The Joy of Surprises

Years ago I was traveling through Vermont with my family and we took an exit to stretch and get a bite after driving for a while.   On our way back to the interstate my wife saw a quaint, small country store and asked if we could stop and go in.   It was already getting dark and I wanted to get back on the road, but I had learned that unplanned side trips often resulted in special memories. 

We went in (eight of us at the time) and it was a delightful place!    (One of the special things about New England is the uniqueness of her out-of-the-way stores).    The kids enjoyed the candies, treats and toys.   My favorite part was the incredibly delicious pastries and the deli.  Paula liked the decor, gifts and candles.    We ended up staying there for half and hour and bought several things.

As I drove off I was glad that I listened to Paula.   On my own I never would have stopped there.   The reason we found it was because we weren’t focusing on speeding toward our destination, but enjoying present opportunities.

I learned the joy of surprises from my Mom, not my Dad.    Dad was a professional driver and had his own bus company.    So even when he was taking a trip in the car with us the goal was to from point A to point B as soon as possible.    (The truth is, most men are like this.    We want to conquer the record we set the last time we took the trip as if that were of great value.   I’ve have had to learn to fight the urge to think the destination is more important than the journey).

However, even Dad enjoyed the unexpected stops when we took them even though Mom had to initiate and suggest them.    He was resistant at first, but would finally give in to mom’s request.   (By the way, this is biblical.    Read I Corinthians 7:33).

The week before Christmas in 1986 seven of us began a long trip from Huntsville, Alabama to El Paso, Texas, a distance of over 1300 miles.     We were crammed into a small camper and Dad had purposed to drive the entire trip without spending the night anywhere, with minimum stops.

It was the third week of December and my brother was playing his last college football game on Christmas day at the Sun Bowl (Alabama played Washington).      We left in the mid-afternoon with Dad’s lead foot on the gas pedal.

There’s a famous barbeque restaurant in Tuscaloosa (only 150 miles from Huntsville) called “Dreamland” and Mom wanted to stop there and get some ribs.  This was barely two hours after we had left and she knew Dad would be reticent to stop so soon.   Mom put me up to asking him to stop there.

After telling me it was out of the way (it was) and would take too much time to stop and eat there (it would) he finally consented after some pleading by Mom.    What followed was priceless.

Mom and myself at one of our favorite places, Orange Beach.

Mom and myself at one of our favorite places, Orange Beach.

I went in, bought the ribs, and brought them out to the tiny camper.   When Dad smelled the delicious ribs his mood lightened!   There was a small table in the back where only four of us could sit.    We put the ribs on the plates and Mom gave Dad a big white towel to keep the sauce off of his shirt.   He loved it more than any of us!

We still talk about that trip and that brief detour to this day.   A special memory was made because we didn’t focus on the destination, but the journey.     I’m glad Mom taught us that lesson.    (I won’t tell you about the stop he made at her request at the Galleria Mall in Dallas.   Have you ever gone shopping after being up all night long without a shower?   The guys stayed in the camper and the girls went to walk in the mall).

One of the reasons we don’t enjoy life is because we are focused on the goal, marking off the items on our to-do list, and trying to accomplish our work as fast as possible.   We miss the simple joy of what and who is right in front of us.    We do not value the present. 

God compares our earthly journey to a marathon that requires a steady pace, not a hurried sprint (Hebrews 12:1; II Timothy 4:7).     Success is not solely about reaching a destination, but the journey.   What makes the  journey so important is that it involves people, usually those closest to us.

In our haste to reach an objective we tend to neglect our relationship with God and with people.   The journey is mundane, so we think.   We arrive at our objective and feel empty because God didn’t design us primarily to accomplish tasks, but to love Him and those around us.   It’s the unplanned surprises on the way to the destination with our family and friends that make life so sweet.

True success always includes joy.  Living for goals alone can become a competition and become drudgery.   Kenneth Taylor wrote, “Many have climbed to the top of the ladder only to realize it is leaning against the wrong wall”.    How sad to finally achieve an objective after a lot of work and time only to be disappointed, filled with emptiness and questions about the price paid to get there.

A song by Mac Davis was popular when I was a teenager and it’s lyric made me think about this truth even then.    Here is what he wrote.

“Hey Mister, where you going in such a hurry?
Don’t you think it’s time you realized
There’s a whole lot more to life than work and worry?
All the sweetest things in life are free
And they’re right before your eyes.

You’ve got to stop and smell the roses;
You’ve got to count your many blessings everyday.
You’re gonna find your way to Heaven is a rough and rocky road
If you don’t stop and smell the roses along the way.

Before you went to work this morning in the city,
Well, did you spend some time with your family?
Did you kiss your wife and tell her that she’s pretty?
Did you take your children to your breast and love ’em tenderly?

You’ve got to stop and smell the roses;
You’ve got to count your many blessings everyday.
You’re gonna find your way to heaven is a rough and rocky road
If you don’t stop and smell the roses along the way.

Speed and hurry do not enhance the joy of living; rather they cause us to miss it’s sweetness and richness. We’re in such a hurry to “enjoy life” we miss the little things that truly make it special and give us laughter and joy.   

Perhaps we make a bigger impact on our family when we take the time to “savor the moment” than we realize.   I realized this a couple of days after I was married.

On our honeymoon Paula and I were going to our destination in Florida and she saw an unusual store on the side of the road and asked if I would stop there.   We pulled in, walked around for a while and bought a few things.

When we got back on the road Paula said, “Thanks for stopping there, I really appreciate it”.   I didn’t think anything about it and told her it was no big deal.   I wondered why she was grateful for merely stopping at a store.   When I asked her about it she said, “It means a lot to me; my Dad wouldn’t have stopped but would have kept driving”.

For a minute I didn’t say anything, trying to wrap my mind around what she had just said.   I knew it was both a compliment and a sad statement.    As a brand new husband I purposed to adjust my schedule to the little requests of my wife.    Such a simple gesture with such a powerful impact.

This is something all of us can do.   Slow down and stop focusing solely on the destination and consider the little moments of the journey.   It means more than we realize to the people we love the most.    And what wonderful surprises are there for those that do.    These will be the memories you will most cherish.   Unexpected and unplanned, but, oh, so rich and memorable.

There is joy in surprises.    I hope you will make some today with your family.    You won’t regret it.

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About familyencouragement

Pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama. Married for 37 years with seven children and six grandchildren.
This entry was posted in Children, Decisions, Family Issues, Father, Friends, Happiness, Joy, Legacy, Love, Marriage, Men, Mother, Parenting, Time and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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