The Best Birthday Gift I Ever Got

There are some gifts you receive you simply never forget.

Maybe it was a meaningful piece of jewelry. Maybe it was the guitar you’d been eyeing for years. Maybe it was the vacation of a lifetime.

Our Christmases and birthdays (and some other occasions) tend to, at times, revolve around gifts. Ones that have nylon bows and curled ribbons. Ones in shiny wrapping covering mysterious boxes. Ones that are heavy, ones that are light. Ones that get us excited yet can let us down. Ones that we open nonchalantly but ultimately rock our worlds in the best way.

As I’ve reflected on this, my 33rd birthday, I’ve pondered the best gifts I’ve ever received. There have been some great ones. Some in college that involved surprise parties. That time Dad and I spent watching a baseball game. The one as a kid I hid from my own party because a girl I had a crush on showed up at my door.

All the birthday memories that I’ve had are wonderful to think back on. Trekking into the fields of my memory from time to time acknowledging the sweet moments of love from others provides a grand escape on the stormier days. One memory in particular provided what may be the best birthday gift I’ve ever gotten.

It was seventh grade. Heritage Middle School in the foothills of North Carolina. My year was marked by momentary inclusions of circles of friends and a victorious run for a student council seat (yes, one where I photocopied my face on fake $20 bills as a campaign idea). Towards the end of the year, one of my teachers, Mrs. Perrou, approached me as I prepared to go home. I was already excited for the evening, knowing presents and mom’s incredible chocolate cake awaited me at home. When a teacher approaches you anywhere past the time you’ve left their class, your mind goes into crazy assumption mode: “what homework did I not turn in? What test did I screw up on badly? Did I get caught (again) talking in class?” My mind raced, but Mrs. Perrou came to give me good news: I had been accepted into the gifted learning program.

Before you roll your eyes and quit reading the rest of the story, think back on your life. What moments have meant the most to you? For me, it’s often when I get recognized for something. Maybe that sounds arrogant, but I think we all have a part of ourselves that craves recognition for the good things we’ve done. The business men who spend 60 hours a week working to close that last deal that gets them over the top to buy a new house crave recognition. The stay-at-home mom who craves recognition for the time she spends folding laundry, cleaning up toys, reading to little ones and keeping them from killing each other. The little boy who made his first free throw in a basketball game, he craves recognition. The church janitor who spent a little extra time mopping the floors after a rainy, muddy Sunday: he craves recognition.

Being accepted into the advanced class didn’t make me better. It didn’t change who I was. It simply recognized the work I had put in into my classes. It challenged me. It helped me grew mentally and furthered my development in education. But it didn’t change me.

Still, that moment ranks high on the list of surprises and general “good things” that happen unexpectedly. I had no idea I had qualified for the advanced group. I had forgotten we were even tested for it.

Now moments like that are even rarer. Now, those moments transfer to my little girls. Tonight at bedtime, my four year old was able to point to and name each of the seven continents on a map. She knew after that she had done well. She knew she did something good. Why? Her mom and I told her. We recognized her for her hard work in remembering what she had been taught!

We told her we love her and we are proud of her. Why? Because she’s our daughter. Not just that, but I grew up hearing daily from my parents that not only did they love me, they were proud of me. I was recognized, even in days that I seemed to do everything wrong. Days where my grades were more like D’s instead of A’s, when my attitude was more sour than sweet, and when my compassion for others was non-existent.

Moments in our lives can impact us in large ways. Many of those moments happen because of other people. Spend time today, tomorrow, and later this week recognizing those around you for their hard work. When it’s not easy to do, just remember how it made you feel to be recognized for doing something good. Better yet, being recognized just because you’re you.