|Bewee, Birthday Girl|
So earlier this summer I arranged a conference call between her mother, who lives about an hour away, and her sister in Nashville. The most important question I had for them was, if I do this, will Karen (a) never speak to me again (b) kick me out of our home or (c) seek to have me killed. Assured that my life was in no eminent danger, I solicited them as co-conspirators for advice on the date, location, guest list and other essential details.
|Little yappy dog|
Even though Karen and I live in a resort-style complex, the thought of using the property's clubhouse within walking distance from our front door never occurred to me. Hey, I don't get out of the house much around here! Praise God my frantic, breathless call to the clubhouse manager less than two weeks before the event was met with compassion rather than cackling: in the middle of wedding season, end-of-summer bashes and countless other reasons for the room to be booked, yes, the clubhouse was available for the night of Aug. 23.
Then the real work began. Buying the decorations. Selecting the menu. Defining the guest list. At night, while Bewee was asleep. I would sneak onto her iPad and pore over her Facebook friends and Words With Friends opponents to make sure there were no obvious invitees I was forgetting. I sent out invitations and followup messages via Facebook, text and email so as to leave no paper trail. Some of those who could not attend were encouraged to call in on FaceTime or Skype at a predetermined time to deliver their birthday wishes in person.
(BTW, I had no idea how difficult it is to provide a final head count to the caterer. You know not everybody who RSVPs is going to show up, some people will show up who didn't confirm, some folks are not going to eat at all, and others can eat enough for two or three! I have a whole new respect for party planners!)
Then there was the cake. After being totally shunned by one bakery department I won't bother to mention (although it was located in a county market), God led me across the street to a Schnucks grocery store, a big chain in the Midwest. There I found a young, enthusiastic artist-slash-cake decorator who totally got my sense of humor and made my wild suggestions even better.
I figured the most memorable event of Karen's 50th year – other than the surprise party, of course – was the mishap she suffered last April when she tripped over the hose while pumping gas (don't ask), fell on the concrete and broke her left arm in three places. The accident required a subsequent operation to insert a metal plate and nine screws into her damaged wing.
How about a cake showing her left arm with the stitches? Giving the "thumb's up" sign? Holding balloons? Do you think that's too over the top?
|I don't know – what do you think?|
To pull off the ruse, Karen's mother called her several days earlier and said she and Dad wanted to take us to a favorite restaurant, The Beach House, for her birthday. Karen leaped at the invitation. Days later Mom called again to confirm the reservation time – exactly one hour later than the start of the party, to ensure we would leave home on time.
As we're driving out of the complex, I come up with a good cockamamie story. "OH! Drat!" I exclaim. "I'm sorry, honey. I totally forgot. They want me to drop off my key to the fitness center this weekend at the clubhouse because they're changing the locks. It will just take a second."
Bewee grumbled, but agreed. I must say, the funniest moment of the evening for me was watching my father-in-law and Karen's teenage sister, Emma, scramble over each other to get back inside the clubhouse when they spotted our car approaching.
I ran inside, made sure everyone was prepared, then ran back outside. "Honey, get out of the car for a second, please," I said. "You've got to see this!"
"We're going to be late," she muttered. "Why couldn't you have done this earlier in the day?"
Seconds later, she realized what was going on and responded just the way I had predicted. First shock, then self-consciousness, delight – and a jolt of reality.
"Does this mean," she asked, "we're not going to The Beach House?"
That may have been the only flaw in an otherwise joyous, memorable evening.
* * *
Now I told you all that to tell you this.
I was bitterly disappointed not to have a party for my 60th birthday a year ago. I told Karen as much. I realize that logistically, geographically, it would have been a near-impossible task to pull off satisfactorily. But who cares? It was my BIRTHDAY! The sixtieth! And after receiving a successful kidney transplant two years before, effectively cheating misery and death while prolonging my life, I believed something verrrry special was in order.
I held onto that bitterness and disappointment for some time, I'm embarrassed to admit. And maybe a therapist might determine the real reason I wanted to throw a party for Karen was some twisted form of passive-aggressive behavior. Whatever.
Here's what I know for certain: The whole process of arranging her surprise, right down to the tiniest detail, gave me so much more pure joy than I ever expected. I really got into it, and all the stress and clandestine work became labors of love.
I enjoyed planning Bewee's bash far more than I would have reveled in having a party of my own. Who knew? That Jesus guy, He really knew. In Acts 20:35, He tells us that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
In a society seemingly gone mad with receivers, that's a bit of wisdom always worth remembering.
Happy Birthday, Bewee.