My friend Cabell believes in extravagant love and lavish giving at Christmas time. Need I remind you of this amazing treat back in 2009?
Last night our little group of girl friends returned to her house for a Christmas dinner. Christmas is Cabell's favorite holiday, but it is also only 5 days after Sweeney's birthday--and full of reminders of their years together and his absence. It is difficult to believe this will be Cabell's second Christmas as a widow.
We brought armfuls of gifts we had carefully selected in an attempt to show our friend the over-the-top love she so freely & selflessly offers others through the giving of herself daily. As she opened her gifts and cried overwhelmed tears, we teared up too--satisfied that we had managed to return to her a small taste of the love we had felt from her friendship.
After Cabell had opened all her gifts there were still five beautifully wrapped gifts of various shapes and sizes under the tree. There were no name tags or labels. Our curiosity was piqued. Then Cabell explained (with a sly grin) that this year we would be playing a game to get our gifts.
A Christmas Trivia Throwdown ensued--complete with a side table wrapped in Christmas lights in the middle of the room where we had to stand "Family Feud style" as she asked questions. It was both hilarious and anxiety-producing as we fought each other for the jingle bells when we knew the answer. There was a great deal of laughter, smack talking, nerves...and a fair bit of whining among friends.
Cabell is a fantastic artist AND has an amazingly generous heart. Her wares are sold all over the US. We knew there were wonderful treats in those boxes, but the following phrases were uttered anyway.
"I don't want to compete for my gifts."
"Do I have to play?"
"I am not good at this!"
"Really? What if someone else gets something amazing and I am left disappointed?"
And in response to all our chatter, Cabell kept repeating the phrase: No one will go home disappointed.
Of course I wouldn't go home disappointed! This group of women is so life-giving, just being with them was a treat. Each of them adds much value to my life because of the women they are. Yet, the ominous 'gift distribution' was looming. Clearly, we were all getting different things and there was great disparity in the boxes. It would be hard not to compare.
After an hour or so of trivia face-offs, with candy canes as points, we were directed to tally our scores. Then, starting with the lowest scoring person we were one-by-one given to choice of two gifts. Each box, large and small, contained an abundance of beautiful Christmas-themed hand painted ceramic goodies--a dozen ornaments, measuring spoons and cups, a set of coffee mugs, salad bowls to coordinate with our Christmas china, mixing/serving bowls. About halfway through the gifts, Cabell left the room and returned with a large gift that appeared to be a wall canvas of some sort.
My friend Cammie was the victor, so she was given the final choice of the remaining two gifts--a large box or the big canvas. She selected the canvas and we all watched with bated breath as she unwrapped an amazing personalized piece of art depicting her family decking the halls.
While we oohed and aahed in awe, Cabell slipped out of the room. She returned carrying multiple large canvases wrapped in brown paper...and we realized that we each were receiving a 3ft x 4ft personalized Christmas painting in addition to the other amazing goodies! It was seriously better than Oprah's favorite things. We squealed, hugged, jumped and remarked over and over..."She promised we wouldn't go home disappointed."
And, of course, the metaphor lovin' girl that I am, I was reminded of the way life often works in this world. It feels like a game...a battle for points and stuff. We unwrap gifts all along the way, but rather than reveling in the beauty of what we've received, our human nature leads us to compare them to what the people around us are getting. We compete. We get discouraged that we aren't smart enough or good enough at the game. We question the rules, the fairness---unless of course it is going our way, then we fight the urge to gloat. We get discouraged. We whine. We want to quit.
All the while we are looking at the One running the game thinking: Why are you doing this? I thought you loved me? Is this really fair?
All too frequently we fail to realize the abundant gifts we have already received...being in His presence, as a recipient of His love, surrounded by community, alive, saved...our faith starts to hinge on circumstances and trust. We start to use gifts and our perceptions about equity and fairness to become the barometer of His love.
But we forget that our God wrote the game. He knows despite all the twists and turns how it all turns out. He has been preparing a place for us-and preparing us for that place.
I can almost picture the twinkle in His eyes as my Savior says: I promise, you won't go Home disappointed.