Sunday, March 04, 2007

"Surprise Me" - It's not just for restaurants anymore

Anyone who's ever been to a restaurant with me knows that, when given a choice while ordering (like how I want my eggs done, or what kind of muffin I'd like), I will always tell the waiter or cashier to "surprise me". If they get confused, I'll prod them a little more by saying something like, "whatever your favorite is". My favorite time to do this is ordering at the Cage at St Olaf: my meal is usually the same, but then if I get a drink I'll just tell the cashier that I also want "a juice"; most of them get a chuckle when I pull the surprise line on them.

This past week, Terry Esau, author of "Surprise me: A 30 day faith experiment", visited campus and spoke at both chapel and FCA. Terry wrote his book based off an idea he had: the concept is that, for 30 days, he woke up every morning and simply prayed, "Surprise me, God", no strings attached. He still lived his life normally, still went to work each day, but open to the possibilities of whatever surprises God threw into his days.

When I saw Terry's name on the schedules, I knew I had to go listen. I'd heard him speak once some time ago on KTIS, but the opportunity to hear him live and in person (twice!) was not something I wanted to pass up.

What really touched me about Mr Esau's speeches was actually just how normal he was. Somehow, even though I should know better, I always just assume that those who are famous are somehow "different" from the rest of us, almost as if they're not human. But Terry was a real person. And he's a good speaker; highly entertaining, yet very thoughtful and intelligent, and he has that very calm, soothing, Mr Rogers-esque voice that makes you feel so relaxed and at the same time so intent on listening to everything he has to say.

What impressed me even more was Terry's outright honesty. At FCA he told us a story from his trip to Texas for homecoming weekend at his daughter's college. The nearby University Baptist Church coincidentally planned to start their own congregation-wide 30-day surprise me experiment that Sunday, and so Terry was asked to come share a few words during their morning service; he agreed readily, since, of course, he'd be in town already.

At this point in Terry's story nothing in particular stood out to me, other than when he made mention that this was David Crowder's home church, which I thought would be pretty neat to visit. Then the connection came. That was the day the church's pastor was electrocuted while performing a baptism. I remembered the story instantly from that day, but what I never knew until Terry told us was the connection that Sunday held to "surprise me". My point here is this: Terry wasn't afraid to admit he didn't have answers, and he wasn't afraid to encourage people to question God when bad things like that happen. 'The pastor invited God to surprise him, and 5 minutes later he's been electrocuted? What kind of surprise is that?' Terry's honest expression, his honest emotion, spoke to me as effectively as any of the other words he said that day. Admirable.

FCA ended, and, though I didn't rush out as quickly as I normally do, I didn't really straggle, either. But then I just couldn't leave Buntrock. In the stairwell, 10 feet from the door to the outside, I felt something calling me back, suggesting maybe I should go back up to the Caf, shake Terry's hand, and buy his book. I paused and contemplated. Now, I never carry cash in my wallet–it's quite the fluke when I have more than a few dollar bills in there, so I made the little "deal" thing with God: "If I have a $10 bill I'll go back and buy the book, otherwise, I'm going to head back to my dorm". Yes, of course, when I checked my wallet I had to start walking back upstairs to buy the book.

While I waited for Terry I sat down with Coach Nesbit, the 'responsible adult' for FCA, and we talked for a few minutes, just getting to know each other briefly. That was the other benefit of coming back: getting the opportunity to meet someone who may become one of my great mentors over the next year and a half while I'm at Olaf.

I bought the book, Terry signed it, we talked briefly, and I left.

Months ago, when I first heard Terry on the radio, I tried the "experiment" half heartedly for a few days, then let it go. I'm ready to give it a go again. Let the surprises begin.

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