Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Family Is Worth It

Just warning you that this is a very long post about our Space-A trip. I will completely understand if you don't read it or choose to just skim through the pics :)

Space-A travel...what an adventure. For those of you that are not familiar with the Space Available travel that we use in the military, it is just like it sounds-space available. If there is air transportation willing to release space available seats, then those of us who wish to "compete" for them by getting on a list in order of category and time signed up, may choose this very cheap and many times free method of travel. We chose to fly this way because it would have cost an obscene amount of money for us to travel commercially from Japan to the US. We were hoping to catch the Patriot Express, which is a commercially owned plane with normal seating, but we did not get on that flight-it was full. So, we then entered into competing for flights with other SPATs (space a travellers) for the KC135s that would be heading out in the general direction of the States. I signed us up to depart from 15 different locations so that we would have better chances of arriving within the CONUS (continental US ). Upon arriving within CONUS, we were planning on purchasing tickets for a domestic flight into Columbus, Ohio, but, first things first, we needed to get off Okinawa.

The first flight we were able to get on was a KC135 headed to Hawaii. I had done lots of research and knew that in order to be accepted for this flight we all had to be wearing closed toe and heel shoes, yay, we all had on sneakers...I had also dressed everyone in layers because I had read that the flights could get extremely cold and hot. I learned that *layers* can have a wide range of meanings- we either did not have enough layers on because we froze or the heater kick on to hyper heat because we burned up at various intervals. You were either shivering or sweating...kinda nice that it was broken up like that ;) The flight was packed so there was not much room to lay around like we had hoped. The crew provided earplugs for us,but it was still incredibly loud. Lily's earplugs were too big for her ears, as were Ayden's...yep this was to be a long flight and we had not even taken off yet! It was about 2 am by the time we took off for Hickam AFB, HI and I was ready for the kids to just go to sleep....which they did. As we flew, I saw another mother, with her 4 children, sitting up and, like me, not wanting to chance waking the two little sleeping heads on our laps by moving into a more comfortable position. The other mother's husband was a pilot and helped out quite a bit with two other mothers travelling alone with their children. I was so glad Brian was with me. Before they fell asleep, Anjolie and Brianna were not happy about the strange seats and said tearfully that they wished they could be on a *normal* plane with normal seats. I couldn't blame them for being fearful and disappointed and I was thankful that the Lord helped me see a very positive thing to share with them. I explained to them how they were in very important seats, not everyone gets to ride in these seats. Those seats were "Hero" seats, I explained, these planes carried men who fight against terrorists in Iraq. Heroes sat, and would sit in those very seats that we were sitting in at that moment. Brianna smiled at the thought...the privilege of sitting in *Hero Seats*. As I thought over what I had just told them, I suddenly felt privileged as well. I prayed for the men that would soon occupy those web seats -their thoughts would be much weightier than just worrying about which flight to catch next.

Among all the other challenges, getting the kids to the bathroom was quite a challenge. The toilet was just a tin box thing with a seat on it, and Lily would have nothing to do with it. I had prepared for that by going ahead and sticking a diaper on her before we left Okinawa. She decided to "hold it" for the entire flight ((!!!))rather than chance the stinky tin box thing. Nine and a half hours or so later, we finally landed in HI ready to hit the beach...just kidding.
I had made reservations for lodging when we were pretty sure we would make the Hickam flight, so we caught a cab to our room and then grabbed a bite to eat. It was good to have a little breather before having to compete for flights again.
The other passengers on the plane were competing for flights as well, so I tried to get a feel for where everyone was headed. The family with the 4 children was giving up at HI. They had enough of the whole Space A drama stuff and decided to just spend the week in HI. I was thrilled as that would up our chances of catching a flight all around. The flight that was headed to Norfolk, VA would have been wonderful, but that was leaving in 3 days and had not released seats yet. We studied the flight monitor praying for something reliable to get us in to CONUS. If the flight was on a C5 there was a good chance of it breaking down somewhere and us having to try for another flight at an odd location-not to mention trying to find lodging. I felt like I was playing chess, one wrong move and we could be in a very hairy situation spending LOTS of money to get out of it. There was a flight with some tentative seating that would be heading to Travis AFB in CA, and, it even had normal seats, so, we went ahead and marked ourselves as present for the flight and processed our baggage. I started to breathe easy until I saw the flight was delayed..... groan...the plane was probably broken.
I saw that the KC135 (the one we had just taken the day before)was headed on to Grand Forks, ND and it had 30 seats available. Brian talked to a pilot at the terminal and asked if there was an airport there. The pilot assured him that there was an International Airport there. We quickly asked the Airmen at the desk if we could get manifested on the Grand Forks flight instead of the delayed one to Travis. They happily obliged and we had to get our baggage processed again and purchase meals etc. *WHEW* so, we got BACK on the KC135...much to every one's disappointment...but hey, it was a flight. Any Space A seat you can get, is a good one.
It turned out that we would be the ONLY crazy passengers on the plane! The crew who happened to be stationed in ND was so nice, they told Brian to bring the girls up to the cockpit to have a look around! They let the girls try on a headset and talk. The crew even asked if the girls wanted to have a seat up there in the cockpit! Now THAT was an experience of a lifetime for them. I so appreciated the crew and their efforts to make the flight as relaxing and enjoyable as possible. The crew informed us that they were soon headed to the sandy spot and were thrilled that they had a few hours in sunny HI. I smiled as I watched them don their Hawaiian shirts over their jumpsuits and happily take pictures to remember their brief Hawaiian visit. I still pray for them.

It was 7 hours or so from HI to North Dakota and we were not prepared for the frigid temps as we lugged our baggage down the stairs onto the flight line. The kids were shivering in their thin jackets, even with the layers underneath! I felt like such a bad mom for not being more prepared-aren't we supposed to know everything? We loaded onto a waiting bus and the local time was around midnight. We were prepared to call a cab to take us to the lodging facility, but we were informed that no cab could get into that area. We found ourselves and our luggage in a room inside a hangar type warehouse with some very hungry and tired children. Two wonderful Airmen (one woman) were a tremendous blessing for offering us a ride to the Temporary Lodging Facility. When we asked about the International Airport...they laughed. Sure, there was an International Airport, it was classified International because it sometimes had flights into Canada! My stomach turned when they told us the closest reasonable airport whose tickets were under $500 a piece was 5 and a half hours away in Minn/St Paul!

We checked into our *wonderful* room and the kids slept while Brian made a 1 mile trek in 30 degree temperature to the computer lounge to find a flight and a car rental facility. Brian found a good deal on a car rental that we could drive one way and leave at the Minn/St Paul airport without filling the tank with gas. We called the airline and made reservations for a flight leaving the next day which would give us a day in ND to rent a vehicle and buy some cold weather gear.
Brian took a cab to the car rental place and returned with a roomy SUV. We made a stop at the store for some much needed coats and hats and spent a day in North Dakota and drove into Minnesota for a bit. We found a wonderful playground and we all had a great time just enjoying some time outside a Flight Terminal :) We tried to get to bed early that night, but the time change had us all thrown off.
We needed to be on the road by 3:30 am to make it to the airport in time, but the Lord knew we would need more time,so we were all just *awake* at 2 am and we got about a 45 min head start. As we drove, I felt impressed to pray that we would not get a flat tire...God is so amazing. About an hour after I had prayed for safety and specifically no flat tires, there happened to be a large utility ladder that had fallen in middle of the highway. We had *just* changed lanes and saw 4 vehicles with busted tires pull over..including the car that was in front of us in the lane we just switched from and the tractor trailer that was directly behind us also hit the ladder. I got chills when I realized that we only had one spare tire and we would have most definitely missed our flight or worse if we had hit that ladder. God is *so* good. We made it to the airport on time and caught our flight to Chicago and then on to Columbus.

Throughout it all, the kids did pretty well. I am so proud of them. It was such a blessing to see my parents waiting for us.

The kids were so excited to finally see Grandma and Grandpa and Uncle Ryan and Aunt Misty. I can't tell you how wonderful it was to be *home*. My mom had "done up" a beautiful room in a way only my mom can do, for the girls and for us and she and my dad even turned an office room into a play room for the kids complete with little table and chairs, books and toys...I just wanted to cry I was so grateful and felt so loved. Brian's Mom had done the same for the girls in their Arizona home...a special room so the girls could feel at home. I am ever so grateful for these gestures that go above and beyond. The kids felt right at home. My sister Misty put together a welcome basket for the girls with doll clothes and dress up sweet and thoughtful. I owe 'em big time don't I ? ;) I wish I had more pictures to show...we were so busy doing and enjoying that we didn't take as much time as we should have for pics. I do have lots..but I wish there were more *sigh* anyway.

We spent about a week that went entirely too fast- going to the fair for 2 days to ride rides at the famous Pumpkin Show in Circleville, sitting around a bon-fire, twirling sparklers, making cookies,jumping in a pile of leaves that Grandma had raked after hearing one of the girls voice that she just wished she could jump in a pile of leaves one day, visiting a local farm with lots of animals and people working it like the days of old, listening to Grandma's stories, picking tomatoes in Grandma and Grandpa's garden, feeding the neighbor's cows,collecting leaves along the trails of a local park, playing badminton with Aunt Misty, making beaded necklaces, looking at Uncle Ryan's art work, picking out their own pumpkins and gourds to decorate Grandma's porch with, took a ride on Grandpa's "tractor", visiting my Dad's work to show off the kids, eating at Chick-fil-A!!, thrift store shoppin *yay*, ....oh, the list goes on, we had a wonderful time and would have loved to stay til Christmas. We got together with my Aunt Pam, who is battling cancer (pictured below left to right...Anjolie, my sister Misty and my Aunt Pam), my Uncle Steve, Aunt Betsy and my cousin Tristan. The reunion here at Pizza Crossing was bitter sweet because we met here with my Grandma before we left for was the last time I saw her sweet face.
After about a week, we headed down to Pennsylvania where we would spend time with Brian's parents (who flew from Arizona)
and his Grandparents.
We were so excited that Brian would be able to attend his cousin's wedding! Brian's Grandparents reserved and paid for our hotel stay while in Reading-what a blessing. My dad provided the rental that we used for the trip as well. God is so good to give us such a loving family. The kids were so excited to see GiGi and Pappy, Grandmom and Pop-pop- as were we. The time went so quickly, but we did have a wonderful dinner with GiGi's famous BBQ sandwiches yuuuummy, we ate at D&Js, visited Reading's Pagoda, and made a trip to the Franklin Institute. Other than getting stuck in the 5pm Friday night rush-hour traffic while looking for a world famous philly cheese stake hot-spot in downtown Phila ;) we had a great time. Brian attended the fairy tale like wedding of his beautiful Cousin M.P. and then next day we headed back to Ohio with one brief stop in Hershey. We made the trip through the Chocolate Factory and hit the road.

I am surprised my mom let my brother take this pic as she hates having her pic taken, but I am ever so grateful. He took this just before we headed out to the airport. It was so hard to leave...there are no words to describe how much my heart ached to leave my family. It is so hard to be away, I miss them so much and can't wait til we can at least live in the same country :) I could barely see through my tears as we headed to the airport for our trip back...I didn't want to have to say goodbye...again. My dad waited at the security check point until he couldn't see us anymore...and I cried.

The trip to Seattle was smooth and uneventful. We decided to risk staying at a local hotel which was a huge mistake as it was in a VERY bad area of town. I broke down in the room...just overwhelmed. We were hoping and praying to get on the Patriot Express the next morning, but again, this is Space A travel and there are NO guarantees about anything. Before I left Ohio, my Dad reminded me that God doesn't want us to be anxious about anything..that we just had to give it to Him. So, I did. We piled our luggage and a heavy chair in front of the door and prayed that we would be safe until 3:30am when we would have to take the shuttle back to the airport in hopes of a flight. That night I just prayed for some encouragement...something...even if it was just little to prop my spirits on. Sure I trusted God, but I felt so sad, so empty and knew that if I asked Him, the Lord would give me just what I needed to persevere. 3am came too quickly and felt sorry for the sleeping little children that I tried to gently dress while allowing them to still sleep. We loaded the luggage and as we got seated in the warmed van, we were the only ones...then God honoring Christian music filled my ears...*tears* my worried heart filled with such warmth and reassurance as the tidy little driver climbed into his seat. I thanked and praised the Lord for the indescribable peace that He gave in this mysterious way. I can't even explain it except to say GOD was in it all. I didn't even care at that moment whether we would get on the flight or not. I knew God was completely in control. I thanked the little van driver, who probably was just trying to support his family with this job, for the blessing of the music in his van that early morning. If he only knew what a part he played in lifting a fellow Believer's Spirit-I continue to thank the Lord for that driver and ask the Lord bless him and his family.

We arrived at the SeaTac terminal, filled out our paperwork and ate breakfast provided by the USO-what a blessing. After about an hour, the official came down with "the list". The hundred or so of us SPATs sat breathless. "YOST"...called the official...YOST???!! They called us first?! I felt like a contestant on the Price Is Right, but held back from the display. My heart, however was leaping with joy!!! We were manifested all the way back to Okinawa on a commercial meals and all!!! I wanted to cry.
The rest is history...sure it was long, the kids fought and fussed, Ayden threw up, we had to go through immigration and customs, you stuff, but we had all our needs met. Every single need was met and then some. God is SO good and leaves HIS undeniable prints all over our lives. I will rejoice in HIM always. Thank you so much to my dear is so worth it all just to spend the precious moments we did with you. Late night scrabble, Balderdash...priceless. You are precious to us...we love you so much. Can't wait to see you again...hopefully in 9 months!


Christian Mommy said...

Thank you for sharing your trip! What an amazing adventure - and the pictures are fabulous!! I was envious of the cold weather gear - maybe someday I will see the seasons change again!! I will keep your aunt in my prayers.

Pam--in Jerusalem said...

Whew!! I'm tired just reading about your adventures! I'm so glad that you had such a wonderful time with your family. And I praise the LORD that he took such good care of you all. But, I have to say (even though it's selfish), I'm glad to have you back ;)

Grafted Branch @ Restoring the Years said...

I'm going to come back later to finish...I got as far as Hero Seats, and--I don't know what's wrong with me--that one almost made me cry!

Hero Seats is right! (I meant to stop by and thank you and your family again for your service to our country on Veterans, thank you.

Rebekah said...

Oh Miss Heather -- what an adventure! It was so neat reading your God-honoring account of your vacation; not many people take the time to thank Him for anything, let alone everything!

P.S. In case you didn't see a comment I made on an earlier post, our mutual friends the M family from Calvary Baptist Church, especially Laurie and Krystle, wanted me to tell you that they say hi, and that they love you and miss you!

Ashleigh said...

My comment didn't publish, either!! Blogger must not want us talking to each other. ;) But, WHEW! What a story! You are crazy, but then, we already knew that. ;) Glad you had a great trip, despite the chaos of getting there. Love you!

Sileena said...

For those of me who don't know about traveling that way...thanks for sharing. Hero seats = tears! We are visiting our families in WA right now. Looks like you had a fabulous vacation!

Heather said...

Wow, you are all brave this was such a LONG post. Thanks for taking the time! I sure missed you all! Lauren, my blog for some reason won't let me on yours!! Bekah, please tell the M. girls I said hello and give them a big Miss Heather hug for me :)
Pam :) It is good to be in touch with my blog buds and best buds again!! GB-:)sorry, this post is more of a book than a post! It's good to be back. Ash-Oh yes...crrrazy indeed ;)What other explanation could there be for some of the things *we* manage to do? *grin*;) Sileena-hey girl, you were my inspiration and encouragement when we contemplated our 3rd born..and now we have a 4th!! Enjoy your family time :)

Daughter of the King said...

This brought back memories..we spent 23 years in the Air Force..11 years overseas...and I HATE Space the price..but don't like the uncertainty and have got stuck way to many favorite fly in in is a C-5....real seats...and our oldest son is a Major(now reserves) in the Air Force and flies C-17....but his real job is now a pilot for Southwest Airlines..and guess what as his parents..we fly FREE....but it is Space A....think IF I cannot afford it I would rather pay and KNOW I am going than to sit in a airport for hours..must be getting old...
Found your blog from Pam's

HOPE said...

Wow Heather..what an adventure! I too was very touched by your comment of Hero Seats..and indeed they are. I am so enjoyed reading not only the happy moments you shared with family and friends..but the provision and care of the LORD for your family. The pictures speak a million words..and what a precious family you have. God bless you and your family and your service to our country.

Free In Christ said...

Heather, I read this yesterday, and I was worn out when I finished reading, and couldn't leave a post. LOL! Really, I'm not so surse I would have made it through all that. What an adventure. Your girls will never forget that one. The "Hero Seats" was awesome, isn't it great when God gives us the words to use with our youngens'!

Seriuosly, even before I read this post, I thought it would be a miracle if I did hear from you. I know how it is when you visit family, and we are only 6 hours away, and visit a couple times a year. I never have time to see my old friends. I can only imagine how much more it is when you've been gone for over a year, and have so much to do and so little time.

I'm so glad that you were safe, and the kids were able to spend time with their family, I'm sure they enjoyed it.

Maybe some other time. I'd imagine your family isn't going to move any time soon, and I'm not either. There will be other times.

liz said...

I cried through most of this post. :) I'm so glad you had a safe trip. And I'm glad you're back, too. I missed you.

Heather said...

Hope, thanks for reading! So glad you are in the blogosphere!
Melissa-yay...I am glad you are so understanding. I am disapointed that we were not able to get together, maybe next time :)
(((Liz))) you have such a tender heart. Love you my sweet friend, I missed you too :)

Deeapaulitan said...

I have this hymn going through my heart after reading your post ~ He Has Done Great Things, He's So Good To Me! What a testament to the awesome love and provision of God!
So glad you are back in my world, I've missed you. Blessings!

Heather said...

Deby, I so enjoyed your salvation testimony!

Deea-((hug) what a great hymn :) He is so good to me...blessings to you my friend.

Apples of Gold said...

Looks like you had a good time!

I live IN Jesus said...

Hey Heather!
I posted a comment 2 days ago and it didn't show?! Weird! Anyway, your post had me weeping by the end! I don't know if it is the complete understanding of being separated from loved ones, or the military empathy! However, it is sooooooo good to have you back in the blog world! Your blog is such a source of inspiration--you always write things that the Lord is doing in your heart that I can TOTALLY relate to!--I am just not eloquent enough to put it into words! :) God bless you!
Sarah T

Heather said...

Liz-thank you so much for stopping by! I am looking forward to reading your blog :)

Heather said...

Sarah!!! Welcome to the blogosphere :) I am so glad that you have joined the ranks! ;) I'm gonna hop on over there now to say hi!! ((hug))

Kimi said...

This post brought tears to my eyes. I know how it is to not want to say goodbye to family and missing them so much. Happens everytime I see mine. Your posts are always such a blessing to read.

Daisy said...

Hi there,
I haven't visited the blogworld in a long while, so I recently starting going through a list of blogs I kept when I first started blogging, visiting each one. Yours happens to be on my list. I think this post is very special -- it moved me to tears on many different levels. My dad was in the Navy, and I remember Space-A traveling all too well. You captured the details and brought back vivid memories to me -- how as a little girl, I too, would have nothing to do with the toilet and would "hold it in" as much as I could during travel! I remember the frigid cold seeping through my thin jacket and layers, the waiting, the uncomfortability, and the adventure! Now, I am also a mother of four young children, and my heart just went out to you as I read about your how LONG and complicated your travels were. Plus, being far away from your family...I often compare my current season in life to my mom's and I marvel at what she went through when my brothers and I were little -- how she lived thousands of miles from home (in another country!), how she managed 3 little ones when my dad was away so often serving his country. I was so moved by how AMAZINGLY awesome and faithful the Lord was on your trip to take care of so many details, including keeping you safe from flat tires (!) and providing you, your husband and your children with really special moments with your families back here in the States. God is so good! Thank you SO MUCH for sharing!

I just want to say THANK YOU, both to your husband and to YOU, too, for making the sacrifices you make in service of our country. Yes, you. You know, talk about heroes, you're truly are a hero, too. You may not feel like it and you perhaps just see yourself as an ordinary mom, but like my own mother, you are a hero, too, for all the sacrifices you make as a military wife and as a mother. I pray a special blessing over your family! Again, thanks for sharing your story, and for posting the wonderful pictures!