The surprise of a lifetime.

My beloved niece Sarah and her husband Craig announced this weekend that they are expecting their third child. Sarah has a wonderful creative gift and surprised her immediate family with the news by staging a quarantine photo shoot. Sarah and Craig were joined by their two children, her mother Kim (my sister) and her sister Meredith along with her husband Tony and their daughter. Lots of love represented in the picture. But at the moment of the surprise the photographer gave these instructions, “Let’s have some fun with this one. On three say ‘Sarah is having a baby!’ It took a moment, but the surprise moved across the faces of each member of the family. My sister Kim was a little slow on the uptake, but finally understood that this was indeed happening. I love the expressions on each member of the family as they heard the news. Surprises arrest our attention and demand a response from our emotions. In this case the surprise filled the family with joy. The joy of surprise is often immediately preceded with shock or disbelief, as was evident as each family member came to understand what was being shared. But quickly smiles were in excess quantity for those in the moment and all of us watching from afar.

I read about this announcement and watched the videos on social media, and along with a host of friends and family offered my congratulations. This moment of a joy filled surprise was juxtaposed with other surprises, but not so joyful. In the midst of a worldwide pandemic, I was saddened to read of the death of acquaintances, and other friends and family being admitted to the hospitals, sick with Covid-19. The world is full of such surprises. And perspective grants us the ability to view each of them and judge them as good or bad. But what we cannot mitigate is their timing, context, or cause. If we could they would not be surprises but events brought about as a result of our own actions. If we are among those surprised, then by definition we had nothing to do with the planning or execution of the surprise. Surprises happen to us and not because of us. I’m grateful for the joy my niece chose to lavish upon all of us through by sharing this wonderful news, and especially at this time it is welcomed with great delight. This also caused me to think about other surprises that await us. 

Under the guise of a “quarantine photo shoot” my niece Sarah (far right) sets the stage to surprise her family!
The moment of surprise! The expressions on each face are incredible. Joy is often preceded by shock or disbelief.

On occasion, I hear people cynically comment “We will be surprised by who is in heaven and who isn’t.” And although I understand the sentiment, I don’t think our eternal concerns will necessarily be centered in other people’s presence or absence. As a Christian, I’m convinced that Christ will be the object of my eternal worshipful pursuits and that this will consume my being in a way that benefits others and myself, but doesn’t center itself in them or in me, but in Christ alone. And this assurance continues to surprise me. I am daily surprised that I am fully known and loved by Christ and assured that my eternity is secure in Him. I am surprised by the knowledge that I will spend eternity in heaven with Jesus. My surprise is the result of a salvation that I have neither earned nor planned. My surprise is centered in a Savior who secured for me what I could not secure for myself. 

One day, I will pose for my final acts in this life and as the last snap shot is taken, I fully expect to hear my Lord say “Well done!” In that moment joy will sweep across my face because I know that relatively speaking I’ve done very little well. And what I have managed to accomplish is often clouded by insincere motives at best and selfish ones at worst. Yet because my identity isn’t in my performance but in the works of Christ, the eternal photographer can honestly say “Well done my good and faithful servant!” He will say this because the work that is being judged isn’t my own, but rather the good and faithful work of Christ on my behalf. 

Just as the joy that swept across the family at my niece’s surprise announcement was evident on the faces of those hearing the news, the joy that I have in this life because of Christ, impacts my disposition even in the midst of despair. Joy impacts my life. Genuine joy cannot be contained. And like those of us hearing the news of new life coming into our family had absolutely nothing to do with producing this life, I had nothing to do with the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, but now I benefit daily from the joy that it produces. I had nothing to do with His proclamations of peace, joy, and righteousness in the Kingdom of God, in fact, my every act and thought is juxtaposed in opposition to everything He proclaimed. But because of the surprise of grace, I stand as a beneficiary of all He has shared. This is the surprise of a lifetime. 

This summer will fade soon and fall will arrive. Winter will creep like an old man to a comfortable chair. And all of us will welcome this new life into the world as others lament the loss of life in their own families, and welcome new lives of their own. This year will one day be a memory. The crisis of this pandemic will pass, the economy will ebb and flow, time will tell what time has told. But the surprise of joy will not fade with memory. Because surprise is centered not in time but in eternity. So surprise someone today with a kind word, an unexpected act, an encouraging smile. You will find the return on your investment to be everlasting.

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