Sunday, August 31, 2008

UA Flight 922 - Part XII

Michael Kane escorted me back to the holding room.  It was the longest walk.  Well, that night all the walks were long.  I kept pushing a trolley, which held what material life I decided to hoard.  When was I going to be there – London, you know?  When was I going to arrive at my destination?

Before going into the detention hall I had to get forcefully introduced to a not-so-nice guard.  She was totally in a state that night – that not-wanting-to-be-at-work type state.  Well, she had to put up with me.  The Christian kid who really wasn’t looking for any trouble.  The one who actually only spoke when spoken to.  The one that cooperated during the whole ordeal.  The one that was not holding a bomb or any sharp object as one might suspect.

The little Anglo-Indian guard asked me to hold out my arms.  To put them in that “T” position.  Maybe she was measuring the size of the cross I’d have to carry.  I don’t think she realized the cross I already carried.  But to be honest, I don’t think I fully understood the weight of that cross either.

It’s not like I held the weight of the world on my shoulders.  Not like I was shouldering someone else’s burden or like I was shouldering anything for that matter.  My intentions were pure that Monday; I wanted to move to England to work in ministry.  I wanted to help people.  Choose the humanitarian act over the selfish.  Choose the God who pulls a dark blanket over the twilight sky, but leaves holes for stars so I’m guided on those long walks into tomorrow.

I chose that God that night; I chose the love from my youth.

You know – side story – I sat in church today and realized the complete and utter joy of being in God’s presence.  I wasn’t the first to realize that ecstasy though.  There was this little boy bobbing up and down in his father’s arms during worship.  The music blasting.  Amber singing to a God who weather’s all storms with us, a God who is both the definition of grace and the experience of magnificence; magnificent grace, such unexpected love.  I was alone with God in a crowd of people.  Fellowship.  Intimacy.  Faithful love. 

I can’t really explain how God caught my eye in that moment.  Or how he focused me on heaven, eternity or even on himself.  But this little boy reminded me of the pure untainted never-been-jaded-before pleasure of being with the love of my youth.  The boy’s simple smile.  Giggles galore.  Eyes wide open.  Hands bashing and clapping without any rhythm or rhyme or coordination at all.  It was a sight of pure happiness.

I fell in love with my Lord again earlier today.  Because he showed me the hope for life.  And I kept eyes wide open to see it all.

            Ponder the path of your feet;

               then all your ways will be sure.  (Proverbs 4:26)

That night back in detention, I never asked anyone where I was going or what was happening to me.  It never occurred to me that they’d answer me back.  To me they were machines doing their job.  I guess that’s how I detached myself from the situation.  They were simply characters out of Orwell’s 1984 and I was not at all expecting to disappear into the Ministry of Love like Syme. 

I never disappeared, but everyone else did.  I was alone again.  Nervous for the impending decision and thinking about nothing else.

Even though I say I should have had my mind set on God at that point, I think it would have been a bit too overwhelming for me.  I mean, how can a person think on the God of completely everything that’s ever existed and does exist and will ever exist while going through complete chaos in a foreign country?  It’s in this place that I noticed a separation.

I was literally separated from everything that I know.  My telling people prior to my trip, “I’m leaving everything I’ve known for 23 years,” held true during those 36 hours.  I had the clothes that were on my back and the prayers that were in my heart.  And that’s the second separation: my heart from the rest of me.

I prayed because I didn’t know what else to do.  I rocked back and forth like a mental person in a psyche ward.  My hands shook and never steadied.  I couldn’t sit still.  I paced the tiles and with every loop I thought the nightmare would end, that I’d be taken back home like some male version of Dorothy.  It never happened.  Each time I turned the same two cups and half eaten sandwich littered the one little table between the chairs. 

I prayed.  I asked God what was going on.  “God, what the hell is going on?  Come on God, let me know something, let me see something; give me something Lord.  I’m freakin’ out.  God, come on.  Help me.  Please.  God.”  And the words just kept shooting off my tongue like chewing tobacco to the ground.  It was an addiction of sorts talking to the God who’s overcome the world.  I knew nothing else in those moments except him who saves. 

            Ponder the path of your feet;

               then all your ways will be sure.  (Proverbs 4:26)

I wasn’t sure what was happening.  Why was I alone?  What was God’s purpose for letting me go through this whole thing?  Where was God in all of this? 

I’d sit frantically, then I’d get up frantically.  Maybe I sound like a skitz or a spatz, some kid on ADD or shooting coke or coming off a high and trying to get sober.  Time never skipped so slow, never dragged so far behind, never breathed a breath like holding it under water and watching the world cough with the waves till your faced swelled a red and you couldn’t hold it any longer – one second. 

I wasn’t calm when I was alone.

            Ponder the path of your feet;

               then all your ways will be sure.  (Proverbs 4:26)

You know, I found reason to praise God this morning, to return to the love of my youth.  I’ve found a reason to praise his name for the past two weeks.  And tomorrow it will most likely be the same story.  Because even though I was unsure of life for 36 hours and even though it took me days to adjust back to an American lifestyle, God made all of my ways sure.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

UA Flight 922 - Part XI

Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor and let non of you devise evil against another in your heart.     (Zechariah 7:9&10)

Night’s come.  I wonder where John is.  I bet he’s sleeping on the porch outside the church.  That means he has to get up early tomorrow; it’s Sunday.  I don’t think he’s the religious type, but he has that exposure every day.  I mean, God’s got to see the man.  He’s got to know about Old Man John’s situation. 

I wonder if anyone else notices him?  All they probably see is some helpless homeless guy.  But John’s a fighter and none of them know that.  None of them know that John beat cancer.  That he was only meant to live for six months and the doctors said that over two years ago.

No one knows that he hates breathing.  I’ve never met a person that doesn’t like breathing. Someone that actually abhors breathing. Let alone, someone that thinks about breathing.  It’s a task for him, a mission.  It’s nothing that comes natural any more; he lives by the oxygen from a tank.  And he lives by a purchased tank of air – John, a poor man having to use his social security check to buy air just so he can breathe when he doesn’t even want to breathe any more.

He purchases the very physical essence life, while it’s free for the rest of us.

No one should ever have to buy their own air, their own breath, their own life.  No one should have to buy their own life from a pharmacy.  No – no one should have to buy their own life.  No one.  No one should have to buy their own life support.  Then live on a bench.  Then sleep on a porch.  Then have to wait for the public restrooms to open just to excrete what bodily fluids you have left.

“I don’t go in public.  There’s something messed up about that.  All them kids from the bars piss in the graveyard or in the alleys.  That’s messed up.  You don’t s*** in public,” John sternly told me.  “I’ll wait.  I’ll wait till it’s morning and those restrooms over there open.  Even if it hurts, I’ll wait.”

I didn’t know what to say back to that.  There was nothing. 

I never even thought about the toilet matter before.  It just didn’t occur to me whenever I gave a homeless person some change.  What a simple need.  You know, I take that for granted – going to the bathroom.  My house has 2 ½ baths in it.  That means I have three toilets in one house.  John – John waits on the town.

We’re all the same.  We all have the same needs, but most of us don’t even acknowledge those needs.  Right now I’m sitting with a full glass of water.  And I’ll probably be running to the toilet soon enough.  But I can.  I have those facilities at my disposal. 

You know, I remember having to hold “it” when I was younger.  I remember those infamous family trips.  You know, the ones where you drive for hours on end without ever reaching your destination.  And I was totally the kid always complaining, “Are we there yet?”  The one that never shuts up.  The one that could come up with a million-and-one noises to keep myself occupied.  And “holding my horses” was never fun.  Being patient and waiting for the toilet was literally a pain.  To the point that sometimes we did have to pull over.

It’s only peeing.  It’s only a simple matter of peeing.  But it’s not so simple to John.  Someone who still holds his dignity in life.  Someone who knows manners to a certain extent.  Someone who knows the difference between defacing a hallowed piece of property with your own fecal matter and respect.  And that someone sleeps on a porch, resides on a bench, and watches the world pass him by while he struggles to breathe taxed air.

I’ve lived 23 years with hardly acknowledging those less fortunate than me.  Sure, I’ve gone on mission trips to the poorest cities in the world – the City of the Sun built on a dump.  I’ve emptied my pockets for a beggar – another human.  I’ve given to the poor contrite silent man standing outside the Vatican walls with his hat out hoping to hear a clink.  I’ve bought little meals for the poor – bought them waters, and sandwiches and said a quick “God bless you” then moved on with life.  I’ve bought the Big Issue they sell so they might have the chance at earning a small living.  I’ve sat with them before and talked, but only if I knew them like I knew John.

Then I’ve called myself a man after God’s own heart.

But there’s still something wrong with this.  The switch in thinking I’m pursuing God while leaving others in the dust.  They’re two different mentalities clashing. 

  1. Pursue God.
  2. Give to others.

Those two walks in life seem like they should be on the same road.  I think they are.

What do you think?




Friday, August 29, 2008

UA Flight 922 - Part X

Michael Kane took his time with the paperwork.  I don’t know if I was daydreaming or just too overwhelmed, but if you looked at me you’d probably think I was a crash test dummy waiting for the car to hit the wall.  It’s like those moments when you don’t want to get up in the morning. You keep hitting the snooze button.  A late eight o’clock came way too quick.  Each five minute interval between the hospitalizing beeps you lay there, tossing and turning, struggling with the bed sheets and the sun and finding the right sleep position again – that perfect mold of you in your bed – just so you don’t have to wake up on Friday.  It doesn’t matter what day it is.  This is one of those re-occurring, almost ritualistic things you do every morning. 

I was stuck in that state between sleep and awake.  That state where you’re conscious of everything, but you don’t comprehend it.

In a way, that’s almost how we walk around from day to day.  Yeah, we are conscious of the day and we go through all the motions, but I can’t say for sure that we’re actually living the day.  Okay, okay, we’re living; I don’t doubt that, but I think there’s a difference between merely going through the motions – having your heart beat millions of times – and living each second of the day like it’s a new time.

To the pure in heart, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.  They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works.  They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.  (Titus 1:15&16)

I found Old Man John sitting on his bench.  He always sits right at the top of Main Street in front of the stone church.  A little park the size of a sand trap on a golf course is there.  It has maybe three trees, which are all starting to become burnt from the summer sun.  There are two benches.  John always sits on the one facing the road.  I think he likes to watch the world pass him by like it’s some sort of masochistic routine.

He usually sits to the left side of the bench.  It’s very inviting, but only if you knew him.  If not, he just seems like yet another homeless man.  Just another homeless man with his hair disheveled and falling out from under his baseball cap.  I think he’s had the same baseball cap his whole life.  It resembles more of an American turban caving in at the seams and flopping over like a rag doll in a little girl’s arms.  He sits there with his stomach bloated.  I only thought John put on some weight while he was away on the Cape at the hospital.  But when I was talking with Jaresiah, he told me John had an ulcer that kept expanding and ripping his sides.  Said they can’t operate because he’s not healthy enough.

I don’t know how John came to be a statue on that bench – the lonely man with a tank of air always as a companion.  The tubes are merely another part of his body at this point.  And to think, he still smokes a butt every now and then.  He’s still addicted to the one thing that I know helped him come to live on that bench.  

You see.  I used to know John as a customer of mine.  I used to serve him his small coffee with plenty of room for cream and milk.  Maybe that was the only way for him to sweeten life a little bit.  Maybe life had become too bitter and the black coffee reminded him of that.  It was always House Blend.  No sleeve; he says there isn’t any feeling left in his hands so it doesn’t matter anyways.  And he’d join the Mensa group like a normal person.  At least, what we think of as normal.  You know, a person who brings home a paycheck, has a place to live and goes about life like the rest of us.  That’s what normal is, right?

You and me, we’re normal.  But what about that man begging for change?  What about that drunk stumbling out of a bar right before noontime?  What about that obnoxious kid in school always having to stay after for detention?  Or that kid who buys the porn mags?  Or that girl everyone calls a whore because we all believe what others say and they say she gets around?  You know, that slut, that prostitute, the killer, murderer, kidnapper, thief, business man, athlete, lawyer, doctor, that person with AIDS, HIV positive, that churchgoer, Jesus lover, that woman sitting across from you on the Tube all dressed in her black hijab, cripple war vet, mentally retarded person, preacher, or that nigger, chink, cracker, red neck, that Bible-basher, gospel singer, Jehovah’s witness walking to your doorstep, or your neighbor; what about anyone you see on any given day, are they normal in your eyes?

To the pure in heart, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.  They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works.  They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.  (Titus 1:15&16)

I almost passed by John that day and proved the point that he truly was just another person in my eyes.  Someone who I don’t have to say “hello” to even though we both noticed each other.  I couldn’t walk away because I knew he saw me.  I’m not sure if I could even walk away if he didn’t see me.  There would still be something in me saying, “Turn around.  Go back to him.  Say hi.  At least say hi.”

I sat with the man.  I took that inviting seat to watch the world with him.  And he told me about everyone he saw.

“I saw that guy grow up.”  John was talking about this man who came back from getting his coffee.  A young business-looking man driving a nice Porsche.  “He’s going to own all of Plymouth one day, just like his father.”

“John, seems like you know most people in town,” I said to him.

“Well, that’s what happens when you help to build the place.  You know, I wasn’t always like this.  I was like you before – a young 26-year old building these buildings.  I had it all.  The others f***ed around.”  John was never the best with his words.  He always had the tongue of someone who’d seen too many winters out in the cold.  He knew life for what it was, but somehow he still managed to smile.  “But I had it all,” he kept saying.

And I dare not ask his definition of life.  I didn’t have to; I saw the effects of such a cruel world on him.  How they sent him to the streets.  How he went from living above the old court house one day, to collapsing before my eyes. 

His hands were shaking that day.  He couldn’t even hold his cup of coffee.  And his cough was something I’d never heard before.  Like he was coughing up his insides.  His whole heart trying to escape, gasp for air.  He went to sit.  Coffee spilled.  The metal table screeched like it was dragged across the entire floor as it rocked back and forth finding balance.  Next thing you know we were calling for an ambulance.  I never saw what happened.  It was more like a reel of film caught on the slowest setting.  The point in a movie when everything goes black and white because there’s too much reality to take in.  The point when the music builds and builds to a deafening silence.

I saw a movie play in front of me.  Reality was too much to handle.  And that’s how it hit me – only as a film.

You see.  My heart breaks for Old Man John.  I don’t know why.  Maybe it’s that he is less fortunate than me.  I asked him where he’s sleeping now.  He pointed over to the Church of the Pilgrimage and told me it was on that porch.  Said he was waiting for his social security check to come so he could find a place.  He didn’t want to stay in Plymouth anymore.

But it was nearing 7:00 and I had to get onto work.  He was telling me of this little bird who’d been making its home in a nest above us.  Talked of this bird like it was his best friend.  “Couldn’t believe that the other day it had sat there next to me,” he said.  And now I found the real reason why he always stayed to one side of the bench.

You know, with this story I’m not saying you should go up to every homeless person in your area and sit a while with him.  Talk with him.  It’s more that we should still approach any person as a person, as human.  Okay, so he’s homeless.  He’s a little different from me.  Oh well.  He’s still someone who purposefully leaves that extra part of a bench open for someone else to sit. 

I mean, how pathetic is it that a homeless man is more open to relationship than me, a Christian, a person who’s supposed to be showing the world this great and magnificent life that God provides?  I can’t get over this fact.  I can’t get over the idea that I’m meant to show the light of the world to people, that I’m meant to be that light for them.  I’m meant to be their neighbor.  I’m meant to love them like I love myself.  And what do I do, I have the gall and selfishness to pass by someone who’s probably looking for nothing more than a simple “hello.” 

We all want to be acknowledged.  We don’t want to be passed by.  We don’t want to be left out.  That feeling of being ditched is horrible.  Yet I have the choice to make someone else feel that way.  I have a choice to either sit next to Old Man John or just go on my way.  And I have the choice to either live for God or not.

So what am I telling people I choose when I pass by someone in need?  Whether their need is for something huge that I could never possibly provide or whether it’s for a simple “hi” or searching around in my pockets for whatever change I have to give.

We have a choice today to give everything over to God.  To live for God.  To bring glory and honor to the One who’s somehow created the clouds suspended in the skies, who’s somehow created us in his likeness.  We have a choice today to accept those who are different, and to be ourselves, different.  We have a choice to say, “You know, I only have eight dollars, I can still give that to someone who needs it more than me.”  Or to say, “This eight dollars will get me a coffee and a scone from Starbucks.” 

It’s not a choice that’s meant to guilt us, but it’s one that’s meant to show us the reality of the world we live in and the God we pursue. 

Thursday, August 28, 2008

UA Flight 922 - Part IX

She called me.  The woman I love.  She called me while I was driving to a place I haven’t known for four years.  A room I haven’t stepped foot in on a Wednesday night since college began.  She called me and made sure I was happy.  She wanted to say goodnight. 

Just seconds before my phone rang I was struggling with the thought of calling her.  “Do I call her?  Do I not?  I should call her.  I should tell her I love her.  But I don’t want to make her sad.  I want her to fall to sweet dreams.”  I never called her.  I put the windows down.  Turned the music up.  And raced around every corner Tremont held.  I prayed for God to keep her.  I prayed that he’d tell her how much I truly love her. 

I prayed and seconds later she called; only a few turns, a straight away, and not even 100 feet progressed and my prayer got answered.  It’s crazy how God orders things.  I say this because that statement is becoming more of a reality to me.

Like back in 2006 I decided to move to England for a year.  I went to study abroad or as my old boss used to say, “Are you sure you’re just going to study one broad, or many broads?”  We used to joke about that a lot.  So corny. 

And I actually went to London.  I up and moved over 3,000 miles to go to school.  I found it quite fitting since I was an English major.  Figured, “Why not just study English in England?”  That was the only logic behind it all.

I turned 21 the summer before my trip.  It was a summer to remember.  I played ball once again for an amateur league in Boston.  Swung the bat for the Tigers.  Wore number five.  Then I worked between 40 and 60 hours on most weeks.  The best thing about work that summer was how I used to rush to Whitehorse every morning.  I’d wake up extra early just so I could find a parking spot easily, head down to the beach, and finish my sleep there.  It was the best.  Then I’d go straight into work all gunked up with sunscreen and still shaking the sand out of my boxers.  Nothing could beat that summer.

It’s like I had finally topped off and reached the peak of my life.  I was a complete beach bum managing to bring home a pay check and play a sport that only kids should be allowed to play.  I mean, I dressed up in a Tiger’s uniform and played for stands filled with parents.  There was no difference between me and a five year old.  Just instead of bringing all the pales and buckets to the beach, I brought a radio with Jack Johnson albums and a book.

September rolled around quick that year because I was so busy.  Before I knew it I was on a plane by myself heading to some far off unknown territory.  I had only read about England in history texts books or in stories like Le Morte D’Arthur and the Canterbury Tales.  I knew the Beatles and Shakespeare and Manchester United.  But I didn’t know what to expect; I traveled without any expectations.  And, I have to say, that’s the best way to travel.

Within the first week I was really partying.  I met all sorts of new people.  People from all over the states, people with funny accents, people from Turkey and Holland and Germany and France; I met the world while clubbing.  It wasn’t the clubbing that proved to be the problem; it was the after party.  One night, luckily, I did go to an after party.

It wasn’t anything huge.  There weren’t any strippers there.  No poker games.  No strobe lights and fog machines.  Not even a couch or a TV could be found in the room.  It was just a bunch of chairs with people chilling and talking.  We relaxed.  Well, I drank. 

I put back Jim Beam like he was my best friend.  And this was after I already had plenty of beers in my system.  Then this kid walked over to me from across the room.  I had met him earlier that night through this girl Susan.  He came up and re-introduced himself like he thought that I wouldn’t remember him.  I mean, it’s not like I was some sort of fool and social whore, but he probably realized I had plenty to drink and was one of many I met in the club.  His name was David.

“You can hold your liqueur pretty well there my friend,” he said to me.  He spoke just like John Lennon or Paul McCartney.  If only he found three others and started singing Back in the USSR.  Of course, I probably would have copped it off as my drink being laced with some crazy English drug.  “Don’t think I’ve ever really seen someone just keep throwing back shots of whisky straight from the bottle like that.”  I think I offered him the bottle out of kindness, but he returned the favor by not accepting.  Probably noticed I was slobbering all over it.

“Yeah.  It’s my friend’s.  She’s over there, across the room.  She told me to hold onto it for her.”  I was just awkward then.  I really didn’t know anyone in the room.  So I was sitting, well, trying to stand, but that proved near fatal for me a couple of times.  I chilled in the corner near the door that way I could make my quick get away and not be around people anymore.

But then we got to talking.  I don’t know what we talked about, but we somehow got on the topic of church and that’s all I remember.  I told him I went to church back home.  That I was hoping to find a church here, but hadn’t been able to.  It’s not like I was searching for one that hard; I just flew in the week before.  So you know, I was still exploring.  That was probably more of an excuse at the time, but I really did want to find a church.  Seriously.  It was the first thing on my to-do list.

He told me that he went to church as well.  That there was a church right up the street.  And then he actually invited me along to one of the services.  Of course I accepted.  I was ecstatic.  Well, I was drunk as well, so anything sounds fun at that point.  “God, woo hoo, yeah.”  I was thinking something like that of course.  It went together well, drunk kid and God that is. 

In all seriousness, it did though.  It’s insane how God turns things around.  How, even though I was being foolish and drinking way too much, God still kept me.  God still remained faithful even with my unfaithfulness.  He still remained constant in my life.  And he never let me go.

You see, I’m not proud of that moment or any similar moment, but God was there.  He still used the bad for his good.  And it’s changed my life ever since.

I won’t advocate for drunkenness.  But I will advocate that God is in control of life.  Even though I’ve gone against God, even though I’ve made mistakes, God’s still been like, “No, you’re not meant to do that, but I forgive you.  Now try walking this way.  Try to get up again.  There’s no reason to feel guilty.  You’re just not meant to do that.  You’re meant to live a life that’s so much grander and better than you could ever possibly conceive.  Follow me.  I’m here for you.  I’ll be here with you the entire time.  No worries.”  And so I’ve walked on and I’ve learned from those mistakes.

Sometimes I do revisit those same mistakes I already made.  Then I notice God saying the same thing: “I love you and I will always love you.  Now come with me again.” 

And I will betroth you to me forever.  I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy.  I will betroth you to me in faithfulness.  And you shall know the Lord.  (Hosea 2:19&20)

How life can take a 180 in the blink of an eye baffles me.  How one instant I can be worrying about a relationship and the next saying goodnight to the woman I love and sending her off with all I can give from miles away; it will never make sense.  How God knows my heart through and through is wild. 

Being held in detention, back that night in London, was a trip.  I still stood in Michael Kane’s office for two – awkwardly standing and trying to rub the ink off my fingers.  It didn’t come off.  I washed.  I scrubbed.  I scratched my fingers with the paper towel roll, but it never came off.  It was like I was branded.  They took my identity.  Copied it at a copier machine.  And thought nothing of it really; it was only procedure.

I didn’t sit down until another man came in.  He was more of a portly fellow.  Short.  Grey hair, not neat at all.  Came in with a big smile on his face.  It was just another day at the workplace for him.

He told me to please take a seat.  So I did.  I did whatever they said.  I can’t imagine what would have happened to me if I disobeyed them.  I mean, was I going to be thrown in cuffs if I didn’t listen to them?  Were they going to just keep me there?  Would I never see my home again?  The paranoia was obviously sinking in more and more.

But let me say that through and through there was this peace about the night.  There was this peace that carried me away from my thoughts where I wrestled with the ridiculous of not getting home.  Because you see, God was with me.  God was with me the entire time.  He never forsook me.

            And you shall know the Lord.  (Hosea 2:20)

My mind wandered around that room.  Blank stares.  I kept nothing to the imagination.  I took in every crack in the wall and how it flowed jagged then smooth and back again like a river running through a map.  My eyes based jumped the thick depth between each tile; they were meant to be complete squares, but some were broken off.  Maybe someone before me flipped out, started going all crazy and making a scene.  Tried punching Michael Kane or the other portly fellow.  They probably cleaned the blood strains on the floor before I got there.  Came up with some excuse like it was spilt wine.  And went on with the job of carefully stealing a person’s identity, copying it and supposedly keeping it only for immigration purposes.   

I’m not sure if you’ve ever been put in a difficult situation and I’m not sure of your life or any of who you are.  But God knows you.  He’s known you since the beginning.  He’s known you through and through.  It’s an intimacy only he has a way of constantly coming back to.  Though, “coming back to” really isn’t the right phrase because I’m not sure the Lord ever really leaves that intimacy.  It’s not like he walks out on you.  Turns his back to you.  It’s not like there’s some revolving door in your life with the God of the universe acting like some squirrel never really knowing, “Should I cross?  No.  I wait.  Wait, maybe I should cross.  But there’s a car coming.  Cool.  Cross cross cross.  No wait, back the other way.   Car’s closer.  Umm.”

If I could read a squirrel’s mind that’s totally what they’re thinking when I’m driving 40 mph toward them.  And it’s hard to believe the God who’s conceived of making a setting sun glint in my eyes and making me squint at its power has the possibility of thinking like a squirrel in the middle of the road.

No.  This God who’s made a cherry tree reflect the light of the heavens is a God who in not even one second can make life turn on its heal.  This God who’s created a red spectrum in a small tree leaf is a God who’s concerned with the welfare of you.  Then you get to catch the sun as it shines and lowers into an ever-inching-forward night.  And hopefully getting caught in that moment makes you smile.  Hopefully the realization that the Creator of the heavens and earth is actually intimate with you makes you smile too.

So I drove down Tremont to help out at youth group when Sorrel called.  I caught the sunset just above the tree line.  And God caught me like he never left me at all.  Like he is with me forever in mercy, in faithfulness, and in steadfast love.

And I will betroth you to me forever.  I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy.  I will betroth you to me in faithfulness.  And you shall know the Lord.  (Hosea 2:19&20)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

UA Flight 922 - Part VIII

Have you ever wondered why God was allowing something to happen to you?  I bet you have.  I bet you’ve been put in some situation, say, where you can’t see the one you love.  Where all you want is to see that person, to hold that person, to kiss her, to talk with her, to walk together; it doesn’t even matter where the road leads or what time it is.  You’d simply do anything for that person.  You’d give anything to have July back, that one month where you were actually able to spend with one another. 

And yet, God let your life slip into this place where you’re unable to be with each other.  It’s a place where talking on the phone actually hurts because you don’t like the thought of talking over wires.  You hate the fact that you can only hear her voice.  No eyes to get lost in.  No one to embrace.  So the conversation ends depressingly.  It goes from not even taking a breath because you have so much to say, to near complete silence.  Sighs substitute for words.  The words “I love you” are hard to come by.  Yet you know it’s true.  You know all you want to do is make the other person believe in those words.  To believe you.

It’s a place where you have to force yourself to be happy.  The days are so long without her.  You find it hard to be around friends.  All they do is try to cheer you up.  Their efforts are hollow.

It’s a place where she shouts at you for not being there with her.  She’s actually angry at you.  She’s frustrated with how life’s worked out.  She doesn’t understand why it’s taken such an awful course.  And all you can do is be silent.  You have no words to say.  Trying to comfort her seems worthless.  She rejects those words like they’re cop outs.  But you keep repeating them.  You keep trying to make her believe them. 

“It’s going to be all right.”

“I’ll be with you soon.”

“Don’t give up on this.”

“I love you.”  Each comforting phrase resonates with the underlying theme of, “I love you.”  Each sentence you string together attempts at saying, “God’s in control.  He’s watching over us, keeping us.”  It all hints at a steadfast love enduring forever (Ps. 136).

God’s allowed this course in life to occur where when you hang up the phone, you lie on the couch because there’s nothing else to do.  You’re almost sick at the idea that you can’t see the woman you love.  And the day drags on slower than it did before.  The day becomes plain.  Mundane.  Even though the summer flowers still hold their bright pinks and purples.  Even though the day’s illuminated by God’s glory.  Even though the humming bird hovers magnificently about the flowers searching for food, for some heavenly provision.  And even though there are the millions of reasons for life to be perfect on this late August day, you still acknowledge none of it because the one you love is not by your side.

It’s like life is worthless at that point.  You don’t know why you’ve been teased with a month together and five months apart.  And then you start thinking those scary thoughts you don’t want to think.  You start questioning your love for one another.  At least, that’s what she tells you.  She tells you she’s scared of those thoughts.  That she doesn’t want to be thinking those thoughts.  Telling you that you should be here right now.  That others are angry because you’re not here.

“I’m doing all that I can babe.”

“It’s a waiting game at this point; we’ve got to wait on the government.”

“I don’t like this either, but...”

Your words trail off into the thin air.  They drown in the oceans between you.  The Atlantic is too far to swim, but you’d swim it if you had to.  You’d sprout wings if there was a magic bean you could eat so for one day you could fly.  Then you’d be with her.  You’d fight back every prevailing wind if it meant you’d get there sooner.  There’s nothing you wouldn’t do to be with her.

You wonder if she actually understands the amount of love you have for her.

Then you wonder why God allows this to happen to you.  But maybe we’re not meant to understand.  Maybe we’re meant to get on with life, to weather the storm as it were.  Maybe we’re not meant to get caught up in the details, but instead focus our attention on the living God.  For he is Lord over this situation. 

For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.  (Timothy 4:10)

You see, we’re meant to hope.  We’re meant to say something like, “Cool God, I’m with you; I believe in you.  For you give me hope that tomorrow I will be with the one I love.  You give me hope that no matter what comes against me I will prevail.  You give me hope because of your steadfast love enduring forever.  You simply gave me hope the moment I let you into my life.”

Have you forgotten about that hope?  Have you lost what remembrance you have of this new life, this life which is meant to be focused on eternity? 

Take up hope today.  Regain what you might have lost.  Look around you and know that your Lord is truly alive.  That every breath you take is a reminder of the living God within you, about you, and for you.  Change your perception of life today so you come to know and understand that you live intimately with your Maker.  So that part of the framework of your relationship with Christ is one of hope, a hope that lasts forever.

Now ask yourself if you honestly – just you in the raw with no one else influencing your answer – have set your hope on the living God “who is the Savior of all people.”

There will always be hope.  You just need to search for it as much as you want it.



Tuesday, August 26, 2008

UA Flight 922 - Part VII

“You can wash you hands there, at the sink.  There’s some soap and when you’re finished make sure you dry your hands.  Here’s some roll on the desk.” 

I was slow to move.  He brought me into this small room.  It was crammed with printers and scanners.  It looked a mess.  Papers cluttered all surfaces.  Dirty tile floors.  A drop ceiling that had one too many holes in it.  Two ancient looking digital cameras hooked up to some rod sticking out from the desks.  I wonder where the other man was.  The room wasn’t just Kane’s office.  Someone else had to be coming along. 

“Okay, let me see your hands.  Are they dry?”  He tore off more paper towel from the roll and really scrubbed my hands.  It was like those Indian Sunburns you give friends when you’re younger.  I never knew the point of them.  Some sort of childish torture.  That and noogies.  Or headlocks.  Or swirlies.  Or monkey bites.  Or a charlie horse.  Or pantsing, but that’s more psychological humiliation for all the world to see.  And I guess you’re allowed to do that to people when you’re younger because you don’t know better.  Plus, if ever your friend got you really bad, you’d just let out that high-pitched yell-scream-thing that kids orchestrate from their vocal chords.  Maybe you even jump up and get angry saying something like, “I’m never speaking with you again Mike Flynn.”  But really, you just make amends five minutes later and you’re back to the same non-sense as before.

The immigration officer began wheeling paint over a small rectangular metal surface with a paint roller.  He moved the ink back and forth like a painter on his canvas.  He was sure to miss no spots, to apply just the right amount.

“Okay.”  He always started every sentence off with “okay.”  “I’m going to take your finger prints now.  Try to be as relaxed as you can.  And let me do all the work.”  I wasn’t relaxed.  I couldn’t relax.  I tried shaking my hands, loosening them up a bit.  I know it was his job and all to tell me to relax, but really, was it necessary?  The mere request of relaxation at this point was fruitless. 

            He is a shield to those who walk in


            guarding the paths of justice

                and watching over the way of his

                        saints.  (Proverbs 2:7&8)

I never relaxed during the whole stay.  I should have.  I should have known that it was going to work out for the best.  I should have realized that God was in control.  I never really gave complete control to God.  I kept trying to.  I kept saying, “Lord, take this from me.  I give you everything.  I give you my life.  I give you this trip.  I give you the whole of who I am.  Take control, Lord.”

Those prayers are tough prayers though.  Because they can’t only be words.  There has to be more to the prayers than the vocal tones of each word.  A person might pray similar prayers till he’s blue in the face, but it won’t make a bit of difference.

You have to mean those words.  You have to believe what you’re saying.  You’ve got to realize the power that language can hold.  And you’ve got to understand that the Lord already knows your affliction.  He’s already heard you long before you spoke a single prayer asking for help.  And you’ve got to realize that indeed he does have things under control. 

            And watching over the way of his

                        saints.  (Proverbs 2:8)

It’s a concept that hard to grasp.  I mean, how can the God of the universe actually help me, a man, a mere human being, someone who is here for maybe 70 or 80 years tops?  Come on now, are you seriously believing this stuff? 

But it’s true. 

Don’t ask me how.  Don’t ask me why.  I really can’t comprehend it, but I believe it with all of my heart.  When it comes down to it, my questions about life really don’t matter.  Because things will always be this way.  This crazy massive God that’s formed everything I see, perceive, witness, interpret, question, stumble over, step on, breathe in, get into, become angry with, cry with, get happy for, ecstatic over, frightened at, scared of, hurt myself on, run through, drive by, wave at, wonder about actually takes every second of my living, breathing, feeling, touching, experiencing life as far as I know it to continually be with me (emphasis added). 

            He is a shield to those who walk in

                        integrity.  (Proverbs 2:7)

I managed to relax enough for the officer to take me fingerprints.  He took my hand and went finger by finger pressing down each equally to the ink.  Then he’d take the finger and roll it over a little square on a piece of paper.  He explained that he was going for the surface of the finger.  Then he was going for the profile of each. 

I still stood nervous though.  Silent.  These people really weren’t too good at making me feel welcome.  It’s like they were all giving me the cold shoulder.  Their looks just told me that I did something wrong.

            He is a shield to those who walk in

                        integrity.  (The verse hasn’t changed.)

“Okay.  Now don’t worry.  Your fingerprints won’t be used for any other purpose than for the immigration office.  The police won’t have them.  We just want to make sure you haven’t forged any documents.”  I’m glad they were so confident in my honesty.  But they were really only doing their jobs so I had no reason to get upset.  It’s not like I was being accused of trying to sneak through their border to sell drugs or anything.  As far as they were concerned, I was.  I was just another incident to them.  Someone who at two in the morning was getting his fingerprints done by a guy with the same name as a Hollywood actor.

I never sat down.  I didn’t want to be impolite while he was filling out more paper work at his desk.  I didn’t want to do anything out of order.  The paranoia started to sink in even more at that point.

            He is a shield to those who walk in


            guarding the paths of justice

                and watching over the way of his

                        saints.  (Still the same as before.)

The God of all that’s ever been and ever will be was fending for me.  The one reason I had to relax and I never realized it as I stood there awkwardly off set in some chaotic office.  I was being watched over, guarded, and shielded. 

Not to downplay it or any thing, but life’s taken care of.




Monday, August 25, 2008

UA Flight 922 - Part VI

I didn't realize it at the time, but God had prepared me for this moment.  I kept praying for grace to make it through the night, but that grace was already prominent in my life.  That grace was given me by the way my parents raised me.  That grace came during those 40-minute drives to school when I had nothing else to do, but be with God.  That grace was a culmination of 23 years of growth for this one moment when I was being detained.

And that's not a conclusion that you can come to while you wait out the storm.  You will experience the storm.  You will feel the heavenly deluge sweep you away drip by drip.  It doesn't matter if the deluge comes in the form of simply failing some school exam or if your best friend gives up on you and walks away from a relationship you've known and loved for years.  Strife and sorrow can come in any form.  And it will affect you.

So your mind will be set on the day and the hour of your plight.  But you will make it through because the Lord's given you the means to get through.  He's prepared you.  His grace already saved you.  It's a grace beginning at your conception, beginning at the mere loving thought of the possibility and potential for you being formed in the womb.  And grace even began before that.  Don't try to comprehend it.  Go along with it.  And praise God for the simple fact of praising him.

I've been through plenty in 23 years, but nothing like my immigration problems.  I've known the hurt of losing a grandparent.  I've known the tears that don't stop when you walk up to the open casket and see a woman who loved you and believed in you and spoiled you with as much Gold Fish and M&M's as a child can handle.  I've known the heartache of never being good enough to make it with the college baseball team.  I've known the fights and arguments with a father who loves me so much that I take it for granted; the arguments that always ended in me blaming the entire situation on his not being a Christian.  I've known the fear of disappointment when I come home with yet another speeding ticket.  But I've also known God.

The one defining factor throughout the night was God.

It was late into the morning when the immigration officer finished her questioning.  She offered me a drink from the vending machine before she went on her way.  Told me I could have a sandwich if I was hungry.  I wasn't.  I was near sick to my stomach at the idea of not knowing what was going to happen next.

I went for the vending machine.  Just a water.  Nothing else appealed to me.  All the fancy bells and whistles operated at my request.  I thought, only in England can you get a cup of tea from a vending machine.  That would never fly in the US.  Maybe coffee, but I think most people would choose to go to the nearest Dunkies of Starbucks.  Oh, if only life was as easy as pushing a button on a vending machine and out pops whatever you want.  That would be grand.

Only when you're older and grown up do you think like this.  It's blasphemous to think such a thought when you're a kid.  Then all adventure is thrown out the window.  There would be no more play time.  No more cops and robbers, cowboys and indians, or any sort of space adventure.  There would be no adventure at all.  Summers off from school would transform into some sort of uniform-still-wearing-piece-of-work for eight weeks.

I don't know when I lost my sense for adventure.  And this trip was trying to reclaim it for me.  Not many people can say the government's detained them before.  Not many can say they've sat down in a very Hollywood-esk interrogation room and been grilled for hours.  

God was working in me that night more than I could fathom.  And he was doing it in the only spirit-quenching forum possible - adventure.

Adventure leaves you with only the next step.  It drags you and pulls you.  It's the not-knowing-what's-going-to-happen feeling, which is the quintessential adventure mentality.  Sometimes you won't have a place to rest your head.  Sometimes you will just collapse because your muscles ache so much.  But then you will get up.  You will always get up.  It might not be by your own strength, but it will happen.  Because you are called to take one more step - one more step into nothingness, into wild, into eternity.

I live by a verse in Psalms, one that I found three years ago.  It tells me that God's way is through the sea, his path through the great waters, though no footprints were seen.  That is the adventure I live for.  I experienced it within the course of 36 hours.  And I may only be sitting at home now, writing this story, but my soul longs to take another step.

That night in detention I never realized I was living adventurously.  I never stopped to think that I needed to take one more step.  I collapsed.

I barely got any sips of water before another immigration officer came to get me.  He was a bigger fellow, the type that suits a uniform.  He introduced himself as Michael Kane.  That was an easy name to remember.  I definitely wasn't starring in a new Austin Powers movie, unless it was some sort of premier Reality TV show where random people get stopped at Customs and made to go through a night of paranoia.

And I was off again.  To where, I didn't know.  You never know where the next step will take you.  But your duty is to take that next step.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

UA Flight 922 - Part V

At some point I snapped out of my stare and attempted paying attention to her questions.  She had me in an interrogation room.  There was one metal table we sat at in the middle of the room.  Four metal chairs.  Everything was chained to the ground.  I guess the government was weary of a detainee grabbing a chair and getting away with it.  

I looked around and was walled in.  She sat closest to the open door.  I couldn't believe I was being interrogated.  All I wanted to do was chill with friends and worship at church.  I looked forward to spending my Saturdays at any of the various art galleries.  I wanted to sit at the Tate staring at paintings for hours on end then writing my responses.  Poetry.

Instead, I sat in a room with windows that had wire in between the glass panes.  There was nothing poetic about the experience.  Not like I'd write my entire Cantos within an eight-and-some-odd-hour span in detention.  I wasn't some traitorous ex-pat speaking out about the Iraq War after abandoning his homeland.  But if anyone else saw me, they'd probably think that. 

"Are you okay?" She asked, meaning something more like "Are you healthy enough to proceed?"  I simply answered yes.  But I wasn't "okay."  My being "okay" would view something like cramming into a tiny European car with four grown adults, five life-sized bags, screaming all the way home because - as I hear it - Tom's driving is more like a Six Flags roller coaster.  

So no, I wasn't okay.  I wasn't okay in the least.  I was detained.  My private life became public.  I was beginning to become paranoid.  I didn't know what time it was.  I didn't know where anyone was.  And this lady had the procedural gaul to ask me if I was okay.

You see - the tough part about any seemingly-life-threatening situation is that you can't think about the situation.  There's no room to dwell on your circumstances.  If you do, that's when problems start.

When I sat with mom earlier I prayed for grace.  My continual prayer was for more grace.  Then more grace.  Then even more grace to make it through the night.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus.  (1 Cor. 1:4)

I wasn't just given grace for that one single night.  God wasn't saying, "You there, kid, here, I'll help you to walk only one more step, but that's all you get."  He wasn't leaving me with a time-limit for his grace.  And he didn't even limit this grace in any sort of way.  It was near scandalous the amount given me.  An obscene amount.  When you look up at the stars, that's the vastness to his grace.  Completely unbelievable.  When you drive a never ending road, that's the freedom of grace.  That's the I'm looking around and all I see in front of me is a world wide, wide open.  You question when it will end; it won't.  You wonder its endless amount; it's incapable of comprehension.  You exhaust all your resources; grace remains.    

My voice shook, nervous.  She asked me to be specific because she had to write verbatim.  She went through the motions at first.  Asked me the same questions I already told the other guy.  I wasn't quick with responses.  I laughed to stall.  To think.  My future hinged on those answers.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge.  (1 Cor. 1:4&5)

When she asked me why I was in England I told her, "I'm here to visit with friends, to re-connect with the church I worshipped at while attending Middlesex University and to pursue my newly acquired writing career after graduating from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth."

When she asked me what my itinerary was I blanked.  I didn't have a strict schedule.  No trips planned.  No nothing.  It didn't occur to me that I should have told her something like, "Oh, I'll be going to church on Sundays."  Or, "I'll be going to the grocery store at least once a week."  Or, "Well, the queen invited me over for some afternoon tea on the 15th of September 2008 at 2:18 sharp so I mustn't miss such a grand occasion."

She kept questioning.  Kept poking and prodding and trying to figure out if I was incognito or if I was real.  She never hinted at whether I answered sufficiently or poorly.  She was immovable - a statue.  Why didn't the British just hook me up to a polygraph with some mysterious agent all decked out in black, no wrinkles, fedora to cover the top of his face, smoke ominously making it's way out of a shadow from where he stood then to a vent in the ceiling; the meanwhile I'd be sitting there under a half dangling light swaying back and forth, sweat beading from my forehead, wetting my tongue as I pulled out some syntacticly mixed up sentence for an answer?  It would have been easier.

Nothing was easy that night.  Not even answering small questions as to my comings and goings.  Not even waiting between the silence of my answer and her next question.  

It was a waiting game we played; one that I didn't like.  But one that continued for the next several hours.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge - even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you - so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end.  (1 Cor. 1:4-8) 

Saturday, August 23, 2008

UA Flight 922 - Part IV

She introduced herself, but I never caught her name.  And she explained that she had some questions to ask me.  So I did as I had to, and I followed her.

The last text I received told me to not worry.  Told me that I need to accept any decision with grace.  And told me not to show too much emotion.  Essentially, I was to be a man about it.  I was to be that typical boy out of the 50s who never cries, who wears his letterman jacket around, who gave his girl a pin, and who only knows how to shake hands - no embracing allowed.  I was asked to be more mechanical than human because even if tragedy strikes, oh well; I should be able to tough it out.  

But honestly, I'm not sure if Audrey actually knew what she texted me.  Of course I was going to accept any decision with grace, but I was going to need a lot more grace to merely accept the answer.  And I was going to need some sort of supernatural strength to make it through.  Some sort of realization that this wasn't the end of the world.  I needed something - something to get me through.

Making it was possible.  And I knew for a fact that things weren't the best, but they weren't the worst either.  Many before me, many now, and many later will be caught in situations far worse than my own.  And the one classic story that reminded me of this is found in the first chapter of Job:

Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, and there came a messenger to Job and said, "The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell upon them and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you."  While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, "The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you."  While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, "The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you."  While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, "Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you."
Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshipped. (Job 1:13-20) 

I walked with what dignity I had left.  I carried my head as high as I could.  I kept silent, moving with the confidence that everything was going to be cool; it was going to work out.  I'd be seeing mom soon.  Sorrel was flying in the next morning.  So I planned on returning to the airport at 7 AM to surprise her.  To hold her.  To laugh with her.  To carry all of her bags.  To smile.  And to walk hand-in-hand trusting God with our futures - together.

Everything was going to be all right.

We came to one of those doors you see in spy movies.  The kind where one person needs both a pin number and a card to get in.  You know, those high security doors.  She swiped her card and plugged in the code.  Then the door clicked.

I never stopped to wonder where I was going.  That didn't seem important to me at the time.  I just went where the UK Border Agents told me to go.  It never occurred to me that I might be brought down to some secret layer.  An almost Frankenstein layer with chains on cold stone walls, each chain holding remnants of past prisoners.  Little skeletons left as reminders that when traveling you should always have your paper work in order.

You know the doors labeled "Employee Entrance Only" that I'm talking about.  The type in those old black and white Hitchock films or any of the government's hidden rooms from Ian Flemmings' books.  Maybe I'd meet the revered "M" or get to talk with a Sean Connery-esk double-O-agent.

But when the door opened, it didn't reveal anything special.  Nothing cool.  No armed guards.  No odd looking scientists scurrying around.  No telegraphs receiving Top-Secret information.  It was just a hall ending very abruptly.  Dimly lit and barely wide enough for my year's worth of luggage.

The immigration officer told me to leave my bags at the end of the hall and come with her.  She led me into another room, but she wasn't even able to enter it without verification.  The security guard buzzed us in.

The room looked like an empty doctor's office.  There were rows of chairs neatly ordered.  Plastic chairs.  The cheap kind of chairs you get for cookouts, except they didn't fold up.  The one thing this doctor's office didn't have was a set of building blocks.  I always loved playing with those wooden blocks when I was younger.  I'd make castles and stack towers higher than the clouds.  I'd demolish the architecture and begin again, attempting more daring feats.

I could tell it was going to be a lonely night.  They didn't even offer me the pleasure of getting back to my childhood.  They left the room barren.  Only a small bookcase of random selections collected dust in the corner.  A vending machine that seemed overused and somehow made full cups of tea with milk and sugar along with Nestle's rushed version of a cappuccino.  And a pay phone.  Maybe later I'd get the infamous one call.

For now, she brought me into the interrogation room.  But she kept the door open as if to say, "Go ahead, be my guest.  Try to escape.  You know you want to.  You know you want me to let you into my country without any hassle."  Or maybe she just trusted me enough to sit still and not be a bother.  

I stared through that door like I knew things were going to be okay.  Like that was some sort of sign telling me I'd make it through and be able to live in London.  Like that one open door was the open door to my new life.

But it was just one more door in the whole line of doors I'd need to walk through in order to reach my destination.  I needed a miracle to get out and get on with things.

That miracle never came the way I wanted it though.  I sat there still.  I think everything was motionless at that point.  The whole world stopped.  

And I wasn't sure how to worship God.  I mean, how can a person actually worship, actually connect with an intimacy so far beyond description during such a trying time?  And I'm not sure what I did, or if I even worshipped God in the slightest at all.  But I know that I began answering her questions honestly.

Maybe that was my little bit of worship to God - to stand firm in how I've been raised; to keep my integrity by not letting a lie pass my tongue even if the answer's not sufficient for the lady interrogating me.  

I had to worship God even if it meant not getting into the country.

Friday, August 22, 2008

UA Flight 922 - Part III

The Lord is a stronghold for the 
   a stronghold in times of trouble.
And those who know your name put 
their trust in you,
   for you, O Lord, have not forsaken
those who seek you.  (Ps. 9:9&10)

I was escorted back to Customs after my bags were magically put back together.  This time they were hardly sorted in any logical fashion.  Instead, my luggage was chaos.

And the two ladies went about like this was normal for them.  It was merely procedure.  They talked of their having to get paid more.  I think that was all I really heard.  The rest was a blur to me.  I couldn't concentrate.  I couldn't concentrate on anything.  The amount of thoughts beaming through my head meshed together into one lump.

I tried thinking of what was going to happen to me; that didn't work.

I tried thinking how everything would play out.  Would I be okay, you know?  Would I make it through and Tom and mom and Josh and Kai would all still be waiting on the other side?

I tried thinking of, "Okay, if someone asks me why I'm here I'll just say it's for tourism."

"Wait, I can't just say it's for tourism." - Thought 1

"Okay.  I'm here to go to church." - Thought 2

"Yeah right.  Who's going to actually believe that I just traveled over 3,000 miles just to attend a church service?" - Thought 1

"Fine.  I'll make it clear to them that I'm not here to do any sort of charitable work since I was refused a Voluntary Worker visa." -Thought 2

"Cool." - Thought 1

"Sorted." - Thought 2

I was holding a very discombobulated argument inside my noggin.  I couldn't believe that I was actually arguing with myself.  It's like I had some out of body experience where I overheard my thoughts trying to sort them selves out.  This was messed up.  Life should never cause you to hold arguments within your head.  It's not like I was going crazy.  I was just utterly confused about the situation I found myself in.

And those who know your name put 
their trust in you,
   for you, O Lord, have not forsaken
those who seek you.  (Ps. 9:10)

My thoughts and prayers intertwined.  Because when some crazy circumstance overcomes you, you will not lose sight of God.  You will not cut off that connection you have with him.  If anything, you will pull harder and harder on the line like you're ringing bell towers to get in touch with your Rock, your Salvation, you're Everything-that-you-could-possibly-ever-want-or-need-during-this-troubled-time.

Josh was right; I was screwed.  And that realization made me run to God quicker than Usaine Bolt during the Olympics this year.  It makes you run faster than a bullet train because you have no other possibility of being rescued.  Superman is just a figment in your rearview mirror at this point.  You have one destination and that's to find yourself in the Lord's arms.  Nothing else will do.

They sat me back down on those chairs my mom and I were at before.  This time I was alone.  I only had my discordant mind to keep me company.  I tried not to worry.  I tried not to think about all the bad that might come; their not letting me through; their not letting me say a proper goodbye to Sorrel when she flies in the next morning; their not letting me see anyone even if they're all on the other side of the arrivals door waiting for me until two in the morning.  I tried not thinking about how I was American and this shouldn't be happening to me.  I tried not thinking about home and going back to a job I've known for four years.  I tried not thinking about how I'd have to explain this to everyone.  How could they possibly understand anyways?

The Lord is a stronghold for the
   a stronghold in times of trouble.  (Ps. 9:9)

And I waited for whatever lay ahead.  I texted everyone.  Told them I was being held at Customs.  Asked for prayer.  The responses came pouring in.  Even though my friends weren't with me in person, sitting in that row of chairs with me, they were still there in spirit.

So that sounds cheesy and cliche, but it was true.  Their simple responses helped get me through that night.  The texts gave me confidence.  It's like my friends were standing with me.  Like they actually did have my back on this one.

It's probably the first time they actually saw Greg take a chance in life.  That same Greg who likes everything orderly, who never really stepped out of line, who rarely challenged conformity and the normalcy of life.

I took a chance.  I flew to another country without an entry clearance visa.  I said, "You know God, you've put England on my heart.  You've re-ignited something where all I want is to work with the youth of London.  You even gave me the loveliest girl I've ever known in life and you let me find her in London.  So I'm going for it.  I'm going to make that move.  I'm going to leave everything that I've known for 23 years.  It doesn't matter that I'm going over there with less than $300.  It doesn't matter that I might get turned away at the door.  I'm going on faith, Lord.  And I'm going on trust.  So let me learn to trust you."

And it's been a process.  This whole trusting in God thing is quite the process.  It's one insane journey filled with newly paved roads, potholes, bumps, car-wrecks, the whole nine yards.  But God is still seeing me through.

This trusting in him comes day after day.  It's the kind of trust where straight away in the morning, before I've even stepped foot out of my bed, I have to say, "Lord, I trust you."  It's a trust that says, "No matter what comes my way, I'm sticking with you God."  That "no matter what" phrase is the toughest of all because any sort of circumstance cannot change your thinking; you must be resilient with trust.

If you were to lose your job tomorrow, then you must trust in the Lord's provision.  Even if you have bills to pay, gas to put in an empty tank when it's near $4 a gallon, or whatever the surrounding circumstances may be; you still have to trust.

Even if you wrap your car around a tree and find yourself waking up in a hospital, you just have to say, "I'm trusting you, God."  Go ahead and complain.  Go ahead and ask all the questions as to why God let this happen to you.  But in the end, just make sure you're trusting him, the One who has overcome the world.  He has overcome your troubles, so take heart - trust.

I sat in that chair for some time and realized my circumstances.  I learned about trust just that much more.  I still don't know the ins and outs of what trusting in the Lord actually is, but I know that it takes my whole heart.  So I gave my heart.  And I gave my self.

I was completely at a loss for control.

Some lady was walking my way now.  Another immigration officer...

The Lord is a stronghold for the
   a stronghold in times of trouble.
And those who know your name put
their trust in you,
   for you, O Lord, have not forsaken
those who seek you.  (Ps. 9:9&10)