Sunday, 18 May 2008

I need to write this before I forget how the story ends! We spent our last night on the trip in Quito, Ecuador, arriving from the Galapagos late afternoon and hunkering down to wait until morning. We knew it would be difficult to sleep, and since we would be picked up at 4am the next morning it didn’t really matter. Who needed sleep, we were going home! That night while we put the kids to bed we read a bunch of Psalms, everyone was in the mood to thank God and celebrate.

The kids fell asleep and stayed asleep until we woke them at 3:45am. I woke up at 1am and couldn’t fall back asleep, all sorts of things ran through my mind and the butterflies in my stomach just wouldn’t settle. We finally got picked up, transferred to the airport, and began our long day of travel. Our first flight took us to Miami, then we had another flight to Dallas, and finally our flight to Austin that would arrive at 6:40pm. I had my iPod all charged up for the trip. We put a strict moratorium on songs like Michael Buble’s “Home” while we traveled, they just made us homesick, but on the plane I listened to it over and over. Another great song is by Sinatra, his lyrics can’t be beat:

It's very nice to be footloose
With just a toothbrush and comb
It's oh so nice to be footloose
But your heart starts singin' when your homeward wingin' across the foam

It's quite the life to play gypsy
And roam as Gypsies will roam
It's quite the life to play gypsy
But your heart starts singin' when your homeward wingin' across the foam

It's very nice to go trav'lin’
But it's oh so nice to come home

Everything went without a hitch, the excitement mounted, the kids ticked off the flight details as the day went on, counting the hours until we arrived. When we touched down in Austin, we all hopped up and had our backpacks on about two seconds after the seat belt sign went off. Everyone else on the plane just sat there, how could they be so relaxed? We were home! Alayna hurried down the aisle of the plane as we un-wedged ourselves from our row, she waited impatiently on the jetway. We walked really fast through the Austin airport, got to the escalator, I peered over the side, and there they were, the welcome wagon. My parents, Clay’s parents, my sister and her family, and so many friends. All holding posters and balloons and screaming their heads off, I just barely kept it together as the hugging commenced.

Alayna and her friends huddled and hugged, Nate started telling stories about the trip as fast as he could, while Benji and Clay made the rounds. It was this incredible feeling of relief and excitement, and “I can’t believe we’re really home”. A lady we didn’t know came up to my mom and said she was so excited just watching us, she even cheered and cried for our homecoming even though she had no idea who we were. She explained her husband is coming home from Iraq in just a few weeks, my mom gave her one of the “Welcome Home” banners for her upcoming celebration.

We eventually said goodbye to friends and headed to our house with family. I got in the car with my sister, Leslie, and we took the long way home, I missed a turn we were so busy talking. As we got close, we saw the mile marker signs my sweet neighbor Debbie put up, counting the final miles of our trip. Each sign had “welcome” in a different language, her son Matthew’s idea.

As we drove down our street, we noticed all the houses were dark, not a creature was stirring. And then we could see our house, and all our neighbors gathered outside with balloons and posters and streamers and hooting and hollering, and we all jumped out of the car and hugged the closest person. So many familiar faces in the street. The kids ran into the fray, joining all the other kids. Nate ran around back and jumped on the trampoline with his buddies, they all measured themselves at the neighbors, comparing their heights to the marks they made on the pantry door nine and a half months ago.

The sun set on a perfect homecoming. The neighbors drifted back to their homes, for most it was a school night. We visited a bit with our parents and Leslie and David (my sister and her husband), while the cousins played. Then they went to my parents’ place for the night, and it was quiet. We knelt around Nate’s bed and prayed, then we tucked each child into their own bed. Benji found blue bear and brown bear, his beloved stuffed animals that had been left behind all these months. We were home.

Friday and Saturday we spent with family. This morning we went to church and reconnected. Life went on while we were gone, babies were born and kids grew taller, teeth were lost and construction on a new sanctuary building was begun. Back home, we had lunch with Clay’s grandparents and his brother, Craig, who happened to be in town for just the morning. This afternoon we had a party in the backyard and all the neighbors came, bearing brownies and ice cream. We sat on the back porch around our big wooden table and we talked and talked.

It is good to be home. Things aren’t exactly the same as we’d left them, we aren’t exactly the same either. It will take some time to settle in again, and we’ve got lots of time. A whole golden summer stretching out ahead of us, it is a beautiful thing.

What was our favorite? It isn’t a fair question. Which favorite, our favorite city, our favorite wildlife experience? Our favorite sunset? The Sahara Desert in Morocco. Or maybe that one in Cinque Terre, Italy. And then there was that one on the first night in the Galapagos. See what I mean?

As the credits roll, we’d like to say thank you. Clay’s parents were tireless personal assistants, taking care of the thousands of details back home while we trotted around the globe. The mail, the packages we sent home, the bills and home maintenance and headaches. My parents came to Austin early and helped get the house ready for our return, filling closets and drawers and restocking the pantry and fridge. My Aunt Terry pitched in, climbing up and down the stairs with clothes and boxes. My sister and her family watched our two dogs for nine and a half months, they gave them lots of love. Our friends and family and even strangers prayed for us, for our safety, and for that we are grateful. We are thankful for emails and news from home as we traveled, we are thankful for encouragement and care packages. We are thankful.

Send us an email, give us a call, or come and visit. We’d love to share our back porch and our stories, and we want to hear yours, too. We’ve been having the urge to identify the birds and lizards that cross our path the past few days, the urge to document our days with pictures and journals. I really do think that our days here in Austin will be just as interesting as our days in Egypt or Vietnam, because what’s interesting is life. How it’s lived, wherever you are. Here’s to long lives with lots of stories and safe travels, whether it’s from here to New Zealand, or here to the grocery store.