It happens almost every evening. After leaving the now Middlest’s room from tucking her in, goodnights kissed with breathy prayers together, I spout out my instructions for the Eldest: “Grab your turtle! Put these books away! Let’s head on upstairs.” I spin around, having learned not to expect him waiting for me, but instead knowing that he will pop out of some secret place: squeezed between the arm of the couch and the wall, or hidden in the pile of laundry waiting to be folded. “Surprise!” he shouts. I feign my disbelief and with exaggerated gestures I scoop him up for bedtime. It is one of his greatest joys, and mine too.
These hidden surprises, these moments to jump out and shout “boo!” to one another, are woven throughout our days. And then there are the bigger ones: catching us off guard, these surprises may cause us to weep together, or gather inward. To look to the sky for answers, or to laugh in disbelief. This weekend was full of surprises in our family. Joyous surprises, full of exuberant celebration.
It’s Friday morning. I’m sitting at the kitchen table with the Little Ones, Littlest asleep in my arms, the bigger two turning farm life out of play doh. I lift my coffee to my lips but before I can take a sip there is a knock on my front door. This is so shockingly out of the ordinary that I stumble from my chair. As I approach I see through the window: this visitor waves and smiles wide. My dear, dear friend from England — here on my doorstep! Surprise! My disbelief on full display in the form of teardrops on my cheeks, I fumble with the lock for what feels like eternity. She is here to surprise me, to surprise us. To gather in celebration of my new babe; and to honor my sister’s thirtieth birthday. She is part of our tribe.
Now it is Saturday night. I am crouched low on the floor of the family room at my mom’s house, little babe tightly wrapped around my bosom, the Middlest balancing on my knee, the Eldest holding my hand. The room is crowded, and warm, and we all hold our breath. The door opens inward, and in simultaneously erupts with bellows of Surprise! My sister is launched into breathless tears as she recognizes this gathering of her tribe, this celebration of her years. I’m not sure who had more fun: those of us intent on bringing about this awe, this disbelief, this unexpected moment, or my sister as dear recipient of it all.
Life is full of these moments, isn’t it? While much of life comes down to repetition, the tedium of the everyday, it is peppered by the unexpected. Sometimes this is fun. Often it can be scary. We like to exert our control, and things happen that catch us off guard, reminding us that control may not be ours to grasp. Even in good things, control can be difficult to release. My sister relinquished control of her birthday by allowing her boyfriend and family to plan the festivities that would honor her. This alone can be a difficult thing to do, and I have often ruined my husband’s attempts at surprises because I have wanted too much control. I have not allowed either of us the gift of surprise in those occasions. I’m sure that if my sister had planned her birthday it would not have been as elaborate, and she would have missed out on the blessings of this weekend. She would not have known the depths and breadth of love for her, and she would have robbed others of the opportunity to be a part of it all. There was profound grace throughout every aspect of these surprises.
Life is made up of this balance of the predictable and the unpredictable, the expected and the unexpected. Too much of one upsets this balance. My sister alluded to this when, in debrief of all her surprise moments, she confessed that her heart needed time to settle back in on itself. Similiarly, routines that are not peppered by some shock become dull. Life catches me off guard sometimes. Even just this week my husband’s truck unexpectedly died, and now we are in search of a new vehicle. The timing could not be worse. Surprise! For now, I’m going to roll with the punches.
And tonight, at bedtime, it will be my great joy to feel the surprise when the Eldest jumps at me from a newly discovered hiding place.