I was hiking with a friend on a trail through a rain forest in Venezuela on our way to Llovizna Falls near Puerto Ordaz.  I was fascinated with the forest and the things that I was seeing, but, when I came around a curve in the trail, there before me, not ten feet away, was a large, beautiful  iguana.  Neither of us expected to see the other and both of us are rather shy creatures.  I stood frozen with amazement; the iguana took off.  I guess I knew that iguanas are shy lizards and really don’t harm people, but this was not a common occurrence in my world AND it wasn’t on the itinerary of the day.

During travel of any kind, one must be prepared to encounter surprises along the way.  Itineraries are guides, but things happen that no one can even begin to anticipate.  Some people become very upset with changes, even those that  might be considered “good” surprises.  When one meets the iguana on the road, in the most unexpected setting, it is time to celebrate the gift of God placed before one.  Becoming aware of the surprises leads one to see that God is a God of surprises and brings fresh surprise when we least suspect it.  Travel is a good way to experience these surprises.

Pic 2I was leading a retreat at a church in  central Cincinnati, where  ministry  works  with homeless people in  the community.  The  retreat was to teach the church leaders ways to empower the homeless adults with whom they worked.  I was excited about this, because I had been involved with ministry at this church  when I was in college;  now, it  was a chance to see things 40 years later.

What I did not anticipate, and what became a mysterious portion of the journey, was  that some members of the homeless community came into the room, sat down, and began to take part in the retreat discussion.  Oh my goodness, this was powerful.  Then, they joined us for lunch, so I sat with two homeless men and we discussed our lives, as we had lunch together.  This was NOT in my lesson plan.  What a wonderful surprise along the way.

Some might have gotten  upset with homeless people joining the discussion.  It was certainly a different experience, and, some would say it was distracting and defeating.  I saw these participants as God’s way of making the retreat even more authentic.  Instead of talking “about” people, we engaged as full community to explore how God is present in strengthening the ministry.  God’s surprise was incredible authenticity that deepened the experience.

When we travel, we encounter the unexpected and the mysterious.  Sometimes we have things happen that just don’t seem like fun.  Last summer I was hosting a bus tour in Germany.  Because of an autobahn accident, we sat on that bus for five hours without moving, and then got back to our site five hours late.  I helped the riders  make it into a mysterious adventure.  I walked the bus, chatting with people and answering questions.  I kept calm.  We sang songs.  We had quiet times.  We prayed.  We shared snacks.  We worked to enjoy one another’s company.  We could have all gotten angry because things weren’t working the way they were supposed to , but, instead, we worked to encourage one another along the way.  The next day, bus participants wrote a song about the experience, using the tune from Gilligan’s Island.

So, as a former student used to say to me, “What’s the point?”  The point is this: when we travel, whether it is to a rain forest in Venezuela or the local grocery store, we go anticipating surprise.  How is God going to meet us on the trail of life?  The presence of God is celebrated through God’s creature, the presence of God is celebrated in the homeless, the presence of God is celebrated in transforming and reframing community. 

Enter into travel expecting surprises and  with the desire to make the most of each mysterious surprise that comes your way.  The experience becomes pivotal as we sit and ask questions about the experience.  How is my life different because of the mysterious surprise that appeared before me this day?  What transitions have been triggered because of this life event?


1)  What surprises did God bring to me today?

2)  How was God present in the surprise?

3)  How was my life impacted because of God’s surprise?

4) How does today’s surprise bring meaning into my tomorrow?

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