This past week the Martin clan cashed in on a gift the fellowship that I serve as pastor gave to us last fall. It was Pastor Appreciation Day – a day that is celebrated in this house yearly sometime between September and November depending on people’s schedules and (more often than not) whether the Packers have a bye that Sunday. In 2007, they chose to recognize and affirm their pastor on the Opening Day of the deer-rifle season (which took out about a third of our congregation; after all, I may be their shepherd but I’m not that important to supersede the hunt.) But this past year they did it up big in so many ways.
First, a few of our deacons cooked up breakfast for everyone and then served it to us as an alternative to our normal worship experience. In other words, instead of worship and preaching between 10 and 12 that day we ate and shared together for the first hour and then they opened the floor and honored us. Most years, a card is passed around for me and people sign their names and slip in some cash. But this year they chose to recognize our entire family and so for the next hour people got up as they wanted and went to the mic and blessed not only Linda and I but the rest of our brood as well. It was an awesomely humbling morning. And they capped it off with some small gifts and a large one: a $500 gift certificate to a waterpark of our own choosing. So, given the fact that it was Spring Break in these parts this past week we decided it was time to head to the beach.
We booked a night at the Duluth Edgewater Resort and Water Park (a place we had been wanting to try for a couple of years), filled up the gas tank and headed north (when one of my leaders heard that we were headed that way for spring break he quipped, “We just can’t get you guys to head south for anything, can we?”) During that next 24 hours we may have not moved like Jack Bauer trying to beat the clock, but we made the most of it. We ate out three times, floated the lazy river endlessly, hit the tubes as much as we cared to, did some shopping, went out to a movie that we all enjoyed and generally enjoyed this good gift our fellowship had gave to us.
Now, our van had been making some odd sounds for over a month…and so I shouldn’t have been too surprised on the way back when thirty miles from home that odd sound got definitively worse. Lucky for us, we were about to pass Sarona, a little village north of Rice Lake, and so we pulled into town and drove up to the only establishment open on a late Tuesday afternoon, The Teddy Bear Tap. Now, one look at The Tap and “respectable” is not the first adjective that comes to mind. It was a seedy little joint whose only inhabitants at the moment were the bartender and two guys, who apparently had been to the watering hole frequently that afternoon, playing a friendly game of pool. We all had to use the facilities and in doing so got way too much than we bargained for in our ensuing exposure to lewd and generally pornographic material posted upon the bathroom walls.
I called Hap, our next door neighbor and tow-guy, and then began to work our list of friends who would be willing to drive up the highway and rescue us from being stranded at The Teddy Bear any longer than necessary. But no one was home and I began to work out Plan B in the event that we struck out. By then, Hap had pulled up with his flatbed. He quickly attached his chains and began to cinch up his watchmacallit when he turned to us and said: “Jump in, keep the van running and enjoy the ride.” At first we thought he was kidding. “Are you serious?” “Sure,” he replied, “you’re not all gonna fit up in the cab.”
So, that’s how our awesome 24 hours ended…riding atop Hap’s flatbed, enjoying the view, laughing at the silliness of the whole thing. When we entered town I was half hoping to see someone from our fellowship or, at least, someone we knew but it was nearly 7 p.m. and there was no one around. He took us right to our driveway and even lowered the van down a bit “so that first step isn’t so high” and as soon as we were out with all our gear, he drove off to the shop with it.
It was a great gift given to us by some wonderful folks. It’s a wonderful thing to be loved and to know your place in the world. My place happens to be pastor of The Refuge. Maybe it’s not for the rest of my career but if it plays out that way…well, I’d say I was pretty lucky and blessed to work out my calling here.