Uncomfortable Extravagence

The first prayer I prayed like this, I’m not sure I would have even called a prayer. We had a salary that was paying our very modest bills and a quarter found on the street went towards our measly monthly entertainment budget. Both the cars we were driving were given to us, along with much of the furniture filling our $500/month cottage.

I was on a hunt for a new piece of furniture and was distracted by looking at oriental rugs on ebay in hopes that I might find some crazy deal. I remember thinking we’d never be able to afford an oriental rug and feeling traces of shame that I even was drawn to something that expensive when I could purchase a rug for 1/10 the price at Lowe’s that would serve its purpose just as well. A fleeting thought turned prayer came to me: Lord, would you give us an oriental rug?

(Midstream thought: I even hesitate to share this because I’m still working out these sorts of scenarios that have become a pattern in my life and, in my insecurity, I’m afraid to have you — the reader — perceive me as one who sees God as a genie-in-a-lamp who is there to provide us with a bigger and better version of our lives …and our stuff.)

I forgot the prayer entirely, until weeks later I got an email from a friend that went something like this: I felt a prompting from God to give you our oriental rug. If you don’t want it or don’t like it, I totally understand. You could probably sell it for somewhere around $900 and just keep the cash. When can you pick it up?

Though this sort of thing has become something I’m now more familiar with–at the time, it astounded me. I don’t even remember commenting on her rug to her, much less noticing it. It really was my furniture hunt that sent me thinking about oriental rugs. And this rug, that later became the fixture of our first floor living space, wasn’t something I’d angled with from my friend.

How did she know? She didn’t know. He knew. And years later of instances like this very one began to reveal that God likes to surprise me with His extravagance.

For much of my adult life, I’ve been subtly ashamed of the fact that I notice things like good-quality towels and natural-stone floor tile. I’ve shamed myself for eying what I know to be expensive shoes on a man or top-notch linens at a friend’s dinner table. From my perspective, the true Believer was to be a minimalist in both quantity and quality. Jesus’ instructions to sell your possessions and give to the poor trumped any picture  of extravagance laced throughout the old and new testament, in my mind.

So I fasted this part of myself, inadvertently. More like squelched it. There couldn’t be room for this kind of extravagance in the tightly-woven picture of God I’d constructed. And just like I treated anything else that came remotely close to what I’d broadly defined as evil or bad, I avoided it with fierce … fearfulness. Fear-driven paradigms, for me at least, are those I seem to guard with the most zeal.

In retrospect, I approached this part of myself much like I approached God. He had instructions for me to follow and there wasn’t a lot of color in the black-and-white world He created. Things like creativity, uniqueness, and beauty fell prey to the predator of “doing it right.”

The ironic thing was that instances like the one above kept following me. I couldn’t get away from them. A short time after this email from a friend and our acquisition of the oriental rug, we “fell into” the opportunity to build a house. When we thought we couldn’t afford a 2-bedroom condo, a miracle came our way and we found ourselves building a home that would suit a family of 5 or 6 or more. I’m not at liberty to share the details, but I will say that the person who gave this gift was a conduit for probably the most beautiful encounter I had with God.

The gift horse was uncomfortable for me.  For many months, while the house was being built and we were picking things like cabinets, light fixtures and bathroom hardware, I concealed this part of my life from friends. I was embarrassed.  I’d judged others living in homes like the one we were building and I wasn’t sure I could live with myself, even given the extenuating circumstances that afforded this miracle. I vividly remember unpacking our 3rd guest bedroom while on the phone with a friend ranting about friends of hers who had a home way bigger than what they needed as if she couldn’t believe they could both be Christians and have that house. I had subscribed to her thinking, and yet I all-but-heard the audible voice of God that we were to partake of this customized gift.

I justified myself–without violating the privacy of the gift–to almost everyone who came to our house. Then the Lord told me I could no longer seek to validate myself under the scrutiny of others’ eyes. He knew. I knew. Nate knew. The opinions of others didn’t matter. They didn’t need to know the story, then. It was my story. His story for me.

The rug and the house were a part of a much greater story. What I didn’t mention above is that I relished the opportunity to hand-pick bathroom hardware and loved selecting the stain of our hardwood floors. Each light fixture in our home had a story. Decorating was my art form and my outlet. The side of me that had so squelched creativity, for so many years, had also squelched within me the God of the creative. And, even though I couldn’t put words to it at the time, I knew that there was a side of God’s extravagance and creativity I was beginning to come face-to-face with which I hadn’t previously allowed to eek through my very-tight grid.

The stories go on, and on. When we had almost nothing in our bank account, God sent us on an expense-paid trip to Grand Cayman. When the last of our savings had gone to our adoption, we somehow managed a four-day stay on the Amalfi coast, on the way to pick up the kids. And not on credit.

Our God spoils us. With love. He was relentless. He spoke to the very thing He created in me and let me partake of extravagance, even when everything in me wanted to resist it. His love continues to prove itself to be more real and vibrant than my self-constructed view of His emaciated frame.

He is rich with love.

And, much to my chagrin, He has gone to great lengths to clasp His fingers around my hand and lead me, ever so tenderly, into fields of splendor.

Contrary to what one might think, these things have not left me wanting more stuff or desiring a life of luxury. Quite the opposite. They’ve left me desperate for the One who gave them. Even amidst my still very-real battles with shame over the fact that I have expensive taste, God whispers to me … I gave you expensive taste so that you would seek and find what is extravagant in Me.

I’m prepared for the day when God may ask me to give away my diamond earrings and I do expect that my antique corner cabinet — my favorite piece of furniture — is not a permanent staple in my home. While I don’t look forward with great anticipation to the day they are no longer mine (and I may need a couple confirmations to release them 🙂 ), I’ve also tasted the sweetness of “fasting” the things I love. ‘Cause all of these extravagance-stories–which probably could make up a book at this point–are not about the objects, but about the nature of the Giver.

He’s a relentless lover.

And when you’re relentlessly, recklessly loved, you’ll do anything for the Man who wooed you.