We've just lived through one of the most challenging weeks of my life. And we're still alive! A bit sleep-deprived, but thankful for how things worked out. We've seen some amazing answers to prayer, even what could be called "miracles" this past week! Here's what happened:
On Monday afternoon, June 13, at about 4:30pm, we suddenly found out that our crate would be leaving this country FOUR days earlier than expected, on Monday the 20th rather than Friday evening the 24th. The change had to do with the boat's schedule and the change to a boat which would go to Los Angeles rather than to Norfolk. The Norfolk route was cheaper (because of trucking costs in America--it's closer to Louisville) but the LA route was much faster. So in order to receive our crate in about half the time, it made sense to make the LA ship which was leaving on the 27th. In order to make the LA ship by the 27th the items needed to leave our house by the 20th to go through the customs process. Yikes!
We had been planning to begin the serious packing as soon as possible, but this news jump-started us into hyper action. Almost as soon as we found out, Lou, my helper, sized up the situation and said, "Let me take the girls overnight to my house, they can play tomorrow and I'll bring them back tomorrow night in time for supper." What a blessing! So I hurridly packed a bag and sent them off with Ayi. They were SO excited! That was the first of many days that the girls spent playing with friends--actually, I felt like that was such an answer to prayer. The whole week, things just "worked out" that almost every day they got to escape the craziness of our messy house and go play somewhere more fun, and I was able to keep getting things done. Praise the Lord for friends who were willing to watch the girls! They had a lot of fun and I certainly appreciated it!
John and I spent the first of what would be many late nights packing and packing, sorting, discarding, making piles to give away, and organizing what was left. Every day we could see good progress but as the days slipped by it was obvious that there was still a lot of work to be done, we couldn't let up! I think John averaged about four hours of sleep per night until Saturday night, when he stayed up the entire night working on lots of the packing details.
This whole "ship your things to another country" business was actually quite complicated. For one thing, there was a lot of paperwork involved. As well, things had to be packed very specifically. Five months ago already, John had filed some preliminary paperwork with the customs office in our city. They had asked for an estimate of what we would be taking back in terms of categories of items and number of items. So, for example, John estimated Clothes would take up 9 boxes, Household items would take 13 boxes, Books would take 8 boxes, etc. We found out early in the packing week that the local customs officers were going to hold us to that estimate. We could pack less than the estimate, but could not exceed it. Miraculously, John was able to make it work EXACTLY and we got our things into the number of boxes that he had specified.
The sorting and organizing was challenging enough but then it was time to actually pack the boxes with itemized lists to go with it. The list was supposed to be very specific: i.e. box 29, in the kitchen items category, with one cutting board, 50 pieces of silverware, 12 bowls, 15 plates, etc. Then after the boxes were all packed and lists made, those items had to be valued (i.e. the forms required a value put on each item) as well. Finally, the boxes were each wrapped in brown paper to give a uniform look, taped very securely, and numbered on the outside.
After the boxes were packed it was time to break down furniture, wrap the wood from that furniture in bubble wrap, taping and numbering, and also take apart the couches and soft furniture and wrap in cloths. What a process! Throughout the week, but especially at the end, we had a LOT of help from friends in wrapping and packaging our items to customs specifications; I'm so thankful for that and for them! We even had fun during the process! Sunday afternoon it was me and my two best Asian girlfriends working together in my living room; we had a great time and it made the work go so much faster. We then sat in the kitchen at 8pm, eating fried noodles from a streetside vendor for supper with disposable chopsticks. What a memory!
A major difficulty occured on Friday morning. Here's where we truly saw the Lord do a miracle. Our dear friend Lynn who is also John's office manager called that morning, very stressed. She had just received news that our original packing company suddenly dropped us; there had been some discussion about taking a personal crate of items (as opposed to a company's) and they just very suddenly decided that they could not agree to ship our items anymore. So without warning, on Friday, THREE days before our stuff was supposed to leave the country, we had NO shipping company, NO boat contracted, and all the paperwork previously done was null and void. The only hope was to quickly find a new company (which, miraculously, Lynn managed to do), then rush down to the customs office and re-file the paperwork before they closed on Friday afternoon. If you know anything about paperwork and government offices in this country, you know it is a rare thing to accomplish any major work like this in a day, much less a few hours, much less in the hour before the office closes for the weekend. But, the Lord is so faithful! He gave favor with those who were working that afternoon; they were willing to help and be patient as John and Lynn resubmitted a bunch of paperwork. It is just amazing that it worked out!
That was not the end of the paperwork, by any means, but at least it got the process going again. By Friday night at 7pm, the situation had changed completely. A new company was willing to take us, they arranged for passage on the boat we previously were hoping to ship on, and the paperwork process was well underway. Saturday all day John and Lynn kept working--the packing list had to be translated, insurance had to be arranged, and myriads of other details. Lynn had her computer set up, John had his set next to hers, she had her two cell phones out that were constantly ringing, John's phone was also frequently in use--it was like Grand Central Station!
But it was Saturday late at night that John started looking again at the size of everything and wondering if everything was actually going to fit in our 20-foot container. So he began to measure, and re-measure, and make a packing plan, and he ended up measuring off a space in our (by then nearly empty) living room and beginning to try to fit everything together. My amazing, wonderfully thorough, great-at-details husband actually drew a design with measurements and every item listed specifically so as to make sure that everything was going to go in. This is what took him all of Saturday night! Wowza! I got up blearily at about 5 and asked John if he needed my help but he told me to go back to bed, which I did for another hour or so, thankfully.
So, knowing all of that history, it was a true miracle when on Monday morning, with the help of many friends and by the sheer grace of God, four flatbed trucks were loaded and trucked to the outside of the city with all our household belongings where they were then loaded (with John managing the exact placement of items) into the 20-foot metal box where they will spend the next month. Hallelujah, it's done!
Three years ago when we moved to our current apartment, I hoped to never move again. But, the Lord has His plans and here we are, moving. I am so thankful for His help and strength this past week. He gave John much strength and wisdom to direct the packing, he helped our friend Lynn manage a lot of the paperwork details, he gave our friends the desire and willingness to help us at crucial times, and he kept all of us from getting sick, hurt, or losing our minds. (A few tempers might have been lost briefly, but we all still love each other. :)) So thankful for the Lord's grace, so aware of our weakness and limitations!
Well, this post has been long enough. But, glory to the Lord for His faithful help and care! This past week was all about things but our next week is all about people and saying goodbye. I'm not sure which is harder! However, if our things end up in the bottom of the ocean, I may shed a tear or two but they're just things. I think saying goodbye to dear friends and this 8 year season of our life here is going to be hard in a much more significant way. We hope to finish strong with His help. We'd appreciate your prayers!