“Welcome home.”

This blog has been something that we didn’t really know what it would look like when we started it. It was truly just a place for me (us) to process our time on this wonderful road and reflect on the lessons we learned along the way. It was a place for us to store memories- memories of people and places that we will forever treasure and hold close to our hearts. It was a place that we hoped would inspire you to get out there and experience this amazing world (when the COVID-19 epidemic has passed, of course). Little did I know that it would be something that I would treasure so dearly as I try to process and figure out what this wonderful road looks like right now.

It’s funny because every so often as we’ve been traveling I’ve thought of a blog post that I wanted to someday come back and write. Maybe something not location specific, but just thoughts and ponderings from our travels. In the fall, I put one in our post archives just entitled “Welcome home” with the mindset that I would use it when we arrived home at the end of June. I’ve always said that one of my favorite parts of traveling is coming back to the U.S. and getting to the U.S. immigration officer, who after stamping my passport for reentry to the States would look at me and say with a smile “Welcome home.” It was something that I knew at some level I would dread in June because it would mean the end of this adventure, but I felt confident that I would be at peace with it by June, knowing that we would have just completed the most amazing adventure of our lives and were ready to figure out what was next.

Then came Friday, March 20th. We had spent about 4-5 hours the night before (Thursday) reworking our plans. As COVID-19 continued to spread, we felt safe within the borders of Thailand- a country that at the time had less than 500 cases. We had to cut Singapore and Malaysia from our itinerary, but we decided that maybe it was just best to stay in Thailand a couple more weeks (until our 30 day visa time expired) and self-quarantine at the beach around Phuket and the Phi Phi Islands. From there, we planned to continue onto Bali (Indonesia) for two weeks while evaluating the situation along the way. It was a lot of work, changing flights and accommodations and finding new places to stay, but by the time we went to bed on Thursday night, I looked at Perry and said, “I’m sad that we had to make so many changes, but I truly feel at peace with our new plan. I think it’s going to be okay.”

But again, then came Friday morning. We were flying to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand to spend a week before going to Phuket. But we awoke to an email from the U.S. embassy in Indonesia saying that Indonesia, a country that until that point had implemented no restrictions, was now no longer letting tourists into their borders. There went Bali.

Then on the way to the airport in the back of a GrabCar (SE Asia’s version of Uber), we read the U.S. State Department’s Level 4 Travel Advisory entitled “Do Not Travel” that they had sent out overnight, which warned that U.S. citizens abroad should plan to return to the States as soon as possible while commercial flights remained available. Otherwise they needed to be prepared to remain abroad indefinitely. Yes, we probably would have been willing to stay abroad as long as possible, but the walls were slowly starting to close in. At this point, there weren’t many places we could go once our 30 days in Thailand ran out. After reading the advisory, I passed the phone to Perry so he could read it himself. After he finished, he looked at me with disbelief and said, “Are we going home?” Those words haunted me for the next 30 minutes in the car as I fought back tears of disbelief. Surely this wasn’t it. Surely we wouldn’t have spent all that time last night rearranging everything after praying about it and feeling at peace about it only to let it be in vain. But then I remembered my addition to our prayer the night before, “Lord, thank You that we feel good about all of these changes. Thank you for leading us to them. Give us wisdom in the coming days about where to go. And give us wisdom to know when it’s just time to give in and go home.”

I had prayed those words the night before, but I hadn’t really meant them. Or if I had, I wasn’t quite ready for them to come true.

We arrived at the Bangkok airport about 4 hours before our Chiang Mai flight, and after doing some more talking and research we started looking at flights from Bangkok to Knoxville for that day. Eventually we settled on one (that cost an arm and a leg- trust me flights might be cheap in some places right now, but not when you’re trying to get home!) and booked it to leave Bangkok that night and arrive in Knoxville the next afternoon.

We keep going back and forth about if we had just stayed and gone ahead to Chiang Mai and then to Phuket/Phi Phi Islands. And I really can’t say what would have been best. Thailand has started putting in control measures in recent days that probably would have forced us to leave before we had planned. And really, it was the wise and responsible thing to do. It’s just really hard letting go.

It was a whirlwind of a day. I wasn’t ready. Perry wasn’t ready. Our hearts weren’t ready to leave. It was so abrupt and unexpected. And all I wanted to do was sit in the Bangkok airport and sob (I mostly kept it together though…mostly…). I was disappointed. I was sad. I was angry.

We know we have had an amazing 6.5 months of travel to places that we could have never imagined visiting. And we know we should be grateful for opportunities that many will never have, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t suck. We struggle with holding onto those 3.5 months, 9 countries and 20 cities that we aren’t going to make it to. I know in the grand scheme of things, this isn’t that big. This too shall pass and one day, we will be able to travel again. There are people that have been much more deeply affected by this virus than we are. We’re healthy and safe while others are fighting on the frontlines of the medical field and some are fighting for their lives. I know that there are families that are struggling financially and wondering how they will pay rent. And I know there are those who have lost loved ones to this virus and are hurting so much. I don’t in anyway want to diminish or take away from what they are experiencing. Oh how I hold them all in my heart and my prayers.

This virus sucks. And I hate it.

Our Nashville church has been doing a 21 days of prayer daily devotional that gets texted to us every morning. The other day’s was entitled, “But What if What God Wants for Me is Not What I Want?” Just reading the title made me cringe a little. Because this is not what I want. I’m beyond thankful for family that is providing places for us to stay right now (our house is rented out through mid-July), but I don’t want to be here. This is not what I want.

There was a quote in that devotion from Corallie Buchanan’s book, “Watch Out! Godly Women on the Loose” that says: “When we look to God as provider, we are surrendering our independence and trusting someone else to meet our needs, over which we have no control. Letting go of our ‘dependence on independence’ and letting someone else take control goes against natural human instinct. We need to fight the urge to take over and just let God be God, because He can provide for us better than we can.”

“Fight the urge to take over and just let God be God.” Ouch. That one hurts. I don’t like to let go of control. I love God’s plans when they are me-approved. I honestly don’t have a hard time believing that God is faithful and sovereign and will provide. It’s just that I’m not always sure that His plans fall in line with my own. This is not the plan that I want God to have for my life. This epidemic and its rippling effects are not the plan that I want for anyone’s life. And I don’t think it’s God’s plans. I think it’s the result of a fallen and broken world. But that doesn’t mean that our God doesn’t have a plan in the midst of it all. It just might not be the one that I/we have.

As we’ve spent the last two weeks reflecting, I’m slowly coming to terms with this new reality. I’m remembering that we started this wonderful adventure because of God showing us so clearly that this is what He wanted for us to do. So now it’s come full circle. It was so easy to be excited about and trust God’s plans when they allowed me to go on the adventure of a lifetime traveling the world. But will I trust them when they mean that I have to return to the U.S., sit still and wait to find out what’s next?

That Sunday in September 2018 when we so clearly left church knowing that we were going to do this thing, I remember singing a song during the service with tears in my eyes as I realized what the Lord was calling us to. It’s chorus and refrain say: “I say yes. I say yes. To all You want from me. To all You are. I will go where You want me to go. I will serve who You want me to serve. I will love who You want me to love. I say yes.” I remember being a little scared singing those words and realizing what it meant I was committing to and leaving our life at the time behind, but I was excited at the same time.

This last Sunday, during our online church service, we sang this song again. And I remember feeling the Lord ask, “Can you still sing this? And mean it? Even if your ‘yes’ is not what you want right now?”

This world is weird right now. Perry said yesterday, “You know out of all the things that I thought would bring us home early, I never in a million years would have guessed it would be a worldwide health epidemic.” I don’t think anyone would have thought this is what our reality would look like in Spring 2020. But this is where we are, and I’m having to learn to say “yes” and trust that God’s plans are bigger and better than my own.

Another song that I love that our church sang last Sunday is called “Even Then". It’s lyrics are:

When the winter's closing in
And the sun has gone away
My heart is frail and thin
You are strong even then
When there's darkness all around
I know Your light will not burn out
My hope is in Your hands
Even then, even then

When my fear has taken hold
And I no longer hear Your voice
In the silence deep within
You are with me even then
When the war has waged on me
I will choose to still believe
You are there, You're my defense
Even then, even then

Forever, I will sing Your praise
Call upon Your name, Jesus
Only You are with me through it all
When the mountains fall
I will praise You, even then
Even Then

When You bled on that cross
For the ones who pierced Your hands
Love's resolve to conquer sin
You thought of me even then
When I'm clothed in victory
And I stand with You redeemed
You have been and You will be
Even then, even then

When I take my final breath
And Your peace is full in me
Oh how faithful You have been
Even then, even then

Forever, I will sing Your praise
Call upon Your name, Jesus
Only You are with me through it all 
When the mountains fall
I will praise You
Forever, I will sing Your praise
Call upon Your name, Jesus
Only You are with me through it all 
When the mountains fall
I will praise You, even then

Going back to the U.S. immigration officer…it’s funny because when we arrived in Chicago that Saturday, we didn’t get a “Welcome home.” We have Global Entry where you don’t even have to talk to anyone but a computer screen to go through U.S. Immigration now. It seemed fitting though and almost like an answer to my prayers. I didn’t want a friendly greeting. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want these new plans (or lack there of…). I wanted to be in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I didn’t want what God wants for me right now. 

And I think that’s okay. I think God knows that this isn’t what I want, and He knows this isn’t what anyone wants for our world right now. But will I/we still trust that our God is still good and faithful through it all? Will we believe that in the mess, in the hard, in the unwanted, that He alone knows what’s going on and will see us through to the other side of this brokenness? We stand on the fallen side of creation. But one day, I believe all things will be redeemed and made whole again. Until then, I must learn to trust and praise Him in a world full of “even thens”.

So for today, I’m still sad and disappointed and a little angry about our circumstances. But I’m learning to trust that God’s plans are better than my own. I’m praying for those deep in the trenches fighting against this epidemic. And I’m believing that the Great Physician can and will bring healing and hope and light in all of this darkness and brokenness. I’m saying “yes” and “even then” when I don’t understand. And I’m holding onto the faithfulness of the One Who has been faithful before and will be faithful again. May our Father hold us close during these weird and uncertain times until we one day reach our home in heaven and He can say, “Welcome home.”

None of the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed. 
Every one was fulfilled.
-Joshua 21:45

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