Visa

Connectivity issues caused a week’s delay in this posting – cheers!

 

I’m 24 hours post one of the more stressful starts to a trip I’ve had. I arrived at my local airport a full two hours ahead of my flight to Sydney, my first trip to Australia and a bucket list destination. I normally print my boarding pass at home, but this week was crazy, and I didn’t even think about it until I was on my way to the airport. I didn’t really worry since I’d left in plenty of time, and our small airport is usually pretty quiet. I didn’t worry, that is, until the desk agent asked me for my visa. I need a visa for Australia? Surely my company’s travel agency would have told us that we needed one when they booked our tickets…right? No. All three of us were hosed, I was just the first one to arrive at the airport and discover it.

Luckily it turns out that you now can get an electronic visa approved “immediately” online for Australia. But that wasn’t clear for much of the two hours that were burning toward our flight’s departure. Through nine calls on my speaker phone in a loud airport while frantically filling out the online form and praying that the “instant” approval would be instant enough, we wondered if we’d be spending our weekend on a plane or with our surprised families. The ending:  I’m writing this on the plane, we made it.

Clearly, I learned a lesson from a mistake that I wouldn’t have made back when I was regularly traveling internationally. But as I typed and dialed and frantically tried to make the trip happen, I couldn’t help but remember my most stressful start to a trip that this small visa glitch couldn’t touch. We’d been dropped at the Guangzhou airport 15 years ago by our interpreter who had to leave us at security to bring our oldest daughter home from China. We’d spent the entire morning of the previous day filling out a ream of paperwork, then walking over to the U.S. Consulate to get stamps and signatures and pictures which would allow her to enter America. The agency carefully checked every page to ensure that we’d followed their meticulous instructions to the letter. They placed everything we needed – about three inches worth – in a manila envelope, sealed it, and told us not to open it until we got to the airport. They showed us a map of the airport and walked us through every step of the process, as we’d be on our own then. I put the remaining four inches of paperwork that I’d collected at every bureaucratic stop of our journey into my checked bag so that I didn’t have to lug it on my back halfway around the world. After two weeks away, I was very ready to go home with our new daughter.

The airport process went exactly as they told us that it would, including the harassment from the “bag wrappers” who wanted to shrink-wrap our bags to justify charging us a pittance. It was hard to ignore their persistence, but thank heavens I did…other parents in our group gave in. We got to the counter, broke the seal on our envelope, and handed the agent everything. After an extended time ruffling through each paper, she became very agitated in Chinese. Of course I had no idea what was wrong, but through hand gestures, I eventually realized that something that she was looking for was missing. I watched as all of the other parents and their new children were gradually processed and moved on toward the gate. The agent fetched a man to look through the papers; he fared no better, chattering to her the whole time. As I watched the scene unfold in horror, I realized the gravity of our situation: our translator was gone. We had used all of our local currency and had no usable money. This was before the era of cell phones, but I had no phone number to call anyway. I was sweating profusely, the adrenaline rushing big time.

I suddenly remembered the four-inch stack of papers in my checked bag! I rescued it just before the bag moved away on the conveyor, and handed the lot to the two animated agents. Within two minutes, they located the missing stamp and moved us through. The other parents broke out in applause when we arrived at the gate, just in time to board. I spent the next 30 hours in those sweat soaked clothes, including nine hours of the 14 hour flight with our new toddler crying, unappreciative of being cooped up on the last row of coach in a loud plane with these strange new people. I lugged all seven inches of that stupid paperwork, at least five pounds worth, on my back for the next 30 hours, afraid to turn loose of anything that would prevent us from getting home. I was utterly exhausted.

If I reflect, I have other travel stories that were actually much scarier in terms of what could have been, but none more stressful at the time. I suppose that’s why I took this latest little hiccup in stride. Either way, it was going to work out. After all, it would have also been nice to kiss my family goodnight and sleep in my own bed. Instead, wish me luck sleeping on the plane. Sydney awaits when I awake!

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.”  –Lao Tzu


Easter

We love Easter. Easter is a time of hope and rebirth. Spring is in the air, the weather warms. But this Easter is especially poignant for us.

Last September, Megan had passed through the valley of the shadow of death. The chemo had done its job of arresting what only a decade ago would have been an inevitable, tragic conclusion. The worst danger had passed, yet all was not well. Her disease markers indicated remission had not happened. We packed the car with provisions for at least six months and drove to Cincinnati, the doctors telling us a bone marrow transplant was next.

In what I will always believe was a miracle, the doctors were wrong. We checked out only a month after we checked in, with Megan suddenly improving. In the best possible circumstances of transplant, we would have been coming home only now. With any complications, we’d have been there for months longer. A little girl and her mother that we met have been there for two and a half years. We are beyond blessed.

As spring and Easter have arrived, I’ve been remembering what could have been. We’d have gotten through it, as people do when they have no choice. Instead, we will dye eggs and decorate Easter cookies and plant our garden. We will laugh and eat a ham dinner together just like it’s supposed to be. But I will also remember those still fighting, still separated from home and family. And I will pray for them to receive the Miracle that we celebrate today.

 “And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.”  –Luke 24:2-3


Maundy Thursday

I have to admit I never understood Maundy Thursday…the whole bit about Jesus washing His disciples’ feet, and then them washing each others’, as well as some churches replicating the practice in this modern age. I just never got it…until last year.

When Megan spent months terribly ill in the hospital last year, the toll the disease and its treatment took on her body was horrendous. She had tubes everywhere (an even dozen, the most of all of the kids in oncology), couldn’t eat by mouth for weeks, and was too ill to leave the bed. She lost 30 pounds in just a few weeks. It’s excruciating as a parent to sit by your child’s hospital bed and helplessly watch it all happen. You begin to look for anything…anything…that can provide your child some relief. I’m not sure whether it was the chemo or the dry hospital air or the lack of showering, but eventually her skin, especially on her feet, became very dry. A nurse told me that soaking them in warm water before applying lotion would help. Several times during her stay, I carefully filled the plastic tub with the right temperature of water, and soaked and gently washed her feet. I then massaged lotion onto them and applied one of the bright polishes sent by friends. She seemed to be momentarily at peace as I worked.

The tenderness of that act had a powerful impact on me. As I sat by her bed, I was immediately overwhelmed with love for this special person God had entrusted me with, as well as profound grief for what she was enduring. I suddenly understood Maundy Thursday. I don’t know that I’ll ever feel that same feeling again, but it was a powerful reminder that we are called to love and to serve one another. If I continue looking for opportunities to serve others, I guess I just might experience it again.

Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”  –John 13:14 


Epitaph

A dear friend recently lost her mother unexpectedly. Via Facebook, she allowed her friends to be bystanders to this tough chapter of her life. From the rapid escalation of her mother’s sudden illness, to the moving poem my friend wrote and read at the funeral, to the emotional task of disposing of the house and furnishings of her childhood, we got a tiny glimpse into the life of an amazing woman. But one of my friend’s most recent posts posed a question I hadn’t thought of before:  have you ever wondered who would write the epitaph on your tombstone?

I have to admit, I hadn’t. While I don’t think I care much about what’s on my tombstone, I do care, a lot, about what I leave behind. As a mother, I want to leave behind happy, well-adjusted children who know God and how to laugh. As a leader, I want to leave behind lives I’ve made just a little better for having touched them; corporate America can be a stressful, degrading, even soul-sucking desert…it can also be an easy place to hold up a candle. And as a human, I want to live my whole life having never given up seeking God. I struggle and fall…every day…but I believe that God expects only that we get back up, dust ourselves off, and sincerely try again. I’m getting to my feet now – today’s a new day.

“And were an epitaph to be my story, I’d have a short one ready for my own. I would have written of me on my stone:  I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.”  –Robert Frost

 


Balance

I’ve lived an unbalanced life for most of it. Driven, restless, and easily bored, I’ve spent way too much of my time and energy on work. Thankfully, I discovered the error of my ways–late, but not too late.

While my journey toward balance began with a jolting reminder of my mortality, that was just the beginning.  I began to slowly tear down destructive habits and thought patterns, and gradually add back newer, healthier ones. My husband’s health issues added the first brick in the new life I was building, spurring me to exercise regularly, something I still loathe. After not very long, I realized that I was feeling better and was less stressed. The stressors hadn’t disappeared; I was just better equipped to cope. I still hate exercise, but I’m hooked. Next, I cut down on caffeine. I haven’t eliminated it completely, but my daily six pack is now a two pack, and I don’t drink it after noon. I found that I was getting more restful sleep. Just as I began feeling physically better, a life-changing inspiration caused me to start writing a book on faith. Something I never intended to do, writing gave me my first real hobby and a creative outlet that doubles as therapy. It also gave me my first mental focus outside of work,

I’ve had a lot to learn about this hobby business, especially the creative aspect. While it was a bit scary to begin writing, it was flat out terrifying to even think about sharing the final product with others. I knew that I didn’t have to share it, yet somehow I needed to. I’m grateful for the family and friends who gently supported my writing “coming out”. As I’ve slowly built this therapy into my hectic life, I’ve learned three principles that I believe apply to any hobby.

1. Do it for yourself. This may sound obvious, but it somehow wasn’t to me. Its critical corollary may have been my greatest struggle, that it’s actually ok to do something for yourself. Us guilt ridden working mothers especially need this permission.

2.Do it when you feel inspired. If you’re doing it for yourself, don’t turn it into a chore. It’s ok to put it down for awhile when you just don’t feel it.

3. Build it into your life. For some, this comes naturally as they easily prioritize time for what they enjoy, but working mothers often place themselves last. It took me a long time to realize that I could care better for those I love when I take care of me, too. Then it took time to figure out how to squeeze what I needed for me into my busy life. It absolutely can be done.

I write this from the treadmill. Work has been unbalanced lately, with long evenings and weekends and not enough sleep. It would be easy to skip exercise to squeeze in more sleep, but I’m not about to give up my hard won lessons on balance. The stakes are too high. This is my life we’re talking about.

“Without balance, a life is no longer worth the effort.”  –Olen Steinhauer


Hope

The Facebook support group that I belong to, dedicated to Megan’s rare disease of HLH, has been a blessing through her illness. I’ve written before about this special group of people; the only downside of membership is sharing in their grief, as some are inevitably lost to this monstrous disease.

Belonging to the group these last couple of weeks has been pure joy. I’m not sure what triggered the first story of hope…a child, fully recovered from this cowardly disease which attacks mostly children. That first story led to a rapid succession of others, including my own opportunity to share Megan’s glorious recovery. The stories were wonderful:  children and adults restored to health and normalcy after months, or even years, of needles, chemo, procedures, and suffering. After months of my own fear and worry, it was gratifying to read about dozens of complete victories, just as Megan steadily moves through recovery herself. However, it is impossible to forget that the reason these stories bring hope is that not all HLH stories have happy endings.

Hope is crucial to human existence. History and the evening news are filled with the very bad things that people are capable of doing to each other when they have no hope. I know how critical it is to my own emotional well-being. Life is difficult enough when I have hope…hope that my family is well, that we have a bright future, that I’m loved. When Megan was clearly dying and no one knew why, the only thing that kept me from complete collapse was the divine Hope that if we couldn’t take her home, her Father would. Knowing that God loved my baby even more than I did gave me peace in the middle of terror and chaos. I can think of nothing more powerful than that.

“Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”  –Vaclav Havel


Five Things I Learned In Prison

Kelly J. McCleary:

Powerful and thought-provoking.

Originally posted on The Boeskool:

Bringing light into dark places. Bringing light into dark places.

I celebrated my birthday in prison this year. Our Church is part of a ministry called Timothy’s Gift.  They go into prisons to remind the inmates that they are human, that they are not forgotten, and most importantly that they are loved by God–Not because of anything that they have done, but simply because of of who they are. When they invited people to go on the trip, my wife asked me if I wanted to go. I told her I would love to, but I had to work, and we really didn’t have the money. It was a four-day trip that took place over my 40th (I know, right? Crazy) birthday, and she knew I didn’t want a big party, so she devised that she would surprise me with this trip as a gift for my birthday. She made a “Send Chris To Prison” GoFundMe page, and within…

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