We sliced the cake in the park, and the girls placed butterfly shaped wafers on top. We lit the candle, and my friend lifted her infant daughter up to blow it out with her sister’s help. My friend had hoped to celebrate the passing of my driver’s license, but that day is still to come. Instead, we ate brownies and cookies in the park to celebrate her daughter’s first year of life. There is always some reason to celebrate. A year ago, we had been riding the bus together for hospital appointments in the middle of the pandemic. My friend spoke of the challenges of her first year in the country and a team member prayed for her. We celebrated the fact that now, we can meet together in a park and celebrate many freedoms we did not enjoy last year.
A few days later, after hiking with some teenagers, a crowd was gathered outside our center watching flamenco, celebrating Festa Major (the town’s annual festival). Inside our centre, a team member lit candles to celebrate a young man’s birthday and had the opportunity to pray for him.
As an introvert, my energy fades with each celebration. Despite some discouragement this week, God is encouraging me to focus on reasons to celebrate in the midst of busy last-minute preparation for a hiking trip to northern Spain. I may lack energy, motivation, and much perspective for the future. Despite the lacks of this week, I will not want. I will hold onto the reasons to celebrate as I continue to meet with my friends. Choosing joy requires effort and an intentional focus on an eternal perspective.
Lately, my urge to celebrate life has been diminishing, but God keeps reminding me of all the reasons I have to delight in Him. Immediately after another frustrating driving exam, in which I was driving in a different car than usual, I rode a bus and two trains to receive my first vaccine. Getting away with God for the afternoon, I thanked Him that I am one step closer to being to travel internationally, a privilege I never want to take for granted again. Two days later, I realized I had been exposed to COVID-19, and God gave me two days of quarantine at home before my test results came back negative. In that time, God was retraining me where to fix my eyes–not on what is seen, on what I apparently lack today, but on what is unseen–on all the promises of goodness in these foretastes of glory which he ministers to me daily.
And sometimes these foretastes surprise me:
“Can I go to church with you?” The question stunned me as I stared back at the nineteen-year-old. Apparently, she had been waiting a while to ask me when she could join me to visit my church in Barcelona, and was suddenly reminded of her idea when singing a karaoke song with another team member–“Take me to church” were the lyrics. Our church may have been closed again during COVID-19, but we had to celebrate her curiosity, and I invited her to the gathering with another team member. We visited the beach with her following the service. She, as well as many others in our neighbourhood, seldom have the opportunity to visit the coast, even though we are only forty minutes away. It was the first time in her two years here that she had visited the ocean. As we kicked through the waves and picked up shells and sea glass, balancing on rocks and squishing algae between our toes, I strained my spirit to enjoy each moment, but a heaviness filled me. When will we celebrate her decision to join the family? For today, all I can do is answer her questions truthfully and celebrate the small victories as her wall of resistance slowly falls.
One of the greatest reasons I have to celebrate is the transformation I see in the hearts around me. I know the Holy Spirit is working even when I see no evidence yet. I may not have the ultimate reason to celebrate, as stated by the father of the prodigal son (“My son was dead, but now he is alive!”). I have not observed any of our friends ‘coming home’ to the Father. But as we sang in the church, “In my Father’s house, there’s a place for me,” (Hillsong), my heart burst with thanksgiving. There is a place for me, His child, and there is a place for my friends. Whether within the walls of a sanctuary or on the sands of a beach, I am praying for the joy of future celebrations to fill our hearts with hope today.
Thank you for joining me in prayer for many to join us in the eternal celebration of the Lamb’s presence among us.