So today marks the 46th day since Joel and I have said goodbye at the airport; and is almost the completion of the 11th month since we submitted my partner visa application on August 1, 2015. It has been one of the most grueling wait we have had to deal with, but the good news is we are nearing the end.
Just a bit of update on us –
Right now, Joel is living with a family of seven – three adults, three children and a dog in Canberra. They are willing to have Joel (and me, once I get my visa) to stay there for six months if we need to. It is incredible to experience this level of generosity. We are very thankful that God continues to provide for us through His people.
Joel has been working at his home church since he went back as an evangelist. His job involves organizing youth events, looking for opportunities to serve in the community, setting up bible studies, etc. He has been teaching youth bible classes and preparing them for the “Bible Bowl”. From what Joel told me, it is a competition based on different books in the Bible. This time, they are doing Micah. They are serious about it! Joel has also been able to reconnect with his old friends and build new relationships. The busy schedule is definitely good for him.
As the church work is part-time, Joel had been applying for a second job. Last Friday, one of the schools Joel applied for as a chaplain called him for an interview, which was successful and leads to the second interview this Thursday (tomorrow). It would be a huge blessing for us to get this job as it would establish a firmer foundation for our family when I move there.
One of the things that concerned me the most when he left was his health. Since the beginning of the year, he has been intentional in cutting out unnecessary food items such as soda and energy drink, cream and ice-cream and any fatty junk food. While in Thailand, Joel had lost 7 kilograms due to heat and diet. We wanted to keep the momentum going. Knowing that there is sausage roll, pies and his favourite ice-coffee there, we made an agreement that he would look after his health and eat with moderation. Well, he has done that and more.
He has been cooking stir-fry veggies with some meat or steak and roasted vegetables. This may sound normal to you, but it is a huge milestone for me because 1) Joel never bought vegetables. Whenever we shopped, I was the one at the veggies section 2) He now enjoys cooking using fresh produce! In our first year of college, before we even dated, his kind of food involved Indian takeaway, frozen meals and pasta sauce powder (you know the kind you add milk to it and it turns into a “Carbonara”). Obviously, this means a lot to me because all I want for Joel is for him to stay healthy so he can strongly serve God and be with me for as long as possible. In addition to cooking, Joel recently started playing squash twice a week. Hopefully, his goal to weigh under 100kg by the end of this year will actually happen.
As for me, I am living with my family. Including me, there are five of us altogether – mom, three daughters and my brother-in-law. We do not have pets but we have a regular poodle who prances into our house like his own. Life for me is not as exciting as Joel although there are moments of joy and challenges.
I am currently tutoring five Thai-American children, from age 5-12. Their father is Thai and mother is American. I met them at my home church here. This family has also been very kind to me. Tutoring these children has given me much-needed income, yes, but it also has been a joy getting to know each of them better. It is very rewarding to see their eyes sparkle when something clicks in their minds. And, of course, nothing beats the sweet hugs and kind words that they keep pouring down on me. God knows I need it because separation, however temporary, from Joel is hard. This family nourishes my soul and brightens my days. Also, I just started tutoring Thai to a Canadian lady on Tuesdays and Thursdays as well. So my days are not super full but there is something for me to do each day. For that, I am thankful.
My highlight from living at home is definitely reconnecting with my family. I have been gone from home since 2008. Eight full years! Of course, I visited them as often as I could but they were not the same as living in. I missed a lot of important moments during those years like graduations, moving house, birthdays, and so on. So it is so enriching to immerse myself in cultivating relationship with them again – to hear their pain, to rejoice with their success, to deal with ongoing issues day-in, day-out, and to pray over and for them with insights. If anything, God is using this time for me to strengthen and be strengthened by my family.
The lowlight is definitely being apart from Joel. I never thought separation would be this hard. I know I should not complain because many couples had to go through this period of separation. Yet each couple is not the same. We both feel it physically and emotionally. It has been worse for me (always) since the days seem longer and this period of waiting seems to go on forever. I have struggled with depression on and off – feeling demotivated, wanting to lay in bed all day, crying lots and being paranoid about everything. It does not happen all the time, thankfully; but when it hits, it is full-on.
What I do to deal with this is to exercise. I have been working out with T25 program, which provides a focused and intensive exercise for 25 minutes every day. Not only is it helpful to me mentally, it is also physically beneficial. Since I left to study in New Zealand, I had gained 7 kilos in total, bringing me back with 71 kgs. when I landed in Bangkok in January. I knew that if I did not start taking care of myself, and retreated to my “eating therapy”, I would be on my way to obesity. Since I started this three weeks ago, I have gradually lost 3 kilos. I feel better about myself. The workout is something I look forward to and it does give me a sense of achievement when there is not much to achieve, except to wait around here.
This is our second time being apart. The first was for about two weeks when Joel’s dad passed away. So we learned a bit how we interacted to times of separation. Joel’s primary love language is physical touch and mine is quality time. Apparently, distance does not permit us to fulfill any of these easily. So we resorted to words of encouragement, and we do the best we can to communicate to each other how much we care and love the other person. It is a challenge, really, because all we have got to work with is our iPhone screens (and the “snail mail”, but it takes too long).
With the help of technology, we are able to keep in touch daily through messaging and Facetiming. It was more challenging in the beginning as our schedules were so uncertain. With Joel being busier and still trying to get into a routine, I tended to think that he prioritized his work and people there more than me (which I know is not true). After two weeks and lots of conversation and prayer, we have come to a place where we agree upon. We set a time to talk face to face every other day. Otherwise, we text. This seems to be the fairest way, and it has worked pretty well.
Long-distance relationship is a delicate thing. There can be so many things going through one’s head that can raise suspicion and doubt because of one’s insecurity. We have had to learn to wholeheartedly trust the other person; and ultimately to trust God to take care of each other because we simply cannot do it. It has been a long and hard road, but it is worthwhile because we have uncovered the new dimension of our relationship. It is much easier to stay committed and be pleasant when you are around each other. It takes guts, courage and selflessness to lay every feeling at God’s feet and say, “Lord, do unto it as You will.” When we do that, He has honoured us. He has strengthened our relationship and tightened our bond. Yes, we are stronger together because God unites us as one, wherever we are.
There are two stages for this visa application. We are at the end of stage one. I have been assigned a case officer. They already asked for additional documents and are now assessing my application. The next step is an interview. I have been waiting for this phone call for almost a month now. We hope it takes place soon. Then, they may ask for more documents if necessary. Finally, they will inform me of the decision. This should happen by the end of July as we will have reached the 12th month, which is the standard processing time. So hopefully everything will go smoothly for us from now on.
If I get the visa, I will be given a temporary partner visa, which allows me to live and work in Australia for two years. Then they will reassess my case; and if satisfied, they will give me the permanent visa. During this time, I can travel to and from Australia, which is awesome because my sister is getting married next year and I want to be here when it happens.
If I don’t get the visa, we do have different alternatives in mind, but because everything is still up in the air, it is best to not discuss them right now. Our eyes are fixed on Australia at the moment. And we pray hard that it will happen soon.
Thank you for having read it this far. We appreciate you taking interest in our life stories and supporting us in ways we never imagined we would be given. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Continue to pray for us, will you?
Joel and Mink