Monday, April 26, 2010

The Great Adventure: Caribbean, Here We Come!

The whole idea started before Darla and I were married. We had both just realized that God wanted us to be together for the rest of our lives. One Saturday in May of 1989, I took her canoeing down the Holston River. She brought a picnic basket with food and THE BIGGEST MAGAZINE I HAD EVER SEEN. It was a wedding magazine. You’ve seen them—they’re full of pictures of bridal gowns and...ideas for honeymoon destinations. I had probably seen one of those colossal magazines before—on the shelf in the isle of a grocery store or something—but I had never looked through one before that day. Honestly, it was intimidating. I thought we were just going to have a relaxing lunch when she pulled out that mammoth thing! She had dog-eared pages and circled the pictures of dresses she liked. In all honesty, I didn’t really care about her dress (couldn’t say that then, of course). I was thinking about how much the magazine must have cost. The only pages that appealed to me were the ones with the exotic vacation spots. Cancun, Hawaii, Aruba, the Mediterranean, Copacabana, they all seemed so exciting...and EXPENSIVE! And then I made a typical mistake for me. “If you could go anywhere on our honeymoon, where would you go?” I asked Darla. As soon as the question came out of my mouth I grimaced. “What are you thinking?” I thought to myself. “You won’t be able to go anywhere shown in this magazine, so why even entertain the idea? So stupid!” But it was too late. Always the “speak-before-thinking” extrovert, I had let the cat out of the bag. Without a moment of hesitation she replied, “I’ve always dreamed of going to the Caribbean.”

The Caribbean. I knew there was no way. I was just hoping to scrape up enough money to get to Florida (that’s where we ended up going—my mom let me use her frequent-flyer miles and rental car discount, and my dad had a friend who had a beach condo on Treasure Island near St. Petersburg—it really was a great honeymoon).

I tried to recover. “Maybe one day,” I said without conviction. You see, I was going to be a pastor (read: poor). “I hope you don’t get your hopes up.”

“I won’t,” she said with conviction. “Anywhere will be great!”

At that moment, I made a decision. I thought, “One day I will take Darla to the Caribbean.”

But you know how life is. We got married the day after I graduated college. At the time I made $12,000 per year as a student minister and put Darla through her senior year of college. Then our roles reversed. We spent all we had saved to move to Wake Forest, NC and pay tuition for me to get my Master’s degree. I worked and went to school until Darla finally found a job as a teacher and worked all the way up until time to give birth to Drew (just after I graduated). At that time I had just become the pastor of a small church and we didn’t own a home. We moved after a couple of years to Johnson City, bought our first home and had Duncan, our second child (I then made about $30,000 per year). Then we moved to Knoxville to the newly formed Providence Church. Needless to say, it was not a great move from a financial perspective!! To make money matters worse, Dara came along shortly thereafter...unexpectedly (and we had no maternity insurance)! At the same time, our old cars started falling apart. We replaced 3 or 4 transmissions (at the tune of $1200-$1500 each) over a period of about a year-and-a-half. It was a real low point (financially speaking). I depleted all our savings and even went into credit card debt for the first (and only) time in my life.

God was gracious. Through some miraculous happenings (you think I’m exaggerating—but I’m not!), we made it out of debt and got back on our fiscal feet. And through it all we never stopped tithing.

[OK, I’ll give you one example of a miracle: My dad was playing in a golf tournament that had a hole-in-one prize of a new truck. He was joking around with the guys in the foursome that he was going to get it...and he DID! He told me later that as soon as it went in the hole, he knew God intended it for me and Darla. We were able to trade it in on a barely used Chrysler minivan! Incredible!]

Anyway...that was about the time of our 10th anniversary. We had been blessed, but I had nothing to spend to give my wonderful wife and awesome mom-of-three a good gift, let alone a great trip. She really had kept her promise to stay with me “for poorer.” Right then I decided I would start saving—secretly—for our 20th anniversary. So every time I did a funeral or a wedding or got an unexpected gift, I would hide it in an envelope I had taped under a drawer in my desk. NOT a good idea. Long story short, when I had saved about $1500, it was stolen by some people who cleaned our church. THANKFULLY the cleaning service they worked for had insurance that replaced it (after we videoed them stealing more money). Having learned my lesson, I opened a savings account in a different bank (this was hard to keep secret from Darla—and I felt guilty for hiding it from her!). I finally saved about $3000. Not a lot, but enough to do something.

I gave it to Darla this Christmas. We had recently seen the movie “Up.” If you’ve seen it, you know it is about an old man who had met his wife when they were kids. They had always dreamed of taking an “adventure” together, traveling to a remote part of the world. Then, life happened. They had to keep breaking the piggy bank—their adventure fund—and never got to do anything. As older adults the wife got sick and eventually died. Since childhood she had saved an “Our Adventure” scrapbook that would one day hold the pictures and tales of their trip. After her death, the old man decided to do the adventure in her honor. I’ll not spoil the movie for you in case you haven’t seen it (it really is good).

In the spirit of the movie, I made an “Our Adventure” scrap book with some pictures of me and Darla in our younger years. I bought a HUGE suitcase. In the suitcase I put a bunch of little gifts related to our trip. I got a Caribbean travel book, flip flops, sunglasses, suntan lotion, etc. Just for fun I bought a $50 gift certificate for a tanning salon! She opened it first and couldn’t figure it out thinking I had lost my mind!! It was so fun to see her puzzled face as she kept opening the gifts. At the very last she opened a card in which I put the bank statement with the amount I had saved.

It was awesome. We’ve been planning the trip ever since. We’re going to the Caribbean island of Nevis. I’m sure I’ll have much to say about it later!!

Bottom line is this: I’m incredibly blessed with a faithful, godly wife who is great at everything she does. She cannot know how much I love, appreciate, and respect her. She doesn’t think so highly of herself. I think that’s commendable. But I do. I am blessed. I only wish I could do more for her. She totally deserves it.

Incidentally, when we were married in 1990, our favorite song was “The Great Adventure” by Stephen Curtis Chapman. Our life together has definitely been that. I know it will continue to be!

Friday, April 9, 2010

When a child outgrows you

My son, Drew, is getting big. When I give him a hug, it surprises me how much he's grown. He's fifteen. He's driving with his learner's permit, and is getting better each time. I'm sure he thinks I'm on him about stuff all the time, I just want him to be a godly man. I'm really proud of him. I love that he loves God and people. I want him to be a better man than me. Seems that is happening. Thank you God.

Got an email from Josué, the pastor of Central Church Barra in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. That's the mission church God used us to plant about six years ago. Seems they've grown. A lot. And they're still growing! Josué emailed me that they're bigger than we are now! They're supporting 11 missionaries of their own around the world and just donated money to Haiti...just like us! I love this. I desire nothing more than for God to help us plant more churches, locally and globally, who will outgrow us!

Thank you God.