Every Little Miracle

Excerpt number ?…

Every little miracle along the way encouraged us. I enlisted the help of my son Chris to help me get  paperwork I needed from Nevada to save me a trip. He gladly managed the task immediately and sent the papers off–express mail. A couple of days later, after checking the mailbox and porch a dozen times, I began to wonder why I hadn’t seen the delivery .

The next day I called Chris to check on it. Yes, he had mailed it. It was supposed to have already arrived. Feeling a bit pedantic, I questioned Chris about the address. It seemed silly to ask since he had lived there for a number of months, but why not cover all bases?

“Uh, I think I might have written the number wrong, Mom. I’m so sorry,” he confessed miserably.

“It’s okay. Don’t worry about it,” I tried to comfort him while I held back tears. “God will work it out. He knows where it is. Thanks. I love you.”

Easy for me to say to my son, but immediately I struggled to believe the very words I had just spoken. I had no clue what to do. Should I have Chris get the paperwork again? Should I check with the post office? Could they track it? I prayed. I asked God if I should do something or wait. I thanked him that he at least knew where the papers were even if I had no clue how to find them. The doorbell rang. A fairly rare occurrence in the middle of the morning.

I opened the door to find our old mail carrier on my front deck holding—yes, you guessed it—the envelope from Chris. I’m sure I must have gaped.

“Is this yours?” He handed me the missing parcel somewhat apologetically.

“Yep. That’s me…but how did you…?”

“It’s a crazy story really. I haven’t worked this route for almost a year now, but I’m filling in for the other carrier today. When I saw the name on this, I thought I remembered you living here, even though the address on it is wrong. On a fluke, I felt like I should bring it to your door and see if it was yours. ” He shuffled his weight back on forth in what seemed as hesitant discomfort.

“You have no idea how important these papers are to me. I need them to apply for a visa for my fiancé to come here to marry me. Thank you so much for checking on this. I can’t tell you how much it means to me!” I felt the tears getting ready to burst forth.

“Well, I’m glad I followed that hunch! Good to know it got into your hands. Best wishes on your situation,” he added as he made his way down the steps. Maybe he sensed my impulsive desire to throw myself at him in a grateful hug.

“So am I!! Thanks again. For everything. Have a great day!”

I ran upstairs to tell God thank you and sorry for doubting him in the first place. Only he could have planned for that situation to be worked out. My heart cried out to the Lord in repentance and thanksgiving and into my mind there flooded verses of encouragement.

Is My arm too short, Laura? Do I speak and not act? Do I promise and not fulfill? Do I lack the strength to rescue you? Trust me beloved.

It Only Gets Better

By the time we had Brendan’s police report, medical clearances (sealed in unopened envelopes), birth certificates, death certificate, copies of current passports and the copied stack of all the original application paperwork, we only had a few weeks left until our wedding. We had booked airline tickets for Brendan and the kids because we felt confident that we had trusted God and followed the steps he put in front of us. The only way now was if he came through. I confess that we were sweating a bit and our faith was stretched pretty thin.

The final step was procuring the actual visas for their trip here. I researched both online and on the phone to make sure we knew exactly what to do, where, how much it would cost and what time frame we could expect. The information given clearly stated that Brendan could hand over the sheaf of required papers and if it was all there and in order (which we knew from checking it a hundred times it was), they would probably–no  guarantees– stamp the approval and hand over his visas within two days. Maybe even that very afternoon.

Now, it may seem like at that point it should have been easy, but Brendan and the kids had to fly to Sydney, a three hour flight, and be there when they opened at 8 a.m. in order to schedule an interview for the elusive visas. Of course that meant booking flights, taking kids out of school and arranging for them all to stay with Brendan’s brother-in-law. Not impossible, but certainly challenging in some proximity. And, as I reminded my darling absent-minded professor type, “Don’t forget the paperwork, honey!”

We were pretty anxious that day, vacillating between excitement and fear. I barely got to sleep as Brendan boarded the plane. His flight for America left in two days time so if they didn’t give him the visas, we didn’t know what we would do next. At home, my bridesmaids all scurried about with me completing the final details for flowers, reception food, dresses and jewelry as our wedding was only twelve days away.  Not only that, but I had moved into the house we hoped to live in and was buying beds, bedding, towels and all the necessities Brendan and the kids wouldn’t be able to bring with them. And still we didn’t know if the groom would arrive in time.

At Brendan’s house, friends were selling off his things and packing up the rest to make room for the people who would be renting it. I still don’t know how they all did it, but I am eternally grateful!

Brendan arrived at the consulate in Sydney with the kids and presented the papers with the hopes of coming back later that afternoon to pick up the visas. They assigned him an interview time later that afternoon. With a very small thread of hope, Brendan and the kids went to spend a few hours with their uncle Eric. Finally, Brendan returned at the designated time and handed over the papers. The interview took only a few minutes.

“Ok, it looks like everything’s in order.” (Letting out breath in relief)

“You should receive your passports with visas in the mail in just a few weeks,” the clerk told him cheerfully. (Stopped breathing again.)

“What??” Brendan gasped. “We were informed that if everything was in order, we could pick up the visas in person later in the day. I don’t understand.”

“I’m sorry sir. We don’t do that anymore. It’s all by mail now. We could expedite it.”

“That doesn’t work. We have to catch a flight for the States the day after tomorrow. Isn’t there any way you can make an exception? I’m getting married in less than two weeks!”

“I’m very sorry sir, but there’s nothing I can do. I’ll enter all the information in the computer, but it has to clear in the United States so it will take a number of days.”

He punched in the information…B E N N E T,  B R E N D A N and listed each of the children as well. Upon hitting the enter button, he turned back to Brendan as if to apologize again, but something on the screen caught his attention. He did a double-take.

“I don’t believe this. It cleared. I really don’t understand how this happened. This NEVER happens. But you’re all cleared.” He stamped everything and handed them to Brendan. “Here are your passports and visas. Good luck, mate.”

In stunned amazement, Brendan called me immediately to share the news.

“Oh my gosh, Brendan. Thank you Jesus! I can’t believe it. I’m so relieved!” and we both cried.

“Hey, darl, what time is it there?”

“Uh…a few minutes before five in the morning. Why?”

“Well, that means that even in New York it isn’t 8 a.m. yet, right?”

A moment of revelationary silence and then,”So offices aren’t even open…” we said together in awe. God had done it again.

Conflict Makes a Story…Immigration Part 3

So, I just finished reading Donald Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years and his words still reverberate through my mind at various times through my day. (I highly recommend the book which you can check out at www.donaldmillerwords.com ).

In his book, he talks about the process of making one of his other books (Blue Like Jazz – another amazing work of art) into a movie, and what it took to create a story of his life that would be interesting and worth viewing. Truth is, he learned that he wanted a better story to his life period, so he began engaging in life in ways he had never imagined. Way to go, Don.

One of the things (too many to mention here) that grabbed me about his book was the idea of conflict causing change in characters. Now, I was taught in writing classes that a good story must have what we call rising action, a series of conflicts that build to a climax after which the action falls into some type of resolution. Writing 101. However, even though we write about life and things we know about or hope for, it never occurred to me that the conflicts in my actual life were creating a better story.

Since this blog(and the book in progress) is about my life, I asked my writing critique partner if she thought there was enough real conflict to make my story interesting. She assured me there is, and as I’ve taken another look, I’ve begun to see that what makes our story a great story–other people’s words not mine, though I agree–is not how romantic it is, but that there have been tremendous conflicts faced and overcome. We started on an impossible journey and watched the conflicts build and resolve as we kept saying yes and moving ahead.

Hence, the immigration issues we’ve faced make for a better story. Thank you USCIS.

To continue the story….

Within just two weeks we heard from America and Australia that the approved application for Brendan’s visa had been received, and he could submit all the necessary paperwork to the consulate in Australia. They kindly enclosed a list of about a dozen required items including a police report, fingerprints, a medical examination and clearance, all the previous documents in duplicate (what did they do with the other four copies?) and, of course, more money.

I have to confess that we cheated a little. I had already done extensive research to find out what things they would ask for before we got the letter asking for them so that we could be ahead if possible. Remember, we were in a time crunch with a wedding hopefully taking place in just six weeks. So when we received the letter, Brendan had already made the required doctor appointments for him and the kids in Brisbane, and was ready to head out the door to get his police report taken care of.

But when he called me hours later, I was crushed. The police report would take 6-8 weeks they said. And that was just one part of all the things we needed done before he could fly to Sydney (with the kids) to submit it all for the visa. We didn’t know what to do.

“Did you tell them you needed it as soon as possible??” I snapped at him. Like it was really his fault.

“Yes, darling. I did. No one really cares. They just said it would be that long when I asked, and then they moved on to the next person.”

I was so disappointed. I envisioned postponing our wedding for a second time. In all fairness, the website and letters we received made it very clear that we should not book tickets or plan weddings until a visa was actually in hand. Of course they didn’t take into account the details of planning weddings or travel now, did they?

“Well, I guess it’s another opportunity for a miracle. There’s no other option than to trust that God knows what he’s doing and will do the best for us.” I said the words more to convince myself than out of actual belief at that point. I certainly didn’t see how it would work out.

Brendan and I hung up, and I went and cried.




Immigration Continued Part 2…

Two weeks passed and we had less than two weeks until Brian and Carol’s wedding so we no longer expected that Brendan would be able to move here in time. Our plan B was for him to at least visit and be Brian’s best man, but even that couldn’t be managed as he tried to get business and household stuff in order for moving. Plus, his coming for a visit while his visa paperwork was in process could be viewed as his trying to get in illegally. In the end, he bought me a ticket to come back to Australia just a few days after the wedding. It seemed like the only option to address our misery of separation.

As we counted down to Carol’s wedding with no visa papers approved, Brendan and I realized that we would have to postpone our original wedding date as well. By that point, I actually felt okay about it. I called the wedding director at our church and told her the news. With gracious encouragement, she assured me that we could keep planning and adjusting as necessary. We checked out dates in May–I think there was only one open, and the next date was in July. I wanted to trust God for May.

Having Brendan miss out on Carol and Bri’s wedding broke my heart, but their day turned out to be beautiful, and I sent Carol off, a married woman, with kisses, hugs and tears of joy as well as some sadness. A few days later I left for Australia still with no visa paperwork in sight. It had only been a month so I tried to be realistic about my expectations while trusting that God could still do a miracle and shorten the time. Little did I know that while I was flying to Australia, someone was reviewing our paperwork.

The kids began to ask when they would be moving to America for the wedding. We talked to them honestly telling them that we had to just keep praying and trusting God with the timing. Blair said he wanted the visas right then and had a feeling they were ready. We wondered at his little boy understanding, but actually, when he said that, the approval was being stamped and mailed.

The papers were in my mailbox when I returned home. It had taken only six weeks–a step that was supposed to take six months at least! Naturally I called Brendan as soon as time zones would allow in order to give him the good news…and the bad; there was still a mountain of paperwork to be filed by him in Australia. This was just the initial approval. It said that if we hadn’t heard from the Australian consulate in four weeks’ time, we could contact them for further instruction…

Backtracking Continued…

Last week I recapped the many issues that Brendan and I faced as online daters. If you recall, we dealt with relationships, work/business challenges, children and housing. I also mentioned…visas and immigration; the dreaded, ominous monster and left it for another time. Well, the time has come Marvin K. Mooney. (For those of you Dr. Seuss fans, you know exactly what I’m talking about!)

Ahh…the world of immigration. It’s a touchy subject these days so I’ll limit my comments and concerns to my first hand experience without the political slant thrown in.

After Brendan proposed, and since we had already decided that he was to move here, we figured we should find out how that could happen legally. We genuinely (and ignorantly) believed that since America and Australia are friendly countries–they are actually on a list of countries for which you don’t need a special visa to visit–it would be an easy process for Brendan to move here, marry me and set up house. How wrong we were!

At first, when I looked for information, most of what I found addressed illegal immigrants and what to do after someone had already been in the country longer than his or her visa allowed. Everywhere I looked, I was informed about protocol if I had broken the law; the assumption being that I had, but I wanted to know what to do to avoid breaking the law. That was where the difficulty came. Imagine that…

I finally uncovered that first I had to apply for a fiance or a K-1 visa using an I-129 form, and of course a K-2 visa for each of the children of the fiance of a U.S. citizen, in order for Brendan to have permission to enter the USA to marry me which he had 90 days to do or they would kick him out.

Ok. Fine. A little more complicated than we expected, but still doable, right?

I did some more research to determine how long the process may take since we hoped that Brendan could arrive in time for Carol and Brian’s wedding at the end of February. Then we planned to be married at the beginning of April; after leaving Carol and Bri enough time for a honeymoon and to settle in before attending us at our wedding.

I cried when I found out that most fiance visas take anywhere from six months to two years to process. Seriously?? I was stunned to find that because hundreds of thousands of immigrants apply each year in California, the wait time has gradually been extended longer and longer, and for some it has taken years. I couldn’t believe it. Surely that couldn’t be true! But yes, the more research I did I discovered story after story of couples who had been waiting that long. I finally quit reading immigrant blogs and forums. It was just too depressing.

Once again, we felt like God said to trust him and proceed, so I printed out the papers and began filling them out. Along with multiple copies of birth certificates, Brendan’s late wife’s death certificate, my divorce papers, forms with all our names, addresses, birth dates, maiden names (mine, not Brendan’s – but yes, his mother’s!), every place we had ever lived, a signed statement about how we met and that we were legally available to marry each other, photos to prove we actually had met in person, copies of the stamps in our passports to prove we had visited each other to meet in person and all the same for each of the children. Oh,and I forgot to mention the form stating that I made enough money to support Brendan and the children, which I didn’t. In quadruplet. With a fee. A large one.

I confess that for a moment, I completely understood why people move here illegally. And I also wondered how in the world with all of this paperwork, any terrorist could ever get in! Of course, on the forms, they do ask if you are a terrorist or have ever engaged in terrorist activities. Give me a break! If someone were a terrorist do you think they’d admit to it on paperwork for the government issuing them a visa??

By the time we gathered all the paperwork, filled it out, mailed what we needed from Australia and checked with an immigration lawyer (thank goodness we did!) to make sure we had filled out everything correctly since some of the wording is pretty ambiguous, it was late in January and our hopes of Brendan getting here by the end of February were quickly diminishing. Still, we proceeded, trusting that God had a plan and mailed all the paperwork in with the check. Of course. It barely fit in the manilla envelope.

Believe it or not, that was just the first batch of papers. Then we began counting the days.

More to come next week….


I realize it’s romantic and all meeting someone online, falling head over heels in love and whisking away to the other side of the world for weeks in paradise. Our situation has had romance written all over it and whenever we face struggles, it’s been a great reminder that God did not orchestrate this whole elaborate affair without a positive plan in mind.

Still, when I look back at all the things we waded through during our courtship from afar–and here I confess to a picture in my mind of Humphrey Bogart dragging the African Queen through the sludgy, leech-infested, vine-draped water–I’m stunned. It almost feels as if I’m looking back at someone else’s life because I have no idea how we managed to get through it. The obvious answer, at least to us, is that God made it all work in incredible ways by a preconceived plan that we knew nothing about until it actually played out. Thank God we didn’t know ahead of time!

Based on that premise, I find it helpful, encouraging and faith building to replay the events every so often. So this is where I backtrack from the illustrious Christmas proposal and list some of the complications we faced in long distance dating and marriage preparation.

Let’s talk about jobs. Brendan had been a commercial insurance broker for about 25 years when I met him, and he was pretty much over it by then. We both felt like God had something new for him, and we began discussing his interests and dreams: he loves airplanes and flying; he’s always wanted to go back to school to study aeronautical engineering; he has an unending list of ideas for inventions in his head and in scattered notes on paper; his business idea list is almost as long; fitness is important to him…the tricky part was what could he begin building in Australia to then continue in the states? It’s not like with unemployment the way it has been, our country is aching to bring more people here who need work. Not easy.

Then there was my work. The year I met Brendan, my business partner, Carol and I had been writing a business plan to develop transitional housing for destitute women.  My traveling interrupted our work, and we suddenly found that all our tremendous business plans began to falter a bit as we traveled and planned two weddings. We maintained some of our work, but most slowly ground to a halt, and we had to rethink what we would do as we each got married.

Children. As I’ve pointed out, I had four grown children and Brendan had three still at home. We longed to become one big blended family, but that meant each of them embracing the other as a sibling. If you have any children or even know of any, I’m sure you’ve witnessed first hand that incomprehensible situation called sibling rivalry! Not only that, but my youngest was just twenty-one and headed back to school for another degree; we would be uprooting Brendan’s oldest at the beginning of adolescence; and Brendan would be made an instant grandfather! Can I also add that parenting and step-parenting are NOT the same thing?

Housing. He owned a home in Australia, and I was part owner of a condo here. The condo wasn’t really suitable for our family, and I owned it with housemates so it wasn’t like I could kick them out and say “I’m getting married and we need the house.” That meant we needed to find a house–while he was in Australia, and decide what to do with two house payments. Should we sell? Not an option for me. Buy? Rent? Not impossibilities normally except that we were on two different continents!

Relationships. I met his friends and family in Australia and hated that he would have to leave them all. I hated that I had to say goodbye to them! They graciously accepted me, and I expected mine in the states would do the same with Brendan. Nonetheless, a challenge did exist as Brendan entered into my world of friends. That meant that my friends would become his, but his friends would all be across the world. I also had ex-husbands for Brendan to deal with and even though contact was limited, any time we celebrated a wedding or birthday of one of the grown kids, Brendan would be thrown into that situation. And of course, there’s navigating in-laws. Enough said.

Visas and Immigration. Oh, don’t even get me started…we’ll have to talk about that in another post!

Actually, all of this reflection brings a sense of satisfaction. It reminds me that we have overcome some truly horrendous obstacles that have shaped our relationship’s foundation of strength. It also serves as proof that life is a process, and while at times it can be overwhelming and seem hopelessly impossible to navigate, one step at a time will take us somewhere. For us, with God leading, that somewhere has been good.