Mavis checked her reflection one more time. The party wasn’t her idea – not that turning eighty shouldn’t be celebrated, but since Henry’s death, she’d let her last two birthdays pass by quietly.
“Well, old girl, not much we can do ‘bout those wrinkles.” Content with what she saw, Mavis grabbed her purse and shawl, locking the door to her apartment as she left.
SURPRISE! The church hall resonated with more hoots and hollers than she would have thought possible in one room. Her oldest daughter, Ellen, stepped forward and led her to a chair, decorated with streamers and balloons.
“You promised a quiet celebration, dear,” Mavis gave a wink and then smiled, “but this is nice.”
As she sat, her gaze fell upon the room filled with familiar faces. Her family sat front row, faces beaming with excitement.
“Mom,” Ellen spoke through a mic, quieting the crowd in the process, “we wanted to use your birthday party as an opportunity to show the impact you’ve made on our lives.”
“All of us here in this room are better people because of you. We’d like to give everyone a chance to tell you why.”
Ten-year-old Sarah carefully brought her grandma tea in a patterned china cup and saucer, with one of Mavis’ favorite biscuits on the side. Four-year-old Benjamin darted up with a box of tissues, then back to the safety of his father’s lap.
Chuckling, Mavis held the box in the air. “Think I might be needing these?”
Ellen continued. “Now that you have those important things, we’ll begin.”
“We know you’ve always longed to be a missionary; to travel to foreign countries, telling people about the love of God.” Ellen paused with a smile. “I remember you telling us how the mission’s board denied your application and how you came to the realization God was telling you to “just stay put”.
“We’ve watched how you get teary-eyed when missionaries come to our church, how you seem to drift off in your imagination, like you’re mentally placing yourself in the pictures they show. Even though you’ve carried that longing in your heart through the years, it’s never stopped you from reaching out.”
Ellen paused for effect. “So… we’re here to say thanks for listening; for surrendering your desires and being obedient to God. You are a missionary to us.”
Mavis noticed heads nodding in agreement, a few women dabbing their eyes with tissues.
Without invitation, people got out of their seats making their way to the microphone.
Mavis took a deep breath to steady her emotions. Her dear friend, Charlie, was first of many to speak.
“We were new in town. You helped us get settled, staying with the kids while we both had to look for work…”
“While Henry fixed our car, for free, you loaded up the trunk with groceries. We hadn’t known what we were going to do…”
“The night my Bill died, you sat with me in his hospital room, telling me where he was going and how I could get there too…”
“I’ll never forget how you went with me to the penitentiary every month for two years to visit my son after he was sentenced. Now that he’s out, Mike is studying to be a pastor because of the love you and Henry showed us…”
Story after story, brought Mavis joy and tears. They had all been such small sacrifices of her time.
The crowd hushed as Leah stood to the mic.
“I was homeless and pregnant when I stopped by your gas station for a drink all those years ago. Somehow you asked the right questions. Before I knew it, you had invited me into your home…” Leah struggled to keep talking through her tears. “Last year my son and his wife were sent to an unreached people group in Asia, as missionaries. If it hadn’t been for your timely love and care, Mavis, I would have had an abortion…”
Mavis couldn’t stay put. She stood and pulled Leah into her arms. Sobbing, Leah managed, “thanks for showing me the love of God, Mavis.”
The stories went on awhile longer and then in celebration of what God had done in all of their lives, they joined hands and sang Mavis’ favorite hymn, “To God Be the Glory”.
Yes, God had said, “stay”. It had been the first of many desires she’d surrendered in her life.
With a grateful heart, she looked around her. “Imagine if I hadn’t.”
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