Sometimes we get what we need, and sometimes we get what we want. And sometimes we get both, but in ways we never could have expected.
Four years ago, I shared a joint party with one of my very dearest friends. The games were hits, the dessert was flawless, the weather was perfect, and all of our nearest and dearest were there–and got along miraculously. We all left with muddy feet, toothy grins, and full hearts, and it forever changed my opinion of “community.” Even at 14 I was fiercely independent, and had long since decided that I didn’t need anyone–nor would I ever. But something about looking around the room and seeing everyone that cared about me all sitting together, laughing, melted my pride.
One semester ago, my “nearest and dearest” list had, it felt, dwindled down to a handful of mostly blood. And when real life hit real hard, a percentage of that small handful weas concerned that I wouldn’t get to celebrate my 18th birthday, at all.
One year ago I had fallen back into my old ways, and the concept of a room packed full of people who wanted to celebrate me felt like a nauseating joke. If you asked me what I wanted for my birthday this year, I would have said “community, and a camera to better appreciate where God puts me.” And yes, I did needed that, too. But sometimes when you give a mouse a cookie, she wants a glass of milk. Little did I know that asking for community and my first camera were barely the beginnings to my story of faithfully being fed.
I found myself led into a place where my arrival at 18 was, indeed, due cause for celebration, and that my age (as much younger than my fellow students) wasn’t something I wanted to hide from or be ashamed of. Instantly my wheels started turning; a party was in order. I wanted to take the leap to celebrate what I like least about myself, and that was good. And I wanted to better appreciate the good around me in the world, and that was good too. But when my dad’s gentle voice reminded me that there was no way both would be possible, if either, my wishful thinking felt a lot less good. And after trekking for so long, I couldn’t help but feel like I had been led into an empty promise land–even though his heart for me was so good.
But then, miraculous grace intervened.
And no, grace didn’t swoop in and drop the funds for what I thought I wanted in my lap. No; grace strode in and gave me the opportunity to trust that His plan and wishes for me are far more substantial than my own. But not only my own. When we got to the end of a dry month and did the regular crunching of numbers for my dad’s business, we were all given two choices: To panic because our plan wasn’t cooperating, or to step into the risk of choosing faith in someone greater and, in the prossess, let go of the little grip we had left on our plan. Grace interrupted our plan to remind us that there’s always something better–even if it’s a little scary to lean into at first.
Weeks later, I’m driving home from the supposed-to-be-surprise party next to my dad in a snowy downtown (the first snow of the season), cradling a card and a camera in my lap. “At first it made me uncomfortable,” my dad told me, as he explained the story. My boyfriend of a year, E, had reached out to almost everyone who I had talked to him about, who I said had made me feel cherished, and invited them to collaborate the funds to get me a camera. “I’m the protector, and I’m supposed to be the provider. And admitting that I can’t provide what I wish I could is hard, but not as hard as asking for help.” He explained how he would have protested, but that the word had already gone out. And he told me what a kind thing it was of God, in the scheme of it all, to be reminded that we cannot do it all on our own, after all. “I learned something from your E. I learned that sometimes you need someone to push you through the discomfort of having faith in your God, not your wallet.” He told me how soon after the camera was ordered, he had his first client for his new business, who chose to pay upfront for the next year. Now, all of a sudden, a party was an option, too.
And that’s good, but that’s not the point of this grace that’s so miraculous.
That comes into the letter I have with all the signed names of all the people that chose to help push me to see the good, to be the good. That comes into us all taking goofy pictures with a camera I still can’t believe is my own. That comes into the overwhelming moment of looking around the room at faces that all think you are cause for celebration, after not being sure whether or not I’d celebrate another birthday at all. But mostly, miraculous grace is that although beautiful, it was without a doubt one of the most uncomfortable parties I have ever attended. It turns out, standing in a room full of aquaint-iends (friends that you’re still getting to know) that put their heads (and paychecks) together to make something so incredible all for you is kind of awkward.
Once, I saw a caption that read, “I prayed for community, but God gave me a family.” Well, I didn’t get a new “family” in the “rom com squad” way that I had accidentally been praying for. Better yet, I got a group of people that were willing to stand around and sway in low lighting with other strangers to Frank Sinatra. Was it a rom-com kind of family? No. It was messy, it was awkward, it was raw and unscripted. But sometimes I think that’s the best breeding ground for really rich relationships. They don’t start effortless, and if they do, they end that way too. Instead, I got to dance in a room of people who decided that uncomfortable wouldn’t overrule celebratory, and that awkward was ok.
I wanted a camera, but got one in the most humbling, meaningful way possible. I got a party to mark stepping into my adult life unashamed of my flaws. And I got a room full of family and friends who believe that I have so much capacity for good–even if some are still getting to know me. But my favorite gift of all is certainly the fresh hope that I never could have asked for on a birthday list. It’s a hope in a future in which I don’t cling to my plan like a buoy, a hope for a community that collectively lives through, for, and to Christ alone (especially when it’s uncomfortable), and a hope in a God who is determined to not only giving me what I need and what I want, but to giving me eternally more.
Thank you to everyone who was and continues to be a part of this launching into an adulthood of mindfully picking His “eternal more.”
I overwhelmed, and I am so blessed by you.
// A. Rose H.