Of Suitcases and Snacks, or the Case of the Unprepared Mother

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Even as I write this, it feels almost too good to be true.

Since my first international trip barely across the border into Mexico as a naive college student hell bent on changing the world in 5 days, I’ve had “the bug.” The bug to travel. There’s something invigorating, refreshing, and soul-filling about carrying all you own in a bag or two and heading out into the great wide world, half on a mission toward self-discovery, the other half intent on learning how others do this crazy thing we call life. And one hundred percent in search of adventures that simply cannot be planned.

When Ben worked a sabbatical into his terms of call nearly 5 years ago, we had a newborn baby fresh out of the NICU. I did not have the emotional or mental capacity to even fathom what that meant or what it would look like. I could see no further than the next feeding, the next diaper change. Yet here we are. Five years later, with a fully potty-trained baby capable of eating his own food who goes to school, skis blues, and rides his bike nearly 6 miles without even thinking about it. Plus another sweet addition, 4 years old and not far behind her “big” brother (though she is taller than him, and probably always will be because #habeshabeauty). And a delightful old soul of a 9-year-old, wise beyond her years and a gift from heaven to her mother, who would not be able to cope otherwise.

We are standing on the brink of Ben’s first sabbatical. What a sabbatical it has turned into! Nearly 2 years ago we started dreaming and scheming, with the intent to apply for a grant we’d heard of called the Lily Grant. It is specifically designed to benefit pastors and their congregations, for restoration and renewal for all. It seemed a long shot, but that is rarely a deterrent for us. And with Ben’s thorough work ethic and ability to go above and beyond, he submitted a stellar application, whole-heartedly backed by our session of elders. To our great delight, he was awarded a full Lily Grant last summer.

And so our dreams and schemes are soon to become a reality. Years of planning are turning into days of scrambling. Indeed, his sabbatical starts in 17 days!

The question Lily posed to potential grant recipients was, “What makes your heart sing?” When Ben and I first read that, we looked at each other and simultaneously said, “Travel.”

It has been a dream of ours to travel around the world with our kids. From Ben’s experience studying abroad in Ecuador to my work in Kenya with orphan girls, from our time in Central America partnering with Agros to countless other international experiences, spending time in other countries and learning from other cultures up close has broadened our sense of humanity, ultimately expanding our hearts for the people who all belong to God’s kingdom on this giant, diverse earth. Why wouldn’t we want the same opportunity for our kids? As early as possible, in fact. The sooner it becomes a part of their life, the sooner it will seem normal to them. And how awesome for our kids to grow up thinking that celebrating diversity and having a broad vision of God’s kingdom is normal?

Thus, 10 of Ben’s 13 weeks of sabbatical leave are dedicated to international travel with our family. I am beyond grateful, not only for the Lily Grant without which we would never be able to do this once-in-a-lifetime trip, but also for a husband who finds so much value in teaching our kids about the world that he would choose to spend nearly 75% of his sabbatical doing just that as a means of restoration, rest, and rejuvenation for his own life.

This international travel starts in EXACTLY one month. Did you even hear me, you guys? ONE MONTH.

I’ve had so much chill until now. But now?

I am freaking out.

I am having those dreams that impending brides and soon-to-be mothers have. The kind where you walk down the aisle naked or get home from the hospital and don’t have a single baby item in your home. Except my version involves waking up and realizing we are flying across the Atlantic Ocean today and I haven’t packed a single bag. Further, no one seems to think it’s a big deal at all except me and the TSA agents. I also oscillate no less than seventeen times a day between “this is the greatest opportunity we can give our kids, we are so blessed to have the adventure of a lifetime” and “we are INSANE! Who travels the world with three small children without reprieve? We are dumb dumbs. Why didn’t we budget a nanny or some lifelines and what ever will we DO if we run out of toothpaste?”

I spent no less than 37 days trying to book in-country flights in Ethiopia on the website before I realized it was never going to happen and hopped on the phone to book them with an actual agent. I’m still not entirely sure if the tickets are booked, so I guess we’ll just find out when we get there, tra-la-la.

I haven’t been able to successfully wean the kids off snacks and they are going to make everyone miserable asking for them. I can do a lot of things, but I cannot pack 400 Z Bars.

I tried to ask about car seats in Rwanda and was met with an incredulous chuckle, and something about how the children simply sit on your knees, you silly American.

Our mangy one-eyed cat Hercules is almost 12, but he looks like he’s 47. I can’t stop thinking about how he will surely die while we are gone.

I will be driving my two littlest to Salt Lake City this week for yellow fever vaccines because there is a national shortage and I was way cool about it and waited too long and now the closest place to find the potion to protect my children from certain death is a 5-hour drive away. Each way. Thank the Lord for car DVD players.

Our ultimate flight home to the US just changed to the next day and I’m not sure I can cope with booking one more hotel so maybe we’ll pull a Tom Hanks in The Terminal and turn the airport chairs into cozy sleeping arrangements, and I’ll send the children on scavenger hunts for coins until we have enough to buy a happy meal and a shoe shine.

Yep, I’m freaking out. But, I’ll admit, I’m also extremely giddy. We are pinching ourselves to see if it’s true, but it appears all this talk about getting on a plane soon will in fact be coming to fruition.

Our family has never spent more than a week just being together since all of us have been a part of it. I’ve never been to 3 of the 4 countries we are traveling to. I’ve never left the US for more than 8 weeks total. We will be seeing no less than 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We are slowly shutting down shop at home and ramping up to embark on this amazing adventure, with just a few bags, a great amount of bewilderment, and a whole lot of trust.

Honestly, one of the saddest parts is the FOMO I’m experiencing about all the amazing speakers coming to Jackson while we are gone. That’s the cool thing about Lily; the pastor benefits and so does the congregation. Check out the varsity lineup while we are gone, and take notes and pictures because I don’t think I’ll ever get over missing a retreat with Immaculee Ilibagiza.  

And while I can’t buy each of you a plane ticket to come join the fun, I can and would love to share some parts of it in all it’s crazy and messy glory. Wanna check it out? Just follow along here at this blog, and probably on Instagram at @addiepascal too.

I’ll take you through our final weeks here in Jackson and on into each of the four countries we are off to see. Come travel the world (and catch a glimpse of how bananas we are to travel with 3 kids!) from the comfort of your own living room.

Check back soon for specifics on where we are headed on all the insanity to ensue in the final days before we leave. It’s sure to be a dumpster fire you won’t want to miss.


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