I had a lot of worries about this move. I had nightmares about everything from accidentally packing children in our household goods and shipping them across the sea by freight, to ISIS kidnappings at the Seoul airport, and siblings throwing each other out emergency exits mid-flight. I did not see how our family which can barely make it the two miles to church without familial violence was going to survive thousands of miles and a month of travel.
I was worried that in all the stress I wouldn’t be able to hold the family together.
Our movers came on a Monday.
The army ships in three stages: some goes by air to get there faster, some goes by boat, and some goes back to the Army because you just borrowed it from them to begin with. Kenny scheduled all three moving teams to come at the exact same time. He hoped we could get the moving and cleaning done in time to check into a hotel Monday night. It would be a challenge, but we could handle it. We organized, arranged, put all the kids to work cleaning, even worked out a system involving multiple colors of masking tape to really highlight the efficiency of our moving skills. By 4 pm, when Kenny got home from work, there were only three rooms left to clean. The mission was successful, so Kenny called the realtor to arrange our inspection while the kids began to discuss the hotel pool.
“Yes,” says our Korean realtor, “Yes, I come check your apartment. I check on March 5. OK bye!”
Kenny: “Wait, March 5? You mean the fifth of March? Wait a minute! It’s February 23rd today. Our stuff is already gone. Our plane flies out on March 2nd. We can’t do March 5!”
Unfortunately, our realtor had read our paperwork wrong and the building owner who needed to do the inspection would be out of the country for another week or so. In the end they figured they could arrange a representative to come check the apartment, but not until the next day. It was a crisis but just a minor one, we could still handle it. We had dinner out then put the kids in sleeping bags on the floor (thankfully our travel plans had necessitated packing four sleeping bags,) and let them watch a movie on the portable DVD player while Kenny and I finished the cleaning. When we were done we slept on the floor with the kids using our coats as pillows. It wasn’t the best night’s sleep, but we’re a military family- we can handle this!
The next day I took the kids to our regular homeschool group activities so they could say their goodbyes and so I could sit down and imbibe a cup of strong coffee to help shake off the night before. Unfortunately, David reached for a dodgeball at the same time that his good buddy kicked it. If you have to break a bone I guess your fingers are some of the smallest and David broke it cleanly with no dislocation, but our hospital only had one orthopedic surgeon and he had just started repairing a torn ACL when I pulled into the ER. If I had known I would have asked Kenny, who had our only car, to take everyone for lunch before hand, but as it was I was locked in a room with overtired, starving and injured children for four hours! By hour one we had played “name that piece of medical equipment” on every item on the room. By hour two we had read and dramatized the room’s 3 ring copy of “A Guide for Splinting and Casting,” and by hour 3 the kids were starting to eye the canister of cotton balls with the same look as Will Ferrel’s character in Elf. In the fourth hour I considered making straight jackets out of casting medium. It was definitely a crisis but when evening came, my knight in shining camouflage arrived, riding up in his gallant white dodge caravan, brandishing a box of KFC, and somehow, we even managed to make it in time for Elliana’s girl scout meeting. Sure it was a crisis, but we had held it together!
It was a peaceful Saturday afternoon when Kenny and I looked up across the well organized suitcases in our comfortable hotel room and asked each other “Do you have the passports?” To blanch means “to make pale, as with sickness or fear.” It’s exactly the look of a parent who has just realized that they have packed and shipped five dependent family member’s passports and vital records. Kenny dove for the hotel phone like a drowning man for a life preserver. It took him about 20 minutes of calls and internet research, to verify that, yes, we were sunk. We were in a foreign country without a single identifying record, without proof we were allowed to be there, or proof that we were allowed to go back to the US. Replacement passports required proof of identification, permission from far off people and two weeks of process time. Our flight was two days away. What would happen? Would Kenny have to leave us in Korea? Would we sit here watching our savings drain away while the army forgot all about us? At least if I had packed and shipped the kids by mistake they would still be on their way back to the states! This was a crisis- and at last we had to admit: there was no way we could fix this.
If you’ve ever had a crisis you know that awful sick feeling of waiting. Somewhere in that very long two days I stopped trying to hold things together. I quietly killed my idea of writing a blog on how to organize for an army move. I stopped trying to make sure I had every suitcase organized and every minute under control. I fell back and submitted to the lesson God has been teaching me during my entire time in Korea. “OK God, you’re the only one whose supposed to be in charge. I will just sit back and try to respond in a way that I think will please You, because I trust your plan for me is good.” I prayed and trusted and by Monday morning I woke up feeling like it was Christmas morning because I knew God was going to do something.
Of course first Kenny had to go to work. On the day after Armageddon soldiers will still be expected to report to formation. When he got home we took the earliest appointment at the US Embassy. It was two weeks away. We piled into two taxis and went to the embassy anyways. They let us in. We went up to the window and sheepishly whispered our problem “Um, we, uh, shipped our, uh… passports.” Please understand we were asking the impossible. We had no vital records, at all. We had one child who wasn’t even on our orders and had a totally different sort of passport originally signed by his primary guardian, his biological mother, who was thousands of miles and a world of time zones away. And yet… Kenny did have one document from his lap top, a scan of our old passports, and that was just enough ID. Also, Cody had turned 16 while we were in Korea, and guess what? That was the minimum age to swear for and sign your own passport without a primary guardian. So, impossible or not, at 2 pm on the day before we were supposed to fly, we left the US Embassy with 5 new passports!
Five AM Tuesday morning our trip began with a march to the bus stop. Like one of those annoying math word problems, 2 adults, 1 teen and 3 kids had to carry 6 suitcases, 6 backpacks, an army duffle bad, a laptop, and a mandolin case through predawn Korean (there was also a fox, a chicken and a boat involved.) The hotel concierge raised her eyebrows as our children marched, smiling, past her and through the revolving door. “Wow, they’re so efficient.”
We reached the airport dragging and 50 lb bag with a broken wheel. The travel agent, holding our shiny new passports, says “I’m sorry, I can’t give you these tickets. Your passports aren’t stamped.” The stamp we needed required a memorandum from Kenny’s commander, processed through the garrison, then stamped at the embassy. Now our plane left in two hours. Yup, another crisis we couldn’t fix, but this time, I knew God’s got it. So I stood at the immigration window, praying, smiling, and repeatedly handing my passport to the Korean immigration agent. The airport emptied as our fellow passengers went through security and disappeared on their way to our plane. We were the only ones left in the entire terminal. I wasn’t sure the plane was still there, and then, 5 passports get stamped right there in the airport, and the immigration agent hands me our boarding passes. We didn’t even go through security as we were rushed up to the gate and then to the plane. As our family crossed the tarmac to the waiting plane, a quartet of A-10s, my dad’s plane and the best plane in the world, taxied along side us. God doesn’t just send us on our way. He sends us with an escort.
Our trip took 3 flights: Korea to Japan, Japan to Seattle and Seattle to Dallas. The kids travelled 30 hours. No one got sick, no one cried. When they were tired they quietly hugged their pillow pal and slept. I got to watch the Hunger Games. Dallas sat up with a smile all night so David and Ana could have room to sleep. Cody never once asked if the airplane was going to crash. In Seattle, when I was suddenly overcome by sleep I woke up 2 hours later and all the kids were still reading quietly around me. On the flight to Dallas Elliana’s favorite show was on TV, and the flight attendance gave us all free gifts of fruit and cheese trays. We arrived in the states and no one, not even for one night, experienced jet leg. I came off of 30 hours traveling with our family feeling more rested than I had in months. I couldn’t have made all that happen no matter how perfectly I handled it.
I had a lot of worries about this move, but it turns out God’s got it, and it’s so much better that way!