14 January 2012

The Residency Process: Part IV

I left school early (again) to catch the bus and the train and then Julie's car. After Monday's mostly fruitless meeting in Madrid, we were headed to Aluche, which looks like a circus tent and processes the resident fingerprints.

I asked people to pray.

I don't know how prayer works or why, but I know we're asked to do it. To speak to God through Christ, to keep this relationship from settling into the dusty corners of brittle religious ritual. To ask Him to make changes in this world, to hear Him when He asks us for the very same thing.

But I wouldn't be honest if I didn't admit that there are many times when I skip the praying. I was taught to believe that prayer makes a difference, but sometimes, my heart is too weary to trust that my questions are valuable enough to prompt God to do anything on my behalf. "Ask and you shall receive." There's also the converse: if you do not ask, you will never receive. Sometimes it's just easier not to ask. At least you know what you'll get.

The middle schoolers have a prayer breakfast each month, and I wish I could teach them to pray outside of the typical monotone "thank-yous" we dish out when public praying gets awkward. Some of them pray so sincerely, hands wide open to receive what they're asking for. Some pray because it's an obligation, parroting the nice, Christiany things they've learned to say out loud. Some are too embarrassed to pray; some can't wait. I don't know how to teach anyone to pray because my prayers are just words fumbling over each other, desire and questions and cliches, sincere feelings that try too hard to avoid all the "insincere" phrases everyone else uses. Too much thinking sometimes, and at other times, not enough.

I asked the kids to pray for the day's trip to Aluche. "You don't have residency? That's illegal!" one said gleefully.
"I have a number. I just don't have a card."
"You've been here a long time! That's totally illegal!"
"It's not illegal. I just don't have a card."
They've all been through this visa/card/Aluche business ten times over, so as we bow our heads over churros and chocolate, a 7th grade boy asks God to help me with the paperwork stuff today.

And I want to believe that He will, but I also know that God works within the parameters of society and culture. There are ten thousand layers of Spanish bureaucracy to climb through, not to mention the fact that my fingerprinting appointment came five months too late. "Well, it's happened to other people before," another teacher reminds me. The family where the wife and dependents were granted residency years before the head of household, for instance. Or my friend Caitlin, who was told at Aluche, "Es imposible!" Friends who've lived on expired visas, friends who have had to leave the country and start over. I think about all the people who have gone through this before, and I'm encouraged and discouraged all at the same time.

I ask my facebook friends to pray.

Meanwhile, Julie is navigating Madrid traffic. We are parking near Aluche, passing our purses through the security scanner, filing into an unbelievably short line. A squat bald man stands sentry at the door, and Julie explains to him that I've got a summons but it's from August. He shakes his head and tells us to come back next week, in the morning. She holds my letter out to him, explains that there was an appointment, and he tells us to get in line.

When I came here with the Smalleys in July, the line snaked back through the heat for what seemed miles. The kids were sweaty and sad; my skin had started melting off my bones. Today, it's overcast. There are maybe ten people in line ahead of me, and we're ushered into the building long before the expected 4:30.

The line moves fast. Some of the people ahead of us are being turned away because they don't have proper documentation. My heart is beginning to race because this feels wrong. How did we get in here so fast? Doesn't God realize it's me, Shar, the one whose paperwork is hated in both Spain and the States, the one for whom these things never go quickly and smoothly? The one who, well, doesn't have because she doesn't ask?

But a 7th grade boy asked. And so did several facebook friends. And so did all the friends and teammates who have been praying about my residency since I set foot on this continent.

We sat down at a table and handed a lady my forms. She looked at the outdated summons letter, smiled, and told us to get into line.

We waited in another line.

At the front, the man behind the counter grinned, "United States?" The other asked for my passport photos. "The United States is very big, and so is this photo," he smiled. Then he took my fingerprint. And told me to come back in forty days.

That's it. Forty days to residency. Forty days until I can stop carrying that ragged piece of paper in my wallet, the one with the number on it, the one that proves I'm in the process of becoming legal. Forty days until I have the little plastic card that allows me to renew my residency for next year. Forty days of not worrying secretly that I might get sent home to collect another stash of paperwork and visit a consulate and make new travel plans.

I don't know why I expect this to be so much harder than it is. Maybe because it's just always been hard. Maybe because I expect God to speak to me with discipline and refining fires and life lessons, because I'm used to fighting for things instead of just asking for them. Maybe because I have a hard time trusting that He actually enjoys giving me these things: a residency card, an easy finale to the world's longest process, an afternoon with Julie.

There are some things I'm going to start asking for more frequently: The desire to pray. The residency card in hand, no final hoops to jump through. The faith of a seventh grader.

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