When I was a child, my father owned a printing business in downtown New Orleans. His office was two longish blocks from St. Charles Avenue, which among other things was the main drag for all the parades on Mardi Gras Day. For the family, and a lot of friends and relatives, the office location was a perfect spot for enjoying the day. Watch a parade, walk back to the office, have access to bathroom facilities and food, go back to the parades – it was close to ideal.
I was something of a Mardi Gras “rat” – I loved the parades, I loved the crazy people dressed up in crazy costumes (or lack thereof), and I loved all the beads, trinkets and doubloons thrown from the floats. And I could scramble with the best of them. I’d usually arrive home with a big bag, or bags, of loot.
One year, our next-door neighbors (Yankees from Illinois) had friends visiting (also Yankees from Illinois). And the two children of the Yankees from Illinois did not how to scramble for Mardi Gras loot. The kids were devastated – they’d seen all the largesse flung from the floats, and had come away with two pairs of beads, courtesy of a lucky catch by their father.
I had had an unusually good haul. In other words, I was loaded – beads, doubloons, plastic toys, trinkets of every size and variety. It had been a good haul, one of my best, in fact.
At breakfast the morning after Mardi Gras, my mother mentioned the distraught visitors from next door. And then gave me a questioning look.
That afternoon, after school, I brought a bag of loot next door. (And by “loot” I mean what was usually thrown from floats – the bag might have had a monetary value of 39 cents.) I explained that we had heard about what had happened, and we had plenty to spare. (Yes, I was in 9-year-old agony at the thought of giving any of my loot up, but, well, it was making my mother happy.)
You would have thought by the visitors’ reactions that I had just brought in a haul from Tiffany’s. Let’s just say they were effusive in their thanks, so much so that I ended up embarrassed.
I learned something that day. Grace could take the form of cheap Mardi Gras trinkets. I had given up some of my priceless “treasure” and had experienced a blessing – how looks and feelings of disappointment could change into excitement and joy.
The Yankees had done nothing to deserve it, had not asked for it, and didn’t even know up about, until I showed up at the front door.
It was a bit like faith, and salvation. We do nothing to deserve it, and yet it comes, often unexpectedly.
“Our religion never begins with what we do for God,” Brennan Manning writes in The Furious Longing of God. “It always starts with what God has done for us, the great and wondrous things that God dreamed of and achieved for us in Christ Jesus.”
No, a bag of Mardi Gras beads isn’t the same thing. And it probably wasn’t even the beads that were the real cause of the excitement, at least for me. I learned what a gift could represent.
Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been discussing The Furious Longing of God. To see more posts on this chapter, entitled “Giving,” please visit Jason’s site, Connecting to Impact.