The Last Happy Day

I bought some shorts last October off the clearance rack in Kohl’s.

Pretty standard things: plaid-printed shorts with too many pockets.  They were the sort of clothing you’d see in a Sunday circular, modeled by semi-muscular white men surrounded by strategically-placed men of varied ethnic origin.  I suppose a certain obligation existed for me to go full monty and purchase a matching polo shirt and boat shoes, but according to my mother I’ve inherited my father’s non-compliant streak.  Besides, the only polo shirt on clearance was white and had embroidery of what appeared to be two alligators sharing an extremely intimate moment.

Matching ensemble or no, never have a pair of shorts been so pregnant with meaning.

We live high in the Andes, in South America.  Life among conservative people groups at 10,000 feet rarely permits anything other than full coverage, especially considering low temperatures and high UV indices.  The shorts, therefore, represented a shift.


My annual campaign platform for re-election as Supreme Family All-Being usually contains three basic planks: a coconut-free home environment, kitchen dancing rights reserved for those actively cooking, and no changes of significance – ever.  As I see it, change is sort of like a vasectomy: it sounds great on paper, and does other people a lot of good.  I just don’t want it done to me.  Of course, since the Almighty must do something for laughs, Stacy and I received an email last fall regarding a new opportunity for service.  Despite the potential for stomach-churning change, the offer intrigued us, and I began with the questions.

Could we do this job from here where we currently live, in the land of volcanoes and roasted guinea pigs, of mountain lakes and chocolate groves?  Would we at least be able to remain here in the Americas, the place we’ve raised our kids for the last 10 years?  Near our daughter’s birthplace (Venezuela) and the home of our children’s hearts (Ecuador)?  Would we at least live in a place where the family’s language skills would be sufficient to get a start on life?

No, no, no, and no.

While our initial response involved hysterical, mocking laughter and the delete key, we eventually had to admit a certain fear of complacency in our current jobs.  Emails resurrected from the trash bin, cleaned and spread smooth once again, received attention and a more professional response.  We told the kids about the possibilities, and off I flew for an interview.

In retrospect, I do not believe I was quite prepared to discuss the matter.  It’s a pretty big shift in focus from what we’ve been doing, this new job.  I thought…I guess I thought the row I’ve been hoeing would last longer than a toddler’s temper tantrum in Target.  Eternal assurance somehow metamorphosed from “once saved, always saved” to “once called, always called to the same exact role in the Kingdom until the day they torch your corpse at Crowder’s Funeral Home out at the highway’s junction with route 646.”

Interview over, I pretended for some time that I had not already made a decision.  I made my way to my folks’ house and spent some time running and buying Christmas presents and playing Madden on my father’s Xbox 360.  Amazing – my dad owns an XBox; same man who mocked my purchase of an Atari back in the 7th grade owns a personal gaming system for his own personal use.  Even more amazing, his conservative game-planning at Madden usually guarantees a victory.  So long as I played with Dad and chatted with Mom and shopped with my sister, all was well.

And then I bought some shorts.

Our new location resides in a far different climate.  Rains nearing monsoon levels blow through, followed by intense heat and humidity to rival the hall bathroom after my 16 year-old’s 20 minute morning showers.  Air conditioning abounds.  Sandals are acceptable daily attire.  And shorts…well, let’s just say purchasing a pair shorts means I knew.

So why couldn’t I admit it?  Why not just send a video back to Stacy and the kids informing them that we would have a new address within the year?  Why was this calling so unbuckling-your-pants-on-Thanksgiving-afternoon difficult?

When Stacy and I first left the US, we were 23 years old.  We had few roots, no concrete expectations, no clear hopes and dreams.  We went from Texas to the Middle East to West Virginia to North Carolina to the Czech Republic to North Carolina all in 6 years.  God’s calling was relatively easy to follow: not too many friends to leave, no 20-year church membership to sacrifice, no well-loved home to sell.  Our cheap furniture lacked precious memories.  The hardest part was giving up the dogs, to be perfectly blunt.

But now…oh, it’s an entirely new ball of wax.  For starters, I own a leather recliner, so that’s different.  I also have dreams for my kids these days.  Just as some folks called by God must relinquish PTA, Boy Scouts, cheerleader camp, football in the fall, NASCAR, and Thanksgiving, I’ve had to realize that I, too, stand to lose my dreams and hopes for my children.

I wanted them to know and love at least ONE culture completely: Latin Andean.  I wanted them to be Spanish experts.  I wanted to hike Chimborazo with my daughter and scale Mount El Corazon with my boys.  I craved bullfights in the spring and snorkeling in summer.  We would eat encebollado for breakfast and cevichocho for lunch.  We’d vacation and work in every province in the country.  The miles of banana groves down by Guayaquil would be as familiar as the small town rodeos in communities outside Riobamba.

We would live in security among people whose body language we knew and understood.  The younger kids would follow in their older brother’s footsteps, translating for volunteer teams in small towns and big cities.  We’d know the Deaf in cities and towns scattered across the entire country, conversing with them in their own languages and dialects.

And that stupid pair of shorts meant it was all gone, tossed aside by the calling of God on our lives.  I guess I thought that once I surrendered to His calling to minister, that would be the last call with which I struggled.  I didn’t anticipate having to face that sort of loss after I arrived on the field.

Late one night after I returned to my mountain grown coffee here where the air is rare, Offspring #1 – whose heart beats with El Tri and futbol and all things Ecuadorian – asked plaintively, “Why?  Why must we go?  I mean – I know that we must, but why?”

“Dude, all the fun we have hiking Cotopaxi and camping by the river could go on.  The food could be exactly the same.  The weather, the fun Ecuadorian jokes and nicknames you enjoy at school – it could last us forever.  We could live and work and vacation and play and all those things here in country until we’re old and grey.  No problem.  However, now we know the truth of His calling, that He has plans for us, that there’s a path paved with obedience leading away from this place.  Now that we know, the day we say ‘No’ is the day it ends.  The day we say ‘No’ to His call away from here is the last happy day in Ecuador.  The very last one.”

We’ll move soon.  We’re selling some stuff, so if you need a fridge or washer let me know.  I’ve resigned myself to all to the losses I’ve mentioned, plus others.  Church planting is over for me, sadly.  So, too, is blogging about church planting and missions.  You’ll need to get your international mission news from someone else.  My Facebook activity is heavily curtailed, though that might change if I can figure out how to manage it in our extremely new environment.  Even so, I count it all as dung compared to the incomparable joy of knowing and serving Him.  It is far better to sacrifice and find new joy than to witness the dawn of the last happy day.




  1. Bill Mac says

    Whoot! I get to be the one who points out that the phrase “full monty” has evolved somewhat from its traditional meaning.

  2. says

    Possibly the best thing I’ve read here in the last year. Maybe two. All the best in your new endeavor and you will be greatly missed here.

  3. Debra Owens-Hughes says

    True joy is only found in complete obedience to Christ. You joy will be full!

    • says

      Deb, in a twist on an age-old question, the local fruit lady found out our time here was drawing to an end. When I told we were moving to another country, she asked, “Are you taking the kids?”

      Thought you’d like that.

  4. Greg Harvey says

    There goes God again with his “deep end, jump in” planning. Maybe he does that because that’s what we need?

    I’m also transitioning into the scariest of propositions: a startup. It’s been going for a few years now and is starting to get some traction. So earlier this year we were asked to come on board full time to get us through the current commitments and deliveries. So I’m writing this from Richardson, TX with the home in Marion almost on the market (after several strategic investments to improve curb appeal.)

    My almost-senior-in-high-school daughter is, of course, asking “why this year?” The three-year-past-HS-graduation son is looking forward to a change of venue to help in the immediate term career planning and educational selection process (i.e. money to go to school since his high school career didn’t quite fund the portion of costs Dad and Mom couldn’t cover at the moment). The almost-tenth-grade daughter seems to be the most excited about it: the leaving-things-behind-gene seems to have been inherited in full throat from her itinerant father (the 7 1/2 years in Iowa is the longest stay in one locale in my lifetime…which is to say I came by it “naturally”, too).

    Probably the saddest cases are my youngest son who doesn’t remember living anywhere else and my wife who often finds the delineation between “great acquaintances” and “good friends” a bridge too far in most friendships with most people. They were happy and content in Iowa and while both want the change to happen and to be a positive for the family, if Dad could have managed to just work at a distance neither would have complained.

    Not quite the same as Jeremy’s situation and yet exactly the same. It had become “time”. And now I’m energized and enjoying the new situation and just need the family around me. But I fully understand.

  5. says

    My pastor received a letter from my church extending a call to him, and he threw it into the trash and went on vacation with his family. While praying, he asked God for direction in his life, and the only answer he seemed to get was to retrieve the letter from his trash. So he told himself, that if it was still there, he would answer it.
    That was 5 years ago.
    He accepted us and we him, about 5 years ago.

    May God bless you even as He has blessed us.


  6. Christiane says

    I agree with Tom and Rick . . .

    your post is powerfully written . . . you ARE a writer with a gift and I hope you keep many journals and someday publish so that the wider world will benefit from your gift

    This post alone is worthy of a wider audience.

    • Greg Harvey says

      Nope. As one who has lived overseas, there are certain operational security elements that we had to follow. In our case, public statements inside the country could be used by the host nation to deny visas. It’s fair to believe things are even more complicated now.

      I’ll let you draw the appropriate conclusions.

    • Jeremy Parks says

      I imagine I’ll be around SBC Voices in one form or another. It just won’t be in the same way I’ve been here in the past.

    • Mike Bergman says

      D.L., Jeremy wrote:

      Our new location resides in a far different climate. Rains nearing monsoon levels blow through, followed by intense heat and humidity to rival the hall bathroom after my 16 year-old’s 20 minute morning showers. Air conditioning abounds. Sandals are acceptable daily attire. And shorts…well, let’s just say purchasing a pair shorts means I knew.

      I’m thinking Missouri…

        • volfan007 says

          Maybe he means Smackover, Arkansas? Or, Arkabutla, MS? Or, Frog Jump, TN?

          I’ve seen fire, and i’ve seen rain…..down here in the South, we have some booger bears of thunderstorms, and the heat and humidity will just kick you hard.

          David :)

        • dr. james willingham says

          Baloney, sounds like Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas or North Carolina or even Florida.

        • Jeremy Parks says

          Grew up around Houston. Had I been trying to reference Harris/Galveston County I would have mentioned nuclear cockroaches.

          • dr. james willingham says

            Found one of them nuclear cockroaches in the house the first part of this week, Inch and a half long, I think. Hard to tell after I stepped on him. Fortunately, my wife is from Eastern Kentucky where they would not make a peep, if a five foot cockroach were to show up. Has something to do with the resolution of those folks not to tell anyone anything from the outside world.

  7. David Rogers says

    Drink it all in. Treasure the memories. And remember that one day we are truly going Home, and will be right.

    • dr. james willingham says

      Been living on the verge of that for some time…especially after falling dead last year. NSC and CIA, etc., take notice.

    • Randy Mac says

      Jeremy, you have written beautifully about a very difficult decision. Thankful that you have the wisdom to keep your ears open. Having visited with missionaries often in Brazil and Kenya, there is a mystique in those places I don’t sense in America. So I know this has been tough. Thanks for sharing with us and thank you David for the reminder that nowhere on this planet is home.

      randy mac

  8. says

    Great writing, Jeremy. Consider yourself blessed to have been given the time in ministry that you have had. Some like myself have surrendered to a call that hasn’t materialized in a discernible or concrete way. Maybe someday.

  9. dr. james willingham says

    Some times, following the Lord’s leadership, etc., is fun, exciting, entertaining, enthralling, engaging, empowering, enabling, (R.G., eat your heart out). At other times it is excruciating, exacting, excessive, exacerbating, exasperating. All that aside, all that really matters is the final address: Eternity with the Lord Jesus.