I tend to think of myself as being pretty progressive, theologically speaking. I grew up in a very evangelical culture and somewhere along the way veered pretty significantly to the left. As such, I’m left with this weird love/hate nostalgia/shudder thing whenever I think back on some of the t-shirts I wore, books I loved, and songs I sang.
One such song that still occasionally flits through my brain before I can swat it away is a little ditty called, “Your Love is Extravagant”. It’s the quintessential worship song; slow, predictable and yawn inducing… And yet… I find the title line is something that I come back to more than most. Maybe it’s because I’m a gift-giver, (and the son of a gift-giver extraordinaire but the idea of extravagance is one that really hits home with me.
Extravagance is like Grace in practical application; it’s giving someone something far beyond their own expectation. Leah’s birthday was today. As part of the celebration, we chose to make use of a Half-Off Depot coupon she bought back in April for a Chef’s Tasting at a little independent restaurant here in Knoxville called Rouxbarb (They’re actually doing another one right now. Check it out.). We had never been, nor had we ever taken part in a tasting. If you’re unfamiliar, a Chef’s Tasting is when the head chef gets to stretch his culinary legs. He cooks whatever he wants, and you eat it. If you’re lucky, the chef doing the cooking will be Bruce Bogartz.
Tonight, Leah and I had one of the best meals we’ve ever eaten. Despite the fact that we’re both mid-diet (I’ve lost six pounds! Woo!) we decided that for just this evening, we weren’t going to count calories and instead would allow ourselves to get lost in the experience.
When we think of extravagance, it’s almost always synonymous with “expensive”. I think that’s because in order for a gesture to truly be extravagant, it has to cost you something significant… In the case of our meal, that cost was the years of training and struggle that led to Chef Bruce becoming such a phenomenal cook. But… how does a meal become extravagant?
I think the answer lies in the hands that make it. Supreme care was used in the creation of every plate that was brought to our table tonight. This wasn’t flippant made-to-order food, this was food that was pondered over, worked for, and considered. The food was imbued with the love that Chef Bruce has for his occupation. He gave willingly of his own time, effort, and energy just so that my wife and I could have a fantastic dining experience.
I think there’s a lesson in that… All of us have a passion. All of us love something so much that we daydream about doing it when we’re doing anything else. Find that passion. Get better at it. Struggle with it, until you have it mastered. I’ve posted this before, but Ira Glass has famously said something similar:
And then never allow yourself to give less than 100 percent. By simply doing the things you love, and doing them well, there’s no telling what kind of indelible mark you’ll leave on those that get to experience the fruits of your labor or watch you as you create something wonderful.
But… All of that said, and perhaps it’s still not enough. What does extravagance look like? Let me show you…
At one point in the meal I paraphrased Benjamin Franklin and said that Chef Bruce is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy… And I think that’s really the heart of what extravagance is all about. Pour yourself into the things you love, then let the excess pour into others.
If I may turn things sappy, for just a moment… my wife is the very best at pouring back into me. I can’t tell you how many times she has been the only thing that has pushed me forward when all I wanted to do was quit. When we first started dating, our favorite movie was a French film called Amelie. In it, they introduce characters by having a narrator provide a quick voice over telling you the things each character likes and dislikes.
For the first birthday we spent together, I was broke so I wrote Leah my own version of what her character introduction might be. It’s kind of become a tradition. Happy birthday, sweetheart. (For the full experience, read it quickly in a deep voice with a French accent.)
This is Leah Clouse. She is growing into the person she wants to be and makes no apologies for not being there yet. She has a gleam in her eyes that years of life as an adult has been unable to snuff out. The smirk that plays at her lips lets the world around her know that she can handle anything. And she can. Leah is smart in a way that most aren’t… Pragmatism and strategy collide, as she wields them both like machetes to cut through the tall grass of life that would try to slow her. Despite the fact that she could rush forward; she doesn’t. She turns and lends a hand to those stumbling forward in her wake. With fierce loyalty and endless devotion she ties herself to the best of her friends and refuses to let them settle for anything but the best.
This is Leah Clouse, and she’s not the same girl she was seven years ago. She’s fought for and wrestled with her identity. She bears the scars of those battles, but not timidly. She wears them as bright and unabashedly as the colors in her hair, and they do not slow her. No longer content with the easy answers, she trudges onward in search of the Truth; wherever it may lie, wherever it may take her.
This is Leah Clouse, and she is beautiful. Her body barely contains the sun that lives within it, her eyes shine like the moon. Her laughter rolls like a wave, distant and trifling then knocking you backward with its unseen power. Creativity flows from her fingertips like water; she can do anything she decides she wants to. Nothing can hold her back. Nothing can stop her.
This is Leah Clouse. And she is a beautiful, unstoppable, bad ass.