(We leave for America early on Tuesday morning. Thank you for praying us off the ground, into the air, across the ocean, and into many of your homes over the next two months. We love you all, in every corner of the world, and are so thankful for your prayers. Receive Grace upon Grace this Christmastime!)
Three birthdays in a months' space means either three separate celebrations or one big blow-out. We opted for the blow-out. (Here, blow-outs are a regular occurrence. It’s foreign to them that I am giving my first-- ever!)
Not just for them to say Happy Birthday to us, but for us to say Thank You to them, I cook 9 hours with my helper on a Saturday. 4 pans of pizza, 80 hamburger patties, 5 whole chickens, 2.5 kg (6 lbs) of rice, a soup pot of potato salad, 2 birthday cakes, a double batch of apple cupcakes... We stir and fry and mix and bake and we laugh and talk and share bits of ourselves. Her long-awaited pregnancy. Me anticipating seeing my mother. The way her adopted son sleeps with his hand on her face. My dread of traveling with Ben at the stage he's in. Our joy in our children. Our frustrations with mothering.
And I think, if for nothing else than this, all this work is worth it-- to have a reason to spend 9 hours with one of my best friends, to feel this language in my mouth for this many hours together, to be so engrossed I can't emerge back out into English for James when he comes home for lunch, and so I just carry on speaking local even to him. We three laugh together then, in the kitchen smelling of baking and chickens and frying meat. And I am happy, though my back hurts and my feet hurt and my arms ache from stirring-- there will be enough, I think. There has to be. There is always more than enough.
And Sunday runs smooth, the minutes flying fast, and friends come. 10 children, 14 men and women, three ethnicities. All of them threads in this community, weaving themselves into our home, our children, our lives, weaving us in with them. And courses are served, one atop the other, and everyone eats as much as they can hold, and we Westerners “Happy Birthday” the cakes out quick to the tables before our guests think it’s the end, and we cut and scoop ice cream quick to 25 people…
And I think to say something profound before they go, some God-centered speech about how He provides for all our needs, how He’s provided for us through them… and even though I waxed eloquent in my mind, on the day amidst balloons and cut-the-cake cake and remember-to-pour-more-tea and keep saying “Take! Eat! Eat more!” -- eloquent words don’t come, and what comes instead is a bumbled smiling “thank you for welcoming us here and looking after us so well, us and our children, how can we thank you enough.” God isn’t mentioned, goody bags are handed out, noise-makers commence, the room is filled with shouting, the swift moment passes.
A party that was just a party, like any old party. All that work, and the heart of the moment missed? And I am filled with regret-- despite the outward success of Saturday’s 9-hour preparations and everyone leaving full and satisfied and no major cultural faux-pas-- that I didn’t seize the moment, and God was nowhere Spoken in the midst.
But I was, He whispers to me later, as I’m journaling, writing down the statistics, chronicling my own prowess for myself-- the most people I’ve ever cooked and planned for, and there was more than enough…. More than enough. I was there. In your home. I live here too, remember? I was there in you, in your smile, in James’ servant heart, in all the planning, in your efforts to lay the table like they do, make salads and food they would like… none of that is lost on the hearts I am drawing. All of it speaks of Me.
And I think, slowly, maybe He is right. Of course He’s always right, but my perfectionism won’t let go of those words lost. The opportunity to speak Truth slipped by, untaken.
But I am the Word, he whispers, made flesh. And made flesh again-- in you.
And the words I spoke to my helper, the words I spoke in tears of genuine joy and genuine pain over two lives already lost in her womb, two stillborn children delivered too early-- the words I spoke as I prayed over her unborn baby the moment after she told me-- maybe it’s those words, those private, personal, friendship words that matter more than party, speech words. Maybe the party is just the door into the deeper personal moments. And maybe it’s those moments where the words will be received and heard, and maybe the party was just that-- a Party, without words. No words necessary. All by itself, it’s an echo of the Supper of the Lamb.
(This culture lays a shining bridge to the Gospel in the way they show hospitality and the way lay their tables. So loaded with little plates of delicacies, not a centimeter of tablecloth is left showing. Each person with their own place setting, carefully counted out to the number of guests invited, each person with exactly the same amount of grace-- I mean goodies. The Invitation of Grace is equal to all, equally extended, equally rich, equally glorious. And the Table, already laid, stands waiting.)
Food served, cake cut, party over, friends blessed and full, they leave with bags of grace-- I mean goodies-- each promising to have us over before we leave. After the door closes behind the last guest and my helper and I turn to the cleaning up, I see the pile of presents in the hall, and I am humbled by once-again generosity we can’t outgive.
Grace upon grace from those we’re here to show grace to.
A neighbor I’ve hardly spent time with leaves sweaters for both boys and an entire 7-piece glassware set-- for me! I’m the only one not having a birthday! And I turn the bowls over in my hands, regretting the time not spent with her, the words not spoken.
A man who works for us who came on his own, without wife or kids, leaves a huge truck for William, big enough almost to ride on, and William is overjoyed. Grace upon grace.
And I think again of the words not spoken, but my heart is at peace. Sometimes, here, in this place, they have learned how to speak without words. And even though there are vestiges of politeness and things they do just because culture says they have to, there are nonetheless gleams of grace, above and beyond. Generosity to this family of strangers, sojourners who may never come back-- showered with love regardless. We come desiring to do the showering, and we leave feeling the most blessed of all. Grace upon grace.
Why is it, in doing God’s will, the more we give, the more we receive?
“For of His fullness we all have received, and grace upon grace.”