❝Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see-I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.’❞ Luke 2:9-11
Reflection by Clayton Riehle
Surprise is defined as “something unexpected, being caught unawares or off-guard, receiving more than one bargained for.” Often my first thought when someone mentions “surprise” is of something bad: a disappointment, an unplanned expense or an inconvenience. I do not like surprises. I like things all planned, neat and tidy.
Much earlier in our married life, Michelle and I had invested a good amount of time becoming certified as foster and adoptive parents. We had looked through the “blue books” full of children that were in the Foster Care System and that were available for adoption. As best we could discern “our” children were not available. We continued our regular employment and occasionally checked in with the county for updates in the blue books.
One day we received a call from the county saying that they had a brother and sister that were in foster care with a plan for the children to be available to adopt. The county was not sure how long it would be. The current foster Mom was getting married and needed time to renew the household status after a sabbatical. “Would we be willing to take the children in as foster children until they could be made available for adoption?” We were not interested fostering, but decided to meet this boy, almost three years old, and his sister, who was almost two. We met the county agent and the children at McDonald’s for lunch. It did not take us long to decide that we would bring them home as foster children, and hope and wait for the county to let us adopt them.
As the next eight months passed, we celebrated their birthdays, and made a Christmas vacation trip with them to meet our family and friends in other parts of the country. The plan to make the children available for adoption was slow and methodical. We all eventually made it to county court for the appointed day and time where the judge would make us parents of these children. Then came the surprise. When the reality of the situation crowded hard and close on the children’s maternal grandparents, they retreated from the plan and wanted to adopt “our” children. The grandparents, who until now had seemed satisfied with us and with the county’s plans, wanted to take “our” children away from us. They wanted to undo the months of study and waiting and praying and loving we had invested. This was totally unexpected, and caught us unaware. This was a terrible surprise.
Those children are adults now, and they are family in the deepest sense of the word. Our lives together, which began in surprises that were full of both joy and anxiety, have grown into a lifetime of surprises–some wonderful and some terrible–certainly not framed by all things well planned, neat and tidy. God’s hand in those surprises has not always been crystal clear, but God has continued to move us where we needed to be, and we have been continually surprised by the good things God has done through us and for us.
What I have learned is this: to be expectant, looking back to see God working to bring me where I am now; to be aware, looking for God working through me and through others for me; to be on guard, seeing through negative thoughts to some good in any situation and to note it well. When I am open, surprising things can happen.