So, we leave to go back to the States for furlough tomorrow – crazy!! Crazy because we just started packing today (although, as a friend reminded me, experience has shown we don’t actually need that much time to pack!) Crazy too, because life has been a bit crazy lately.
You might remember that before the boys and I went to the Philippines with my family, Branden and I had some challenges with renewing our visa. Well, praise God that visa did get sorted (in an amazing and dramatic last minute display of God’s ability to take of things we can’t!) We are good to stay in Ireland until the end of October this year.
What is still up in the air is what will happen after that. In 2018, the Irish government made some major changes to its immigration regulations. We first found out about them in September when we went to renew the visa we have now. One of those changes is that there is now a cap on the number of years you can be on this visa. That cap is three years, which we will complete in October of this year.
Because we can’t apply for it again, we either need to leave the country or get permission to stay under a different visa. We’ve learned that there is one other visa we could qualify for and, through lots of conversations and weeks and weeks of research, we’ve almost gathered all the documents required to apply. Most of these documents have never been asked of applicants before and several of them are not easy to obtain. Among other changes, the immigration department is also requiring that we apply from our country of residence, which is one of the main reasons why we’re headed home for furlough. Once we land in the U.S., we can mail in our application and documents, along with proof that we’ve left the country. Then we wait to see what they decide.
To be honest, we’ve been on an emotional roller coaster since September regarding the visa situation. Sometimes it’s at the forefront of everything, this weight and feelings of things being unfair, along with an overwhelming unsettledness and questions of ‘what if?’ What if we can’t get all these documents? What if we have to leave the country in October? What will we do? What will life look like?
We know others that have had to leave suddenly, because of visa issues. And some have not been permitted to come at all. There is so much changing in Ireland. This process feels cold and deliberate and unyielding. And yet, I know the Lord is there. That these ‘what if’s’ don’t keep Him up at night. And sadly, this situation has revealed both my lack of confidence in Him and His relentless, quiet, kindness as He calls my gaze and heart to find my security in Him alone again.
The other day, I’d sent an email to a friend in the States, asking for help with one of the visa documents. It was on my seemingly impossible list of to-do’s. I’d been trying to figure out this particular document for several weeks already, without much progress. Finally, I sent her the email explaining the situation and what we needed. A few days passed, and I hadn’t heard back from her. I sent her a message on Facebook to see if she’d gotten it. We messaged back an forth a couple of times. In the end, she said she’d take care of it. Then she wrote the words “rest sister.”
I went to bed that night with a tiny bit of defensiveness. When we first found out about all the changes, about all that was going to be required for us to apply for this new visa, I was kind of a mess. It sounded impossible. And because the regulations are so new, even many of the local authorities didn’t have any experience with them. There was no template, no list of things to do and check off; we, and the leadership in our church, just needed to figure it out. Now over the last few months, we’ve found others that are a little further along in the process, and God has been kind to encourage us in lots of other ways. So most days now, I’m okay with it, functioning somewhat normally with the things in front of me without crying at the drop of a hat. But this command, this invitation – “rest sister” – it felt a little rough on my skin. Like “Calm down!” or “Relax already!”
Going to bed that night, I told Branden, “I want to rest! I want to not be overwhelmed and truly trust that God is gonna take care of everything. But I also have an incredibly long list of things that I actually have to do. I can’t just sit back and drink a cup of tea – or maybe I can, while I start packing my bags to leave the country!” (Did I say a tiny bit of defensiveness?)
This friend of mine, by the way, with the email, she’s always been a source of truth, a way God has spoken in real ways to Branden and me. I love her so much.
I felt tired. Ya’ll I am tired! Like you know when you’re toddler is crying inconsolably because they just haven’t gotten enough sleep? Yeah, I’ve been there more times than I care to admit in the last few months. I’ve been overwhelmed, and at the same time, so grateful for where we are, how the Lord led us here, what we get to do and be a part of, and the relationships God has grown in the last 2+ years.
And can I just take a minute and say that God is so good! That along with what I think are relatively normal challenges of having two pre-teen boys in our house, there is peace and ease and laughter and safety and genuine love and discipleship in our home – praise God! Our marriage is probably the best it’s ever been, we’re healthy, ministry is full, and our church is growing is so many ways – so much to be thankful for!
And perhaps that’s why the thought of everything changing again, us being kicked out of the country, not knowing what’s up ahead, that’s why it’s so overwhelming.
In fairness, this call to rest, the Lord had already said it to me. I know myself (maybe you’re the same?) when I’m exhausted and feel like things are out of control, it’s because I’m trying to do things on my own, trusting in my own abilities and strength. It’s like I’m walking a tight rope strung over the Grand Canyon, and more and more objects keep getting handed to me. I have to walk; I have to balance, I have to keep it together! I’m just not able!
The day after messaging with my friend, I was brought back to a section of Scripture the Lord has often used to speak to me. This Psalm has encouraged me, convicted me, held me in so many situations. And it’s not always the same verse or section. This time it was this:
“The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD; He is their stronghold in times of trouble. The LORD helps them and delivers them; He delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in Him.”
– Psalm 38:39-40
My answer will come from the Lord. Yes, there are things I need to do, applications and paperwork to fill out, but ultimately, it was the Lord who brought us here, preparing these works in advance for us to do. And it will be the Lord that either keeps us here or moves us. And I can trust that He knows the situation, that He knows our hearts, that He has a good plan, whatever it might be.
In that I can rest.
The person who says the words of this psalm is in need of saving, delivering, and help. And their part, what they are able for is to hide. Not run away or avoid their circumstances, but tuck in, trust, take refuge in something, Someone who is bigger, more capable than they are. The situation may not change (not right away anyways) but there is shelter, there is safety, and rest. And joy in His presence!
“Rest” is a call to look up, to see that He is with us, that it’s okay if we cannot, because He can. Praise God!
So, we’re getting ready for a furlough. And you know what? When you leave home (to go home!) for six weeks, it actually requires a lot of planning! Planning on this side – ministry stuff, house stuff, who will mind our cat – lots! Planning on that side – we’ll visit four states in those six weeks, seeing family and places and more people we love. So plane tickets, rental cars, meet ups, hang outs, it’s gonna be good 🙂
And in an effort to slow down, enjoy people, really see what’s in front of me, I’ve decided to do a little photo challenge 🙂 One picture a day – nothing I’ll pull a muscle over, but just one image every day while we’re on the trip that freezes time and locks in something real. Photography helps me look at things, be present, be thankful! So that’s my plan. Anyone want to join me? I’m gonna use #seetheday2019. See what I did there? Anyways, I’ll keep you posted on Instagram and the old Facebook page. You probably won’t be on a six week trip, but you can totally join me if you want! Really just want to be present and capture what the Lord has each day, you know?
Okay, one more invitation …would you pray with us? So much to lay before the Lord. Would you pray for our visa application? That we’d be able to get all the documents together, that it would get to the right person on the right day, that God would just go before us (as I know He already has) and we’d be approved, without any hiccups or issues?
Would you pray for our time in the States? I believe the Lord has so much in store, and I don’t want to miss any of it! For our time with people, that He would use us to encourage others, that all the logistics would come together, and also that it would be a time of rest. Please pray for safety and health and that we would abide in the Lord.
And would you pray for our church here in Cork? For those serving in our stead and the precious kiddos and families in our fellowship? God is doing a great work in this city, and we’re so thankful and humbled to be a part of it!
Okay, I think those are all the major ones! Thanks for reading guys, and for praying with us, and for being a part of our family and this ministry. We’re grateful for each of you, and know that we are not alone! Keep an eye out for that hashtag!
Love you loads, Ernie