How to save a Quinceanera!
I took a deep breath, looked at the young musician as he finished his last chords of a nostalgic bossa nova song. At the same time, I signaled to the DJ asking if he was ready. He nodded. I took my husband’s hand and together we moved into the center of the dance floor. Now is the time. Lord, help!
My daughter in her beautiful long gown, professionally applied makeup and new contact lenses, looked gorgeous and grown up! She sat at a chair in front of us while the crowd of teenagers gathered around, creating an audience for this long anticipated part of the program: the tributes. Here was our biggest dilemma: how do you shift the focus of attention from your 15-year-old daughter, to her Maker? How do you downplay narcissism and turn the moment into an opportunity to bring glory to God?
I looked at Victoria, big brown eyes looking back at me. I could almost see the thoughts written in her forehead: How embarrassing… I could die just about now!
I guess she had reason to worry. Her father, her three brothers and I, had downplayed her big day every step of the way. The boys because, well, they are boys. For my husband as an American—and a missionary—this 6-hour all-out fantasy was a considerable waste of money. And I felt that my daughter risked marring her testimony as a true believer. There are just too many pitfalls built into this party in Brazilian culture.
Gone are the days in which a quinceanera represented the transition of a young girl into womanhood. Today, it is all about showing status and a chance for boys and girls to start drinking and let their overexcited hormones take the lead.
But Victoria didn’t budge. She reminded me that every five years we celebrated her birthday with more gusto. We had a service for 200 people at 5; a party for both children and the youth group from church at 10. “My friends from school need to see that we can be Christians and still have fun; what’s wrong with that, Mom?” That was said with the adequate eye-rolling and emphatic voice teenagers seem to master early on.
The battle began. She wanted a princess party. A restaurant turned into a ballroom, elaborate decorations, fireworks, a live band. She also wanted to invite all her friends from school and church, her pastor, all her mentors and teachers since nursery days. Oh, and she insisted on having her Brazilian family—grandmother, uncles, aunts and cousins. For them this meant a fifteen-hour road trip, one way. This could easily turn into a party for 250 people!
After many hard negotiations and a few tears, we compromised on 130 people, traded a live band for a DJ, had a long conversation with him about the authorized playlist, had our friends at church chip in with the decoration and the cake, asked a friend to step in as a photographer, a few college kids from church pretend they were waiters. And yes, we had a restaurant turn their space into a ballroom. In the end, it worked!
But now, for the key moment. Could we really deliver a tribute to our daughter’s Maker without disappointing or even insulting her in front of her friends?
The song started. Its words projected on the screen.
The future awaiting you only God knows by heart
The winter, the spring, only He can chart
Let go of your lonely strife
Watch the beauty He brings to life
Even the little flower, her life a brief event
Is dressed in His glory with great intent
Tomorrow cannot rob you of today’s fragrancy
The secret is to live now, in Christ’s serenity
The music stopped and I told the teens about how God had used Victoria’s middle name to teach me to entrust her future to Him and not be anxious.
“When Victoria was born, I immediately fell in love with her and felt like this precious little bundle was perfect. My sister was in medical school at the time and had volunteered to be with me along with my husband. She frowned. She noticed the baby was sprinkled from the top of her head all the way to the tip of her feet with brown birth marks. Hundreds of them. Most were tiny, but there was one that covered the back of her head and looked like the Pope’s cap.”
I told the teenagers about our anxiety as we plunged into the medical road for discovery. At the end of that road we were left with some answers and much uncertainty. Victoria was born with multiple congenital benign tumors known as nevi. Even though they were benign, they could develop into melanoma. One in 30 children born with this condition would have to battle melanoma. Excising the birth marks was impossible. She may also present (and there was no way to know for sure if she had it) a condition called neurocutaneous melanocytosis which involves neurological malfunctioning which could lead to death in early infancy.
Victoria’s first two months were filled with doctor’s appointments, exams and bad news. One day I shared with my oldest sister how discouraged I was. We could not do anything to prevent the cancer from getting started. And even watching carefully for it, we could still miss and catch it too late. At any moment she could develop neurological symptoms. How were we to live? My sister said, “She will be ok, her name is Victoria!”
That gave me pause to consider the meaning of her middle name. We had chosen it in honor of a relative. Susana. What did it mean? I quickly hunted down my husband’s bulky Bible dictionary and looked up her name. Susana is the Greek form for the Hebrew name meaning “a lily”.
“I immediately thought about Jesus’s words. ‘Consider the lilies’”, I told the teens. “I knew now how we should carry on as a family. Every day we would turn all our worries over to God because He takes care of us and we cannot control how many days He has given us to live. So, Victoria,” I said, looking directly to her, ”we tried to keep your days light and carefree. You are a beautiful flower God has put in our care. All the days of your life are appointed by God and we feel really blessed to have you.”
I turned the microphone over to my husband James. “Can this mike cut my accent?” he started. The teens laughed, breaking the spell my words had cast on them. A few eyes were wet, Victoria was crying. It was a good cry of relief, appreciation and gladness. James then offered a prayer, thanking God for giving us a beautiful flower whose days are all kept under His loving care.
After that the sound was turned way up for our middle-aged ears. The teens quickly got in the groove of the music. Several college age kids joined them, a few parents and even two brave grandparents joined them. The teens would graciously open up space in their little circles to include the adults. They danced (or should I say jumped?) to the rhythm of the music for the next three hours! At last, the DJ said goodbye and cut off the sound. They were not ready to go!
At the door, several comments filled my heart with joy:
“You set a very good standard, Elsie,” said the principal from Victoria’s school.
“If every party was like this…” said the restaurant owner. “You proved that nobody needs booze to have a great time!”
But the best came from a non-Christian teen who shared with Victoria her impressions: “Your church is so cool! I really dig that they all came and even helped you out!”