Mark Ballard

Surprises can brighten more than just a moment

Art by Mark Ballard
Art by Mark Ballard

Returning from a bike ride the other day, I rode into our backyard only to be greeted by a pleasant surprise. A single spider lily caught my attention — even though the salty sweat from a long ride was still stinging my eyes.

Bright red, curly petals burst in every direction possible as they carefully perched on the very top of a single light green stem. I have always loved how very delicate, yet proudly, they stand. They magically appear, popping up out of nowhere as if they’ve worked diligently all night to push up through the dark soil, just to surprise us. In fact, my grandmother always called them surprise lilies.

She carefully planted a flower bed full of the tiny bulbs in perfect rows. The bed was adjacent to her screened-in front porch. Every fall the mass of spider-like red blooms popped up overnight and surprised all who passed her yard. Even though they faithfully bloomed every year, we always forgot about them after they disappeared as quickly as they came. That is, until they burst forth the next year.

The same is true for the few we have in our yard. Planted by a previous owner of our house, most of the year they rest under a thick mass of shiny green ivy. Getting off of my bike, I walked over for a closer look. I swear I had not seen it even though I pass by where it is several times a day. In fact, I’m not sure it was there when I left for my bike ride.

As the sun filtered down through the large trees covering our backyard, the single bloom appeared to be showcased with a natural spotlight. Closer and closer, I walked through the bed of ivy with a smile on my face only to be surprised once again. A beautiful butterfly floated down and landed in the middle of the bloom. The sunlight passed through its translucent wings so that it glowed with a yellow and orange colored light.

My first thought was that I must try to capture a photo to use as a reference later. Since this was a twofold surprise, I wanted to draw the yellow, orange and red masterpiece. I didn’t want to disturb the butterfly, so I slowly crept in as close as I could. I quickly snapped a photo before the butterfly noticed me and flew away.

Surprises come in all colors, shapes and sizes. They are like balloons filled with positive energy that lift us up and brighten our days. In this sometimes rocky journey through life, wonderful surprises have the power to change a day from ordinary to extraordinary. Surprises are powerful and their effects long lasting.

Just in the last few weeks, I have had all kinds of surprises. Some came in the form of yellow post-it notes that were stuck to my computer, the bathroom mirror and my bed pillow. My wife had written love notes before she left for a long trip and I found them periodically throughout the day. Each one left me with a smile.

Another surprise came in the form of a hand-made quilt given to me by one of my art students. Covered with whimsical bees and totally unexpected, it brought me immediate joy. Another student gave me a glittering and colorful Christopher Radko ornament. It made my day and will be added to the other wonderful ornaments on our Christmas tree.

As to the drawing of the lily and the butterfly, I couldn’t wait to do it. Captured on paper with colored pencils, that one moment that made me smile will now be a permanent reminder of the awesome difference a surprise can make.

A simple red lily lifted my spirits — as did the other surprises I recently received. Surprises are delightful ways to brighten days. They don’t have to be expensive or elaborate. They just need to come from the heart.

Our world would be a much better place if we all offered more surprises. Let’s all give a pleasant surprise to someone this week.

More with Mark

Monday is Halloween and then it’s off to the holiday races! Mark will be at Christmas Made in the South, Mistletoe Market and various other events with all of his new merchandise. Watch this space for announcements in coming weeks!

Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email; follow him at; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.