My family and I travelled to Germany in the fall of 2002. When I say “travelled,” that’s a loosely used term to describe the chaos of scrambling through an airport with 4 children (half of them under the age of two), 12 suitcases, 6 backpacks and a pacifier that I held onto for dear life.
We must have looked suspicious, right?! Because they told us that we had been randomly picked for an inspection. All the jumping up and down on overstuffed suitcases would now be in vain as they riffled through….all…12…suitcases, nearly causing us to miss our transatlantic flight.
There was no “turn for the worse”…only a continual, downward spiral towards an epic travel fail. In other words, that bag search that turned up nothing but more stress….was only the beginning of a 24 hour marathon to hell and back.
Finally seated and readying ourselves for a 10-hour flight into the unknown, we began takeoff procedures. At this point, any mother would let out a huge sigh of relief for finally being able to just sit. Me? No, I got the special gift of having my 2 1/2 year old vomit all over himself and his blanket. Did I mention that it was a 10-hour flight, not including a couple of layovers in between. And we had just begun.
We survived in tact and arrived at the sterile-looking airport in Zurich. I remember lots of gray, concrete, and the security guards with their fingers poised ready on the machine guns strapped to their torsos. It was a hurry up and wait situation at the customs gate, as we waited with all the other crying babies and weary travelers. I dubbed this process, “the herd of cows” as we all swayed trying to move the stagnant air. I felt a sickening in my stomach. It was hot, I was tired, hungry and desperate for a comfortable place to stretch out.
My husband had one baby in a pack on his back, while our eldest son held the other. Child-free at last, I made a dash down what seemed like a hundred steps to the ladies room. Breaking out in a cold sweat and feeling faint, I called out to my daughter to go get her father. I had nearly passed out when he came in with baby still strapped to his back and carried me up those never-ending stairs.
It was a surreal scene. Though I was barely conscious, I could hear people. I could hear my children asking why no one would help us. I could hear one child crying. And then my husband laid me on a cold metal counter. Finally, an EMT arrived and took us to the hospital building attached to the airport. It was a blur after that, to the credit of an IV and the skilled medical personnel who handled me with not the slightest hint of compassion – truly an honest introduction to the European bedside manner I would encounter throughout our visit.
Next up – a 3-hour drive to our destination in southern Germany. What a lovely journey while still feeling nauseous, with no air movement in the vehicle and a driver that had a need for speed in spite of the narrow, winding roads.
I found out days later, that our driver, my husband’s uncle, spoke very little English and probably understood less. As he had waited for us outside the hospital in the van with our children, he attempted to calm them with a positive report on my condition. Instead, with the wrong word choice, he had told them, “Your mother is dead.” I’m still wondering if I should be upset that there was no hysteria when I finally boarded the van.
Our clan settled in to our vacation rental, which would be our home for the next three months. We had brought some familiar things with us to ease the time and had also shipped a container full of comforts that would arrive in a couple of weeks. More welcoming than a hotel, our villa in Zwiefalten had all the amenities of a home, including a laundry room and a full kitchen.
My favorite part was the balcony. From there, I could sit and watch the fog creep over pine-covered hills at sunrise. The twin steeples of the old church loomed just above all the clay-tiled roofs. I could feel the presence of God with me in those quiet early mornings on the balcony.
I remember one particular morning soon after arriving, when I was feeling homesick and lost. I missed our church family, our friends and I wondered how I would worship in this place among people who spoke a different language. Certainly we would not be attending church and that left me feeling so alone.
Through my headphones, I listened to Rebecca St. James’ sweet voice as she spoke to my heart…
Tower of refuge and strength
Let every breath
All that I am
Never cease to worship You
Shout to the Lord, all the earth let us sing
Power and majesty praise to the King
Mountains bow down and the seas will roar
At the sound of Your name
I sing for joy at the work of Your hands
Forever I’ll love you forever I’ll stand
‘Cause Nothing compares to the promise I have
As I mouthed the words, I felt peace. If even these mountains, these hills, my battles…bowed down at just the sound of His name, I could make it through these uncertain times.
Even in this quaint village, surrounded by words I could not yet understand and everything unfamiliar…I could sing for joy because the promises I had in Him were still true. I sang for joy on that balcony. I knew then that no matter where I was in this world, I would always be looking at the work of His hands. And nothing could compare.