A few days ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a wonderful surprise. It took months of planning to pull it off, and it went smoothly without a hitch. One of our closest friends was very surprised, indeed! His closest friends traveled from five states to a Nationals baseball game to surprise him for his 40th birthday.
It was pretty amazing.
In fact, this group of people is our closest group of friends too. We all lived in Austin, Texas during the same time. The group formed in connection to a campus ministry at a Presbyterian congregation in Austin. Then, after folks graduated from undergrad, for a couple of years, we got together every Thursday night for a weekly ritual to eat food, watch tv, laugh, and connect about things going on in our lives.
We are undoubtedly chosen family. We’re not a small group either — actually, about as large as an extended family. Now that we’ve married and partnered, we are fourteen adults and four kids. Since then, we’ve all moved from Austin. Now, we live in Dallas, TX; Houston, TX; New Braunfels, TX; Albuquerque, NM; Glen Dale, MD; Prince George, VA; Louisville, KY; and Ann Arbor, MI. Once every year — usually in October — we get together for an annual Friendsgiving to share a big meal together. Very special.
But this year, we changed our annual gathering for this birthday surprise. We bought tickets to a Nats game and all traveled to D.C. We entered the stadium together (and tried not to run into our friend!) Then we sat in our seats and waited for him to show up, knowing he would soon look for his family’s own seats.
When he did, we all stood up and just looked at him with blank stares. Then one of us said, “Happy Birthday!” He was completely stunned then completely overjoyed. After the initial shock wore off, we also told him, “Oh yeah, one more thing. We’re all staying at your house for the rest of the weekend.”
It was lovely.
All the particulars of the surprise and all the particulars of the connections were wonderful. Also that night, I kept thinking this: For months, we’ve been planning this very good thing for a very good friend without him knowing any of it. I wondered, how often are people planning goodness, not necessarily for a birthday surprise, but for our benefit. . . or for the benefit of the larger community. . . or the benefit of the world. . . without us ever knowing about it?
I am no pie-in-the-sky thinker when I view the deep levels of pain happening in our nation and in the larger world right now. Our birthday surprise, as amazing as it was, did not stop what happened in Charlottesville the same weekend. And many do not have the financial luxury to afford traveling across the country to visit a friend. Violence and inequity abound.
And without dismissing or ignoring any piece of it – we shouldn’t; we can’t – I still believe goodness abounds too.
It is there, right alongside everything else. And most of all, I believe in us working for its cultivation, even if others will never know about it, especially as it alters the violence and inequity around and among us. Sometimes, this involves hard work. Sometimes, this involves real risks. Most of all, this involves commitment – a recognition that people should be valued with goodness and everything it entails.
And sometimes, goodness can surprise us.
Look for it.