The Christmas tree came straight off the cover of Country Living, the fireplace had fresh green garland hanging from the antique mirror just like Martha Stewart did in her 1997 Christmas issue, and carols from my CD Mannheim Steamroller: A Fresh Aire Christmas filled the air. I carefully placed the star-shaped salmon finger sandwiches on a silver tray next to the ‘lemon loves.’ The room was decorated immaculately in gold and red, and my grandmother’s Christmas demitasse cups were in place. Like my living room, I was also spotless and shiny, ready for my friends to ‘experience’ Christmas at my ladies’ tea. Beyond the social benefits, I told myself that this would be a spiritual triumph. I could take photos to be published in our next newsletter, and I could write a glowing report of how Martha (Stewart) and I wowed the French female population with our poinsettia punch and cranberry-pecan cookies. The doorbell rang and the party began.
So here I am, the day after, sitting in front of my computer feeling fat and not happy. The last of the dirty demitasse cups are still in the sink and my Christmas tablecloth is covered in crumbs from the chocolate turtle cake and with stains from the orange spice tea. Over a dozen women came and sipped tea and nibbled on my Noel delicacies. I asked everyone to share about a Christmas tradition and then I had my friend, Martine, share about Christ in Christmas. By all ministry and Junior League standards it was a grand success. So, why am I so blue, in a red and green season? Is it because I do not belong to the Junior League, nor do I have stock in Martha Stewart Inc.? More likely it is because I know most of the women left yesterday with a few more calories to work off in the gym and not much more. As far as ministry goes, this is not me. I invited a group to hear a message that was calculated and contrived. I had a hidden agenda. It was well hidden and cleverly disguised, but it was an agenda. I invited these women to come for tea and I presented the gospel message without their consent or necessarily their desire so that I could write you and tell what a good little global worker I am. Or worse, was my hidden agenda even more egotistical? Was it to show them how well I decorate at Christmas? After all, I have seen some pretty ugly Christmas trees after seven years in France, and someone should explain to them that gold, red, green, purple, blue and silver garland should not be put together on the same tree.
I did not take any photos of this momentous event, but I do have etched on my heart a feeling of not being honest. My personal desire is to share Christ honestly as I live my life out before men and women. Unfortunately, you cannot take photos of those moments, nor will you necessarily have glowing reports for newsletters. An example of this came last week when my friend, Nathalie, came over for coffee. Nathalie told me how her daughter, Roxane, recently asked her why there are always manger scenes during the Christmas season. Nathalie, who grew up atheist, told me how she told Roxane that it was because Christmas is Jesus’ birthday.
Nathalie chuckled and said, “Susan, I don’t know what possessed me to say that. I guess you are rubbing off on me.” She then asked if I believed in the virgin birth and why it was important. In a very natural conversation, I explained how in the Old Testament there was always the need of a perfect sacrifice to go before a Holy God.
“Nathalie, today you and I can go before God because He sent Jesus to be the ultimate sacrifice for us. God loved the world so much that He gave His only son that we would not be separated from Him but could believe in Him and have eternal life.”
We chatted some more and then changed the subject to her upcoming New Year’s Eve party and what dessert I should make. It was natural. No hidden agendas. But there are also no photos and no clear decisions—just little steps towards an understanding of who Christ is.
After thirteen years in full-time ministry I think that I am finally finding my niche. Organized events are good if they are hidden-agenda free and if they are an honest attempt to bring people closer to Christ in their spiritual journey. Unfortunately, my Christmas tea party was mixed with too many impure motives. Fortunately, God can use both. Next year, I probably need to chuck the Martha Stewart books and just have some friends over for coffee. I will put it on my agenda…
Epilogue (a few days later): I just spent the afternoon at my friend Carol’s home teaching her how to make Cajun Shrimp Etouffée. In between cutting bell peppers and deveining shrimp, Carol told me how much she appreciated the Christmas tea and how Martine’s testimony “warmed her heart.”
“I have never heard anything like that and would like to know more about this personal faith,” she told me. I guess the Christmas tea could be back on the agenda for next year.