Monday, April 4, 2011

An extravagant gift

I've wanted to write this post for a week, wanted to so badly I've broken out in a rash that began in my brain and traveled down my arms to my keyboard.  You should see me.  All I do is itch with the need to write about this.

Last Monday after a staff meeting on campus, E walked in, played with the dogs, then came back down the hall and said, "____ is paying for CC and me to go to Europe this summer."
"WHAT?" 
She explained the situation, which is a long and windy road, involving quit jobs, promises and folks with big hearts who also have the means for which this kind of thing makes little dent in their income.  True story, they live in a tax bracket as far from us as Mount Everest from the ocean floor.

So E's suddenly planning the trip of a lifetime, a far different trip than I went on when I was her age.  My friend SKC and I scrimped and saved for a whole year before we hoisted our backpacks and traveled the rails of Europe, sleeping in youth hostels, churches, and the occasional friends-of-friends' homes.  We made long and copious lists of what we wanted to see and do, poured over maps and plotted about how to make our money stretch.  Then we plugged our noses and dove into the plethora of cultures that together make up the grand whole of a grand experience.  We daily ate bread and cheese as we walked along, or sat on trains, or (once, anyway) by the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen.  We had only one luxury, the luxury of time.  With an open-ended ticket and only a general notion of how long we'd be gone, we were free to spend a day in the Barbican Library in London when we wanted to, or take a side-trip up to Loch Lomond in Scotland.  We stood on the Arctic Circle in Finland and--in the one giant unplanned trip of a lifetime--ventured into Russia while it was still walled off by barbed-wire from the rest of the world and calling itself the USSR.  Not the least--by the longest shot of my blessed-by-God life--was the miracle of meeting up with my old high school buddy Beve and his brother in Helsinki.  Little did any of us know that that meeting would change on a dime the course our lives seemed to be on.  Or maybe the course was already set and we were just finally showing up at the right place and time to catch on to it.  That naked man statue in Finland--how I thank God for that moment, and meeting, and, of course, that tall, entirely-too-handsome old friend with the welcome grin and familiar teasing voice.

I wouldn't change a thing about that trip. No.  Not even the being robbed on the train in Germany that ultimately caused us to abandon the second half of our journey and high-tail it for home because of money and a missing Eur-rail pass.  Sure, we missed the south, where we were headed for the dead of winter. But from my point of view, especially now, we'd already seen and done what we'd gone for.  I'd met my future (though I didn't know it then) and it was (is) very, very good.

But it wasn't this trip of E's. Though they aren't completely sure of all that the gift includes, whatever it does is more than they ever dreamed.  That creates an ability to do more, with greater freedom than most people get.  There's a luxury given in such a gift. Such an extravagant gift, I should say.  Their imaginations have been running wild this week.  E and CC have talked for several years about a trip to Europe. They've tried, various years, to figure out how to make it happen, but something always gets in the way.  One way or another, money has been an immovable object until now.  Their effort, for all their good intentions, has come to naught.

And now this gift. This wonderful, extravagant gift. 

Just like--exactly like!--the wonderful, extravagant gift of God for us.  Isn't it?  We think of His grace as a gift.  Scripture tells us it is, after all: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves.  It is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2: 8-9) But it isn't merely a gift, as mundane as those socks J asked for and received for his recent birthday because all his old ones were either holey or had been swallowed by the laundry monster.  The gift of grace is wonderfully extravagant, so over-the-top that we never even knew to ask for it.  Never knew it was a possibility. And, it's completely impossible to go out and obtain by ourselves.  We can't save for it.  It is showered on us luxuriously by an extravagant God.  But here's the clincher:  These friends who gave this gift to CC and E: to them it might be chump change to pay for all this.  But the gift God has given us--our very lives, our eternal lives, actually bankrupted Him.  That is, He gave absolutely everything He had for it.  His very life for us.  And that makes it even more extravagant.  That He would do such a thing at so great a cost, before we even knew we needed it, how can we wrap our puny brains and hearts around such a gift?

How can we say thank-you for so great a gift?  What can we give Him to tell Him we are grateful? There's only one thing, of course.  He only wants us to give Him what He gave us: our lives.

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