Around the healthy age of 7 and 8 years. I would go to my friends’ birthday parties, and after all the roughhousing our tiny frames could handle, their mom would send us home with small buckets (or bag, or similar container) in tow. Now, if their family was somewhat well off, we’d probably find an assortment of good candy (M&Ms, Jolly Ranchers) and an Etch-a-sketch among the pencils & erasers. Most of the time I’d get Twizzlers, Sweethearts and their disgusting, mutant friends (candy buttons?).
My uncle had a birthday party a week ago. It would have been like any and all of the other family gatherings, had he not called for a time testimonies and prayer. He shared how he died as a child, and when the doctor gave up and left, the faith of his mother and her close friend gave way to sight. He came back to life. God was faithful then, and he is alive today to bless His heart and others with acts and words of grace. Now let me clarify something- I knew my aunt and uncle were Christian, but this circle of witnesses to faithfulness completely rocked my view of them, forever. I didn’t know any of their names, but one after another, the ten or so of my uncle’s friends relayed stories of how Jesus walked them through cancer, disease, quadruple bypasses, helplessness. Nearly all of them came to America with barely any pesos to get them through the month, and they only had the shirt on their back (though knowing a bit of the Filipino psyche, I know they had to have smuggled a few clean pairs of underwear somehow). They wanted a better life for themselves, and for their children- my sister and I’s generation. Our strong and tender Father gave them that and more.
My parents, sister, brother-in-law, and my cousins (of my generation) are not exactly the most “Christian” people one would meet on a street and opine that they must be very religious folk. Neither am I, before we forget. They were listening. Intently. Later on my dad would sarcastically comment that he was practically falling asleep in there. I recall that is the first time I could not laugh at one of his normally funny quips. The Spirit was gently whispering something. A brief silence passed and he asked if we do that at my church, “the one where the pastor talks too fast”. He and mom watched one of my dance performances a couple years back. I nodded and told him yes.
Some days later, my own birthday would come and go; I would find myself with my family at an Argentinian restaurant. We are a very introverted bunch, aside from my mom. My dad, sister, brother-in-law and I mostly chowed down and commented on the out-of-this-world sweet potato fries and steak while my mom and dad took pictures of the food and us. Normal stuff, really. Non-coincidentally, a friend I met through Intervarsity(this warrants another story, but we’ll save that for another time. It’s a really good one.) was at this restaurant the same night we were, and came over to our table to say hello. I knew he went abroad, so I hadn’t seen him in a year. He got back a month ago from teaching English in Iraq. Did I mention he was also a beekeeper? Gentle soul. Outside, before we nightcapped with some froyo, my dad asked me about him. I said that we used to visit mosques together and hang out with Muslims.
Sunday night church- I ended up sitting behind a row of ASL teachers and deaf visitors. Sign language happens to be one of my favorite communication methods, and I plan on becoming fluent. Not by chance, my friend who also knows some of the language ended up sitting next to me. I love ASL worship. In the sermon, our pastor made a comment about circumcision. Those of us who were watching the translator watched her dance around the vocabulary and the front right corner of the auditorium burst into laughter. The baptisms began. There were ten or so souls who had a fresh touch from God share a bit of why they wanted to be immersed. I love baptisms. Up until recently (a nebulous term with my atypical sense of time) I didn’t understand their purpose, neither was I aware of the fruit of it. Why did John baptize? How come baptism is commanded? Even having been through the initiation myself in the coldest of oceans, I never quite figured it out until I got to help dunk a friend. Applause and uproarious celebrations.
Ten friends who have seen it hit the fan time and time again. The dreams they dreamed. Our generations lives today as an irrefutable testament to them becoming reality. Their hope is permanently fixated on one Healer, one Source of comfort. One family going from dysfunctional, to functional, to looking like hey, we may never be great conversationalists around each other, but we enjoy each other’s company. Ten former strangers initiated into a family of friends who are standing up for and standing with their local body of believers. They are beginning to dream, to find their strength in You as they traverse the highways to Zion.
As I dragged various buckets towards the drainage grates outside, inevitably the warm, tepid water splashed onto my glasses, my face and all over my shirt and jeans. We couldn’t find the pump to empty the baptism pool so a group of men I am truly stoked to call brothers grabbed empty trash cans and containers from backstage to begin the mission. The disgusting, sweat filled water washed off the last of my disillusionment. Births can happen in two ways. What I was grateful to witness this past week is a revelation of God I hope to share with those who’ve come before, to those just beginning, to the souls yet to come but already destined to experience grace and the presence of the King who is Wholeness. In fact, what I saw were births and labor pains that were not caused by human will or flesh, but of God.
I feel like I can dust off that part of me that loves a good fight. I’m pumped to watch Jesus take back from the strong man and free the captives. He will rescue the dead and cast off shackles. The time of labor will be over; and I will witness God reconcile the nations to himself in time for the greatest party ever to be thrown. I can only imagine the birthday buckets he’ll have then.