gifts in the unexpected
A few days ago I celebrated my 23rd birthday. I could pretend to be one of those people who doesn't care much about birthdays, who doesn't get all excited. But I'm not even gonna lie. I LOVE birthdays. I'm literally that little kid who has trouble falling asleep the night before. It's a day specially made for life-giving words and celebrating with family and with friends that feel like family and for cute new outfits. It's a time when I'm reminded of all the beautiful people in my life, and nearly brought to tears just feeling overwhelmingly blessed.
So like every year, as my birthday approached this year I began to feel that familiar twinge of increasing excitement and anticipation.
Until I got a letter in the mail. Not a cute, handwritten letter from a friend, but an official one, with my name formally typed in the little envelope window. BAM: Jury Duty. Summons date? October 13th, 2015. Ew. Jury Duty on my birthday. What are the odds?
I was bummed because it meant that I wouldn't be spending the day with people I know and love. Instead, I'd be stuck in a room full of strangers pretending to be Katniss and hoping my name didn't get called.
But here's the thing: I actually enjoyed it. It was so interesting to learn and experience that aspect of our legal system. I'd also brought my laptop hoping to get stuff done, because work is crazy right now. But after multiple failed attempts at connecting I threw in the towel. I reached down into the oversize-business-woman-purse I never pictured myself owning and pulled out my Bible and journal.
Here's the other thing: of all the things I love about birthdays, what I didn't mention before is my favorite thing. To me, birthdays are an opportunity to pause- for adoration of who God is, for reflection on His faithfulness and what He's done, and for asking Him what He wants to do in and through me the next year and where He wants to lead.
Amidst the unexpected turns of the day, God was creating the time and space for me to do just that- He was giving me a birthday gift. Maybe it was going to be a good day after all.
A few months ago I had to work in San Francisco for the day, where the company I work for is headquartered, but not my normal job location. I'd been feeling worn down and depleted from the daily grind of busyness. I needed pause.
SF for the day meant trading in my daily car commute for a 30 minute BART ride. I was beyond excited because this meant extended time for quieting my heart before the Lord, allowing Him to rejuvenate and give me rest. It meant time for crisp new journal pages and a fountain ink pen. If you know me, you know this is a little piece of heaven.
As my train approached the station and the doors welcomed me in, what did I see? Crowds upon CROWDS of people, squished like sardines with standing room only and absolutely NO personal space. To make matters worse, Mr. Grunge-Rocker-Hipster dude next to me had decided that 7am was the perfect time to listen to Metal/Screamo and he may as well have ditched the headphones for how loud it was playing.
I was immediately frustrated and even mad.
God KNEW what I needed. He knew how exhausted my body was and how anxious my heart was. He knew how much I was looking forward to this time, yet it was simply not going to happen.
I probably sound overly dramatic (tiredness will do that to you) but I was NOT happy. As I stood there getting jostled around by the movement of the train cars I stewed on the fact that what I'd wanted most, I was not getting. I couldn't give it up.
A few stops in, the car cleared just enough for me to grab a seat, and a few minutes later an elderly couple made their way on board and sat right next to me. I pulled out my Bible because 10 minutes is better than nothing, and just as I went to open it the elderly man began to talk to me.
One question led to two more, and I silently resolved that my plans were foiled so I closed the red leather flap and tucked it away.
What ensued from there was a beautiful conversation. Jeff and Cathryn were celebrating their 59th wedding anniversary with a trip to the city, as they excitedly shared with me. Pride and joy beamed from Jeff's face as he told me how wonderful his bride was. He asked about the Bible he'd seen in my lap and we began to talk about God, each sharing our thoughts and him asking some questions. Then, their stop summoned them, and that was that.
It's not like I led Jeff and Cathryn to Jesus that day, or even really shared the Gospel with them. But maybe a seed was planted. Or watered. I don't know, but God does.
But if you know me, you'll also know that I am in love with interactions like that. Meeting new people randomly and being reminded that random is never random with God. The nervous excitement of striking up a conversation with a stranger. Realizing that each step we take each day is surrounded with His purpose for us.
God was giving me a gift that day. All along, He knew what He had in store for that 30 minute BART ride. He knew ME, and He knew how to give me a good gift because He's a good, good Father. It just wasn't the gift I expected or even asked for.
Sometimes our own expectations for our lives come at the cost of blinding ourselves to the good gifts God has for us. We have our death-grip locked around what we want or think we need, cutting off our ability to receive or even see the blessings God longs to give us.
Think of that one situation you wish would just change. That one "yes" you need from God but aren't getting, and if He'd only give it to you everything would be okay. That kind of frustration can easily give way to hurt and maybe anger and eventually the temptation to believe lies about who God is.
Why would He let this happen? Does He even care?
Our willingness to surrender that which we yearn for most is a revealing indication of whether or not we truly believe that God can be trusted.
The good news is that He can be. He loves us more than we could ever imagine. And He knows the truest needs of our hearts better than we are able. The equation of those truths is that we can trust Him even when we don't understand.
Some of the things I'm most thankful for just so happen to be unanswered prayers. Because whatever I was begging and pleading with God to give me, He was withholding to give me something I far better, something I couldn't see. Oftentimes our dreams and desires are far too small for the abundance God has in store, and the pain of unmet desire He allows us to endure is the force which stretches our perspective to accommodate His much greater blessing, one that wouldn't fit into the narrow mindset we had before.
I want to live OPEN to whatever God has for me, even when it doesn't line up with my perfectly scripted plans. I want to continually surrender my expectations, so that I can receive the fullness of the goodness He has for me.
#BirthdaySelfie or it wasn't really your birthday.
Photocred: Heather Peterson. Thanks for putting up with my affinity for spontaneous photoshoots.