This post was written by Sarah Kyser.

Birthdays rock! You get cake, balloons, cards from people who love you, and your own personalized song. They are days of affirmation and celebration – you made it one more year. We all get those cheesy cards; you know, the ones that say, “Hoping your day will be as special as you are,” or “You’re not getting older, you’re getting better.” We all cringe, but secretly, the warm words remind us that there are people who are thankful for us – people who are genuinely glad we were born. Those cards say, “You are loved!”

For those reasons, we decided to give love on Wednesday June 29 – part of our Love Wednesday events – by throwing mini-surprise parties for four unassuming and completely random members of the Harrisonburg community (even though it probably wouldn’t be their real birthdays.) We gathered balloons and party hats, signed cards addressed simply to “You,” bought cupcakes, and headed out to celebrate. Our first stop was Greenberry’s Coffee on South High Street. We were slightly disappointed to find it mostly empty, but we put on our party hats, readied our balloons, and bravely headed in. We approached a group of three men studying in the corner and asked whose birthday was the closest to today. They pointed to the center man and so we sang and gave him his balloons. They were thrilled. Each of the three men had huge smiles and thanked us as we left. One down, three to go.

Our next stop was Kline’s on Wolfe Street in downtown Harrisonburg and we had a much bigger audience this time. We headed for a full table of older adults and met Cindy – our next party recipient. As we sang to Cindy and gave the table cupcakes, Cindy’s face lit up. She couldn’t have been happier to have her birthday celebrated with her friends around her. The group asked us who we were and why we were throwing these mini-parties. We had an opportunity to share that we were a part of RISE and we were there to show love. As it turns out, we had interrupted an end of the year Bible Study and no one had prepared a topic. I’d like to think we gave them something to talk about. We were halfway there.

Our third location was Walmart in the Harrisonburg Crossing shopping center. We stood outside the doors closest to Home Depot and patiently waited for a group we could approach. We’d only been waiting a couple minutes when a lovely family of four walked out and we met the mom, Jennifer, whose birthday was the closest. We ran through our routine to delighted faces. Paul gave cupcakes. Emily gave a card. We all sang. Jennifer and her family thanked us and told us that this was the best idea ever – a great surprise after a shopping trip. Three down. Our next stop was Martin’s. But we didn’t get that far…

Up to this point, everyone had been delighted to have a birthday surprise, but absolutely none of our celebrations compared to the pure, uncontainable joy of Anthony.

As we were pulling out of our parking spot at Walmart with our car windows rolled down, a dad (who was with his wife and four children) asked us what we were doing. (We had birthday hats on so he knew we were up to something…) We told him that we were celebrating birthdays. “See, I told you so,” he said to a bouncing elementary-aged boy. “Really?!” the boy asked as the bouncing turned into jumping. We learned that this very day was the young boy, Anthony’s, birthday. I barked orders. “Stop the car! Everybody out!” We poured out of the vehicle to serenade Anthony. (Note that I did not say our parked vehicle.) Chaos ensued as our fearless driver, Emily, re-parked while we all tried to collect hats, balloons and cupcakes from the moving car, all while another car was trying to pass! But this celebration was too special to care about safety. It was Anthony’s 7th birthday. With a T-rex shirt on, a brand new birthday hat, a bundle of balloons, a card and a cupcake, Anthony was ecstatic. He beamed up at all 7 of us as we sang to him. It was a birthday party just for him – in the middle of a Walmart parking lot, no less! Anthony was sure we had come just for him, and we’re pretty sure we did, too.

Giving love is a gift in itself. Seeing the joy on Anthony’s face was seeing God in the eyes of a child. All seven of us were over the moon that we had the pleasure to make Anthony’s birthday special. I truly believe that God put us in that parking lot to meet Anthony and his family. In Luke, we’re told to receive the kingdom of God like a little child. Anthony offered us a tangible reminder of this child-like amazement and delight we should have when we are given love. We are all God’s children and we are all loved.

You are loved. You are a gift. We are so glad that you were born. Happy Birthday!