I finally saw them! The mighty Niagara Falls, a bold-font wish on my bucket list. I went because of my husband’s surprise, a trip for our 27th wedding anniversary. The destination was unknown; I was told, “I’m taking you somewhere.” Knowing my husband would give it his best, I didn’t fret. Besides, his enthusiasm was infectious! So I just sat back and enjoyed the wonder of it all. The trip was a delight, and the end results far exceeded my expectations. From start to finish, the trip reminded me of the journey of life and the lessons sprinkled along the way.
First, the element of surprise was…surprising. It felt nice not to be a control freak! Because I wasn’t scrutinizing the details of an agenda, I could sit back and relax. Instead trying to anticipate every little thing I’d possibly need for x, y & z, I felt a lightness and giddy joy--even while packing. Mix and match and a couple of extra layers, and I was done. Both when preparing for the trip and once we were on our way, the surprise factor created an atmosphere of adventure, an added bonus to any vacation. Having my husband plan it all made it an extra special gift. I knew it was a true act of love and service because the cost wasn’t cheap, and my husband is an incredibly busy man. I was humbled that he had added stress to his already full agenda and depleted energy stores to do this for me. I was deeply touched by the gesture and would have felt gratitude even if the destination had been less than glorious. Just the fact that he went to the trouble to surprise me bumped up the generosity level of the gift. There’s something about being surprised that makes the simplest things feel more special somehow.
In some ways, faith is an element of surprise. We hope for what we have not yet seen. That hope remains sure because we can trust the love of the One who’s in control. Sitting back and letting God be completely in charge gives us freedom to pack light. No extra burdens. No strenuous cares of life to become weighty baggage to carry. No non-essentials to tote around, only never to use. Because we know God has good things in store for His people and that He went to great extents and incredible personal cost…a sacrificial human life, death on a cross, and a battle beyond the grave… to grant us eternal rewards, we can face our unknowns with eager anticipation instead of dread. We can rest in the journey because we know the nature of the One who’s made the plans.
The second lesson had to do with travelling to our destination. The trip began as planned, but shortly thereafter, we encountered a setback, a temporary lay-over that created a chain of changes in the agenda. Weather prevented our travel to an airport where we were scheduled to make a connecting flight. Because we were late getting there, we missed our flight. This, in turn, caused a delay in our arrival at the next location. In a nutshell, plans changed. I was nervous about the change, but my husband was calm, laid back, and encouraged me to be the same. So, we spent our extra time exploring airport shops and eating one of the finest meals I’ve ever tasted. Though the unexpected happened, we enjoyed ourselves to the full.
In life, there are setbacks. Plans change. Circumstances interrupt the anticipated with the disappointing. However, just because there is a disruption, WE don’t have to become disrupted. We can remain joyful and peaceful amid change. Here are some practical things to keep that positive mindset. 1. Remember who you are with on the journey. Relationship if far more important than schedules. 2. Add margin to your agenda. My husband had kept most of what he’d planned flexible. Because he had not filled every minute with hard-to rearrange plans, we didn’t feel the pressure of HAVING to get there on time. 3. See the bigger picture. There was a storm. Storms can bring damaging consequences. Why race headlong into something potentially dangerous if it can be avoided with a joyful wait? While we were peacefully relaxing, thankful not to encounter a turbulent ride or disastrous landing, other passengers on our flight were complaining about the trouble, grumbling about the airline, and blaming the facility. When you don’t see the big picture, perspective is often all about you. A mild inconvenience becomes a monumental issue and disgruntle at everything and everyone taints your vision. It’s so much better to handle delays with delight and pleasure in the present.
Once we were in upstate NY, we visited the Amish, a community I had elevated to near perfection in my mind. This atmosphere provided another teachable moment dealing with expectation versus reality. While there were some pristine homes with flower boxes and bright red, freshly-painted barns, as I had expected there to be, there were also some houses in grave disrepair. While one candy maker was as tidy as a freshly laundered suit and her wares displayed becomingly, others showed a much more human side, their bodies sometimes smelling of sweat and their bare feet mud-crusted. Alas, not every baked good was delicious, nor were the vegetables of a superior sort. The lesson? How often do we hold particular groups of people to a higher-than-human standard? We know that God alone is God, yet we expect some people, like religious, business, or governmental leaders, to have fewer failings than we permit ourselves. We don’t like facing reality when it is counter to our pre-conceptions, but sometimes, reality checks are just what we need to make us see one another as God sees us. Equal and of the same value regardless of our particular affiliations in life.
The final inspiration came from the Falls themselves. What glorious, thunderous waters! What exquisite beauty! What captivating wonder, showcasing the majesty and power of the Creator whose attention to detail is unimaginable! Niagara Falls were grander than I ever expected, surpassing anything I had imagined when I crafted my bucket list. The tumble of waters pounded into the river with such force that mist arose from the impact to ascend miles into the air. All around the area, small, spill-over currents created beautiful falls that, in any other location would have been deemed magnificent. Gallons of water plunged over cliffs to crash upon boulders below. The force was so strong that it caused the Niagara River to defy the laws of nature, pushing the current north, against the pull of gravity that usually bends the course of rivers toward the equator. Most shocking of all? This magnificence was fractional. In an effort to prevent erosion, a large dam blocks part of the water permitting only 25% of the flow to go over the falls at night and 50% of it to be unleased during the day. What must their unimpeded state be if, by flowing at partial capacity, they were so incredible? On the flip side, the reduction to the Falls’ cascade meant water and electricity provision for the surrounding cities. The tempered beauty enhanced the lives of those living nearby.
You probably see the parallels that came to my mind as I listened to the tour guide. First, what about us? Are we reaching our full potential to bring glory to our Creator, or are there yet levels of His magnitude that could be expanded within us exponentially? Secondly, are we willing to sacrifice ourselves to offer help behind the scenes? When we consider our outflow, we must know if the limited flow in one area means we have diversified to be better used, or if it means we have been hindered from being our all.
But the biggest lesson of all was in the majesty of the falls. They surpassed my wildest imagination. My husband had outdone himself, going above and beyond with his surprise, and God had excelled in artistry, manifesting His glory in the wondrous beauty He had created. He made it; we enjoyed it.
Sounds a lot like the end of life. If we will hold on to faith, trusting the Master planner, if we will endure hardship and setbacks with joy by focusing on Him, if we will surrender to His will and become conduits of His Spirit, then we will enjoy life’s journey and experience all marvels that await.
Tip/Tidbit: Today, make an effort to trust God with the plans He has for your life.