Friday, 29 May 2015

Green card

Today I was supposed to be returning to the United Kingdom. My 90 day ETSA would have been up and had I not left today I would be staying here as an illegal immigrant as opposed to a legal visitor. However last week I was able to finalise the paperwork with my lawyer and we applied for a green card for me as a widower, a work permit, and advanced parole - so I can come and go as I please. It also means that I realistically have to stay until I get the advanced parole because otherwise I can’t get back in. The work permit and advanced parole should take about 60 to 90 days to come through, while the green card itself takes about 6 months. It was a lot of stress getting together all the requirements, which included photographs, sworn affidavits from friends and family saying they knew we were married when she passed, my eulogy for Fran, plus I went through a medical that required me to have multiple vaccinations, bloodwork, and a chest x-ray. I also had to pay for administration fees and lawyer fees which amounted to just over $3000 (about £2000).

I thank God that it all went through smoothly and quickly. I was nervous about it anxious as to how I would do it, and how much it would cost. God provided for me, and I am now able to stay here legally while the application is pending. I will almost certainly have an interview in the next few months to progress to a green card, but in the mean time I can stay where I’m at. Once I have a work permit I can apply for a social security number, and then apply for a driving license. I’m pretty sure I’ll have to take a driving test. I hope I’ll remember to stay on the correct side of the road while under examination. I am praying for a job. I am praying for a way to fund being able to feed myself and a way that I can get to and from church and maintain fellowship with the member there in the mean time. I am praying to God about whether or not I am doing the right thing here. I don’t understand why He wants me here, but I’m still pretty sure He does. I know my heart is for here. I realise the irony of foolishly wasting all my savings on what are effectively immigration taxes so I can get to live in a country that prides itself on being independent from tyrannical unrepresented taxation. I know God will provide again.

I had a very rough week last week. I spent most of last week after the papers were filed trying to come to terms with the doubt of the reality of my application, losing faith, backsliding and falling into sin during bouts of emotional instability. Then on Friday, while doing preparation for the Bible Study “Essential virtues” by Jim Berg, I became so overwhelmed by repentance and conviction that it became hard to see the words of the book through the tears. Chapter 6 talks specifically about how a wife goes through the dilemma of dying from cancer, so I knew exactly what it was talking about, it felt like it was written directly to me. I realised that the separation of sin is so abhorrent because it is to God exactly the same as the separation I now face with my wife.

After that followed nearly 5 days of constant fellowship during my waking hours. I’ve made good friends with my wife’s cousin and sister-in-Christ Heather, her husband and brother-in-Christ Matt, their daughter Kayla, and their dog Penny. I have spent almost all that time with them and with my brother-in-Christ and mentor Tyrone who lives near them and attends my church.  When not spending time with them I was in constant fellowship with Paradise Valley Baptist Church and I even made a visit to the non-denominational Life Church nearby. I’ve had fellowship at a baseball game, a church yard sale, a few picnics, I even ended up watching Pride and Prejudice in their trailer late on one of the nights. I finally began to feel useful again in some way when I was able to use the van that God has provided me to drive them around.

I find myself in a position that I never really expected to be in. All my life plans haven’t really changed since I was about 13 years old. I knew my goals, they were all pretty straight forward, and for the most part I achieved them. But now I’m in a position of trying to rebuild my life from the ashes of what they once where. I am constantly seeing myself in the internet meme of a dog sitting in front of a computer with it’s paws on the keyboard proclaiming, “I have no idea what I’m doing”. I remember the words of my pastor when he told me that he could sympathise, but not empathise. Even with all the advice that people have given me, they really can’t empathise with what I’m going through, in fact I only really know of one or two people that can come close, and their circumstances are very different. I really don’t have a clue what my life has for me now. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know God has a plan, and I can’t wait to see how it plays out.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Time

A year ago today I wrote these words on Facebook:

“Sitting in Stafford A&E with my wife waiting for her to get a blood transfusion. Even through the fear and worry we can see God's hand in this as it was only by an administrative accident that she was able to get an appointment this morning. She was told previously that she would have to wait 4 weeks for a routine appointment. I pray that God gives the doctors wisdom and guides them in her healthcare, but most of all I trust in His will whatever happens.”

I am encouraged by my own words in the light of my lack of faith today. I have become preoccupied with self doubt and uncertainty. I ask myself if the metaphorical shipwreck I am in is because I am acting like Jonah as opposed to like Paul. Jonah ran into all sorts of trouble because he was going against where God was calling him. Paul on the other hand ran into all sorts of trouble because he was doing the exact opposite, and going exactly where God was calling him. I ask myself where am I actually being called now that I am finally going through the process of immigration here. And while my theology precludes such notions I ask myself, "Am I being punished for doing something wrong?" I find myself asking where am I actually being called to be, and I can't work out of I'm running away from my homeland, or if I'd be running away from my new home if I returned there. I ask myself where I want to be and my only real desire is to go home to the person that was my wife. I find it so incredibly unfair that the desire to be with her while she was still alive was completely in line God's will and His righteousness, but now with the exact same desire to be with her, suddenly I find that in exercising the only power I have, the act of expediting my journey to be with her, is sinful and selfish and cowardly. From my own experience I find myself disheartened by the reassurances that it gets better over time just simply aren't true. The reality is that it gets worse. During the previous periods of time when we were apart the pain and anguish of being separated increased over time it didn't diminish. There was a period of time where I could regard images of her with a deep melancholy but happiness to see her. Now I can't even bear looking at images of her at all being overwhelmed with the prospect of having to live the rest of my life without her, and wishing for that length of time to be short as possible.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Doubt

My moments of doubt are usually pretty straightforward. It’s basis is on an evaluation of my sanity.

Am I crazy?
Am I praying to nothing?
Is prayer just an attentional bias?
Are miracles merely coincidences?
Is the joint reinforcement of a living divinity merely a collective delusion?
Is the efficacy of prayer merely the emotive sociological response from those that hear and react to them?
If God says no to prayers, then how is that efficacy any different than random chance?
Is the joy and fulfillment and purpose in a born again believer’s life merely the result of delusional people living delusional lives?


Did God take her?
Will I ever see her again?
Or is it just the end of a biological process in a futile empty universe?

I asked her these questions this evening, while standing up staring into the blackness of the night. 

Contemplating my existence and my future. I realised that my thoughts on self worth were becoming irrational again, which means this grief was turning into something else. But that’s good because I know I can do something about it.

She responded to me.

I wondered if this was an echo of her living in my memory or if this was indeed divinely inspired but I heard her voice again.

“What would you have me do, dear?”

I realised that she was always my voice reason.

“I want you to be happy.”

“But how can I possibly be happy without you?”

“Live for God. It’s what I did. You know how much us living for God did to make us both happy. That’s your goal.”

“But what if it isn't real?”

“Does it matter? You know what made you happy.”

I ask myself, does it matter?

Yes it does.

So what does my gut say? Is this all a dead reality based on random chance, or is this a lovingly created universe with us as the central players?

My instinct tells me that it is a created universe.  The complexities and probabilities of this being all random chance is just too much to believe. That I am not delusional, that I will see her again.

But, I recall just a few years ago my instinct was in line with an atheist world view. 

Although that old me was a very different person. I was blind to so much. I was oppressed by the indoctrination of atheism. I was obsessed with terribly irrelevant things that never gave me fulfillment, and while I was awestruck by nature, it never really had the beauty it does to me today. It was dirty, it was disordered, it was a mess. The perception I had in reality was one of a finite dead universe, which clearly isn't the case now.

The changes that have happened to me are something that have happened beyond my conscious understanding. I haven’t willed them at all. These things have happened despite what I may or may not have tried to achieve, but the perceptions that other people have about me, that “I’m a good man” are actually the conclusion of those changes.

So I ask myself again, am I crazy?

No, I don’t think so.

And I should follow my wife’s advice, so I will.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Conflict

Trying to make rational and logical decisions of emotional and interpersonal matters is often significantly more difficult that it initially appears. Emotions cloud your rational judgement.  Furthermore I realise that emotions affect your perception of reality. I've noticed I’m entirely at the mercy of my emotions, and seem completely unable to control them which isn't necessarily a bad thing if it's the feeling of the unconditional agape love that God has for me, but is entirely devastating in grief. I sometimes consider that my behaviour is the way it is because I'm still waiting for my wife to come home to me. But my theological understanding is that it's more the case that she is waiting for me to come home to her and our Father in Heaven. Not that I really understand the details of what that really means, and even though I know my marriage is over I'm more enticed by the prospect of seeing her again than anything that this world could ever give me. But at the same time Fran wanted desperately to be happy. She told me that she wanted me to remarry. However even the prospect of re-marrying seems to be so adulterous at the moment that it could easily compromise my moralistic integrity. Indeed I have been advised by a number of people that it would be not just unwise, but immoral to rush into remarrying without a significant period of time to grieve properly. Which is direct conflict with the incredible urge to be in a marriage again. I am frequently preoccupied with these two opposing dilemmas. It is overwhelmingly more difficult than the extended period of time where I searched desperately for a wife, because I now have 13 years of experience on just how great that relationship can be.

I am reminded of the dilemma that was faced by Zachary Quinto’s ‘Spock’ character in the 2009 remake of the Science Fiction movie ‘Star Trek’. In the course of the story, and you must appreciate that I’m giving a big spoiler here, Spock watches in horror as he is helpless to do anything about the destruction of his home world and his entire people, the Vulcans. While the Vulcan people are renowned for their ability to completely control their emotions through mental discipline and I must admit at one time was an enticing prospect given the fact that I appeared to be entirely incapable of that, Spock was unable to do so. Continuing with the story the protagonist is put in position to reveal that Spock is emotionally compromised and unfit to command the Starship Enterprise. He realises after an outburst that he cannot continue to be in a position of authority and relinquishes his command.

I too have lost my world.

I too am emotionally compromised and unfit to command my life.

So who do I relinquish my command to?

“A man's heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.” - Proverbs 16:9 (KJV)

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Four simple words

Four simple words from my pastor broke me this morning.

"You're a good man."

It pains me that much because Fran used those exact words so many times in the last few years of marriage and I can't believe how much I miss that constant reassurance.

For 31 years I knew full well I wasn't a good man, and being clothed now in Christ's righteousness I see my value entirely on how other people react to me. I get on with practically everyone I meet, and pretty much everyone reacts positively. But then why wouldn't they? I think to myself, 'what's not to smile about?' when I get to play the 'eye contact smiling awkwardness' game with complete strangers.

It's a lot of fun, but it seriously evaluates me in how I am inside.

And I am free with Christ with me.

Free from the evaluation that I'm not a good man.

Yet I'm still confused by it, I'm still in shock at how much I've changed. I'm still in shock of how much I trust God in everything. I don't feel like I'm ultra religious. But then I'm not. I just have faith.

I know I've let God change me so much, and fill me with so much love, but I still don't get how.

His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

He is always there, He always answers prayer, and I realise I need Him more and more every day.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Breath

Yesterday I had the privilege and honour of being able to pray with a recently widowed wife at her husband's funeral. I don't think I've ever prayed like that with someone I've never met before. It really is a milestone in my spiritual growth, and I can't believe how easy and natural it was for me. I've always felt intimidated and daunted by the prospect. It was with bitter sweet joy I realised how much my wife would have been so incredibly proud of me for being able to and being motivated to do that as we shared mutual condolences with each other.

Today I had to attend a medical exam as part of my application for a visa here in the US. I was so nervous about it. I prayed and pleaded so desperately with God for His blessing in this matter. My cries of anguish on the way there were heard, and replaced with tears of joy on the way back. He provides so abundantly. It literally could not have gone any better. All my prayers were answered in full, with an outpouring of blessing on me. As I was in absolute awe and bewilderment at the outstanding beauty of the mountains I saw before me through those tears I could not help but thank Him for His gift of life. For every breath we take is a gift. Every morning we wake up it is by His will. I thanked Him I get to wake up every morning, that I get to go to church, that I get to pray to Him, that I get to praise His name, that I get to live in this beautiful glorious creation of His. That I get to have such amazing relationships, that I get to trust Him, and I get to live in His love. We don't get this forever. None of us do. We should be grateful for every single breath we take, because each one could be our last. I thought how fitting that really was given the way my wife passed away, hooked up to a ventilator fighting for breath. The number of times we breathe is limited. Every single one of them can be a blessing if we choose to see it that way.

I thank God for every single one of them.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Grief Haiku

You lie there sleeping
No more pain and suffering
Rest my sweet dear rest
You suffer no more
I can see you in Heaven
There Eternally
The days are darker
Now that you have gone away
I miss you so much
I will never fear
That I will see you again
Jesus will be there
He is with me now
The Holy Spirit lives on
I still hear your voice
Your smile will be there
Bringing joy to all who see
Images of you
So rest now my dear
Your time has come to an end
But my life goes on

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Dreams

Last night I dreamt that the people that I loved were slowly dying around me and I was powerless to do anything about it. My wife was of course one of those loved ones sitting next to me. It's clearly based in reality since I went through those exact events two months ago. However in the dream everyone that was dying was significantly more aware of their impending end and I was able to have conversations of dread and regret with them as they became progressively more ill.

While I contemplated the dream I had I realised that the bearing on reality is just as prominent now. The fact is that everybody I know and love is dying around me, albeit significantly more slowly than my wife was. But it isn't their physical death I really concern myself about, it’s their spiritual death. A lot of the time it is easy to fall prey to the notion that a born again believer is powerless to direct the lost to Christ. Paralyzed with fear and self doubt leading to anger and disbelief in evangelism in general, or the belief that evangelism is somehow an artificial performance or unnatural for the majority of born again believers; the devil attacks directly on the hearts of the disciples of Christ as they go through a world of dying people. It’s a depressing world to live in, if you really believe you are powerless to help change their journey from the road headed to the invisible lake of fire to the road headed towards Jesus.

And the fact is, if I go on my will alone I am powerless to change their path.

My arguments are short lived and weak. My strength is limited. My understanding is pitiful. My will is nothing compared to the power of the devil. He grips so many hearts, turns them away from Christ and towards fickle empty pursuits that are short lived and often demand more and more depravity to feel as good as they did last time.

One of the things I miss the most about marriage is the reassurance I had. My wife constantly told me that I was a good man, that I was undervalued in my profession, that I was a safe competent driver, in fact she only felt safe with me driving, and that I was not just the wretched sinner I know I am. But of course I know that was somewhat of a facade brought about by the love inside marriage.

But it isn't my strength I should ever be relying on. It is the strength through Christ Jesus that a born again believer uses to evangelise, not their own. The reality is that nothing is impossible with God. And while I cannot take credit for bringing anyone to Christ directly, and therefore have no crownie points to boast, I do know that a lot of my writing is sowing seeds in the hearts of the lost to direct them to those with more experience in direct evangelism, as Pastors have told me that as much directly.

So do I live in a world of despair or do I live in the world where Christ has conquered death for us?

Do I choose to follow fear or love?

Given these worlds are matters of perspective it really is a choice in the way we would see the world. And the attraction of seeing the world through the gospel of God’s grace is far greater than the doubt and fear that the devil whispers in my ear.

So I will continue to write, and continue to pray that God would use me for His will.