Lacquered fingernails scraping on a chalkboard.
A sound every parent is familiar with.
After all, that’s the equivalent of what the determined whining of a 2-year old sounds like.
So when we got the airport in a hustle, with six suitcases, three overstuffed carry-on bags, a disoriented toddler and a sleepy baby to catch a 2am flight, imagine the damning self-reproach when I realized I had forgotten to bring that specially prepped, tightly sealed ziplock bag in the fridge which contained five lifesaving items that would spare us and many in-flight passengers mental and acoustic agony.
I wanted to kick myself in the butt.
The 32-hour journey ahead on two flights from Canada to Singapore depended on these triangular lifesavers. Now, I knew I was in for an uphill battle.
“Oh no,” I uttered, preparing myself to hear that awful fingernail-on-chalkboard crying. My toddler loved them so much that I’d packed them specially for her for the long flight ahead, and now I had forgotten them.
As we buckled ourselves on the plane that was going to bring us to a time zone twelve hours ahead, I prepared myself for a marathon event of misery, crying, whining, apologizing to other passengers and no sleep.
We flew off. Tears built up behind my eyes as I explained to our bewildered toddler as best as I could, “We are saying goodbye to Canada and going to Singapore, sweetheart. We are on a plane and it’s going to be a long, long way. Mummy is very sorry but I forgot your Laughing Cow Cheese.”
As Cliff, our toddler and baby fell asleep, tears streamed down my cheeks as I thought of the many unknowns ahead.
We did not have a home waiting for us in Singapore; I did not know if our children would adjust well; we were leaving a perfectly beautiful house and a routine we had thrived on to a new place filled with new uncertainties and stresses, because I had to fulfill my work contract of a remaining 16 months in Singapore.
Just as I was grappling with these thoughts, our first meal on the flight arrived. And there on each tray, sat a little triangular ray of hope- Laughing Cow Cheese!
As I watched my toddler’s face light up like a highway billboard with high voltage glee, both my husband and I saved ours for her.
And then, the two passengers sitting behind us gave their triangular packages of joy to her, leaving me in shock.
That made five Laughing Cows. Five, that replaced my forgetfulness, that covered my oversight as a parent.
As ridiculous and melodramatic as it sounds, tears poured out of my eyes as I felt God asking me, “Why do you worry about your transition? Even amidst the chaos, in your shortfall, I am here. And I will always love your children more than you ever can.”
Just as the flight ended, I turned to thank the gracious couple. The older woman replied, “Oh, it’s nothing. I hope she liked it.”
With tears in my eyes, I shared the story of why her gesture meant so much to me. To which the couple replied, “We fly this airline ALL the time, and we have NEVER seen them serve Laughing Cow Cheese before.”
Ah, five. The number of Grace- His unmerited favor in the face of my shortcomings.
When we arrived in Singapore, the brutality of jetlag kicked me in the face. In fact, the word “jetlag” should be completely redefined for parents, since the jetlag of two or more other human beings become your responsibility too.
Crying fits and door-banging. Make-believe picnics on a floormat at ungodly hours of the night. Staying in someone else’s vacant apartment with my toddler continually telling me, “Mummy, GO HOME. Not this home, BIG Home!”
But the next morning as I awoke, I found my toddler’s skin, once covered in red angry welts of severe eczema in cold and dry Canada, now a beautiful pink.
For months, her eczema intensified unforgivingly in spite of our best efforts. In desperation, I prayed that God would just allow her to wear pretty dresses again, since we had to cover her limbs to prevent her from scratching and to avoid the cutting comments from well-intentioned people. Because of the severity of her condition, I had emptied her wardrobe- all she had were a few long sleeved shirts and pants.
Just a few days after we arrived, however, a huge sack of beautiful clothes, passed on to me by a friend I had met only a few times in my life, was delivered to us.
“Cliff,” I said, incredulously, fingering through the huge sack of perfectly ironed dresses with tears in my eyes. As I picked up a pretty dark blue, sleeveless dress with red cherries on them, I whispered, “God answered my prayer- look. Sarah-Faith can wear this now.”
It was then that I felt God say, “Why do you worry about your transition and your children’s transition? Your obedience will always beget my grace.”
Days passed, and things at the place where we were staying at kept breaking down. The air-conditioning units took turns giving up. Our agent friend who told us she would help clarified that she could now no longer do so, due to unexpected family circumstances that had cropped up. As I lay awake at night, wondering where we would find our next home, I felt desperate and cried out in prayer.
Why did God allow this?
Hardly two days had passed when she reverted to us with a host of viewing options, even amidst her challenging and pressurizing circumstances.
“I just felt like God really wants me to help you.”
As we searched for our next home for 20 months, before we head (God-willing) to the mission field again, we discovered one problem after another- grudging landlords, high rentals, remote locations. When we finally found a potential home, we both got cold feet in committing.
Desperate, Cliff held my hand and said, “Let’s pray now. Let’s pray God gives us a sign and peace about our decision.”
And a sign He did. For at the ground floor of the apartment, a group of women waved rainbow colored flags as they sang worship songs. And as the landlord’s agent walked over to take a photo of them, she shared with us her background of having served the underprivileged in China for a decade previously.
And so out of her way did she go to help, assist and negotiate for our tenancy, together with our agent friend.
As I watched them both work together to help our family resettle, going out of their way to minimize charges, waiving their own fees and using their personal time and money to set up the home for us, I marveled at God’s ways as I felt Him say again, “Why do you worry?”
At the playground yesterday, Sarah-Faith held my hand and led me on the merry-go-round.
“Come, Mummy, come.”
As another caregiver spun the merry-go-round faster and faster, I saw our surroundings flash by at a dizzying speed. And as I spun round and round with Sarah-Faith, I noticed one thing- that as long as I fixed my eyes on her face, I never got dizzy.
It was then that I felt God tell me, that as long as we fix our eyes on Him, no matter what the dizzying circumstances around us, He will be our anchor.
Even in the midst of the giddy chaos of packing and leaving, He would provide the lifesavers we needed; even in the midst of uncertainty and transitions, He would honor our obedience and heal us; even in the midst of wavering doubt, He would send angels to help and encourage us.
If your world is spinning out of control, know this- that as long as you fix your eyes on Him, His Grace will be your anchor.
After all, He is the God who provides, who heals and who cares, even when it comes down to just five pieces of Laughing Cow Cheese.
*Thank you to many angels who have been journeying with us in finding our home and for offering us items to help us make our new home, Home.