Celebrations, anniversaries, parties, special little meaningful gestures, getting dressed up, making a fuss, and writing cards can seem frivolous and silly, especially if you’re in a cranky mood. I have a high value for practicality and frugality, so sometimes when Andrew and I are thinking about date nights, I find myself calculating the actual cost and deliberating if it is worth it. I can be a bit of a Scrooge. For birthdays, I never want people to spend money and would rather have them over for dinner. On my 30th, three friends took me out to a nice restaurant and treated me and brought a birthday cake too — I was floored, and slightly confused. With flowers, I used to think they were a waste of money because they die, and so I would pretend to scorn them even though I had a secret love of them. And with presents, if it isn’t absolutely necessary, why should I receive it?
It seems like I’m just really, really cheap. Which is true. But what is below the surface here is a spiritual unhealthiness keeping me from celebration. Sometimes it’s a bloated sense of my own importance and the gravity of the world’s problems that has me overburdened, lacking trust in God, and not making any space for celebration. Sometimes it’s a lack of hope that things can get better, so why celebrate this little thing now? Sometimes it’s a sheepishness in receiving love, care, and generosity — a sheepishness that comes from shame and self-abasing, false humility. Usually, it’s a lack of a true, humble (not self-flagellating but actual) view of self and a true, big view of God, and a lack of a sense of his delight in me.
I used to think rejoicing and celebration was a “not very serious” kingdom value, but I am learning that celebration is a spiritual discipline, an act of faith only possible where there is hope in the One who will never leave you. Celebration in the kingdom is more than half-hearted applause to fill in the silent parts between acts, but a steady and powerful choice to rejoice in the “ellipses” of life, when you’re still watching and waiting and hoping and praying. It is a courageous act of hope, a conscious decision to say no to despair and to take joy — even delight (!) — in small victories when you still have a long way to go.
Celebration gives room for reflection so we can see past mere accomplishments and instead savor the true gift of the presence of God with us. Celebration sharpens a fearlessness in us for tomorrow because the same God we saw with us yesterday is the same God with us today, and the same God with us tomorrow.
And so for our one year anniversary, Andrew and I celebrated! We went to a very small town in western Massachusetts and enjoyed it for what it was and didn’t expect it to be what it wasn’t; we walked on its flower bridge and hiked and ate things and stayed at a cute/creepy bed and breakfast. We remembered, we shared stories, we laughed. Lots more work to be done, lots of lessons yet to be learned, but celebrating God’s never-failing presence in our marriage was sacred and delightfully fun.
Right after that, I flew to Missouri to celebrate the graduation of my dear friend Dr. Miranda Machacek, who just finished her PhD! She is a part of an MD/PhD program, which means that she resumed the grind of med school a mere week(!) after her graduation from her PhD. A time of celebration wasn’t practical per say, but it was crucial in the meaningful, weighty kind of way.
Family and friends from near and far, celebratory flags, pounds of hummus and pita, hiking, favorite restaurants, and lots of Andy’s custard, all to declare that even though more is to be done, something of great value was achieved through incredible grit and perseverance. God upheld her throughout, and a celebration was in order! In a way, celebrating was a prophetic reminder that God was with Miranda in getting her PhD and will be with her as she finishes med school. Celebration leads us to worship that brings a solid, actual hope that we can cling to and stand on with more and more confidence, and deeper and deeper trust.
So, here on my birthday, as I sit and stare at the peonies and poppies that are gloriously adorning my living room, flaunting their intricate, strong, delicate beauty, I am invited to a place of wonder. These little friends are strong and resilient to survive the New England winters. They are needy, flourishing only when their needs for light and nutrients and water are met. They are downright unapologetic in the unfurling of all their beauty in their blooming. And they die after some time, and I’ll have to throw them in the compost along with the banana peels and egg shells.
These flowers were gifts from people who love me. The very things I used to scorn as a waste of money are powerful reminders of my own belovedness, my own strength when I receive the care of the Father, my own neediness, my power and beauty, and my own real limitations. It is all beautiful, even if it is but for a moment and still in process, and it is to be celebrated with unadulterated wonder and a heart of worship.