God Is Spoiling Us
Nov
30

God Is Spoiling Us

This is the fourth part in a blog post series.  If you haven’t read the first three parts yet, please do so at the links below before continuing.  Thanks so much for following the story!

Part One – You Should Go

Part Two – It’s Okay

Part Three – Thursday

……………………………………………………..

“Ladies and gentlemen, just a small delay here.”  The captain explained that the engineers were looking at something, and that we’d be on our way soon.  We were about 15 minutes behind schedule already.

10 minutes went by.  Another announcement.  The situation seemed a bit more serious.  The captain apologized; it would be another 30 minutes.

Poor Ethan started crying again.  “Mom?  Are we not going to be able to go to the Philippines now?!”

“You know what I think?  I think that nothing can keep us from going to the Philippines!  Look at everything that happened today.  We shouldn’t even be on this plane!  We just need to relax and see what the Lord has in store.  We’re on an adventure with Jesus!”

I motioned to a stewardesses walking by.  “Hi, we’re connecting in London to Beijing, then to Manila.  I think we’ll probably miss our connection.  Do you know what will happen to us when we land?”  She couldn’t tell me for sure.  They could put us on the next flight or book us into a hotel.  Or we could end up sleeping at the airport, waiting for the next flight.

Still in shock that we were even sitting on that plane, I actually had complete peace.  If God wanted us in the Philippines, we’d get there!

Finally another announcement was made, and a few minutes later, we were taking off.

Just over an hour later, we landed in London.  As we were taxiing to the gate, the same stewardess come over.  “So, we’ve just received a call.  Unfortunately you have missed your connection.  But there’s a lady waiting to meet you when you get off the plane.  The airline has already booked you and your children into a hotel.  She’ll have shuttle vouchers and be able to give you instructions for the new flight that they’ve booked you on for tomorrow.”

The lady was waiting for us as we stepped off the plane.  She explained everything as she walked us to the door to catch the shuttle.  It was almost 11pm.  Our next flight would leave the following day at noon and take us through Hong Kong instead of Beijing.  The voucher for the hotel included dinner and breakfast.

“Get a good night’s rest tonight, and come back around ten in the morning.  If the restaurant at the hotel is still open, you could even have a bite to eat!”

I thanked her, and the boys and I walked out to wait for the shuttle.  I messaged Branden and let him know what was going on.  A fifteen minute shuttle ride later, we pulled up to the hotel and got checked in.  Our room had a double bed as well as a funny little Murphy bed they had to pull out of the wall for us.  We dropped our bags and went down to have a midnight snack.  The kitchen was closed, but the lady behind the counter said we could order pizza, Caesar salad or curry.  It was really late, but we hadn’t had a proper dinner, and I think we were all just buzzing a bit.  One pepperoni pizza and two salads please.

When the food came out, we were surprised to see Ethan’s pizza was ten inches wide!  And each of our salads could have fed 2-3 people easily!

“Mom, God is spoiling us!” Silas exclaimed.

I couldn’t argue with that!  We ate our dinner, went back to the room, took showers, and tucked in.  It was after 1am.  What a day!

…………………………………………………………..

The next morning, we went downstairs to a giant continental breakfast.  I don’t know why, but I LOVE hotel breakfast.  So does Ethan.  Like, it’s pretty much his favorite thing about staying at a hotel!  I think it’s all the options and the unlimited quantities!  This spread was no exception.  It really did feel like God was spoiling us!

After breakfast, we waited for the shuttle and made our way back to the airport.  A couple hours later, we were on a plane to Hong Kong.  The airline actually booked us in a higher class for seating than we had for our original flight.

“Mom what’s the difference between Economy and Economy Plus?”  Just then a stewardess walked by and handed me a menu for the in-flight meals.

“Well, in Economy, they just walk by with the cart and say, ‘Chicken or beef?’  In Economy Plus, you get a menu!”  The boys chuckled a little, but in my head, I thought, “Wow, even in the seating, God is blessing us!”

Hong Kong airport was beautiful.  Mountains on one side and the ocean on the other.  Flying in, we could see dozens of islands and ships all around.  Everyone seemed friendly and able to help you.  We walked into a few shops.  There were tons of options for everything.  The shelves were lined with colorful packages of all shapes and sizes, in so many different languages.  We walked by a massive sign that had a giant cartoon cat surrounded by several happy children, an advertisement for some kids product.  We were in Asian now!

We found our new gate, and I sent Branden an update.  Half an hour later, we were boarding our last flight.  Next stop – the Philippines!

The flight was only about an hour and a half long.  Getting ready to land, I was thinking about my family, my Mom and what her reaction would be.  My Aunt still hadn’t told her we were coming.  The airport was a two hour drive from their house, and she had sent my Uncle to “run an errand.”  The last time I was in the Philippines, I came through that exact airport.  I was fifteen and obviously in a very different stage of life.  I remember a few things from that trip – the heat, the busy-ness of the city crowds and traffic, the people, some of the amazing places we went.  Landing there now, I was aware that my children would be taking things in.  This was their first time in a country of their heritage.  Of course they knew bits and pieces of the culture, but being there on the ground, surrounded by the language and the people, the food and the day to day life, I was just aware how important this trip really was.

We followed the crowd to the baggage claim area.  My phone didn’t seem to be able to log on to the airport wifi.  I needed to send Branden a message to tell him we’d made it.  I needed to send my Aunt the same message.  I didn’t have a phone number for my Uncle, and had no real way of communicating with him. I finally stopped and asked someone to help me sign on.

Almost everyone in Manila speaks both Tagalog (the main dialect) and English.  Actually, most everyone speaks a combination we call Taglish, which is probably 80% Tagalog, 20% English.  Asking this store salesman about hooking up to the wifi, I was suddenly aware that I hadn’t really spoken Tagalog to anyone for quite some time.  My parents would speak it to each other when I was growing up, and occasionally to us, but nothing really conversational.  I definitely understood more than I spoke.  I got through enough to ask my question and understand that I would need to purchase and load a SIM card if I wanted to even log on.  That wasn’t going to happen right then.   Just keep walking.

We got to the baggage carousel and joined the crowd standing around the metal conveyor belt.  Bags appeared from behind the heavy plastic flaps that covered the opening and slowly made their way around the loop.  2 – 3 minutes went by, bags being taken off, new bags being added.  There was an American man standing next to us.

“It always takes so long to get your bags in this airport,” he said.  He talked about a couple of the other Asian airports he’d flown into several times and how Manila always seemed exceptionally slow.

“Well, you just don’t want to be the last one standing around waiting, you know?” I said jokingly.  We both chuckled, almost nervously.

Another 2 -3 minutes went by.  The American man pulled a bag off and waited for another.  A group of Japanese business men in suits all helped each other pull suitcases off the belt, loudly pointing and hoisting them onto carts.  Another 5 minutes.  The boys were bored and tired.

“Where are our bags, Mom?”  I didn’t have an answer, but it wasn’t looking good.

Finally, we were the last ones standing there.  Two men came over and started pulling the left over bags off and standing them all together.  I went over and told them our bags weren’t there.  They directed me to a small counter nearby.

Two ladies in emerald green jackets and pencil skirts greeted me.  I explained (again in broken Tagalog) about our bags, and one of them asked for our luggage tags.  I found them and handed them to her; she asked me a couple questions about our flights and started typing information onto her computer.

“So the system is showing that the airline actually doesn’t know where you bags are right now.”

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

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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.

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