Tales of a Nicaraguan Missionary Journey: Part 1

Goodnight1… it’s been a while since I’ve updated this thing! Writing/blogging is something that I really enjoy, but spare-time seems to have evaded me recently. If I ever do come across free time, I like to spend it with my wife anyway, so the blog unfortunately gets shoved to the back-burner. It didn’t help that until yesterday my computer hasn’t worked reliably, either. My shift at the bakery shifted back to the early morning (5am – 1pm), and I reformatted my laptop, which worked like a charm! Long story short, I now have the time and the laptop to dust off this blog and crank out some posts**. Here goes nothing…

As the title suggests, I have done some missionary work in Nicaragua since my last update. I might as well shut this thing down if I don’t share that journey on here! God rocked my life so much that week that if it doesn’t inspire me to write, nothing will. Kaitlin and I (yes, we BOTH got to go! It was our first time as missionaries serving together. Awesome! Just awesome. Anyway, this parenthetical situation is getting a little out of hand…) served in Nicaragua during the week of June 9th, but our journey getting there began about a year earlier, when God started putting a strong yearning in our hearts to find a mission trip to go on together. Later that year, our church, West Rome Baptist, announced several mission trips taking place during the summer. We just knew God had a place on one of those trips for us. We decided together that day that we would go on one of them, but had no idea of the obstacles in store for us. This brings me to the first lesson God taught re-taught me:

If God calls you somewhere, He’ll make sure He gets you there.

In December of that year (2012), two car accidents less than two weeks apart totaled both of our cars. The second accident sent me to the hospital with a broken leg, and put me out of work for nearly three months. The driver at fault in the second accident was driving under the influence of alcohol, and had no insurance. Not only did we have to buy two cars, but also carried the responsibility of the hospital bills. He didn’t have insurance, and the uninsured motorist policy on my wife’s car did not include medical payments. We were on vacation, and lost the amount we paid in advance for the remaining three nights there. Needless to say, it was a hard situation to soak in. At this point, with all the unexpected expenditures and lost income, saving up for a $2800 mission trip seemed way way out of the picture.

However, God doesn’t really care about any “picture” we conjure up in our minds. He doesn’t see things the way we do.

Our insurance company didn’t budge on covering the medical bills. We couldn’t blame them, though. We didn’t have the coverage. If you are reading this and are unsure if your uninsured motorist policy covers medical payments, FIND OUT ASAP! It’s definitely worth the extra $20 per six months, and the percentage of people who drive without insurance is getting pretty ridiculous. In the United States, 14.29% of drivers are uninsured. That comes to about one in seven drivers! In Georgia, that percentage is about 16% and in Tennessee (where my accident took place), it spikes to 24% (ranking third in the nation!)2. Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more likely that the person who hits you on the road has no insurance, so please, I encourage you to get as much coverage as you can afford.

Our insurance company was very generous, however, in reimbursing us for our totaled vehicles and letting us use rental cars for as long as we needed. We were given more than the cars were worth, and were able to quickly use that money on new cars and medical bills. My agent even listened as I vented about the situation when it was going on, and we were able to carry a great conversation. He followed up and showed he truly cared! If anyone out there is looking for some great, affordable coverage, Liberty Mutual insurance is where it’s at! My agent is Crawford Adam. You should look him up! I don’t usually advertise or anything like that, but my insurance company took care of me when I needed it the most, and that says alot!

About a month after the accident, our growth group3 at West Rome Baptist got together to fellowship. Ever since the accident, members from our group showered us with love. They took turns bringing us dinner, prayed for us constantly, and never stopped encouraging and caring. We didn’t think any group of fellow believers could ever match the faithfulness and love of ours, until we went to that night of fellowship. There they presented Kaitlin and me a check. It was for $2300. Yeah, that’s $2300, not $230. Two zeros! We were overwhelmed by their generosity and sacrifice. They collected money within the group without us knowing, and were able to bless us far more than they would ever know!

Not too long after that, I got a phone call that turned things around for us even more. At the time of the call, I was helping my friend Marigrace make her wedding invitations. Being out of work and bedridden drove me insane; it was a blessing every chance I got to get out of the house, and I was very grateful for her family, who not only offered to let me stay with them during the day, but picked me up and gave me a ride whenever I needed one. I was sitting at their table, taping pictures to cards, when I got a call from my wife, who told me that her boss wanted me to work at her school until I went back to my usual job. Her boss, Mrs. Shemi Kumar of the Montessori School of Rome, had been diagnosed with breast cancer a year prior and was cancer free, but still finishing up treatment. She had to leave for a while as she recovered so she hired me as her substitute. The very next day, I was grading papers and teaching anatomy to a classroom full of 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. The unexpected income was definitely an answered prayer! Sharing the commute to work with my wonderful wife was an added bonus =]. In no time at all, the doctor cleared me to go back to work, and I returned to my job at Great Harvest Bread Company. My boss was so gracious to hold my position, and I am very grateful for her for that.

Needless to say, God provided for us during our time of greatest need. We knew in our hearts that He was calling us to missions in the summer, and that He would provide for the costs of that as well. There were two trips, one to Mexico and one to Nicaragua. After days of praying, God broke our hearts for the people and nation of Nicaragua. I put in my request off from work, turned in our applications, and paid our deposit. We had NO idea how God was going to provide for the remaining $2500 balance, but we knew He would!

While I was still working at the Montessori School of Rome, Kaitlin and I were contacted by a man who we house-sat and pet-sat for last year. He wanted us to watch his house and animals for two weeks in May and offered to pay us over $1000. Is God not amazing? Our family also provided very generously for our trip, and with a little sacrifice on our part, we brought our balance to zero with weeks to spare before our flight.

Sure, there were setbacks. Major setbacks. Accidents, loss of income. Hospital bills4. I left out the part where we found out that tax increases (and increases in our income) caused us to owe over $400 in state and federal taxes this year. Also, the man didn’t tell us that one of his three horses is a mustang that takes hours to be caught and put in his stall, while another of his horses founders frequently (and did so on our watch). That last setback wasn’t financial, but it still kinda sucked. Throughout the whole journey, though, was God’s reassuring voice of promise, His unfailing shower of blessing, and His passion in our hearts for missions. He never let us go, and certainly provided for us in miraculous ways.

God always provides. Even in the face of extreme tribulation and seemingly hopeless situations, God’s promises are sure. His love never fails, never gives up, never runs out!

The LORD called us to Nicaragua, and He was faithful to get us there, despite everything the Enemy could through at us. How great is our God?

Taken of a storm coming at Fort Mountain State Park5. The view was so much more beautiful in person. It turned out to be a powerful storm, but watching it coming we couldn’t help but be reminded of the power of our Creator. Even in the midst of a storm, His greatness, power, and beauty is evident.

To be continued…

-Zack

**Blog posts subject to change. Mostly grammar corrections, which I usually make as I catch them, which can happen suddenly without notice, perhaps in the time it takes you to read this. If you see changes, do not be alarmed. You are not crazy. This has been a public service announcement.

1. Meant as an exclamation, not a greeting.

2. Insurance Research Council data from 2009. That was four years ago. I am far too lazy to find current data. Does that make me a lazy blogger? Probably.

3. Fancy word my church uses for Sunday School. We do, however, experience a ton of growth together.

4. We still haven’t seen even the tip of the iceberg of those, even 7 months later. But we know God will provide! He is so good!

5. Fort Mountain State Park is located in Georgia, not in Nicaragua. Just for the record.

Our First Christmas! (or, An Attempt to Bring Things Up to Speed: Part 1)

For someone who loves to write and has had lots to write about, I’ve been terrible at it! I could pitch you a series of convincing, half-true excuses why I haven’t been able to keep up with this blog, but I’ll save you that and cut to the first installment of my massive catching-up update: my first Christmas spent with Kaitlin (and family!)

As is the case every major holiday, the struggle to sort out how to visit both of our extended families began about a month before Christmas. This year proved to be less simple than years past, because while we both wanted to visit our families, we also kinda wanted to have Christmas time to ourselves, with it being our first. Most of the ideas to solve this dilemma involved too much stress (and gasoline) than our minds and bodies would be able to handle (driving from Rome to Marietta on the Eve of Christmas Eve… going to the Christmas Eve celebration at my grandmothers house in Woodstock the next day… then driving back to Rome that night to spend Christmas morning together alone the following morning… only to try to make it all the way to Macon by lunch time!). Not to mention Christmas fell on a Sunday that year, which brought church attendance into the equation!

It was somewhere during that whole deal when one of us (I want to say it was me, but I cannot be sure =P) thought of the brilliant idea of spending the weekend before Christmas in a cabin in Tennessee, celebrating Christmas together there instead of Christmas morning. I have to admit, being too much of a sentimentalist made this hard, but after I let go of religiously and emotionally HAVING to celebrate Christmas on Christmas Day, it became the funnest Christmas idea ever!

This was our view from our cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains! I find that I’m more of a mountain person than a beach person. There is nothing like enjoying a view like this, and experiencing God’s beautiful design in creation. The Great Smokies are a personal favorite of mine, having visited multiple times during my youth (not to mention my honeymoon!). Kaitlin always gets a kick out of me never leaving out the “Great” in Great Smoky Mountains. It turned out to be a fairly cheap and endlessly fun Gatlinburg getaway Christmas, mostly spent at Dollywood (with rain checks from the time we went during our Honeymoon and it closed because of a storm), eating, and shopping.
Although ridiculously overpriced, Dollywood is such a fun place to go, and doesn’t get old (or at least hasn’t gotten old yet). Being the holiday season, they had the whole place lit up, like this:

I don’t remember what the name of that chapel is. It’s on the picture, but pretty fuzzy. It amazed me how many people put honest, personal prayer requests in the guestbook. It really had the feel of a church rather than a part of a theme park. Kaitlin and I did a little bible study hear and then continued a long the park. Can you imagine having to put Christmas lights on buildings like that? The chapel was pretty tame compared to the countless lights put up on all the buildings in the entire park. Over 6 million lights in all! At least, that’s what they told us when we were on the train:

Kaitlin snapped this jewel. Pretty cool, actually! This train really put the one at Six Flags to shame. We soon found out (thanks to the guide) that this train doesn’t stop for NOTHIN’; if you pulled the emergency line, you better have a good reason (dropping your cell phone/camera/iPad is not considered an emergency (nor is getting a cinder in your eye (I guess they get that a lot))). Aside from the lights and the train (and the rides, which I sadly have no pictures of), the blacksmith is always a winner:

If I remember correctly, it’s Kaitlin’s favorite part of the park. We spent at least half an hour watching the blacksmith work his magic with the fire (and knocked out some people on our Christmas gift list too!).

And what would Christmas (or anything in life) be without great food? If you ever go to the Great Smoky Mountains/Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge, there are three restaurants that you absolutely have to go to:

Shrimp Lover's Feast, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co
Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.,
The Old Mill Restaurant
The Old Mill Restaurant,
Hungry Bear Breakfast @ Smoky Mountain Pancake House
…and the Smoky Mountain Pancake House.
     If you happen to have ever driven all the way to this part of Tennessee and did not come across these fine eating establishments, you seriously missed out to say the least. Arrive hungry and order what you want, because it is going to be one of the best dining experience your mouth has ever encountered, hands down. If you go to Bubba Gump, freshen up your Forrest Gump trivia, because you will be tested! Also, go ahead and order the hush pups. Just do it. At the Old Mill, just about anything on the menu will be great, but make sure you order extra corn fritters. They are the best in the world! Seriously. What you see in the last picture is the Hungry Bear Breakfast! I recommend it.

When we got back home, we still had a day to rest and prepare for all the traveling. We celebrated Christmas with my family at my grandmother’s (Nanny!) Christmas Eve party, and headed to Kaitlin’s house to celebrate with her family on Christmas Day. All in all, it was such a peaceful and fun alternative to running around across the state that week. Who really wants to get stressed out during Christmas? It’s hard to avoid it, but should we really celebrate the birth of our Savior by stressing out, running around like chickens with our heads cut off, buying people things they don’t need just because it’s what we’re supposed to do, etc. I’m not trying to be a Grinch at all here; Christmas is actually one of my favorite times of the year, and I don’t have anything against buying Christmas presents (I bought Kaitlin a new study bible and a barn coat, and she bought me an iPhone (which produced all the pictures in this post!). I just think that anything that can be done to make Christmas more of a joyous celebration and peaceful fellowship with family should be wholly pursued, and we had such a great time pursuing it this year.

Such a great time, that Christmas in the Smokies may become our first family tradition. =] Well just have to see.

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree…

Yesterday, after a fairly successful (and fun!) yard sale and a surprise visit from some pretty awesome friends, Kaitlin and I made our way to the Silver Creek Christmas Tree Farm to pick out our very first Christmas Tree. Upon arriving, we were quickly greeted by the friendly staff, given a saw and a measuring stick, and headed out towards the countless rows of leyland cypress and white pines.

We quickly found this not to be an easy endeavor.

For about half an hour we searched, frequently running into nearly-perfect trees, only to find bald spots when we circled them. Some would be great from one angle, but just not that great from everywhere else. From far away, many looked promising, only to disappoint us when we finally reached them. In hindsight, we were probably very unfairly critical and judgmental towards these trees. When we finally realized that we were not going to find an 8 feet tall tree that was unfailingly symmetrical and branch-y from top to bottom, one called out to us, and we knew it was just right.

I took the provided hand saw and started cutting. This became quite tiring in no time at all, especially having gotten up at the break of dawn to start our yard sale earlier that morning, and having to use a saw that was dull from hundreds of uses. In about a minute or two, it finally hit the ground and we started dragging it back. We didn’t get far at all before one of the staff came rolling along in a tractor pulling a trailer that he offered to pull the tree in. I snapped a photo of Kaitlin, and then he snapped one of the both of us, which was nice!

Note how beautiful she is!
A little blurry, but it was a phone camera.

They drove it up, wrapped it, and tied it to the top of the Nissan Altima while we ran into John Moore (the college minister of West Rome Baptist Church) and got to have a brief chat about Christmas trees and exchange belated congratulations (he recently had some additions to his family, and we got married (in case you didn’t know)).

On the way back a whole-in-the-wall BBQ restaurant caught our eyes. Those are the best kinds, so it was very exciting. Upon closer inspection, however, we found that they were closing, which was extremely unfortunate. We went to Shane’s instead. There, we ran into two other friends, who just so happened to be UGA fans and were headed to continue watching the game. We put our college football loyalty differences aside and enjoyed a little fellowship before they left.

Anyway, back to the tree. We soon discovered that there is more to putting up a tree than just cutting it down and bringing it home. It has to fit into the stand. That was not happening. Some of the bottom branches had to go. Out of desperation, I tried some pretty stupid things like a box cutter and a steak knife. The branch of the pine yielded to neither. Meanwhile, Kaitlin is trying to hold up the tree and balance it on the little part of the stand that the tree can sit on, with a few close calls when it leaned a little too far for comfort. This wasn’t going to work. We needed a new plan.

I carried the tree outside so it wouldn’t cause any more mess in the house, and drove to Wal-mart to get a heavy-duty clipper. After rushing back home, I hopped out of the car and quickly started to clip those stubborn branches off. Finally, we got it into the stand and tightened the screws. My cutting job was not very   straight, and the tree itself was not perfectly straight. This made it a little harder to work with, but we finally got it to stand without leaning and though the bottom looked a little naked after the trim, we were very proud of ourselves.

Our tree! I added our Nativity scene today. It’s from Willow Tree and it’s so awesome!

There is just something about having the tree up that makes Christmas feel so much more closer. I’m so excited about our very first Christmas! Just looking at the tree awakens that excitement and makes me so thankful to God that He has blessed me with such an incredible life, wife, and home, and that He loves us so much that He left His throne and became the Son of Man that I (and you and you and you and even YOU) may be saved by the grace shown through His death and Resurrection. It has become so cleche, but in the mess of it all, let us not ever for a moment this year forget that we are not gathering in the name of capitalism or materialism, but in the name of Jesus, Son of the Living God.

Merry 21 days before Christmas, everyone!

– Zack

It’s Been a While

It’s been far too long. Here’s an update on things:

I got married!
I started working at the Boys & Girls Club
We got a Lionhead rabbit and named her Hannah! She’s sweet, but she’s also mischievous.
Kaitlin and I went camping! The hurricane came through and we almost floated away! It was my first time camping, and we had a blast!
My hunt for Dr. Pepper 10 came to an end when it was introduced at our Wal-mart. I soon after got addicted! I was already addicted to soda. But still!
I started geocaching more. This is me with my 50th find! Photo courtesy my beautiful wife, Kaitlin!
I attended my first NCAA college football game, where the Jackets CRUSHED the Tigers! If you look closely, you might find my brother-in-law rushing the field.
I went to my last David Crowder*Band concert during the 7 Tour when they came to Atlanta at the Tabernacle! That’s us with Matt Ames after they melted our faces off.
I guess that’s about it in a nutshell. I might add more later, and I’ll try to do this more often!
in Christ,
Zack

Going to the Chapel

The Camp Pinnacle Chapel
(Photo Courtesy Kaitlin Rachel Wood)

Kaitlin sent me this photo last Saturday. It was my first glance at the chapel where were are getting married. My immediate thoughts were that it was perfect. So perfect. It seemed surreal, at that moment, that we are getting married. It’s really really exciting, but also really surreal. It’s something we’ve been waiting for and working towards for a long time, and it’s actually happening. The chapel is booked, along with the reception area next to the lake. The rooms are booked for us to stay in the night of the rehearsal dinner. The honeymoon is booked. I have a solid job to provide with. It’s happening. It’s really happening. Its so exciting!! I could cry just thinking about it.

We drove up the following Monday to see everything in person. Y’all, this chapel really is the most beautiful and perfect in the world. I don’t care where you have been, there is no place I’d rather get married. The whole campus is bursting at the seams with God’s love and spirit. It’s so evident everywhere. The chapel looks so amazing. And the whole time, I couldn’t help fast-fowarding to June. The next time I see it might be the day before the wedding. So cool and surreal. The empty (yet still elegant) chapel will soon be full of people and joy (and, inevitably, stress and probably a little chaos, but still!).
These pews will be filled with loved ones
She’ll be walking down the aisle, beautiful as ever, in white
That’s my bride! She got her hair done while we were up there and it looked so gorgeous (though, it is impossible to mess up her naturally beautiful hair). It was another little piece of what the wedding would be like (that I was surprised to be able to preview, but hey, I’m not complaining!). I can’t wait to stand in front and wait for her to walk down that aisle. I’ll be so nervous and excited and happy.
God instituted and ordained this and I can’t wait for him to lead our wedding and our marriage. I know it’s going to be perfect. This is happening! It’s really happening. =]
in His grip,
Zack