I woke up on the wrong side of the ocean today. I could tell, in part, by the chill in the morning air of this old house in New Jersey. In part, because there’s a glorious box of Captain Crunch on the kitchen table. Our plane landed on Saturday, after a long push over the Atlantic into 100-knot headwinds and two missed approaches at Newark International. It was a blustery day, I gathered, from the comments of folks who were loitering around doing other things on Saturday. “Oh, you landed in THAT.” In the midst of it, a certain poor lady in seat 33D gripped her chair and asked me, after each delay, what was happening now. If she knew that even I, her new pilot friend in 33E, was starting to worry, then perhaps she would have gripped a little tighter.
Later, a burly young man named “Cruz” dressed in a smart, starched US Customs uniform stamped us in. “How long have you been in Kenya?” he inquired as we shuffled up to the desk like refugees. Fifteen months was my answer. With that, I got the obligatory raised eyebrow and second look. What he said was, “What, do you live there or something?” What he meant was, “What, are you nuts?” I gave the patent missionary answer, one I do rather unconvincingly after 30 hours without sleep and a scruff of beard on my face. If not for our two darling children in tow, what with my dubious passport and a slight but wholly unintentional “You got a problem with that?” look on my face, I would likely fit some profile for a terrorist. Welcome to the Untied States. I paused to take in the bright colors of an American flag draped neatly down a wall behind the immigration queue. It is a tradition for me. That first flag there in Newark Airport never fails to cause me a smile. I don’t know why, it’s just a flag.
Fifteen months may have seemed like a long time to Cruz, but my correlating thought was about how short it was. Our arrival home still feels unplanned, even though we are certain that God has intended it. Mom and dad came by the missionary apartment just hours after we arrived–I don’t think anything could have held them back really. Dad came up the stairs with a stack of pizzas in his hands (a generous welcome-home gift from our friend Mr. Puzo–God bless him) and met Zach’s longing eyes first. Zach blurted out an excited “Pop-Pop” and grabbed dad around the neck. I feared the pizzas would be lost in the collision, and steadied them as I reached out for my first hug. One long overdue.
Dad looked better than expected. He looked older and thinner too, a little like I remember my grandfather. And he looked supremely happy. With the jet-lag creeping in, we didn’t have much coherent time to visit on Saturday night, but dad just wanted us to know one thing–How blessed he felt to see us again. It was stolen moment, one he never thought would come. “I didn’t think I would ever leave that hospital,” dad confessed. The two-thousand odd people praying for him knew differently.
The very next day, Sunday, was a “great day” in dad’s words. We all got together at the home of my brother–mom and dad, their sons, and the four grandchildren. It was an afternoon of rambunctious new friendships between the cousins, old laughs between my brother and I, and, of course, participating in the culinary exploits of New Jersey. Dad kept saying over and over what a great day it was. It reminded me of a day I took off recently during our packing and preparing to come back, when Renee and I just played with the kids. I can’t even remember what we did that day, but for Zach it somehow made an impression. He drew me a big picture of a lizard (or something like that) and scrawled across the page… “I love you dad. This was a grait day!” I recognized it right away as something worth holding on to. Not so much for the artwork, but for the reminder. Great days. They are the ones we will wish we made more of, one day, when we are running out of days altogether. I have a feeling dad’s going to teach me more about that these next few months.