This weekend a very close friend of mine, Danila, celebrated her 50th birthday.
The invitation to attend this elegant fête, that would be held at a small château –
was tucked into their family Christmas card. So we’ve known about the event for four months. And for four months, I anticipated the celebration – not only because I was excited to help Danila welcome such a significant milestone while getting to spend the afternoon surrounded by good friends –
but also because it would be the perfect setting
and the perfect opportunity
to dress up as a family
and take family photos.
Danila’s husband, Fredéric, planned everything to perfection. There was an afternoon tea with cakes, sweets and champagne.
There were games for the big kids and the small.
Danila is half-Italian, and each of us was given a sticker with a different region of Italy. We needed to find six other people with the same region and get to know them through asking and answering a set questionnaire. I was Toscana.
And then he had Danila seated in a chair in the middle of the room while he threw out various questions to the crowd. Each one was to ascertain who was the most similar to Danila, and every time you answered ‘yes’ you had to take a step forward. (i.e. Do you speak Spanish? Yes? Move forward then).
Before long, a smaller and smaller group of people converged upon her until Fred asked the final question, “Do you love Danila?” Needless to say, there were many winners.
The kids couldn’t resist playing outside.
No matter how dreary the weather was.
And that sort of brings me to my point. I prayed for this weekend. I prayed for the weather. I remembered Easters past when the sun was shining and shirt sleeves were enough and the day seemed showered with blessings from above. I so wanted that for this particular day of celebration among friends and families.
I so wanted it for our family photos.
This weekend I took time off from social media. It was not hard to do since I was burnt out. You know that already. You’ve read my “swamped” post and my “shifting focus” post, and some of the other ones where – to a lesser degree – I mentioned the stress I felt.
It was not just the waiting for important documents and the financial frustrations and the taking on of various roles in the church that has stripped me bare.
I finally realised that it was losing sight of what was important that was bothering me. I moderate a largish Christian blogging group when faith is not the central focus of my blog or the books I write (though it’s the central focus of my life). I moderate a smallish Paris author’s group, and trying to honour each member by reviewing every single book is not practical because I’m not just a writer, but also a blogger (and a wife and mom, and a teacher, and church volunteer).
And I teach. If you don’t count Sunday school, I teach in three different places, including Saturday mornings in the home. That means we never get to have a relaxing weekend as a family, and our chance to regroup and put order in the home and build quality relationships is simply not there. Right now, my children are more needy than ever (which is just as it should be) between their activities and homework and general desire to connect and communicate. Hugs and kisses are no longer enough.
Like the crowds of friends converging on Danila as they took steps forward, activities and commitments and bad time management has been converging on me. Except in a much more ominous way. And I. Am. Stretched. Too. Thin.
Why am I telling you this? Well, one of the things I agreed to this weekend, and which I would not have had it otherwise, was to organise the music for Danila’s party, and also (ahem) to sing.
I’m not a trained singer. I’m okay at it – I’m a trained musician, but not a trained singer. And I never volunteer to sing solos because I can’t rely on my voice. Sometimes it sounds great (particularly in the shower). Sometimes it doesn’t. I just never can predict which way it will go. But when Fred asked me, of course I said yes, because there simply wasn’t anyone else who was available. And I wanted to honour my friend.
So not only did I pray for the weather, I also prayed (and even fasted) for the music and for my voice – to provide a musical program worthy of my friend.
To start the venue, Ann and I sang Offenbach’s La Bacarolle. I had been practicing my part in the duet all week, and even though my voice was tired, we sounded really great together.
Next up, Fred put up a slideshow of Danila’s life, set to music. It was from birth to present with all the important events, like her getting married and having babies. It ended on a particularly emotional note with a video of her father, who died a year ago. He was making jokes, blessing his daughter, and talking about grace. And that was the moment when I was supposed to sing the second song, her very favorite:
And you guys, it was awful. It was just awful. I am laughing and crying as I type this, and I know you will say, “oh no, it could not have been that bad!” but I assure you. Half the people came up to console me, or congratulate me on actually finishing the song when it sounded so bad, and the other half furtively avoided eye contact with me for the rest of the afternoon.
I bombed it in front of 200 people.
I don’t know why it was so bad, except that I had worn my voice out. I usually sing Amazing Grace well because it’s low and just in my range, and it’s such a rich, emotionally gripping song. But my voice was tired from practising so much, and I’d never sung it with a mic before, and my voice wobbled and broke off suddenly and couldn’t sustain a note in the right pitch.
My husband laughed and commiserated with me afterwards, saying, “But isn’t that apropos? Isn’t it really what amazing grace is about? Not being perfect and still being loved?”
Huh! That’s true. And I think what’s incredible is that after the burning in my cheeks died down (about an hour later) I didn’t care. I was able to laugh about it. Danila just thought I had messed up because I was emotional about the slideshow. But that was not true! I didn’t even look at people’s faces as they watched it because it made me emotional and I was afraid to sing badly.
And in the end, I did just that – I was bad. But still Danila loved it, and she still she loves me. Grace.
Oh … and those family pictures …
Oh my God, our kids could not have gotten dirtier if they set up an impromptu rugby match on the front lawn. When my husband asked Gabriel if he was ready for the family pictures, he looked down at his pants, looked up again, and said, “Oh … Maman va me tuer!” (Mom’s gonna kill me!) I had to use a half bottle of stain remover on their clothes the minute we got home.
So you see, I had this day all planned out in my head. I had it all worked out with what I wanted to accomplish, and you can bet that absolute perfection was what I was aiming for. That’s what I saw in my mind’s eye. But the day was nothing like what I had hoped or imagined. It was so far from perfect.
And it was just how it should be. I survived it, and Danila was encouraged. I’m figuring out that I can’t do everything, even if I’m capable of it (or even good at it, which is not always the case). This weekend has motivated me to cut down, and I’ve already figured out what to cut down on, and where.
And the world goes on without me. God somehow fills in all the gaps and fault lines and makes everything whole again. He pulls something out of nothing in this world.
Light out of darkness.
Beauty out of disorder.
He brings perfection out of mess.
And isn’t that the very essence of grace?
Amazing, amazing grace.