I don’t remember where we had dinner. But I do remember how the meal ended. My father looked around at the finished plates, cleaned his hands with his napkin, looked at his watch and said something like, “Okay, guys there’s one more place I want to stop by tonight and we need to go if we want to get there before it closes.”
It was our first Christmas in England. My oldest siblings were home for the holidays. That day began a Christmas tradition we would repeat for the next seven years while we lived in the Mother Land: eating out and looking at all the windows dressed up for the holidays in downtown London. I can still feel the crisp, wintery air and smell the fresh roasted chestnuts on Regent Street.
I loved these moments. Family has always been a big dealio to me. When we moved to South America in the early 90s, my oldest brother moved to my grandparents in New Orleans to finish high school. We lived in Colombia for 10 weeks before we were evacuated from the country (a crazy story for another time). When we returned months later, my sister ended up going to boarding school in Virginia. By the time I was 9, my immediate family lived in three different locations. So when Christmas or summer rolled around, I always wanted time to stand still because that’s when things felt a little more normal as the six of us would be together again.
My Dad wanted to go to an old bookstore. So, we bundled up and headed out somewhere towards Covent Garden.
We seemed to be hoofing it at a pretty pace, snaking along cobblestone side streets, all wondering where this little bookstore lived. London is an enchanting city, there is no doubt. The architecture, the history, the hustle and bustle and swirls of cultures – there are a myriad of things to stop and take in as you wander its streets. And though we were on a mission, there was one site that had all of us stopping in our tracks: the Palace Theater.
Standing tall on its own, sandwiched between streets, the Palace Theater rises like a well-weathered and proud elder amongst the other buildings. Uniquely clad in red brick, it wore a lovely and inviting marquee that night of a young girl and a tattered French flag.
“Look,” my Dad pointed as we all took a much-appreciated pause from our city hike. There was a collective sigh as we took in the site of the West End home of the musical Les Misérables. I’m sure this had been something we’d talked about and dreamed of seeing – one of the multitude of to-dos on the living overseas bucket list.
My Dad began to turn our trajectory, “we should see if they have tickets.”
We all looked at each other. Getting tickets to Les Mis a few days before Christmas as the thick crowd was streaming in seemed very unlikely, but we gave kudos to Dad for his tenacity. We followed him to the theater door like ducklings and as the usher opened the door, I saw what will remain one of my most favorite life moments: My father opened his trench coat, and reached inside pulling out six tickets.
“Could you show us where these seats are?” The usher took a look at the tickets and offered a confident “Yes, Sir, follow me.”
We eyed one another and our Dad who was sheepishly grinning with the cool satisfaction of having gotten away with the great surprise.
Giddy, we followed the usher through the lobby to a side door. We continued down a strange corridor of steps and hallways until he opened another small door and the six of us emerged onto a balcony. My Dad had gotten us box seats to see Les Mis for the first time.
There should have been some kind of musical cue when we walked out onto the balcony, the moment was movie worthy in my 11-year-old mind, but the orchestra pit warming up would suffice.
Of all the things I remember most about that day, it was the smile on my Dad’s face when we took our seats and turned to him, with our waterfall of awestruck and thankful commentary – his love had found a way to surprise us and delight us all in one night.
I hadn’t thought about that night in while. But last week as Father’s Day approached, I was reminded of it. It wasn’t the first time my Dad had concocted a crazy surprise and it wouldn’t be the last. One thing I deeply value about my Dad is how he loves to gift us experiences, and they always felt extravagant, even when they were simple, but savory.
As I was reminiscing, it felt like God was reminding me that He’s kinda into the same thing – finding ways to surprise and delight me while hiding tickets to extravagant experiences up His sleeve. Maybe God is holding surprises close to His heart, waiting for the perfect moment to invite us into marvelous moments where we watch the curtain rise and we come to know His goodness far exceeds our ability to define it. I was reminded of these words I felt God speak to me a while ago:
Everyday with you is a gift – I cherish them all. I open each one fully, carefully savoring every moment of the unfolding. I take my time because it’s all mine. This sacred space – these moments, I never return my gifts, every one awaits your exploration. I have chosen you for this time and space – do you hear me? There is great intention in who and when you are. I have hung you in time as carefully as I have hung the stars – and least you think it was merely for my own devices and joy – I have suspended you in my timeline perfectly that you would have the best view of my goodness. I want you to know and see I’m good, and that I can be trusted, so you can be free.
I hope and pray for each who finds their way to this page, regardless of how magical or unmagical your father memories are – that there is one who redeems the places within that ache for a father’s love. May His goodness splash on your week in unexpected ways that you would know you are loved beyond measure and worth his most extravagant and costly gift.
Be on the lookout for a sneaky Father, you never know what He has up His sleeve.