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Saturday, 18 April 2015

A Disaster on the Keyboard

In my last blog, Handcuffed! I opened the article with a story of myself being arrested at home for potential benefit fraud, taken to the police station, and thrown into a cell for a couple of nights. After the blog was posted, not only a couple of comments were submitted with the indication of believing that the story was real, but I also received a phone call from an long-standing friend asking me how I was in my state of health and well-being, after going through such an experience. So at the foot of the comments forum, I posted a note saying that the police arrest was fiction, a story made up. In other words, the arrest had never taken place. I suppose the narration was presented as convincing enough to be taken for real, as one friend posted in Facebook saying that it was too close to reality. Perhaps I may make it to become a fiction writer one day. Who knows.

But why did I type it in, even knowing full well that it wasn't true? Because it was to drive home a point - that despite the Government-run Benefit Office knowing everything about us as claimants, right down to the last detail of earnings, income and expenses, including rent and all other outgoings - a few weeks later another letter came in asking to see all the proof documents again. It was from this incident that we felt like criminals. Hence the dreaming up of the story. However, my apologies to you if you had received the wrong end of the message. I won't do this kind of thing any more.

But something did happen earlier this week, and a true story at that, and that was an attempt to make an online application for my wife's passport renewal. When filling out the online form, I typed in everything correctly, went through the verification check, then paid the full fee using a debit card. But unfortunately, I don't have a printer here at home, so I was given a username, written in block capitals, and a password, in lower case letters. I very carefully noted these on a sheet of paper, then off to the local library I went, to print out the documents and having them signed and dated by hand before dispatch. But while trying to retrieve the online documents, I set the computer keypad to upper case to type in the username. Then I typed in the password. To my horror and bewilderment, the password was rejected three times. Then one of the staff, after being called over to help me out, asked me whether the keyboard was set to upper case mode. When I suddenly realised the error, it was too late. The account was locked, and unable to be reset. It looks to all the world that the rather large fee paid is lost forever.

Phoning the Passport Advice Line failed after over a dozen attempts. Obviously, at first I thought that being within early to mid-Spring, there would be a long queue of applicants desperate to receive their passports as the annual holiday season drew near. But after a dozen attempts to contact the office, a realisation came that not only were the online documents locked, but having submitted our phone number, this looks to me that this was blocked as well. After all, it isn't nice to be told over and over again to put the receiver down and try again. Neither had I ever experienced this kind of response from any other source either, whether private, commercial, or statutory phone numbers.

I felt overwhelmed by a crushing sense of sheer stupidity and clumsiness, together with anger at myself for the apparent lack of simple office skills. Here I will admit, I have no one but myself to blame. How on earth could I have been so forgetful to tap a key just once, which would have brought the task to its proper conclusion? This was to renew my wife's passport. And the irony of it all is that, in her present state of health, overseas travel would be difficult for her, being wheelchair-bound while out of doors. But nevertheless, I wanted her to hold a valid passport. This was in line with her acceptance to travel even in her present state, after watching wheelchair-bound passengers board an airline before now.

And it is situations like this that I remind myself  knowing that in all things God works for the good for those who love him, and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). But this is the time when I don't feel any emotional love for God, at least not at the moment. But it's very good to realise that God's love for me remains stable, and through his omniscience, he knew from eternity past that this very day was to come. But maybe God is using this very situation to allow a light to reveal what's really in my heart. What is it that I love and cherish so deeply? The thought of foreign travel? The lack of consideration for my wife's condition as I bid her to board an airline? A feeling of security? Perhaps the idea of a golden opportunity to quickly book a flight and take off? Or take a cross-Channel ferry or train to France? Really, am I putting my own interests before those of God and my wife Alex?

What would happen in the immediate future? Personally, I would prefer to let the matter rest for a while, and let the dust settle. Even the act of typing out this blog is a tonic in itself, allowing me to dig deep within and rekindle my love for the Lord. Like this, I would be better prepared to make the right decision, whether to make a fresh application, this time in the library where the documents can be printed out straight away - or make phone calls elsewhere. But even if I have to pay again, making the passport double the original price: Would I be willing to do this? Would I feel such a deep sense of loss?

During a moment of despair, Alex reminded me of Job, an Old Testament saint whose faith in his God remained strong and intact despite the loss of everything he had, including his own health. His losses included his sons by death through a freak accident, and the theft of all his livestock when his land was raided by an enemy force. And his illness brought him near to the brink of death. Yet when his wife tried to entice him to ditch his faith, he remained firm, uttering a promise with certainty:

I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
And when my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him with my own eyes - I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!
Job 19:25-27.

Gosh, what a magnificent demonstration of faith! And that how I would like to be, too. Maybe I should be glad of these situations, at least that's the theory. But for something that was my entire fault, the situation looks different. To have an unbeliever rail at me because of my faith in Jesus is one matter. To bring a disaster upon myself out of sheer clumsiness and forgetfulness seems a totally different matter altogether. But there is one truth that acts as an umbrella for both, and that is I am alive, and enjoy reasonably good health. The Bible says that the very breath of life is from God, along with a heartbeat, the digestion of food, and other involuntary body functions. Sustained by God until the moment he calls me home.

And that underscores all my thinking, believing, and my hold on everything I have, including money. If there will be no other alternative but to make a fresh passport application, along with a new payment, so be it. After all, throughout my entire life, including the early days as an unbeliever, the Lord has sustained me well. So a sum of money is lost forever, but I'm still here, so is Alex. I guess that is what being born again in the Holy Spirit is all about. The slaying of the old man, which includes holding tight to all that I have, in order to live for God whose Son was given up to be slain - to make atonement for our shortfalls. But in daily reality, when making tiny errors carrying such huge consequences, or suffering loss, I can suffer severe depression. But it's not just down to money. Rather, to see my beloved suffering in her lameness, and watching her constantly taking her medication brings greater sorrow to my heart as well as fear of uncertainty of the future.

And all this came about in the same week a BBC Panorama documentary: Suicide in the Family, was broadcast to the nation. Its presenter, Simon Jack, was having a remembrance day over the death of his father by suicide forty years earlier, when Simon was still a young boy. With nearly five thousand men committing suicide every year here in the UK, most of these victims had nowhere to go to share their troubled emotions. Citing the example of his own father, he spent the last years of his life alone and aloof, despite sharing his home with his family. This was due to male stoicism, according to the narration, which was very much part and parcel of being British. For a man to share his troubled emotions was considered sissy, unmanly, or wimpish. So unable to cope, he ends his own life instead. A terrible tragedy - and one shared by many others throughout the decades.

Perhaps it's no accident where the Good Samaritans had gotten the name for their charity, set up to offer help and advice to potential suicide victims. It was from one of Jesus' parables (Luke 10:25-37) teaching an important lesson about showing compassion to a fellow human, even if he may not be of his nation or share the same culture. If only all volunteers working as Samaritans were true believers in Jesus Christ - would there be a source of a much better hope for anyone contemplating suicide?

I think the faith Job had in God would make a good bulwark against all temptation for any man to take his own life. Here we must remember too, despite his acclamation and certainty that he will see God stand upon the earth with his own eyes, almost his entire discourse with his three friends was melancholic, most likely from a deep depression felt over the loss of his wealth, his sons, and his health. If there was such a potential candidate for suicide, Job would have been prime suspect. He was depressed, he cursed the day he was born, then spent his entire vigil wailing to his mates about what sin he had committed to anger the Almighty, so much as to end up with such a fate, and furthermore, a brass-like silence from heaven which antagonised his despair even more intensely. And yet he persevered, even though his three companions insisted that he committed some sin. They kept on prodding his tormented soul to try to get a confession out, and to seek forgiveness. But with no sin in his conscience despite his set of circumstances, he felt cornered - and in a ripe state of mind for self destruction.

Despite what we may think of the three friends who added more pain to his already tortured soul, the sheer loyalty shown by these guys: sitting in Job's tent for a whole week, in torn clothes, and with dust on their heads in mourning over their friend's fate - is unbelievable to today's standards and culture. Personally, I believe that their presence was a deterrent against potential suicide. After all, Job was human too. Who knows what he could have done had he borne his burden alone. Yet such a setting provides a magnificent example and model for fellow church members when they see someone in distress. Maybe not so much as a week's vigil in dust and ashes as with the compassion of Christ shining through the Holy Spirit in us. How much more will those in despair would benefit?

Even if they may, from time to time, tap the wrong key on their computer keyboard. 


  1. Dear Frank,
    Truth is often stranger than fiction, which is why some readers may have viewed your well-written narrative as an actual incident rather than a metaphor of frustration and even despair over the tyranny of bureaucracy. I can certainly empathize with your frustration.
    Job is a wonderful example of unshakeable faith, rewarded many times over by God's faithfulness. a great lesson for all is that God restored blessings to Job as he prayed for his friends.
    Thanks for the great post and God bless,

  2. Have you been to your bank Frank, perhaps they could help, or even citizens advice. I don't see how a payment for a passport could be made and a passport not sent out. The finance would not add up at the passport office. Also, have you got a passport office near you that you could visit to sort this out. I am sure there is a way that this could be resolved. I hope it is sorted for you.

  3. Even Job got frustrated, but his faith was richly rewarded. We serve the same God and he still has the same power, so there is no reason for a Christian to give up.