20 years ago today, I found myself walking through a field near Wilmore, Kentucky with a girl I had a HUGE crush on. A group of us from Milligan had made the trek from Tennessee’s fair eastern mountains to my friend, Scott’s, hometown. Scott lived a mere hop, skip, and jump away from the granddaddy of all Christian music festivals: Ichthus Music Festival. So we crashed at his house and spent the day Saturday listening to band after band after band. I honestly don’t remember many of the bands we listened to that day. We did get to hear Rich Mullins, which was an experience I’ll never forget. I’m pretty sure I listened to a band called The Choir. They had a really cool shirt with something that looked like a flying frog on it. I bought that and wore it until it literally fell apart.
That’s about it.
I’m sorry I don’t remember much about the bands. If you performed that weekend and I saw you, I’m sorry. I’m sure you were great. My attentions were kind of focused elsewhere. I couldn’t believe this girl wanted to hang out with me and walk around the festival with me and share a snack with me. We might have even held hands a time or two. I was in heaven.
Yeah, there were some awkward moments. We hadn’t exactly expressed our affections for each other yet, but everyone knew. Shoot, even one of the guys in one of the food trucks could tell. He told me I should buy some food for my girlfriend.
“She’s NOT my girlfriend!”
I snapped back at him. Yeah. Smooth move there, Casanova. They should’ve called me Rico Suave.
In spite of my ineptitude, that girl still hung out with me after I shouted down that poor food on a stick salesman. And now, 20 years later, it’s a lot less awkward. I love hanging out with her and we don’t worry if anyone sees us hold hands. We’ve traveled the world together and we have four amazing kids. Yeah, it was awkward in Wilmore, Kentucky. But I’m incredibly thankful that she stuck around. We’ve been on an amazing journey together and I’m excited beyond words to discover the next chapter of our life together.
Has it really been that long? It feels like a lifetime and a blink of an eye all wrapped into one. And I can’t believe I get to share it all with her every day for the rest of my life.
Christy and I have eaten at some unique places over the years. Like The Parson’s Table in Jonesborough, Tennesse – an old church building that was converted into a fancy shmancy restaurant (now it’s a special events facility). There’s St. Joseph’s Brewery in Indianapolis, another old church facility that was converted into a microbrewery not too long ago. We tried the poutine.
I walked hand-in-hand with my girlfriend as I headed for class. My Creative Writing teacher looked on as we said our goodbyes as we went our separate ways, already counting down the minutes until we’d see each other again during the next passing period. The bell rang and I sat down at my desk. There were seven of us in the class. To say we were an eclectic bunch would be an understatement.
“Was that your girlfriend?” he asked. At least, I think that was what he said. To be honest, I didn’t really think he was talking to me so I wasn’t really paying much attention because it felt like I was eavesdropping. But he was talking to me.
“She’ll break your heart, you know.” Thanks for the vote of confidence there, I thought. Then he clarified, “Because all relationships end in heartbreak.” And then he went about his business, opening up some kind of discussion about writing or storytelling or something along those lines.
For most of the 80s I was totally addicted. I couldn’t conquer my addiction, and I didn’t really want to. It was a fantastical groovy trip every time I revisited it. The colors, the sounds, the rush. Many didn’t understand my addiction, but there were others who were into the the epic scene I was taken in by. If you were born in the mid 70s or 80s you, like me, may have tried this drug and were addicted too. You are probably also blown away when people tell you that they haven’t even tried it or, if they have tried it, they didn’t find it appealing. Of course the drug I speak of is, was, and shall be Star Wars. It was giant space cruisers knocking each other back and forth with laser bolts. It was people saying things I didn’t understand like “kessel run,” “parsecs,” “S-foils.” It was guys with names like Wedge, Porkins, Lando and Jabba. There were X-Wings, Y-Wings, Tie Fighters, Star Destroyers and of course the Falcon. And there were midichorians…..OK maybe not the last one so much, but you know what I am talking about if you were hip to the scene.
There has always been something about the original Star Wars movies that resonates with my soul. I am not by any means a total prequel hater. They had their moments, although they do pale in comparison. I think being raised in a Christian home, in a small midwest farm town with one blinking red light, I could relate in a big way to many of the classic themes and characters that Star Wars brought forth in a new appealing way. It is a classic story, nothing particularly new. A kid from the backwater goes out to win the ultimate battle of good vs. evil and learns valuable lessons along the way. It clicked with me. Of course as a kid I thought Han Solo was so cool- he had a cool dog, cool ride, cool gun, cool smirk, and said cool stuff like- “don’t get cocky kid,” “flying through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops” or “one thing’s for sure we’re all gonna be a lot thinner.” I wanted to be that smooth, but realistically I was probably more like Luke. Clueless, awkward, frustrated, and sometimes whiny but eager for something bigger. I still think Han is the coolest, but Luke had to learn many of the lessons I had to learn- patience, confidence, trust in a power outside of himself, love for friends and family, and just finding his way to maturity. Luke had the biggest transformation from New Hope to Jedi. As I have matured and continue to mature, I see that change in myself. I strive to learn more and become a better person. I still haven’t mastered my own lightsaber or used the force to get the remote, but I am growing up and still have a lot to learn on my life journey. Now I understand life is a journey and there will be successes and failures.
As much as I related to Luke, I was terrified of Vader. He was and continues to be the ultimate bad guy. My dad hung Star Wars lobby cards in my room as a kid. As much as I wanted them to be there at bedtime, I couldn’t handle Vader looking down at me as he surveyed the carnage on Tantive IV. I gave into my fear and the stills had to be taken down. I was like the guys on the star destroyer that were curiously watching Vader force choke a commander but quickly scurried away when it was over. He was mysterious and commanding, but you couldn’t look away. No one could talk back to him except for some reason Boba Fett, Moff Tarkin and the Emperor. I always wondered why that was, but that’s a question for a different day. Vader’s journey is as important as Luke’s. A man so lost he forgot who he was, but the love of his son brought him back. I can’t relate to being that lost but I do know I constantly fail and love brings me back.
There are many other characters and life lessons that come from Star Wars for me but growing up, love and redemption are the ones that always ring true. I treasure the Star Wars films and will continue to do so. They have this uncanny ability to bring people together, and I think that is ultimately what I love so much about them. I’ve stood in unbearable lines at two Star Wars Celebrations in Indianapolis but gabbing and joking with fellow fans made the wait worthwhile. At college, my good friend Noelle begged and begged the pimple faced usher to let us into the press screening of Star Wars Special Edition a night early. He finally relented, we got in, I got to see New Hope on the big screen for the first time and she promptly fell asleep. I got to go the next night and see it again with a theater full of fellow fans from Milligan College and it was amazing. There are so many other fond memories of Star Wars and friends. I can’t wait to further share my Star Wars adventures with my 2 year old son and my daughter. I hear Episode VII may have a major young female character; I hope she can relate. My son Liam has a blanket from Celebration Europe with the A-Z’s of Star Wars. We’re working the characters- so far we have Vader, Chewbacca, D2, and Trooper down. He’s my padawan and I hope he finds as many great friends and great times in name of Star Wars as I have. I could continue on with memories but I will end with this this quote from one of my favorite bands Gaelic Storm. They sum up my Star Wars experience the best, “if good times were dollars I would be a millionaire” If I had a buck for every great Star Wars friend or experience I’ve had, I’d be rich. The good thing is that I’m not like Han in this respect “if money is all that you love, then that’s what you’ll receive.” In the end even Han realized it was more about friends than it was the payoff.
Will and I met at Milligan. We have two very strong bonds: Star Wars and intramural softball. We were on the same team for a couple of years and while I don’t want to toot my own horn, the Quaker Oats were pretty good. As I plotted out what I was going to do in recognition of Star Wars MONTH, I knew I needed to have Will share his story. As you can see, I wasn’t wrong. Thanks, Will, for sharing your story!
If you, dear reader, have a story to tell about your Star Wars experience, I’d love to hear it! Shoot me an email and we’ll get the ball rolling!
My parents celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary while I was a senior at Milligan. Kevin was a freshman at Anderson. So both of us were out of town at the time. Throw in the end-of semester projects and preparations for finals and it looked like we were not going to be able to do anything special for my parents’ silver anniversary until sometime during Christmas break.
Appearances can be deceiving though.
With the help of Grandma and Grandpa Craig, we were able to pull of what had to be the biggest coup in Todd family history. It was definitely one for the record books and it took a whole lot of effort from a whole lot of people to pull this thing off. But they did. And it was fabulous. It’s amazing how a plan comes together. Because of all the planning and uncertainty and moving parts and potential for disaster, I believe this was the biggest surprise I was able to pull off. It was an even bigger surprise than when I proposed to Christy.
Before we go much further, I want to remind you of one very important thing: context. This was 15+ years ago. The Internet was still very young and not readily accessible. Yahoo looked like this. Google didn’t even exist. Very few people had cell phones. And if they did have them, they weren’t much smaller than Zack Morris’s.
And texting? I don’t even think we’d ever heard of such a thing.
I know. We were in the dark ages of communication technology. How did we ever get in touch with all those people in Evansville when we lived 8 and 4 hours away from everyone? Why, snail mail, of course! Grandma and Grandpa Craig printed up a bunch of invitations and we mailed them to family, friends, neighbors…anyone we thought might want to celebrate this momentous day with my parents. We may or may not have even invited the local fire department, police department, and area bridge clubs. OK, we didn’t. But let’s just agree that we invited a whole lot of people.
So after inviting almost all of Vanderburgh County, we had to use all of our creative energy to pull this thing off. I remember talking up my concern about the upcoming finals and how I was going to be spending the weekend camped out in the Library in preparation for them. Friday and Saturday were going to be nothing but study days for me. My cover had been established. Mom and dad had no idea that Christy and I were driving up to Evansville that Friday. They had no idea that Kevin, Christy, and I would be sleeping at Grandma and Grandpa Craig’s that evening.
We had recruited some family friends to take mom and dad out of town for the morning and afternoon on Saturday. Once they were on the road, they had to make a quick emergency stop. I don’t remember what the excuse was, but they had to stop so they could call to let us know that the coast was clear.
Then we broke into my parents’ house.
We grabbed whatever bags looked like they might contain gifts and gently tossed them into one of our bedrooms. Because I like to keep surprises a surprise, there was no peeking at the potential gifts. We furiously cleaned and scrubbed and cleaned as quickly as possible, hoping to make the house as spotless as possible. Grandma was worried (and rightfully so) that Mom would be mortified if she knew a bunch of people were at her house and the house wasn’t clean. That would’ve been a surprise of a completely different sort.
As we cleaned, we began preparing the food. Grandma had ordered an anniversary cake from Donut Bank, the same baker who had made their wedding cake. The wassail was simmering on the stove. And in a very short amount of time, we had my parents’ house transformed. We were ready to party like it was 1999.
We had a shuttle system established. People parked around the block or in the nearby church parking lot. We would shuttle them to the house. That way there wasn’t any chance of Mom or Dad accidentally recognizing one of the cars, which could potentially ruin the surprise. Once everyone arrived, we gathered in the Dining Room and we waited.
OK. Most of us were patient. I really wasn’t that patient. I was anxious. I couldn’t wait for the surprise to unfold.
As their friends’ car pulled up, Mom and Dad got out of the car. The tightly-packed room fell silent as they approached the front door. Because of the layout of the house’s main level, we could not see the door from the Family Room. And they could not see us. My body tensed as we heard the door open. I couldn’t believe we had actually pulled it off.
Mom and Dad were talking about something as they opened the front door. Then, mid-sentence, Mom said, “Wow. Something smells good.” She could smell the wassail as it simmered. I asked her about this later and she didn’t think anything of it at the time.
Then she turned the corner into the Dining Room. Dad trailed closely behind, still out of sight. As she rounded the corner, she saw us.
I wish I had thought to have a camera with me because the look on her face was priceless. She screamed and ran back around the corner. She whispered to Dad, “There are people in our house.” Then they both came around the corner together and they were greeted with a giant
“Surprise! Happy anniversary!”
And she didnt’ faint. I really did think Mom was going to faint. I’m sure glad she didn’t!
We had a great time with Mom and Dad, surrounded by family and friends. It was a magical evening. And I still can’t believe we managed to keep the event a secret.
So the pressure’s on our kids. What are they going to be able to do for us when we celebrate our 25th? I think we’ve set the bar pretty high. Fortunately, they have a few years to get things together. They might want to start planning now so there isn’t any pressure a decade from now.
This post was inspired by #ThinkKit’s post-a-day in December initiative, presented by Smallbox. Today’s prompt:Don’t look….it’s a surprise! Yes, I deviated from the prompt just a little bit. But that’s OK. This story must be told.
Whenever I hear this Jars of Clay rendition of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, I’m suddenly driving around Elizabethton, Tennessee, with some college friends. And then when I hear the line, “to save us all from Satan’s power,” I hear Chalis say something about the history of this hymn and then I hear all of us in a heated theological discussion about what it means to be saved from Satan’s power. And then I see us pull into Taco Bell on a snowy night so I can have my bacon cheeseburger burrito.
And all is right with the world.
This may or may not have happened more than once during that winter.
So while this song is a good reminder of what the Christmas season is all about, it’s a much more personal memory. And it’s because of that memory that this song will always remain on my Christmas playlist.
And if that statement is true, I feel like we had a little taste of Heaven during Milligan’s Homecoming weekend. It was a weekend full of reunions and introductions and saying “hello” to long-lost friends. Here’s just a glimpse of the people and places we said “hello” to during Homecoming…
Bays Mountain State Park
Christy used to bring the kids here while we were in our grad school era of Tri Cities living (as opposed to the BK – Before Kids – undergrad era of Tri Cities living). We had to go back to Bays Mountain to say hello to the wolves, deer, and predatory birds. Of course, we also had to ask the fox what he says.
These deer were so calm that they barely even noticed the small group of paparazzi who had gathered to take their picture.
Although Cheers is long and gone, many of the old stand bys that have become closely associated with Milligan we still around. And it was a beautiful thing to be reunited with them.
We met Melissa/Bob/Miss Awissa at Firehouse for some Southern barbecue that was out of this world. I don’t think I really appreciated Firehouse while we lived there because… well… it wasn’t Shyler’s. I guess you could say my palate has matured because there’s plenty of room on my plate for both barbecue (assuming Shyler’s does eventually reopen).
Christy insists on eating her pulled pork with slaw. That’s probably the “right” way to eat it, but I don’t understand why one would want to mess with perfection.
Not only is Pal’s tasty, but it seems they’ve hired some mind readers, too…
I wish they would bottle that shrimp sauce so we could bring it home…
Unfortunately, they don’t. Oh well. I guess that just means we’ll have to go back soon.
No trip to the South is complete without at least one meal that includes Bo-Berry biscuits from Bojangles.
That’s our Goddaughter on the trampoline. She’s dressed up like a fairy princess. I think. And she’s practicing so she’ll be able to learn how to fly. Since she’s our Goddaughter, this really shouldn’t be a surprise. Should it? It’s just par for the course.
And Miss Awissa/Bob/Melissa would like for me to inform you that no, she is not pulling Mihret’s arms out of her sockets. They’re dancing to music that wasn’t playing. That’s kind of par for the course, too.
The Kids and Their Old New Friends
It was amazing watching our kids play together. Some of them met for the very first time. Some hadn’t seen each other in quite a while – and most of them probably didn’t really remember each other. But they played and played and played. It was heartwarming to see them play like they’d known each other all their lives.
The Hoover Farm
Heather and Randy invited us to their farm for a bonfire. It was great spending more time with everyone and it was just a little bit reminiscent of the bonfires we used to have at Milligan – without the kids running around and playing, of course.
We walked along the banks of Buffalo Creek for some family pictures. I couldn’t help but remember and pray for the guys I had baptized in that creek more than a decade ago.
I think the weekend convinced Aiden to consider attending Milligan (years down the road when it’s time for him to start looking seriously at college. I know it’ll be here before we know it though). Until I opened my big mouth and talked about the tradition of throwing a guy in the Creek after he gets engaged. Now I think we’re back to square one with him.
Milligan students of the mid to late 90s gathered with their families in Lower Seeger for a night of Vespers, not unlike the services we used to have every Sunday evening while we were students. It was moving beyond words.
I don’t know why it took us 15 years to decide to do something like this, but I pray that this will become a regular part of Homecoming weekends in the future.
After the amazing Vespers service, we had to take a quick walk through the Chapel. The kids, however, weren’t satisfied with just a walkthrough. They had to jump on stage.
We left Tennessee’s fair eastern mountains with our hearts full and already looking forward to the next time we’ll be able to say “hello” while standing in the shadow of Buffalo Mountain.
We had fun there. Spent half a day playing in the water, which was our plan. We finished the day at Sea World. One of the nifty little things we discovered was that while parking at Sea World is $15, it’s only $12 at Aquatica and your parking receipt at Aquatica is valid at Sea World for the rest of the day!
While we had fun playing in the splash park area and zooming through the lazy river rapids (or whatever that ride is called), we didn’t take any pictures. Didn’t want to get the camera wet. I know. You’re disappointed.
I did realize that I’m turning into an old man while I was there. And I’m pretty OK with that. I walked around in a t-shirt with a ball cap on. No way was I going to get sunburned.
On Thursday, we took a free shuttle to Busch Gardens in Tampa. While there are certain advantages to using this shuttle, like saving money on gas and parking, there are also some disadvantages. The shuttle picked us up nearly an hour late. And we had to be back in the bus by 7 p.m. It’s tough doing trying to do an amusement park on someone else’s schedule. But we managed. And we had a good time.
We met up with the Newlands, who are friends of our from Milligan. It was great getting the inside scoop about Busch Gardens (they have season passes). It was also fun watching our kids hang out with their kids. The most memorable part, however, might be the flamingo that wanted Brent’s phone.
Some other highlights from Busch Gardens include (but aren’t limited to)….
Meeting Big Bird
Riding the Super Grover Roller Coaster
Aly catching a lizard
Love love LOVE the expression on her face!
Seeing some really cool animals
Watching a two-toed sloth actually MOVE
As you can see, our day was jam-packed full of fun. And it turned out to be a good thing that we had to be back at the bus by 7, anyway. A storm came through and shut everything down for quite a while. We wouldn’t have been able to ride any more rides. So we weren’t missing anything.
On the way home, we followed the NBA Draft with some other families. I was glad to hear about some very familiar names as top four picks. We’re quite proud of Vic and Cody – even though I’m not quite ready to say I’m a fan of the Bobcats!
As I’m sure you already know, the Hoosiers are Big Ten CHAMPS. And they aren’t sharing the title with anyone like they did back in 2002. This is the first time they’ve won a regular season title outright since 1993.
That was such a long time ago. But it was a very pivotal year for me.
As I’ve mentioned before, Scott and Corri Brooks have a special role in my story because they were willing to invest time and energy into me as they continued to speak Truth into my life. They’re also a very crazy couple. Who in their right minds would think it would be fun to take a group of high schoolers into their homes every Wednesday evening? Who in their right minds would think it would be fun to take a group of high schoolers eight-ish hours away into the hills of Tennessee to visit their alma mater? I can’t think of many people who would honestly think of that as a good time.
Scott and Corri did.
OK…maybe they didn’t necessarily call it “fun”…but they did it. And that changed my life.
When we arrived at Milligan, we got a tour of the campus. I don’t remember how, but I came away with a free Milligan Buffaloes bandanna (and I didn’t even have to use twitter to win)!
After our tour, we went into the dorms to meet our hosts for the evening. I don’t know where the girls went, but the guys got to crash at Webb Hall. As we were dropping our sleeping bags and suitcases on the dorm room floor, I heard one of the guys we were staying with say to our campus guide, “We were thinking about taking them to Cheers.” Then he looked at us and said, “You guys want to go to Cheers with us?”
The next thing I knew, we were piling into a Webb resident’s car and heading off to the place where everybody knows your name. I must admit, I was pretty nervous. “What if they ask for ID? How are they going to let me in?” I thought to myself “And….what about the drinks? They’re not really going to offer me anything are they? I mean….this is a Christian college.”
Some of you might be rolling your eyes. That’s OK. I was pretty sheltered. By choice. I had access to alcohol in high school. I just chose to stay away from it. And I have no regrets. That’s why this was such a big deal.
My hands were shaking. I didn’t want to get busted. I couldn’t imagine having to try to call my dad and explain to him how I needed him to bail me out all the way down in Tennessee. That was going to be an unpleasant conversation, to say the least. But I also didn’t want to offend my hosts. After all, I was staying with them for the weekend.
We pulled into the parking lot and I wondered what was going to happen next. I checked my wallet. Yep. It still said I was under 21. This wasn’t going to end well. We met a carload of girls and started walking into Cheers. My hands were sweating. I tried to remain calm. I tried to find an “out.” I had no idea what they were going to do or how to sneak the whole lot of us in without someone questioning our age.
You have no idea how relieved I was when I found out that the Cheers in Johnson City, Tennessee, was merely a family restaurant with amazing cheesesticks.
A good, clean time was had by all.
After an amazing weekend on an amazing campus, it was time to leave. Scott and Corri parked their van with the girls already loaded and ready to go. I was the last one to throw my luggage in the back of the van. As I closed the liftgate, I slipped in a puddle and got mud all over my jeans.
“Did you hurt anything?” Scott asked, trying not to fall over in laughter.
“No,” I replied. “Only my pride.”
And my pride was, indeed, wounded. You see, there was a girl on that van. I had been trying to impress her during the whole trip. Slipping and falling right in front of her definitely didn’t help matters, although I did manage to get her to go to prom with me. Kinda.
To add insult to injury, we listened to the IU game on the way home. They lost. To Kansas. In the tournament. Calbert Cheaney’s collegiate career was over. I was devastated. Let’s just say that I’m not hoping for a repeat of that game.
Fortunately, I had just discovered my new home. I knew I would be returning to Milligan as a student someday. I never really gave any other college a serious look. I was going to be a Milligan Buffalo.