Friday, February 13, 2009

Lavish Love

"How great is the
love the Father has lavished
on us, that we should be called children of God!
And that is what we are!"
1 John 3:1

"I have never been surrounded by and felt so much love in one room", said one of the servers at the restaurant where I held a surprise gathering for my husband. We told him, "It is God's love." Koinonia love. The Lord had been invited to this celebration, and our Guest of Honor showed up big.

For months, I had prayerfully planned this surprise for Jim in celebration of his birthday and journey to The Holy Land, a dream-of-a-lifetime-trip for him. Gathering family and friends together for him was the best gift I could give him to send him off with love on his dream vacation. Each step in the party-planning process, I prayed for God's direction, provision and will. I wanted the celebration to be God's plan, not mine. I prayed my husband would be blessed and encouraged.

Covering the surprise celebration in prayer, I looked for and saw God's fingerprints and confirmation throughout the planning. As I shared some of the details with my Precepts Bible study group (who had also been praying) and rejoicing in God's goodness, one of the gals reminded me that Jesus' first miracle was at a wedding celebration. "This, the first of His miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee. He thus revealed His glory, and His disciples put their faith in Him." (John 2:11 NIV) He revealed His glory and faith in Him had taken root.

I do believe God, through His lavish love, graciously revealed a bit of His glory at this celebration for my husband as well. And we pray that faith in Him is taking root by those who served us that evening and by others in the room who may not have that faith in Him yet. One of my prayers for this celebration was that, if our guests had come and met a stranger, that perhaps they would leave as friends. God answered this prayer in an unexpected way.

On the guest list were our family members and Jim's dearest friends. Some of these friendships have spanned up to 20 years. A few of these friendships have just developed over the last few years. One friend and his wife have just started to become good friends, and I knew the Lord wanted me to invite them. (I will be posting on this at a later date, called "The Invitation".) Jim and his cousin, John, have been friends their whole lives. Only a few people could not attend the party, but they were with us in heart.

It was a fun party to plan. For the seating arrangements, instead of numbered tables, I had named the tables places in Israel where Jim would be visiting, such as the "Sea of Galilee" table and the "Mount of Beatitudes" table. Each guest received a pretty, laminated card with scripture on it, a goodie bag with some of Jim's favorite candy in it, and a "party popper" with the Jewish star on it, representative of Israel.

Jim was indeed surprised. That's an understatement. After the initial shock, he joyfully got in the groove and began enjoying and taking in the evening set aside for him.

After enjoying dinner, I had asked one of my husband's friends to be the "Master of Ceremonies" as I invited our guests to share something about Jim to honor, bless and encourage him. As these precious guests shared their hearts, Jim was given the best gifts of all, and his heart was filled with thankfulness, love and humility. We were deeply touched by the love expressed toward Jim. He is devoted to his God, family and friends. He is a man who genuinely cares for others. He is a man with funny quirks, a good sense of humor, a love for football and fabulous food.

At the end of this special time of sharing, Jim, whose heart had been moved by all that was said, took the microphone to thank everyone. "My treasure is in this room tonight. My wife, my children, my family and friends are my treasure." A lump formed in my throat and tears streamed down my face as the room was silent. God has answered my prayers for Jim to be blessed and encouraged. Thank you, Lord.

One of our dear pastors then prayed for Jim and for our little family. He is a special pastor to us, and we call him "The Love Pastor" because the love of Jesus just oozes out of him. This pastor is a worshipper of the Lord. We were humbled and thankful for his beautiful prayer for Jim and for us.

As this special evening began to wind down and our guests began to say their good-byes, something unexpected happened. The servers, who had stayed in the room during the sharing and prayer time (though they did not have to), were hugging many of our guests and us. They were moved by what they had heard and seen. One of the servers said, "This is how you want your life to be. This is how you want to be known. This is a lot of love." We were quick to tell the servers that this was God's love. His Lavish Love.

As one of our servers loaded up a cart and helped us get everything to our car, he kept talking to us about how special the night was for him, a stranger who had become a friend. Of all the hundreds of events that restaurant has hosted, he said they have never witnessed that much love. He embraced us and had an ear-to-ear smile on his face. We thanked him and promised to keep in touch. A few days later, I sent a note to the general manager at the restaurant to tell him of the exceptional service we received that evening. And a box of Bibles, devotionals and other books was a gift from us to our new friends at the restaurant.

When we arrived for the party, these precious people were strangers. When we left, they had become friends. Thank you, Lord, for Your amazing answer to prayer.

My heart was so thankful when Jim told me on the way home that night, "That was one of the best nights of my life!"

I share this story to tell of God's faithfulness to answer our prayers above and beyond what we can ask or expect. While praying for God to be glorified in a celebration may seem a little trivial compared to our prayers for serious global issues of the day, as my Bible study friend reminded me, God cares about every detail...even celebrations, like the wedding at Cana, and like Jim's party. And when He does amazing things so that He is glorified and people's faith is put in Him, well we rejoice in Him indeed! His love is lavish!

Here are just a few pictures of some of our family and friends. We love each and every one of you, deeply and from the heart! "Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart." 1 Peter 1:22

1 John 4:16: "And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him."


Melanie said...

This is such a beautiful thing. I was blessed reading it.

jim.sloan said...

Wow, honey! This is really awesome! Thank you so very much for all that you did to make this night so very special. You truly are my greatest treasure. I love you with all my heart. "You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride; you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace." -Song of Solomon 4:9

Joyful said...

Absolutely beautiful! Thank you for sharing this event with us. That lavish love oozes right through my computer here as I see Him reflected in all your faces.

I feel hugged,

Blessed Mom of 8 said...

Happy Birthday Jim!

As I sat here reading about your party and then your comment back to Sharon - my heart just filled with so much of His love! I'm touched and blessed by reading all that you experienced - the love you share and shared! I'll be praying for your new friends. God will do exceedingly great things for you!

Can't wait to hear about your trip to Israel!

Praying for you all!
Jill and Scott

Heather said...

What a beautiful post...what an incredible evening. I have to tell you I had this whole comment mapped out in my brain and then I read Jim's comment and well, just can't follow that with much of anything:) Simply love you guys! God Bless...

Our gang!

Chatty Kelly said...

You are indeed a special & loving wife. What a wonderful send off for your husband. I'm so happy he can go on his dream trip. What a blessing!

I want a piece of that big chocolate cake!! And your 2 little tuckered out sweeties are the cutest!

And his comment here is so special. You are both so blessed! Praise God!

Wendy Blight said...

This is one of the most beautiful "love" stories I have ever read. I especially was touched by the story of the servers. They tasted God's love, maybe some for the first time. What a glorious unexpected blessing which shows you how our great God does immeasurably more than we can ever ask or imagine when we commit our plans to Him. Thank you for sharing the story, the pictures, and the love of Christ.



Renee Swope said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fields of gold said...

Thank you for sharing this love story...the love of the Father to His children. The love of a bride to her husband. The love of the Body to the world.

We're praying here in the P31 office for Jim's journey (and all those with him), and for you and your lil' ones at home!

Love you!

Renee Swope said...

Lavish love indeed!!! Wow, what a powerful picture of the Father's love, a bride's celebration for her beloved and the love of Christ that is an aroma of Him in every place drawing strangers together as friends. Oh I pray that many of those servers will come to know Jesus and continue to learn of their Saviors amazing love!

You are such a wonderful wife. I can't imagine how loved and honored Jim felt. What a way to celebrate Him and bless his trip to the Holy Land. I've been praying for him and you and your cherubs! Can't wait to hear about his trip of a lifetime!