2016 began for us in Seattle. We were cleaning, packing, doing last-minute shopping and soaking up the “lasts.” The last coffee with a friend, the last time to play at that park, the last walk down to the lake to feed the birds old bread, the last big family get-together, the last good salmon dinner… there are lots of “lasts.” I was grumbling to myself, “This is the last time I want to do all these lasts. I’m so tired of this process of packing up and going somewhere. My heart is so tired of saying goodbye to people.” I always balance this internal talk out with a great deal of thankfulness. I mean, if I didn’t have so many people I love so much and who I feel loved by all over the place, goodbyes wouldn’t be so painful, right? It’s because there’s so much love in my life, that there’s pain too.
Well, about five days before leaving for Germany we decided to post-pone our leaving by a month. This was due to a problem the company Rees works for here was having with getting the right documents for our visa. Not the company’s fault, we just got caught up in some re-organization that was going on within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There was nothing new going on with obtaining the document we needed by the time we needed to be on our flight to Germany but we felt like we should just get across the Atlantic, start getting over some jet-lag and eventually things would straighten themselves out and we’d be that much closer to transitioning back to life in Tajikistan. Fortunately, we have family in Germany we LOVE and they are who we usually stay with when we travel through there. Not to mention Germany is really nice for families – just so you know. You can imagine all of our surprise when we ended up there for SEVEN WEEKS. There’s a lot to say about that, but suffice it to say – we all experienced mountains of grace. That’s the only way it could possibly work for an empty-nester couple to handle a rambunctious family of five invading their home for seven weeks and to make us feel really loved the whole time.
Boy did it feel good to finally get back to Tajikistan and see our friends and home again and for Rees to get back to teaching. Everything was going along really smoothly – we got registered here, Rees got his work permit, we jumped right back into school and Rees into work and there was so much richness in so many relationships.
The wind went out of our sails when we found out that our application for our longer-term (one year) visa was denied. We were feeling pretty down and surprised about that and I was feeling pretty exhausted from cleaning and packing up three times already (twice in the U.S. and once in Germany). The amount of energy – both physical and emotional – that it takes to transition from one place to another is hard to overestimate. My older two kids have some sensory/auditory processing issues and, as a result, have difficulty with transition and don’t re-form routines very naturally or easily. So getting into a routine takes LOTS of extra time and intentionality for us. As an example – learning that getting ready for bed always involves putting on jammies, brushing teeth, going potty and getting last drinks of water took a couple of years to establish. For the first year, even though we did the exact same thing every night, each of these things was met with astonishment as though it was the first time it was happening. In contrast, our youngest, who does not have sensory or auditory processing issues, can be coached through a routine every day and by the end of the week, she’s “got it.” Even if she needs some reminders, she isn’t surprised by what we are reminding her to do. Now on the flip-side, since my older two are “sensory seekers” (they seek out sensations in an unconscious effort to organize their brains) – they do well with the weight of their backpacks on, the feeling of taking off on a plane, running around the new place we’ve arrived and seeing what there is to see, climb up or jump on and when we present them with any kind of outing, they are quick to say, “sure!” My littlest one is more cautious and wary, like her mom. Returning from that tangent, we were faced with the reality that we needed to go somewhere outside of Tajikistan until a special vote had passed. This is where grace just shows up and fuels us. Because, our natural selves were down and out and feeling discouraged and wah-wah-wah, but Rees looked at me and said, “God is in control here. We have a choice to be downers about all this, or let Him take us on an adventure and go somewhere and pray and be together. Let’s be thankful.” Well, he said something resembling that at least and a peace that we did nothing to muster up settled over us. That’s grace right there. Suddenly it looked like we had so many great options and we were waiting to see where God would take us. We entertained going to India, Pakistan, Thailand, Dubai, Germany, and Turkey. And that little seed of thankfulness and peace just continued to grow as we were amazed again at how many options we had and how in each place, there would be amazing people to be rubbing shoulders with. After some deliberation, and not knowing exactly when we had to leave by (our passports were still up in the capital and Rees’ boss had requested a two-week exit visa but we hadn’t heard anything about it yet) we decided to head to Turkey. We had an added stressor thrown in about that time as Hannah & Emmett got quite sick with high fevers and on the third day of those high fevers, Emmett’s tummy pain localized down on his lower right side and we realized he probably had appendicitis. The long and the short of that one was that he ended up with an emergency appendectomy two hours away up in the capital city and we ended up spending the weekend up there. There is a lot more grace found in that story too. Goodness that we did nothing to make happen and we hadn’t earned.
Off to Antalya, Turkey we went. We ended up staying at the guest house of the parents of a friend of ours (crazy “coincidence” right?) complete with a prayer yurt and a large property conducive to playing, prayer walking and loud, creative family prayer times in the yurt and wonderful hosts who were so refreshing to be with. Exactly what we wanted, even though we didn’t even realize that we wanted it. More grace. A dear friend of ours from Portland even treated us to 5 days at a hotel down at the beach. It was such a precious time for us and ended up being topped off with the baptisms of our older two kids. When our hosts pointed out certain mountains off in the distance and told us that the Apostle Paul traveled over those mountains and even sailed in this very Sea (the Mediterranean), Hannah piped up with, “Well then it sounds like the place where I should be baptized!” We took some time to process through what exactly that means and after ten days or so, both she and Emmett were firmly convinced that they wanted to get baptized in the Mediterranean and that they wanted to do that while we were in Turkey. So, on Emmett’s birthday, May 30th, we went to Lara Beach with two of our hosts, Kerry and Shari, and Rees baptized them. Emmett really grabbed onto the idea of having a new life and even tried tomatoes the next day because, “Well, I have a new life, so maybe I’ll like tomatoes now” (he didn’t, just in case you were wondering). When one of our other hosts told him that her husband didn’t like brownies Emmett told her, “Well, we should get him baptized because then he’d have a new life and maybe he’d like brownies!”
While we were in Turkey, the special vote passed in Tajikistan and we hoped we’d be able to get the document we needed and just head back. Not so. We still couldn’t get the document and had to come back as tourists on a 45 day visa. We were once again happy to be back but also a little baffled why this document we needed wasn’t forth-coming after we’d been led to believe that it should be no problem to get. We are still baffled. We knew we needed to leave again by that 45 day mark so in the midst of trying to live our “normal” life, we slowly started to consider where else we should go and have discussions about how long we could do this in-and-out thing. If you are wondering, if nothing changes we’re going to do it til the end of the year and if there’s still nothing new – we’ll do some reconsidering at that point, though we are hoping for a longer visa with the next trip, but I’m jumping ahead. After some research we decided to fly out to Kazakhstan on the morning of the day our visa ended and just turn around a fly back that evening. We knew other people who had done that and we thought, why not? It seemed like the least interrupting option. Our kids are great travelers. I’m not saying they don’t get ants in their pants and have their moments and all that – they’re kids. Active ones at that. It is not easy-peasy traveling with three kids and if you ran into us in our travels at any point, we could easily be found with crumpled clothes, messy hair, frowns on our faces, yelling at our kids (or for them) but they are pretty good sports on the whole so it could be a lot worse. I just want to make sure not to paint a picture of a family who has it figured out and who travels with grace and ease. Rees and I decided it was a day to just give our kids our attention and call it another “adventure.” There were little graces too – like having a reasonable departure time – not this middle of the night stuff that we usually have to do. Also it was a world different just carrying one carry-on each and not hefting around a gazillion suitcases full of medicine, spices and endless home-school materials.
It was really fun to actually see the country that we live in from the air on a sunny day. We usually depart and land in the dark. The scenery was incredibly beautiful and wow was I surprised when we were descending into Kazakhstan and it was GREEN and STUNNING. It was green, green, green with little lakes and rivers and mountains with snow still on the top. What a nice surprise.
When we returned to Dushanbe that evening, we were again issued the tourist visa. We were informed, however, that this was the last time we could get 45 days. Next time, it would be limited to 30. Well, next time will be here before we know it. Rees has busied himself with a bit of teaching and lots of meeting up with guys who are hungry for the encouragement and advice of an older guy (I’m not calling him old, he’s just older than they are) and he’s picked up a livestock habit. We always knew he has the heart of a shepherd, but he’s taking that quite literally these days. It turns out we’re sheep people. We like sheep. I’ll get into that more another day. Our plan is to drive out to the east side of the country, to the Pamir mountains, and to visit some dear friends of ours who live there. We’ve never been there and it’s a place people come from all over the world to see. We’ll drive out there, spend 5 days with our friends and then drive to Kyrgyzstan to see about what kind of visas we can get. Do I like living in limbo like this? No. I’m a creature-of-habit-homebody-who-likes-routine kind of girl. This stretches me. But the interesting thing about this stretching is that if we hadn’t experienced it (or continue to experience it) we would have missed out on some amazing graces and provisions from God. In the midst of the uncertainty, we have become a bit more certain that He can be trusted to care for us and, in fact, will even surprise us with the beauty that can be found in places we never planned to be.