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Friday, June 29, 2012

The Remarkable Journey of Caleb and Jennifer

A long time ago, in a seminar with the late Dave Pollock, guru of the Third Culture Kid, we heard the excellent advice that missionary families should try to take a pause when they travel, a few days as a family when they can carve that out between continents.  Because Caleb had to start the USAFA a month before his scheduled High School graduation, this was a bit more challenging for us this year.  Scott very graciously allowed me to travel with Caleb while he stays in Africa with Julia, Jack, and Acacia, not to mention Luke who is studying Swahili in a Yale program in Mombasa this summer as well.  So when Caleb decided on the Air Force and I booked our tickets (through our same life-saver Mission Concepts agent Paul Cardell), I put in a two-night one-day stop in Amsterdam for the two of us.

Planes, buses, trains, tram, bicycles, and feet all propelled us to and from Haarlem, the seashore, and the city of Amsterdam.  We stayed in an authentic Dutch home on a canal, with a brother/sister pair who rent the top story as a bed and breakfast.  

Saw the watch-shop where Corrie Ten Boom's family hid Jews and organized resistance to the Nazi's in WWII, at the cost of most of their lives in concentration camps.  The Hiding Place tells the amazing redemptive story of how Corrie is inspired by her dying sister to forgive their captors and make peace.

Other highlights were the quaint historic streets, scrumptious food, and a Sunday evening vesper's service in the Cathedral complete with pipe organ, soloist, and cello, us and a dozen elderly Dutch people meditating on Jesus as the shepherd.  We like the Netherlands.  A lot.

The next morning we rented bikes and explored a national park, the dunes and dikes that keep Holland from being swallowed by the sea.  Cool wind, flowering grasses, and about twenty kilometers of exercise and fun.

Our favorite thing to do on an Amsterdam stop is to catch up with our friends Bob and Miriam, who are WHM missionaries and extraordinary people.

When we landed in Virginia we had one week to:  buy clothes for Caleb for his Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, the only time this year he'll be out of uniform, as well as a few essential toiletries; drive to West Virginia for an annual Aylestock family reunion and time to re-connect with about 50 relatives, swim in the river (fun until we found three ominous-appearing snakes sunning on the rocks then shooting into the water), hike, cook, make homeade ice cream, and mostly socialize; attempt to get my driver's license renewed (success) and Caleb's driver's license period (failure, they rejected his RVA driver's ed); and celebrate my 50th birthday.

For my Birthday we went to a restaurant in Leesburg, the same town where I was born and married.  Love those full-circle completeness sort of milestones.  Our close family friends were also celebrating their 50th anniversary, so Chuck and Kay Meyer, my sister and mother, Caleb and I all had dinner.  I chose the bison-and-shrimp, with a local-winery beverage.  Not your every-day occurrence.  

The next day we flew to Colorado, where our remarkable journey continued.  We were welcomed at the airport by a trio of Bolthouse girls, and showered with their blessings particularly in the form of a Subaru station-wagon to borrow.  As Caleb and I drove into Colorado Springs, we could see the wall of smoke from the forest fire that had been burning for a few days.  But we checked with our friends the Grahams who told us to come on.  Since Caleb had never even laid eyes on the Academy, I decided to drive him through the base.  It is like going to college in a national park.  Twenty or forty thousand acres or something like that, bordering on national forest.  The stunning chapel, the academic quad, the expansive fields and trails.  We paused at an overlook for photos, walked on a trail a bit, and drove on.  As we looped to the southern side of the base, Caleb said he spotted fire coming over the ridge.  I said, no, they told us the fire is not on this side, you must just be seeing the smoke rising.  No, mom, it's fire.  AS WE WATCHED the fire exploded from the hot afternoon wind, and raced into the valley towards the town.  I pulled off the road with dozens of others, amazed.

When we got to the Grahams, they were glued to the news, and preparing themselves for possible evacuation.  That evening we helped them take all their heirloom family pictures off the walls and wrap them, load up boxes, and fill their car.  Ashes settled down onto their porch.  Darkness fell, and the fire glowed a few miles away.  They were a few blocks east of the mandatory evacuation zone, but not far enough away.  About 9:30 we realized the fire had gone from 5,000 to 15,000 acres that afternoon, and was out of control.  It was hard to decide to leave, but no one was going to sleep in that danger anyway.  To make things less complicated we split up, the Grahams going to their friends, and  we pulled out the contacts several friends had given us and by 10 pm we were settling in the basement guest room of Heidi's aunt and uncle's house.

The next morning the Lutjens got news that they needed to take in other evacuees, so after a day of errands and repacking and preparing Caleb for the next morning's in-processing, we attended a reception for Officer's Christian Fellowship, and then landed at a third contact's home, people we had connected with through speaking at a grad fellowship at UVA a decade ago!

Which brings our remarkable journey to the point of goodbye, which has already been covered in another post.  The 36 or so hours in Colorado Springs prior to Caleb's entry was supposed to be a cushion of time to settle and prepare, but became a crazy unsettled uncertain experience of breathing smoke, navigating the town, finding people to take us in, wondering whether the program would even go on (the USAFA evacuated their faculty housing area, but shifted the cadets and kept them on schedule).  Meanwhile we kept coming back to the Grahams for good food and news updates and hugs.  In the end we connected with four families (the Grahams, the two homes where we spent a night, and Caleb's sponsor family, not to mention the entire OCF community of inspiring military Christians) in ways we might not have without the fire.  Colorado Springs is a haven of kind, godly people, and we were well supported.

It has been a remarkable 12 days since we flew out of Nairobi, long days with the Northern Hemisphere summer of early dawns and lingering dusk.  Remarkable for the long parade of helpful, giving, family and friends.  For the spectacular scenery (drove over the Eastern Continental Divide in WV and the Western Continental Divide in CO), the ice cream and berries and steaks and salads, the speedy highways.  The memories that will not likely ever be repeated, to be treasured in the process of releasing Caleb to serve and grow and learn.

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