Passport Patience

This summer I learned a huge lesson in patience. I am still learning to be patient. In fact, I am learning a hard lesson about long-suffering and endurance, eaten with a slice of humble pie. Let me start at the beginning: Almost a year ago we were excited to learn that a beloved niece was getting married in the States. Covid restrictions were beginning to lift, travel was becoming a bit easier, and we were thrilled that we could plan for a full-on family vacation! Snag: Canadian passports were due to expire a month or so before our flight. No problem… lots of time to renew… times six… with one turning “adult” and one without a current health card. And with rumours of backlogs mounting. Be patient. No worries. It will all work out. Can always fast-track, right?

I’m good at forms. English is my first language. I can navigate government papers. I can follow instructions. Cue a full evening of sitting at the dining room table with a specifically coloured-inked pen in hand, a handful of rather expensive and well-earned, non-smiling photos carefully doubled signed and pinned to said matching forms. (Who knew the local convenience store was the easiest spot for passport photos? Obviously not us who drove by the sign every day that clearly states “Passport photos here” and yet sought out Costco and Shopper’s Drug Mart and Walmart for such things…) But I digress.

Five out of six passport forms were completed and in the hot little hands of an even more patient husband who delayed work one day to drive out to the neighbouring city to wait in line at the passport centre because we heard the lines were fewer there. Patience. Smile. Got to the front… “Here you go nice government lady, yes, my wife filled them out, why yes, she does have neat handwriting, yes, here is my credit card… What? A simple mistake? Yes, we can adjust that now…thank you, yes, I’d love the receipt, yes, we are travelling soon… guaranteed a week or so before our flight? Great, thank you, ma’am.” Perfect.

One to go. No worries. We can get the necessary documentation for the “adult” child who needs to fill out a whole new form. I can go to the official office and get that one “fast-tracked”. The family vacation is worth the extra few bucks. Signal God’s lesson in patience about to fall on the head of a momma bear who may just lose her sense of Christian decency. Here’s the story:

Knowing time was no longer on our side, I took a day off work to take the remaining form to one of the few centres that could process the form in time for our already booked flights. I knew the line would be long, so arrived several minutes before opening to find a rather large line already gathered outside. There was no signage. No helpers, no arrows, pylons etc. Only a few hopefuls with coffees and lawn chairs parked near the doors. The rest of us huddled behind them cued up in the overcast weather, armed with folders of forms and high hopes. I chatted with the mom of four in front of me who was re-doing all her children’s forms because they “got lost in the system”. I instructed the gentleman behind me he was in the wrong line. His was moving much quicker at the far end of the building. I texted the picture… not so long… halfway to the front door now. I’ll soon be inside. Crocheted a few rows. This mom is patient.

Exactly one hour and a half after opening time (most of us still standing around the corner to the OUTSIDE of the building) a lone (and somewhat brave) security guard comes out to inform us that “there are no more tickets for today… please go home and come back tomorrow morning…. preferably at 4:00AM to have any chance of getting inside…” 4:00AM? Really?! Needless to say, most of us were a little shocked. Many, many grumbled and fussed (and cussed) and left. The rest of us stood around for a little, pondering our predicament. Someone tried the other door, and the flock of us followed suit, hoping to take advantage of an alternative route to travel freedom. We were quickly turned back to a locked door, again, on the outside of the building.

Patience. Breathe. Let’s look at this logically. The office has been open for business for only an hour and a half. One hundred or so “secret ticket holders” seem to be lined up inside. Even counting a lunch break, these professionals should be able to serve us by end of the day! I shall commit. I will be patient and kind. Many were not. The mom of four and I took our chances. After all, today was my only day off. I have all day to stand here. Our line had dwindled to about 30 from the over 300 people. We slowly filed inside the building to another cue and those seatbelt line maker things that made us weave in and out to the “front” of the glass enclosed room to the “ticket holders” and the kiosks.

I texted the picture… not so long… halfway to the front door now. I’ll soon be inside.

The lone (and somewhat brave) security guard was now joined by about 5 or 6 others. Flashing their badges and appearing to be in charge. “I have no authority to let you inside” they say. “Come back later”. “Only if you have proof of travel within 48 hours can you be here”. “No” “NO”. God-given patience. Be kind. “Yes, sir, I appreciate what you are saying. I understand — but I choose to wait”. “Thank you, I chose to wait”. Five people left in front of the glass room. Twenty-five people holding up in the secret space.

Finally, the lone (and somewhat exasperated by this crazy lady) security guard asks my business. Ha! A month before travel? Okay, lady… if you are willing to “dropbox” your form (ie no inspection of said form, just throw it at the guy and pay your money and hope for the best) then I can give you a golden ticket. “Thank you, sir, yes I will wait”. Haha! Look at me and my patience paying off! I have been here seven hours… but it worked!

Fast forward some 20 weeks and more phone calls, emails, faxes and tears… and we are still waiting for one final passport to arrive. (Oh… no, not that last-minute one… it arrived first with no special added treatment) We missed the wedding, we missed the vacation, we missed family, and are yet to receive credits for booked flights. My sense of accomplishment and pat on the back for being so full of patience has dwindled to a story to tell about frustration. There are many more details I could have added to this long post… but here’s the point. It’s a lesson. At least I am trying to look at it as a lesson. I was kind. Was it life and death? No. Was it a disappointment? Absolutely.

Many of you may have similar stories. Maybe some of you have even better stories. We have every right to be served well by others. We’ve done “the right thing” and “followed the rules” and “deserve” this or that. It’s frustrating and sad. Yet, we have been called to stand out as light in a dark world. To spread love and not curse those who mean you harm. It’s a tough pill to swallow. It takes some self-talk and a little dose of Holy Spirit. I’m finding I have to face the lesson more and more in these post Covid days of people-who-have-lost-all-abilities-to-socially-interact. Now is the time for us to shine. May you and I learn the lesson well, my beloveds.

Peace be Upon You

Oh, my dear beloveds… will you humour me in a little exercise? Take a big deep breath in through your nose and fill up your lungs to the deepest capacity … now let it all out in a big ol’ sigh. I don’t know about you, but I needed that after the last few hours. The weather outside has been “frightful” here in the last day or so, and old man winter is certainly making his presence known in our neck of the woods. Normally, I don’t mind too much… but last night both my hubby and my eldest son were out driving in it. Late, after dark, alone. And as much as my dearests tell me not to fret, the all-season, I repeat, not-official-snow-tired-car with ABS brakes make me nervous to drive in … for fear I am the only woman driver on the road who will find the obscure patch of black ice and go crashing into a telephone pole. Or worse still, a rambunctious reindeer who recently escaped from a small town Christmas parade finds my son on his way home in said unsafe car…

Anyway, you get the picture. I worry a bit about bad weather. I worry a lot about driving in it. I think I am getting old. Grandma genes are starting to settle in. And there is nothing like a taste of old lady frailty (read anxiety) to rob you of that peace within. I know you know what I am talking about. Seems fitting that this second week of advent is “peace” week. A gentle reminder to me to attempt to bring my heart back to that state of peace. Especially as we anticipate the nativity scene… all babies wrapped in swaddling clothes, quietly sleeping amongst the barnyard animals. (All the moms out there recognize that this, too, is far from a realistic scenario… barn animals, people… and what newborn isn’t screaming for food in the middle of the night?) but the story of Jesus’ birth brings our focus to a unique place: Bethlehem.

Let’s look at it a little shall we? I did a little digging and here are some”fun facts” I dug up about “Bethlehem, in the land of Judah”. In Hebrew, it is called “Beit Lechem” which roughly translates as the “House of Bread”. Perfect for Christmas holidays, I’d say. Warm toast brings me peace! Bethlehem is home to approximately 25 000 people… both Christian and Muslim. Interestingly, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in the U.S. is home to 800 000 Americans… who probably see just as many tourists!

The proposed “exact spot” where Jesus was born is marked by a silver star, that leads to an underground grotto or cave. Of course, the surrounding area is the tourist mecca for those seeking Christian history. With a large market for trinkets and a chance to profit from the bus tours. Maybe as much as Bethlehem, PA. I’m guessing either would be a cool place to visit… (dreamily look off into the distance… House of Bread… Amish baked goods…) Still, the Middle East has been far from a “symbol of peace” in recent years. Or the U.S.A, for that matter. Which brings us back full circle.

As you continue on in your Advent journey of faith, may you be prompted with thoughts of peace this week from the only One who gives true peace. And may your anxieties be comforted … even as you drive along the icy roads of life.

Photo: wiirocku Tumbler

Seasons of Change

Perhaps there isn’t enough snow on the ground to be discussing changes in season. Perhaps I’ve jumped the gun in talking about something that hasn’t yet happened. Especially since the weather was so warm today. Still, for some reason, this is what’s been on my mind. And I’d like to think that what I share here is beyond me and serves its purpose on a bigger scale, so I am going with it. Perhaps it’s a mood swing and I’m just self-talking at this point… dragging you all down with me. Maybe it’s the surroundings. The walls are closing in. There is a tree just outside my front window that is totally void of leaves already. A blank canvas preparing for a dark winter. Last week we chatted about the harvest and the busyness of that time… and the joys that went along with reaping. And then comes winter. In Canada, we are blessed (or cursed?) to enjoy four, very distinct seasons. We understand (and are often teased about) our endless winters. Still, how can one appreciate the warmth of summer if you haven’t felt the bitter cold of winter?

Photo by Simon Berger on Pexels.com

I’m sure many of you have heard of this thing called SAD that people often suffer from during the onslaught of winter. SAD or “Seasonal Affective Disorder” causes about 14% of the general population to feel slightly depressed, isolated, fatigued during a seasonal change. The symptoms can be more serious, but most of us feel those “winter blues” when we are tucked up inside. I suspect with COVID the feelings of isolation and fatigue have been compounded in recent months. I’ve felt it too. Sadness (and I’m talking about the emotion here) is a God-given feeling. We don’t want to think of it that way — I mean, why would God want us to feel sad? And yet, Jesus himself wept for others, felt lonely and discouraged. It’s like experiencing the summer without the winter again. We must go through the seasons of life to truly appreciate “the other side”. Do you agree with me, here? Or maybe it’s just me and the mood I’ve been in this weekend. Maybe ya’ll are experiencing a joyous season right now and you are regretting diving into this post. Sorry if I’ve brought you down.

Are you ready to face it? Photo by kristen leigh on Unsplash

Okay, maybe I’m not sorry for leading you down this lonely path. The Bible talks a lot about seasons. Metaphors for not only in sharing the gospel but for spiritual growth. I’m sure many of you will quote Ecclesiastes back to me at this juncture in our discussion… for there is a “time for everything” and a “time for every season under the sun”. And you would be right. You know I love a good learning curve in this journey of life… and I truly think God gives us one every now and then to keep us moving forward. Growth only happens when seasons change. The “dead” of winter is the waiting period where everything slows down before the big growth spurt of spring. That tree outside my window seems bleak right now, but it’s working on the energy it will need to burst forth with blossoms come April. I’ve been around the moon enough to know this. You have to.

I heard a quote that made me think a bit. I don’t know who said it, but it’s pretty deep:

“Sometimes God doesn’t change your situation because He’s trying to change your heart.”

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Part of me doesn’t like it. I’m stubborn and don’t want to have my heart changed. I don’t like to think about what could be. Unless it’s good for me. Or easy for me. But. Seasons change. Winter will soon be here and there is not much I can do about it but drag out the heavy boots and coats and embrace the wind. Face the ice and snow head-on and dream of warmer days to come. Will you join me and strap on the winter tires as we trek down the road together? Until next week, my friends!