Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Maligayang Pasko, Little One!

It’s Christmas Eve today, and I’m just not in the Christmas spirit. I really expected to be, but I’m not. I really should be. After all, Jake is home safe. Our family is under one roof, all together and all in good health. We’ve trimmed the tree and lighted the house. All the presents are wrapped and under the tree. A stream of Christmas cards has been filling our mailbox for weeks. All of the key components of holiday cheer are present, and yet cheer is not. 

And it’s my own fault. My heart convinced my head that my big gift for Christmas this year would be news. ‘We’ll finally hear about the newest little person joining our family!’ I convinced myself. 

Despite the fact that we won’t even hit the average wait time until April. Despite the fact that I’ve been working in the Philippines for nearly a decade, and I know that government slows to a halt in December. Despite, despite, despite. Against all reason, I was simply convinced—our little person is out there somewhere, and this Christmas I will finally get to learn who our little person is.

I was wrong. And it’s deflating. My heart is aching, not just from the disappointment, but also from knowing that our Little really is out there somewhere, passing yet another Christmas without a family. Generally speaking, caregivers in the Philippines are extremely loving and attentive to their charges, so I’m not worried about an unhappy Christmas for Little. But it hurts my heart to think about a Christmas passed with a void; Christmas as a lone piece of a far-away a puzzle. Christmas passed longing not for Santa, but for nanay (mommy) and tatay (daddy) and kuya (big brother). When we’re right here!!

So now, what I’m yearning for this Christmas is peace. Lord, let me lay down the disappointment. Lift the sadness from my heart. Help me focus on the now, and allow the future to come to me when it will. 

And to my Little, wherever you are, Maligayang Pasko sweet angel! Merry Christmas! Maybe next year you will spend it with your family.



Tuesday, November 4, 2014

#VOTE, and Again I say VOTE!

I've been talking a lot lately about the importance of voting this election season. Maybe it's because the military families community has had such a rough run with our leaders on Capitol Hill this past year. Maybe it's because I'm sick of gridlock. Maybe it's because the more I study the issues, the more urgent the need for an informed and engaged electorate becomes in my own mind. 

What I know is, right now our government is so fractured it's a wonder they can agree on what to eat for lunch (maybe they can't), let alone agree on what's best for this country. I see our servicemembers spread ever thinner by shrinking benefits and growing deployments, our education resources dwindling, our next generation being crushed by the debt incurred to be educated, and our economy still shaky from years of uncertainty and slow recovery. And all I can think is "we MUST do something!"

So I've tried. I've worked on educating local voters. I've urged you to vote as a way to honor the sacrifices that gave you, and continue to protect for you, the right to vote:


And I've voted myself. The only thing that remains is to urge you, ask of you, plead with you--please vote! Whoever you vote for, whether you choose my candidates or not, whether your candidates win or not, please please vote. The only way we make change in our leadership is through an informed, engaged electorate. Vote TODAY! And if you need information to help you vote, visit vote411.org.

And for those of you who happen to be all about elections today, join me online! I will be participating in ABC 13's Your Voice, Your Vote Livestream, where we will also be live tweeting at the hash tag #abc13vote.  We will be broadcasting from 7-11pm, and I will be around starting at 8pm. You can join us here:



Friday, September 12, 2014

It Doesn't Have to Be a Lonely Road...

In July, we passed the two years mark in our Philippines adoption journey, and this month makes eighteen that we have been on the approved families list. If the averages hold, that means we are probably looking at a match in the Spring, but averages are just averages.  I have to remind myself of that a lot. We knew from the beginning that this would be a long journey, but somehow that doesn't stop the impatience eager anticipation for the day we finally get the call.

Lilypie Waiting to Adopt tickers

The thing that is hardest about the adoption journey is that it can feel really isolating. As time passes with no word, you start to fret. You start to wonder if it is ever really going to happen. You start to worry whether you dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's. Did I miss something? Could we have done a better job with the documents? Are we doing it wrong?

I'm meticulous. I know I did it all right, and more importantly I believe that this whole process is in God's hands. Yet I still obsess a little a ton about the details, worry about the unknowns.

I think part of the reason for that is that, comparatively speaking, the Philippine international adoption program is really small. There are only about 300 international adoptions each year from the Philippines, usually fewer than a hundred in the U.S. That includes matches, home findings for special needs kids, as well as relative adoptions. It's a small group. And because it's a small group, there just aren't a ton of support resources out there. It's hard to find other people who've been there.

Actually, that's why I started blogging about this in the first place. I wanted to write our story to keep our friends and family informed, but also because I hoped that other people out there, Googling "Philippines Adoption," might find it and not feel quite so alone in the process.

It's starting to work! In recent months, I've had a couple of families reach out to me on the blog and share their stories. One family, the Nissa family, sent me a message a few weeks ago letting me know that they had been matched with a baby boy. They're in the process of finalizing paperwork to bring him home now. You can read all about their story here (it's in French, so you'll need a translator). When Anne Nissa wrote me with her good news, she said "I just want to animate you on this road!" Boy did she! My heart still swells when I think about it.

I recently heard from another woman whose family was just matched with a five-year-old boy and his eighteen-month-old sister. She left her comments anonymously so I don't know who or where she is, but it was definitely encouraging to hear from her.

Reaching out really helps, too. Last year, through someone who reads my blog, I finally found a Philippines Adoption Group. It's a group of twelve people, all at different stages of the waiting game. At times, if feels like we are all taking turns being frustrated with the waiting, but sometimes commiseration is exactly what you need. And when any of us has questions, needs help or just an encouraging word, someone is there. 

A few weeks ago, a friend sent me a new story about a couple in Denton, Texas working on a Philippines adoption. We were able to find each other on Facebook, and our virtual conversation about adoption led to our being found by another woman who recently started a Philippines adoption group on Facebook. Through that group, I met Mandy Rose and Jessica Wood, both mommies waiting for Philippines matches, both blogging about it.

We're all still waiting. Finding each other certainly didn't fix that. But what it did was give us someone with whom we can commiserate. Other families working through the same challenges we are, sharing the same hopes we do. Finding community in this journey, it means we'll get a lot more of those joyful heart swells as these families welcome home their children.

It makes waiting for ours just a little bit easier.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Praying Our Way Through Another School Year

It's that time again! Today is the first day of school in Houston, which means excitement and nervousness for kids, parents, teachers and administrators. You could feel the buzz in the air yesterday as we talked to many of our friends sending kids to the classroom, and quite a few headed back to the classroom themselves. 

Last year our church started a new tradition--every kid headed back to school gets adopted by a family committed to praying for that kid to have a great school year. Last year, we chose a little boy named Kevin, and I wrote a prayer for him. This year, we adopted a set of boys--Syd and Scout--but we also decided to keep Kevin too. 




Last year, I issued the following challenge:
So here's a fun exercise. I would like for every one of you who reads this post to find one person (or more, if you're feeling ambitious!) among your FB friends--a child going back to school, or a teacher trying to guide many--and say a prayer specifically for that person. You can borrow the below prayer, or you can say your own. And feel free to share! Let's see what happens when we are intentional about putting this 2013-14 school  year in God's hands!

And I'm doing it again! Find one (or more) kid (or teacher) from among your FB friends, and pray for them to have a great year at school this year. And let them know! Maybe it will make the whole process feel just a little bit less daunting. Below I have written a prayer for our "adopted" boys you are welcome to borrow if you want. And if you want to tell me in the comments of teachers, kids, or maybe even parents who need praying for this school year, I'm happy to add them to my own prayer list as well.

Heavenly Father,

We find ourselves, yet again, at the beginning of a new school year, and I'm coming to you, asking that you will be with Syd, Scout, and Kevin.

Please watch over them, Lord, as they get to know new teachers, new classmates, and perhaps even new schools. This whole process can be very exciting, and very daunting, all at once. Please calm their nerves, Lord, and help them focus. Give these boys peace as they face so many new, unknown things; help them know that You are their navigator, and nothing is unknown to You.

Please encourage Syd, Scout, and Kevin; guide them to good friends and good influences, and give them strength to resist the bad ones. Help them to recognize the difference when that is a hard thing to do.

Please be with the boys' teachers, Lord, theirs and the many others working so hard to reach and teach our children. Please give them encouragement on the rough days, help them feel appreciated, and give them wisdom to know the best way to reach our kids, and teach them to love learning.

Most importantly, Lord, please help Syd, Scout, and Kevin to know that you are there, with them as they face every new challenge, make every new friend, learn every new passion that this year has in store. Watch over them all and keep them safe.

I ask all these things in your sweet Son's name,
Amen





Sunday, July 6, 2014

Family Trip Malfunction

We had one of those 'it could have been a lot worse' moments recently.

A couple of weeks ago, we took a family trip to Arkansas to surprise Jake’s grandmother for her 90th birthday. We took the trip in Jake’s little Grumman Tiger, as we have so many times before, but this was special because it was the first trip that we’d taken together in the plane since Jake got home from Afghanistan. To say Howie was thrilled might be the biggest understatement on the planet. It’s all he talked about for over a week before it was time to go.

Jake flew from Kansas to Houston (or rather Cleveland, Texas) to pick us up, and the three of us flew together to the small airport in Saline County, Arkansas, not far from Little Rock. We usually land at Saline County Airport because it is a small airport (hence, typically no traffic jams), and it is near where Jake’s dad and stepmom live (Papa and KayKay to Howie).

On this particular trip, we were coming in to land just before sunset. It was an absolutely perfect landing, but when we turned left onto the taxi-way, the airplane started veering right for some reason. We didn’t know what was going on at first, so Jake had me hold the brakes while he jumped out to see what was going on. 

Flat tire. That’s what was going on.  In the middle of nowhere, at 8:45pm on a Friday night. Ugh. And we could see Papa parked near the entrance, about 1.5 miles away, but he didn’t have the code to get into the airport after hours.  Double ugh.  We called to let him know what was going on, but he could be of no help to us at the time.

After a few minutes, we saw a red truck driving our direction. It was a local pilot, just finished flying for the evening, coming to check on us. “The same thing happened to me two weeks ago, and someone came to help me” he said. “Lucky for you, I think I have the tools you need, and I’m looking to pay it forward.”

The man (who’s name I never caught, although I’m sure Jake did; I’ll just call him the Good Samaritan) went back to his hangar to get tools and returned a few minutes later to let us know that he needed to run and refill his air tank. He wanted it ready just in case the tire would hold air long enough to make it to the parking area. About that time, Jake suggested that Howie and I start walking to the airport so that we could let Papa into the gate to come help.

We walked along in the now-pitch dark with only my flashlight app to guide us the 1.5 miles down the taxi-way to the airport. I held my baby’s hand as he jumped at every nighttime sound he heard. I reassured him with “It’s just cicadas, sweet boy,” and “It’s only an owl” and “It’s just the frogs,” while praying that he couldn’t hear the coyotes in the distance.

When we got close to the airport I noticed what will likely forever be one of the most annoying sights I ever beheld: Papa, parked inside the security gate. He let himself in when the Good Samaritan left to go get air, but hadn’t driven down the taxi-way to find us. We hopped in the car and drove down to the plane. By that time, the Good Samaritan had returned and they were working on the plane.

Knowing he was staring down the barrel of hours of work, Jake told Papa to take us home so we could get Howie into bed, and so he could get more tools to help. We unloaded our bags from the plane into the car, and Papa took us to his house, where KayKay had some dinner waiting for Howie before bedtime.

Two hours later, Jake and Papa made it back to the house. They basically had to jack up the plane and then drag it down the runway to the parking area where it would sit for the night. The Good Samaritain told Jake and Papa if they came back to the airport in the morning, they’d find help fixing the plane.

The next morning, we had to divide and conquer. I had an interview with Fox at 7am in Downtown Little Rock, and Jake had to be back at the airport to deal with the plane. So Papa took Jake back to Saline County, while KayKay took me to my interview. She dropped me off and took Howie to the park while I tried to sound less nervous than I was. We all made it back home by lunchtime, and fortunately the rest of the weekend was much smoother sailing.

When Jake and Papa arrived back at the airport, what they found was the local pilots’ weekly breakfast club meeting. The pilots invited them to the table like they were old friends, fed them, and then fixed the tire for them in about twenty minutes flat. One of the pilots even gave Jake the tube to put in the tire free of charge! They saved us hundreds of dollars in repair charges, and hours of wasted time waiting for a mechanic to come from Little Rock and fix it. We really couldn’t be more thankful, or ask for more kind, generous people than the perfect strangers who saved our family weekend from ruin!

So this was quite the ordeal, but it is yet another instance in which, to us, providence in the situation is clear. See, apparently airplane tires are like bike tires—they have tubes. And whoever installed Jake’s tire tube did it incorrectly. The tube had been pinched. A blowout was going to happen, and it was only a matter of time.

In the time since Jake had the last set of tires installed on the plane, he has taken it on more flights than I can remember. Some of those flights were with us, but most of them were across country to see us, and they mostly involved stopping in remote places to refuel and keep flying. Just like with large aircraft, take-offs and landings in small planes happen at high speeds, and malfunctions during take-offs and landings can be extremely serious.

But Jake’s tire didn’t blow on a take-off or a landing; it blew when we were going about ten miles an hour and could easily stop the plane. And it didn’t blow at 9pm when he was refueling in [I can’t remember] Oklahoma, or 7am in [I’m not sure it’s on the map] Texas—it blew at a place with which we were familiar, with family nearby, and with me there to help.  In other words, the inevitable blowout, albeit terribly annoying at the time, could not have happened at a better place, or under better circumstances.

It’s too bad all of life’s little catastrophes can't be minimum-inconvenience ordeals. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Homecoming is...Complicated.

It's been two months to the day since Jake came home from Afghanistan, and I think I'm finally ready to write about our homecoming. Sound odd? Let me explain what I mean by that.

Ever watch those homecoming videos people post? Sometimes the news picks them up, sometimes they're just floating around out in the YouTubesphere. They're always beautiful, tearful, and joyous. I'm pretty sure I've never made it through one dry-eyed. For a split second, anyone watching those videos can catch a glimpse of what it's like to be a military family, welcoming home their loved one, safe and sound. It's really beautiful, and for a nation generally removed from military life, it's also really important.

Here's the problem with those videos, though. Watching them is like getting the Disney princess movie version of military life--a little adversity, a race to the "happily ever after," followed by "The End." But every adult watching the movie knows "The End" is not really where the story stops, and "happily ever after" is not quite what it looks like in the movies. So it goes with reintegration after deployment.

You all read about Howie and my harrowing journey to welcome Jake home. And any of you connected with me on Facebook saw the album of our homecoming, filled with beautiful pictures by fellow military spouse Rachel Spinuzzi. It was amazing, really. And there was laughter and tears of joy, lots of hugs, and all of the things you would expect from the reunion of a family long-separated. And in case you missed it, I included it here:


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Our homecoming happened around midnight on a Wednesday, so in addition to the joy there was also exhaustion, loading and unloading bags and bags of gear in the dark, and a little person so far beyond his bedtime he was going to go nuclear any minute. Still we were so thrilled to see each other we took it in stride.

Jake didn't have a place at Ft. Riley yet, so he came home to a hotel; the room was nice, and the hotel had a pool, so that was okay. It just meant that later Jake would have to find a place to truly unpack and settle. Still thrilled to be together--home is where the heart is.

Then one of my partners started calling and emailing incessantly with work that could easily have waited until I got home, but that she insisted had to be done immediately, wherever I was. Of the two days we spent in Manhattan, I spent over half of it working. But Jake hadn't seen Howie in ten months, and, again, there was a pool. So father-son time would be on the menu and that's still okay. We're still thrilled. Even if we're a little annoyed that work is taking mom away again.

On Friday, we drove to Kansas City to spend a fun weekend. It's actually a really great city for families, and we always have a good time. We took Howie to T-Rex Cafe for a late birthday celebration.


Howie was in the worst mood, though, and behaved horribly while we were there. And that's when we started to see the shine fade off of the "just thrilled to be together." Jake hadn’t dealt with a child's willfulness in ten months, and had very little patience for it. 

Lunch set the tone for the rest of the day--as often happens with a cranky little person--and by the time we were headed to dinner at Fritz's Railroad, we've all just about had it.

I mean, we're at a restaurant where you dial your food up on a vintage telephone, and it's delivered via miniature locomotive, and still it's a struggle to have fun. Fortunately, as dinner went on things relaxed. We got ice cream afterward and by that point all was right again. 


Saturday was a new day, and an exciting one for Howie. Kansas City, for him, means one thing—Legoland.  We got there early to participate in Legoland’s Easter egg hunt, and Howie was thrilled.  But it took him about five minutes to completely forget about the egg hunt—too much Lego fun to be had.  He road rides, built race cars, and even bogarted a guy’s attempts to build a Lego Eiffel Tower.  And Daddy let Howie pick out a Lego airplane from the store for his birthday.  

Howie had so much fun that he didn’t want to leave.  Which resulted in more fits and the stress that goes with it. Fortunately, by the time we got to the Crayola CafĂ© for lunch he’d calmed down.  He met the Easter Bunny and got some chocolate, then suddenly all was right with the world.  Because chocolate.

After nap time, we went to Kansas City’s Grand Central Station—a truly beautiful building—to check out the museums it houses.  We visited their miniature train exhibit (FREE to the public), and Howie loved it.  When it closed, we took the bridge over the train depot and found a great German Biergarten where we had a lovely dinner.  Howie and Jake capped the day off by building the Lego airplane.


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Sunday morning, we went back to Grand Central Station to have brunch at a great old restaurant for Easter.  And because we were there, of course we hit the miniature train exhibit again.  I have a feeling that it will be another required stop on Kansas City trips from now on.

Howie took a quick nap, then we went to see Disney’s Bears Movie, which we all really liked. The theater we found was amazing, and every seat was a recliner.  An adjustable recliner.  Which Howie played with throughout the movie.  It drove Jake nuts, and probably would have really annoyed other people too, but fortunately there was no one else in our row.  After the movie we stumbled upon another (FREE) miniature train exhibit, which we checked out before Jake took us to the airport.

So if you’re counting, that means we were together for five days.  After ten months apart.  Yeah.

Parting ways at the airport was downright excruciating.  Howie was sad; I was heartbroken. It was not enough.  Not enough to make up for lost time.  Not enough time to process.  Not enough time to (try and) ease back into a routine, or get used to each other again.  Heck, to get to know each other again. No matter how you slice it, not nearly enough.

Homecoming isn’t “happily ever after.”  I think for most military families, homecoming is catharsis.  It’s finally being able to lay down the burden of constant fear for our soldiers, our families, our households, and our sanity.  It’s like exhaling after holding your breath for a long time. It’s ‘I’m no longer solely responsible for whether my family is okay or not.

But homecoming is catharsis only for a moment, and then it’s the beginning of a long process. “Reintegration” is what we call it. Really it’s rebuilding families, marriages, relationships between parents and children. It’s undoing the months of independence necessary to weather deployment, to put a family unit back together.

For remote families like mine, it’s reintegration-interrupted. It’s months of critical family-building work crammed into the days we can snatch here and there to be together, basically starting over again every time we reunite. It's frustrating, sometimes disheartening, and sometimes a little scary. 

And for us, it's a work in progress. Probably, that's why it took so long for me to write about it--we're all still processing. But certainly, that's why any of you who have asked about homecoming, and how thrilled we are to finally be back together, have gotten a mixed reaction from me.

Don't let that stop you from asking. Questions like that may be hard to answer because, well, it's complicated. But it shows you care, and military families really appreciate knowing that people see them, and care, and are thinking about them, and rejoice with them. Honestly, having so many of you rejoicing for us gives us room to sort out the rest.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Help #CrushtheStigma and Support Military Mental Health



If you follow me on Facebook, which many of you do, you've seen me talking about the fact that May  is Military Appreciation Month.  Throughout the month there are different days, events, and activities geared toward showing respect and gratitude to our men and women who serve (and have served) and their families, culminating with Memorial Day next Monday.

This week is Military Mental Health Advocacy Week.  The Military Spouses of Strength (MSOS) and Military Mental Health Project (MMHP), in collaboration with some amazing people like my friend, psychologist, and National Guard Spouse of the Year Dr. Ingrid Herrera-Yee, are working hard this week to spread the message about the mental health issues facing our military and veterans, and to garner support for efforts to address those issues while crushing the stigma that prevents so many people from seeking the help that they need.

The importance of this work cannot be overstated. Every day, 22 veterans in this country take their own lives. The Department of Defense does not currently have statistics on military spouses or children, but research by CNN on the issue is simply staggering. And that is saying nothing of the huge need among our men and women currently serving.

We understand the importance of addressing the wounds of our combat injured--and they are many.  It is easy to forget, though, that sometimes the piece of themselves our service members leave behind is not a limb, but a piece of their psyche, their personhood. Like all other wounds of war, healing can happen, but it takes time and professional help. The kind of help many do not have access to, and more are afraid to use because of the stigma associated with mental illness.

That's where we can help. Crushing the stigma starts with us. We need to educate ourselves on what invisible wounds are, and how they actually affect people. We need to send a clear message that we want to see our war wounded cared for, whether we can see their wounds or not. And we need to say to our warriors with invisible wounds: "these are battle scars, like all other injuries you sustained while protecting me and everything I hold dear. They do not diminish who you are, they merely require treatment." 

All this week the MSOS and MMHP are on the Hill talking to our elected officials about the importance of addressing military mental health issues. You can follow the MSOS and MMHP Facebook pages for updates.

Please join me in supporting them, by:

  • Take the MSOS pledge to urge the Department of Defense to increase its mental health initiatives HERE.
  • Signing MMPH's Change.org petition HERE, by sharing it with your friends, and