I love a good story. I love to read a good story and listen to a good story. I even love to tell a good story, especially one with a meaningful lesson and a happy ending. However, as I sit here on a Sunday afternoon, in a hotel in Amsterdam, with the rain gently beating against the window, we find ourselves in the middle of a story we did not expect to be living this week. A story that has taken us completely by surprise and one in which we do not know the outcome of, as yet. However, rather than waiting to tell the full story, I feel the Lord prompting me to share from where we are at. Things are still up in the air, the stress level is still high, and the rug has just been pulled out from under our feet. This is where I write to you from today.
However, like any story, we need to start right from the beginning.
Last Monday, we flew in to Dublin airport after a long few days of travel. We had flown from California to Manila and we were finally to our last destination. On the other side of immigration and the baggage area, there was a very excited Granny and Granda, who were impatiently waiting to see their two little grandkids. (And their parents that happened to be traveling with them!) We made our way to the immigration officer, who was soon entertained by our two bouncing kids announcing that the “purpose of our visit” was to “see Granny Jen and Granda Billy.” He scanned through our colorful array of passports and paperwork and we began to recognise the familiar raising of eyebrows, as he pieced together our story. One American, married to a N.Irish, two children born in the Philippines and everything being “financed by faith.” He asked us to step aside, to a small room while he made some phone calls. Izzy prayed sitting on her seat, that Jesus would let us into Mama’s country. I sat once again feeling like a foreigner, wherever we go, even when I come home.
Within 15 minutes or so, he returned, and called us back to the booth. He immediately informed us that all was fine and he had just been checking things out as he had never come across our situation before. We nodded and smiled, knowing that we are becoming more and more peculiar by the standards of the world. We fit less and less into the box that they are looking to cross and tick. As he smiled at the kids and handed us back our papers, he had one last word of advice. He told us to head up to Belfast Immigration and “get a wee stamp on your passports, just to keep yourselves right.” There was no rush, he said, just when we had time.
Granny and Granda were overjoyed to see Izzy and Judah. Bedtime stories were soon being told and chocolate snacks were quickly being slipped behind Mama’s back. Danny and I were enjoying the thought of being settled for a few months and beginning to prepare for the many meetings on our schedule in the next months. We unpacked our cases, met with friends and breathed a deep sigh of relief to be finished with all the traveling.
On Friday morning, we were finally over jet lag and feeling like ourselves. We had no Sunday clothes to wear and so we decided to go to Belfast to do some shopping. Danny wanted to stop in with immigration right away, just to make sure things were in order. We tracked down the place we needed to go at the Belfast International airport and figured it would just be a quick stop in and out. It wasn’t. We soon realized we had been very misinformed and we were told that we needed to be on a flight out of N.Ireland the next morning, and to return back through a U.K airport. It would be up to the immigration officer on duty at the time, and his/her reading of the situation, that would decide whether Danny, Isabela and Judah (all traveling on American passports) would be allowed re-entry, or whether they would be returning to Manila. The lady we spoke to that morning did not paint a rosy picture. She let us know, time and time again, that there were many red flags raised and there would be plenty of questions asked when we returned to the UK.
That afternoon, instead of shopping for Sunday clothes, we were on our way back to let Granny and Granda know we actually had to leave the next day. Where we were going, we still didn’t know. Danny and I ran into the local travel agency. We had a choice of two available destinations out of Belfast the next day; a few days in Amsterdam, or almost a week in Iceland. We chose Amsterdam. We have tried to enjoy our time here, despite the circumstances, but it has been hard. The fact that it has been raining has made it hard for us to get around. Izzy and Judah are confused, tired and just wanting to go back to see Granny and Granda. Our normal, go-with-the-flow-Izzy has cried herself to sleep and Danny and I have struggled to know how much to tell them. We want to prepare them for what may happen, and yet, we want them to feel safe and not worry about the outcome. So, we have walked the streets, looked at the sights, stopped for coffee and eaten waffles, mainly to fill our minds more than our tummies, which seem to constantly be churning at the thought of Tuesday morning.
As the kids have napped and fallen asleep, Danny and I have had hushed conversations about what the next few days will hold. Danny has given me our long stay parking ticket for our car in Belfast, in case it is just me that gets through on Tuesday. I have packed a few sets of summer clothes for the kids, in case it is just they who go back to the Philippines. All along the way, we pray. We pray that either way God will be glorified in us and that our words and our actions will be glorifying to Him. We know He is the one that is writing this part of our story. We don’t know why it is, or what we are to learn along the way. We just know He is asking us to walk this way and to keep trusting His sovereign will and plan.
On Friday morning, as we were talking to the two Border Patrol ladies, they constantly used the phrase “red flags have been raised” when they referred to our situation. However, a different phrase has arose in my heart in these past few days. It is this; “His banner over me is love.” I have been reminded of this verse, as we have comforted a little girl, crying in her bed and as we have struggled to help a little boy understand why he has to say goodbye to Granny and Granda again. I have whispered it to my heart as we have boarded another plane, when we had promised them both we wouldn’t be traveling for a long time. I have taken comfort in the truth of these words, as we have sat alone together in a hotel room, when we thought we would be enjoying our first Sunday dinner at home; His banner over us is love.
It can be easy, in hindsight, to see the goodness of God through a story. We love to give thanks after the happy ending, when we know how God works things out the way we hoped and dreamed. But, what about in the middle of the story? In the middle of the story God remains the same. We love to remember that He is the, “Alpha and Omega,” but friends, that means He is also the God of the middle, when we are unsure of what the ending may be. His banner remains high and victorious over our lives and nothing in this world will overcome His love for us. Our God is good. He is faithful and His Word remains true, no matter what my circumstances may be.
Romans 8: 37-39….”In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, who is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
On Tuesday morning we will get on a flight, once again, to return to Belfast, and we have no idea what this will hold for us. But, God does and we can trust Him. We can trust that His will is perfect. His plans are pure and His wisdom knows no end. None of this has taken our God by surprise. In fact, it is written into our lives in perfect love. There is complete rest, hope and even joy and peace, when we remember who is the Author of our lives. Our Heavenly Father not only knows the ending of the story, He holds the pen to all the minute details of our days.
I don’t know where many of you are today, but I can imagine I am not the only one in the middle of a story. There are many of you who are, also, in a stage of waiting. Wondering how things are all going to work out, wishing it could be different, asking for answers and miracles. I hope you can remember and believe with me, that His banner over you is love. Nothing in our lives is outside of our loving, Heavenly Father’s control and He longs for us to praise Him, to glorify Him and to honor Him, from right here, in the middle of our stories. How it must please our dear Lord Jesus, when we praise Him even when we do not know the ending, but just because we KNOW HIM! I love these words from dear missionary author, Amy Carmichael:
“All along, let us remember we are not asked to understand, but simply to obey.”
So often, I want to understand the reason for the circumstances. I search for the purpose in it all, I wonder at what the lesson may be that will give these days of hardship some worth to me. However, we are not promised the answers, the reason or the purpose, but we are promised His love, which will never end. I trust and pray that above all, as children of God, we will choose to obey, honor and love our Heavenly Father, not only at the end of the story, but even right here in the middle. He is worthy of our trust and our praise and He will remain faithful to us.
I want to thank many of you who are praying for us. We would ask that as you pray for us, you would pray that whatever Tuesday may hold, that we would be glorifying and honoring to the Lord with our words and our responses. Our flight arrives into Belfast just after 1pm (which is 5 am in California, 9 pm in the Philippines.) We would ask you to pray that we will have wisdom from the Lord as we answer questions and for wisdom to know what to say to Isabela and Judah as we deal with this complicated matter. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all your encouraging words and your thoughts
Praising Him today, from the middle of the story, in Amsterdam,
Philippa, for us all.
“When you passeth through the waters, I will be with you.” Isaiah 43:5