The on-again-off-again Antarctica experience has hit another snag. As you know, a few weeks ago, my supervisor called me with the exciting news that she was upgrading me to Standby status. She wanted me to fly to San Francisco on October 5 to be ready to deploy in the event that a team member tested positive for Covid. I was very excited. Even though it was not a guarantee, it was a step closer to McMurdo.
I closed down the house. I packed my bags. I canceled the internet service at my home and put my car insurance on vacation mode. I made arrangements with friends to manage my property while I was gone. Finally, everything was ready to go.
The United States Antarctica Program has a special relationship with the New Zealand government. So although New Zealand is closed due to pandemic restrictions, USAP employees are allowed to transit through the country after a two-week quarantine period. But to fly to New Zealand, and ultimately McMurdo, I need a special invitation visa from the New Zealand government. After being upgraded to Standby, I reached out to my supervisor, expressing concern that I had not heard anything from Travel regarding the visa or the flight to San Francisco. My supervisor flagged the concern up through channels. Something was amiss.
Finally, I received a call from upper management. The news was not good. Six weeks ago, a clerical error was made on my account. When I was downgraded from Primary to Alternate status, a mistake was made. Instead of being downgraded to Alternate status, my account was accidentally removed from the system! I was listed as inactive. Because I was listed in the system as inactive, none of my information was forwarded to New Zealand. No special invitation visa was applied for with my account. Without the visa application, I could not fly to New Zealand. The October 5 trip was canceled.
A breach in the wall of peace
When I got the call, I was driving to the gym. I attempted a workout, but my mind was trying to process what had just happened. The door to Antarctica was slowly closing. So, finally, I gave up and went home.
I settled in on my favorite chair and spent some time sitting on the lap of God. I needed to be held, comforted, the disappointment profound. I saw myself sitting there on the lap of the Father God, held by him. But this time was different. This time, he was rocking me in a rocking chair. Back and forth it went as I sat in silence, being held by him. In the multitude of times I’ve imagined myself on his lap, I have never thought of it in a rocking chair. There’s something comforting about a rocking chair, an even deeper intimacy. It was a profound moment for me.
Until I got the call last week, I’ve marveled at the peace of God protecting me from discouragement or dismay in this long, drawn-out process. I wrote about it in the blog, “The Peace that Guards us.” But, the news that a clerical error had deactivated my account hit me hard. It felt like a kick in the gut. The special forces team, protecting me with the peace of God, was breached. I lost hope. I was discouraged. I muddled through the weekend, not sure how to proceed.
I spent extended time on the lap of God. It took me a couple of days to grieve the loss. Yet, I found hope in a scrap of paper I’ve carried with me for over twenty-four years.
In 1997, I was only beginning to walk by faith. I had come to know the Father God in a personal way after working through the Experiencing God Bible study by Henry Blackaby. In the freshness of that budding relationship, I committed to living by faith. I would carry no debt. I would trust God alone to meet my needs. I would pray, and he would provide. No credit cards to bail me out. God alone.
On April 5, 1997, I was broke. I had no money. I had even looked in the sofa cushions for loose change. Nothing.
Meanwhile, I needed to drive from Clearwater, Florida, down to Englewood to interview at a church for a position. Not only did I not have any money, but I also did not have any gas in my car. I was radically trusting God to provide. I got up that morning, and in child-like faith, said, “Father, today I need some gas to drive to Englewood. I would be so grateful if you would provide the gas I need.” I packed the car and put the key in the ignition, ready to leave with no idea how God would provide the gas for the vehicle. But then I looked up and saw something stuck under the windshield wiper.
A crisp twenty-dollar bill fluttered in the morning breeze.
I was stunned! I could not believe it! This moment was the first awkward baby step of faith for me. God had provided money for gas! To this day, I do not know how the bill got on my windshield. I went to the gas station and pumped the whole twenty bucks into the tank. I was shouting for joy as I drove southward down 275 toward Englewood. I was on a high, singing worship songs as I went along.
That was when I saw the sign over the expressway. My jaw fell open in shock. I took the next exit, drove over to a roadside parking lot, and turned off the car. Three little words had silenced my celebration. “Pay toll ahead.”
“God,” I said, “you knew I was going to have to pay this toll, and yet you let me put the whole twenty bucks into the tank.” Silence. I looked out the window to the ground below to see if perhaps someone had emptied an ashtray, and maybe there might be some coins on the ground. Nothing.
This incident was before cell phone and GPS. I didn’t know what to do. Finally, I turned the car north and started driving back the way I came. I would have to find another route.
I got about a mile up the road when the Holy Spirit began to speak to me. “Tim,” he said, “didn’t you get that wallet for Christmas?”
“Yes,” I cautiously replied.
“And when your friend gave you the wallet, didn’t he put a dollar bill in it, sort of as a blessing.”
“Yes, God, but that dollar is long gone.”
I took the wallet out as I continued to drive. I flipped through all the pockets on the inside. In the center pocket of the wallet, there was the dollar bill, carefully folded, hidden from sight.
I could not believe it! I had no idea that dollar was there. At this point, I didn’t know how much the toll was, but I thought, “I’m going for it!” So I turned the car around at the next exit and headed for the toll booth.
The toll was precisely one dollar. I have the receipt for the toll in my wallet today. It is a reminder of the faithfulness of the Father God. When life is difficult, I pull out the receipt and remind myself of his faithfulness to me. If God was so gracious as to provide a single dollar when I needed it, then surely he is aware of the big stuff as well. Therefore, I can trust his provision in any area of life.
And so last Friday, as I sat reeling from the blow to my dream of experiencing Antarctica, I opened my wallet and pulled out the receipt one more time. Tears welled up in my eyes as I considered his faithfulness to me. All these years, he has taken care of me. Again and again, he has proven himself faithful. His kindness astounds me; His faithfulness, a treasure.
For over twenty-four years, he has taken care of me as I have waited on him. I have no debt. None. No mortgage debt, no car payments, no credit card debt. I live in a beautiful home that he provided for me. He gave me a wonderful vehicle to drive. I live a lifestyle far beyond my income, especially considering that, in most years, my ministry salary is well below the poverty line. On average, my salary is about $15,000 a year. You cannot explain my life apart from the kindness of the Father God. It simply makes no sense.
And so I held the receipt in my hands. A print shop clerk laminated the fragile paper many years ago. The blue ink is a bit faded, and the edges are curled from where the wallet folded. But if you look closely, you can still read the details. April 5, 1997. Lane #4. Toll: $1.00. Cash.
I love my Father God so much. Yes, the Antarctica puzzle remains unfinished. But I can turn to him in my disappointment and find he is waiting to hold me. This turning toward him instead of away is the key.
We will face disappointment in our lives. It is human. The Father God designed us in such a way that we deeply feel the loss of an expectation. We do not criticize ourselves for our humanity. But when we experience this loss of expectation, how we respond is critical.
Our natural response is to feel angry at the injustice. We stew over details, replaying the experience in our minds, seeking a resolution that will ease the pain, trying to resolve the mystery of the unknown. I’ve done this. But this is not helpful. Better to focus our minds on the faithfulness of the Father.
When we experience these emotions, how we respond matters. Instead of focusing on what we do not know, we focus on what we do know. So I remind myself of the Father’s faithfulness as I sit on his lap, his arms around me, rocking back and forth. The Father is faithful. I have a scrap of paper in my wallet that proves it.
Where Antarctica stands now
Management has restored my account to Alternate status and has sent my information to New Zealand. However, it may take four to six weeks to get the visa. So the next possible opportunity to join the team would likely be in November.
At this time, the only way I will go to McMurdo this season is if someone quits or gets fired. It is still possible as this has happened in past seasons. My hope is restored, and I expect that I may still go sometime this fall. My supervisor also reminded me that if, for some reason, I do not make the team this season, I am first in line for next year. The dream is not over; it is merely delayed.
I rest in the reminder of the faithfulness of my Father. I am at peace again, the breach restored.
I slide the receipt back into my wallet, where it will stay until I need it again.
My editor is currently working her way through the new book. This content edit is the first of several stages of editing. You can join me in praying for her as she helps in this critical way. I am thrilled to be at this point in the project timeline. I expect to have early Advance Reader Copies available sometime in February of next year. I am anticipating launching the book in June.