About 2 years ago Derek told me that he was up for sabbatical and that we should decide if we wanted to stay in Rexburg or go somewhere, I told him I would never pass up a chance to go away for a semester with the whole family! “Where would you go?“ he asked. “Are you really letting me choose?” I said. Without hesitation I knew I wanted to take our kids to Russia. Since I had begun teaching a Russian class at BYU-Idaho I had been reminded of the way in which Russia and her people had shaped my life starting in my teenage years with a trip to Kazan with a service group, then teaching English in Saint Petersburg for 6 months, then being called to serve a mission back to Saint Petersburg. I felt so strongly that the kids could experience their own kind of magic by breaking away from their comfort zone in rural Idaho and going to this place full of amazing things to see but mostly filled with amazing people.
Derek kindly agreed to look into funding for such a trip which was a drop of awesome (if you want to know what a drop of awesome is you need to keep reading this ridiculously long postJ). As a Humanities professor it could be a win for him to go to Russia since it’s a treasure trove of art…I convinced myself that Derek was almost equally invested in my plan although I would learn that he was mostly just invested in the idea of my happiness however strange the means of fulfillment.
The next 2 years were filled with a combination of special spiritually moving experiences helping me to know that my first instinct to go abroad would be a deeply moving experience for the children AND every possible setback you can possibly imagine. From getting rejected by the Fulbright scholars for any funding to having our one contact at a university get thrown in jail to working with another university for 10 months only to find out weeks before our trip (and with plane tickets already long purchased) that “the Russian government had rejected their request for visa invitations” for our large family and then my student that we had invited to be my helper with the kids felt really strongly that she should be in Rexburg during the Fall and not in Russia and her ticket was nonrefundable…not to mention the political unrest and sanctioning between the US and Russia…the list is actually about 100x longer than this, but let’s just say it was an exhausting and frustrating time. Each time we would come up against a road block I would feel like I had no more strength left to try to figure it out, then something would happen…usually something small (like coming across an inspiring quote or passage of scripture, getting uplifted from an inspired friend or just getting a quiet feeling of peaceful encouragement), I felt that these drops of awesome, tender mercies or “love notes” from God were saying to me “you can do this, you got it.” I had just a drop of faith enough to push forward on this crazy quest.
Our children prayed every day for months that we would get our visas. I tried to stay positive and keep a feeling of humility (knowing that it was all in God’s hands) rather than despair (feeling hopeless). Everyone I talk to is surprised to learn that we are draining our assets and energy in order to take our young children (5 of them ages 12 down to 3) away from the safety of their home to a land that is fast becoming the biggest enemy to the US (and most other humane nations). When people ask why? I tell them that there is a big difference between the Russian Government and the Russian people. I want my kids to experience the magic of this land and the people there. I know it will change them forever. Even my own sweet Mama who is my spiritual hero called a couple of times to check on me and make sure that I still felt right about going. I realized that she and others we love are risking a lot by letting so many of their precious loved-ones go away. I decided that if God really wanted to stop us that He could and would, and I owed it to all of us to be true to my own convictions and do all in my power to help us get there just in case what I was feeling was right. There would be many more road blocks but I felt ready for them!
Our extended family reunion (for my Dad’s family) was to take place on the East coast right at the time of our trip so we decided to link the two trips together. We also decided to stop by Italy for several days to spend time with our beloved exchange student who had become in every way like a big sister for our children. As a last resort, I had paid an agency a large sum of money to secure visas for our family which brought on a new can of worms. They issued Derek a Visa that would expire 6 weeks before our nonrefundable tickets had us flying home. That would mean that I would be left in the country with my sister (who by a serious miracle agreed to come with us!) and all 5 children. They reported that since his visa was to expire next April that it was not a long enough cushion to be eligible for a Russian Visa of the requested duration. I had paid thousands of dollars to this agency and they hadn’t kept their agreement, but we were heading to the East coast in only days so I was stuck.
That evening when it was looking like we would have to cancel our trip I had a heart to heart with God in prayer. I explained that I was only doing what I felt inspired to do and that I was very happy to set aside my own plans if I was off in my thinking, I wanted to do what was right not my own version of what was right. I acknowledged that all was in His hands and that if we were meant to go that we would need a miracle. I am the kind of person that doesn’t like to make a fuss over things. I don’t even like taking things back to the store when they don’t work because I feel awkward, like I am putting someone out. But the safety of my family was in my hands and I needed one drop of extra courage to pretend to be strong. The next morning I mustered up all my strength and wrote an email to the agency letting them know that I needed a new visa for my husband with the correct dates or I needed a refund. I also let them know that I had a document from them stating that they would deliver visas for the correct date and therefore I could take legal action against them if they didn’t. “Wow, did I really write that?” I wondered and could hardly push the send button but I did send it (drop of awesome). And within hours I got a call from our agent. She said that if we overnighted all the necessary documents to her that day that she would help us renew Derek’s passport and apply for a new visa. It just so happened that we were at a baseball tournament for my son on the other side of the state with a broken down car. But Derek’s Dad who had met us there took the kids to McDonald’s while we raced to the UPS store and got it all put in the mail (drop of awesome!). He then towed our car home and delivered us back to Rexburg (what a guy!!! drop of awesome!!!).
This is all crazy right? It meant that we would need to leave for our reunion to the East coast without our passports (which were being held by the agency processing our visas). So we packed for four months of travel and left our home not knowing if we would in fact be taking our trip abroad.
This was the point at which I received an invitation to review and share an upcoming book “Drops of Awesome” by an author which I have long admired. I agreed to review the book, but felt nervous about the timing and hoped I wouldn’t have to flake out of any assignment I would receive in connection with this commitment.
The reunion and tour of the Eastern States was so amazing but all the while I had a pit in my stomach wondering if we would actually be able to get on the plane to Italy and Russia with our passports and visas in hand. I sent an anxious e-mail to the agent asking if all was in order for us to receive our documents. Her response was vague and unpromising. What was I thinking? I had rented out our house packed up all we would need for 4 months of travel and our sweet neighbors had even surprised us with a going away gathering for the neighborhood (totally awesome). I had even spent the last year trying to teach our children Russian…yeah, that didn’t go as well as I had dreamed it would… If the agent didn’t send our documents by the next day all would be lost.
The next day as we were touring historic Williamsburg with our cousins I checked my inbox about every 15 minutes. Then I got it, I got the e-mail I had been waiting for. Our extremely stoic agent actually used an exclamation point (indicating her own surprise) as she announced that she had received Derek’s new visa from the Russian Consulate!!!! Within hours she sent me a tracking number for all 7 passports and visas! It was really going to happen!!! Major, major drop of awesome!!!
We returned to our room after the tour and the kids were begging to go swimming. I suddenly felt a complete and total loss of energy from all the stress I had just released. I have the kind of husband that is such a rock-star Dad that he can take the kids on entire vacations alone and no one really remembers that there is a mom, seriously (major source of awesome in my life)… So he offered to take all the kids swimming so that I could rest. Instead of sleeping though, I was dying to break into Kathryn’s book.
One reason for my complete exhaustion was that I realized I had spent the last 2 years stressing over how to get my dream of living abroad with my family to become a reality. Now that it was really going to happen I was terrified of the reality of it. I was really taking my babies away. Far away. With no secured apartment (how could we prepay for an apartment if we didn’t have our visas yet?) and no real structure for what we would do all day…for months I had researched orphanages in the area and had reached out to multiple organizations offering our services but I had had not one single positive reply. So I packed up activities and gifts for orphans not knowing if we would ever really meet one. We would just have to walk completely into the dark to see what we could find there, terrifying.
This was the backdrop with which I began to read “Drops of Awesome”. As I read I smiled, and laughed and cried. Amazing, how could it be that in this message was everything I needed at that moment? Just as my inner voice was telling me that I was not capable of pulling this off for real I was reminded of something I used to think of over and over as a little girl. I would evaluate the last choice I had made and ask myself if that choice was making me the person I wanted to be. Drops of awesome is all about this concept. Who we are is who we choose to be at this moment, there is no doom of yesterday or of what’s to come if we focus on this day, this hour, this moment…what can I control about my life right at this moment to make the world more awesome? Each effort we put forth no matter how small is a “drop of awesome” we can’t lose drops for our shortcomings, we can only add drops as we put forth our best effort.
That means that I can choose to be strong at this very moment and that makes me a strong person! I can choose to be more positive about taking 5 very rowdy children to live in just a few hundred square feet of space in a city that is the same size as the entire population of Finland, and then I am a positive person. I can choose now to control myself from a total meltdown when all the kids are fighting or complaining and that makes me a patient mama, because I choose it now. That is one heck of a drop of awesomeness!
I’m totally anti-spoiling so without giving any awesome away I will say that this book is about recording your personal journey one drop at a time, it’s completely interactive and gives you a chance for some really amazing reflection. During my own reflection (while Derek was playing with kids at the pool in Williamsburg), I had the most amazing experience. I won’t even try to describe it, but after that time of reflection I knew that I could pull it off, not all at once, but one drop at a time.
And so our journey has begun! The next evening (last Monday) we slept in a hotel on the Jersey side of New York City in preparation for our flight to Italy the next day. As we all got into bed that evening I told the kids about my experience reading Kathryn’s book and the effect it had had on me. I then invited them to join me in the journey of gathering drops of awesome. I pointed out the ways that I had noticed awesomeness in them that day. As I did I could see their little faces light up with excitement.
Noticing drops of awesome in them had made me love them even during their not so loveable moments. We decided to gather each evening to discuss the drops of awesome we discovered about ourselves and others that day. I know this will make our trip even more magic.
I am writing this post from Italy. We have had an amazing time here in Cagliari, Italy. Every moment has been filled with beautiful sights, delectable food (cooked by our very own Italian Grandma (Alessadra’s grandma whom we have adopted) and most of all of the most loving and loveable people you can imagine (there will certainly be a post dedicated to all things Italy!)
Tomorrow we get on the plane and head to Russia. We did finally secure an apartment (only yesterday thanks to wonderfully kind family friend), but beyond that, I really can’t say what we will find there. I pray that God will be equally kind in guiding us as He has thus far. One thing I know, is that there will be drops of Awesome to be discovered along the way. And as long as I do all I can to recognize and gather them, we can make it one day at a time!
So stay tuned :)
and buy yourself a copy of "Drops of Awesome" so that you can experience some awesome for yourself!