Celebration: After the Party

Monday morning after the party I am washing table cloths borrowed from one friend and seventy-five linen napkins from another.  Tables and chairs are stacked in my carport and a rented white tent still stands behind it. Brandywine and Orange Unique roses have centerstage of my table until they wilt and the final vestiges of Saturday night’s engagement party are taken out the door. 

I did not do this alone.  Sixteen couples banded together to host an engagement party for the son of our friends.  Though I had participated in these type parties before as host, this was the first held in my home. A week ago,  I was as nervous as a cat.  My older friends assured me my home could handle seventy-five diners even if it rained and the backyard tables and chairs were not an option: I was skeptical. I pictured people propped up in my bed with dinner plate in hand or sitting on the side of the tub with linen napkins across their laps.  

I sent out an SOS text to a couple of friends on Wednesday before Saturday’s party asking for prayer. I was overwhelmed.  Enter wiser women who’ve done several of these parties. They drove their prayers for me into my driveway and physically helped me.  One of them, recently returned from a trip to Wimbledon, brought strawberries and champagne tied up with a bow and a card that read “Cheers to Firsts."  She reminded me that the “first time” of anything feels anxious because it’s the  unknown.

My experienced friends were right. No one ate in the bedroom.  Somehow they all magically fit into the public spaces on couches and chairs and the weather cooperated and the farm fans blew away some of the Alabama July heat and the drinks were ice cold and we lit the candles and toasted the young couple and celebrated the marriage to come.  

As I fold the napkins this morning, I remember that celebration is a spiritual practice. Richard Foster taught me this when I read Celebration of Discipline almost twenty years ago, “Celebration brings joy into life, and joy makes us strong.”

 One of the first joys this celebration brought me before the party ever started was the awareness of the fun of creating together. Days before the party friends started showing up. Tables and chairs.  Goblets and glasses and fans. Silver forks, linen napkins and the silk ribbons to tie around them.  Ice buckets and asparagus servers and casserole dishes and candles kept coming out of the back of a white SUV. The day before the party a friend brought  buckets of roses, snapdragons and bear grass and together with the hydrangeas blooming in my own garden we made arrangements together. The morning of the party big fans and coolers of ice showed up and manpower to set it all in place. 

I could not miss the value of friendship in all of that fun, but as the doors opened Saturday night and people poured through my doors to celebrate with our friends the happiness of their son’s marriage, I saw among us stories of survival, shared grief, freedom and faith. These stories are cause to celebrate too.  

One friend, who along with my husband built a console now hanging on the wall in my den, has survived pancreatitis and throat cancer.  His son, the last engagement party we attended, has survived cancer too.   Another friend counseled us through our own rough place in marriage years ago. Yet another, heartbroken a few years ago from a failed relationship, comes through the doors with the smile of newfound happiness and a beautiful companion at his side.  The most graceful, faith-filled widow, whose husband we all loved and miss terribly, was here, as was the adorable couple who found each other in their  mid-seventies after burying their lifelong spouses. Friends who have survived the grief of losing a child the age of this groom are here to celebrate this son of our community and his new bride. We have helped each other rear children and prayed for each other’s grandchildren.  We have passed down smocked dresses and boy’s blue blazers outgrown long before they are worn out.   We have so much more to celebrate than just the marriage, though that would be cause enough.   

Events like this don’t happen without community, whether one is host or guest. Richard Foster categorizes celebration a corporate discipline. Like confession and worship and guidance, we practice it in the presence of others.  We need celebration as a practice because by definition celebration encompasses gratitude. And to be grateful is to be humbled. We can’t force ourselves feel grateful or humble and to try would backfire on us, but we can choose to celebrate and the fruit is sweeter than just the party. 

Shauna Neiquist in Cold Tangerines writes of giving two back-to-back parties and the ensuing chaos and stress, “It looked like a full calendar, a whirl of events and to-do lists.  But underneath it all, the month was a greatest-hits album, a collection of stories, one after another of the rich and gorgeous ways that God tells his stories through our lives.”    

My tendency before a party is to fret over the details, to see the baseboards or light fixtures that need cleaning or the walls that need painting, to worry about rain the day of the party, and to want to kick myself for volunteering my home..until I remember:  This is a celebration!   The same goes for after the party: I could choose to hate washing tablecloths or disassembling wilted flower arrangements.  Instead, I’ll remember to celebrate, to make it last, to remember the souls and their stories that graced my home and to give thanks for the lives that intersect with mine.