Thursday, August 20, 2015

Forsaking All I Trust in Him: F.A.I.T.H

"Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'" - Matthew 19:26

I recently read a great quote on growing in faith.  "Try something so big that unless God is in it, it is destined to fail." - Unknown.  Over the last six months I've been commended on my planning skills, logistical skills, multi-tasking and balancing skills in getting all things worked out to move to Oman.  Even more so getting them worked out with Meg being able to come along.  Here's the truth: I am not responsible for how everything worked out.

If God doesn't allow something to happen, it won't.  If he does, it will.  That's the truth.  Sometimes bad things happen; not because God wants it to but because he allows it to for a greater purpose.  I say that with great delicacy as I know those who have faced great losses would be stung by such a statement.  Feelings acknowledged, it remains the truth.

The last three days have been a great test of my faith in God, and an even greater test in my faith that this move to the Middle East is something God will not only allow, but be pleased with.  God is pleased when we act in faith, and pleased when others turn to him on behalf of themselves, or others (Hebrews 11:6).  It doesn't really matter if that act of faith is to apply for a better job, try to have children, say no to one opportunity to take a chance at a greater one, or even where to invest your money.  The point is to do so choosing to believe in God's Word above popular opinion or the experts.

I did my research to get my emotional support service dog, Meg, to Oman.  For the last six months I made phone calls to airlines, embassy's, customs departments, and searched vigorously every link I could dig up on how to travel internationally with a dog.  My boyfriend has been an incredible support who has made calls and met with people face to face to make sure the facts at the border matched up with what the websites were saying.  Months of research and conversations happened, vet appointments took place and paperwork was mailed and signed and paid for.

When I arrived at the airport, 4:30am on a Tuesday morning, the first lie came to light: Meg's enormous crate wasn't free to ship after all - even though she was a service animal.  Add $200 to my baggage fees.  It was her first time on a plane and she handled the flight like a pro.  Getting to my seat and loading luggage with her was the hard part.  If you have a toddler and you're trying to navigate them down the aisle while carrying your purse and carry-on you have an idea of how difficult it is to keep them focused on finding a seat only you know the number to.  Now imagine your child taking every empty seat they come to first, and trying to navigate them further down the aisle, only to have them pick up a cheerio or whatever food someone dropped in the aisle along the way and stuffing it in their mouth.  Whatever you do, don't smack the person in the aisle with your purse while you turn your child around when they turn to you to ask you a question.  This was my experience with Meg.  Oh, and when I was loading my luggage in the overhead compartment - she's taking the space at my feet - she wanders down the aisle a few rows just looking around - not bothering anyone.  Then I overhear someone say, "I thought she was supposed to be a service dog."  A note to all who aren't familiar with service dogs: yes they're trained, no they're not perfect.

Second lie came to light from my flight from Denver to New York: no Meg and I could not have a bulkhead seat.  The extra 18 inches of leg room makes all the difference with a dog her size!  Despite asking, almost pleading, with the ticket agent to see if there was anything she could do, she refused.  Picture being in one of those seats in the back with your backpack under the seat in front of you, and imagine the leftover leg room.  Now remove the backpack and try putting a lab-sized dog in between your legs for the 3.5 hour journey without bugging your neighbor in the seat next to you OR blocking the aisle.  Fact: it's impossible.  Thankfully the people next to me and around me were super kind, thought Meg was wonderful, and the man across the aisle from me offered me his seat because he had an empty seat next to him.  Meg was able to lay down without being cramped like a sardine.  Turns out the man was a former U.S. Marine like me, worked for the airline, and thought Meg was the most well-behaved dog he'd ever seen.  The guy in front of me said he'd never seen a dog so well-trained before.  The bits of validation meant everything after the previous comments I'd heard.  The last leg from New York to Washington D.C. Meg and I had the only empty seat on the plane next to us, so we were both able to sleep during that 45-minute flight.  I'd only gotten 3 hours the night before.

The third, and subsequent lies, came once I reached the ticket agent for my flight from Washington D.C. to Dubai.  I was told Meg could simply be handed from the gate to someone who would take her to her crate and then put her under the plane.  I heard this same statement from more than half a dozen people working with this airline.  I spoke with a supervisor with customer service and, I'll admit it, I yelled at the guy.  It's really difficult when you go to your nation's capitol and you see posters all over the place that say "we support our troops" and "PTSD, the invisible war" and "Wounded Warrior Project" and then be told that because I'm not active duty my service dog doesn't really count.  It's even more difficult to hear from the disabilities customer service that I could bring Meg into any airport but her breed "might" be an issue.  Long story short, I missed my flight and was told I could board another flight the next night for Dubai no problem.  Meg would be allowed.  I did apologize to the supervisor for yelling at him before I left.

That night at the hotel I spoke to my boyfriend and tried to contact the Dubai embassy to make sure Meg would be allowed in the city.  I was up until 3am trying to get ahold of them - and I never did.  I went to sleep with my boyfriend taking over the calls all the way over in Oman.  The next morning I woke to a message from him that said he'd finally gotten ahold of someone.  In Dubai, certain breeds of dog are not allowed into the city.  This includes any mix of pittbull.  It doesn't matter that Meg is a service dog, she was not allowed into the airport.  The woman he spoke to said it wasn't worth it to bring her in only to get quarantined, to send her home until we could figure out a way to have her shipped to Oman where they would allow my dog.

I finally lost it.  My flight would leave in about 12 hours after I got his message and as she slept on the bed I couldn't imagine leaving her behind.  She's an emotional support service dog for a reason and to face this massive transition without her, after leaving every other part of my life behind and beginning a whole new one - even a new job - was just unfathomable.  Still, I cried and prayed and cried and prayed and began looking at alternatives.  Nothing was coming up as possible.  Sitters charge too much, I had no transportation to get her somewhere without missing my flight, I had no money to stay another night in the hotel much less get another plane ticket through another airline, and the horrific words "humane society" just terrified me.

You can imagine the doubt that raced through my mind.  Was Meg supposed to come with me?  Was I meant to do this whole thing without her?  Could I handle that?  I knew God could do anything, but I also knew he offers tools to help us.  Meg wasn't just a pet, she was a tool for my emotional well-being.  The even bigger question: was I supposed to move to Oman?  God had been working everything out from the beginning, but maybe this was a sign I wasn't supposed to go.  I kept praying, begging God to help me.  In the midst of it, I managed to whisper, "not my will, but yours be done, God."

Then I got a phone call.  A friend wanted to help.  He told me to research an airline and the stopovers to see if there was anything possible for Meg to come with me on another day.  A few hours later I found one.  KLM allowed service dogs, they'd have a bulkhead seat for me the whole way, and the layover in Amsterdam allowed for service dogs, and Meg's breed.  He gave me his credit card and took care of it - we were to leave the next day.  Another old friend from high school sent me a message saying she and her husband wanted to help - they offered to take care of my hotel that night and bought me dinner.  Almost a dozen others messaged me throughout this whole transition with words of encouragement: "Have faith.  God will work things out.  God is good.  God is there for you.  God knows what you need and he'll give it to you.  Don't give up."  Amidst that were half a dozen offers to take Meg until I could work things out, or to offer some money to help out any way they could, or to offer me a place to stay for free until I could figure things out.  I was overwhelmed with the generosity and compassion that poured from people in those six hours.  Dozens of people said they were praying for me and Meg that things would work out for us.  People I hadn't heard from or spoken to in years reached out to me.  For some it'd been even more than a decade.  When my ticket was purchased, I hit my knees and just started weeping again.  Tears of gratitude to God for helping me.

Fact: That help came from God.

My appeal for prayers, once I got the news, gave people something to pray for.  God used my situation, while horrible in the beginning, to cause a large number of people to turn to Him in prayer, appealing on my behalf.  That's what God wants!  People turning to HIM for help, having their faith grow when he answers, and to have HIM glorified when things work out.  And people did glorify God when I told everyone how it had worked out.  It was God who held me back a day to have dozens of people turn to him and give him glory when he allowed me and Meg to go forward with this move 36 hours later.

An untested faith is a weak faith.  There is no other way to please God apart from faith.  My faith, my boyfriend's, and who knows how many others', grew these last couple of days.  God is all-powerful, all-present and all-knowing.  He can stop anything he wants to stop, and he can move people, mountains and time, because he is sovereign, whenever he wants to.  When a glitch in my life results in many others turning to him and giving him glory, I'll take a glitch any day.

Forsaking all else, the doubts of others, the statistics, my feelings, expert opinions and popular opinion, I trust in God.  Even when I don't understand, even when I'm terrified and I think his way might cause more harm than help, I will trust in Him.  Because he says I can.  Because his word stands true, even after people are gone and my circumstances become the past (Matthew 24:35).

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Keeping Gratitude on the Roller Coaster

This time next week I'll be watching the sunset from the window of an airplane.  I've left the country for an undetermined amount of time before.  Back then I was nineteen and in the Marine Corps headed for Japan.  I was hoping to deploy to the Middle East and be a quality journalist.  I never made it over to the desert.  Seven years later I'm at it again, headed to the Middle East this time, as a civilian, to teach English as a second language.  I'm going to help build up an underground Christian church, and be with the man I love.  A wonderful man of God.

In all the ways God has provided for this new adventure, I have to admit I've found myself beginning to take it for granted.  My gratitude toward God has waned out of laziness.  It embarrasses me to say so, and yet I have a newfound respect and compassion for people of the Bible like Abraham, Moses and David.  Those who were called by God specifically... and then failed in their walk more times than we like to acknowledge.  I have a new awareness and understanding of the Israelites wandering in the desert and how it is they forgot the Lord so easily.  A new compassion for them.  I thank God for his grace through Christ.

Preparing to go to has been a logistic adventure.  My car sold within three days of being on Craigslist - praise God.  I've had a home to stay in every night - never having to string my hammock between two trees in the park.  I've always had food in my stomach, and friends to help when I needed it and asked for it.  God's even been so great as to provide me with blessings like a Mariners game, and nights out at nice restaurants fully paid for by, and with, wonderful people.  God is to be praised - not only because of his generosity and provision for me, but because He is LORD and worthy of praise regardless of my circumstances.

In addition to this logistical fun, I've been reading books on having a godly relationship and a marriage that honors the Lord trying to figure out how to have one.  Bottom line: I have no idea what I'm doing!  Books can only teach so much, but I'm trying to deepen my knowledge of how to be the best girlfriend and helper I can to my boyfriend.  I'm learning communication is not only helpful, it's essential.  About EVERYTHING.  The grace God has for me is also essential for me to have for myself and my boyfriend.  If the relationship doesn't look to God for guidance it's going to be a lot harder than it needs to be.  Oh, and have fun.  So far those are the highlights!

I'm feeling a little like standing in line to go on a roller coaster.  Excited.  Nervous.  Eager.  Afraid.  Hopeful.  I can't wait to get there.  I don't want to leave.

I'm still looking for work.  My wonderful boyfriend is still doing all he can to find a place for Meg and I.  God will continue to provide.  And in the meantime, while I'm reading and diving into the Word, I'm going to be making a Gratitude List to write throughout the day so I can pray about it in the evening.

I don't want to stop being grateful for all that God provides.  Not only when I'm struggling, but especially when things are going well and I take too much responsibility.