One of the chapters in my newest book, Too Loved to Be Lost, is about colliding with difficult people. It's called, appropriately, "Dents in My Fender."
So of course a collision occurred this week. Papa God loves to bring home these lessons I think I've learned. Poetic justice. A brand new whopper of a chink now desecrates my shiny chrome.
First you have to understand that Harry, as I'll call him, is the only brother of a dear friend of mine who passed away just last year. I'm still mourning and missing her every day. So when Harry emailed out of the blue (I've never been actual friends with Harry, mind you; in fact, I've artfully avoided him for three decades) to ask if Spouse and I would come to his birthday dinner in two weeks, I didn't hesitate. Of course we'd come. My beloved friend would have wanted it that way.
One additional thing you should know is that Harry has never had many friends of his own. He's one of those Mensa-types who's so brilliant he can't function on a practical level. Certainly not on a social level. "Blunt" and "tactless" are the two words that best describe Harry on a good day. He loves to hear himself talk. The handful of times I've been around him in the past, he's offended me repeatedly with his dogmatic leftist opinions and droning insistence of the worthless banality of Christianity.
I knew this. So what happened next shouldn't have come as a surprise.
The day before we were to meet at a designated restaurant for Harry's birthday celebration, he emailed me asking if I'd make him a birthday cake. Did you catch that this happened the day before the party?
By the grace of Papa God, I resisted my initial impulse to blast him with, "Are you KIDDING me? Can't you find someone who actually likes you to make your cake? Do you have ANY idea how busy I am writing feverishly against a book deadline looming over my head while working overtime at the rehab clinic to cover for my sick daughter, plus taking care of my 3-year-old grandson while his mother is down and out?"
Saved by a rhino-in-the-road prayer for supernatural grace, what did finally issue forth from my tapping fingers was, "Sure, Harry. I'll make you a birthday cake. What flavor do you like best—vanilla, chocolate, strawberry or carrot cake?"
He immediately responded that he didn't like any of those. Couldn't I make him a hummingbird cake? He had tasted one once and liked it.
"No, Harry," I painstakingly typed back. "I cannot make a hummingbird cake. I have never made a hummingbird cake. I don't have a recipe for hummingbird cake. Besides my shotgun isn't working and I'd have to use my bow and arrow. Those critters are so tiny it would probably take 10 to fill up a measuring cup. Here are your choices within the parameters of my capabilities: vanilla, chocolate, strawberry or carrot cake. Pick one."
His reply was a link to a hummingbird cake recipe.
"Give me patience, Lord," I prayed. I knew that hasty words spoken in anger would make the best retort I would ever regret.
Taking a deep breath, I wrote back: "Harry, I'm sorry but I will not be able to make you a hummingbird cake on such short notice. Here are your choices once again: vanilla, chocolate, strawberry or carrot cake. Surely one of these will do."
He responded that he didn't like any of them. Vanilla was too blah, chocolate made him retch, and he abhorred icing of any kind, especially strawberry-flavored and cream cheese frosting. Then came the request that completely turned the tide. "Can't you make a carrot cake but substitute pineapples for carrots?"
Okay, that one made me laugh. Thankfully, the inanity of this whole transaction eclipsed my irritation and after that, everything became hilarious fodder for Spouse and me to begin enjoying the absurdity it all. My attitude toward Harry changed for the better. I was able to see him with more compassion and subsequently treat him with more tolerance.
Even when I tried to talk him into letting me make Spouse's favorite dessert, Pineapple Comfort Food, which is an unorthodox but magical culinary delight of pineapple blended with cheddar cheese (in case you're wondering, this mouth-watering recipe will be included in the Too Blessed to Be Stressed Cookbook releasing this fall; hummingbird cake will not.)
"No. Cake. It has to be a cake," was his clipped reply. "It's a birthday CAKE."
Even when we arrived at the restaurant and I handed him the Happy Birthday balloon I had made a special trip to buy and it immediately floated up to the high ceiling completely out of reach. "Aaah, It doesn't matter," he said, shrugging. "I don't like balloons anyway."
Even when, while attempting to blow out the candles, he spit all over the pineapple upside down cake I'd spent another special trip buying ingredients for and two hours creating.
But you know what? Despite everything I actually had a nice time and would do it again in a heartbeat. Harry felt loved and celebrated by his six guests (all of which, incidentally, were Christians—that means everybody present at the table except Harry were dedicated Christ-followers. Not coincidental, I think. More of Papa's poetic justice. A divine irony which I hope wasn't lost on Harry).
And that's my point in Too Loved to Be Lost. "Once we can understand and embrace the magnitude and breadth of Papa God's divine grace, we can begin reflecting the nature of Papa within us. It's because of His grace toward us that we can extend grace to others."
So what's the big hooha about a little relational fender bender? In the grand scheme of things, of what eternal importance is the state of my bumpy bumper?
When it comes to grace, actions speak volumes. Love and acceptance of Harry by Christ-lovers, when the rest of the world beats a path in the opposite direction, are what will finally demonstrate the truth. The truth that Papa God loves Harry—as He does each of us—from the bottom of His heart. And His heart is bottomless.
Debora M. Coty is the author of 10 books and is a newspaper columnist, orthopedic occupational therapist and tennis addict. Follow her on Twitter @deboracoty.
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