“You’re going to love it. We’ll be 30 minutes from Disney World,” they said. The summer between my 7th and 8th grade, we moved to Central Florida. I left every friend that I had ever known with Mickey Mouse as my consolation prize. My dad, off to Bible College to follow the call with Mom and four kids in tow, we lived in the centipede grass Sahara for a couple of years.
After four schools in four years, I landed just north of Huntsville for 10th grade where I donned my brand new title- preacher’s kid. But for some reason, I didn’t want anyone to know. I don’t think that I was embarrassed of it, I think that I just wanted to start from scratch. If I was starting over, for the third time, I wanted to write the script. No one from our new church went to my school, so I got to learn from past new beginnings and create my own identity. In between frog incisions during biology that first month, a guy asked me what my dad did for a living. “He’s in Life Insurance,” I said. “We moved to Hazel Green, AL because my dad sells life insurance.” Because, well, he kind of was. Life insurance seemed generic enough to avoid a label and give me my best shot, and frankly, was pretty quick on the spot.
When Thanksgiving came a couple of months later, my parents asked me if I wanted to go to Preacher’s Kids Camp. My denomination thought that it was helpful for middle and high school kids with similar life experiences and issues to get together and bond over a holiday weekend- long before Black Friday. It was.
I don’t know what I expected 25 years ago at the camp, but it felt liberating to not have to hide who I was. Whether or not the label pigeon holed me into someone that I didn’t want to be didn’t really matter there- we were all in the same hole. I met new friends, new pastors, youth pastors that I was enamored by (one even showed me his for real third nipple, just above his naval), and most importantly a 14 year old blonde who laughed at everything that I said. I followed her around most of the weekend because, well, I don’t really know. I don’t have the ability to remember those thoughts without filtering it through the last 20 years of my life anymore. Maybe I was just attracted to her easiness of being, or maybe I was attracted to the way that she made me feel about myself, that what I said was really funny, or maybe we were just star-crossed lovers destined to find each other one way or another. What I do remember is coming home and telling my friend Matt that one day I was going to marry her.
I asked Addyson (my 12 year old) a few months ago if she wanted to go to Preacher’s Kids Camp. I had just gotten the letter from my denomination, I imagine the same way that my parents did. Her eyes lit up, “Can I! That’s where you and mom met.” It wasn’t a question. It wasn’t an anticipation of a love connection- at least not for her. She did, however, seem to want to connect to my and Tiffanni’s past. The story of another life, a normal life, long before her memories could delve. And so last weekend she went to camp. Camp for all of us life insurance salesman’s kids. Twenty-five years later, she stayed at the same campground, ate in the same cafeteria, and played in the same rec hall that her parents did. She got to listen to another preacher’s kid (my brother Joel) share his stories of what it was like growing up as a PK, and be reminded of God’s deep and audacious love for her.
I won’t pretend to make any predictions on Addyson’s life based on what happened last weekend. That campground holds enough significance to me for a lifetime. But what I am fully aware of is that moments matter. Those moments that seem random and coincidental at the time might just hold inside of them life altering implications. What once was seemingly happenstance now feels suspiciously providential. And sometimes moments conspire against luck and campgrounds become the setting for a brand new once upon a time. As my kids struggle through their unspoken doubts that there ever was once a normal life, it’s the concrete experiences of our past, the ones that they can see, and touch, and feel, that assures them, maybe this will all work out ok.