I know it was only just now that I went on and on about Donnie's birthday gift to me, but I have another one to share.
This one's not from Donnie, but from some dear family friends. Friends with money.
I know it's not cool to call out that fact, but it's an integral part of this story. These friends gave us an extravagant gift for our anniversary. And I thought it was going to kill me.
A little background on me: I don't like fancy things. I'm not into real jewelry or huge houses. I don't have my sights on the social ladder. I'm still stressed out about my diamond engagement ring, because I just know I'm going to misplace it, and then Donnie will think that he doesn't mean anything to me. Thank goodness my fingers are so fat after 12 years...I can hardly take it off, much less lose it.
And I just got through accepting a huge gift for my birthday. It was too much. I don't like the fuss. (Why am I so lame?!)
Anyway, these friends asked if they could give us a night at a fancy hotel. And when I say fancy, I mean FANNNCCCYY. I don't want to give away too much, but this place was...ritzy.
And when I heard that this was the gift, I threw a huge, ugly fit. (Clearly I need Jesus.) No I do not want to have that much money spent on me for ONE NIGHT in a hotel. I'm not fancy. I'd be too embarrassed. I mean, it was roughly the amount we spend on our entire vacation, with our entire family, each year. I couldn't do it.
I started fantasizing about finding a homeless person to take the room for the night. After all, we have a bed to sleep in and he doesn't. Right? It would make me feel so much better! But Donnie wasn't having this. He put his foot down. He was all, "Submit, Woman!" and stuff. So dragging my feet, I was forced to accept a gift that was way beyond me. (I was doing this for Donnie now.)
Y'all. I am so lame.
Because the hotel was amazing. The bathroom was humongous. They sent champagne and strawberries up to our room, sprinkled rose petals on our bed while we were at dinner, greeted us with "Congratulations on your anniversary" at every turn. It was wonderful.
But it was at breakfast the next morning that my attitude actually changed.
That's when I realized this couldn't about me trying to be a good steward of someone else's money.
This was about accepting an extravagant gift, just because someone wants to give it.
Being in full-time church ministry, we have kind of trained ourselves to aim low. We want a smaller house. We want to make do with less. We want to see ourselves as undeserving of certain luxuries. Because that frees us up to do special things for people, or just make ends meet without debt. It's a life skill and we're not that bad at it.
There have been times in our ministry life that we have received extravagant gifts, and have been able to share experiences that we wouldn't have otherwise, just because of someone's generosity.
And then there have been times when we have received...charity. And I don't mean sweet charity, either. We have been given broken toys, stained hand-me-downs, and expired canned goods. I don't know if people really thought these were helpful, or if our house was just closer than a dumpster. Those "gifts" did little to make us feel loved.
And as I sat in the club lounge eating my complimentary breakfast of salmon, dilled cream cheese, and capers on a bagel, I realized what a true gift this really was. (It was the food that finally got through to me I guess.) These friends of ours didn't give us some pared-down version of luxury that was more fitting to our social class. (As if we would have known the difference! We would have been thrilled!) What they gave us was something that was good enough for them. Something they would have enjoyed. Something they had experienced and wanted to share with us. It was love.
I felt like I'd been slapped in the face by my own pride and arrogance. Suddenly this wasn't about our friends, or the cost, or me not feeling good enough for a fancy hotel.
This was about me and Jesus. What was hanging me up is the same thing that makes it hard to accept the extravagant gift of salvation from Jesus. It's just too good. I'm not worth it. I deserve less. All of those things are true! But Jesus has experienced the love of God from a place of purity and sinlessness. And he wants to share that with me. And you. Even though we don't deserve it. He wants to share it with us so much that he died to make it possible.
It's hard to accept a gift that is beyond my means, because I can't do it for myself. I can't earn it. I can't pay it back. I don't want to need it. (pride, much?) I'd rather pass it on to someone who needs it more. Any amount of gratitude seems small in comparison. And somewhere inside I know that in accepting it, I might have to face all of those things in me.
But it's worth it. One night in a high-end hotel is just a hint of what is to come when we start to accept the grace of Jesus. I can never pay it back, and yet He keeps heaping on more and more.
So, I went back for that second helping of cheese from the cheese tray, added some fruit, coffee, and more capers, and accepted the gift. Because that's what it was. A gift from some friends who wanted us to experience something awesome. When I was done, I went back to our room, woke up Donnie, and told him I was ready for breakfast.
During second breakfast, I looked around at the comfy seating, breathed in the relaxed atmosphere, and wondered how soon I'd be able to come back. I started gathering up every scrap of paper with the name of the hotel on it. Toiletries, napkins, coffee cups, those little jellies from breakfast that I had to stash in my bra since I left my purse in the room...I was like Peter when he accepts the fact that Jesus is going to wash his feet, and asks Him to wash his head and hands too! I didn't want to leave anything behind that would remind me of our time there.
By the way, my word for the year is REST, and I achieved it this weekend. As we left the hotel and stood there waiting for the valet, I realized that I had not felt so relaxed in as long as I remember. Maybe not since our honeymoon. I was practically a liquid. So thank you to our friends who insisted on pampering us in the most extreme way, and in so doing, taught me a profound lesson about Grace.
I am so grateful.