I was 12 or 13 years old the year I received a guitar for Christmas. Without question, it was one of my favorite gifts ever and definitely has been the longest-lasting gift of my life. I played it as a teenager and took it with me to college. As I write this, almost 50 years later, it is sitting in my downstairs hall closet still in pretty good shape. I even get it out and play a chord or two every few years.
Part of what made this gift such a delight was that it was a complete surprise—until right before Christmas, that is. I don’t know if I ever told my mother this, but a few days before Christmas I pulled out the box of wrapping supplies to wrap a gift of my own and found my mother’s list of gifts for us kids. There it was: Eileen—guitar. I was thrilled and disappointed at the same time; thrilled at the prospect of having a guitar but really quite disappointed that I wouldn’t have the fun of being surprised on Christmas morning. Instead, I would have to fake my surprise and excitement.
I’ve been thinking about this whole idea of the surprises in our lives since I came across this passage in a book I was reading: “Not all is certainty in our world . . . . If it were, there’d be no opportunity for faith, and then it would be a very dull existence.” (Britain, Kristen, The High King’s Tomb, p. 394)
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this because not all of our surprises are happy ones. What would my life have been like if I had known the ups and downs I would experience? What if I had known beforehand that I was going to have to travel through the abyss of despair—and there was nothing I could do to stop it? I wish I could say I would have lived my life one day at time, enjoying the good moments and not worrying about something I had no control over. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure that’s not what would have happened. Instead, I would have been terrified of life, worrying about every little thing that might have indicated I was sliding down that slippery slope.
Then there are those difficult things that, had we known about beforehand, could have been avoided, such as my dad’s falling down the stairs and suffering a traumatic brain injury. If I had had the power to prevent that incident would I have done so? Probably. But, more importantly, should I have done so if I could? Probably not.
This question has caused me to consider what my life would be like right now if Dad hadn’t fallen. Obviously, we would still have Dad here to be with us, particularly with Mom, although we wouldn’t have known what a gift his presence was because we wouldn’t have undergone life without him. But there are some very precious things we wouldn’t have learned if this circumstances had not come into our lives.
If Dad hadn’t suffered the brain injury and the dementia which followed, we would not have had the opportunity of seeing the Lord’s hand bearing us up in this trial. As we traveled through completely unfamiliar territory, time after time people who had the resources to help us were brought to our doorstep. (When I told one doctor he was an answer to our prayers, he replied, “You must be praying to the wrong god!”) This experience strengthened my faith in God’s interest and action in the details of our lives.
We would not have had the joy of learning charity, of loving for love’s sake and not for any reciprocal response. Saying “Love you” was one of the last interactive abilities Dad lost. Coming from him in his limited capacity to relate to others, those two little words took on a celestial connotation. However, there were many, many times when he didn’t love us; in fact sometimes he was downright mean. We loved him, and told him so, anyway.
We wouldn’t have had the privilege of taking care of him. I absolute cherish the hour and a half it took me to feed Dad his lunch one day. For some reason, he was more aware that day and remembered that he had worked with wood. Even though it was incredibly difficult to see my dad in his debilitated state—I always stopped to buy chocolate after I had been to see him—when we were taking care of him we were blessed to have been on the errand of angels.
It may seem strange to say this, but I believe this great trial was a privilege and a blessing for my dad, as well. Looking back, we can see that Dad was showing signs of dementia even before the fall. Knowing he was losing his cognitive faculties would have been my dad’s worst nightmare come to life, but because of the brain injury, he was never aware that was happening to him.
A couple of weeks after the fall, I was with Dad in the hospital and talking of spiritual things. He was completely present with me for 10 or 15 minutes, and during that time he told me, “I talked to the Lord and he said he has a mission for me. Plumb scares me to death.” I believe the greatest blessing for my Dad in all of this was his opportunity to sacrifice his own physical, mental, and emotional well-being so his family could grow and progress.
To be completely honest, even knowing the great blessings that would come to us because of this trial, I’m not sure I could have let the fall happen if I had had the power to stop it. I think that’s one of the reasons the Lord doesn’t tell us the details of our future. How many blessings would we deny ourselves and others by taking away the hard things in our lives?
Living well in uncertainty requires that we have faith, particularly faith that whatever circumstances God brings or allows into our lives are the things that will bring us the greatest blessings, even if we can’t see it for the moment. Truly, the surprises of our lives, both happy and hard, are among the best gifts God has to give.
Image copyright: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_subbotina’> / 123RF Stock Photo</a>