Transitions are hard. Any transition has challenges, even if it is a good change or a desired change. Starting a new job that you’ve always wanted is exciting, but still has a learning curve. And it seems we almost always underestimate the challenges in a transition, doesn’t it? Or at least things never go exactly as we expect.

So it has been with our transition to living in the USA. Leo and I both knew that an international move would be hard, but somehow it’s been even harder than we imagined. One step forward, two step back. Swimming upstream. Walking against the wind. A hard row to hoe. Flying into the Jetstream. A baptism of fire. However you label it, it’s been difficult. And it wasn’t just one big issue, it was a lot of little, bothersome things that left us struggling along the way.

Where to start? These are some of the pesky things that discouraged us along this journey:

  • Lost Immigration Packet: We hadn’t been in the US long when we got a letter from Immigration (the Texas Service Center) saying that they’d never received the package of information we turned in to the immigration official when we crossed the border at the Ft. Lauderdale airport. This package represents months of information gathering, personal documents, and some irreplaceable items. There were criminal record reports, financial information including the information of our financial sponsor, marriage certificates, birth certificates, and much more! Thankfully we were able to scrounge up what we needed to take to an extra appointment with immigration in Ft. Smith, Arkansas in order to keep things moving towards Leo’s green card. But this was an extra and unexpected step for us that started out a little scary, became a hassle, and simply frustrated us.
  • Lost Social Security Card: When we were finally able to apply for Leo’s Social Security card, we waited anxiously for it to arrive in the mail. It never came. Perhaps you aren’t aware that you can only request 10 SS cards in your lifetime, and a maximum of 3 in one year. So, right off the bat Leo’s is lost in the mail and he’s down one card request for his lifetime. And when we asked if they could verify if it was returned to sender (to know if he’s vulnerable to identity theft) we were told that all returned cards are shredded, but no one tracks the cards that are returned. What the what? Oh, “And here’s a book about protecting yourself against identify theft.” Gee, thanks. We thought we left difficult (and incompetent) government processes behind, but this second unnecessarily-extended process aggravated us.
  • Bad News from the Doctor: In October, we received disappointing news from my doctor that it was unlikely that we would be able to conceive a child naturally. My AMH ( levels were “low” or “very low” at 0.42, depending on whose scale you read. My doctor was ready to send us to a fertility clinic, stat! Unfortunately, many fertility clinics will not accept patients with low AMH because they are not candidates for IVF since it’s also unlikely there could be a good egg harvest. It’s likely that a fertility clinic would have recommended donor eggs to improve the chances of a successful pregnancy. While it’s not directly related to the process of transitioning to life in the US, this was a disheartening turn of events since we both wanted children. It was especially hard to process in the midst of all the other readjustments that were taking place.
  • Scary Health Issues: Leo began work at the end of October at the local Chick-Fil-A. Within a week he began complaining of arm pain. I chalked it up to using muscles in a different way, recommended Advil, and told him it would get better. It didn’t get better. In fact, it progressed. He started losing feeling and control in both arms and he was in nearly constant pain, culminating in nearly dropping an entire fry basket of chicken one day. This led to a series of doctors appointments, nerve conduction tests, and eventually to physical therapy. He was unable to complete the required duties at CFA, though he left under good terms since it was a medical concern that was keeping him from working. While no one could definitively say what was happening, it’s suspected that it was an overuse syndrome that would have progressed to Carpel Tunnel syndrome if he’d continued working in that same role. It’s probable that CFA was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back and not the entire cause of the issue, but it was a exasperating blow for him that he couldn’t continue work and faced weeks of physical therapy that continues even now. This was a setback that proves to be a bit infuriating to someone who desires to provide for his family, and especially heartbreaking when he’s trying to learn a new culture and language and simply fit in here in Arkansas.
  • The Search for Community: Finding a church and friends was tough for us. We visited many churches, but felt like we were walking in and out unnoticed at times, and other times simply not feeling at home at the church. We tried English and Spanish services to see what might click with us. It’s surprisingly hard to make friends in a new place too. While we had some invitations here and there, we spent and still spend a great deal of time as just the two of us at home. This has been hard, especially for Leo as an extrovert who doesn’t speak the local language well yet! It’s hard for me when we do get together with folks because, unless they speak Spanish, much of my energy is spent in translation. Leo and I are good friends, but we were also feeling the loneliness of having no community. We’ve found a church home and we hope that true community will soon follow.
  • The Car Saga: We purchased a car within the first week after we arrived in Arkansas. Within three days there was a major malfunction in the transmission (it felt like someone hit us from behind!). We had the car checked out at the dealer, talked to the guy that sold it to us, and were promised that it was just a software update that was needed. The problem happened again. The seller took the car back to his mechanic and had it for three weeks. When we got it back, the original temporary tag had expired and we were on to a second temporary tag. After being assured that the problem was fixed, it reoccurred on the second day we had the car. It took the rest of the month (and the rest of the life of the temporary tag) to work the situation out. It finally culminated in us parking the car on the lot where we’d purchased it because the second tag had expired. We were car-less again, but thankfully able to eventually reverse the original purchase agreement.
  • The Car Saga Part 2: The renewed car hunt took us to another dealer near home who really messed with us and in the end, couldn’t get us an acceptable rate on a loan. Apparently when you live out of the country for 6 years, they claim that you have “no recent credit” to support the loan, so you’re back to essentially having no credit (in spite of the credit card that you maintained while out of the country). We were going to have to have a cosigner to not get killed with the interest rate.
  • The Car Saga Part 3: All attempts at having a long-distance cosigner failed, so the car hunt took us back to NC with family support. After a week of disappointing test drives, we finally found a well-cared-for and relatively low-milage Honda Fit in our price range. We jumped on it and after some craziness at the DMV (two trips and lots of time in lines) trying to get a temporary tag for the drive to Arkansas, we were finally on our way.
  • The Car Saga Part 4: On MLK Jr. Day, our new Honda Fit was hit by a young man who simply pulled right into us (we had to stop in front of where he was pulling out and he was only looking left to make his right turn onto the road). A relatively small hit with scrapes on the hubcap and a dent in the rear quarter of the passenger’s side turned into over $2,500 of damages and 9 full days of repairs since the axle was also bent in the process. It took countless calls to the insurance company, car rental company, and body shop to get our car out of the shop only 10 hours before we left for another cross-country road trip.

So, I share this whole bulleted list not for sympathy, but just to say, “This has been rough.” And we are aware that many people are suffering and our situation could be much worse, but this is where we were/are. We knew the move would be hard, we knew there would be a learning curve and adjustments, and we thought we were prepared for a transition. We simply couldn’t have anticipated that on top of the normal transition stuff and ongoing ministry and work, we’d be bogged down by a seemingly endless assault of annoying occurrences that sapped our time, finances, and energy. It seemed like we’d never get our heads above the water in those first four to five months. God has worked many miracles in the midst of the trials, and we have cherished the rays of sunshine, but we also are thankful for your continued prayers!