Sabbatical year

The storm before the calm

The kids on the 'L'
The kids on the ‘L’

Everybody wants progress, but nobody wants change. Or in the famous words of Peter Tosh, “Everybody want to go to heaven, but nobody want to die.”

Everything our family is preparing for grew out of the amazing faith we saw exemplified in Scripture. The sabbatical year as we see it in the Old Testament requires a bunch of subsistence farmers to stop sowing and pruning for a year and depend on God’s provision for their sustenance. (See my full post about that here.) In an earlier account, Abra(ha)m picks up and leaves everything he knows – his country, his people, his father’s household – and heads for a land God promises to show him (Genesis 12 — and it’s to a land God will show him, still unrevealed when Abram sets off). The Jeremy Camp song “Walk by Faith” deals with a lot of the same themes. It has probably played in the back of my mind more than any other for the past several years. I want the faith God called the Israelites to. I want the faith of Abraham. I want the faith Jeremy Camp sings about.

But I don’t want the process that such faith surely entails.

Isn’t this true for so many of us? We want growth, but we don’t want growing pains. It’s why get-rich-quick plans and amazing weight loss pills are popular. We get all the results with none of the difficulty.

Honestly, though we entered this process inspired by the faith it would have required of others, I came into it expecting little real challenge in the process – little real need for faith. So far, my expectation has been off.

The visa voyage

Our visa application process was somewhere between stressful and distressing. If you plan to ever get a long-term visa for somewhere, you should start the process yesterday. (Note: the requirements vary widely by the country. If you’re going to Taiwan, just prove you don’t have HIV, TB, or syphilis, and you’re in.) Most of the process requires sending things to various government agencies, then waiting for them to process the request and send necessary documents. So most of what we’ve done has actually just been waiting – and checking tracking numbers. And whenever something shows up in the mail, the rule is to drop everything else in life and immediately rush things to the next place they need to go.

The final leg of everything within our control was to get all of our finalized paperwork to Chicago. For two weeks, our appointment had been set for last Thursday. We needed to make that appointment at all costs. We’re already facing the real risk of not getting visas before we leave. If that happens, it means we fly back to Chicago just to pick them up. That would be a bummer.

So we set off for Chicago on Wednesday afternoon. Did we have our paperwork? Well, no. It was being overnighted from Houston to a friend’s house in Chicago, where we needed it to arrive no later than 10 am. (There are many other stories here — how all of our paperwork was misdelivered to the translation service we used, briefly lost in Houston, and found just in time; my trip to the state capital with the kids, complete with them running circles around Abe Lincoln’s statue yelling, “Echo!!” while I went through security, and Abigail biting Hunter’s finger in the Secretary of State’s office, shrieking and screaming to follow…)

The trip to Chicago turned out to be quite an adventure.


There had been forecasts of bad storms passing through the Chicago area and Northern Indiana on Wednesday night. There was some talk about a derecho. Incidentally, that’s a Spanish word we had just learned. It means “straight.” That’s because a derecho has hurricane- or tornado-like wind speeds, but the wind is blowing straight, not funneling. As we made our way through the Middle of Nowhere, Indiana, we started to see lightning off in the distance. We turned on the radio for a weather report, and the broadcasters were pretty worked up. “Folks, reports are that these winds are 80 to 100 miles per hour — the equivalent of a category 1 hurricane,” and, “These can come up on you out of nowhere, folks. You need to get somewhere safe until this passes,” and the not too encouraging, “This is a storm like we’ve never seen before. We’re in uncharted territory!”

So we decided we should start looking for an exit. Stop at a gas station or restaurant. Somewhere we could get inside if we needed to.

The only problem was that we were in Middle of Nowhere, Indiana. Finally, we came to a rest stop. It wasn’t ideal, but we decided to stop there. When we came to it, though, we discovered only a locked building. By now, the wind was picking up, and it was just starting to rain. We spent two or three minutes debating whether to stay or go and decided to jump back on the road, hoping to find an exit somewhere soon.

That exit proved to be too far away. Within minutes of getting back on the Interstate, we hit the storm head on. The rain was torrential, the wind shook the van violently, and we could see just enough to even consider driving on. We started praying for protection as we drove. Eventually, we stopped in an underpass and got some relief from the wind. Honestly, it’s the most shaken and frightened I’ve ever been on the road. The kids were scared but did very well. Once we were stopped, we all prayed as a family and sang the Doxology several times. I called my parents and tried to tell them as calmly as possible where we were. Half of my reason for calling right then was so that someone would know where we had been, and how we ended up there – driving into the face of a storm – if anything happened.

I’ve always enjoyed big storms. I like the feel of sitting safely inside (naive though the feeling may be) while a storm rages outside. There was none of that sense as we sat under that bridge – only panic. I’m sad to say I can’t remember praying as fervently about anything else as I prayed for safety that night.

We used our phones to look at weather radar and confirm that we had, in fact, just seen the reddest of the storm, though there was still a lot more red heading our way. We also used our phones to read up on the wisdom of using an underpass for shelter. Turns out it’s not a good idea. We prayed, discussed, then caught a small lull in the storm and got back on the road, praying we could make it to an exit before the storm intensified again.

Though the storm picked up, we pressed on and made it to an exit with two motels. The first one had only one room available – perfect, we’ll take it! The only problem: apparently it’s a fire hazard to put six people in one room. They couldn’t let us stay there. Who knew? We got the same response at the other motel. But they let us ride out the rest of the storm in their parking lot and offered their office if the storm picked up and we needed to run inside. We called our hosts in Chicago and told them not to expect us, waited the storm out for the next 45 minutes, then were able to press a bit further down the road, searching the Internet and bidding on Priceline for hotel rooms (two hotel rooms…) We finally stopped somewhere and were able to beg our way into a single room, and we slept good and hard for a few hours.

The Consulate

I won’t belabor the next day’s events. We hit the road early and went full-speed all morning, got to the friend’s house where our documents were shipped, were able to use their church’s copier to make all 500 necessary copies of our documents (just barely an exaggeration in my mind, but Emily says it was 50), and got to the transit station just in time to miss the train we needed to make by two minutes. We prayed a decent bit on the next train in. The Spanish Consulate’s website is full of ALL CAPS STATEMENTS ABOUT DOING EVERYTHING CORRECTLY AND NOT BOTHERING THEM WITH E-MAILS OR PHONE CALLS. We would be showing up 2 minutes after our appointment was supposed to end. Given what we knew, we were a bit scared they would turn us away and tell us to come back when we could make our appointment.

Fortunately, the people at the Consulate were very helpful and accommodating. Moreover, they sounded pretty confident they would have our visas prepared in time and would even mail them to us. A huge surprise considering all else we had heard and read. Their kindness, along with several others’ hospitality and generosity all along this road, will merit a later post of its own.

Before last week even began, I had already told Emily it would only be by the grace of God that we would have visas before we got on the plane. I hadn’t yet factored in our lost materials in Houston (I was too brief above to capture all of that saga), a derecho on the way, or our failed mad rush to make our appointment.

Emily’s mom said early last week that perhaps the whole year that lies ahead will be about God making us trust him. Granted, all of these things could happen to any traveler, near and far. We weren’t the only ones sitting under that bridge (there were five cars packed in there, trembling together). And yet however events line up and however God chooses to work, I get the sense that he is, indeed, making us choose to trust him right now. Only by the grace of God does it seem we’ve arrived at this point.

Everybody wants that trust, but nobody wants the storm that requires it.

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2 replies on “The storm before the calm”

You truly have a large “stone” in your family altar that none of you will ever forget. How sorry we are that you went through this and how grateful we are that you are all alright.

That is what is happening with us and the new church plant. We could do church a hundred ways, have heard more methodology than we can remember, but God is asking us to trust Him for this new church and to follow His leading instead of having it all figured out. I felt so bad about it all that I told the Lord and Paul that I was just not going to do it! That God wasn´t around and that this truly trusting was too much.

However, the Lord used others (actually the lay people in our church – who are the leaders) to encourage us….and, of course, the Lord Himself said not to worry and that if He shows ups, all will be well.

Well, dear friends, we will be journeying together and God will bless our dependence on Him and the price we pay for obedience.

Love to each one


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