Wednesday, September 10, 2014

This flood better not delay me

So there was this flood a few days ago just north of Vegas.  Apparently it wiped out a good chunk of the I-15 highway, the very same highway I must drive as I head north to get my family in just a few short weeks.
Here is a pictures for your viewing pleasure.

Here is another:

Here is how I feel about this:

Yes, this is not a picture of me, and yes it is my general feeling and what I need to be doing right now! I need to get on the phone to Utah and Nevada road crews and say very nicely, "Get to work road crews!  People, I need to be on the road and have clear and unrestricted access to Canada in a couple of weeks. I can't be forced to take an 8 hour detour.  Do you not understand?  I have a very attractive wife who I have not seen in a rather long time waiting for me at the end of this road, so do whatever you must do to have it open for me!  Thank you and have a wonderful day.  Jesus loves you." 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Light at the end of the tunnel

We are nearing the end of this journey.
Exactly one year and one day after I came to Vegas without my family, we received word from the National Visa Center that the last file had been officially approved and we could expect to hear in the near future about when our interview would be.
This has been a long journey, longer than we imagined.
It isn't over yet; we still have to wait for our interview date, fly to Montreal for the actual interview, get medicals done for Jo and the kids, and then actually drive down to Vegas; but we can see the light now.

In some respects this past year has gone by quicker than any year of my life.  Moving back to Vegas, becoming a pastor at a church I love, getting reacquainted with old friend, making new friends, learning to live without my family, all these things and many more have made the year fly by.

In other respects this year has been the longest of my life.  It is painful to say this, but I've been on my own for so long now that it is beginning to feel normal.  That fact, in and of itself, tells me how long this year has been.  The constant uncertainty of the visa journey has made the year feel overly long. With every small victory we thought the separation was over, only to have it extended.  When those defeats happened, the sadness of knowing we were going to be separated even longer made those next weeks seem like forever.

But now, finally, we can start thinking about the future again.  We can begin to dream about buying a house again, about making it a home, about living in it as a family again.  We can see our kids back on their educational and vocational journeys, no longer feeling as if they can't really enroll in college classes, or take on a new job, or date or make close friends because all along they've known their lives in Canada were only temporary.  

I feel like I'm reading the final chapter in a book.  I'm excited to see how it ends, but I have to be patient and finish reading each page.  These last pages have things to teach us.  These last days and weeks apart can still teach us things too.

And so I know, that even in these final weeks apart, there are still things for me to learn, still areas that I can grow in.  This year has taught me a lot about the husband and father and leader God wants me to be.  I need to be careful to still hear Him in these final weeks.  
Don't rush.
Even though I want to, even though I want to just skip to the end and read the last words and get my family down here, I have to wait.  Now that I see the light at the end of the tunnel, I am impatient to escape the tunnel and live in the light, but I have to wait.  It is coming, but it isn't here yet.

You see, this year has taught me a lot about patience and now, so close to the end, is when I need to exercise it the most.  


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

So Near and Yet So Far

The Visa Center told me last week that Jo and Kyle and Braden are finished with the process and ready for the interview phase (the final phase) of this never ending Visa journey.  However, they also told me they didn't have the paperwork for my daughter Skye.
I told them I had a confirmation email and confirmation number from them confirming they, in fact, did have the paperwork.  They have had it since May.
They looked up the number I gave them.  I was right.  They were wrong.  Again.
They said they would "expedite" Skye's file so that our family could get in line for the interview, since they send the whole family for the interview at the same time and once again, their mistake was holding us up.
That was one week ago.
I have called every day.
Still nothing.
What does "expedite" mean anyway?
Just curious.

Now that we are this close, it is hard to still feel like it is still so far away.  
Even though we have waited a year, this last month or two will feel longer.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Then and Now

This journey is teaching me something about myself.  Every great journey does.
I am continuing to learn about the man I am and the man I am becoming.

Last week I was down at the Forum Shops in Caesars Palace.  I was all alone in the middle of thousands of people in the middle of a city built on pleasure and indulgence, on the motto that "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas."  This is a city where people come for a week or a weekend to get away from their normal lives, to live out their fantasies, to do all the things they can't do on a daily or weekly basis in their normal lives, and then to leave it all behind and go back to their normal lives.

As I watched the people walking by me, it occurred to me that in my present situation, it would be very easy for me to "get away" with just about anything I wanted.  For a moment that scared me, and then it passed because this year apart from my wife and children has taught me a few things about myself.

The journey is teaching me and I am listening.

In my past life I would have indulged.  In fact, I know I would not have survived a place like Vegas in my teens and early 20s.  (I almost didn't survive it the first time in my 30s - but that is another story).  I would have gone searching for every experience until I found it.  I would have left no dark corner undisturbed.

But that is no longer the man that I am.
Some of what I have learned simply comes with age and experience.
Some of what I have learned comes from the community I find myself part of these days as well as the community I have experienced over the past several years.
But most of what I have learned comes from the fact that I am continuing to seek out a deeper knowledge of God.

And so, these are a few of the things I am continuing to learn about the man I am.

A very special woman has placed her heart in my care.  She has given me something that is worth more than all the money in the world: her love.  She trusted me above everyone else to be the one to love her and take care of her.  She trusted me with herself.  And although I have not always been as careful with it as I should have been, this year apart has made me remember in every detail how special, awesome, fragile and worth protecting, true love is. If it is possible, I have fallen in love with her all over again.

Together, my wife and I created three very amazing children.  They are all in their late teens and early twenties now, and although they might not admit it, I feel that they still look to me in some way, to see how I handle difficulty, uncertainty, disappointment, and separation.  The men and women they will become will be modeled, in some part, on how I treat them as a father, and the example I show them regarding how to love their spouse and how to have a genuine relationship with God.  In the past I have not always modeled this well, but this year apart has made me remember how important it is that I am someone who they can be proud of and look up to; someone they can come to when things are difficult, someone who they can celebrate with when things are going well, and most importantly someone who they know without a doubt loves them and supports them no matter what.

I am still learning to be comfortable in my own skin.  I hear stories about people who have known since elementary school what they wanted to do with their lives, who knew from day one what they were good at and pursued it with single-minded determination.  If that is you, you are lucky.  It has not been my experience.  I have found joy and excitement in so many different things and I have also experienced profound disappointment in those very same things.  I have always struggled between the academic and the artistic and it has only been recently that I have begun to find a level of comfort embracing both and dividing my time between both pursuits.  I also have come to realize that without either one in my life I would be incomplete.

And so I smiled to myself, got up, walked back out onto the Strip, finished walking to where I had parked, and drove home to finish preparing my message for that weekend's services. Then I got on Skype with my wife and kids and reminded them how much I loved them and was reminded how much they loved me.  Later I took time to relax while I finish working on a song I am writing, and finally I went to the gym and ended the day with a good workout.  25 years ago I would have considered that to be the most boring evening in the history of mankind.  Today, I am thankful for the opportunity.      


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Why I am disappointed, but not angry, with God and the US Immigration system

This month will mark 1 year that I have now been living apart from my family as we continue to navigate the immigration system in this country.
Initially, because I am an American, we wanted to believe it would be 4-6 months.
Later, when it became apparent that being an American citizen really doesn't get you much when it comes to immigration, we realized it would probably be more in the range of 6-10 months.
Now, with the latest miscue by the immigration department, it looks like it will be 12-14 months.

I know for Jo and the kids, as much as for me, this has been an emotional roller coaster ride.  When your application clears another hurdle you begin to think that you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Every Skype conversation is tinged with the excitement that we might finally be together sooner rather than later.  Every trip back to Canada to see them feels like the last trip before I can bring them back with me.  Then, when you hit another roadblock, you begin to wonder if there will ever be an end to the journey.  Every Skype conversation is tinged with the disappointment of knowing we will be apart a little longer than we had expected.  Every trip back to Canada to see them comes with the sadness of knowing that we will only have a temporary visit and then we will be separated again, not knowing when the next trip will come.

It would be easy for me to become angry, especially with the immigration situation on our southern border and the seeming singular focus that our government and immigration department are putting on the illegal immigrants coming across the border, while seemingly ignoring or not caring how this slows down the process for those of us who are citizens and have legitimate immigration claims for our families.

It would be easy for me to become angry, or at least mildly displeased, with God for allowing me to get into a situation like this, if indeed He knows the end from the beginning and knew from the beginning that this immigration nightmare would last this long.  After all, if He knows everything that will ever happen, He knew all these illegal kids would get here right when they did, right when it would cause a delay to our application, and He did nothing about it.  

While I am disappointed in our current situation, I'm not angry.
Here is why.

First, I believe that little kids from war torn and violent crime ridden countries do deserve the opportunity for a fresh start.  Now, if you come here and you turn to crime and drugs to support yourself in our country, then you earn yourself a one-way ticket right back to where you came from. But if you come here and you work hard and get an education and become a healthy and productive member of society, than we did the right thing by allowing you in and giving you asylum.  I hate to see kids abused or without opportunities, and we should be giving these kids opportunities, while at the same time remembering that we still have people who are already citizens who shouldn't be forgotten about either.  So I'm not angry at our government for wanting to help these kids.  I'm just sad that it has made my separation from my family last longer than it needs to.  I know it is selfish.  I'm human.

Second, and more importantly, I believe in freedom of choice.  I believe God knows the outcome of every possible choice I can make in every situation and how every possible choice will lead to other choices and how each of those choices will lead to a given outcome, but he does not know which choice I will make, thus, He experiences my choices with me, in real time, and therefore I am truly free to make my own choices.  I can ask for His wisdom and guidance when making choices and if I am listening I believe He will guide me to make the best choices that lead to the best outcomes, but he won't force me to make a choice - I am free to do that on my own.  He then walks with me through the consequences of that choice, regardless of whether or not it was the choice He would have wished me to make or not.  Otherwise, God is responsible for this mess.  It is God's fault for allowing me to be separated for this long.  It's God's fault that immigration is so broken.  He knew all along what I was in for and did nothing about it, or worse, knew I was making a choice that would lead to this separation and chose not to answer my prayers for guidance in a way that would lead me away from this.  Or, He wanted me to go through this.  So God causes pain.  (Of course a good predestinarian would say He only causes pain because He uses it as a disciplining tool to make me better so I should be grateful that God loves me so much that He separated my family and I on purpose for an indeterminate amount of time to teach me a lesson).  With everything I know about God, I just can't get there.  This allows me to look at our immigration system for what it is: a flawed, broken, and human undertaking in the midst of a sinful and broken world.  This also allows me to see God for who He is - a God who loves me in the good and the bad, in the disappointment and the joy - who walks with me through every choice I make and allows me to experience the consequences of those choices.  This is a very simple explanation of a very complex theology (based on a specific way of interpreting and understanding the Biblical text), but it is what I absolutely believe and it is why I am not angry with God.

So I am disappointed that my family and I are caught in a broken immigration system.  I am disappointed that our time apart has been extended once again.  I am disappointed that a overworked and undertrained immigration customer service rep gave us false information that has caused us at least another two month delay.  I'm disappointed that the choice I made to come to Vegas has had such a negative impact on my family.  I'm disappointed that God didn't meet my expectations.

But at the end of the day I know that God is walking through this difficult time in my families life and that is enough.  I know that without God in our lives, we probably would not have survived this long apart.  I know He is walking with us, making it possible for us to survive one more day apart, keeping us connected and loving each other, and keeping us hopeful.  I know this because we are surviving, because we do still love each other, because we are still hopeful that we will get through this broken system eventually.  So, rather than blame God for it, I'm thankful He is with us in the midst of it.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Chaos and the Quiet

I am sitting in our staff room looking out over the Las Vegas valley.  I can see all the way from Mandalay Bay to the Stratosphere and up to Freemont Street.  Beyond that I can see the desert stretching out toward Hoover Dam to the east, Red Rock canyon to the west, and Mount Charleston to the north.  It is hot and the sun is shining.      

Not everyone likes the desert.
Not everyone likes Las Vegas.
I do.
I love them both.

I've never felt more at home than I do in this city.
I've never felt more at home than I do in the desert.

I love that I can be in the middle of the Venetian one moment, lost amidst the crowds, neon, music, entertainment, sights and sounds of chaos, and the next I can be alone in the middle of the desert, lost amidst the rocks and dirt, cactus and tumbleweeds, snakes and scorpions, sights and sounds of silence.

I need both.
That is how I am wired.
The day in and day out of sitting in an office doesn't work for me.
I don't think creatively or strategically surrounded by four walls all the time.
I often meet God in the middle of the casinos.
I often meet God alone in the desert.

At times I need to feel God at work in the chaos of this city to know that He is still at work in the chaos of my life.
At times I need to feel God at work in the quiet of the desert to know that even when I don't sense him or feel him or hear from him, I know He is still at work even when everything seems quiet.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

And then it just becomes stupid

Got an email today from the brilliant minds over at the National Visa Center.  Apparently when we turned in our applications, we didn't submit the last page, the page that says to only fill it in if someone other than you yourself filled in the application.  Since I filled in the applications, silly me, I didn't fill in that final page, nor did I submit it with the package, since the entire page was blank.

I was told today, after yet another half hour wait on the phone, that I was supposed to submit the blank final page, with nothing on it, and that because I did not, I would need to resubmit everything again. So, download new forms, fill them in again, rescan them, rescan all the supporting documents, and resubmit them, this time with the blank 9th page, that will have no new information on it, nothing on it, it will be blank.

And now, I really understand why our immigration system is so fatally flawed down here.  When a US citizen can't get his wife and kids into the country to live with him after a year, because of a blank page, and yet people from everywhere else can just walk illegally over the boarder...

This could mean months more of separation.
Maybe its time to just bring them in illegally, like everyone else, I mean why the hell not?  It seems like it would be a lot cheaper, a lot quicker, and we'd have a better outcome at the end without all the hassle of trying to do things the right way.

Thank you America.  You have failed me.
Forward this blog on to your senator, your representative, your congressman, but I bet it won't do any good.
Apparently I need to be an illegal immigrant who just says "to hell with your system and procedures" before I get anything at all to happen down here.