In Latin cultures, there is a special tradition when a girl turns 15. A large party is thrown in her honor to announce her coming of age. She is no longer a “niña” but now a “señorita”.
Regardless of the family’s financial status, a family will try to go above and beyond it to make the day super special.
There are traditions where their sandal is replaced with high heels, a headband is replaced with a tiara, and a treasured keepsake is also offered. Tons of food and cake and the biggest dresses you can imagine are all part of the party. Little girls dream about their “quinces” the way North American girls dream about their weddings.
Those living in abject poverty might be the only ones left out from this tradition, but even still, there are those girls who dare to dream.
In our safe house we care for 13 girls in our long-term residential care. It’s their home, and we have had many of them since they were seven or eight years old. The idea of them celebrating their 15th birthday as a safe, healthy and thriving girl is a thrill for all of us, and as our girls approach that age we all begin to plan and dream of their special day.
In our home we also care for girls in our transitional rooms, which we affectionately call “visitor rooms”. These are girls that can be there anywhere from three days to three months while they are hiding from predators, waiting for their court cases to be determined, and/or a safe family placement to be located and approved. We count it an honor to serve these girls in their rawest, most vulnerable times of transition and my staff and girls have inspired me in their ability to welcome and love these girls well.
But…as I was writing all the birthdays on our family calendar in January, I realized that one of our girls in the “visitors room” would be turning 15 while waiting for her case to complete. And I noticed that was hitting a nerve within our home.
This girl had only been with us a few weeks and she wasn’t all that well behaved. In fact, she had caused a lot of chaos in the house. She didn’t really deserve a big party and to add salt to the wound, she would be turning 15 exactly one week before Sabrina.
Sabrina, on the other hand, had done her time. She suffered much in her little life, and we had invested many painful years in her life and were now walking in the fruit of it.
She is precious to all who know her. She’s kind, a great student, helpful and driven. She deserved this day, and everyone was brewing with excitement to share it with her.
When I mentioned the two “quinces” in a staff meeting, the decision was made to have a smaller, very simple party for the “visitor” and then a big shebang for Sabrina. After all, she deserved it, and no one was very motivated to throw a big bash for the naughty visitor AND it wouldn’t be fair to Sabrina.
At the same time all of this was happening, I had been studying a certain parable had asked God for real life authentic examples. I knew this was His answer for me.
I retold the parable in my own words to the staff. “You know the story where the Vineyard worker paid the same wage to the workers who only worked one hour as he paid to the workers who worked 12 hours. And he was grumpy when those who worked the 12 hours complained about it, questioning His generosity.
The kingdom is like this! We should be as generous with those who come last as we are with those who arrive first. Every girl on our watch should be celebrated, loved and honored regardless of merit!”
I realized I wasn’t protecting Sabrina but creating a first hour worker—the kind that God says, “Take your money and go.” This was an opportunity for her to extend the grace that she had been given. This was a chance for her to be reminded that in the Kingdom we don’t get what we deserve---that’s the law, not grace. And believe me, sister, you want grace!
I pulled Sabrina into my office and told her the whole story. She hung on every word. I asked her what she thought and if she saw herself in the parable. She nodded her head and called me wise. (smile) Then she helped me plan a big bash for our visitor!
Jesus told this story because He wanted us to know His character. He wanted us to understand the Kingdom.
It was like He was saying, “In my kingdom, everybody gets fed! There is always enough! Always grace!”
“I realized that the Kingdom of heaven is about being good and doing good. If we can discover who God is for us and who we can become in Him then we might get to experience the walk of grace upon grace upon grace.”
Matthew 20: 1-16
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?
Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”