He handed me a book by Terry Esau titled Surprise Me. He told me Esau's daughter went to UBC and had spoken with him about the book, which is basically the author's journal after he decided to take it upon himself to pray a simple prayer every morning, "Surprise Me, God," and to journal the experience for forty days. He was encouraging church communities to do the same. Kyle told me he was thinking about doing this and wanted to know what I thought. The plan was to have the UBC community individually pray the prayer at the beginning of every day, and to keep our eyes open to God's work in our lives. We would then have a community blog where we could journal our thoughts.
Because so many churches were latching on to "The Forty Days of Purpose," based on The Purpose Driven Life, I was a little hesitant. But skimming through Esau's book I realized this was something totally different. It seemed as if he had absolutely no agenda to sell other than that he wanted people to know that God was a God of life and that he still desires to be active in our right-now. I told Kyle that I felt on one hand that this could end up being the absolute corniest thing we've ever done. On the other hand, if we approached it reverently and with non-cynical eyes that it could also be the most meaningful. He said he agreed and decided we'd do it.
Sunday came and since Esau was in town for Baylor Homecoming, Kyle had him share a few brief words about the experiment. After telling the congregation how excited he was about this Kyle then prayed a prayer for it and, from what I understand, the end of the prayer was simply, "Surprise Me, God."
And what happened next is the burden we've all been carrying for five months now.
We went the greater part of those five months not addressing the whole "Surprise Me" deal. We didn't avoid it, but it wasn't something we wanted our minds running to either. Of course there were those on the outside who showed the horrible things in their insides by trying to connect the dots between Kyle's last prayer and the accident, but for the most part we let them say what they would say and then quietly fade into oblivion. These people are like vultures-- they prey on the defenseless, but go away when they see life and vitality coming out of their intended victims. They need their beliefs validated, so they'll move to and fro between accident to accident. Their talk was hurtful, but they've long since moved on while we are still living well, thank you very much.
I've carried Surprise Me in the store for a while now, and I admire it from a distance. I haven't opened the book, but I have recommended it to people. It's a strange relationship we have had, that book and me.
If you don't already know this, let me be clear: Virtually none of us believe there was any correlation between Kyle praying "Surprise Me, God" and his death. We believe what happened was an accident. Nothing more, nothing less.
But that doesn't make it any less strange and it doesn't make it hurt less.
On Sunday Terry Esau spoke to UBC for the first time since that day and, for me, it was one of the single most meaningful words I've heard since Kyle's death. From the beginning Terry has responded to the whole incident with grace and sincerity. He best captured what Kyle would have said about the accident in an interview when he said
"I think he would have said, 'There are laws of nature, electrical laws, and they were violated that day and I was in a really bad place where the violation happened."
When he got up to preach he was visibly nervous, and rightly so. How to you address people who have lost someone they love deeply when that person's last prayer was from your mouth? I didn't envy him, but by the end I appreciated him and the courage he exhibited. He spoke what Ben told him we would want to hear. He spoke truth.
Truth is an interesting word. It's become one of those battle words in our culture, especially our evangelical culture, that most people use to see what side of their line you fall on. But Esau's was not that kind of truth. His truth was the vintage kind that lays everything on the table and is honest. It says "This is what I believe about God and this is what I know about happened and, no matter how hard I try I can't put the two together. But, you know what? That's ok. I don't have to. As we've all been told, God isn't afraid of our questions, but he's also not afraid of us choosing not to ask them and just trusting in Him."
I won't share everything about what he said, but I will say that I felt Kyle in the room as he spoke. It was a sermon Kyle would have smiled through. It was a sermon Kyle would have said "Right On," about. It was a sermon that he would have just laughed for hours afterwards because it was, as Kyle would say, "So un-freaking-believable. It was, in short, a Kyle Lake sermon.
No, Kyle praying "Surprise Me" had nothing to do with what happened, although we were surprised. We were surprised that so much joy could come from so much grief. We were surprised we could hug as hard as we did without suffocating. We were surprised at how God has created our bodies with the mechanisms to cope. Many of us were surprised at the words that came out of our mouths and onto the page. (I've heard Jen Lake on more than one occasion saying she'll be journaling and look at what she wrote and have no idea she had it in her.)
Jesus surprised us all as he busted the doors wide open into our world and danced and laughed and feasted in our midst, and for that we say thank you, thank you, thank you.
And surprise us some more.
(Thank you, Terry.)