I was ecstatic when I received my invitation. Me? I’ve been invited? I couldn’t believe it! But it was true. I would definitely attend. It would be an honor. My imagination was full of my sense of importance and I started picturing myself seated at -or at least near- the head table. The host was a very good friend of mine, after all, and we’d had many visits in my own home already. Pfft. Of course I’d be near the head table in his home. The dress-code was casual; I knew the event would be anything but.
The day I arrived and it was more beautiful than I had imagined. The sun was showing off its sky like a proud parent. The one-story, centuries-old stone home was very old-English-country-village, except for the palm trees and hibiscus blossoms. Flowers bloomed everywhere, unashamed of such blatant exposure.
And here I was, an invited part of all this. I couldn’t help thinking, What a great blog this will make.
All the windows had white shutters and all the shutters were open. Already many guests had arrived before me and they were mulling around. The place was getting crowded quickly. As I came to the door of the house, my heart sank with a thud to see that all the places inside were taken. Full place-settings of mismatched antique china were laid out on crisp table cloths. Wildflower bouquets looked intentionally scraggly – not wilted, just not flowershop perfect. You know what I mean…
Because there were only so many places around the table, the host had place-settings on each of the antique end-tables and coffee-tables around the large living-room and dining room. People were already seated at each of these places. Small round tables were set up outside each of the open windows so that even though they were sitting outside, guests would still be a part of the meal inside the house. I was seated at one of these outside tables, with another person, a complete stranger to me. We leaned our elbows on the table and looked through the window, into the room.
Although I tried not to, I felt somewhat insulted. I felt like I had overestimated my value in the eyes of this friend, as I had been prone to do with other friends. My throat was growing tired of squeezing down an unwanted lump.
Our host welcomed us all. His clear expression of deep pleasure in seeing each of us there reminded me of why I respected him so much and enjoyed his friendship more than most. Yet the lump full of insult held on stubbornly in my throat. Everyone began to eat, and as we did, some rose to their feet, and where they stood they started to speak. I wondered to myself if I should speak, and wanted to gather thoughts in my head; I searched for articulate thoughts of words to impress and grab the rest of the guests and leave them talking about ‘that lady who shared so well’.
But that would change.
The first person who spoke was a very young woman, I guessed her to be no more than thirty years old. She began to talk quietly. She tearfully told how she married young, but love turned bitter, she was going through a painful divorce and fought demons of shame, anger and unforgiveness; how not that long ago an outing at the beach with friends turned into horror as her dear brother, her only brother, drowned before her very eyes. She went on to say that through this pain, her faith is greater and she loves her God more than ever. Not even this pain could separate her from His love.
The next person to speak was a young man, no more than 25, who told his story. He was adopted, and in his early teens his mother was brutally killed; how his father turned away from him and his siblings; how the pain of abandonment was excruciating, I could see it in his expression, but his expression changed as he told about knowing his God, and how although his birth father and his adopted father left him, there is an anchor inside of him that holds him to his Father. That anchor won’t move no matter what.
A man started telling his story. He told of his happy childhood and the day that it shattered when he found a love letter for his father, a letter from another woman. He told of his mother’s pain and destruction, then her sudden death in a car accident; he told of his anger toward his father and God. He told how time and friends had taught him the power to love his father again, only to later stand my him, pray with him and then watch him die of cancer; how he has learned not to despise his pain but to allow it make him stronger and provide him with a place to connect with others who need God’s love and healing.
Another person – a young girl – stood up, grinning shyly. I wondered what pain she could have ever experienced in her very short life. This young one told tearfully a story that had been told to her, of how her mother had died giving birth to her in a remote village on the other side of the world; and how her superstitious father ran away in fear of ghosts; how the grandmother threw her into the jungle to die; how she cried for 3 days, she said kind of like when Jesus was in the grave for 3 days and was resurrected, so was she; how a missionary just happened to come to visit that particular village and how the grandmother, unable to endure the cries of the wee baby, took her to the missionaries; how they cared for her and found a home and a family for her; of how she was thankful to God for sparing her life and how glad she is for her family.
I was weeping. I felt ashamed of my sense of entitlement. No longer did I feel insulted for not having a place inside the room, at the table. I was just honored to have been invited at all, along with these people. I felt like I wanted to do anything, right there and then, to serve them. I wanted to pour water for them, to bring the food platters to them, to hold the door for them. It dawned on me that these people were special. They were trusted by God. He trusted them to carry such heavy packets of pain, and they seemed to know – or were ready to learn- how to carry them without giving up, without collapsing under the weight. They had been chosen to show the rest of us how to carry pain in this life. They had been chosen to ‘go through the fire and not be burned or consumed’, to come out not even smelling of smoke.
Many more shared; the parent holding a child while they took their last breath; the news of the death of a little sister; lost love and near suicide; scars of abortion; a young woman’s rejection after coming out; a grown man whose father never told him ‘I love you’. So so many stories.
No one wanted to leave the house. How could so much talk of pain end up causing nothing but a sense of hope and possibility and freedom? My wanting to sit at the head table seemed so infantile at this point. There is such a bigger picture happening around us and I was inspired to live into the big picture and be glad for a place even outside the window. It’s a picture with rare colours, strange pairings, odd hues with hints of pain and of forgiveness, restoration, redemption and even resuscitation.
Thank-you, dear Host, for my personal invitation to this Picture.
I love You.
Patricia Anne DeWit