Ten Cakes for Monte


I looked over my left shoulder to watch my daughter as she clapped with exaggerated excitement from the backseat. Her smile reached both sides of her face at the level of joy that she felt, and I felt my own smile mirror hers. I’ll tell you why in a moment, but for now, know that these are frequent occurrences for her. Like when we pull into the local ice cream hang out spot. Her enthusiasm doesn’t diminish in the line of ten cars ahead of us. The scoop of vanilla with sprinkles on top is worth the wait. Worth clapping for. Worth celebrating. Or when she sees the slide as we approach the park. The slide she used to be afraid of, but now squeals with delight as she goes down and runs to do it again and commands me to watch.The simple things.The things we lose our childlike appreciation for as we age and the wonder of it all grows dim. 

The wonder is still there, buried somewhere beneath the lie we’ve believed that these everyday moments are somehow ordinary. It is discoverable in brief glimpses, able to be tapped into when we lay aside our adult status for a moment and decide to take a turn on the swing set. The memory of the carefreeness returns much like the memory of riding a bike. With much ease. As close as the wind on our face, no matter how long it has been. 

In recent weeks, I sat in the nosebleed section of an auditorium built to hold thousands while attending the college graduation of a friend. Statistically speaking and if his past had a vote, we shouldn’t have been sitting there watching the event unfold. By this point in his life, he had overcome addiction and homelessness and the winding and messy road to recovery. So when his name was called, and he crossed that stage, I literally could have jumped out of my skin. Just mop me up off the floor over there in row fourteen. Tears for days. A heart that was exploding with pride and the fleeting feeling that the world is as it should be. A moment worth celebrating. Wonder and awe at this life and its beauty. 

Waiting with anticipation to hear his name called. 

Or like the time that Monte’s mom said she was going to make him ten cakes for his birthday this year. One for every year that he was gone during his incarceration. One cake for every year that he felt like he had missed the mark in life big time. For every year that he felt the weight of shame and failure and an unknown future. I will light these candles on these ten cakes, and I will celebrate you. I will celebrate your existence. I will celebrate the fact that you are home again and that your life is worth it. Even then. Even still.  

I will tell you why my daughter clapped that night. We were listening to a musician as he competed for his place on a popular show. She heard him strumming his guitar and the smooth melody of his voice, and she listened to the audience erupt in applause at the conclusion. What she didn’t know was the backstory. That his journey included so much heartache, making the bitter more sweet in this full circle moment as he sat on that stool under the stage lights and with a captive audience. She simply responded to the celebration already taking place. 

She clapped wildly as if she understood that something extraordinary had just taken place. I thought about how, as adults, we subconsciously make the determination of who is worth celebrating and who is not. We grossly underestimate who is capable of change and who is a lost cause. Who to fight for and who to give up on. We don’t take the time to get to know others who have different views and who have walked a different road than we have. We decide who is right and who is wrong and fail miserably to see ourselves in the person we think is nothing like us. No wonder we so often lose our wonder.  

We are too busy making judgments that are not ours to make.  

I lost a pearl earring the other day. Not just any pearl, but one from a set that my husband bought me. He knew how much I loved them when he chose them for me and wrapped them in silver paper that Christmas. I felt sick when I couldn’t find it and was relieved when the pearl rolled out from its hiding place on the tray I placed it carefully in. 

Here’s the thing though. A pearl has worth, regardless of whether or not I recognize its value.  

Maybe the invitation to our lack of wonder is just to respond to the celebration already taking place. Maybe the birds with their morning harmony know something we don’t about the wonder of this creation they inhabit. Maybe children still remember the secret knowledge of their Father that created them and entrusted us with shaping and molding them into people who value the people he does.  

Maybe there should be more standing ovations. Yes, for the friend you know that has overcome. Be the one who shows up and stands to applaud and screams like that obnoxious friend in the nosebleed section. It’s a moment worth celebrating. Don’t miss it. But don’t forget to cheer on the friend who is still stuck in failure and repetitive cycles of brokenness and struggle. Cheer for them too, because more often than not, you are the only one who will and it may be the very thing that pulls them out. 

Bake the ten cakes. Make every flavor and light every candle and be sure to take a picture too. Because people need to know they are worth it. Even in spite of their past and their worst moment. People don’t need to be reminded of their screw-ups. More often than not, they are overly aware, and there are enough people doing the reminding.

I'm going to decide to clap wildly because God says that every person is worth it and that is enough for me. I'm going to clap because even at my lowest, there were people still standing on the sidelines clapping for me.  

Don't overcomplicate the invitation to love people. Let's be people who bake the ten cakes. And light the candles too. 

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