Catalina Island has always been special to me. Like the old Hollywood tune: “Twenty-six miles across the sea, Santa Catalina is waitin for me.” I first went to Catalina Island on a cruise ship when I was 12 years old, with my mom and sister. I thought it was so cool seeing the cliffs of the island through the fog when I woke up in my family’s stateroom. I was in awe of what we were doing while we were taking a little boat from the Cruise ship to the dock and being on an “island” for the first time. My love for Catalina Island grew with my Earth Science class of Calvary Chapel Christian School in 1995. We had 2 failed attempts to get to Catalina Island in a little charter boat, when the Coast Guard would radio that the waves were too choppy for us to sail. When we finally made it, my classmates had the highlight of all Jr. High, kayaking through caves near Two Harbors and doing a Sea-Trawl, picking up all kinds of sea-creatures for examination with our teacher, Mr. Stevens. Being on the high seas was exhilarating for us as 14-year-olds. I proudly put pictures of the Catalina Trip on my folder the next year. Over next four summers of 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, my youth group from Bible Fellowship of Riverside went camping on Catalina Island at Hermit Gulch Camp Ground. With my friends Jim, JB, Kyle, Neal, Guin, and Mara, Casey & Josh, and the rest of the youth group, would have the time of our lives, building our relationship with God together on the island. We had amazing intimate chapel services, delving deeper into the meaning of the Bible and into God’s plan for our lives. We had great worship times there, singing praises to Jesus at our campground and even up in the Wrigley Memorial Tower, with a sweeping view over the botanical gardens and the ocean. Neal, still a high-schooler, and Drew Shirley, the youth group intern, would lead us on guitar. Both these friends had a great influence on my own worship-leading style as singer of The MentoneTones, guitar-playing at Fuente de Vida Hispanic Ministry, and leading music at my church-plants in Spain. The songs we would sing around the fire on Catalina Island, and the memories of snorkeling and rock-jumping are still very meaningful to me 14 years later, so I’ve maintained a love for the island, even while living in Spain.
Well, this past month, everything has been coming together for my engagement to my girlfriend Sara. Everything also fell into place to take Sara on a boat-ride with my best-friend and his wife. I managed to keep the whole weekend a surprise for Sara! All she knew was that she had to bring changes of clothes! So she went along with my idea to take her on a surprise weekend trip. She didn’t know what she was going to be doing. I picked her up Saturday after-noon and drove her to Long Beach, where Sara and I spent a great evening with Jim and Lacy. They did tell her that she had to be ready to leave for an all-day outing at 7:30 am. So she got an idea of where we were going when we drove up to a parking garage that said: Catalina Express Parking. Still I was a little tight lipped and this added to the fun and mystery of our outing. Sara and I had a great time standing in the boat looking at the approaching island jutting out of the Pacific Ocean. It was fun to see all the yachts and canoers as we pulled into Avalon Harbor. We ate at a cafe right in the shadow of the Avalon Casino. It had a banner saying: “Avalon’s Best Kept Secret”. That sounded tempting, and it was built right on the water, which was nice. Lacy ordered breakfast minutes before they stopped serving breakfast, while the rest of us got lunch. I got fish tacos and Jamaica to drink. It was a good value for being built right on the famous harbor. Later we went paddle-boating around the harbor. I didn’t want my board shorts to go to waste, so when Jim dared me to jump off the boat into the harbor, I did without blinking! We successfully handed my camera off to Jim and Lacy in their paddle-boat, so that they could take Sara’s and my picture, then successfully handed it back over, without dropping it into the brighny deep. I saw Jim pulling sea-weed to throw at me, so I grabbed some too, to throw back at him if he tried anything, then we sort of chased each other’s paddle-boats around the yachts with sea-weed in tow. Lacy said she steered away from us when she saw we both had a mischievous look. Sara and I also had some very romantic moments together in our little boat. It was so special doing new kinds of teamwork building activities with my soon-to-be fiancée.
After we changed our clothes in the Pier restrooms, my Dockers were wrinkly from being in a backpack, but it wasn’t that bad, I felt good just to be on an island with my best friends! We made our way over by the basketball and volleyball courts, where our golf-cart rental was. We picked it up and made our way up to the Wrigley Botanical Gardens. This was one of the biggest moments of my life, and I had to act like we were just going to look at botanical gardens with plants endemic to Catalina Island. Jim and Lacy took their cue and said they would look at stuff in the opposite direction, so I asked Sara if she’d like to go in the castle. We headed up the path and I was telling her about how I used to sing and have my morning Bible reading up in the “tower” of the Wrigley Memorial. I was telling her how it was such a special place to me, and I was saying I wanted to go up in there before Lacy and Jim, so we could have some romantic moments alone in the “castle”. Sara was all up for that, so we set up the beautiful stairs on the right side of the Wrigley Memorial. I lead her up past the reflection pool and past the think bronze doors, and up the steep steps to the “Keep”. When we got to the tower, I heard a couple talking, since the voices carry in the arched ceiling of the tower. We walked up by them and we also stood there, enjoying the view on Avalon and the Pacific Ocean below. When the other couple walked out, I put our backpack down and took Sara’s backpack too, and I told her that I wanted to take her picture, since we were in such a beautiful place, what she didn’t know, was it was Lacy and Jim waiting with camera and video-camera to capture Sara’s reactions! Instead of a camera, I took out the ring-box and I got down on one knee and I opened the box. I told Sara how the 34 smaller diamonds were for her parents 34th Wedding Anniversary, that they were celebrating that weekend. I told her that I want to have a marriage like they have had for 34 years. I told her the 6 diamonds in the middle of the ring were for the six best months of my life, being so loved and lifted up by her sweetness. Then I asked Sara: “Sara, Will you marry me?” Sara’s jaw had dropped by now, I really had surprised her, she nodded her head “yes” at first. Then I asked her again since I wanted to hear her say it, she was totally in shock. She then said “yes”. Jim couldn’t hear her on the video-camera, so her asked her if she said “yes”, and she said louder “yes”, smiling wildly, with her dimple’s sticking out. Jim and Lacy left us to embrace for a while, and then video-taped us standing and embracing and talking, as they were in the level below. We took tons of pictures, posing for Lacy and Jim as they snapped photos and video-taped. We took more on the first level, by the reflection pool, then again on the stairwell, and of Sara and I dancing on a bridge in the botanical gardens. As we drove away in our golf-cart I had a huge smile on my face and so did she. I teared-up as we held hands and our eyes were fixed on each other, as we smiled exaggeratedly at each other. We topped off the day with Big Olaf’s Waffle cones by the water and an Italian dinner. Besides a baby-throwing up at the table next to us, it was a great dinner. I was overjoyed that they had the “Pastrami Au Jus Dip Sandwich” on the menu, with Draft Rootbeer on tap, how perfect was that! We took breathtaking pictures of the Avalon Harbor from up on the hill by the Wrigley Mansion, from a cliff with 300 degree views of the Pacific Ocean. We saw a deer with a huge rack of antlers, relaxing by the Bell-tower, on a cliff above the Avalon Casino. We asked about the wart-hogs of Catalina, and found out that they had been slaughtered. No longer will we have Havalinas running through our camp ground and sniffing our tents at Hermit Gulch campground. I felt bad for the Wart-hogs, and I lamented their passing, hoping the Catalina buffalo will be spared in the future. But my bereavement for the Catalina Wart-hog was overcome by my love of my brilliant fiancée Sara, tall and gleaming, so full of the joy, laughing at my use of “havali” (a spanishism). We took excellent photos of her up on the hills, showing her engagement ring with a big smile on her face, we found great corners on the outskirts of Avalon to take engagement photos, to hug and kiss, enjoying being lovers of loving love, on Catalina Island.