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!
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.
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.
“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.