In 2010, my husband and son, Taido and Cole, had a trip planned to go hiking in Switzerland for Cole’s 13th birthday. The night before the trip, there was a small problem.
This was first published on my blog that same autumn.
A Story about A Passport
We were all leaving town on Friday morning, Taido and Cole for Switzerland and the rest of us (along with my mom) for my sister’s house in Wheaton, Illinois. By Thursday afternoon, I still hadn’t packed a thing, which was bothering Mary Polly a lot.
WHEN are we going to PACK?
She was on me all week. Taido started packing a little on Wednesday, having Cole try on coats and sweaters, even a button up shirt for a possible dressy night out. We were all laughing at Cole, walking around dressed in one of Taido’s shirts and yelling,
Am I really going mountain climbing in THIS?
The spirit of anticipation grew all day on Thursday, but we still had soccer and other after school activities to get through. I sat at Simon’s soccer game Thursday evening with my parents. Mom and I planned our departure the next morning for 6am. I told her as we walked off the field that I would call her if I woke up earlier and wanted her to be ready sooner. She laughed.
I drove home from soccer, threw Simon in the tub and started packing. I think it was about 8pm when I walked into my room and saw Taido’s face of total dismay. He was holding his passport. He looked up at me, panic on his face,
Alison, my passport has expired.
I said nothing. I’m sure I just stood there with a look of horror.
Then he said,
Yours is too!
I still said nothing, unsure of how my passport’s status was relevant.
What do I do??
The shower in our bathroom was running. Cole was showering so he wouldn’t have to the next morning, because the next morning he was getting on a plane.
Taido ran downstairs and closed himself in the office, immediately getting on the internet and his phone in what I was certain would be a dead-end road to find a solution to an unsolvable problem.
I gathered Mary Polly, Ben and Simon into a room. We closed the door and got down on our knees. I said through tears,
Guys, we have a big problem.
A problem only God can solve.
Daddy has just discovered that his passport is expired.
He cannot leave the country tomorrow.
I’m afraid he’s going to have to cancel his trip. He’s going to be very sad.
This is going to be very hard.
We just need to pray.
We all prayed. We begged God, saying we knew He could do anything.
Even the impossible.
We prayed that if they couldn’t go now, that they could still get to go one day.
We prayed that somehow the week could be salvaged, that we could enjoy being together as a family.
I cried and cried as Mary Polly prayed, her heart so full of longing for Cole and Taido. She knows that in two years her turn is coming. She is already planning it. I think she could feel what it would be like to plan it and then not get to go.
Ben prayed with tears.
We all felt devastated, and we hadn’t even told Cole yet.
Pretty soon, he was out of the shower and curious where everyone was. He found us shuttered into Mary Polly’s room, stuck his head in and said,
I know this is a strange time, but I’m all packed and I’m wondering if I can play media?
Ummm, honey, I said,
Come sit down. We have to tell you something.
We filled Cole in. His attitude was honestly pretty good. I was amazed.
He wanted to know if they would still get to go someday. He was worried about how much money we had lost.
We said another prayer for a miracle, before I went downstairs to check on Taido. I asked Mary Polly to read Simon his stories.
Taido was telling someone something with a lot of desperation. I peeked in at him. He paused long enough to tell me to get packed. NOW.
I went upstairs and called Mother.
Mama, we have a hiccup. I don’t even know how to tell you this, but
Taido’s passport is expired.
Gasps on her end.
I think that we are going to drive to Chicago tonight. I’m sure it is a fool’s errand, but I can just tell from Taido’s face that he isn’t willing to give up yet.
I think I just have to be willing to do this for him. Even if it is all for nothing. I’m sorry. I think we’re leaving soon. I’d still love for you to go. But I understand if you don’t want to.
She packed her bag and Daddy brought her over.
Taido was on and off of the phone. He hadn’t really explained anything to us. I just knew we were going. I threw stuff in bags as quickly as I could. I was trying to be calm. Mary Polly and Ben packed their stuff, as well as Simon’s, who was now asleep. Then they started loading the car.
Taido finally got off the phone and called us together for a family meeting that went a little something like this:
Taido: Cole, you’re going to stay here with Grandpapa and get on the plane in the morning. The rest of us are going to drive all night to a Federal Building in Chicago, where I have an appointment at 10am to get my passport renewed. Then I’ll meet Cole at the airport in Chicago and we’ll get on our next plane together. We need to get packed and loaded as quickly as possible.
Cole: I would rather just come with you guys. The airport in Chicago is huge, Dad. I don’t know how I’ll find you.
Taido: Cole, when you get off that plane in Chicago, I will be standing there waiting for you.
Me: (inside) Don’t say that! How can you be saying that!!??
Cole: What if you’re not?
Taido: I will.
Me: Umm, it’s a valid question.
Taido: If I’m not there, call us. We’ll tell you what to do? Okay, let’s get moving.
What followed was a mad flurry of packing and picking up the house. Mother threw mine and Taido’s uneaten dinner down the drain, Cole and Daddy loaded the car top carrier with all of our bags, and Ben and Mary Polly packed the car with pillows, books, blankets and water bottles.
We were ready in a matter of minutes. I kissed Cole goodbye and pleaded with my dad to do everything in his power to help him feel good about getting on that plane the next day.
As Daddy got in the car, he yelled out to Mother,
Hey Julie! If it was me riding in that car, I’d be making some jokes!
Leave it to Daddy to break the tension a little as he’s driving away.
We moved a sleeping Simon into his car seat and drove off into the night.
I tried to breathe deeply as we pulled out of town. My thoughts settled into a repetition of two main themes.
1. We need prayer.
2. We are stupid.
We need prayer because it is going to take a miracle for this to all work out, but how can I ask people to pray when we have done something so incredibly foolish. I am losing my mind that we have not looked at our passports before now? Why did we not even pull them out a week ago? Just a little earlier. Even earlier today, because now we are driving with just barely enough time to get there.
A constant stream of thoughts like these were swirling around for a while, but finally We need prayer won out over We are stupid, and I pecked out a sad little broken message to a few people, begging them to drop to their knees for us.
The response was swift. Messages came back breathing comfort into my soul. Instead of clenching my teeth and dreading the long night ahead, I was able to sink into my seat and sleep.
We each took three hour shifts, easily staying awake when it was our turn. I couldn’t believe how I was able to sleep when I wasn’t driving and how I was able to focus when I drove. I listened to my standard driving music when it was my turn to drive. As I sang along, my hope for the possibility of everything working out grew with each mile we drove.
I felt like it was all going to be okay. I prayed,
Whatever happens, Lord.
Still frantically trying to get to the office by the time it opened, but peace that no matter what happened, we would all be okay.
It was dark and rainy as we pulled into the city at 8am. We dropped Taido at a pharmacy a couple of blocks from the federal building to get his passport photos taken. Then we parked and went into a Corner Bakery to have breakfast and wait. He got his photos quickly and made his way over to wait. He was the first one inside when they opened at 9. He was at a desk getting his paperwork processed at 9:10.
Meanwhile, we sat for as long as we could stand inside the Corner Bakery. After our bagels and oatmeal were long gone, we decided to head towards the train station. Taido’s cell phone was off inside the federal building, so we had no idea how long he would be. Mom decided she could go ahead and head out to my sister’s on the commuter train with Ben, Mary Polly and Simon. They would enjoy the train ride and that way, I’d be free to wait on Taido patiently.
It was about a mile to the station. The kids were freezing as they were in their Arkansas clothes, with everything else locked up in the car top carrier. We laughed as we walked quickly to the station. Ben kept pointing at buildings and saying, Is that the Sears tower?
Well, what about that one?
Is that the Sears tower?
Me: BEN! Just keep up!
Then he would run smack dab into a billboard in the middle of the giant sidewalk and fall down on the ground. All on purpose. He is a walking slapstick act.
Somehow, we finally got him and everyone else to the train station. I told them goodbye and then ran back to our car to pay the meter that by now was about to expire.
While I was running, I ran into this giant demonstration. They blocked my way to the car for about four blocks, so I had to stop and let them pass. They were all dressed in red, white and blue and yelling FREEDOM, FREEDOM, FREEDOM! I never figured out what they were demonstrating. It was all so odd. I just stood there in the middle of the sidewalk, the wind blowing and people yelling. I pulled out my phone. Mom had just texted that they were on the train, about to leave. Then Taido called.
He was going to get the passport, but he didn’t know when.
The lady who processed his paperwork said to him as she finished up,
Are you going to come back and pick this up or are you going to wait?
Oh, I’m going to wait.
It will be two to eight hours.
I don’t have two hours.
She must have seen the desperation on his face or the tears filling his eyes,
because she got a little scared.
She became very brusque. Very firm. She said that yesterday had been a terrible day because someone went nuts on her and that was not about to happen to her again.
Two. To. Eight. Hours.
So he had to walk out and wait. It was now 10:10am.
The plane was leaving at 12:50pm.
And more importantly, Cole’s plane was landing at 12:10pm.
I made my way to the car, fed the meter again and sat down in the driver’s seat to pray.
At 10:31, he called me. He had a passport.
One day, when I am in heaven, I plan to watch the film of how that passport made its way through that building so quickly. I believe we’ll be able to do things like that. I really do. If God had personally handed Taido a passport down from heaven, I could not be more amazed than I am today that he had it in his hands by 10:31 yesterday morning.
He ran to the car. We flew out to the airport, on a highway free of traffic. He cried all the way there. So grateful. At this point he told me that he was probably going to have to buy a new ticket to Switzerland because when he didn’t get on the plane with Cole he forfeited his entire ticket. At least, that’s what they told him on the phone the night before.
When he checked in, he discovered that Cole’s plane was going to be too late to make their connection, so the attendant rerouted both of them on a new plane straight to Heathrow instead of to New York. He called me when he had their new boarding passes in hand, unsure of whether or not he had paid anything extra.
I decided not to worry about it, but in my heart I know that it would be just like God to not only hand him the passport but save him having to buy a new ticket as well. His Grace to us is just that rich. I don’t understand it. I know we don’t deserve it. I don’t know how it works, but I am overwhelmed by the truth of it.
When Cole walked off his plane, Taido was standing there.
Why did God enable Taido to keep a promise that he may or may not should have even made?
I don’t know.
But it fills my heart to bursting that He did.
I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
PS. Cole and Taido went on to have a wonderful week in Switzerland!