“What is that?”
My neck instinctively swiveled in the direction of Nermin’s voice. He was hunched over the potluck offerings on the dining room table pawing at the Saran wrap covering a pea-green Tupperware container. His black and white pony-tail swished over his shoulder and threatened to dip into the Cranberry punch. His wrinkled nose, pursed lips and generous scowl evidenced that whatever he was inspecting would not be tonight’s menu highlight.
Nermin was new to the group and not so polished in the finer points of Christian niceties. We were still adjusting to the presence of one so unaware of all the things you couldn’t or shouldn’t talk about in a Bible study.
I still remember a month ago when Nermin showed up half way through our study on the Sabbath. He rang the door bell several times and before Belinda could hoist herself out of her Lazy Boy to answer he’d already opened the door and announced his presence. Harmon was preparing to launch into something about the radicalness of working from our rest instead of resting from our work when in walked radicality himself.
It wasn’t just his streaked pony-tail. It was that garish grin. It was the diamond studded nose and ear rings. It was the brilliant tangerine T Shirt proclaiming that Aquarians made better lovers. And it was just being in the room without being invited.
“I’m here for the group,” he announced. “I’m leaving my lover and pastor Jim thought I should meet some new friends. He thinks that if I get to know you few I might be able to handle the rest of the crew on Sundays. Told him I’d never been to a church but I was willing to give the group a shot. So what are we doing?”
Harmon was so tongue tied I had to step in, grab an extra chair from the kitchen and invite Nermin to sit by me. We’ve been tight ever since but he hasn’t stopped surprising me.
I knew the pea-green Tupperware belonged to Esperanza. She was a single mom who tried hard to put together something each week. Today, her container had an assortment of berries mixed in a yogurt of some flavor. Nermin had come from Finland three years ago and apparently Fins didn’t know such a treat.
“It’s Speckleberry Salad,” I announced just as Ben, our beloved deacon, gagged on a half-chewed chicken leg. “Esperanza made us a special treat.”
“Espie, do you actually feed that stuff to your kids?” asked Nermin as he wandered into the living room where the seven of us had settled. Nermin had already nicknamed everyone in the group whether we approved or not.
Esperanza unfolded herself from her chair, set her half filled paper plate on her TV tray, and walked up to Nermin. She gave him her brightest smile and then enfolded him in a bear hug. “It’s good for you,” she said as she snatched his empty plate. “I made it special for this group because it reminds me of who we are. We’re all different like these berries. We all have different flavors and we come from different places. But God surrounds us with his love just like this yogurt surrounds the berries. Together, we make a Speckleberry Salad.”
Espie unwrapped the Saran off her pea-green Tupperware, took a large tablespoon and heaped a generous portion onto Nermin’s plate. “Yes, my children eat this stuff. Don’t make judgments until you’ve tried things first.”
Espie’s Speckleberry Salad seemed to hit Nermin like nothing else. We’d discussed the Sabbath, Intercessory Prayer, Just War and yet there was something about being included as an equal in a group and surrounded by the love of God that struck a chord with his heart.
Tonight, our group was different. Nermin couldn’t stop talking about how much God loves us. He was filled with questions. John, the quiet one, suddenly found his voice and showed Nermin where in the Bible to find some answers. Harmon never got to his lesson on Sacrificial Stewardship and he didn’t even seem to mind. Belinda actually stayed awake the entire study. I’ve never seen Espie smile like this. Ben, our beloved deacon, actually took notes. And I found a freedom to pray for my brother like I’ve never known before.
I’d never thought of our group as Speckleberry Salad before. I’ll never stop thinking of it that way now.
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