Nov
29

Thursday

This is the third part of a blog post series.  If you haven’t read the first two posts yet, please do so at the links below before continuing.  Things will be better that way, trust me!

Part One – You Should Go

Part Two – It’s Okay

…………………………………………..

Thursday morning I woke up determined just to get on with things.  My parents had already left Denver and would be landing in the Philippines Friday night where my Aunt and Uncle would collect them from the airport.

“Let’s just give it until noon,” Branden said again.  “Okay.”

The morning went by with its normal chores and prep for the day, and then the boys and I started school.  I don’t think I was really present.  The boys would ask me about their spelling lists or how to solve a math problem, but I was distracted.  Their normal messing and being children grated on me, and I found myself having to apologize for being short with them.

Noon came and went.  No phone call.  Nothing.

Branden came down from his office upstairs.  “Anything?” he asked.

“Nope.” I forced a smile.

“I’m sorry.”

School went on.  Grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch.  A history lesson.  Language sheets.

Then, at 2:30pm my phone rang.  I didn’t recognize the number, but the area code was Dublin.

“Hello?”

“Hi.  Is this Ernestine?”  The lady’s voice on the line seemed hurried.

“Yes, it is.”

“Hi, I’m calling you from Dublin, the immigration department.  We’ve gotten a phone call from one of our members’ offices.  Are you meant to travel today?”

I stepped out of the room so I could hear her better.  “Yes, well, we were.  I have a flight that leaves around 8 o’clock tonight, but –“

“Well, we’ve received your request for a visa extension, but there’s nothing here about travel plans.  Why didn’t you include something with your application?”

I explained that we’d already emailed Immigration and received word back that we just needed to wait for our approval letter in the post, that if we left before things were sorted, we’d be denied re-entry.

“Okay.  Alright.  Just give me a few minutes,” she said, hanging up the phone.

Branden had followed me into the room.

“That was Immigration.  They said to give them a few minutes.”

“Are they getting you a letter?”

“I think so?”

I looked at the clock.  Even if this lady could somehow email us our letter, I’d still need to drive down to the Garda station to get my file updated.  The station was almost half an hour away and closed at 4pm.

3pm – My phone rings again.  The same hurried voice, “Alright, I’ve emailed you your pre-clearnace letter.  Are you able to get to the Garda station?”

“Yes, but I’ll have to wait in the que.  I don’t think I’ll be able to get through.”

“Well, I’ve done everything I can here.  Good luck!”

I thanked her and hung up the phone.  I called the Garda station, asking for the immigration officer and explained the situation to him.

“I can be down to you in about 25 minutes.  Would you be able to see me today?  I have everything needed.  I just need my file updated.”

“No, you’ll have to wait in the que with everyone else.  If you don’t get through today, then you don’t get through.”  Charming.

I found Branden, who was keeping the kids occupied in the other room.  We stepped outside, and I gave him an update.

“I’m not gonna go Branden.  There’s no way I’ll get through that line.  It’s after 3 o’ clock.  Also, we’re not packed.  We need to be at the airport in three hours!”  My head was spinning a little.

“Just go Ern!  You never know what will happen.  Just go try!”

I printed my letter from Immigration, grabbed my purse and passport, and got in the car.  Fought through some traffic, found parking, and started walking to the station. I walked in at 3:40pm and counted the people in line.  There were six plus the three at the open windows.  My phone buzzed.  It was a message from Branden.

“How’s it looking?”

“It’s not too bad.  This could happen!”

The line moved slowly but the clock seemed to as well.  One by one, the people in front of me took their turn – handing over documents, stepping back to take their ID pictures, swiping credit cards.  I was next in line now.  3:48pm.

“Next please,” a monotone voice came from behind the plexiglass.  I stepped up and greeted the woman at the desk.  I explained our situation and that my children and I had a flight that was scheduled to leave in about four hours.  She asked for my pre-clearance letter, and I slid it through the slot under the plexiglass.

She read it over and looked up.  “This is not an original letter.  I can’t update your file without an original letter.”

I explained again how I just received the letter via email.  I didn’t have an original yet, but needed the file updated that day.  Within the next nine minutes actually!

She looked at the letter again, then back up at me.

“Okay,” she said, and started typing on the computer in front of her.  I looked back up at the clock behind her.  3:53pm.

More minutes went by.  Type, type, type, type, type.  Finally, she finished typing.

“Alright, so I’ve made loads of notes on your file.  When you come back through the border, you’ll need to present a copy of this pre-clearence letter along with your passport.  If they have any questions at all, they’ll be able to see the notes on your file.  You shouldn’t have a problem coming back in.  Now, because this isn’t an original letter, I can’t update your file today.  You’ll need to come back in with an original once you return from your trip.  Other than that, you should be good to go.”

“Thank you so much!” I said, gathering my documents.  The clock said 4:02pm.  Even the fact that the window stayed open after 4pm was incredible!  I walked as fast as I could back to the car, messaging Branden at the same time.  He’d been folding laundry with the boys and getting suitcases set up to be packed.  The boys still didn’t know we were going, though they were probably wondering why they’d gone from doing school to doing laundry!

I got into the car.  Until that moment, I wasn’t going to the Philippines.  Now, I had to get home, tell my children we were going on this huge trip, pack, and be at the airport in two hours!

My parents were already in the air.  I was trying to think through everything that needed to happen.  What did I need to have sorted before I left?  I didn’t have any money pulled or exchanged.  I hadn’t even gone to the store to get snacks for the plane.  And no one knew we were coming!

I dialed my Aunt on Facebook Messenger.  It was 11pm in the Philippines.

“Hi Babe,” her calm but curious voice came over the line.

“Auntie!!” my mind was going in a million directions.  “Something miraculous has happened!”

“What?  What happened?!”

I told her everything.  From Barbara going in to the office with me, to the play by play of the afternoon.  I fired off questions about what to pack, how to bring money, who would pick us up from the airport.  We’d probably been talking for three or four minutes when all of a sudden she just let out a big “WOOHOO!”

I just started laughing!

“I knew it!  I knew you would be coming!  This is what the church here has been praying for.  Because God is a good God.  Why would He provide for this trip and then not let you come?  He isn’t like that!  I knew you would be coming!”

I asked her if I should send a message to my Mom.

“Oh no, Babe,” she smiled.  “Don’t send her a message.  Let’s surprise them all!”

Just after 4:30pm – I walked in the front door of our house.  Branden called the boys into the hallway where I was taking off my coat.

“Okay boys.  You know how we’ve been doing all these crazy things to get our visas sorted?  Well, we needed the visas anyway, but part of the reason for the rush was because …WE’RE GOING TO THE PHILIPPINES!!”

The boys knew that my family was taking the trip, but that we weren’t going to be able to join them (basically the plan before June).  Now, all of a sudden, in the hallway of our house, with nothing packed and an hour and a half to go, they were going to get to travel to a new country and be with family they hadn’t seen in seven months!

Silas found his way to the staircase and sat down.  “What?  We get to go to the Philippines?!”

Ethan just started crying and couldn’t stop.  He cried on and off the entire time we were packing!  He was happy and nervous and overwhelmed.

In an hour, two suitcases and three backpacks were packed.  We were in the car and, after a stop at the bank and McDonald’s to grab food, we were making our way to the airport.  I was still wearing the clothes I’d mindlessly put on that morning, because I hadn’t had time to change.  This was the first time we’d be traveling internationally without Branden, and I was honestly a bit nervous about navigating international airports that we’d never been to before.  There were lots of things I didn’t know.  We had our passports and luggage and a few snacks we just happened to have in the house.  I had lots of things bouncing around in my head, but mostly, I was just shocked and happy!  Ultimately, I clearly didn’t have to be in control, because the Lord already had a plan – we were just walking in it!

We got to the airport, parked the car and made our way to the check-in counter.  After getting our tickets, we hugged Branden goodbye.  He was his usual cool and collected self.  I was still in shock that we were about to get on a plane and meet my family IN THE PHILIPPINES!

“Message me when you get to your next airport,” he said smiling, completely confident that we would make it to each stop.  I kissed him, a bit sad that he wasn’t coming with us.  He hugged the boys and told them to have fun and to be helpful to me.  Always teaching them.

We made our way through security, found our gate in Cork’s small airport and, after just over an hour, were boarding the plane.

We were sitting all together in the very last row of the aircraft.  All that was behind us were the lavatory and the stewards’ area.  We tucked our backpacks under the seats in front of us, buckled our seat belts, and got ready for take-off.

Fifteen minutes went by.  Then an announcement came over the intercom.  Something was wrong with the plane.

Nov
28

It’s Okay

This is the second part of a blog post series.  If you haven’t read the first one, please do so at the link below before continuing.  Things will make a lot more sense that way!  Thanks for reading!

Part One – You Should Go

…………………………………………………..

The next few weeks were filled with collecting documents, writing emails, putting things in the mail, making phone calls, doing whatever we could think of to get our visa extension approved.  We wrote an email to the immigration department in Dublin, telling them about the trip we’d had planned to the Philippines, and about Branden’s trip to the UK.  Their response was quick and definite – if we left the country without our visas being secure, we’d be denied re-entry at the border.

The boys and I were meant to fly on Thursday, October 25th.  We’d submitted our documents and request for the extension and gotten a letter in the post saying everything had been received.  I had a peace from the Lord that it would be approved.  What I didn’t know was when.  As the days and weeks went by, I began to settle in my heart that we most likely would not be joining my family in the Philippines.

People were praying for our visas, that they’d come through and quickly.  Those that knew about the trip were heavy-hearted with us and praying that somehow things would work out for us to go.  Some days I was fine, successfully entrusting my emotions to the Lord.  Other days I was a mess.  Branden would find me crying by myself.  He’d pull me close and just pray.

We weren’t supposed to be able to go.  Why would God provide, knowing that the timing wouldn’t work out?  I was relieved I hadn’t told the boys.  I made the phone call to my mom. It was awful.  Not a lot of things worst than watching your mom cry over FaceTime.

The Sunday before we were supposed to get on the plane, my friend Barbara caught me at church.  She and her husband own a jewelry business in their town.  She said there was a politician who they were acquainted with, that had his office there.

“You should go in and try to meet with him, let him know that you have this trip coming up, and that you need his help with your visa!”

I had all but resolved that we wouldn’t be going.  She talked with such determination, that we should explain that we’d had this trip planned for so long, that all we needed was a letter saying we could get back into the country.

“Maybe pop into his office tomorrow, and see what he can do!”

Later, she texted me his location and phone number.  I talked to Branden.  In the morning, we drove down to his office.

His secretary told us he wasn’t there and asked what we needed.  We explained our situation.  They let us know that their office couldn’t really help us, but that there was a place in the city centre that helps with visas.  They wrote down the details and sent us on our way.  We drove to the city and found the office.  Two and a half hours later, we finally sat down with someone.  Someone who had never dealt with our particular visa.  She pulled up the website we’d already been working from and read the info aloud, mostly to herself, and apologized she couldn’t be more helpful.  Another discouraging day.

Barbara called me the next day to ask how things had gone.  Not great.  I really didn’t see how things were going to work out for us to go, but she only seemed more determined!

“Why don’t I meet you in the morning, and we can go back into the politician’s office together?”

In the morning, I left the boys at home with Branden and met Barbara.  Part of me felt like it would be useless.  It was Wednesday.  We were supposed to get on our flight at 8:15pm on Thursday night.  We’d been trying everything we could for weeks with no progress.  Another part of me thought, “Hey, it can’t hurt right?  This might be just how the Lord wants to work things out.”

We walked into the office; the secretary recognized me from two days before.  She walked to the counter with a pen and paper.  I explained our visa situation again and that we’d followed their advice and had gone to the place in the city, but that they’d been unable to help us.  Then Barbara spoke up.

“It’s just that they have this trip planned, and they really need someone to sort something before tomorrow!  Please, anything you can do to help.  Is there someone you can call?  Anything!”

I had to smile at how passionate she sounded.  Barbara also has family living abroad, and I knew she knew how important it was to be with your people.  The secretary wrote down my information and said to keep my phone nearby, that their office would call another politician’s office in a different town, who might be able to do something for us.

Barbara and I left and went to a coffee shop where we chatted for a while and waited for my phone to ring.  Nothing.  We walked to our cars and I told her I’d keep her updated.

2pm – Barbara texts me to ask if anyone’s called.  Nothing.

3:30pm – She texts again.  Nothing.  She messages that she’s going to drive down and go back into the office.  Twenty minutes later my phone rings.  It’s Barbara.  She greets me and hands the phone to the secretary who tells me she’s going to send a message to the immigration department in Dublin.  She tells me to keep my phone on, and that someone will call me before 5pm.  At this point, I’m really thankful for Barbara!  Even if things don’t work out, she’s fighting for us!

5pm comes and goes.  My heart settles back into resolved disappointment.  We tried right?  We really did.  Maybe it’s just not the Lord’s will for us to go.  And I don’t get it, but that’s okay.  It’s going to be okay.

I cried on and off the rest of the night.  “There’s still time,” Branden said, trying to encourage me.  “Let’s give it until noon tomorrow.”

“There’s just no more time Branden.  It’s fine.  Even if they did call by noon and somehow emailed us our extension letter, we’d still have to go down to the Garda station to get them to update our file.  The last time we went down there, we were in that line for four hours.  I haven’t packed anything.  We’re not going be able to go, and it’s fine.”  I was telling myself too.  It’s fine.  It’s just one of those things that I don’t understand.  But God is still good.  I would see my family in the spring, Lord willing, when we go on furlough.  It’s okay.

You Should Go
Nov
27

You Should Go

One of the coolest parts, I think, about walking with the Lord, is being able to tell His stories!  And I do mean “His stories,” because there’s just no way I could make this stuff up!  I’ve said it before, and I mean it in the most respectful way – Jesus is crazy!  Walk with Him long enough, and you’ll see – He’ll do what we cannot, in ways that only He can take credit.  And all the things that make a good story – an impossible situation, a desperate need, our great inability to fix a problem, a heroic rescue!  It’s all there.  To Him be the glory!  Psalm 9:1 says:

“I will praise You, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will tell of all your marvelous works.”

It is my great privilege to tell His stories.

………………………………………….

We’ve been home for a little over two weeks now, and I still can’t believe how it happened…

Some of you know that Branden and I were facing some challenges with securing our visas for our third year here in Ireland.  A couple of months ago, we went to renew them and, after standing in line for almost four hours, were told that the laws regarding our visas have recently changed.  We are now only guaranteed two years on our particular visa, and we’ve already used them.  If we want to stay any longer, we need to send documents in to Ireland’s immigration department and ask for an extension.  Once we have permission in writing, we can go back, stand in the crazy line again, and then apply.

That news came as a bit of a shock honestly.  We walked away from the Garda station a little off balance, dazed, anxious.  We had no plans of leaving Ireland or stopping the work we’d been doing with Calvary Cork.  We had no plans of doing anything else at all.  Now everything was up in the air, and it seemed we had very little control over our family’s future.  And not even control, we had no idea what would even happen.

“The Lord has a good plan,” Branden reassured me.

Yes, but what was it?

All these thoughts came then.  We were walking in the city, sending messages to our pastor and some of the leaders in our church, letting them know the situation.  The boys were talking, I remember too loud.  Branden was holding my hand and speaking quietly, to himself, to me.  I knew he was worried too.  My heart felt physically heavy in my chest and I knew if I let myself, I could just start crying, lose it right there on Oliver Plunkett Street.

…………………………………………………

Among all the things this could mean, there was this trip we had planned.  The boys and I were supposed to meet my parents and sisters and their families in the Philippines at the end of October to celebrate my mom’s 60th birthday.  The last (and only other) time I’d ever been there was twenty years ago, and this would be the first time for the boys!

When my mom first told me about wanting to go (over a year ago now), I told her there was no way we could join them.  She was planning two and a half weeks of sight-seeing, eating amazing food, enjoying beaches, and more.  Maybe most special of all, we’d spend the entire time with her only sister, my Aunt and Uncle who are missionaries in the Philippines.  I remember when we first moved to Ireland, having a conversation with my Aunt, knowing that this life the Lord had called us both to meant that we may never be in the same country at the same time again.  I love her, and this thought was a bit heart wrenching, but we’d both accepted it.  Now there was this trip, but there was just no way.

I’d explained to my mom that we just didn’t have the money.  She reassured me that they would help cover the expenses while we were there – food, transportation, activities.  But even then, just airline tickets would be far more than we could cover.

For a while, anytime we’d chat, she’d talk about the plans for “when we go to the Philippines.”  Different activities, places she was arranging for us to see.  I knew she was excited and speaking with the hope that somehow we’d all be able to be there together.  In the spring, I finally asked her to stop.  It was too hard listening to all the things we’d be missing out on.  And I knew the longer she thought about the trip with us there, the harder it would be when reality hit.  She didn’t like that conversation.  Neither did I.  But we both understood.

Fast forward to June.  I was having a conversation with a friend, and we were talking about living away from family.  She’d spent some time abroad as well and knew the challenges, to herself, to her kids.  I was telling her about this trip, how living away had its challenges for us, but also for our families.  This is the reality and maybe for us, the hardest part of following the Lord to far away places.

“You have to go!” she said.

“Where?”

“To the Philippines!  This would be a once in a lifetime trip!”

” I know, but there’s no way.”  I was a bit confused actually.  I’d already explained that.

“I’m going to pay for the tickets.”

“What?” More confusion.

“I’ve been looking them up while we’ve been talking.  It’s totally doable.  You should definitely go!”

The rest of the conversation was sort of a blur.  I think I told her there was no way she could do that, that maybe she should talk with her husband first!  She said they’d actually already talked, not about the trip, but that they felt like the Lord wanted them to send us a certain amount of money for support, the same amount of money that it seemed we needed to go to the Philippines!

I was still in shock.  Was there really a way we could go?  I told her I’d talk to Branden and call her later.

…………………………………………….

“You should absolutely go!” Branden said, looking at the calendar app on his phone.  “The conference in the UK is right in the middle of the trip, so I probably can’t join you, but you and the boys should be there.”

I’d forgotten about a children’s ministry conference Branden and I had agreed to teach at.  They’d asked Branden initially in the spring.  He’d mentioned that I was available to teach too, if they needed more instructors, and that was the plan.  Now Branden was typing an email to the director, letting him know that he would be there and pick up the slack for anything I was supposed to do, but that I would be otherwise engaged.

I called my friend.  A few days later, the tickets were booked.  We were going to the Philippines!

I called my mom, who was both laughing and crying out of happiness!  All of her children and grandchildren would be in the Philippines, celebrating together!

I didn’t tell the boys.  I actually never tell them anything until we’re on the way to do it.  It means lots of surprises for them, and no incessant “How much longer?” and “When is it going to happen?!” questions for me.  This would be a BIG surprise!  It’s interesting, moving away from the only home your kids have known, what kinds of things they say they miss.  Some are the same as you, some are surprisingly different.  We all agree; time with family is precious.

………………………………………

Okay, back to a couple months ago with the visa, or lack of visa really.  With all the crazy, unsettled thoughts swirling in my head, I pictured my mom.  Would we be able to go on this trip with our visas up in the air?  What would she say?  How would she take it?

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