend music and words with a collection of video clips from significant moments. With modern technology, these are relatively easy to put together. (And thankfully we have some wonderful friends who are extra-talented in making videos, who have graciously offered to help us with some of these!) Our family absolutely loves sitting down together and watching these videos and remembering all that God has done. When Harper came home from Korea, Eric put together a video of our first moments and first day with her. It never fails to bring tears to my eyes and I am reminded of the wonder and beauty of holding her for the first time. When Rees and Lily came home from Haiti, our beloved friend Annie Wesche (who lived with them in Haiti for the first two years of their lives) put together an amazing short video about their first moments home. It is truly impossible for me to watch it without crying and thanking God for the miracle of bringing these children home.
watch Harper’s Homecoming Video
watch Rees & Lily’s Homecoming Video
In our large family, it seems like there is always a child’s birthday coming up. In the busyness of managing daily logistics and the meeting demands of ministry, I am sometimes tempted to breeze quickly by my kids’ birthdays with little more than a cupcake and birthday song after dinner. But birthdays are an excellent opportunity to pause and celebrate the life of the precious child God has given us. Birthdays can also be a wonderful time to remind our child how special he is to us and significant his life is. I have found that when I invest time, thought, creativity, and energy into each of my children’s birthdays, it breeds tremendous family closeness and builds memories that I know will last a lifetime. There are a few things that I’ve found especially helpful in making make my kids birthdays meaningful and special:
1) Build anticipation — A week or two before their birthday, we start a daily countdown to their special day. If they have a calendar, we draw a birthday balloon or party hat on the square that makes their birthdate! Because of the anticipation we create, the birthday child often senses surprise plans brewing among the other siblings and it makes their coming “big day” that much more fun. Our kids also came up with a pre-birthday tradition that they call “The Birthday Eve” which was inspired by our Christmas Eve celebrations. On the night before their birthday, they get to pick one special thing to do such as going out for dinner with Mommy or Daddy, or going out to get ice cream with the family. The excitement and joy the experience on their “Birthday Eve” is just about equal to their actual birthday, and it makes the celebration last longer.
2) Special Mommy and Daddy Time — Whenever possible, we try to make birthdays a time when we spend extra one-on-one time with our kids. Whether it’s a special one-on-one dinner out the night before their birthday, or a Mommy-and-me lunch on their big day, spending a bit of extra individualized time with our child is always meaningful. Sometimes (when our schedule isn’t too crazy), we even arrange childcare for the other siblings and take our child on a special getaway to a hotel for the night, which never fails to be one of the biggest highlights of their year.
3) Birthday Morning Breakfast — Before our kids wake up on their big day, either Eric or I venture out early in the morning to purchase a special card (usually a musical one!) and big bunch of helium balloons in their favorite colors. We decorate the table with birthday fare and serve waffles with sprinkles on them. The birthday child gets a candle in his or her waffle, and extra sprinkles! When the birthday child comes to the breakfast table, the first thing he or she hears is the family singing happy birthday. After the birthday child blows out the candle, we take turns going around the table and sharing things that we appreciate about him or her and why we are blessed to have that child in our family. It’s a meaningful way to kick off their birthday, and it reminds them how much they are loved.
4) Memorable Parties — Admittedly, throwing amazing birthday parties can be a bit overwhelming for a busy mom, and I am certainly no exception. Often when I browse Pinterest for children’s party ideas I end up feeling more daunted than inspired. But I am blessed with a mother who lives nearby and who specializes in coming up with great party ideas. I get a lot of inspiration, help, and ideas from her. I also talk to my kids and find out what kind of party would be special for them. For example, my son Kipling turned six just a week after our new toddlers arrived home from Haiti. It was a hectic time, but I didn’t want his birthday to get lost in the shuffle. I asked him what kind of birthday party he would love to have, and he told me he wanted a “lion birthday” which gave me the idea of a safari party.
I did some research and found a place not too far away that had rescued tigers, lions, and other large cats where the public could come and visit. We took our family to see them as a surprise for Kipling. He was amazed and overjoyed as he got up close to the cheetahs, tigers, and lions. He kept saying, “This is the best birthday ever! Thank you so much for bringing me here!” After the visit to the rescue shelter, we went home and hosted a simple safari party for Kip, his siblings, and a few of his little friends. Thanks to help from my mom and other family members, we made binoculars out of toilet paper rolls, went on an animal hunt in the backyard (using plush jungle animals as our props), and even roasted hot dogs around a real campfire “in the wild.”
In the past year, we have hosted a splishy-splashy dolphin party for Avy, a lively carnival in the backyard for Hudson, a cuddly doggy party for Harper, and an adventurous safari party for Kip. Each party was uniquely catered to the birthday child’s specific loves and interests. Thanks to the wonderful help I receive from my parents, friends, and other family members, our kids’ birthday parties are always memorable, creative, and special, and I know they will remember them for many years to come.
Even if you don’t have the ability or support system to put on elaborate birthday celebrations, I encourage you to look for simple, creative ways to celebrate your child’s special day in a way that will be meaningful to him or her. If your son is an animal lover, maybe a fun day at the zoo and some animal-themed treats would be the perfect fit. Or if your daughter loves girly activities, a feminine tea party where she can get dressed up and have fancy finger foods might make her year. There is no shortage of ideas online, but I’ve found that often the best way to come up with birthday ideas is simply by paying attention to my kids’ unique interests and passions, and then build their birthdays around those themes. For example, my daughter Harper has recently been expressing an interest in horses. So for her birthday present this year, I gave her a gift certificate for a private horseback-riding lesson at a nearby riding center. She was overjoyed I remembered the special interest in horses that she had expressed during our casual conversations.
Some parents have the philosophy that making a big deal out of a child’s birthday will cause him to think too highly of himself. But I disagree. While I don’t think a child’s birthday should provide an excuse for him to act selfishly or get whatever he wants, I also don’t think birthdays should be overlooked or downplayed. Celebrating the life of the child God has entrusted to us is a wonderful way to rejoice in His good and perfect gifts, and it’s also a wonderful way to help build a strong sense of love, family unity, and security in the heart of our child.
I find it fascinating that God commanded His chosen people to commemorate significant spiritual milestones with special celebration and feasts. Taking time to stop and remember what God has done in our families is a crucial part of cultivating both gratitude and greater faith in Him. No matter what challenges you may be facing in life, there is always a reason to rejoice when we have Him!