It was 1999. I remember because I turned 30 that year. I lived in Glendora, California and my parents had moved to South Carolina. Being single, I lived alone in my own place about 20 miles from Pasadena (where the Rose Parade is every New Years). My family were scattered all over the state, except for Mom and Dad. My brother and sister-in-law were the closest family I had, about 60 miles away. We rarely saw each other.
One day in early July, Jim called and asked what I had planned for my birthday in a few weeks. When I told him I had no plans, he asked if I’d like to come up that weekend and we’d celebrate it then, together. I was delighted he’d offered and immediately took him up on it. It’d be Jim and Shawnna, their kids Brittany and Josh, and me.
I looked forward to it and told all my friends from the Sunday School class how excited I was and that it meant a lot that Jim would think to do that. They were excited for me.
Over the next couple weeks, Jim called to make sure things were still on for the date. I told him how eager I was to see them again.
It was a crisp, clear day as I drove up the freeway to Jim’s and I marveled at the mountains and desert before me. As I drove, I thought of how much it meant to see them again. I looked forward to the afternoon and evening ahead of me.
When I got to their home, Jim welcomed me in and said, “Let’s go out on the back porch and enjoy the outside.” I followed him and when I stepped outside a group of about 20 people greeted me yelling, “Surprise!!” I stepped back, wide-eyed, and blown away to see all my family there! My grandma, my aunts and uncles from central California, and my parents who’d come all the way from South Carolina. Good heavens. I shook my head in disbelief.
Then, as if that weren’t enough shock, I saw several friends from my Sunday School there. Talk about of context! They didn’t know my family. How in the world did Jim get hold of them?
Then I found out I was dressed wrong. It was a luau. “Didn’t you get the note?” Mom teased. Jim failed to mention that one, of course when he invited me for the day. But Mom had bought a full-length red Hawaiian dress for me so I’d fit in. Too funny.
I later learned that Jim and Shawnna had been orchestrating the whole thing for about a month, getting hold of family and friends, having them park on another block so I wouldn’t suspect anything when I drove up. As for my friends from church? Jim had asked Mom if she had any contact information for them. She had one person’s e-mail address so she passed it along. Jim emailed my friend and told her of the surprise. She, in turn, e-mailed the Sunday School class so people would come join in the fun. Shawnna had the whole house and backyard decked out with Hawaiian décor and lots of food and drinks for everyone to enjoy too.
To think that my brother and sister-in-law would go to all that trouble for me was huge. I realized that even though we aren’t close and rarely see each other, they love me. What a wonderful time and a special memory.
Ellen Andersen lives in Mauldin, South Carolina with her adorable dog, Petey. Active in her church, Ellen is a Stephen Minister, serves on the First Impression Team, and hosts a weekly Bible study. She enjoys gardening, theater, and spending time with friends and family.