It is difficult to feel at ease anywhere anymore in a way that would make as if I am settling in. Maybe there is a sense that we are supposed to feel this way and continue with our focus toward heaven. It certainly helps to clarify focus on Christ and His Kingdom.
The craziest things seem to happen at the craziest times. All of my roaming the earth has brought friends and acquaintances from all over. It makes it even crazier when we see each other after years or decades outside of our original context. A few weeks before we were going to head out for Slovenia, I was “friended” on Facebook by an old friend from my last horrible semester in a formal college setting. We began chatting and it just so happened that he is working at the Atlanta airport where he has been the past few years. So of course we just decided we would meet up and hang out while we were waiting on our flight out of the country and onto our new life.
It was great to see him and catch up from the past two decades. The last time I had seen him was at Amy and I's wedding – 24 years ago. Meanwhile we continued to have issues bringing our Boston Terrier with us. Amy had been on the phone for countless hours trying to resolve any issues ahead of time, but was constantly met with inconsistency and non-committal responses from the airline. She had hard copies of all our paperwork and an email trail to prove she had done her due diligence so we could be accompanied by our four legged companion. As we were chatting with my long lost friend from college, Amy's name was called out over the intercom. Of course the airline didn't have the paperwork they needed to fly our dog.
The airline worker claimed the office that makes the decisions was closed for the day and she wasn't sure what to do. Really – a modern well-known airline that Amy had worked with tirelessly to make sure all issues were resolved was about to not allow us to fly out with our dog to our new life. At least my old college buddy was there in case we had to leave the dog behind. I could only imagine the amounts of inconsolable tears that were about to be shed by the female side of our family if it actually came down to that.
By God's grace the airline worker just took it upon herself to make a decision. She came over to where the dog was sleeping, took a look at him, and said he could go. She never looked at the paperwork we had – including all the clearance paperwork from the vet – and we never had to show anyone else. How bizarre. We brought our dog to a foreign country and were never questioned by anyone else. We had all the proper paperwork, but when the airline found they didn't have it they basically just let us through. Inconsolable tears avoided indefinitely.
On the way to the plane the airline decided to start confiscating everyone's carry-on bag so they could sentence them to infinite exile in airplane lost baggage land by force “gate checking” them for our convenience. Of course everyone knows that a gate checked bag is as good as lost forever. The girls and I got stopped and were forced to relinquish our careful guardianship over to the Samsonite gorillas also known as airport baggage handlers. My daughters looked at me with fear hoping their dad would provide some reassurance because they didn't understand what was happening. I should have offered them a firm resolve and reassurance. But I didn't. Instead all I could muster in the moment was some flippant sarcastic cynicism. I said something like, “Say goodbye to your bag because this is the last time you'll ever see it again”. It is a humbling thing to have to be corrected by your 14 year old daughter when she looks at you with wisdom surpassing yours and replies, “Dad, that's not helpful.” Oh how painful to have to apologize and recant of the cynicism.
Amy was pretty shot emotionally and physically by the time we boarded the plane. At least she had the dog to provide some emotional support and take up the slack for me. Amy, I, and Luke were all seated together on a row with a girl from Denmark. Amy was just settling in for a good nap when our new friend from Denmark felt like chatting. It turns out that she is really into spiritual stuff and very interested in learning about our religion because I am a minister. Obviously God had different plans in mind than sleep.
She was genuinely interested in hearing the message of sin and redemption through the blood of Christ shed on the cross. She said she had never heard it explained so well before and was very thankful for the time we shared with her. I think the conversation gave Amy some supernatural strength. It was as if God was confirming his call on us immediately even as we journeyed.
Paris customs went pretty smoothly as we basically all but disrobed with hordes of Chinese travelers. At least we could speak enough French to make the process go smoothly. They never looked at our paperwork for the dog and just kind of waved him through. We were told in Atlanta that there was no guarantee that Paris would allow him to continue.
All my kids are seasoned travelers now. They know where to camp out and how to get into any open WiFi hot spot. Amy and I tried in vain to connect while our kids effortlessly surfed the web and updated social media. Finally our flight was on the tarmac and we walked trough freezing drizzle to board the plane.
When we arrived in Ljubljana I waited in vain at the luggage carousel with little expectation of seeing anything at all, let alone all of our baggage. I was not to be disappointed. The gate checked bags actually showed up, but had definitely failed the gorilla test. The zippers were broken and the contents were expanding out like a spring loaded jack-in-the-box. I looked over at the girls and they shot looks right back forcing me to keep my unbridled cynicism to myself. The fastener on one of our duffel bags was broken, and the airport workers had actually taken the time to tie it back together with some of the rope that was inside the bag. In the end only two bags were still caught in the Bermuda triangle- like vortex of lost airport baggage.
The most surprising thing was the amazing kindness and help of the Slovenian airport workers. The airport is small and the young gentleman that worked on my claim was both kind and professional. He assured me that we would have our bags within two days. He was right. They actually delivered them right to our door! Praise the Lord. It was kind of a big deal because the only things we brought with us were what we could carry on the plane. 1 check in bag less than fifty pounds, one carry on, and one personal item. We were ready to start out our new life de-cluttered.
The dog wasn't even considered in all this and walked out of the airport like he owned the place. Oh how good it was to see some of our new church family waiting outside in the inclement weather to bring us to our new home. They had a sign up at the house to welcome us. Sarah and Todd brought us some towels and sheets so that we could settle right in. Ram and Sally brought us a pot of stew so that we could start off our first night with a good hot meal. We realized pretty quick that we were going to need some utensils as we broke bread, gave thanks, and then used the broken bread to sop up the soup because it was the closest thing we could find to a utensil.
Jet lag is a difficult thing, and it becomes increasingly more difficult the older you get. Our kids sacked out with no problem. Amy and I tossed and turned for a few days before finally succumbing to overwhelming exhaustion enough to sleep through the night. The first morning we woke to an interesting phenomenon. Instead of hot water coming from our pipes, we had enough powerful steam that we could have simulated the meltdowns at 3 Mile Island or Chernobyl. If you tried to turn on the hot water the steam would come out so powerfully and forcefully that the entire room would become engulfed in steam so much that you could quickly get lost in the fog.
I tried contacting the guy that we were renting the house from, but didn't get an immediate answer. I went downstairs to check out the situation and opened a basement door to what resembled the engine room of a warship. Thankfully I had been on a warship, so maybe I could figure this out. There were three “bojlers” and it was easy to tell which one was ours. They all had a gauge on the front and two of the gauges were showing normal. One gauge was pegged way beyond the red zone and the “bojler” was leaking from the bottom. I guessed correctly that this one was ours.
The guy we are renting the house from called and walked me through shutting off the “bojler”. It was pretty easy because as soon as I turned the knob that was dripping water a big blue spark shot out, a loud bang erupted, and the breaker tripped. For the next few days we regressed to Haiti life and boiled water on the stove for baths. In the end it finally got fixed and we resumed somewhat of a normal first world existence.
Todd was gracious and let us borrow his van for the first week we were here. We used the time to find and purchase bikes in addition to bus passes. The bikes are really nice because there are bike paths and trails everywhere. The only problem with bikes is the weather is pretty inclement this time of year. I have pretty much made up my mind that if its not raining or too much snow I will bike. Otherwise I'll take the bus. That's what many of the locals seem to be doing so I'll see how it goes. Its kind of nice to have everyone able to get where they need to go independently of each other and without the need of a car.
Just when we think we've got the bus system figured out a new minor problem arises. We had gotten ready for church, went down to the bus stop to catch the bus, and realized that the schedule for Sunday is different than the rest of the week. Not wanting to be late, we walked back to our house, grabbed the bikes, and rode them in. One night after bible study we discovered that the bus schedule is also different after certain times on certain days and ended up having to walk quite a ways to catch a bus home. The good news is that the city is laid out in a manner that is conducive to walking.
The girls have started school and are doing well. They fit right in with all the other third culture kids and have a lot in common because most of the kids are from somewhere else. Amy has been volunteering at the school so she can remain connected with the girls and what they are up to. God has been using Amy in a wonderful way to minister to others as she volunteers daily.
Probably the hardest thing so far is that we now live where the sun don't shine. At leas not all the time. When it does come out from hiding it is beautiful, but still cold. Luke and Lance told one of the church members from Pakistan that we needed to drive somewhere nearby so we could see the sun. In his wonderful accent he exclaimed, “You won't find it! Even when you see it you will only find the dummy sun. It looks like the sun but it doesn't get warm until spring! You can stand in it all day and never find it warm!” So I guess we will have to make do with the “dummy sun” until spring.
Thanks to everyone for your prayers. We feel them and they sustain us. May God be praised as we begin this new life for His glory and His Kingdom.