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Christmas Countdown #1: When we least expect it.

This is a re-print from my blog of 2014.

“When you least expect it…”

When I was writing novels for Focus on the Family publications, the magazine editors would often encourage me to think outside the box by throwing various phrases at me. One editor put the phrase “when you least expect it” on the table. Man, I ran with that one; it explains practically half of my lifetime. You could probably identify with that as well, couldn’t you? We hear that phrase so many times. It can be used to describe an unfortunate event or disastrous accident.

True, but it can also mean the opposite, right?

An unexpected gift. An unthought-of treasure. An actual flip-your-heart-upside-down fantastic time that nobody could have predicted.

They happen to all of us. Not as much as we’d like, but when they do, brother, they are memorable events.

I remember one glorious summer in the 1960s when this happened to my siblings and me, out of the blue. If I recall, I was in the third grade at the time. Let me tell you about it…

My dad was a music teacher at a Pittsburgh-area high school at the time, and although he had developed quite a fine reputation as an innovative teacher and gifted bandleader (numerous bands of his were invited to parades in the region) he found it necessary to grab extra jobs in the summer in order to supplement the income in order to care for our family of eight. The usual routine was for him to set up private trumpet lessons and various tutoring jobs throughout the summer days, but this changed one year.

He came into the house and called us kids together in the kitchen. We were all elementary age children, excitable as to what Dad would tell us.

“I got a summer job,” he said to us, “and it’s a different one. Guess where it is.”

“At a new school,” replied Bruce.

“No,” Dad said. “Guess again.”

“At a summer school,” said Gwen. When Dad shook his head, she tried again. “At a college?” No, that wasn’t it, either.

Brent thought this out. “You’re gonna conduct an orchestra.”

“You’ll work in an orchard?” I asked. I wasn’t too bright.

Dad’s reply was to reach in his pocket and pull out a wad – so help me, a wad – of amusement park tickets. Enough to choke a horse. Our eyes went saucer-wide. Even my mom was impressed.

“Seems that I was able to go over to Kennywood Amusement Park and talk to them about taking over the band portions of the nightly parades,” he said proudly. “I’m now in charge of the music side of the evening marches!”

“You’re working at Kennywood!” shouted Bruce. “Can we come?”

Dad smiled and let us hold the tickets. “We can go every day. These tickets are free for me. Part of my salary, sort of.”

We staggered back against the kitchen table. We would be able to go to the amusement park every day! We would get to ride unlimited rides!

“And there is one other thing,” added Dad. “Some of the professional clowns in the parade were quite interested in using you kids as part of their act.”

We all blinked.

“Walter and the rest of the clown corps want to use you in the parade as part of a ‘marching band of clowns’ on a nightly basis!”

“We’re gonna be in the parade?” asked Bruce. “We get to be clowns?”

“Yes, all of you, even baby Brock in the stroller,” said Dad. “You’ll come with me to the park each night and the group will get you ready for the parade. There will be hundreds, maybe thousands of people who will watch you march every night, goofing around.”

We collectively fainted, right there on the linoleum.

No, not really, but we did become true-to-life clowns at Kennywood Park. Since we were “paid” in free tickets, I guess you could say that we children became professional clowns. I don’t remember any of us becoming proud about it, though. We were having too much fun, especially since money was extremely hard to come by, what with dad’s teacher salary and all. This was a dream come true for practically any kid in America. Free unlimited rides? Parades every night? Wow. I still am amazed when I recall this, even though it’s been over forty years ago.

It reminds me of God’s creative ways of blessing us. People are given various gifts, from athleticism to monetary blessing to good friendships. Who can predict what the Father will give? They’re fun. They’re unpredictable.

Yes, when you least expect it. Isn’t God that way in other ways?

For example, I found salvation in Jesus in the midst of a very rebellious time in my life. Who would have wanted someone like me? God did, and He pulled me out of sin when I least expected it.

I’ve been meditating on the teaching of Jesus found in Matthew chapter 6, particularly one phrase: “Give us this day our daily bread.” I see that I can ask for the just-enough sustenance – both physically and spiritually – to make it through the day. Sometimes when things get tough, that’s all I need to make it to nightfall.

However, I see the Lord delights on occasion to give us a nice thick cake with plenty of icing. Maybe some extra candles on top. These, or course, don’t come to us daily, or I know I would become calloused to His goodness. On the other hand, these aren’t non-existent or I would grow despondent.

God gives us just enough to encourage us and enjoy Him more. It brings the energy to the John 10:10 passage where Jesus tells us that we Christians can have life “more abundantly.” I’ve seen it through the years: a lost friend coming to Jesus, a great idea for a story, an answer to a simple prayer for the classroom, a much-needed one-day relief from a trial. You know what I’m talking about.

Thank you, Lord, for the unexpected surprises that brighten our day and enhance our lives.

God is a good God. I’m proof of that. So are you.

That beautiful summer in the mid-1960s is part of my memory of His creative energies. And if you’ll look below at the photo, you’ll see a picture taken during one of the summer parades. I’m the clown in the middle, with my sister Gwen on the left and my brother Bruce on the right.

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