Saturday, February 10, 2018

Fill In the Blank

After four and a half wonderful holiday weeks in Denver, Colorado, We landed again in Uganda on January 14 and hit the ground running. LITERALLY! 

I hauled my carry-on, stuffed to zip-stress, out the airplane door and down the stairs to the tarmac, and looked ahead to see my family several hundred feet ahead of me bookin' toward the arrival building—NO ONE wants to stand in line at immigration—Git ‘er done.

From arrival to today, one of the few times we've stood still was after we retrieved our assorted trunks and duffels (of course, overfilled with goodies from the U.S that are not available here, as well as plenty of items requested by others) and went to meet the driver bringing our van. All our racing meant we got through immigration and baggage claim as fast as it’s ever been done in our 12 years of hopping assorted continents, only to wait in the tropical, humid-hot parking lot 40 minutes while the driver crawled through traffic jam. I confess to worrying more than once whether or not our massively over-sized bag(S) of chocolate chips were melting as I was. (They didn't!)
Kampala--the view from our overnight guesthouse stay

Yeah, we landed on the 14th and promptly went to sleep at 6:30 p.m. after 24 hours of travel. (Such a short jaunt compared to our 110-hour marathon on our way to Denver about a month earlier—see previous blog for details of that harrowing adventure.) On the 15th we shopped for groceries, got our phones working, ate some lunch and headed to home sweet home. 

The first signs of a beautiful sunset at New Hope near our house

The next morning Geoff, Toby and Sam had an Investment Year meeting to kick off the IY year. The following day, the 17th, we began our week-long, all-day New Hope Uganda Envisioning meetings. But, instead, I went to back to Kampala to be with our neighbor whose Down’s Syndrome son she sought adoption for had taken a serious turn for the worse, requiring hospitalization. I also went the next Wednesday so I could be with him as she spent some much-needed time with her daughter. (The following Thursday he died and we buried him Friday, February 2nd--with lots of heartbreak and emotional strain.)

On returning from Kampala that Wednesday I didn’t even make it home as I got a call from a dear friend that one of our fellow staff had phoned her stating she wasn’t feeling well. The one who called me was very concerned, but lived in a village quite far away, so when I pulled the van into New Hope I turned right to the staff member’s house instead of left to my own. At about 9 p.m. I finally walked through our door.

The next ten days was a kind of 24/7 type of arrangement with the ill staff member. In the midst of attending to her and trying to begin homeschooling, praying and walking with the neighbor for her very sick child, Geoff and I stopped.

He and I painfully looked at the ebb and flow of demands, and realized intentionality was in order. 

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and take a look around once in awhile, you might miss it.” There are no accolades for those who run through life. There will, however, be accolades to the first one who can give proper credit in the comment space to the one I just quoted. 

I do not share our discordant first couple of weeks to receive any pats on the back or “way to go” comments.  There is no inherent honor or praise in busy, busy, busy--even if the busy=helping others. (Read a great book I read last year, Addicted to Busy, by Brady Boyd and see for yourself.) I have one focus, one desire as I share my words with you.

We know that this year—Sam and Toby’s IY year—will be very different with each of them having two of their three internships and all three of their IY training series either in Kampala or elsewhere.  We’re expecting a sort of trial run before a true empty nest. 

With all the demands threatening to pull us away from having time together as a family we knew we HAD to set aside intentional time with our kids. 

And for what? To speak blessing on each of them.  With all the ministry, they HAVE to know of our love for them, their importance to God and to us, and of God’s goodness, love, justice and supreme authority over all of us as we will increasingly walk our different directions this year and beyond.

So, we set aside a Saturday morning—13 days after landing and two days before the first IY training began. 
1st IY Training of 2018

 Geoff and I cooked a huge, special breakfast—not the usual for a Saturday. We sat down all together and opened God’s word to Colossians 3 which contains a smattering of both exhortations and warnings on life choices. And we shared . . .  “You are a priority—please don’t forget that. Trust us and know that we want good for you.” We asked, “What does it mean to dwell in His temple? To inquire of Him?” We admonished, “Find His presence in His word, through prayer, with your life hidden in Him. Such doesn’t happen by accident. You must be intentional and accountable with your commitments to read, pray, meditate, wisely choosing your company and activities. And then we prayed a specific, focused blessing on each individual one. 

That day was a New Hope-wide, all day (from 8:30 a.m.) sports day. But, we didn’t join in until after 10:30. WHY? Because there will always be something that can fill in the blank, but if we don’t take time away from all the activity to speak truth, blessing and love we will all miss REAL life together—with Him at the helm.

When we broke off, stood up, cleared the table and the kids left to the various activities, their joy, peace, contentment and security was tangible. The discordant environment we had felt begin to encroach was busted up and a true feeling of belonging settled again. 

Listen people, we are ALL involved heavily in important ventures—ministry, teaching, serving, providing, discipling, counseling, leading. Our kids: God-given, God-planned, God-blessed MUST be told, from our own mouths, that we bless them as well as love them as God Himself has designed.             

If I do anything right in this parenting endeavor may it be intentionally pointing my kids to God and frequently speaking love and blessing, that they may always, even in difficulty, challenge, hardship, struggle and success KNOW both we and God are for them.
Hamburgers after midnight in Qatar, why not?

At the Luweero market on the way home, Geoff chooses our fresh fruits and vegetables for the week
Acacia and her team on the Sports Day scavenger hunt

Toby participated in the Sports Day basketball competition

Now, you, tell me sum’tin good. How do you intentionally bless your kids?

Thursday, December 14, 2017


5:00 am  - Uganda, East Africa
The family begins wake up in preparation for the exciting journey ahead, Christmas in Denver, U.S.A. Not just any Christmas, but what is going to be only the fourth Christmas in the U.S. in 12 years. As part of a five week stay with the grandparents everyone beams with anticipation. The “team” comprises the Britton five and Sam, the new graduate. Sam would escort them to Entebbe in order to see them off and say goodbye along with another friend of the children, Stella who was headed back to Kampala after spending a week with the Brittons.

7:20 am - The team boards the ’97 Toyota minivan heading to the village to pick up Sam’s sisters who had come for Sam’s graduation banquet the previous day. The van was filled to the brim with five shipping trunks (four on the roof rack), carry-on luggage and the seven passengers from home. The capacity of the van is seven yet the plan is to pick up Nabukeera and Lydia from the village and put our population at nine. The first surprise of the journey now takes place, Lydia also had her seven year-old son, a mattress, banana leaves (for cooking) and a large footlocker/suitcase. “What?!? Why didn’t you tell us about this?” She humbly apologises and asks if it would be ok. What can one say? in Africa there is always room for one more passenger.  

7:40 am - All additional people and items are on board and so begins the drive to Entebbe for the 3:00 pm flight. Along the way are planned stops for Mary to get a haircut, (half the price of a U.S. salon visit), dropping Stella at the taxi park, craft shopping for a few friends, a new water filter for home & chlorine to treat the cistern for mosquitos & algae. The hope is to finish all these things and make Entebbe by 12 pm to meet the driver who would take Sam and the van back home after dropping the Brittons at the airport.

9:00 am - Lydia, her son Benja and luggage are dropped off in their town of Matugga. Now, officially back to only one over legal capacity of our van, the next stop is dropping Mary off at her 10 am salon appointment in Kampala. 

9:20 am - JAM! Traffic issues are always present around the city and today is no exception. We have enough margin in our schedule so nothing to worry about, YET, traffic continues at a snail’s pace until a gap opens and they jump onto a familiar shortcut which provides progress, but only temporarily! The next traffic jam proves to be stressful with each vehicle fighting to see their own progress and ignoring the needs of others. Boda bodas everywhere, these motorcycle taxis are excellent if you are on one, but for those in vehicles the bodas multiply the traffic issues. As Geoff squeezes past an overloaded lorry, a boda shoots in front, narrowly missing the bumper and causing him to swerve left. On the left come more motorcycles trying to squeeze through on that side of the van. One nearly falls in front of us. Anger from both the boda diver and Geoff elevates the stress level that had begun to creep in as time grew shorter. Suddenly, the boda that nearly fell  shows his anger with a kick to the side of the van, BANG!, Geoff bellows, “GGWE!” and considers rolling the window down to exchange more words. Sensibility takes over with a refocus on getting to the salon in time. Jam clears, and yet time is running short, but lo and behold another shortcut.

10:05 am - At only five minutes late they reach their destination. But, wait there is no power! How can they heat water and blow dry her hair? Let’s trust God that in the right time power will come back. Just enjoy. 

10:15 am - The remaining team of seven stop off at a mall for the call of nature, nearly three hours after leaving home, necessary, but also seemingly a waste of time. 

10:30 am - Back on the road, they start checking things off the list. Traffic in this part of town is light so progress seems smooth, but don’t count your chickens before they hatch. The traffic light right before the destination is not being heeded and police insist on controlling the traffic flow. One cycle of the light, two cycles, why are they not allowing traffic to flow? Finally, on the third cycle the officer waves the cars forward. The race begins, get ahead, don’t let them pass! Get to the round- about ahead of the others, yet the round-about is already at a stand still. The jam returns! Go that way, no slip around the side, shoot the gap, off they go!

10:45 am - Pulling into the parking lot, people are feeling free. The laughter in the van is infectious with six teens playing off one another’s comments. Into the shop Geoff goes, Toby and Kevin at his side. Welcome to Africa, ever friendly, but no one seems concerned with time. The purchase of only two items takes 20 minutes to write up, pull from storage and receive the payment. The lifestyle is lovely until you are facing time constraints. 

11:05 am - With “Chlorine & water filter” ticked off the list the team head for the craft market. “Be time considerate,” Geoff shouts as they leave the street and head into the market. Remembering after they have all gone that the pharmacy is a short walk away, Geoff sets out on foot to find the medicines that were requested by a friend in the states. Medicines can be very affordable in Uganda, but alas, two pharmacies later, no medicine has been found. Seems it is out of stock, so back to the car Geoff goes.

11:30 am - The team is back together, gifts in hand after some fair negotiating. Toby has proven to understand the system and seems to love the bargaining that is necessary. Next stop, taking the friend to the taxi park, or should I say near the taxi park. If you know Kampala you know you don’t drive near that place unless you have hours to sit in the congestion of thousands of taxis. Good byes again as the friend climbs out of the van and off to pick up Mary they go. Still another short cut and finally things appear to begin smoothing out. There she is standing by the curb, new hair style, waiting for her people to arrive, into the van she climbs amid shouts of “Your hair is nice!”

11:45 am - With Mary in the car, believe it or not, they are actually at the proper loaded capacity of the van now. Only seven riding comfortably for the 30 minute drive to Entebbe. Our driver is meeting us at 12:00 so he can take us to the airport and bring the van back home. They will only be a little late.

12:00 pm - Midway on the journey traffic begins to seem unusually congested for this time of day and the next thing you know, JAM!!! With 15km still to go, this is beginning to get old and the 3:15 flight time is beginning to seem very near. Slowly, slowly we creep along.

12:45 pm - Finally the team reaches the outskirts of Entebbe and drop Nabukeera near her University.

1:00 pm - The remaining team of six arrive at the designated meeting spot to see the driver who has stood outside patiently waiting for them for more than an hour. This stop should provide a bathroom break, some lunch and another shot at securing the medicine needed back in the U.S. After giving some instructions to the driver as far as cash and other business he will be doing on the way home they race in to get some lunch. Splitting up Mary goes for medicine, young people head for the bathroom and Geoff queues up to order sandwiches. Fifteen minutes later, lunch in hand, medicine found and bladders emptied they head back to the van for the last leg before the airport.

1:30 pm - Arriving at the entrance to the airport, security is tight, sniffer dogs are present and all are asked to exit the van and go through a metal detector. The van and passengers pass through effortlessly and they all board again.

1:45 pm - Van parked, nerves tense as 3:15 is getting closer, the parking lot is packed! The search for carts is taken up by Kevin and Acacia as Geoff climbs on top of the van to remove the luggage. Where are all the luggage carts? There seem to be none in sight! Oh, there is one, way over there! Toby dashes off to get to it before someone else grabs it. Then another is seen, our driver Julius runs for that one as well.

2:00 pm - Goodbyes finish, but they all are missing Sam already! They dash into the airport to check in. Guess what, more queues of people, can you believe this? In typical African style everyone is running late, even these Americans. Pushing, shoving, more sniffer dogs, the chaos of airport check-in, security machines beeping, they press on.

2:30 pm - In the airport, they get past initial security and find yet another queue. This time at the check in-counter, but wait, Geoff already checked them in online, is there a plain bag drop? In Entebbe? No such luck, get in the queue.

2:45 pm - Luggage is received, new boarding passes printed, not sure why new passes are needed, but Geoff has learned to not ask too much as they have to do things the way they know. Only one more stop before the gate, immigration, and yes, you guessed it, another queue. Which line to choose? Who will be the fastest officer? Geoff chooses one, but Acacia questions and they go with Geoff’s choice. Oh my! What a mistake, can you say molasses? That is—slow as molasses! One passport at a time, electronic finger prints, questions about the destination and finally they pass through into the terminal area.

3:05 pm - The five remaining members of the team reach their gate. Is there time for a bathroom stop? No way! Through the last remaining security check, laptops out, shoes off, no belts, they make it through.

3:10 pm - “Can you believe it? We are here!” they exclaim, “We are so excited! But, are all these people on another flight? Are we boarding?” Oh, not yet! Things are running late!

3:20 pm - “First class, Gold Club members, passengers with small children and others needing assistance can board now. Zone one you can now board.” “What zone are we? Three, no hurry.” Zone two and finally zone three you can now board. Finally in their seats, they exhale, “relax now the journey has begun.”

3:40 pm - “Cabin crew prepare to take off”, the roar of the engines and everyone’s excitement builds as the love of travel has reached it’s climax. Off the plane roars into the sky.

4:10 pm - “Buckle your seat belts as we prepare to land”, we are now descending into Kigali, Rwanda. This journey has a brief stop over in Kigali to off load passengers and board new ones. About half the plane remains in their seats. A quick clean by the ground crew, new passengers board, back in the air soon.

4:45 pm - Again the roar increases and the plane launches into the air, next stop Doha, Qatar.


12:00 am Sunday - Two movies, various snacks & two meals later, (Qatar Air likes to feed you), we begin our descent into Qatar. An interesting thing is noted as the inflight map is on the screen, they did not fly a straight line to Qatar. The route taken went a bit easterly over Yemen & Oman then up the gulf of Oman and around Dubai before descending to their destination. Questions are raised amongst the team and the only conclusion is that Qatar is currently at odds with most Arab nations over their involvement in terrorism. Seems the the other Arabs do not allow them to pass through their airspace anymore. One of the various sanctions currently in place.

12:10 am - The familiar beeping sound which indicates you can now remove your seat belt is heard. And they go for their hand luggage as they exit the airplane. Down the corridor, through security, and into the other area of the airport they go. Looking for the next gate the team enjoys the sights of another new airport. Qatar is similar to Dubai with an in-airport hotel, indoor train and many luxurious shops and restaurants. 

1:00 am - They reach their next gate and prepare to board for the next flight at 1:55. With not much time to shop they anxiously think about the next leg of the journey which takes them closer to the hopeful reward: time in Denver wth the grandparents. 

1:55 am - Right on time the plane ascends with another roar! Next stop London, England. A familiar airport that the Brittons have passed through many times over the years. The parents are hopeful for some Starbucks while the possibility of ham and eggs or bangers and mash run through Toby’s mind. They joyfully expect a five-hour layover.

6:20 am - After some sleep and of course more movies and food, good quality by the way :-) the descent into London Heathrow begins. Little did they know what was in store over the next 48 hours. Another security check, immigration check point and schedule checking to verify which terminal they should go to, terminal three it is.

7:00 am - Snow! Can you believe it? Snow! Everyone is excited by the light snow falling as they transited via bus to terminal three where they would find their next flight a few hours later. How exciting it is to see snow after 1 1/2 years of tropical climate. Christmas is truly going to be beautiful! Snow can be exciting for an African, but for Londoners it can also mean work stoppage as London rarely gets snow!

10:30 am - After shopping the duty free stores, many samples of various chocolates and dreaming of the $3,000 dollar watches and luxury items you always find in airports, our team prepares for the next flight, the last leg of our journey and the long awaited reward of seeing Papa and Grandma. 

11:45 am - Sitting in their seats, waiting for take off while checking the in-flight entertainment options their excitement builds. “Can I have your attention please? This is your captain speaking. We are going to be delayed a little as we wait for de-icing, this cold snowy weather has called for de-icing of all planes. This is not normal for Heathrow so it may take us a few minutes, I ask you to be patient as we work through the backlog.” No problem, a little delay never hurt anyone…

12:30 pm - “Again, this is your captain speaking. Sorry for this extended delay, but the de-icing trucks are having a hard time getting to us all as we are not used to this kind of weather in London.” This same sort of announcement would continue to come over the next 3 hours. Drinks are served, people begin to move around the cabin doing their best to keep occupied during the delay.

1:30 pm - Food is brought out as it seems the delay is going to continue, patience is growing thin but our team continues to believe for the best as we wait patiently.

3:00 pm - “This is your captain again, I want to apologise again for the inconvenience being caused, but our cabin crew is going to have to be changed out as they legally are running out of time that they can be on the clock. We are looking for another crew to come so we are able to fly, but it seems it is bedlam out there.”

4:00 pm - The much dreaded announcement finally comes. “Folks this is your captain again, I have some bad news that seems to keep getting worse. Our flight has been cancelled due to adverse weather conditions.” Come on! As they look out the window our team wonders how 1/2 inch of snow can create so many problems. The captain continues, to make matters worse you will need to proceed to baggage claim and collect your luggage before you find accommodation for tonight and wait for new travel arrangements to be made. Additionally, we will need to wait as the ground crews get time to come and off load our plane as they are all busy trying to clear gates for the incoming planes stuck on the runways.

5:30 pm - The doors finally open and everyone begins to make their way off the plane to begin the immigration proceedings since we are no longer going to be in transit. “Quickly fill out those arrival cards, one for everyone in your party.” On one blank of the form, “Reason for your visit,” Geoff wants to write, forced to stay! The other side of immigration everyone piles Into the baggage claim area. Hundreds of people mulling around, no one really knows what to do. Where is our luggage? When will it be here? How do we get a hotel? What kind of compensation will we receive? The questions are flying, peoples tempers are swelling and the crew of BA and Heathrow are overwhelmed. 

6:30 pm - Geoff makes the decision for the team to split up and he will go up to the main terminal and try customer service while Mary stays down and waits for the luggage. Acacia joins her dad and the boys wait to do the heavy work with the luggage. “WOW! It is cold out there!” Geoff proclaims as he puts his hood on for the short jaunt between baggage claim and the main terminal. Again “WOW! look at all those people,” the captain was right when he said it was bedlam out there. The crowds are everywhere, with more than 100 flights cancelled chaos has ensued. It quickly becomes obvious that nothing is going to happen this evening, the staff are overwhelmed! Ok, back to the baggage claim in order to be together and decide the next steps to take. But wait, NO RE-ENTRY! Once you leave the baggage claim you cannot enter again due to security. Meanwhile while she waits Mary has managed to connect to the Wi-Fi and has begun texting a good friend in England about what to do. Bad news is they are away from home and lacking the ability to come to the rescue.

8:30 pm - After much lamenting, Geoff, too, is able to connect a device to the Wi-Fi and is able to chat with Mary despite their separation. Mary and the boys continue to wait for the luggage, hearing many announcements about luggage soon arriving they try to understand what exactly they should do. The word is all hotels are full, taxis are not available and the shuttle has stopped running, options are quickly running out. Efforts to to call both the airlines and Expedia, are thwarted by all circuits being busy, the money spent on the pay phone proves to be a total waste. Finally the decision is made to abandon the post at luggage claim and the team can be reunited. 

10:30 pm - Mary and the boys exit the baggage claim area, empty handed with the exception of some blankets they absconded from the plane. Great foresight on Mary’s part as the temperatures are freezing for this African family. 

11:00 pm - The team sits down to eat some sandwiches that Geoff bought before the shops closed, not especially good or filling, they will definitely quiet the hunger pains in the stomach. To add insult to injury the store was almost completely out of water and most beverages. Geoff bought the last 2 waters, so they were forced to share the water and drink sprite and fake orange juice (10% juice). They settle down in a corner of the airport with their blankets on the frigid tile floor hoping to get some rest before the next challenge in the morning. The kids are the only ones successful in sleeping as Mary and Geoff shift from sitting to lying, then walking around. The night is exceptionally long and cold. During the night Geoff searches for flights and sees that any option of getting out of London other than waiting for customer service is not affordable. One flight seems doable on BA’s sister airline of American. It even shows it is serviced by BA, but five one way tickets is 7,600 British pounds. In hopes that it will secure seats on the plane Geoff goes ahead and books it knowing that he can cancel in the morning if things don’t work out. The flight that goes in directly to Denver leaves at 11:30 so all hope is set on getting seats on that flight. 

3:30 am Monday - Geoff decides to go down and get in the queue for customer service thinking surely once they open they will be served and new flights will be arranged. First is a quick trip to the bathroom for washing of the face and brushing of the teeth (praise God for carrying a toothbrush in the carry on.)

4:00 am - Again WOW, the people are already there. It appears many spent the night sitting around customer service and Geoff is already about 150 people back from the front of the line. Wearing his hoodie, wrapped in a blanket, Geoff AGAIN waits in a queue.

6:00 am - Mary and Acacia come down to check on the progress, seeing the queue Mary exclaims where did all these people sleep? The boys are still sleeping upstairs on the floor, so Mary makes plans that when they wake up she will buy some coffee and croissants and bring them down for breakfast. By now the queue has increased and there are another 150 people behind Geoff in line, praise God he came down at 4:00.

7:00 am - Customer service agents arrive and the hope for relief is elevated. But, progress is slow! The line only inches along as time runs. Legs are tired of standing, people are hungry and cold, the complaints are mounting. Re-booking 150 people to various destinations seems to take time, time that no one is willing to spend. 

8:00 am - Coffee and croissants arrive and Geoff finds his patience again renewed by Mary’s company and the breakfast. 

9:00 am - Progress seems to be moving at a snail’s pace, and only 1/2 the line has been served. Tensions are high and some people are beginning to raise their voices and demand something to happen. People watch the clock, seeing that their hope of getting on the right flight is fleeting. People begin to try to weasel their way to the front of the line with all kinds of excuses and sad stories, but the honest truth is everyone is in the same boat. No one wants to spend another night stranded, many have not slept, some, like our team, have been traveling for days.

10:00 am - Geoff has just made the decision to cancel the stand-by tickets to avoid paying the 7,000 pounds and see how it all unfolds, it is obvious that they will not be making the 11:30 flight even if there were open seats. Just then all hope truly seems to be shattered. The line has not moved for nearly 30 minutes and an armed guard comes from the back of the BA offices along with three other customer service agents and they begin making an announcement while handing out written information. “We regret to inform you that the customer service desk will not be able to service any other re-bookings.” The agent draws the movable barrier which determines where the line would end. “If you are not ahead of this line you must leave now and make your arrangements with the BA ticketing office on the phone or the internet.” The agent draws the line right in front of Geoff! The new found friends encourage Geoff to duck under the line and ensure he is served, while almost paralysed with amazement Geoff pleads with the guard. “Don’t you understand what we have been through?” At that moment all resolve seems to have left Geoff, he encourages the Kenyans that were behind him in line to slip under the barrier as he begins to walk away. Toby is furious and is struggling to control his anger,. The patience he displayed over the last 12 hours dissipates and he wants to shout at someone. As Geoff and Toby move back upstairs they are trying to understand what to do. When they reach the spot whee they had spent the night, Mary is not there. “Where is mom?” Geoff asks. “She went to see you,” Acacia replies. Feverishly Geoff tries to decide, do I spend the money and get out of this place? Everything inside him wants to be on a plane. No sleep for for more than 50 hours, no solid meal since leaving home on Saturday he just wants relief. 

11:00 am - “Kids, start packing up the stuff, we need to figure out what we are doing!” Kevin and Acacia begin scrambling to see all blankets, bags and water bottles collected. Geoff looks for Mary to help decide what to do. He seems to have lost the ability to sort the way forward. The guy who always seems to have an answer is now speechless and just wants someone to fix the situation. Geoff finds Mary and they go to an American Airlines desk to seek an answer that will get them out of London. “Will British Air honour the claim for a ticket on American? Can you cancel our purchase on American for us?” “No,” and “No,” says the agent. Now away from the AA help desk, Geoff struggles online to find how to cancel the tickets that he booked yesterday. No one is sure they will honour the purchase. People are everywhere, noise rises, questions fly, where is the cancel option? Desperately, Geoff pauses, closes his eyes and prays. “God what do I do?” As he opens his eyes, there on the top of the page, the page he has looked at five times, he sees for the first time the “cancel this trip” button. PRAISE GOD! CLICK! The message comes on the screen, you have cancelled this trip. 

11:30 am - “Let’s go find a hotel and get something to eat,” Geoff says as he leads the family out of the main terminal. The fog on the brain begins to clear, this might turn out to be the best way forward…

11:45 am - Hotel bookings have been made, transport is arranged and our team wearily makes it’s way toward the shuttle stop. Geoff thinks out loud, “I actually think this might be better. A little rest, some food, a warm place to stretch out may help us see the way forward.” The hopelessness is beginning to lift, a positive solution can’t be too far away.

12:00 pm - “Thank you for choosing Marriott, if you need anything please don’t hesitate to ask,” the reception attendant says. Our weary and exhausted team now have two rooms at the London Heathrow Marriott with plans to eat, sleep and swim in the hours that remain on Monday. As they head upstairs the smells coming from the Italian restaurant speak of life and joy. “Let’s get our things in the room and come back and eat,” Kevin proclaims. The rooms are spacious, king size bed in Geoff and Mary’s, two doubles in the kids, large fluffy towels and soft carpet. What else could someone desire after the experience they have had?

12:15 pm - They sit down at a table and look over the menu: spinach and cheese ravioli, a variety of pizzas, lasagne, a vast wine section, it looks like heaven compared to the past 72 hours. As they place their orders, joy has returned and excitement is restored for the journey. Seems God is turning the ashes into beauty and the mourning into dancing. As the food is delivered, the taste buds are swirling and the thoughts run to thanksgiving. With wine poured and food served, our team bows heads in prayer. “God, despite this hardship you are truly the blessing that we enjoy, thank you for keeping us and walking with us through this trial.” The line from Dickens’ Christmas Carol comes to mind, “God bless us, everyone one” How can we lose hope when You are the hope for everyone? Your assurances that You will never leave nor forsake your people should be the one fact that upholds our hope. During the meal our team is flooded with memories of Italy, the smells, the flavours bring back rich memories that can only be conjured up by authentic Italian experiences.

1:00 pm - As they finish eating and pay the bill, everyone seems to be rejuvenated. The kids have plans for swimming and the hot tub while Geoff hopes to get through to BA and book a flight for Tuesday, hopefully direct. Mary would just love to shower and climb into bed. One thing is sure, everyone is again hopeful!

1:30 pm - On hold with British Airlines, Geoff skims his emails and laughs at one friend’s question, “how WAS the trip?” A quick response, “if you only knew…it’s not over yet!” The kids have found the pool, Mary has found the shower and as the customer service agent answers Geoff smiles. The pleasant voice on the other end, coupled with God’s reassuring presence gives Geoff hope that all will work out.

1:45 pm - As efficient as anyone could hope, the replacement tickets are booked and the voice speaks in pleasing apologies for the experience that took place. It’s hard to imagine the hopelessness of only three hours prior as Geoff hangs up the phone. Now, to get out of these clothes and get a hot shower for the first time in nearly 72 hours, followed by bed. All the pain of the past 24 hours seems to be melting away. 

4:00 pm - Awakened with a sense of where they are, Geoff and Mary stumble out of bed trying to understand what time it is and navigate the dark room in their stupor. WOW! That was a deep sleep! Geoff wonders how the kids are doing, maybe a call would be a good idea. Swimming was good, the hot tub hot and they are now enjoying TV in their room, something that children growing up in the bush of Africa don’t often get to watch. “Let’s aim at 5:00 for dinner so we can again get back to bed and catch up on sleep,” to which no one disagrees.

5:30 pm - Dinner again proves to be excellent and the hunger to return to Italy is again revived in the family. When can that be? No one knows, but everyone feels that it will happen again. Discussions around the table lead back to how God carried us through the recent terrible experience. His faithfulness never fails! How could we ever have doubted? We feel blessed to enjoy one another around good food, good wine and God’s perpetual presence with the reminder that God is refining us for His purposes, even through tribulations! 

7:00 pm - As the family is each in their respective rooms, anxious for more sleep Geoff and Mary pray and think of how tomorrow will be filled with more opportunities to trust Him and keep their eyes on the prize. Sleep comes easily and stays steady through the night.

5:30 am Tuesday - Sleep finally exits and the new day is here. Today is the day to reach the goal, Colorado! Surprisingly, the room coffee is quite good and enjoyed over time in God’s word. Then, a hot shower and packing up the few belongings scattered around the room.

6:00 am - Wake up call for the kids. They, too, slept soundly and arise from bed anxious and hopeful for what today will hold. 

6:30 am - Breakfast consists of coffee, croissants or muffins, as each orders the flavour of his/her choice: chocolate, Nutella, apricot, pistachio and a blueberry muffin. Just like a mother forgets the pain of child birth and is excited to enter the journey again, our team has not lost their love of travel. All are excited to head back to the airport and begin the adventure God holds for them. 

7:30 am - The shuttle arrives at the Marriott to find the Brittons waiting, carryons in hand and smiles on their faces. Upon arrival, the airport looks normal. The chaos of the previous two days seems to have vanished. People move around in an orderly fashion, again the agents are pleasant and ready to accommodate. Lo and behold there is one of the people Toby made friends with originally in the baggage claim room. The new friend joins our team in the line and they begin to share their experiences and build a new relationship. One of the things that is seen so strongly in Toby during this time is his ability to make friends and connect with genuine affection; he loves people.

8:30 am - Our team reaches the check-in desk, no luggage to check as they still don’t really know where their trunks are, but the agent promises them it won’t be hard to connect with them. With  compassion the agent works to ensure that the luggage will be found and put on the flight headed to Denver at 11:30, the same flight that our team will be on. A mere 48 hours after the initial flight was scheduled they will try it again. 

11:00 am - The boarding call is heard and our team inches closer to the gate, will this really happen this time? A quick look outside shows bright sun, no snow and hope revives that the trip will be completed today. 

11:30 am - Sitting on the plane we find a familiar scene, people getting organised, ear plugs, head phones, books out and phones being turned off. The captain comes on the overhead, “We are ready to depart and will take our place in line as soon as the de-icing is complete.” Toby looks across the aisle at Geoff, “Are we going to do this again?” Laughter erupts at the thought. 

11:45 am - “This is your captain speaking, while we waited for the de-icing to take place we lost our place in line, so we will be re-queued and hopefully will only face another 10 minute delay.” This can NOT be happening again, can it? Geoff closes his eyes and thinks upon God’s promises and smiles. No need to worry, it will be fine.

12:00 pm - The engines roar and the plane lunges forward, speed increases, bumping down the runway, faster, faster and then whoosh up they go! For the next eight hours various scenes pass under the plane. The Atlantic Ocean, the ice fields of Canada, the Missouri river all beautiful in themselves, but especially as they speak of finally reaching the destination after the long journey. They also speak of God’s provision and faithfulness, the beauty that dwells in Him and the joy it is to walk through this life under His provision.

3:00 pm - Out the window the plains of Colorado pass by. Golden brown in what seemingly goes on forever. Crop circles, small roads and buildings dot the scenery, we have made it! The descent begins, the sun shining in the window and the expected warmth that comes with the Colorado sun.

3:30 pm - The arrival at immigration brings a surprise: kiosks instead of human border representatives. Can this be right? Will this weed out terrorists? Our team steps up to their kiosk, answers questions, scans the passport and poses for individual pictures. Each pass through the process and show their joy. The kids each take their picture with a funny face. Their love for life and the joy God has granted them show. Just think, 24 hours prior all joy was lost and now God has restored what circumstances had stolen. As they finish, the machine prints out receipts including the funny face pictures. Down the next hall, there are the people: step up present your passport and the receipt. Acacia blushes due to the funny face she made, the border agent smiles and quickly asks his questions. No problems only comments about President Trump, we too, smile. “Welcome back!” he says, the unanimous reply, “THANK YOU!”

3:45 pm - As they approach the luggage carousel a black trunk immediately comes into view.“There it is!” Toby shouts and he runs to pull it from the carousel. There’s another and another, all five come in succession. Like lightning all five trunks are removed and piled to the side. Kevin and Acacia arrive with carts. Amazing! Luggage off the carousel before the carts are ready, never before seen! With a hop in their steps they head toward the exit all praising God in amazement that it has ended so smoothly. One last question by customs agent, “What’s in the luggage?” a question that every missionary knows so well. “Most of what we own” is the reply. Life on the mission field often means scaling down, taking what is essential and challenging what is“need”. This trip has again confirmed that life is not all about what you have, but about trusting God with what He provides. Being able to pass through the best or the worst knowing that He is always there and will keep you despite your circumstances.

4:00 pm - As they leave the restricted area looking for Papa and Grandma the familiar experience brings comfort, here we are :-) 

After more than 110 hours after leaving home, we made it. Colorado, the grandparents and some dangerously needed rest. THANK YOU GOD!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Blink

The Blink

“Surely the lowborn are but a breath, 
the highborn are but a lie. 
If weighed on a balance, 
they are nothing;
 together they are only a breath.”
Psalm 62:9

The days. In single form: some drain, some energize. As the sum of hours: culminating in weeks, months and years hopefully a rich, rewarding blink.

I had transferred the “to do” from successive lists since early 2017. I finally was able to cross it off last week. But, the return reply sobered me.

I had asked for updates on things mentioned earlier this year. I offered brief updates on my world. Then someone called. The same reason I hadn’t written in so many months was now cutting short the communique of the moment.  I hastily finished the note by stating “someone is calling, literally.” I hit send. There, one thing off the “to do” list.

This friend’s response included some benign, newsy updates, but I was shaken by his third paragraph. Only the night before he’d said to his wife, “my world is fast shrinking, having neither classes nor colleagues.  You should feel very blessed that people are calling you, literally.  And they have no idea how blessed they are by having you to call!  Send out a message telling them I said so!  :)  “

And so, here I am. Sending out the message, hoping it perfuses.

You, of course, were not the originally intended audience for that statement. The one who was calling, oh, the deep anguish.

 I invite you in to the intimate blink.

I spent the majority of last week sitting with two dear friends. She delivered their baby via C-section only six days before the call. He was admitted, could I please come to be with them?

Four more long days until I stood at his NICU bassinet wondering which of his breaths were his actual last as they came so very infrequently. He did not cry, he had been mostly silent for many days. The doctor had spoken the truth and the parents walked to the bedside to say good-bye. But, then the father said, “Well, we will go and you can stay, Auntie Mary.” 

I was horrified! Not because I would be left alone with a dying child, but because the parents would miss his last moments on this side of heaven. I begged them to stay and I touched his body, speaking the truth of God’s love over him. The parents followed and I believe that their words, touch, song enveloped the baby in peace as he went to our loving Father.

The silent, streaming tears and then the business of readying ourselves to begin the next long journey.

The stares of each and every mama that sat inside and outside the NICU; the stares of every new mama as we dragged ourselves numbly through the open maternity ward; the beds laden with sheets, blankets, babies suckling, shook us repeatedly to our fresh loss. We had walked past these mamas numerous times, now we walked differently.

I financially cleared at the accounts office. They physically cleared the room. Then, in less than 10 minutes we were at their home. The receiving of mourning friends and now the far from silent wailing of the mother, my friend. 

Less than three hours later the seven hour drive to the father’s home began. 

One family offered their large comfortable car for the transport. A young single man offered himself as the driver. A beloved friend, tribe-mate and colleague offered to accompany. Two nurses from the hospital supported with their presence. Friends gave extra funds to facilitate any need along the way.

As the vehicle left view, we piled in cars for home and to prepare for our early morning leave time. The burial was the next day at 2 p.m. We would leave at 5 a.m.

I won’t go into the rest of the exhausting details.

In the past eleven years we have walked roads of grief, pain, loss. Of joy, exuberance, victory, celebration. A blink. Truly.

How have I postured myself? When at His feet, humbly aware of both my smallness and my immense value, victory. When backed turned, very unaware of both my haughtiness and my need, grief.

There is gripping remorse when I realize afresh that I have thought myself God.

Reality is nothing I have done in these past eleven years of any worth have I done on my own. 

It is privilege to be called. It is grace to be the one to whom they reach. But, it is not me.

May there be nothing of me that says, ME! 

Deep breath. Selah. In Him. Breathe again.

And in that moment, another call.

The levity is needed. “Can you come see this “thing” on my leg? The clinic says it is not a boil, but some kind of bite. Are you able to come tell me what you think?”

I gather. Myself and things—band-aids, gauze, ointments, peroxide, alcohol, antibiotics.

I walk. After the sitting, the waiting, the driving, the grieving. I need to walk.

The dog follows, she always does.

Wow. That “thing” is massive! Trial and error. I completely occlude it with ointment on the chance we’re dealing with a mango fly larvae. (sorry, that is the stuff of life here, turn away if you must.) I heat water as we wait in case nothing wiggles and instead we need the warm compress with baking soda.

The heat of the infection melts the ointment. We reapply more heavily and we wait. . . 

Finally, the worm emerges just enough for tweezers to conquer. I dress the gaping chasm left behind.

"Good morning! How are you? I'm Dr. Worm"

Yuck, really, truly, yuck. 

Amid the variety of demand I am thankful to be called. In the days of drain, the days of mango worms, the calls are life. They fuel relationships. 

Thank you LORD, for the opportunities you give.

I will close as my friend, catalyst for this blog, closed his email, “So here's to God's leading for both of us, and for each member of your family.  And for those you serve.  In this crazy world (crazier by the day), we are in such need of his leading.”