Saturday, February 25, 2017

My Very Own Miracle

It's all wrong, I thought, as I looked at the letter the lawyer had written for my application. God, if this is Your will, You will have to work a miracle. I slipped the letter into the 2-day priority mail envelope, sealed it, and handed it to the lady behind the counter. That will be $6.65 please, she told me. The receipt included a tracking number that I checked two days later. Sure enough, it had reached its final destination. What the outcome would be, though, was yet to be determined.

Just over a year ago, I boarded the first of several planes that would carry me across the ocean to my new home. I'd agreed to come to Lebanon for a year to help the university in administration and see whether God had a plan for me to stay longer. It was also part of my personal journey of reconciling my past as a TCK (third-culture kid) with who I was now. I had longed for 17 years to return and now the opportunity presented itself. So without thinking much, I took it.

Those first few months were difficult as I learned to adapt. I always kept the thought in my mind that after the year was over, I could return to the US. Sure, I wasn't very happy where I'd been working before but I could always look for another job. In the summer, I sat across from my mother at the kitchen table and reassured her that I would be returning in just a few short months.

Then life began to shift in a different direction. Though I'd always felt peace and joy during my time in Lebanon, those feelings were starting to deepen. At the same time, the desire to settle down in a place that felt most like home began to grow stronger. I didn't want to be viewed as a tourist-missionary, even though my roots ran deep. I wanted to shed the foreigner skin and slip into one that was as close to familiar as possible.

So I began to ask how I could stay longer. I filled out paperwork and sent it off in November. It got returned just a few days later to my US address, as the fee waiver was denied. We re-sent it, this time with payment. They cashed the check but by the end of the month another letter came from immigration. This one asked for additional information to support the status I was claiming. As I was traveling to the US in a couple of weeks, I decided to wait to get the letter when I was there so I could easily mail it while stateside.

After several email and phone exchanges with the senior paralegal at the GC, I found myself looking at a letter that seemed to be all wrong for the intents and purposes of the reply I had to send to immigration. I had filed 7 applications for various visa statuses in the past 18 years and I thought I knew what should be submitted. There was more information than seemed necessary, but the paralegal assured me that it was good to send more information. I decided I would have to trust her and God and send the letter in.

Three months to the day of receipt of my initial application, my mother sent me a message through the family chat. Your application has been approved. I stared at the screen, my eyes still blearily trying to focus after a short night. Approved. Three months early.

See when the paralegal was answering my initial questions about the application, she told me that it would take about 6 months to process. I filed everything in plenty of time so I would have an answer by the summertime and know what kind of long-term plans to make. If it was denied, I would likely have to return to the US as I couldn't afford to keep flying back every 5.5 months or so. I wasn't ready to do that, and I reminded God very clearly of how I felt, but I knew it was out of my control.

As the tears came to my eyes, I realized God had given me my very own miracle. I love to hear stories about other people's miracles and I'm always thrilled to see how God is working in their lives, but it's very humbling to see God work so clearly in mine. Somehow it seems that others deserve good things but when God shows up in a God-way in my life, I am amazed at the depth of His care for me.

God knows dates are significant for me. I get nostalgic when a month ends, when my birthday and New Year's come around, and I'd been counting the months til I passed a year here. God also knows that my heart longs to stay and put down roots. I'm tired of living in limbo, being on various visa statuses for so many years. I feel comfortable here. I'm no longer struggling to find joy--it comes naturally. To top it all off, the application that will allow me to stay outside the US for more than the 6 months at a time was approved for an indefinite period of time. It's as if God is saying, Here. You can stay. 

Of course I cannot see the future. A month from now I may find myself on another continent, following God's calling. But for now, I'm thankful to know that God has clearly shown me I am in His will and He has a plan for my life. The details may be fuzzy but the intent is sure.

I will make a pathway through the wilderness for my people to come home. Isaiah 43:19

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Strength in Humility

The internet has been down in my room for several days now so I haven't been able to catch up on several things that are starting to worry me. So I escaped to my office where thankfully the internet is fast and I can download some documents that I need to edit to meet a deadline. Somehow things are starting to pile up all at once and I am beginning to rethink my original strategy for service when I first came.

When I first arrived at MEU, I decided that I would willingly volunteer anytime somebody asked me to help out, whether it was playing piano for song service, tutoring a student in conversational English, or packing up someone's house to move. I quickly filled my days and got to know different people through the opportunities for service.

Now that I've settled in to life here, though, I'm realizing that being available for any request may not necessarily be the best idea for long-term service. I read in My Utmost for His Highest today that if I am feeling spiritually exhausted, it may be because I need to reconnect to the One Who gives me the strength I need to be poured out in service. This means, naturally, that I need to set aside time in order to do so.

In the next two weeks or so, I have to prepare a succinct presentation for an international conference, edit 4 articles into video script, research and put together text for a promotional site, give 2-4 hours of reading and fluency tutoring per week, buy kitchen appliances as I'll now be cooking for myself, and edit a friend's masters' thesis. This is in addition to the everyday duties I do, such as teach, work, do laundry, go grocery shopping, cook, clean my room, help babysit my best friend's twin boys, write emails or chat with my family, and go on the occasional social outing.

Coming to the mission field, I assumed it would be easy to prioritize devotional time just as I had in 2005 when I spent a summer in South Korea teaching English. Then, I'd had very short nights as my last class ended at 9 pm and my first morning class began at 7 am. I made sure that I had at least 30 minutes for personal devotions every morning, in spite of a lack of sleep, because I valued that connection with God and I saw how very necessary it was to my survival in a foreign land away from all that was familiar for the first time.

Perhaps it's because coming back has not been a mission field experience for me as much as it has been about coming home. Yes, I have made sure that I read my devotional book every morning and spent time writing in my prayer journal and reading my Bible before I went to bed. I'm not listing this as a matter of pride; I'm simply stating that devotions have been a part of my life since I arrived. But finding myself weary emotionally and spiritually is making me think that perhaps I need to shift my focus from service to servanthood.

Micah 6:8 ends by saying that what God asks is not sacrifices but to walk humbly with your God. What does it mean to walk humbly? Perhaps it's not about meeting a quota of service opportunities but rather learning to step into sync with God. Learning to match my stride to His rather than those of others. Learning to serve not out of a need to feel important or valued but out of humility because He has chosen to give me this gift. While in everything, remembering that above all, the connection with my God is what will give me the strength to serve others and Him.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Stand Up and Be Counted

You may be wondering why I've remained silent about the travel ban, seeing as how I'm currently living in the Middle East, albeit not one of the banned countries but close enough. I am processing my thoughts but I hesitate to share them because I know there will be backlash from people who have a different opinion than me, informed or otherwise.

Today I sat in Sabbath School class with the faces of those statistics being tossed around. A woman who was born in one of the 7 banned countries, though she holds a passport from another country she has the fear that her visa to the US will be revoked because of her birthplace. A man whose birthplace is not yet on the banned list but rumour has it that it could be added soon is about to travel to the US and wonders whether he will be able to enter before any new rulings can be made.

I know these people. They are good hard-working citizens who are serving sacrificially as missionaries here. The reason to keep them out of the US is absurd to say the least. People forget, in their haste to defend the US from bomb-threatening terrorists, that this ban applies to anyone who has a connection with those specific countries. So if my friend would like to go to the US on holiday, using their valid visa, they will be denied.

I'm struggling to reconcile one man's view with the values that I believed the US was built on. Though I am not American myself, I am seen as a representative of the country because I speak the language easily and my home base is there. I'm struggling to not lump all Americans in with the president and am encouraged by the thousands who are protesting that this isn't right and are showing it through their actions.

I usually remain quiet in Sabbath School class--there are many who have things to share so I only speak if I feel strongly about something--but when the teacher asked me to share about my week, I was not as hesitant as usual. I shared a bit of the burden on my heart to somehow communicate to others that I am not speaking out of emotional reasoning but rather because I know the people these bans apply to.

I'm not going to debate the extent to which non-immigrants and immigrants should be screened before they enter the country. I know what it entails--I am an immigrant to the US myself though I still shrink from citizenship. There are so many variables that those who have followed this closely will know better than I. The statistics on internal acts of violence from Americans in the last year exceeds that of terrorist attacks from nationals from the banned countries, I'm sure. There were 49 people who died from a terrorist attack on US soil in 2016 and while the statistics on homicides are not available yet for 2016, there were 6,000 homicides in 2015 and I imagine the trend has not changed drastically. Car crashes are even more deadly with more than 30,000 road deaths in 2015 alone. Should we not ban cars then?

The world as we know it is changing. Matthew 24:10 & 12 seems to be happening right now. But I'm thankful for the promise that if we stand firm to the end, we will be saved (vs. 13). There is a calling for Christians around the world to stand up, shoulder to shoulder, and in the power of God to advance like a mighty army against this attempt by the devil to shake us to our roots. We need to be grounded in Whom we believe in and in such to show everyone that God's love is more powerful than anything else. Soon we will hear that trumpet call. I hope that day is not too far away.