A New Faith

A New Faith
"I feel great about turning 40. I'm having the time of my life."
Cliff Watts

09/27/2007 AT 12:00 PM EDT

Saturday is housecleaning day for Faith Hill, so when on Sept. 15 Tim McGraw cut his wife off from her vacuum cleaner and told her to get lost for a few hours, she knew something was up. She passed the time shopping near their suburban Nashville home with their daughter Gracie, 10, while Maggie, 9, went to the zoo and Audrey, 5, played with a friend. When she finally returned, McGraw was packed and ready to go . . . somewhere. With instructions to grab her makeup and a camera, Hill climbed in the car with her equally stumped girls while McGraw got behind the wheel. "He wasn't saying anything," says Hill of the drive to the airport. "I was dying."

McGraw managed to stay silent about the surprise he had spent months planning – for his wife's 40th birthday on Sept. 21 – for nine hours, but as their private jet started to descend, "He said, 'Guess where we're going,'" recalls Hill. "I said, 'Give us a clue!' And he said, 'Alexander the Great was from there.' And I was like, 'Oh, great, a history question.' I couldn't remember. Then he said, 'The first Olympics,' and I said, 'Rome!' Duh! And then Gracie said, 'Greece!' "

Their touchdown in Athens was only the beginning. McGraw, 40, had booked the famous Onassis yacht, the Christina O, and arranged for 30 or so friends and family members (including her father, Ted Perry, 77, and brothers Wesley, 47, and Steve, 45) to join them. Hill – who was adopted as an infant and later found her birth mother, now deceased, and full biological younger brother Zach, now 37 – was thrilled that for the first time, all her brothers were meeting. "She was in heaven," says her childhood pal and fellow cruiser Gaye Knight. "It was the full circle coming together." The only sad note, says Hill, was the absence of her mother, Edna, 71, who had a stroke a few years ago and is unable to travel. "I never thought my father would travel without my mom," she says. "When I saw him I just started bawling. I was like, 'Oh, Daddy,' and he started crying."
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