Lessons in parenting, prayer, and patience
Kristi Ivanoff lives in Anchorage, Alaska, where she is editor of the ECCAK Sinew and serves on the preaching team for First Covenant Church Anchorage. She also enjoys her “acting job” as a patient performer with the University of Alaska Anchorage medical school. She and her husband, Curtis, have three children.The cell phone alarm dragged me out of a half-sleep state, signaling the early start to our long-anticipated trip. It was day four of our week-long trip to Paris. My daughter and I were with my mother, who had set up the trip nine months before as a gift to us all for Charis’s sixteenth birthday. My daughter had nursed a long-time romance with France’s capital since a fifth-grade social studies project, and we had just spent the past three days touring the delightful city via bus, subway, and foot, putting fifteen miles on our walking shoes already.
This day was to be a pause in the Parisian sightseeing. We were going to make our way through the mass-transit maze to the Gare du Nord (North Station) where we would board the famed bullet train to London. In a brief two-hour passage at 180 miles per hour, we would travel overland and under the English Channel to see Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London’s famed crown jewels, and eat fish and chips for a proper tourist lunch.
Mom had insisted we rehearse the route to the depot the day before so we would not jeopardize the trip by being unfamiliar with the boarding location. Additionally, we had packed the day’s necessities in our backpacks late the previous night – rain jacket and umbrella, camera, cell phones, wallet, a few light snacks, and, of course, our passports.
I often joke that my soon to be sixteen-yearold is more responsible than I am. As this trip was celebrating a rite of passage of sorts for her, I had been quite hands off in making sure she had what she needed for the day. I trusted that as my mother and I were reviewing our checklist the night before, Charis was too.
Just a few minutes before we headed out the door, I decided to make sure she had the one necessary item: “Charis, you have your passport, right?”
“No, I thought you had it.”
“No, you’ve kept it the entire trip, remember?”
After a making an unsuccessful search through where the passport should have been, it became clear that we had a problem. We began to look in less obvious places, but still no passport. The clock was ticking. Our journey to the station would take twenty-five minutes. We were to check in at 7:15am, so we were planning to leave at 6:30 to allow for any unforeseen delays.
My mind began racing through the first portion of our trip. We had flown from our home in Anchorage to Seattle, then on to Reykjavik, Iceland, where we went through customs, and then to Paris. So I knew the passport had been in Charis’s possession in Iceland. I also recalled during the unpacking process that we had discussed hiding the passports as we had heard many stories of friends who had had their passports stolen.
All three of us began earnestly looking for the elusive little blue book. “Earnest looking” quickly progressed to frantic searching. We looked under beds, in drawers, in between books where Charis thought she might have hidden the passport in the small Parisian flat. Still no success.
As 6:45 came and went we decided to attempt the trip without her passport. Maybe since she was considered a minor, they would let us use the copy of the passport I had brought for an “unlikely” situation such as this. But the customs official, kindly denied us. The Eurostar personnel reassured us that we could rebook our tickets within two months, but by this time, I was no longer concerned about missing out on our London day trip. My mind was racing ahead to Sunday, just four days away, when we would return home – or not, if we didn’t have a passport for Charis in hand.
Disappointed, sleepy-eyed, and worried, we traveled back to the apartment to figure out what to do next. After re-examining every inch of the apartment and unzipping every compartment of our luggage and backpacks, we resigned ourselves to the reality that the passport was indeed lost and more than likely never made it to the apartment in the first place. If that was the case, it had actually been missing for four days.
I was working hard to stay calm and not regress into a testy, irritable, lecturing mother of a teenager who felt as stressed about the situation as I did. From the first few moments since we suspected a problem, I had been praying frantically. Silent prayers, out-loud prayers, under-my-breath prayers permeated the tense, cramped air of the apartment as I called the airline, searched not-so-helpful websites, and tried to formulate a plan.
Grandma Hula, as my mother is affectionately called, was in no state of mind or feet to embark on a stressful and physically demanding trek to the airport, the U.S. embassy, and wherever else our search would take us. So I insisted that Mom stay and rest while Charis and I figured out what to do. She agreed, I downed a cup of strong coffee, and off we went.
I knew this was a unique opportunity to practice, model, and reaffirm the truth I have been teaching my daughter for fifteen and threequarter years: God can be trusted even in our most trying times, and he is with us, ready to help. In fact, the previous night we had spent fifteen minutes or so praying together before we dropped off to sleep about our trip, our plans, our families back in the States, our praises, and our requests for safety and fun. In recalling that time of prayer together, I found peaceful reassurance that our day, this trip, and yes, even this trial were in full view of our loving God and as his beloved children we could trust him.
On our walk to the Métro stop we asked God for guidance and decided on the plan: we would travel to the embassy to talk face to face with someone about our dilemma and start the process for getting an emergency replacement for our trip home on Sunday. From there, we would decide what to do next.
The weather that day was cool and rainy – the first rain we had experienced all week. Standing outside the embassy at the first of two security checkpoints in the rain seemed to appropriately reflect the dampened expectations of our day. My conversation with Charis gave me the opportunity to reaffirm to her that I loved her no matter what, that worse things could happen, that God saw and knew where we were, and that God would provide for us, even though that might look different from what we expected.
When I wasn’t speaking those truths to my daughter, I was – or the Spirit was – speaking them to me. At times I felt like I was trying to avoid succumbing to frantic doubt, but at other moments I was sure the Spirit was “bearing witness to mine.”
Once we were inside the embassy, our difficulty intensified. I waded through an online computer program that asked me for information I did not have access to. We encountered a very snooty and unhelpful passport agent who seemed to have no sympathy for our predicament. It became clear that we were most likely going to have to return early the next morning to sit before a customs agent and plead our case for an emergency passport that would cost no less than $165 and take up another full day of our vacation.
We had conjectured that the passport had been left on the plane or in the airport restroom in the fogginess of traveling for eighteen hours and in battling nauseating airsickness that Charis experienced upon landing. Charis suggested that we leave the embassy without completing the application since we would have to come back the next day anyway, and go to the airport to see if it might be there. I agreed, so we began the hour journey to the airport.
On the way, I sank to an emotional low. I was physically exhausted – we were nearing hour six of the search – and I was battling thoughts of regret and inadequacy for not insisting on being the one responsible for the passports. Waves of anxiety doused over me in the long ride to the airport. Yet when I felt my spirit sinking, a familiar verse, Romans 12:12, came to mind: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, fervent in prayer.” This verse had been a faithful friend for a long time, but in the past weeks, possibly months, for some reason it had been more present than usual in my thoughts. Was it for this moment that God had been preparing me?
I took a deep breath. I forced my spirit and my face to smile in an effort to employ joyfulness. I chose to practice patience with myself and my daughter, and I began to pray even more fervently. Then, another exhortation came: Give thanks in all circumstances. At the time, I couldn’t remember where this verse found its home in Scripture. But that didn’t diminish its power, so I followed the Spirit’s lead. “Thank you, God, for being near. Thank you for your love. Thank you for speaking to me. Thank you for this trip. Thank you for my mom and my daughter and for the way you enable peace to rule over chaos.”
We arrived at the airport and faced another string of maddening circumstances. First we were at the wrong terminal and had to navigate the unknown airport shuttle system to get to the correct terminal. There we faced an unfamiliar maze of lines and “halls” and the challenge of communicating with French-speaking attendants. On our third attempt to speak with someone from Icelandair, we were finally told, “There is no one here.”
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, fervent in prayer.
“Now what, Lord?”
“Let’s just go, Mom.” Charis was resigned. “We are not going to find it here.” We were both exhausted and deflated.
When we arrived at the correct terminal, we had noticed a sign that seemed to point the way to a lost and found office. Both Charis and I noticed it, but we decided we really needed Icelandair personnel as we figured we had left the passport on the plane. With no other options, though, we decided to stop in there and check.
We found the small office in a back hall. There was a tall counter with a glass divider and a small hole for conversing. At first, there was no one in sight. We checked the hours of operation on the outside door and confirmed that they had just re-opened after lunch.
“Hello?” I called. A sweet-looking older French woman appeared and greeted us. “Bonjour.”
“Do you speak English?”
She shook her head, saying, “No, very bit.”
I took a deep breath and slowly and very simply explained our situation. In her smattering of English she told me that she probably did not have what we wanted and that if a passport is left on the plane, the airline keeps it. We should go to Icelandair.
I knew it wouldn’t help to explain we had already tried that. As we started to walk away, I hesitated and asked her if she would mind checking her stash of sunglasses and cell phones or whatever else gets left behind at the airport for the passport.
She smiled. “OK, what is name?”
She went to a desk and pulled out a large leather-covered ledger book and began searching.
“What day travel?”
“Sunday, May 18.”
She looked in the registry, scanning the entries of the past four days.
Then in her finest French, “Share-ees?”
Our heads swung toward each other, our jaws dropped. Time seemed to stop for an instant. We had not told her the first name listed on the passport. When I turned to look back at the dear woman, she was smiling, amused at our response that would have been easy to interpret in any language. As calmly as possible, I said, “Yes, that is it.”
She made her way to the back and came out with a Ziplock bag containing Charis’s passport. The log showed that a security guard had turned it in, but there was no indication where it had been found.
I don’t know that I have ever experienced such a rush of relief and joy and awe all at once. I fought back tears and told the woman that if she wasn’t behind glass I would kiss her. So I blew her a kiss and embarrassed my daughter.
As we found our way to the train that would take us back to my mom whom we had left more than seven hours earlier, we marveled at the day’s journey. Why had this happened? How could we explain to friends all that had transpired?
Having studied a bit of French in school, Charis had been designating a French “phrase of the day” for us to learn during the trip to add a little fun to our travels. Today’s was to be another verse that I had shared along the way. A French translation website helped us figure it out. “Remerciez Dieu en toute circonstance.” “Give thanks to God in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
I would not trade one minute of that crazy day for even the best rainy day in London.