The week before Priscilla barely made it out of the car, we also nearly missed church. That Saturday evening she wasn’t sure she’d feel strong enough to go. She even alerted a couple of people not to expect her so that no one would worry about her absence. But the next morning she wanted to give it a try and she held up fine. At church she visited all around, asking people conversation-starter questions such as, “So, what are you doing for Thanksgiving?” In the process she discovered three people who had nowhere to go for the holiday that Thursday. “Come and have dinner with us!” she unhesitatingly told each of them.
We’d already arranged to host two international students, so now there would be seven people for dinner, counting ourselves. Priscilla wanted to entertain them at her customary fancy table, with china, crystal, silver, and linen, and they all agreed to help set up. Our guests arrived mid-afternoon on Thanksgiving, and under her direction they added an extra leaf to the table, put on a longer tablecloth, and set seven places formally, complete with name cards such as you would see at a wedding. Priscilla made an illustration to show where the various forks, knives, spoons, glasses, etc. should go, and our table setters followed it scrupulously.
We served pork tenderloin with apricot glaze. (While delicious, this was less than a tenth of the amount of meat Priscilla had prepared for Thanksgiving a few years earlier, when she’d roasted two 25-pound turkeys for a dinner for international students!) Guests brought salad, rolls, vegetable juice, wine, pie, and baklava. We served a cheese plate before the meal and ice cream on the pie afterwards, with jasmine tea, whose leaves could be observed uncurling in a clear glass teapot. After a few rounds of games, our guests reversed the process of the table setup. It took three loads in the dishwasher to clean all the dishes, in an operation that extended well into the next day, but everything else was put back to rights with minimal fuss. A grand time was had by all.
A houseguest arrived the next day to spend nearly a week with us. One day she and Priscilla unpacked the new 4½-foot-high pre-lit “realistic-looking” Christmas tree we’d purchased to make decorating for the holiday easier. They got all the branches smoothed out and the overall shape symmetrical without any gaps or bulges, and that was enough for one day. A couple of days later they put on the decorations. None of this would have happened if the guest hadn’t come at this time.
The next day, someone posed an interesting question on the blog I was writing. I’d begun it as a resource for people and groups who were using the study guides I’d published, but it had quickly been taken over by people who simply wanted to ask questions about the Bible. I was happy to try to answer these. The question I got that day was, “What did Jesus mean by ‘night is coming, when no one can work’?”
After discussing that statement in its context in the gospel of John, I drew this application: “So for each individual follower of Jesus, ‘night’ is the time when we are no longer free or able to be active in ministry. It can certainly describe our death, but it could also refer to times of persecution, imprisonment, or incapacity due to illness or accidents. The implication is that we need to make full use of every opportunity while we have it.”
This question was actually very timely for me, and for us, personally. Priscilla and I knew that the Grad IV Christmas party was coming up in four days. We’d grown close to this group of students, and this would be our last chance to see them before they scattered for several weeks for Michigan State’s winter break. We didn’t know what things would be like for us after that, in the new year. So we really wanted to attend the party. But it was going to be held at the same house where the summer Bible study had met, where there were accessibility issues. I shared the blog question, and my response, with Priscilla, and we both had the same thought. We could still attend the party, if we hosted it. Wanting to “work while it was yet day,” we asked if the event could be moved to our house. The students agreed.
We spent much of Saturday, December 7, 2013, preparing for the party, cleaning, organizing, and decorating a bit more. By the time the event was scheduled to begin, we had chairs deployed throughout our living room and dining room, and shrimp deployed on a platter. The students arrived steadily from 6:00 on, bringing appetizers, snacks, and desserts. Eventually thirteen of us shared in a service of lessons and carols and then a lively White Elephant gift exchange.
We had wondered how to bring the event to an end gracefully by our “bedtime,” which was now relatively early by student standards. But Michigan State was playing Ohio State that evening for the Big Ten football championship, and by 9:00 most of our crowd had self-selected to relocate to places where the game was being shown. The rest left after a few rounds of Catch Phrase. After a quick cleanup we went right to bed. “We told ourselves,” I recorded in my journal, “that by God’s grace we’d hosted the party and lived to tell about it.”
In the report we sent out to our Grad IV prayer supporters about this Christmas party and our other activities at the end of the fall semester, we cited as our inspiration a further saying of Jesus from the gospel of John: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to finish his work.”