Peace in the middle of uncertainties / Trusting in God’s plan for our lives
By Carolina Acosta
Be strong and courageous. Don’t be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9
Words that Joshua received just before immigrating, entering the promised land. Words that I treasure in my heart, and understand perfectly, during my immigration journey in US, the Promise Land of opportunities, the land where the dreams come true.
God’s words are very appropriate to remember in an immigration experience which impacts not only the life of a person in different ways, but also the life of future generations: kids, grandkids, great grand kids, etc.
The US is considered one of the countries that has received more immigrants than any other society. There are many reasons why people migrate. People move in search of work or economic opportunities, to join family, or to study. Others move to escape conflict, persecution, terrorism, or human rights violations, environmental factors like natural disasters, etc.
In my case, the experience of immigrating began almost 25 years ago for work reasons. I was born in Venezuela, a country in South America. Although, when I think about it, I was born with the immigration in my veins, because my maternal grandparents emigrated from Spain and some islands in the Caribbean.
At the age of 28, my husband, my fiancé at the time, accepted a job offer to work in Miami, Florida. We got married and went on our honeymoon to start a new life full of dreams and illusions. I also remember some mixed feelings due to the separation from my parents, the rest of my family and friends, and the possibility of not being able to practice my profession as a psychiatrist. Although in theory we can say that it was immigration, Miami really feels like an extension of Latin America because of the weather, the Spanish language that predominates, and the number of immigrants that live there. Due to the proximity to Venezuela, family and friends frequently came to visit us, or we went to Venezuela.
God chose to truly let us know who He is, His love, and His promises, when we began to attend a Lutheran Church
In addition, my husband’s relatives also moved nearby, which quickly filled the feeling of loneliness and the need for family that I would feel at some point. They were 8 years of blessings, after blessings. Miami was the place that God chose to truly let us know who He is, His love, and His promises, when we began to attend a Lutheran Church. Other blessings came when my two children were born. It was also the place where my husband felt the call to be a Pastor, which is why we moved to Wisconsin for him to attend the seminary.
It was in Wisconsin, where I got to feel and fully live the experience of immigrating. There I can say that I fully experienced the CHANGE in all its expressions.
“Change” is a reality that goes hand in hand with the experience of immigrating. Usually there is a challenge when there is a change in just one area of our life. For example it might be a change of work, school, or neighborhood. But when we immigrate we experience a change in most areas of our life from one day to the next. We experience daily changes in culture, language, weather, commute time, traditions, food, worship styles, work, profession, among others.
We went to Wisconsin with the excitement of this new life and a meaningful life project, that felt like God Himself was calling my husband. But the emotions that came from those changes started hitting us since day one after our move. I remember, for example, the feeling of sadness when we were moving to Germantown, Wisconsin. My almost 4 year old daughter, who was very social and loved to talk, came home crying because she did not understand anything that some girls from the neighborhood were talking to her about. She was so frustrated that she asked us not to speak to her in Spanish anymore because she wanted to learn to speak English.
This was a frustration that I understood perfectly because I did not speak English back them and I couldn’t communicate with my daughter’s teachers, neighbors, my Christian brothers and sisters at church. I remember the feeling of shame and confusion when I met a man, a church member, and I kissed his cheek (as we do in Miami, and Latin-America) and he immediately blushed.
Then I learned about shaking hands is the appropriate way to greet here in the USA. There was also uncertainty and fear. Are we going to be able to adapt to the winter experience, since we never had experienced those extreme weather temperatures?. This fear was intensified with the comments of people when they asked me what I was thinking to move from Florida to Wisconsin! They almost looked at me as if it was the biggest mistake I could make. All because there was real winter in Wisconsin. I do not want to bore you with many other experiences. I just want to express that there were so many times with such strong feelings that I even felt like I wanted to go back to Miami very badly.
I missed Miami so much, my Church, my Spiritual father, my nephews, and nieces, my friends, my profession, the ocean where we used to go every weekend, Venezuelan and Colombian restaurants, my gym, my office, among others. This brings us to another very important word connected to this experience of immigrating. It is the word, GRIEF. Each one of us had to live our mourning with all its stages and emotions involved.
I remember my daughter, when she got frustrated by the language or other things at school, she would say, “I am going back to Miami.” She would sit on a bench in the hallway at school. Her teachers were so kind and patient. They allowed her to go back to Miami (a bench in the hallway) and return to Milwaukee (her classroom) when she was ready.
We were wrestling so strongly as a family with the anxiety of so many changes, including financial uncertainties; It took time to adapt to those changes. We had such feelings of loneliness and mourning what was left behind. I do not remember exactly when those feelings and emotions started to calm down. It was a process.
I can now understand the things I learned that helped me in that process
- I learned to fix my eyes and focus on what is permanent, on what never changes: God , his love and promises. … “for the Lord my God will be with me wherever I go”.
- I learned the importance of detachment and the importance try “to be content whatever are the circumstances” …even in the middle of winter.
- I learned that what gives value to a place, to a house, is not what it is worth, but the memories we have in them. So, I asked God for patience, to wait to build those memories again, with new friends, new people who God will put in my way.
- I learned to accept change as part of life, not to resist change. Although it was not easy because the natural thing is to cling to what is known, to stay in the comfort zone. I learned to open up to new experiences, with new people from different countries, different cultures, new foods: Mexican food, German food, new celebrations (4th of July, Thanksgiving), new weather, the opportunity to learn a new language: English, Spanglish (Miami’s official language), and several versions of Spanish (Mexican, Puerto Rican).
- I learned that God will open doors and opportunities to serve, even in another country. These opportunities could be in our career. These opportunities could come in a new career like happened to my husband who studied engineering in Venezuela and God called him to be a Pastor here in USA.
- I learned to trust God’s plan, more than mine. I learned to trust that these changes are designed by the Creator of my life. When we decided to move to Miami, I never thought about the marvelous plan that God had for me: to know him in depth and to know who He is, his love, and His promises. Perhaps I would not have achieved that if I had stayed in Venezuela, because over there my focus was more on my profession as a psychiatrist.
- I learned to surrender control of my life to God, to trust in his wisdom to move from here to there as he told Abraham, Moses, Joseph. Looking back, I can see how my immigration journey and my spiritual journey are intertwined. God knows me very well. He used those immigration experiences to prune the branches that were affecting my spiritual growth.
Someone asked me once if I would return to Venezuela, if I feel that Venezuela is my home. I have not been in Venezuela for many years, but the last times I went I did not feel part of there anymore…. My family has its own memories of experiences they had together where I was not. Friends changed, I changed; only memories remain.
That is why now I only cling to my royal citizenship.
The thing is, I do not feel completely part of here either. That is why now I only cling to my royal citizenship. We believers are strangers on this earth. My citizenship is in Heaven. The Bible describes us believers as “strangers on earth… longing for a better country, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them”. (Hebrews 11:13,16)
I know there is one place I definitely can call home since now and eternally: Heaven is my home, Heaven is my citizenship. Meanwhile I enjoy the ride here and over there, ups and downs, the variety in my kitchen: with arepas, tacos, sausages, brisket, the opportunities to meet people, and to spread the word even in different languages. But, I always remember to pray that God will help me to be strong and courageous.
Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged. For the LORD my God will be with me wherever I go: Venezuela, Miami, Milwaukee, or another place (or country) He has in mind for my future, until he calls me home.