Published in the Rains County Leader on September 15,2022:
Spontaneity used to scare me – probably because as a child and later as a teenager, when I said or did something without proper forethought, I usually ended up putting my foot in my mouth or doing something awkward and embarrassing. As a result, I became an adult who makes lists, plans menus, and wants to know all the whens and wheres of an upcoming trip.
David, on the other hand, hates to plan. I’ve tried to explain that you miss some pretty spectacular events and experiences in life if you don’t make plans in advance, but he still prefers to follow his nose and see where it leads him. However, they say that married people become more alike the longer they’re together, and after over twenty-two years, we’ve both mellowed a bit. He’s learned that it’s a good idea to find out of someone will be at home before you go for a visit, and if the cook doesn’t plan in advance, he might not get his favorite German chocolate cake for his birthday. I, one the other hand, have learned that an afternoon motorcycle ride that turns into an overnight visit to Jefferson, Texas can be a lot of fun, even if you have to buy jackets because you didn’t plan for the cold front that came in overnight.
I recently experienced a lesson in spontaneity that will stay with me for a long time. Several times a year Believers’ Baptist includes a Family Fun Night in the schedule. In the past, this usually meant that, on a Sunday evening, we gathered on the parking lot bringing lawn chairs, outdoor toys and games, and desserts to share and spent the evening enjoying each other’s company. Earlier this year Family Fun Night was taken to the next level, and we had Church in the Park. We gathered at Sandy Creek Park where Red and Lori Lewis fried fish, hush puppies, and French fries, and the rest of us brought cole slaw, potato salad, watermelon, coolers full of soda, and enough desserts to send us all into diabetic comas. The children made full use of the splash pad and the playground equipment, and kids of all ages played football, corn hole, and other games. But mostly we simply enjoyed being together.
It was so much fun that we planned to do it again this past Sunday, but Pastor Jason found out that a vigil in memory of Gemini Howle had been scheduled in the Park for that evening. Out of respect, our event was postponed until the 18th, a change that even the most rigid planner would agree with. But the spontaneous part came when, during the announcements before the Morning Worship began, Pastor Jason extended an invitation for everyone to join him, his wife Stacy, and his in-laws Al and Winky at their home Sunday evening for a time of fellowship. He emphasized that there would be no food but rather a casual time to enjoy one another’s company. Stacy later said that, although she and Jason had talked about the possibility of a party, she wasn’t sure it was going to happen until she heard the announcement along with the rest of us. Regardless of how it began, the impromptu get-together was an amazing success.
Around 5:30 cars, trucks, and a couple of Can-Ams began to roll though the Shipp’s gate and park along their driveway. More folding chairs were added to the chairs on their deck, and games of basketball, baseball, and corn hole popped up on the large concrete pad in front of their garage and in the grassy lawn beside it. A cooler of bottled water was available, but as warned, there was no food until Psalm Harper showed up with a huge platter of her delicious homemade cookies. Like most social occasions, this one began in a circle of chairs with quiet, reserved chit chat, but fueled by sugar and the energy of the game players, conversational groups formed and reformed. One group gathered at the door of the garage to watch a rousing game of Jungle Pong which I can only describe as Ping Pong on steroids – a game that would have left me flat on the floor, embarrassed if not broken.
As the sun went down, the small crowd began to pack up lawn chairs, thank our hosts, and exchange hugs and goodbyes. It had been an amazing evening and a kind of revelation to me. I felt a bit like the Grinch who was puzzled about Christmas – It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags…What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more. My version was more like It came without planning, menus, and lists. All it took was a love for people and a willingness to be open and share what you have. I think that’s what I want to be like when I grow up.