The lights were on in the kitchen as I pulled up to my older sister Erin’s house, through the front windows I could see pink streamers twisted and dangling from the ceiling. We were gathering as a family to celebrate my mom’s birthday, and I was running late after a last minute grocery store treasure hunt for haricot vert green beans. I had this grand plan of leisurely cooking all afternoon with my sister after weeks of not having much time together. Instead, I rushed in thirty minutes before mom and dad were set to arrive and went to work sautéing the green beans that would soon be wrapped in maple coated bacon and served alongside the other dishes my three sisters were bringing.
We had been planning for weeks to create an evening that would make my incredible mom feel as special as she is –someone who has spent her whole life caring for her family and affirming us when we needed a cheerleader. The scene was set for a perfect evening and one by one sisters, brother-in-laws, and fiancés arrived at the party. Erin and I were tag teaming with cooking and, unfortunately, in all the excitement of having the whole family together I cooked the bacon too long. I guess it would have to be bacon topped green beans rather than bacon-wrapped haricot verts. We finally sat down for dinner and as we cut into our beautifully grilled teriyaki chicken, we realized it needed to go back on the grill to keep us from family food poisoning. Oops, so much for a perfectly executed gourmet meal. But we didn’t let this curb our enthusiasm. Erin is a master of hospitality and rolling with the punches; she has that ability, like our mom, to make everything magically come together.
Despite the culinary bloopers in preparing dinner, we finished enjoying the main course and moved to dessert. My mom is an exceptionally health conscious person, interested in the organic grocery store section long before it became popular. She is one of the most beautiful, skinny 50-somethings I know, but she can certainly pound a movie theatre box of Hot Tamales before the previews are over. So it seemed appropriate on her birthday that in addition to having her favorite Italian Cream Cake, we would each present her with her favorite candy after sharing a story of how we felt loved by her in the last year of life. One by one, we went around the table and paid tribute to her ‘sweetness’ with stories of care: a listening ear, a home-cooked meal at just the right time, spiritual encouragement, patience and many other acts of kindness that changed the course of a day in our lives.
There was so much beauty in having all my family at one table, a rare occasion indeed to have all four sisters and all our significant others by our side. There was so much beauty in the meal we prepared, as imperfect as it was, as we all contributed our parts to create a feast. There was so much beauty in having mom’s favorite Italian Cream Cake and red striped straws for our Prosecco toast and all the other touches of hospitality. But the most beautiful part of the evening was watching someone be richly affirmed by people who mean so much to them.
There are so many artful ways we can show care for our friends and family, but what about the art of affirmation? When was the last time you felt deeply affirmed for who you were created to be and felt known for the way you offer your gifts into the world. Perhaps the better question is when was the last time you deeply affirmed those around you? I would venture to say that writing a note to tell someone how he or she has encouraged or inspired you could be the greatest work of art you create this month. Yes, birthdays are a great time to stop and have an excuse to tell people why we love them so much, but as we continue to pursue artful, faithful lives, let’s be a community of folks that pulls out the pink streamers and celebrates each other no matter what day it is.