My wife and I had the most incredible experience last night. Out of the blue last week, our neighbors invited us and a few other people over to their house for dinner. It's summer time and that seems to happen more. We gratefully accepted.
In the small group at the time of the invitation, there was talk of bringing Martinelli (sparkling juice in a wine-like bottle) that us Mormons sometimes drink at times of celebration. Why we do this, I'll never know.
So last night was the planned dinner at our friends and neighbors' house. Thinking we might be attending a summer BBQ, we showed up in jeans, shirts, and sandals (it's been a very hot summer). Little did we know what was to await us. A picture speaks a thousand words.
Look at that table. Flowers. Fancy napkin rings surrounding silk napkins. Shrimp cocktail. Multiple plates. Gold-plated cutlery, and lots of it. Multiple glasses. We were seated at our assigned seats by invitation. That's sure not how we do it at our house for meals... and I suspected that wasn't the norm for our hosts either.
None of us had ever drunk alcohol, as far as I knew. Us Mormons aren't the only ones to be advised that way by their religion, but this group had followed that advice. Our hosts had our "champagne glasses" filled with Martinelli and he offered a toast. He mentioned good friends, good food, and good music (and that was the clue to why we were invited, but I'll explain that in a minute).
But the hilarious part is that when the toast was over, we all raised our glasses... and then didn't have a clue what to do next besides take a sip. I even heard someone say out loud, "What do we do now, clink glasses?" And so we awkwardly clinked. I wish I had a video of that moment. None of us seems to have been part of the "toasting" world before. We ranged in age at that table from 30s to 70s and we were all laughably clutzy about the whole thing. Now get that grin off your face and that "smh" thought out of your head and keep reading.
The hosts went even further. They had asked a couple of the neighborhood teenagers to be our servers. Great young adults. I noticed how carefully they served from the left and removed from the right. I noticed how they responded to our "thank you" comments, but were otherwise quiet and respectful of us guests. Not bad for a couple of 15-year-olds.
But there was even more. Look how they were dressed for the occasion! They were dressed as waiters that could work in any fine dining establishment, from their short, neat maroon aprons to the black bow tie. Our hosts were giving these young folks an opportunity to learn something they'd never done before. Our hosts were doing something FOR them while they were receiving service from them.
I can't begin to explain how touched BLOWN AWAY we were by this whole event. We had multiple courses served at appropriate times, including a mango sorbet to "cleanse our palates."
Our menu included shrimp cocktails on a bed of finely chopped celery. This was followed by a wonderful salad with a healthy serving of freshly chopped fruits on a bed of lettuce and spinach covered in vinaigrette. Afterward we had beautiful dinner rolls, followed by the mango sorbet.
The main course included asparagus, potatoes, finely sliced squash, and a wonderfully-cooked piece of salmon. We each had our own lemon with the tops cut off in the shape of a crown and the bottom flattened so it wouldn't roll over. These individual lemons were prepared so nicely just so we could squeeze the juice on our salmon.
All of this was followed by a "super yummy dessert" (don't hire me to write about fine dining in Zagat's).
Many years ago I spent $1500 for dinner on a group of about 14 of us (you do the math on the cost per head) and we never received the special attention like we did last night at this wonderful dinner... on an average evening... in an average week... in an average home... in our average neighborhood.
This morning when I woke up, I was still blown away by why our neighbors would do that. Sadly, our hosts didn't even appear in any of the photos I took of the event. They were too busy serving us.
What drives a person (or a couple in this case) to do such things for their friends?
I had a hard time fathoming how much thought, planning, time, and money went in to pulling this off so wonderfully. But I kind of had a clue as I had once worked alongside this great man preparing for a Christmas breakfast for a few hundred people.
It is the WHY that drives this man that is the point of this whole story. Thankfully, I heard him tell me back at that Christmas breakfast last year.
Last December I had been in the kitchen at our church with about a dozen other people. We were madly preparing a very large amount of food for our Christmas celebration. It wasn't just for members of our church, but the whole large neighborhood was invited, whether they were Mormon or not, whether they believed in Christ and Christmas or not.
I had been so busy preparing food that I hadn't paid attention to the "presentation" of it. When I went out into the area where the event was to occur, I was truly amazed BLOWN AWAY by how much thought and care this man had taken in his presentation, layout, how the crowd flow was designed, and on and on.
I told him I was amazed at how "fancy" it was (that's a high class word for regular folk like me), I told him I was amazed at how much thought and effort had gone in to every little detail, including that fancy (there's that word again) way the pineapple was cut in little boat forms. After all, this was a Christmas breakfast celebration on an average Saturday morning... in an average church building... in our average neighborhood.
Without braggadocio or any sign of pride, and in fact, with a great deal of humility, this man explained WHY he did it. He said something to this effect:
"This is a Christmas event. This is for our Savior. One day He will return and I want to be ready for Him every day. If He comes to this event this morning, I want Him to see that I love Him. I want Him to see that I took care of my brothers and sisters in the way He taught me too."
And there I stood, a little stunned, and in deep thought, as this good man walked away to make sure the eggs were presented well and there was enough for the masses to eat.
In the minute that followed, I just stood there in thought deep contemplation. We were having a neighborhood breakfast celebrating an event in Christ's life (His birth), but this good man was celebrating Christ's existence, His teachings, His love, and His atoning sacrifice for every little oopsie or colossally ginormous mistake we could ever make.
This man was celebrating the essence of Christ Himself, as a real being that would one day return where we could speak with Him, feel the prints of the nails in His hands and feet, and above all, feel His boundless love for each and every one of us. This man knew in his heart that the message of Christ's life, death, and glorious resurrection was not a myth. He believed with all his heart that Christ would one day return, and it might be to visit his life. Therefore, he behaved accordingly every day.
Back to our dinner last night. Here he and his wife served us as if we were royalty. Christ would have been very welcome at that table if He had shown up at that moment. I'm pretty sure Christ would have been pleased.
Now to explain the earlier "music" comment in our host's toast that held the clue to why we were there in this couple's home. This man is the musical director for our church and he's always looking for ways to inspire everyone through music.
Each one of us who were invited had participated in musical numbers in the church, whether it was playing piano or organ, or singing a special number in a quartet or quintet. We had participated in the church choir he directed. We had each somehow given of ourselves in order to give service to others, in order to uplift and inspire those attending church in some way to feel closer to Christ, to honor Christ, to bring Him to their memory and hearts.
This dinner was simply our hosts' way of saying thank you for helping in the services. And not surprisingly, he handed some music to some of us at that dinner to get ready for the next musical number we would sing in church in the coming weeks.
Our WHY we do things matters. Our driving motivation matters.
One of the great lessons out of the Book of Mormon comes from a king named Benjamin. He was the most humble (earthly) king I could ever imagine. Read some of what King Benjamin taught and see if it sounds like anything you've read from other earthly kings (or presidents or prime ministers or sultans):
"I have not commanded you to come up hither that ye should fear me, or that ye should think that I of myself am more than a mortal man. But I am like as yourselves...
And even I, myself, have labored with mine own hands that I might serve you, and that ye should not be laden with taxes, and that there should nothing come upon you which was grievous to be borne...
Behold, I say unto you that because I said unto you that I had spent my days in your service, I do not desire to boast, for I have only been in the service of God.
And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.
Behold, ye have called me your king; and if I, whom ye call your king, do labor to serve you, then ought not ye to labor to serve one another?
And behold also, if I, whom ye call your king, who has spent his days in your service, and yet has been in the service of God, do merit any thanks from you, O how you ought to thank your heavenly King!
~ King Benjamin, The Book of Mormon, Mosiah 2:10-11, 14, 16-19
So last night at dinner I was reminded again to thank my Heavenly King. The reminder came through the actions of a couple who act every day as if Christ might come back that day and grace their presence. They serve Christ every day by being in the service of their fellow beings.
I was honored to (re)learn such a great lesson.