My son called me Saturday night on his way back to New Orleans from Angola Prison.
Now, before you get too excited, he wasn't on parole, he had just been visiting. In fact, his family, along with some other friends from their church, had made the two and a half hour trip to make a day of it at the famous Angola Prison Rodeo. Angola is the largest maximum security prison in the United States, with 5,000 inmates and 1,800 staff members. It is located on an 18,000 acres in West Feliciana Parish, close to the Mississippi border. The inmates put on a rodeo every April and October. It is a major event, drawing spectators from all over Louisiana and Mississippi to watch these tough prisoners perform as cowboys for a day.
I could only imagine how much the two grandsons had enjoyed the bucking broncos, calf roping, bull riding, etc. We had taken our own two sons to a rodeo in Huntington when they were small and it was really a great show. Surely this brought back some memories for Jay and created some new ones for Quint and Canon.
When asked how they enjoyed it, Jay replied that it was great.
Then he told me about the best part of the show.
"It was hilarious!" he yelled into the phone. "It was the funniest thing I have ever seen!"
The only thing I could imagine was that there must have been some awfully funny antics by the rodeo clowns. Surely he wouldn't be laughing so hard about some inmate being thrown from a bull or trampled by a wild horse.
He explained that at the very end of the rodeo, some horned sheep and goats were let out into the arena, and they were rounded up by Spider Monkeys dressed as cowboys, riding Border Collies! "It was totally unexpected", Jay laughed, "And it was unbelievable!"
Isn't that the way life is sometimes?
It's not always something hilarious, like monkeys riding doggy back. In fact, it often isn't funny at all. But we certainly do get hit with the unexpected... the outlandish... the unimaginable.
The unexpected turn of events can and do take us completely by surprise. It may be a financial reversal. It could be an accident or tragedy resulting in the loss of home or other property. It might be a family crisis, which brings your hopes and dreams crashing to earth with a thud.
In my case it was the diagnosis of metastatic colon cancer. "Stage four" the doctor said seriously. "Incurable" he continued, "but hopefully manageable for a while with treatments". These were words that I honestly had never expected to hear. I was only 54 years old! My third grandson had just been born a week earlier. I had only been on the ministry field at Westmoreland Baptist Church for two brief years. I was the one who had spent years ministering to other people who were sick. Now they were telling me that the average survival time for people in my situation was 18 to 22 months.
A week earlier we had celebrated Thanksgiving. Now we stood dumbfounded and numb in the shadow of a monster that came totally unexpected.
Life is like that. Full of surprises - and not always pleasant ones.
The key to situations like this is how we react to them. What do we do when we face circumstances that are totally beyond our control? Fortunately, many years ago, I had entrusted my life to the One who gives life itself. In fact, an ancient writer named John, referred to Him as the one "In whom was life, and that life was the light of men".
During the subsequent years, my only hope and assurance is that God is in control. I embraced His promise, "For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope." This was a promise that God had made to the ancient exiled people of Israel, through the Prophet Jeremiah, but it is also a truth that ALL of His people may cling to today.
Even in the midst of the unexpected, He is the one constant, and all that He allows to come my way, is part of what "He is planning for me".
Did it ever just occur to you that NOTHING ever "just occurred to God"?
As a follower of Christ, it is comforting to know that in the hours of the deepest darkness, and the most unexpected turns in life, God is weaving a tapestry that is of His sovereign plan and by His design. When we do not know what tomorrow holds, what a blessing to know the One who holds tomorrow.
Do you know Him?
You should. After all. You never know what to expect!