When I was young and naive, I loved reading fiction and worried little about its relationship to reality. Now older with a more sober understanding of the world, I appreciate biographies and the encouragement I find reading stories of people who faced difficulties and overcame by God's sustaining grace. This two-part tale is not an epic one (though it felt of epic proportions when our family was in the midst of it!) Rather it is a reminder that God does carry us over mountains and to the other side. My challenge is to acknowledge His presence when the pressure mounts, in the moment rather than a month later when the dust has settled. I am thankful for His undeserved grace.
|a picture of a quiet moment during packing days|
The night before we left (Monday) we spent one final evening with the Fisher cousins and Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop. We would see everyone but Pop-Pop again the next day before departure. After our meal, we gathered the grandchildren around to hear his words of farewell. He shared how when he and Mom-Mom left for the mission field so many years ago, he did not understand what his father felt saying goodbye. Now he understands all too well. He tried to explain in simple words that he could be somewhat changed the next time our kids see him, due to the illness he is battling. And he assured each one of his love and prayers even while we were far away. Needless to say, tears were shed and hearts were heavy as we headed home to one final push of packing before the next morning's mayhem.
Mom-Mom in true fashion saved the day for us by rolling up her sleeves and coming to tie up loose ends at the missionary home in the wake of our departure. Other friends had kindly offered to come help but she said she could do it - and maybe it was her way of staving off sorrow with sweaty hard work! We felt badly but she insisted and so we said tender farewells and left her there, armed with cleaning agents and a to-do list as we drove off with the Fisher family in two vehicles towards the Baltimore airport. There at the curb we unloaded our crazy amount of loot: sixteen full-size suitcases, eight bulging carry-on suitcases, and eight personal items plus a diaper bag and stroller. Practicality won out and goodbyes were said quickly to Aunt Terri, Uncle Dave, Benjamin, Nathaniel and Sophia who had been such a sweet part of our furlough year as we enjoyed living just twenty minutes apart for the first time ever!
|a picture just before the adventure began|
Fortunately, with the aid of luggage carts and a couple of strong young sons eager to push them, we made it quickly to the nearby counter and began to lift suitcases onto the scale. This is where things began to crumble, as bags which were perfectly weighed at fifty pounds or under on the home scale seemed to have gained a pound en route. While sometimes this isn't an issue, on this morning the agent felt pressured to be a stickler because her supervisor was somewhere nearby. (How do we know this? Because towards the end of sixteen bags, she whispered that he had gone downstairs and she wouldn't worry about the last few!)
She was kind but firm, encouraging us that "just a little" needed to be taken out of this bag or that. "How about a pair of jeans?" she asked at one point as we crouched, sweating and stressed, zipping and unzipping, crowding the path that other passengers must navigate around us to their own luggage counters. Obviously she was not the mother of a teenaged MK girl and little did she know the story of those jeans or the pursuit of the perfect pair to take back to Chile where there would be unavailable for another x amount of years! So we pulled out pants with worn hems and a hand-me-down hoodie I would have liked to keep, and one daughter's sandals purchased in Chile and able to be replaced there. The agent gave us bags to hold them but already maxed out with personal item allotments we had little choice but to discard what didn't meet the weight allowance. It was not a stellar way to begin nearly 24 hours of travel, and already-fragile emotions began to fray.
Finally check in was done, with one strange occurrence. While boarding passes for all of us printed neatly for our first flight (Baltimore to Miami), the system printed all but one boarding pass for the second flight (Miami to Santiago) and none but one for the final flight (Santiago to Iquique.) Little did we know this seemingly minor detail would ratchet up the pressure at our next stop! At the time we were just glad to move on to the following step - airport security - which we had tried to talk over in advance with our children and we all dreaded. Unfortunately, one teen affected by the loss of personal items at check-in reached an early breaking point. Struggling with bags in the security line led to a rush of tears. A kind stranger tried to help and little brother Silas in his stroller was exchanged for the bags, as he was easier to maneuver and his eager curiosity helped take the edge off an emotionally charged moment.
Airport security on US soil is a strict routine: Take off shoes, take off jackets, take out electronics. What we didn't anticipate was the agent saying each child had to hold his or her own passport. Since a passport is basically worth its weight in gold, our kids do not normally handle them and most didn't even know where to find their own picture. Not only that, but as the pile of eight blue books was handed from one to another it was dropped to the floor and nearly caused cardiac arrest for one overwrought mother. We tried to direct our tribe to the less-busy lane but needless to say it felt like we were "all thumbs" trying to give instructions, oversee opening and closing and lifting and pushing, juggling the baby and stroller (an unwieldy thing that also had to be folded flat and miraculously squeezed through the machine) and making sure everything and everyone made it through. Of course it would have been impossible for so many items to survive without scrutiny, and one or two of us being called aside for inspection made the process even more chaotic. (Humorous note to self: Fetal models are an unusual carry-on item and will always get questioned!)
Finally, however, we were all through. Bags were reorganized, shoes replaced and tied, boarding passes in hand and hungry bellies ready to be filled. We filed through the halls to our gate and tried to make an organized pile of belongings, then six went off to find food while two remained on luggage guard duty. I was happy to be one of them. A blessing at this point in time was the request for passengers to relinquish carry-on suitcases to the luggage hold free of charge. They would be sent all the way to Chile (no need to pick them up in Miami) and create significantly less hassle lugging them onto the airplanes and through the connecting airports. Thank you, Lord! By the time we had checked them in and everyone had eaten, it was time to board the first flight. One down, two to go ... (To be continued in Part 2.)