Throw all the old fart jokes at me that you wish. I have heard so many over the past few days that they are almost welcomed now. And for good reason. As of last Friday, I hit the big “four oh.” Yep, I am over the hill. Poke fun at me all you want because quite frankly, I like the view from the top of this hill! The climb to the top was quite tumultuous at times, but now that I am here, a smile curls on my lips. I am wiser! Seasoned. I know where I am headed, and don’t you know the trip down any hill is a heck of a lot more fun than the climb up it.
So, I thought I was in the clear on a surprise party. I really did. Thursday was on my radar when I met a friend with his two little ones for a play date with my boys. Nothing there. I dodged my actual birthday on Friday after having coffee with three men in my small group. So when Saturday rolled around, my guard was down. I mean, my birthday was over! No big deal. I sat with the men in my Saturday morning Bible study going through prayer requests. I’m the one who takes notes over them all and sends them out, so I started.
“Well, praise God that I lived to see 40!” I chided.
There was a bit of laughter, then Craig, one of the elder members of our group, spoke up.
“Were you surprised?”
“Umm, no,” I stammered. “I saw it on the calendar the whole week.”
Craig realized his mistake and tried to right himself, but it only made things more uncomfortable when he followed that by saying, “Sometimes surprises are good.”
More awkward silence.
“Umm … Yeah?” I said, completely oblivious to anything being said.
Aaron saved the day, quickly diverting the conversation elsewhere, and we moved on. Little did I know that a fragile secret, nearly shattered to pieces, was held steadfast. And my day moved on. Dinosaur museum for the boys. Lunch out with my in-laws. Back home for rest time. Which, yes, daddy takes full advantage of over the summer to lay down myself. I was looking forward to a movie with my wife, a rare date night that seems to come once in a blue moon.
Alright, so Free State of Jones was a marathon. Nearly two-and-a-half hours and three bathroom trips later (caffeine was essential to survive an afternoon movie), we headed to my folks house for them to give me some belated presents. Which never really made sense to me. They had already given me their “big” present earlier. I walked into the house, my wife right on my heels, and turned the corner into the kitchen.
There stood nearly 30 people, family and friends, from all walks of my life. Church friends. Forever family. Old friends. Colleagues from work. And of course the shouting and chaos was too much for my sweet two-year-old niece who was balling her head off. My brother had driven his family in ALL DAY the day before to make it to the festivities. I took her in my arms, patting her back, soaking in the entire scene. It was truly surreal.
That first fifteen minutes was spent seeing more and more and MORE faces I hadn’t yet seen or conversed with. How in the heck did they pull it off? Credit was quickly given to the two masterminds behind it all: my wife and my mom. They created the guest list. They got people to park on the far end of the street, unseen by my naïve eyes. They somehow kept it quiet for over two months of intense planning. And even Craig’s almost spilling of the beans couldn’t mess this up! He had simply gotten his days mixed up, thinking the party was the night before.
That party was legit. My mom and dad did it up the way it should be, and amongst all my family and friends, there was no other place on earth I would have rather been. The lengths that they all went to in order to make this happen was beyond comprehension. It was most certainly a team effort. It made me feel important. Loved. And as my Dad toasted me later that night, it welled up tears of absolute, overwhelming joy. The whole experience—the secret, the fellowship, the laughter, the love shown—it was darn near perfection.
Reflecting on that night makes me think, wonder. What lengths do I go to show love to others? How about to my Savior? Do my actions line up with my words? John tells us, “Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions” (1 John 3: 18). That is my challenge for you all this summer. Show that love. With every step, every word, every essence of your life, BE that love to others. More importantly, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind” (Matthew 22: 37).
Guess what? If you love God, then loving others will come as easily as a toddler running to his father’s arms after being hurt. Wherever you are today, run to your Heavenly Father. His loving arms are always there, and He will show you how you can reciprocate that love. All you have to do is listen!
(Do you want to be that love to others and make someone’s day? I sure do. When I think of that overwhelming, forever love that is given freely by our God, I can’t help but think of Kristian Stanfill’s “One Thing Remains.” Listen to the song below and let it inspire you to show love to whomever God calls you to.)