Hello Friends and Family!
I originally wrote this blog 6 weeks ago… but without regular internet connection, and with all of our travels it is just now being posted. The dates are about 6 weeks behind. As of now we are in Knoxville, Tennessee. Bart is finishing his Master’s and we are all fighting the stomach flu!
Let me share with you the story of our return!
The last week in France is foggy in my memory. We were all exhausted, and would not have made it through without your prayers and the help of our dear French friends who came to our rescue!
For us to move out of our apartment we had to have all of our things packed, or organized and bagged to be given away. This might seem like a small task, but we have discovered time and time again how hard it is to live in a place for such a small amount of time. We gave our extra groceries to our wonderful friends and neighbors (Probably 5 or 6 big bags). We packed, and packed and repacked according to what the scale said. We made arrangements to stay in an apartment a few blocks away via Air B&B (A LOT less expensive than hotels). This gave us the ability to clean the apartment, pack all of our belongings and not have to repack any extras. We had to sell some things on a French website that is similar to the American Craig’s list. We were very blessed by the apartment we stayed in. Though the apartments in France are compact, this one had beautiful floor to ceiling glass doors that went out onto a small balcony. We were able to look over most of down town Lyon from the 7th floor. It was a comforting way to say goodbye to a place we fell in love with.
John and Rachel Mumford, our dear friends, came over on our last evening and helped us get rid of all of the extras we had acquired (QUITE a lot!). It gave Lucas and Mia (best friends forever!!) a chance to visit and play, as well as Sophie, Hosanna and Louis. Rachel and I cleaned and cleaned while the guys made numerous trips to the other apartment to drop things off, or bring things back. When our landlord’s mother-in-law came to evaluate the apartment and get the keys, none of us were quite ready. I had spent weeks planning our departure, the goodbyes we would need to say, and the processing we would need to go through (because we all know that planning emotional adjustments is possible….NOT) I wanted to cover the anticipated adjustments in as much grace as possible. Somehow in the moment of leaving our apartment, my heart jumped from my chest and refused to leave, like a child not wanting to leave the playground. My feet felt like concrete and I just wanted to stay. We packed as much as possible into the Mumford’s car. The weather was appropriately cold and rainy, much the same as our day of arrival. That evening we prayed, cried and shared a communion with our friends. There really aren’t words.
That night, no one slept well. We were all buzzing with the energy of a huge change. Our suitcases were stacked and piled. They were full to the brim with our life in France, and yet we were leaving so much we loved behind. Bart had made arrangements with a taxi driver to pick us up in a HUGE SUV. Bart made 5 trips on the escalator from the 7th floor, down some stairs, and across a long walkway to the taxi. The driver was so kind in letting us borrow his kid’s car seats so that we would not have to fasten ours in and get them back out. When we arrived at the airport we realized we had forgotten the last link on our paper chain! The kids were heartbroken! For the kids, that was something we had been working on for weeks. At the same moment, I received a text from Rachel telling us that she had the last link of the paper chain in her car. She understood the significance of the chain and so recorded herself on her phone breaking the last link for the kids. Again, such a sweet God ordained moment that our best friends could be the ones who “ended” our last day.
We were quite the sight with 12 suitcases packed to the 23 Kg limit, a double stroller, our carry-ons, and Benaiah riding in the ring sling. We held up the line for nearly 45 minutes as the clerks printed ticket after ticket (we actually broke their machine) for all of our checked baggage. They informed us that we had too much baggage. British Airways has a special 3 bag allowance for each ticket holder for missionaries who go through a specific travel agency. We had purchased our tickets through said agency and thus were supremely shocked at this news. We were charged 450 Euros, tried not to cry, then took the remainder of our stuff to the “fast lane” security checkpoint and ran to our gate. We have since been in touch with British Airways and they are kindly reimbursing us for the misunderstanding….eventually.
I sat in front of Bart with all 3 kids, of my own choosing. The man needed a break! He’d been lifting and loading our suitcases nonstop! The two hour flight passed quickly. The kids were thrilled and asked lots of questions. Lucas had a pretty bad chest cold and slept for most of the flight. When the stewardess came around with our lunch and drinks we gobbled them down, already hungry after a light breakfast of Pain au Chocolate. The London airport was enormous! Unloading all of our stuff from the overheads, and getting everyone off the plane we entered a nearly empty airport. The tram took us to a more congested area, closer to our gate, where we had an intense search done in the security area (1 of 4 we would have done that day). They checked some of our unnecessary carry-on luggage for free. We hunted for our gate, went to the WRONG gate and then had to take potty breaks. Mercy. What a day!
Upon arrival to the gate we were informed that Bart was “selected” for an intense security search. By this time he had JUST gotten his shoes tied from the previous search, and the kids were finally content from being pulled out of the stroller. My calm tempered husband was over it and I was close as well. We unloaded Benaiah from his ring sling, unloaded all of Bart’s carry on, took off his jacket, belt, and shoes. By this time, being the priority flyers because of having babies was pointless. Everyone had passed us, and when we finally boarded the plane with all of our belongings we had to make several people get up to allow us through. We were very blessed to get to our seats and have one of our seat companions offer to trade any one of us seats to make it easier. Bart sat in front of me with Lucas and Hosanna. Benaiah and I sat next to a very kind woman (I’ll call her Karen) whom I made great friends with on our 8 hour flight. The kids were amazing and we had only a few emotional meltdowns from pure exhaustion. Benaiah slept the ENTIRE flight aside from feedings and diaper changes. Karen offered to hold him so that I could eat and he ended up staying with her for 2 hours, completely content while I ate, slept and watched a movie. Karen shared with me that she also loves Jesus. She allowed me to pour some of my brokenness, excitement and exhaustion into her and joyfully heard my stories. She was a beautiful buffer between cultures. God keeps putting these extraordinary people in our lives, sometimes for only a moment, but sometimes a moment is all it takes.
I still remember sitting in my seat and listening as the plane landed. The jolt of the tires onto tarmac was all it took for my eyes to overflow with tears. Karen smiled understanding the surge of emotions. In Chicago it was only 5pm, Eastern time, but our bodies thought it was 11pm. We normally let everyone else off of the plane first, as it is nearly impossible to move our family of 5 coherently through large groups of people. After we left the plane a stewardess helped us get our belongings to the stroller. We were all completely exhausted, but our feet moved hurriedly. I just wanted to see my dad’s face. To know that both our dad’s would catch us in their arms and that from that point our burdens and baggage would be much lighter.
We loaded our suitcases onto 3 luggage carts and, with the carts, the double stroller, and a now screaming Benaiah trying to jump out of his sling we barely made it through the doors that led us to our family. We looked, and looked, and a sense of dread filled me. Had they gone to the wrong place? Where were they?! “I’m going to look around and find them” I said to Bart. It only took a minute before I saw them sitting a couple of gates down, looking calm and relatively lost. I ran and jumped into my dad’s arms….Ok, well, maybe it was more like a big bear hug! I did still have a baby attached. We arrived at the camp at 1:30 the next morning, 7:30 Lyon time. We had been awake for 24 hours and crossed 5 time zones. We collapsed into bed.
Since that day, nearly three weeks ago, we have been on the go! Our first 3 days were spent sleeping, sorting and absorbing the shock of our return with close family nearby. Our stomachs have gone through mammoth adjustments, with much nausea each night. It also took us over a week to be hungry at the right times. Bart and I then left for a 3 day sabbatical time. After that much needed breather we spent time with my family. We came back to Converse to spend some much needed time with family, and supporters here. Currently we are visiting churches and supporters, explaining the change of plans and preparing for a move down to Knoxville, Tennessee where Bart will finish his Master’s. As of now we have time planned in Indianapolis, Indiana; Knoxville, Tennessee; Owensboro, Kentucky, and Paoli, Indiana. We will be spending the summer living at Mahoning Valley Christian Camp in southern Indiana. We will then move to Knoxville, Tennessee where Bart will finish his Master’s at Johnson University and we will pursue ways to continue speaking French. Some of these ways include taking French class through Johnson, as well as joining a French club via Alliance Francais.
Our long term plans are looking more hopeful as time passes! We are excited to be welcoming a new teammate! Our teammates and good friends Eric, Melissa, and Sophia Davis will be welcoming a new baby in August! We are so excited for them and continue to pray for them as they grow this beautiful blessing. We have agreed, as a team, that it would be better for us to arrive in West Africa as close as possible to the same time. This would allow us to process culture shock together, go through orientation together, and draw close to one another in some of the most overwhelming weeks of our first term. We are expecting, at this time, to be leaving the country in January of 2016. We are continuing to pray for the missionaries who are there, for their effectiveness and well-being. We long to join them on the field. We are also praying for the people in West Africa, that they would have dreams and visions of salvation and the truth of the scripture.
We have been so blessed to see so many of you these past weeks! We continue to be blessed abundantly by your prayers and support. As we have grown through this experience we see the blossoms of faith popping up in our lives. We praise our magnificent creator for each one of you. As last year came to a close we recognized many blossoms popping up, and each of them were evidence of the prayers, faithful support and encouragement we have received from you. Before we left France we were able to make “Thank You” cards and photo cards for our friends. As Lucas left school on his last day, he was very quiet, and more than a little heartbroken. Many times we have heard “You just have to learn that home is where you are together!” Usually the people saying this haven’t moved as often as we have, though some have. Not many have had to look into the eyes of their little one and say “I know that you’re heart is aching, that these are your best friends and your favorite teachers, let’s thank God that we were able to know them and love them!” knowing in your heart that, even if you return to Lyon, most of these families would be impossible to hunt down. What’s extraordinary, in pain, is that there is nearly always something that we love or are thankful for that has caused that pain. In our case we are aching to hear French, to bite into a crunchy baguette with cheese, or mostly to wrap our arms around the tremendous blessings of friends we have made. Do you know that we wouldn’t have any of these friends if you hadn’t chosen to believe in God’s calling? We wouldn’t have been in France with our teammates. We wouldn’t have met my phonetic teaching neighbor, Lucas’ teachers, the cheese lady at the market who loved on our kids, the woman who cleaned our building, and the man who became Bart’s best friend or the woman who became mine. Thank you! Let me say it again! THANK you! Thank you for sacrificing, for having faith, for praying, for your patience and love.
Now hang tight! Keep praying and stepping forward in faith! Our God is big, and His plans are beyond what we could dream!