How does one capture with words, a night of utter extravagance?
This was last night, October 17, 2009 – an early birthday celebration for me which turned into a spiritual birthday for a young woman named Carrie Callahan. Carrie’s journey to salvation has been long and marked with much pain and many tears. It’s a story that I hope she tells one day, for its the story of many in our generation. But last night painful tears breached the song of joy, and heaven’s much-anticipated moment arrived as Carrie stepped into the family of God.
My dearest friends here in Kansas City took it upon themselves to throw me a grand and glorious dinner party, as a way of creating space for God to convince me of His extravagant and abundant generosity to me. The dearest of dears, Wendy Andrews, had been secretly compiling a list of things I loved and needed and desired in order to shower all of them on me. She rounded up many of our friends and each one contributed to the grandeur of the night.
The Boulevard home, where Wendy and my other dearest friends all live, had been decorated like a regular palace! In typical Rachel-fashion, that is, generous to the bone, Rachel Anderson had filled the room with every lovely flower arrangement imaginable. A myriad of sparkling lit candles, silk cloths, and fancy pillows filled the first floor of the Boulevard. The table was laden with sauteed beef skewers in Thai peanut sauce, a jazzy spinach salad, and hand-pressed apple cider. Inside of a pumpkin, Wendy had baked a scrumptious cheese sauce (with a terribly luxurious name that I can’t even pronounce let alone spell!) that we ate with soft Asiago bread. It was unbelievably delicious! And of course, my favorite sweet treats abounded on another table – homemade fudge, chocolate chip cookies, and almond shortbread! A snazzy pear custard torte served as my birthday cake, complete with little candles.
After dinner I settled into the chair dubbed as “the queen’s chair” and shared with the girls a bit of my heart’s journey since summer, an explanation of why God had asked Wendy to throw this party in the first place. It’s a long and messy odyssey, as most wanderings of the heart are, but I shall try to capture a bit of it here briefly.
I have not always believed that giving one’s life for the poor and broken and walking in the abundant generosity of the Father were not exclusive. My entire life I have operated out of a mindset that tells me that poverty is more godly than wealth, that plain and drab is more righteous than beauty. I have scorned all forms of extravagance, including at times romance. In some distorted way, I have somehow convinced myself that if I am blessed when so much of the world is in dire need, I am guilty of injustice. I have convinced myself that, “I am fine. I am tough. I can handle living in survival mode. Only give me what I need for existence, and I shall be satisfied. I am fine. I don’t need anything extra to live, so therefore I will refuse to receive it.” I’ve interpreted both spiritual and physical blessings through this faulty mindset. I have seen the world has sexualized the beauty of women and taken advantage of it, and in my quest for a pure heart I have more often than not feared embracing beauty. I have been content to marvel at the grandeur of God’s creation outside of me while ignoring the grandeur He created inside of me.
This past summer however, the Holy Spirit began to show me the untruthful foundation I have built on. He began to highlight to me all of the descriptions in Scripture of God and every last one is stunning, breath-taking, loaded with allusions to diamonds and jewels and magnificent riches. The entire story of God is teeming with references to our inheritance, our spiritual blessings, the riches of His glory. As I have repented of pride and clinging to false ideals, the Holy Spirit has diligently shown me the ways in which my life is effected by the lies of the enemy. One day He asked me, “You are so concerned for the poor in your neighborhood, but if you yourself are living in spiritual poverty, then what kind of life are you inviting these lost ones into? How is what you are offering much different than what they already have?” In these last months I have also come to understand that God has placed beauty in the hands of women. It is our design, our pleasure, and even our responsibility to make the world a more beautiful place – with our bodies, our homes, and our lives.
Over these months, God has spoken to me specifically through this: “And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I made you flourish like a plant of the field. And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full adornment. Your breasts were formed and your hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare. When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord GOD, and you became Mine. Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil. I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and shod you with fined linen and covered you with silk. And I adorned you with ornaments and put bracelets on your wrists and a chain on your neck. And I put a ring on your nose and earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver and your clothing was of fine lined and silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine four and honey and oil. You grew exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor that I had bestowed on you, declares the Lord.” (Ezekiel 16: 6-14)
And so, the evening commenced as I shared with the women a bit of my journey. I opened elaborate gift after gift, as women spoke words of encouragement and life over me. Among the gifts were a deep red silk scarf, various quality eye shadows and eye-liners, hand-crafted necklaces and earrings, a gorgeous fabric, a purse, fine-smelling soaps, a lovely blouse, a gift certificate for a facial, a picture, a hair dryer (which I desperately needed because in Wendy’s words, “Your old one sounds like an airplane coming in for landing!”) My friend Anna brought her gift in a clear glass bowl, because she said, “May your life be a glass bowl; may you show off the beauty inside!” Juli Cox’s words marked me indelibly as she gave me jewelry from South Africa and an antique pendant. “I feel like you carry a bit of Africa in you, and these ‘diamond’ (CZ) earrings and necklace are to remind you that through your beauty you will give your life for the poor. These things are not mutually exclusive, but people will come to know the King through your queenly beauty. The antique pendant you can wear close to your heart as a reminder of the rich heritage you have in your family.”
I had determined at the beginning of the night to never say, “It’s too much!” But alas, in an overwhelming moment toward the end of gift-opening, it slipped out of my mouth. I knew there was still lies dwelling inside of me that I needed to repent of. So as the women gathered around to pray for me, I began to confess every lie I have believed about receiving the goodness of God. I confessed pride and fear and asked for continued revelation. The Spirit of God was thick in the room, and several other women agreeing with my repentant prayers.
From the couch next to me, Carrie began to weep. And weep, an weep. She began to cry out, asking God to forgive her over and over for many things. She went on and on, in a truly repentant state, declaring her belief in God and His goodness. It soon became apparent that she was giving her life over to Jesus in that moment. I pulled my chair over and with all eyes fixed on the beautiful, sobbing woman in the middle of the room we talked through what it means to become a daughter of God. In the most genuine and expressive manner I have ever witnessed, Carrie exclaimed through tears, “I’m in!” She told God she would receive His forgiveness and become His daughter.
Maggie dashed upstairs to fill the bathtub with water, and I asked Carrie if she knew what baptism meant. She proceeded to tell us, with more clarity most preachers, what baptism was – a washing of the sins, a dying of the old self, and a coming of a new, clean Carrie! We prayed with her to receive with her the power of the Holy Spirit right then, and as the water ran in the tub upstairs, Anna sat down to the baby grand piano. Carrie’s name literally means “Song of Joy.” Her middle name means “God is Gracious.” So Anna began to sing out, with such anointing, that heaven had been singing Carrie, song of joy for all of eternity. She sang out the affection of God and the longing He has had over Carrie’s life. So powerful was the moment, that Carrie literally fell off the couch onto her knees.
As for me, I got it. In that moment, as Anna’s voice touched the foundations of eternity I understood the full picture. I wept uncontrollably on the couch, my whole body heaving great sobs, as the revelation I’ve been asking for flooded my being. I had received freely that night, I had embraced beauty, I had turned from the old poor woman to the taking my place as a queen in His Kingdom… and look, right before my very eyes, the salvation of a woman I had longed for was happening. In the same moment that Juli was telling my beauty would win the hearts of the poor for the King, so a heart was already being won. It was not only the Father’s graciousness to Carrie, but His mercy to every woman in that room as we understood that beauty begets beauty, blessing begets blessing, and the generosity leads to the expansion of this family.
I will never in my life forget the hour that followed Carrie’s bathtub baptism! After whoops of delight and soggy hugs, we rejoined in the living room. In the spirit of the night, prayer began to break out for other women in the room. The most astonishing thing of all was that Carrie herself was leading the charge. Just moments after her baptism, she was laying hands on women, praying for them boldly, and giving them prophetic words! “I feel like God just wants me to say that you don’t need to be afraid…” I thought I had died and was with Jesus already! The Holy Spirit was already at work in Carrie, giving her power to love and letting her hear God’s voice so promptly. In one hour, the Lord redeemed every broken relationship Carrie has always had with women who have betrayed her by placing her in a room chock full of godly, loving, trustworthy women.
Who knew that when I started chatting with Carrie at the ghetto pool in Gilham Park last summer that it would lead such rich friendship? We’ve come to love each other, I’m now the godmother of her children, and in the last month she finally agreed to study the stories of Jesus with me. We’ve been reading in Luke every week, and the Man Jesus Christ has been winning Carrie over, story by story. Since summer, I’ve been asking God that Carrie would receive salvation and be baptized by my birthday. Since last year, when we baptized Wendy’s sister in a bathtub around my last birthday, I’ve been telling the Lord that all I want for my birthday is the opportunity to baptize someone in the bathtub!
This birthday shall go down in the history books. It’s been written in the journals of heaven as epic. It’s been written in my journal and those of a dozen other women as revolutionary. I am forever marked. We all are, I think. These are surely not light matters in the heart of God.