Serendipity: the act of finding something delightful when you are not looking for it
I had the pleasant surprise of a trip to the African continent a few weeks ago. I went to co-lead a Get Hope Global training conference in Tanzania. It would have been a waste of good airfare to go 9 time zones from home and not take advantage of the opportunity to go on safari after the conference finished.
Within moments of entering the park a pregnant giraffe strolled past. A family of four giraffes followed, long limbs swinging with grace and ease. I had to remind myself that this was no zoo. We gazed at impalas as they stared back with their wide brown eyes. Just behind them elephants sauntered, a mother rousing her infant from a nap. A baboon baby hitched a ride, climbing up and over and under his strong dad, who managed to strut with dignity anyway. Zebras stood head to tail, in the “I’ve got your back!” pose, seemingly relaxed, but alert to danger. I was dying to see the very danger they were eager to avoid.
A series of small serendipities
By lunch we had seen over 16 different species of animals, not counting the birds, crowned cranes, egrets, weavers,… I wore out the word “WOW!” We came upon a traffic jam of safari vehicles. In any national park, one of the best ways to spot wildlife is to look for the traffic jam! The driver of one vehicle leaned out and spoke to our driver, explaining in Swahili that there was a cheetah just over the hill, walking away from us. We were moments too late. She was already a shadow in the distance. I snapped a few photos in the direction the others described. I had no cause to complain but, I longed to get a better look at a large cat.
Spontaneously and silently, I voiced my longing in a child-to-her-Abba kind of prayer. “I’d really, really like to see a big cat, maybe a lion? I know you’ve already shown us an abundance, and it seems greedy to ask for more, but… a lion this afternoon?”
All afternoon the wonders continued. “Just beside that bush, that’s a dik-dik. They always defecate in the same place. They mate for life. When one mate dies the other eats a poisonous plant and dies too…” The sun moved lower. We saw elephants playing in the mud, and scratching themselves against trees. But no lion.
Serendipity: an aptitude for making desirable discoveries
She stood just across on a high riverbank, a lioness. I wondered if I would have to settle for a brief glimpse. I wanted more. We bumped along, eyes peeled. She had vanished. Her golden camouflage exactly matched the tall grass.
Finally, my lioness appeared from no where. She lounged under a tree in the shade just yards from the road. The driver gave me a huge smile and a high five. Zebras nearby, hundreds of them, were not watching each other’s backs anymore. Each one faced the shade under the tree where our lioness stretched. “She is probably the scout, the hunter for her pride. She is trying to get the zebras to forget about her. They are faster than she is. She could only catch a weak or slow one, or one not paying attention to her.” For an hour “my” lioness put on a show for us. She lounged, she yawned, she strolled, she went for a drink, she acted like she was going one way then turned another. She even chased zebras for a few seconds before stopping abruptly to roll on her back in the grass.
Serendipity: a pleasant surprise
Underneath my awe at this humongous house cat personality, I became aware of another emotion, surprise. God answered my prayer. Not only did he answer it, he far exceeded what I asked for. I asked for a glimpse, but I got a show! Why was I surprised that God would extravagantly give me more than I could ask or think? I imagine God grinned as he led us to the place where his lioness was spending her pleasant afternoon. He delights in giving us good gifts.
Why would I be surprised? It has been a tough year. Jesus promised this as well, “In this world you will have trouble” he said. (True that!) “But take heart, I have overcome the world.”(John 16:33)
Since coming home, where trouble seems to batter with hurricane force winds, I have had to consciously choose to remember my lion and that God is the God who answers girlish prayers.
The protagonist in I am David prays to the “God of green pastures and still waters.” When I need to be reminded of God’s love and care for me I address him that way. Post safari, I pray, “God of green pastures, and still waters, and serendipitous lions.” It reminds me to return to the faith I had when I was a small child. I used to ask everything, all the time, without worry or doubt, because I was thoroughly confident that my Father would give me everything I needed, and even some things I merely wanted. Sometime, as I faced the adult troubles of this world, some of my confidence in him slipped through my fingers. Fortunately, God hasn’t run out of patience, or gifts of serendipity. He is still the God of green pastures, still waters, and lions in the shade.