When we left Hawaii we proceeded straight to Nashville, Tennessee (actually Paris, Tennessee)! Yep, that's right. We took the scenic route to Portland. We made some friends back in February, Jerry and Lynn Jones, when they came out to Hawaii to do a marriage seminar. While they were with us they really encouraged us to come to a retreat they host each year for a group of friends whom they personally invite (this year there were 185 of us). When they mentioned it, Zak and I were both very interested, but weren't sure it would ever be able to happen since we had no plans to return to the mainland at that time. Then later when we started looking at the time-line for possibly starting school at Multnomah University we started to wonder again if the retreat might be something we could fit into the plan. Jerry kept reminding us about it and we kept it in the back of our minds as a "pie in the sky" goal.
When Zak found out he would, in fact, be going to Multnomah this Fall, we only had a short time to get everything done. For a little while we considered having Zak go to the retreat and Koa and I staying behind to finish everything. We thought it would be a great way for him to begin this next phase of ministry. We prayed a lot about it. As the time approached and we made appointment after appointment to get everything done, things seemed to miraculously fall into place with just the right timing. We were able to get everything done and moved off the island in just three weeks and three days! So, we were able to leave Hawaii on July 20th and the retreat in Nashville started on July 21st - perfect timing. For those of you who are not involved with the military, they say that getting out can take six months or more in most cases!
In addition to the perfect timing, the Navy agreed to pay for our trip to Nashville since they will pay for the whole family to go back to the service-member's home of origin when he/she gets out of the Navy. Since Zak's home of origin was Virginia we could basically go anywhere in the US as long as it was cheaper than flying to Virginia. On July 25th we used frequent flier miles to get us from Nashville to Portland, so it ended up being a pretty inexpensive trip (Koa didn't have enough miles so he had to pay $300) for us to go to the retreat.
While at the retreat we got to meet some amazing people and hear testimonies of God's love and grace that would soften the hardest heart! We enjoyed some amazing times of worship and praise. Keith Lancaster of Acapella and his family were there and all of Acapella sang for us on the last night. The retreat was designed as a place of recovery for some folks when it was started 23 years ago. Lynn described it as mature church members ministering to each other. I didn't understand what that meant exactly until we got there. It was a place where people were so focused on the commonality of being saved by the grace of God that differences just didn't seem to matter. It was a wonderful, refreshing place to be.
Koa got totally spoiled and gained many more aunties and uncles over the four days we were there! Jerry had strongly encouraged us to find somewhere else for Koa to go but insisted that if we couldn't, that wouldn't keep us from coming. We tried to come up with something else for him to do, but no one we knew would be available to be in Nashville that week. So, he was one of two children there for the entire retreat. The other little girl was almost three, so they had lots of fun together. I was very sensitive to every little noise as we sat through classes, testimonies and different events. Knowing that he was not really invited I really didn't want him to be a distraction for anyone or to be annoying to anyone! However, everyone was SO encouraging. Just when I would think he must be driving everyone crazy someone would comment on how good he was and that they didn't even know he was there! Everyone was just so sweet and understanding about him being there!
Koa would take his naps in our hotel room each day (oh yeah, our retreat was in a conference center at a hotel) while we did other things and it never seemed to bother him at all to wake up in an unfamiliar place (the first nap he woke up from he said "What is this house?"). We kept him up too late every night and got him up too early every morning and he just rolled with the punches the whole time! We left him with "Auntie Sandy" while we went golfing with some new friends one afternoon and he had a great time playing in the pool and generally getting spoiled. He did have more ice cream in the week that we were there than he has ever had in his life and I have no idea what the ingredients are in soft serve ice cream, so I had to learn to let go just a little. In fact, I have had to learn to relax just a little in general when it comes to our nutrition--not an easy thing for me to do, but it can be done. Southern people have a special "need to feed" apparently. We had very limited choices since we didn't have a car. We were kind of destined to eat from the "all you can eat" buffet for several days in a row and the majority of the food was fried. I finally talked someone into taking me to the Piggly Wiggly to get some fresh produce to have in the room. You might be surprised to know that the Piggly Wiggly in Paris, Tennessee doesn't have a very extensive organic section! On another occasion that we escaped the buffet for lunch we got to have some fine southern BBQ. The restaurant's sign said they had BBQ as tender as a mother's love. How can you pass up that kind of BBQ!?
All of my complaints are really in jest. We had a good time laughing about how uptight I am and how bad catfish tastes after eight years of fresh mahi mahi and opakapaka and opa.... (Mmmm, it makes my mouth water just thinking about it.) We realize we are richly blessed--sometimes to the point of being just plain spoiled! It was a really fun week and a nice buffer between the madness of moving and the uncertainty of being homeless!
Another part of the trip that I considered a small miracle was the fact that on the way to Tennessee, with three lay-overs (none of them very long) we made all of our connections and not a single flight was delayed! It was incredible! We were not so lucky on the return flight. We were delayed to the point that we didn't get into Portland until almost 2 AM on Saturday. Since we were having friends pick us up from the airport I called them and told them not to worry about it and we would just get a hotel. Of course, there was some conference or something in town and there was literally only one room available in all the hotels anywhere near the airport and their shuttle service had stopped running by the time we got there. So, we got a taxi and upset the poor driver with the weight of our luggage, (to the point that he was cursing us in Russian all the way to the hotel) and eventually got to go to bed about 3:30 AM. As we lay there trying to fall asleep in our very comfy bed we realized we had been in six cities in five days and wondered just how long it would take us to figure out which time zone we were in....