“It remains a startling story to those who never understand that the men and women who are truly filled with light are those who have gazed deeply into the darkness of their imperfect existence. . . To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story. . . We have been given God in our souls and Christ in our flesh. We have the power to believe where others deny, to hope where others despair, to love where others hurt. . . ” – Brennan Manning (April 27, 1934 – April 12, 2013) in The Ragamuffin Gospel
It’s Saturday morning. There are Chick-n-minis in my belly and Shadrach’s Breve by my side. Through my door, I can see sparkling-wet green. A thunderstorm rolled through this morning, and, though the sky is still sleepy, the earth-life is bursting with growth.
This time a few weeks ago, we were making final preparations for our Joie de Vivre “Life Party.”
Most of my thoughts and free time for the better part of a year were dedicated to preparing the home we missed to be a place of joy and celebration in our renewed health. It started all the way back last April when I needed something happy in my… no, our future to focus on. Frankly, Mitch and I just wanted to do things that made us happy – to do what we want to, rather than what we were told or had to do.
Preparations were almost as fun as the party itself. All day the Thursday before was dedicated to cleaning, shopping, and getting things in order. I left Kroger that Friday afternoon with a car full of balloons. (I felt like Bob Goff‘s twitter picture…you should really read about his New Year’s Day parade.) I loved being able to pull my wedding gifts out of the guest room closet and use them for the first time. I spent several evenings going through and re-reading all of the “Get Well” cards you sent us, laughing and weeping and feeling overcome again. I sorted through them and smeared their backs with purple Elmer’s to be stuck on poster board as garage decoration. I wanted you to be able to see the extent of what we saw from you during our hospital stays.
We both are incredibly outdoorsy. We wanted the party to be outside as much as possible. The perfect weather and bugless-ness of this April day allowed us this option. We were able to open the house up to the breeze and accommodate more people. (Thank goodness! This had to be a gift from Heaven.) Yard and all, it was one big party-happenin’ place. Cars lined the streets of our neighborhood and well over a hundred people spilled out of our little 1700 sq ft house.
If you want a more precise image of what this looked like, imagine this:
Inside the house, our restored oak dining room table was transformed into a buffet of Slim Chickens wings and tenders, sausage rolls, fruit, veggies, strawberry squares, key lime dip, molasses cupcakes, and (my spur-of-the-moment creation) candy salad. Balloons of all colors spread across the floor and floated from chairs. My clear glass drink dispensers housed Momma Kathy’s punch and lemon-laced ice water. Our mandarin orange beverage bucket housed a variety of Fitz’s soda (especially root beer – M’s favorite) as a toast to our temporary home in St. Louis. The Cardinals game played across the TV.
Outside, patchwork quilts sprawled across our backyard next to our cushioned swing and blue travel hammock. Each of our three young trees held three home-made hanging mason jar lanterns, whose tea lights would be lit at dusk. Across the way, wood stood piled and waiting to be lit aflame as night would fall. Moving under our pergola, you would receive winks from white Christmas lights and more of the mason jar lanterns. Our shop and garage both opened, full of tables wrapped in bright cloths and covered in card games. Our friends sat laughing and surrounded by bubbles blown from the grape-scented mixtures left out for the kids. The garage was decorated with all of our “Get Well” cards. Our driveway slowly grew into a mural of elementary style sidewalk chalk graffiti.
Once dark, the fire was lit and the skewers came out. Camping chairs appeared, and we sat around the flames to roast s’more marshmallows and tell stories as we waited for the finale.
One of the perks of being the older sister of a large country family is that I have several brothers that are capable of pretty much anything. When I said I needed help shooting off some pyrotechnics, they readily obliged. The three of them lined up the cannons and entertained us with bright bursts of color for a good fifteen minutes. “Oohs” and “Ahhs” ensued.
It was the perfect way to end a remarkable evening.
Something that blew my mind a little bit, though, was all the people that said “thank you” for having them/hosting. My initial reaction was, “Why wouldn’t I invite you?!”
Then, the more I think about it, the more I suppose I shouldn’t have been baffled. Of course “thank you” is appropriate. You are a caring, polite bunch of folks. My response should be, “You are welcome.” You have always been welcome. You will always be welcome to join our table, sit on our couch, and tell us your stories.
So, forgive me for not saying it then, but you are welcome. You are very, very welcome.
Now, two weeks later, there is still evidence of celebration. A ridiculous amount of left-over key lime dip still taunts me from the refrigerator.
Remnants of joy.
Our life party was more than just a “thank you” and a “hooray.” It was a celebration of life. A leaking of Jesus. A cherishing of love and goodness. Because, in the spirit of the late Brennan Manning and as with every other aspect of this journey, we want to be truly filled with light. We have gazed deeply into the darkness of our imperfect existence and are learning to live by grace, acknowledging our whole life’s story.
We have the power to believe where others deny, to hope where others despair, to love where others hurt.
We have reason to celebrate.