On Fear and the Unknown

“Maybe I don’t come America.”

The message took me off guard. I have been working so hard: raising funds, filling out papers, correcting and re-correcting forms. Every day, I think of having Peter Pan here. And I was excitedly sharing with him that I finally got the next set of papers and soon…so soon!!…I would be with him in his country for his student visa interview.

The final step of the student visa process is coming: an interview at the American embassy in his country. In this interview, they will ask him why he wants to come and what his plans are. They will evaluate his truthfulness and decide if he will be issued the visa he needs to study here. If they deem him a flight risk or untruthful, they can deny this visa and any chance of him ever returning to America will be squashed. We have been practicing and practicing for these fifteen minutes that will change the course of his existence, and praying daily about this stranger who will decide his future.

“But… I think that now maybe I should not come,” he messages me the other day.


In moments like that, it is hard to breathe. But I must. This, too, is parenting.

And so we start to talk, and there are phone calls and I count out my words to keep the edge of panic out of my voice. This is not about me. This is not about me.

If I am what I say I am, then there is room for him to speak these things without fear of hurting me. And I cling to that. This boy, so closed off when I met him, is willing to speak his truth, his heart, his fears, his worries. What more could I ask for? Isn’t this the sort of relationship I have been building? To react now with directives and emotionalism and out of my own fear would be wrong, and would undo the things that could be built, even in a conversation like this.

So I measure my breathing and I sit still for a few beats as he pours out the things that prompt this message.

It is the unknown.

What if he comes here and doesn’t do well in school? What if he comes and then goes home with an American diploma—what kind of job could he get? Will an American diploma do him any good? Would it be better to stay in his country and work and live without a family if it means a better future? His friends don’t understand, and is he overestimating his desire for coming?

It is easy to counter such claims with my realities—and the truths I know about his situation—but this is a process. America is not this shining thing that comes at no cost. There is loss in the coming. America is a foreign country, and letting go of culture and the plans he had before, however shaky, is intimidating.

It’s putting all our chips on this one word: a yes from the embassy. I have never faced something so terrifying. How could I expect it to be any less for him?

So we talk and we decide that we will keep walking forward and let the embassy’s decision be our deciding factor—a yes means he should come, and a no means he should stay. And we both smile and feel a little bit better.

And then we have the same conversation again a few days later. And again. I finally ask him in exasperation, “If all things were equal—if you could be promised a good job either way—which would you choose?” And he said America, no question. Here he has a family to live with, and a home, and so many things that he wants. But…..all things are not equal. The embassy could say no. And maybe we should not even ask, because what if the answer is no?

And there it was. The risk. No one tells you that when you embrace hope, you also make yourself vulnerable.

That I can understand. I have fears too. They occupy my mind daily.

I wasn’t going to write about this, because fear whispers for me to stay quiet about what this part of the journey looks like—it tells me that others will judge, and not understand, and ask questions that sting. But this is part of the process too, this fighting with fear, this standing up in the dark of the unknown and being brave when you’re not even sure what brave looks like.

And it’s complicated, because the temptation, at least for me, is to tell the good bits and the results and only speak when I know the outcome. It’s easier when a victory can color the hard journey in beautiful ways. But to speak now, in the midst of fear? It leaves me open and raw and not at all the person I would prefer to present.

But it is the reality. It is the reality at one point or another for almost every family who fights for these hurting children. And it is this reality that makes me speak. That, and I don’t want to lose the battle to fear.

Here is the truth: I’m tired. I’m tired of feeling alone, like I’m holding this buzzing bee’s nest of stinging worries that I quickly stuff under my shirt any time anyone looks my way. I’m tired of feeling the stingers bury themselves even deeper every time I pull this thing into myself. I’m tired of the extra pain that I cause myself by holding it all in.

So I’m stretching myself out and saying that I’m afraid.

I’m afraid Peter Pan will be denied his visa. I’m afraid that his fears will make him decide to not even try. I’m afraid that maybe it will be my fault—that if I had just worked harder or spoken better or fixed that piece of paper the right way or connected with him more in the lulls, I could have changed the outcome. I’m afraid that this all rests on me.

I’m afraid of raising the money I need in the shadow of this fear. I’m afraid of losing face, of being seen as a failure. I’m afraid that others won’t understand or will call my motives into question.

I’m afraid of this unknown life if he does come, and the process that will become my reality as he grafts more fully into our family.  I’m afraid he might be disappointed in me. I’m afraid I won’t be good enough, or strong enough, or wise enough. I’m afraid of how my world will be reoriented and that I won’t have the ability to walk through that with grace.

It’s all so difficult to maneuver. Fear makes me want to pull back, to protect myself.

But I know that this is all wrong. It is not withdrawal that will make fear go away. It is love.

Loving is risk. Loving is a terrible-wonderful act of a soul leaping into the unknown. Loving is the thing that conquers fear.

And so I will love.

I will continue to raise the money we need to bring Peter Pan here. There are about $5000 in costs that must be paid up front this month in order to get him in front of the embassy to have his interview (If you would like to donate, you can do that here). He needs to know that I believe in him, no matter which way it goes. That’s not something you can put a price tag on.

I will be flying to him sometime in the first week of April. This is a big cost, but it is an important one. I need to be there for this interview. He needs to know that he is supported and loved and that no matter what, I have his back.

Because the truth is that the answer isn’t as important as my presence. That’s what love does: it shows up, without expectation or condition. It shows up, again and again.   It is not swayed by behavior or fear or circumstances. It is not predicated on location or decision.

Love is the thing that we must mix in with all our fears to find the beautiful again. And what grows because of it might not be what I had dreamed for this sweet boy here and now, but this relationship has never been solely about building him a successful life. It’s about so much more—connection and trust and belonging—and those things don’t depend on an answer from a mortal man in a government building. Those things come from loving through the fear.

We will see what happens. But I will give what I have to give with all the abandon I have, despite my fear.

So I will love and love and love. And then love some more.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>