Saturday, January 07, 2017

Winter in Michigan

After living in two tropical countries, I've been asked many times how do I find the winter in Michigan. Well, despite of bone-chilling temperature when the wind blows, I love how the snow feels frozen lace on my skin. I specially love it when my husband and I can go outside and walk our dogs. This Sunday is just one of those days. After church, we took a nap and we were out for our winter walk!

My four babies. 

Dani and Zoie in their winter attire. 

My husband was forced to carry Alice because she started limping. 

With Dani and Zoie. Dani's a gift from Dad two years ago for my birthday. 

Surprisingly, the wind was not blowing so bad this time so I wasn't that cold. 

They also love our walk outside! 

Winter is beautiful in Michigan. 

Dani and Zoie loved walking on the snow! 

I love our area. Nice neighbors and great view! 

For many, snow can be such a pain. Imagine how you would scrape the snow from this car! 

My husband. 

I wish the pine trees would start to get snow all over. 

Then the unexpected happened, the snow started blowing on us! 

When it happens, it's hard to open your eyes. 

Zoie running happily. 

I need to get some rest.

Happiest Sunday ever. 

Our Sunday adventure did not end with our walk. My husband got his class ring back! It was lost about 23 years ago during winter time and a guy contacted him on Facebook this week telling him that he had it. They agreed to meet today and my husband was so disappointed when he did not hear anything back from him. At about 8:00 p.m., the guy sent a message to my husband and told him to check our mailbox. The biggest surprise of the day! My husband got his class ring back 23 years after losing it. What a blessed day. 

Thanks to Facebook. My husband got his ring back. 

Friday, January 06, 2017

The Best Student's Letter for a Teacher

I was going through my files trying to organize them when I saw this letter of my former student. I remember getting teary-eyed when I got this from my email. It's a beautiful feeling being a teacher. One that I will treasure for the rest of my life. Sharing this as an inspiration to all teachers who work so hard out there. Everything you do is not in vain. Believe it or not, these kids, as raucous as they may seem will always have that gratitude in their hearts.

"Real education should educate us out of self into something far finer; into a selflessness which links us with all humanity."
-- Lady Nancy Astor

Dear Ms. Nina Buena-Nichols,

I am writing in the format you have taught me for the whole year last year. My English may not be perfect but I can say that my English has improved due to your endless effort to teach me. Although you are no longer my teacher, but as what I wrote in my bucket list I will always remember who you are.

Firstly, thank you for being my teacher, mother and also a friend. At first, I admit that I was not used to your teaching styles as it was still new to me. I complained a little bit, especially when you assigned us journals. I have now understood that the journal was really essential to be able to communicate to you without feeling shy or scared. Now that we aren’t required to write journals, I missed writing them. Quoting my mom, we won’t be able to appreciate something we never lost. Not to forget your speeches, it contains a lot of good lessons we need growing up. In English, you were the one who told me what I need to improve and what I need to keep up. You have helped me grow not only academically but also as a person.

Secondly, you were always so caring to our class. You would interfere with our problems as if it were yours although you have nothing to do with it. You have exceeded your duty as our form teacher by giving us extra care. When you helped us talk to the different subject teachers to adjust our schedules. I remember those times when you used to always call my name every lesson and I would complain. I know those comments were necessary to remind me to control myself. I would always have your voice in my head reminding myself to behave. We have been through a lot of fun and problems as a class. Although we are all still in one class now, it would never be the same without you.

Lastly, I would like to wish you a very happy life with your husband. I hope you can have the family you always wanted and with you experience in teaching us you will be an excellent mother. I pray that you can be healthy and happy forever. I hope all of us will get a chance to meet you again before you go to Michigan.

As you said, “You may forget me as a teacher, but I hope you remember the lessons I have taught you.” Don't worry miss, not only will we remember your lessons, we will remember that there is no better teacher we could ever ask for. Before I sign off, I know you almost cried reading this miss. I know it’s too good. hahaha.

I wish you nothing but the best !!!

Your “bestest” student,

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Psalm 91 Testimony (Featured in the book of Dr. Chitra Soetoyo)

It was when I became a member of ESIS family that my relationship with God significantly deepened by memorizing and internalizing Bible verses. It was like learning how to walk, at times I grappled but soon enough, reciting verses became part of my daily life helping me to lead a more meaningful life.

When I first heard Psalm 91, I was amazed by the different testimonies of the students how it helped them when they were in dire need. It never occurred to me that one day, I would be needing it as well.
It was early morning when I left home that fateful day hoping to be at the meeting place that my friends and I agreed. We were planning to jog in a famous place in Jakarta (Ancol) and see the beauty of sunrise so we decided to make it the earliest possible. It was around 5:15 when I left home and I was greeted with stark darkness. The guard was nowhere to be seen so I just locked the gate and continued walking to look for a taxi. I was a bit inattentive with my surroundings since I never had any bad experience before in this country. Though it was dark, I was not bothered at all.

I was fixing my sweater when I suddenly felt the presence of somebody near me. I was momentarily taken aback when I saw a man on a bicycle looking at me. He said something in Bahasa angrily but I did not understand it. My heart started beating so fast the way he was pointing at my bag. Out of fear, I said something in Filipino and the man looked at me quite baffled. The moment his gaze locked on mine, I immediately started reciting Psalm 91. I had this split second to decide what to do, run or face him. Other neighbors have security guards as well but I didn't see anyone. It was still dark and I knew I was alone. I ran as fast as I could while reciting Psalm 91. The man could have easily followed me, but he was left quite perplexed also how I reacted. When I was reciting Psalm 91, I struggled to remember the words since I was so scared. Repeatedly, I have recited these lines, I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.”

The man could have easily followed me since he had a bicycle. However, when I looked back, he was frozen where he was standing. Thankfully, I was able to hail a taxi fast enough when I reached the main road.

In retrospect, we have no control of the situations that we may be facing in the future. But, the giant leap with my spiritual belief helped me to surrender my complete faith in Him knowing that He is ALWAYS in control.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Six Thousand Plus Dead and Counting

"When the first drop of blood of the innocent cascades, and the dawn of understanding sets in, no, I won’t say ‘I told you so.’ I, too, shall weep."

The ballooning number of those killed in the war against drugs of the Philippines reminded me of this post I had on Facebook before the election. I deleted this post as soon as the new president was sworn in as respect for the 16 million votes he got which catapulted him in the position. It's a sad world we live in. One that is mostly decided by those in power. Now, six months after being sworn in and more than 6 thousand people were killed including children and innocent bystanders (in his words collateral damage).

I do not intend to sound so apolitical. After all, our Facebook timelines are already blitzed with countless articles and meme’s of this and that candidate. However, just as the suffrage is a right so is the freedom of expression.

Though I did not vote for Duterte, I believe that due respect must be accorded to those who remain strongly convicted that they should vote for him. If there is one thing I have realized reading comments and articles of those who are rooting for him, they really believe he is the most qualified to bring change albeit of the brand of leadership he portrays- that of extra-judicial killings.

Whatever will be the result of the election on Monday, I pray that it will be an honest and peaceful one. It is easy to be unperturbed because I am not in the Philippines but my heart will always be in the land where I was born.

There is probably no other election after martial law regime which seems to be so divisive and so wearying than this election. The spirit of reconciliation is far from sight for friends and families obdurately arguing of their chosen candidates. There is so much hate. There was a time that I was ranting frustrations just because I ardently believe that I was fighting for a great cause. Then, I realized that others are fighting the same.

In light of the different surveys, a part of me has already conceded that Duterte will really win as president. A part of me has conceded that the man who lauded himself as the Davao Death Squad with 1, 000 plus victims will really govern the Philippines. A part of me has conceded that the injustices done to the mothers whose children were taken with a victim as young as nine years old will never get justice. A part of me has accepted that the man who cursed the pope, who made fun of the PWD and LGBT, who said that while in front of the Australian rape victim with slashed throat, thought that, "I was angry because she was raped, that's one thing but she was so beautiful, the mayor should have been first. What a waste.", will live in Malacanang (with his ex-wife, common wife, and two other mistresses) for six years. A part of me has conceded that in the spirit of progress that people are pushing, we are willing to brush aside the issues of corruption- lavish gifts, unexplainable bank accounts, undeclared properties, and ambiguous 708 million contractual workers.

A part of me has conceded that the man who claimed he can eradicate crime in 3-6 months will seat in the highest power, that he will change the form of government so he can deliver his cause.

The biggest part of me though is fervently praying that EACH and EVERY policeman in the whole country, is clean and just in exercising power. Remember, Duterte may be the tough presidentiable that you think but he is not a superman. He can not be in the 7, 100 islands of the Philippines killing criminals like he promised. Shooting them like what you have probably imagined. To borrow the mayor’s lines laced with profanities and populist tirades:

“Am I the Davao Death Squad? True. That is true.”
“You know when I become president, I warn you. I don’t covet the position. If I become president, the 1,000 will become 50,000.”
“One shot in the head will do it.”
“I will increase the salary of the policemen.”
“I will kill all of you.”
“I will pardon myself for mass murder.”
“I will also extend pardons to security forces who abuse human rights.”
“I will issue 1,000 pardons a day,”
“Pardon given to Rodrigo Duterte for the crime of multiple murder, signed Rodrigo Duterte.”
“If I'm the president, I will declare a revolution. I will rebel against my own government and close down everything except your businesses and make a body to take care of your expenses.”
“Barilin mo na agad kesa kasuhan pa. Tatagal lang ang kaso.”
“Expect more dead pushers when I’m president, build extra funeral parlors, please.”
“Diyan mo makikita tataba yong mga isda sa Manila bay. Diyan ko kayo itatapon.”
“I’ll pardon cops who kill criminals, civilians in line of duty.”
"I say let's kill five criminals every week, so they will be eliminated,"

Please pray that you don’t have brothers, uncles, husband, father, friends and relatives who might be mistaken as criminals. Don’t claim that they are not doing anything wrong. Remember, as the mayor said, there will be no due process of law. Remember, not all those killed by Davao Death Squad are criminals some are mistaken identity.

Sources (No ABS-CBN here and mostly international news publication/ networks only):

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

The Story of Us

26 hours of flight for the first time in his life! 

My husband and I made a promise that one day, we would share our story of love, sacrifices and faith. We hoped that this story would be an inspiration and source of strength to those who have waited and are continuously waiting for the love of their life. Ours is not a conventional love story and there’s definitely nothing conventional surpassing the difficulty of being far from each other for more than 700 days, dealing with more or less 4,800 hours of phone/video calls, exchanging about 18,000 messages, and completing countless paper works.

The Beginning 

February 2015 when David did the unthinkable. He flew for 26 hours to marry me. That was his first flight ever at the age of 42! Five days after our wedding, my husband left me in Jakarta so I could finish my job contract. April 2015 when he filed for my petition and we were optimistic that the processing of my papers would be completed by the time my working visa expired. But, things didn’t work out the way we planned it. After a few months of waiting, I signed one-year contract in another school reconciled with the knowledge that it would take longer than what we were hoping for.

Wedding reception at Kristal Hotel in Jakarta. 

We only booked this hotel the night before our wedding. 

It took about seven months before my husband was able to visit again in Jakarta. That was October 2015 and there was still no update of my papers and we were starting to worry. On the second morning of his visit, I checked my email and read the good news. The petition was approved! We hugged each other teary-eyed thinking that the end was finally in sight. Or so we thought. The approval was just actually the start of an even longer journey of completing all the papers to be submitted to another government agency, the National Visa Center.

Keeping the Faith

After dealing with US embassy and Philippine embassy in Jakarta, government of Indonesia, and different US agencies, we finally submitted all the documents (about 200 pages in all) by March 2016. However, when we were finally notified after 60 days, I was informed that I needed to submit more papers.

My husband's third visit in Jakarta during my birthday. 

Though I was scared with the delay, my husband was confident my schedule for interview would be soon. End of the school year was fast approaching and there was still nothing or confirmation that all my documents were approved. June 2016 when my contract ended. Thankfully, I was given grace period to extend the use of my visa until I finished my interview in the US embassy.

May 28, 2016 celebrating my birthday after 26 hours of flight. 

Dealing with more Setbacks
First week of September when I had my interview. My medical result was perfect and contrary to what I braced myself for, the questions were fairly easy to answer and the Consular officer was actually so kind and obviously convinced our relationship was genuine. However, more papers were requested and she assured me that it was normally required from immigrants. When she told me it would take another 2-3 weeks to process it, I was simply flabbergasted. My husband was equally dumbfounded but he continued to show positive disposition amidst the setbacks we were going through.

Since the papers would be coming back from my husband, that alone would entail another 2-3 weeks to process. There was no way I could stay that long in Jakarta without my visa. We decided that I would wait in the Philippines and my friends in Jakarta would continue the needed processing. September 17, 2016 when I left Jakarta convinced that I wouldn’t need to go back since I didn’t need to appear again in US embassy.

With people close to my heart during my flight going back to the Philippines. 

With my friends in Jakarta who helped me in so many ways. 

For more than two months after my job contract ended, we waited anxiously for the schedule of my interview. I got busy trying to comply with the vaccines required. One night while burning with fever and swollen arms because of the vaccine, I was told by the agency that I needed to pay the apartment for one year or they would not renew my contract for the current month. I only needed 1-2 months so my friend and I tried looking for a new one but almost all agencies preferred to rent their apartments for one year. Thankfully, I have good friends who invited me to stay with them while I was waiting for my interview. I packed all my things by myself in one day with swollen arms and broken spirit.

During the course of the waiting, my husband and I tried to be strong and put our faith that everything would be alright. We lost count of the times we were asked what was taking so long. He got teased that I’m just his imaginary wife and I got incredulous look for resigning with my job uncertain when I would finally be able to leave Jakarta.

Faith Amidst Adversity
It was only when we’re on the phone talking that we get comfort with the love we have for each other. We continued doing what we have started since we got married and that’s reading Daily Bread. He would also patiently read to me, ‘The Purpose Driven Life’, and I would read to him Bible verses. It did not totally vanish the frustrations, the longing, and sometimes the helplessness that we were going through, but, it helped us day by day as we continued to hope that our waiting would be over soon.

When I received the schedule for my interview, I just couldn’t wait for it to be over with. It was almost August and I had no job since June bringing me on the brink of madness. Finally, I had the schedule of my medical prior with my interview. The night before my doctor’s appointment, I knew I was not in shape to have it. I was not feeling so well and I was having on and off fever. But, canceling it was out of the question since I needed to bring the medical papers for the interview.

While waiting for the result, my husband and I would end up crying while we were talking so overwhelmed with frustrations and helplessness. I knew he was trying to comfort me but he was so despondent as well with all the anxiety of delays.

When I left, my husband already sent the needed documents. I had no idea if our love was really being tested but what were the odds that the documents would be lost? The tracking number was proven to be useless because all they could tell us was it’s probably being held in Jakarta customs. I was in the Philippines with no way to personally follow-up but, thanks to some friends who called several offices to track the documents. Meanwhile, my husband and I decided to fill-up new documents and again, he needed to make a pile of endless paper works as supporting documents. This with the help of friends who patiently stayed by his side while we were going through that difficult moment.

Lost in the Dark
While waiting, I knew that my husband who prided himself for his strength and faith, was starting to crumble in pieces. He refused to go out except for work and even excused himself from going to church. We would find ourselves both in tears while talking, scared that we might need to wait longer or worst start the process all over again. The last papers required would be the defining moment if my case would be approved.

Light after the Dark On October 4, the document was submitted by my friends in the US embassy and on the same day he sent it, the first one sent by my husband which was lost in Jakarta customs was finally delivered as well. During that time, my husband was almost constantly sick and feeling nauseous and we would usually end our time talking on the phone in tears. I was too scared to check the status of my visa but on October 9, I finally did. The status says that my visa was issued and printed on October 7.

Well, we were hoping that there would be no more glitches but I think we celebrated so soon. My passport was picked up by a friend on October 18 because he was out of town and the working visa of the other one I authorized was currently being processed. My husband was so excited that he got a pumpkin and was even more excited that he was already planning to visit haunted houses just in time for Halloween. He was so sure that I would be there by October 25.

I followed closely my document using the tracking number. I was expecting it to be delivered by October 21 since it stated 3-4 business days. On the day that I was hoping it would come, I saw in the tracking site that the expected delivery was October 28. However, by 4 p.m. on October 21, DHL delivered my documents. The previously stated expected delivery date was a system error. I was so happy but another unexpected thing happened.

My passport number printed on my visa was wrong. I started asking my friends who were also issued US visa. They were all convincing me it was impossible that they would have a mistake in a US visa. But, there was this nagging feeling inside me something was wrong with my visa and I knew there would be a problem in the immigration if it’s not corrected. When my husband learned about it, he suddenly became so quiet and before I knew it, he was crying. We have waited for so long and my visa had a mistake! The pumpkin and my husband needed to wait yet again.

Back to Jakarta
Upon contacting US embassy in Jakarta, I flew back there on October 30. I arrived 2 a.m. of October 31, returned my passport the same day in the embassy at 1 p.m. then claimed it the next day. Again, what were the odds that it would be raining so hard on that day that I needed to tread in an ankle-deep flood water in front of the embassy? I needed to wrap my immigrant visa packet and passport in plastic bag, then bought a disposable plastic coat just to protect all the documents while I was walking on a knee-high flood water!

My husband couldn’t book yet my ticket because I needed to make sure that I didn’t need to attend the seminar similar to the one they offer in the Philippines for immigrants. There was a huge demonstration with thousands of protesters set on Friday that week in Jakarta and there was news of it getting out of hand so my husband was insistent that I needed to fly out of Jakarta before Friday.

Finally, on November 2, we knew for sure that my husband could book my ticket without a problem. If I wanted to be out of Jakarta by Friday to avoid the rally, I needed to leave the following day. I started packing again my things hoping that by the time I woke up, my flight would be booked. At 1:00 a.m. on November 3, my husband called me and told me that tickets were almost triple the price and I needed to try booking it online. I checked and immediately booked one. I told my husband I did it and my flight would be at 5:00 p.m. the same day. After a few minutes, I received an email informing me that my ticket has been cancelled. With shaking hands, I asked him to check if they charged the money to his debit card. They did. So many calls to the company afterwards which boiled down to more waiting, my husband told me to get some sleep. No assurance when he would be able to get the money back or find another flight. That was around 3:00 a.m. and I fell back to sleep with tears in my eyes.

Reunited with my husband at Chicago airport. 

Dreams do come true. :) 

A heart filled with joy that we're finally together. 

At Chicago with Stacy, one of our friends who helped us. 

Finally, first time in Michigan which will be my new home. 

Our journey was definitely not the bed of roses nor was it devoid of hopelessness, pain and disappointments. But, everything that we went through taught us a great lesson about sacrifice and faith in the name of love. It was also the time of realization for us that though we couldn’t be strong at all times, we could always lean on each other for strength. We learned to assure each other that whatever happens, our love would sustain us. It’s easy to utter the words, “I love you,” when everything is smooth sailing. But, when faced with adversities in life, that’s the time that the authenticity of a relationship is truly tested.

I woke up with a heavy heart around 7:00 a.m. No calls from my husband. When I finally called him, he didn’t even want to call back the company and follow-up. He sounded so down but I finally convinced him to call and inquire about the status of my flight. While he was on the phone, I checked my email and there was nothing. I opened my booking account and there it was, my confirmed flight itinerary.

The rest is history as they say. The same day I had my flight booked, I flew to Chicago to be reunited with my husband.

First Christmas together after three Christmases away from each other. 

Our love is to infinity and beyond. 

Our relationship is far from perfect, but, there was never a time when we were facing so many obstacles that we said we’re giving up. There were tears and disappointments, so many times with pain and sadness, but there were also constant reassurances of, “I’m not giving up on you. Ever.”

And so that’s our story. A story of love, sacrifices and faith.

(Our heartfelt thanks to the people who made this journey possible: Mrs. Chitra and family, Sir JB, Topz and Myrna, Jun and Weng, Marjorie, Ms. Dina, Ms. Lian, Teacher Ana and Sir Kiko, Mitos and Perry, Ms. Shida, Ms. Marie, Mr. Akbar, Stacy and Chris, Uncle Fred, Dad, Casey and Jess, and to the rest of our dear family and friends whom we would be greatly indebted for the rest of our lives.)


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