This week marks 10 years. I hadn’t thought about that week for quite some time until this past weekend. It was a week that had it all. From the highs of a well-thought out plan and a ring, to a concert and a cruise ship; to the lows of a call from the captain and a funeral. It was certainly a week I won't soon forget...
My Dad called me at JBU in the fall of 2007 to tell me that he was asked to perform a concert on a Carnival cruise ship in February and needed a guitar player. Also, the cruise would be free. (Well, let me just pray about that one…) I was dating Miss Val at the time and talked her and her parents into going too.
My plan was coming together perfectly.
We’d been dating for a little over two years, and I knew I wanted to marry her from Day 1. I don't know what took me so long! I started looking at rings and met with her parents to ask for their blessing (They actually asked me what in the world I'd been waiting for! I felt like that was a good sign they were going to led me marry their daughter!). During Christmas break, I bought a ring with the money I'd been saving from delivering pizzas and hid it in my sock drawer.
I started searching for romantic places in Jamaica to propose. We would be there on Valentine's Day and what better place? I was going to ask her in the middle of Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios with both of our families there to share that moment.
It was going to be perfect.
Fast forward to Sunday morning, week of the cruise. Miss Val and I take off on our flight and make it to Florida and await everyone else. My family lands, but no sign of my future (I hoped) in-laws. We got a text from them that they are still on the runway in Wichita, KS with mechanical problems. Long story short - they missed the boat (There is another story in-and-of-itself here. Maybe another time!).
All of the sudden, my perfect plan disintegrated.
I remember questioning God standing in baggage claim at the airport, “Why would you let this happen? This was not part of my plan...I mean your plan?”
We boarded the cruise ship later that day and I had no idea what I was going to do. I got a text from her Dad that they had made it to Miami and that they were going to drive down to our first stop, which was Key West, FL, and meet us there. Not knowing if they were able to get on the boat, I decided to scrap my initial plan and propose to her in Key West. After months of planning for Jamaica, my only resource was a tourist book in my cabin. I opened it up to Key West and there was a picture of a lighthouse. Seemed romantic enough, right? When we stepped off the boat, I could see the top of the lighthouse about a mile away. I texted our parents and told them the new plan, and they were on board. Val’s parents were an hour away.
It worked perfectly. After we got a bite to eat, I told her I wanted to go for a walk. We found the lighthouse and went to the top. I hit a knee, said something profoundly romantic, and popped the question. And she said, “Yes!”
Her parents pulled onto the island right in time and we were able to celebrate with everyone on the beach! It was awesome to see how everything came together.
I had cell signal since we were back on U.S soil and I started calling all my grandparents. I got through to my Papaw Wampler (my Mom’s dad), and got to share the news with him. He was elated! I had told him my plans to propose when I was at his house back in the Fall working on a major paper for school. He had a huge library and I spent a few weekends during college at their house. He let me use his books and talk through my thoughts with him. During that trip, he had some roof shingles that were loose and asked if I would get up there and fix them. I was on my way down the ladder when I called over to him. I leaned back on the ladder midway up and for some reason, told him how much he meant to me. I shared how he had influenced me, both as I watched his ministry to others as a pastor (for over 50 years), but also in the way that he loved and invested in me personally. I hadn’t planned to say it, and I didn't know why I did at the time. It just kinda came out. Even then, I was glad I said it.
Back on the cruise ship, the celebration had started! Miss Val and I went to one of the fancy restaurants onboard and I ordered a 22 oz Porterhouse steak! (I remember only the important details) Haha, I was one happy dude! We spent the next day by the pool as we traveled to Grand Cayman for our next stop.
It's amazing how one call can change everything.
On Wednesday, we were all out by the pool when my Dad appeared and asked me and my brother to come with him. I could tell something was wrong. We turned the corner and my mom was sitting at a table. She was sobbing. I sat down and didn’t say anything. I wanted to know, but I also didn’t want to know. Dad said that the captain received a call from back home. Papaw had gone into the doctor with chest pains that morning. During the examination, he had a heart attack. They rushed him to the hospital and attempted surgery, but he passed away during the procedure.
I don’t think I have ever cried that hard in my life.
The details of the remainder of the trip are blurry. I know we still did a concert. I know we stopped at Grand Cayman and Jamaica. We still climbed Dunn’s River Falls. But none of us wanted to be there.
They had two memorial services for Papaw. We missed the first one in Springfield, but they were able to postpone the one in his hometown until we got back to the States. We got back to Florida and made our way to Etoah, TN..
We made it to the funeral home in time for the viewing. I stood in front of him in disbelief. I had just talked to him on the phone on Monday. And then it hit me.
If everything had gone the way I had “planned,” I wouldn’t have called him when I did.
As ticked off as I was on Sunday that everything had unraveled, even to the point of questioning God, I all of the sudden had a perspective that I didn't have up until that moment. That airplane that suddenly had mechanical issues on cold Kansas tarmac, was not by accident. Having to ask Val on a Monday instead of on Thursday, was not by chance. Having to go from proposing under a waterfall in Ocho Rios to the top of a lighthouse in Key West, was not God's Plan B. These interruptions gave me one last chance to speak to my Papaw one last time. What a blessing.
What seemed like a disturbance to “the plan” was actually God’s sovereignty gloriously at work. What I questioned on Monday, I stood in that funeral home on Sunday and thanked God for with tears rolling down my face.
A few months down the road, my Mamaw Wampler called me on the phone. She asked if I would be interested in my Papaw’s library. It is still to this day, one my most treasured possessions. I went up there a few months later and spent an entire day in his library. It was hard to be in there without him, but it was peaceful at the same time. I opened up one of the drawers to his desk and found a manuscript. He was working on writing a book.
The title of the book: “Divine Interruptions” by L. Odene Wampler.
I couldn’t even get through typing this out this morning without crying. That one week in February was higher than high and lower than low - all within a matter 48 hours. Yet, while my emotions and plans changed - God didn’t. He knew long before exactly what would take place. He was not surprised by anything that happened that week.
I don’t know if you are reading this and it is meant to encourage you through something you are dealing with today, or if it is meant to be a reminder for you when your plans are interrupted in the future. But my hope is that this story would be a great encouragement for you, as it is for me, that sometimes those disruptions and unplanned changes are Divine Interruptions. Maybe you, like I have learned over time, will be quicker to trust God and listen when life throws us a curveball and our well-laid-out plans suddenly take a different path.
God is in control. He loves you. And His plan is always good.