Saturday, December 28, 2019

14 Tips for People Who are Migrating to Another Country

Since moving to the United States two years ago, I have been asked for tips and reminders by friends who were also planning to push their reset buttons and start a new life outside the Philippines.

This coming 2020, I know of at least three families who are already scheduled to leave for the US. So, here’s sharing a list of tips that I have shared with them in case others may be able to find them useful as well. 

read our family's migration story, here, where we had to leave in batches 
1. Secure documents that would be very difficult to obtain once you’re no longer in the Philippines: birth certificates, transcript of records, diplomas, etc.

*Rule of thumb: Prioritize to bring things that are impossible to duplicate outside your home country, especially if you won't be able to return for a long time.

2. If you have a child with special needs like we do or a family member with chronic conditions: Bring clinical abstracts, hospitalization summaries, enough maintenance medications (at least good for 3 months) and small medical equipment (eg. nebulizer, suction machine, feeding pump, etc). Know that it takes a while to get into the medical and insurance systems and you can’t just buy a lot of medical stuff (at pharmacies or even online) without a doctor’s prescription. The files documenting your child’s condition would be helpful when you start applying for government benefits for disabled residents. 

* As per my mom-in-law’s advice, we also brought some over-the-counter (OTC) meds for fever, headaches, coughs, and colds. Those became very useful especially during our first winter here.

3. Instead of bulky and heavy photo albums, scan digital files of family pictures that you want to keep and might want to post as throwback photos in the future. Make sure to save them in a durable external hard drive. 

* I wish I knew about the HP Smart app before! It scans documents and photos quickly by just using my phone’s camera. As it was, I tried to scan as many photos as possible, especially those of my kids’ babyhood and school photos, using our bulky HP printer with scanner. 

** Plus, I brought three VHS tapes with me that contain footages of my kids’ baby and childhood years. Once here, I had them converted into digital files.

don't forget to have original copies!

4. Close extra bank accounts and retain one PH-issued credit card (for emergency purchases) and its linked savings account (so you can pay for those credit card bills and other obligations you may be leaving behind like remaining utility bills and life insurance premiums). 

* My hubby was able to use his PH-issued credit card for car repairs during the time we still don’t have a US-issued credit card. Months later, I cancelled both our credit cards on their anniversaries because the bank wouldn’t waive our annual fees anymore.

** As soon as you have extra funds, apply for a secured credit card (more about this on another blog post) to start building your credit score -- something immigrants should have as soon as they can.

5. If possible, try to arrange for your postpaid cellphone number to be discontinued a month or two after you leave the Philippines. You will still be able to receive messages but will be charged a lot if you use the text and call services. 

My advice is to just bring at least one GSM phone with a prepaid number that has roaming activated. Link it to your savings account for those transactions that need One-Time-PINs (OTPs) and for reloading just the minimum amount a month just to keep it active. 

When my family’s PH-based bank suddenly started requiring OTPs for all online transactions and all our PH-issued sims have already expired, I went through a lot of stress communicating with inefficient customer service reps for months before finding out that I needed to send a handwritten letter via snail mail (postage set me back $40 and it took a month to arrive!) to my branch in Alabang just to enroll my US-issued cellphone number to receive OTPs. Meanwhile, our life insurance policies almost lapsed from not being paid for more than half a year! 

* In the meantime, just to have something for communication purposes, it’s easy to buy a cheap phone with a prepaid sim in department stores like Walmart or Target here in case your PH phone (mine did) won’t work with US sims. You can also check if you’d qualify for a free government phone program, which is available in most states.

two of the bags we bought in Divisoria
6. Do NOT bring too many clothes! If you’re okay with shopping at thrift shops, you can find a lot of good stuff (some even have tags still attached!) for really low prices. To see if there are stores near where you’ll be living, just search online for “thrift stores (or Goodwill) in [your city of destination].” 

* After buying down jackets and some extra warm clothing for my boys, I didn't want to spend for myself anymore and just used a coat my sister gave me to travel in. Happily, in our first week in California, I found a lovely branded down jacket for just $14.99 in a thrift shop! 

7. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Avoid worrying about not bringing enough personal care items or even kitchen tools. Search Google Maps for “dollar stores in [city of destination]” and shop there for necessities once you get here.

8. If you’re trying to save money but don’t have enough bags for the whole family, don’t buy brand new and super expensive luggage from the malls. Check surplus stores first or even take a trip to Divisoria. You can buy new and better luggage here in the future when you need to take trips and already have the funds to buy good quality ones. Plus, you may have problems with storage if you have to keep all of them after the trip.

*Almost all 11 pieces of luggage we used were damaged from mishandling (hubby and two of the boys’ stopover was in China). Only three pieces survived and had minor damages. I was able to use one again two years later when I went to the East Coast to visit relatives. 

**We didn’t know that checked-in mobility equipment are not counted as luggage! Hubby only had one large suitcase because he brought James’ jogger stroller. As it was, he could have brought another checked-in bag! 

mobility equipment are not counted as checked-in bag!
9. Save the luggage space (you can only bring two big ones as checked-in baggage per person) for stuff you feel like you will miss the most from home. In our case, I packed a lot of sachet mixes for sinigang, kaldereta, and panggisa; our preferred brand of instant noodles (promise, the same ones for export that can be bought here taste bland!); plus four bottles of our favorite concentrated calamansi juice. As new migrants who are not yet financially stable, you’d initially find them quite expensive in Filipino stores as we first did.

10. Bring reusable eco-bags that can be folded into small sizes and tucked inside your pocket or shoulder bag. I regretted leaving a lot of pretty eco-bags that I got from media events. Here, grocery plastic bags cost 10 cents each if you have nothing to put your purchases in and I’ve seen people discarding them later without any second thoughts, opting to just buy another bag the next time they shop. That’s practically throwing money away!

11. Since Filipinos tend to be madiskarte or mag-Mcgyver and plumbing services here are expensive, it is better to bring some basic handyman tools (and a roll of duct tape!) for quick-fix circumstances. This would help you avoid buying pricey items from home improvement stores while you’re still looking for a job or need to save more money. My husband’s tools came in real handy during our first few months when he attached a bidet to the toilet, among other things.

actual photo of hubby's tools we brought with us to the US
12. Sell off as many of your stuff as possible so you won’t get stressed about where to store them and leaving them in storage for several years. When you get here, you’ll realize soon enough that many of things you planned to come back for someday would have been put to better use by other people. Most likely, you’ll find the same or similar items here, some even better than what you used to have.

*I used Shopee to dispose of a lot of items and earned about P30,000 in just a few months from selling already heavily discounted second hand and never-been-used products. Some of the leftovers I gave away to relatives and neighbors while some were sold by my mom and sister in garage sales.

13. Visit your dentist and have as much dental work done as much as possible. Seriously, you will be frustrated at the exorbitant prices dentists charge here even WITH insurance! Also, they almost always refuse to do tooth fillings and want to perform root canals so they can charge you $1000 for the service. And that quote still doesn’t include dental veneers, tooth jackets, or dentures!

14. Pay for your green card processing while you’re still in the Philippines so that you can receive it in as little as two weeks after arriving in the US. According to the PDOS (Pre-Departure Orientation Seminar) speaker at the CFO (Commission on Filipinos Overseas), if you pay when you’re already here, it will take two months to arrive. I am not 100% sure about that timeline but we did the former and did receive our green cards in less than a month.

my and James' arrival at LAX
Please note that everything in this post are based on my family’s own experiences and are just here as guides. Some of the tips may not be applicable to your specific circumstances but I hope you were able to find some of them helpful. 

To fellow Filipinos who also migrated to another country, please feel free to share in the comments anything else you think should be included in this list. Thank you for reading! :) 

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Tips for Shooting Videos and Well-Lighted Photos at Home

FACT: Not all living spaces are designed with big windows that let in a lot of natural light. Unfortunately, this is not a good thing for those who need to shoot good photos and videos at home.

No more dark and shadowy photos and videos!
Last year, I had to send a taped message to be used during the launch of my book Embracing Disability This Ability in the Philippines since I wasn't able to fly back home and couldn't make it to the event.

At the time, hubby and I had difficulties finding a good spot in the townhouse we were living in. So we just settled for a place across the living room window to get the best illumination. Still, it wasn't as well-lighted as we wanted.

screenshot from last year's video
The thing is, poorly-lighted videos can distract viewers from understanding one's message fully but we didn't have time to figure out a solution. And no, cellphone flashlights didn't help! 

Fast forward to this year when I was requested to send another video for a Christmas outreach program to encourage fellow special needs parents who also have kids with cerebral palsy.

Thankfully, I found a very functional ring light online that can be mounted on a tripod and even comes with a tiny remote so users can easily stop and start recording whenever needed.

Needless to say, hubby and I were happy with the results. Aren't advances in technology awesome?! 

P.S. For those wondering, I bought the selfie right light here and the well-lighted photos were taken using hubby's Pixel 2 XL and my Pixel 3. 

Note: Google's NOT a sponsor of this blog although I wish it is! We are just really happy with our phones :)

Saturday, October 05, 2019

Shane's Inspiration: Los Angeles' Wonderful Inclusive Playground

Two weeks ago, my husband and I brought Gideon James to yet another park we haven't visited before. While it was nice to stroll around the winding pathways and enjoy the beauty of nature, we were once again disappointed that there's nothing in the playground that can cater to our young man's condition. Since James has very poor trunk and head control, a regular swing seat poses a lot of dangers for him.

James was all smiles at his first time to ride an accessible swing!
Frustrated, I posted a photo on Instagram asking for inclusive playground recommendations. As fairly new residents of Southern California, we are continuously exploring and looking for accessibility-friendly places. Thankfully, IG users @mely_furtado and @jenntmqz left comments on my post. They both suggested we check out @shanesplay so I excitedly researched about it and found out that Shane's Inspiration, located within Griffith Park, is approximately 29 miles away from our place. Since it's a bit far, I promised myself to find an opportunity soon to bring my son there.

this playground set has special features that kids of all abilities would love
The other day, our family attended a Conservatorship court appearance schedule in downtown Los Angeles. Hubby and our second son took the whole day off work so we could also visit the playground in the afternoon. We are sooooo happy we did! 

watch this video to see just how much fun James had!

I think James didn't quite know what to expect when his dad sat him down on the swing with protective harness because it took a while for him to realize what's going on. But once the swing got moving and he saw how happy we were, he started smiling and laughing with us! 

the playground floor is made of a soft padded material
that even babies can crawl on it without hurting their sensitive skin!
We also had James ride the awesome zip line seat that was likewise designed with safety features. His big grins told us how much he enjoyed the new experience.

making music with Daddy was so much fun!
Before we left, we also had James try playing the huge xylophone and hand drum. It was so great to also see other babies and children having a go at the many installations in this very special playground. I am beyond grateful to everyone who made this place possible. Thank you very, very much!

a basketball court for all ages
Read here how loving parents Catherine Curry-Williams and Scott Williams conceptualized this wonderful playground in honor of their son, Shane Alexander. You, too, can visit Shane's Inspiration at 4800 Crystal Springs Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90027.

Thank you, Shane's Inspiration! We'll visit again, soon!
Make sure to use Google Maps to get there because the playground can be quite challenging to find with some sharp turns that you might miss if you don't have specific driving directions. Enjoy! I hope fellow parents who also have differently-abled children would find this information useful :)  

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Best Day Foundation: Providing Fun Adventures for Kids and Young Adults with Special Needs

As a parent of a son with special needs, I have many dreams for him that I thought would remain just that -- dreams. But, through the years, God has shown our family that certain wishes could actually come true when we take the time to look for, and recognize, answers to our prayers.

In my wildest dreams, I never thought my son would get the chance to go surfing!
Honestly though, I didn't quite imagine receiving certain unexpected blessings that seemed so impossible to have many years ago. And yet, here we are, seeing James getting to enjoy life so much more because he's healthier and happier and is presented with opportunities that were not available when we were still living in the Philippines.

Last year, one of the best things that gave us so much joy was seeing James go surfing and do other fun water activities that we never thought existed!

Daddy and James on a paddleboard in Newport Beach
It was sometime in February 2018 when I chanced upon a blog post of Joyful Journey Mom who shared the list of special needs resources she compiled. Unfortunately, her website couldn't be found anymore because the domain seemed to have expired. Anyhow, I've read there about an organization called Ride A Wave that "enables kids with special needs to experience the thrill of riding a wave regardless of their challenges."

Curious, I visited their website and saw that they are based in Santa Cruz, California, which is 364 miles away from where we live. Still hopeful, I filled out their contact form and asked if there may be a chance for them to hold a beach camp nearer us. The next day, Don, a member of their advisory board, emailed back and suggested I check out their sister organization in Southern California instead. 

Best Day Foundation has the best volunteers and staff members! 
That was how I found Best Day Foundation, an organization that creates special days for kids and young adults ages 4 to 24+ who have Autism, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Blindness, Cancer, Spinal Cord Injuries, and other physical and developmental challenges.

Eagerly, I visited their website, browsed the photos and videos, and got more excited when I found locations that are within reasonable driving distance. When I had James watch some of the videos and asked if he would like to go to the beach and ride a surfboard, his eyes lit up and he started smiling and laughing. In my heart of hearts, that was my affirmation that he should have that amazing experience!

Isn't that smile contagious?! :)
After discussing it with my husband, I signed James up for a slot for the May 20th activity in Seal Beach even though it was still three months away. In the meantime, we'd watch the videos on the website every now and then while I kept reminding James to patiently wait for a few more weeks. He would always answer me with a big smile.

May 20th turned out to be a little cold and cloudy though so I became a bit concerned about how chilly the water would be. Thankfully, aside from the helmets and life jackets, Best Day provided all participants with wetsuits to keep them warm. Everyone was so friendly when we got to the site. James was paired with his beach buddies, Heather and Bryan, who took great care of him while hubby, myself, and our son Gab, took photos and videos to preserve the precious moments.

When it was finally James' turn to ride the specially designed surf chair, I felt nervous but still excited at the same time especially seeing how far he and his surfer buddy were from the shore. Once they caught a wave and we saw them coming closer, everyone could see the big grin my son had. It was such an emotional moment for us to see James experiencing something that didn't even cross our minds to be a possibility!

Needless to say, the day was a huge success. Our young man was smiling all throughout that morning, in the car while going home, and up until he fell asleep that night. It felt so good to see him thoroughly enjoy that unique experience that I wish other kids like him could also get to have.

happy family at the beach
Since then, every time we show him photos of him surfing and being on the beach, he would express excitement and happiness at the memory. So I checked if there would still be other activities in SoCal in the coming months and fortunately found a slot for October 7th at Seal Beach. There, he was taken good care of volunteer Eddie, his assigned beach buddy for the day.

I am blogging about this now because I'd like to encourage other parents with special needs kids to likewise sign their children up to upcoming 2019 activities that start next month and will be happening in Florida, California (San Diego, Orange County, LA County, Ventura, Sta. Barbara), North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland

Best Day at the beach with new friends
Volunteers are also welcome to share their time! Please visit to sign up and read the FAQs. Donors, please consider sharing your resources at to help subsidize participants whose parents may not be able to shoulder even the minimal registration fee. 

Dear readers, if you know of families who may benefit from this information, please do share it with them. I hope, one of these days, I'll be able to hear about a kid who was brought to a Best Day event because their mom or dad happened to read this blog post. It would be awesome to find out how more young people with special needs were able to experience one of their best days like our James had :) 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Today, My Son "Walked" For the Very First Time With the Help of Trexo Robotics!

Those who have been following this blog and have read my book, Embracing Disability This Ability, already know that James, my son with cerebral palsy, could not talk nor walk and can't even sit up by himself without the seat belts and harnesses of his wheelchair and car seat. But, despite James' limitations, our family continues to find ways in making his life better. We also keep praying and hoping for further signs of development on how he communicates and moves. 

seeing James walk used to be just a dream
Since we moved to California in November 2017, James is still yet to have physical and occupational therapy services due to several factors, one of which is his transition from child to adult under the state's health care services system after he turned 21 last September. While we patiently wait for things to fall into place, I actively seek connections with organizations and caring individuals who have the heart to help the special needs community.  

Last week, Canadian-based Trexo Robotics announced that they will be coming to Los Angeles for two days to allow mobility-challenged kids try their awesome device. I have been following their posts on Instagram for quite a while now and find inspiration in the stories of children who are being helped to walk using Trexo's enabling technology.

Thank you so much, Manmeet, Rahul, and Dina for
giving James a chance to try the Trexo!
Without knowing where exactly they will be in LA, I resolved to bring James to them if they could give him a slot for a trial. I reached out to the Trexo team via direct messaging and got a call from COO Dina Nikitina on the phone who asked me a few questions. She then informed me the next day that they can accommodate us for January 24th at 10AM.

Early this morning, my husband, James, and I traveled 34 miles to Hawthorne where NAPA (Neurological and Physical Abilitation) Center is located. There, we met Dina as well as Trexo Robotics founders Manmeet Raggu and Rahul Udasi (read the wonderful story on how they started Trexo, here) who patiently helped James get comfortable in the walker with the robotic attachments before they got him "walking" using controls on a tablet.

For the first time in his life, James was able to move by himself with the help of technology and, while I focused on taking pictures and videos, it took me a lot of effort not to start crying upon seeing my son beaming big smiles while he took 199 steps in less than 10 minutes!

In individuals like James who hadn't experience how to walk independently and whose legs most likely do not know the correct motions needed to do this activity, I believe Trexo's innovative technology would be a big help in training the muscles and the brain to remember stepping movements through practice and repetition.

cherishing this new milestone in #gideonjamesjourney
After this Trexo trial, my husband and I plan to look for ways on how we could lease, if not buy, the device so James could practice walking more until such time he could, hopefully, graduate to a simple walker. We'd sincerely appreciate it if you could help us pray about this. Just like in the very beginning when we started in this special needs parenting journey, my family and I will keep on dreaming more dreams for this young man who never fails to give us immense joy each and every day.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

4 Top Reasons I Fell in Love with Fall

My family arrived in the United States during fall so it holds a special place in my heart. After almost a year of living in California and experiencing fall for the second time, I can now list some of the things I love about this particular season! 😀 

enjoying our first autumn
1. The changing colors of the leaves is very fascinating especially from someone who has lived in a tropical country all her life before migrating to a country that has four seasons instead of just two. I take pleasure in seeing multi-colored leaves on the trees before they fall to the ground. Hopefully, my family and I could get to visit a place soon where there are a wider variety of trees sporting a profusion of colors.

colorful leaves!
2. The "sweater weather" is way more favorable for me than the bone-chilling cold of winter and early spring. It's nice to be able to feel the cool temperature without shaking uncontrollably and wishing I could put on more layers of clothing on top of the three I'm already wearing! 

afternoon walk with Daddy and James
Hands down, fall is a great time to go strolling around the neighborhood in the afternoons because the crisp and cozy weather won't make you sweat nor will it make you feel chilled. Also, you get to save on electricity because you just have to close the windows at night to feel warmer as there is no need yet to turn on the heater.  

brothers and cousins
3. The opportunity to visit a pumpkin patch, I believe, has become one of our favorite activities to do during fall. Our family went to one for the first time recently and we enjoyed taking a lot of photos while we marvel at the hundreds (maybe thousands?) of orange balls dotting the big field at Cal Poly in Pomona. Next year, I hope we can also have time to do some apple picking in one of the many orchards dotting California. 

our first Thanksgiving in the US
4. Having a reason to gather with extended family during Thanksgiving and express gratitude for all our blessings is one of fall's highlights that I deeply cherish. Last year, James and I arrived a week before this special day so it was a doubly joyous time for all of us because we became physically reunited again with our loved ones.   

I know my family and I still have to experience more things in the coming years to add to this list like Black Friday or Cyber Monday, perhaps? Give us time, I'm sure the day would come when this blog post would become longer. How about you? What do you love about the fall season? I'd appreciate it if you can share your answer/s in the comments section below 🍁

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

One Day at a Time -- Living with a Loved One Who Has Cerebral Palsy

He will die early,” said the seven-year-old boy solemnly before he walked away. I was left speechless, staring at his retreating figure. I am sharing this several years after the incident when I have finally found the inner peace to write about it.

16-year-old James
My family and I were at a party in my sister’s house and the kid was the son of one of their guests. The boy was talking about my then sixteen-year-old son, Gideon James, who looked like he was also only seven years old because he has cerebral palsy.

I don’t know exactly how the child arrived at such a conclusion after asking me questions when he saw me feeding my son blenderized food via a tube embedded in his stomach. But I guess, as many innocent children do, he made his statement based on what he thought was true.

one day old James 
I wasn’t really offended. Just a little bit shocked to hear that sentence spoken aloud. The last time someone had told me, “Your son will most likely die” was when my then barely one-month-old baby was fighting for his life inside an intensive care unit incubator. He proved his neonatologist wrong and continued to defy many other specialists’ prognoses in succeeding years.

My son is a warrior and a minister. He has been fighting obstacles and overcoming them since the day he was born. He may not be able to speak nor sit up by himself but from him, my husband, my three other children, and I acquired so many lessons that we would not otherwise have learned if he had grown up “normal” like his brothers.

1-year-old James (2nd from left) with brothers circa 1998
Over the years, our home has become a school of sorts for all the members of our family where we were taught much, over and over it seems, about patience, understanding, compassion, empathy, acceptance, faith, and prudence among many other things.

How different life could have been if my son doesn’t have cerebral palsy! And yet, I don’t think our family would have become the strong unit it is now without the trials we went through together because of our special child

8-year-old James (2nd from left) with his brothers circa 2005
People usually tell me they can’t imagine what they’ll do if something like this happened to them. And I assure them that they will find the strength they need if that time comes. When we got married, my husband and I never thought that we’d be given the kind of challenge we used to believe was only reserved for parents with unwavering faith and resourcefulness. Yet, we were chosen to be parents of a special child. And, so far, I believe we’ve been coping a lot better than we’d ever thought possible. 

Through James, we’ve met kindred souls who have little angels of their own. And through them all, we’ve been assured that we’re not taking this journey alone. We have a spiritual extended family with members who unselfishly share with us time, knowledge, advice, and even precious resources because they know how hard it is when you try to do it on your own. 

family pic 2014
I have long ago relinquished the question “Why me?” because a book, written by a mom who also has a child with special needs, gave me the push to instead ask, “Why not me?” I don’t remember the exact moment, or even if I did have one, when I had that imaginary bulb light up, and I realized that I am stronger emotionally and physically, more patient, and more resourceful than I’ve ever given myself credit for. 

Turning my thoughts away from “what if” to “what now” made me accept the positive possibilities that this kind of parenting continues to teach me and the rest of my family. I’ve come to wake up in the mornings with a big thought bubble that says, “Bring it on! I will overcome anything bad this day will throw at me!”

20-year-old James (March 2018) 
Still, there are times, when I am far too exhausted and vulnerable, when a niggling guilt would creep up on me and make me question if I had done something in the past that makes me responsible for my child’s condition. I am just thankful that those thoughts don’t come as often as before. In time, I’ve learned to forgive myself for those lapses of self-pity and anguish and instead pat myself on the back for doing my best and managing to survive the never-ending trials I deal with every day.

Special children don’t come with an instruction manual, but their families eventually discover what would work best for them. Ours did and my son gave us that rare chance to see the world through the eyes of someone who is not willing to be defeated by his disabilities. 

2016 family photo
The death of one’s child, I believe, is one of many parents’ greatest fears. For moms and dads of kids with special needs, that fear hovers constantly and is difficult to ignore. And yet, it is our very own special children who teach us to forget about being terrified because they are still here with us to provide light and joy in our lives.

As you read this book, whether you have a family member with special needs or not, may our story provide you with inspiration and hope that God is also looking out for you … always.

Embracing Disability This Ability
*Note: This article serves as the introduction section of my book "Embracing Disability This Ability: A Family's Journey with Cerebral Palsy" that will be launched on September 14, 2018 @ 5:30PM at the Manila International Book Fair (MIBF) by CSM PublishingThank you for reading! I pray that you will find encouragement and hope from our story :)  

*Edited 2019: Embracing Disability This Ability is now available in the Philippines at National Book Store, PCBS, and other bookstores nationwide as well as online from Lazada and Shopee. For those in the U.S. who are interested in getting a copy, please send me a private message via the Embracing This Ability Facebook pageBy the way, you can now read Chapter 1here.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Home Is Where the Heart Is -- Our Family's Migration Story

I love traveling and exploring new places, especially with my family. But on those instances when I have to travel for work, I always look forward to coming home and once more being with the people I love. 

Baguio City, circa 2001
When my husband Nonoy and I were still a young couple, we decided that working abroad and leaving the other behind to look after our four sons should never be an option. Especially since our third son, James, has special needs and requires the care of both parents, we agreed to face financial challenges together rather than choose to work overseas and earn more, but at the cost of just one parent raising the kids alone. 

We held on to our faith that God will see us through anything. And you know what? The Lord sustained us and provided for our needs, particularly during really trying times! Our prayer continued to be that if it was really God’s plan for one of us to work abroad, please let us go there as a whole family and not leave anyone behind.

New Year 2009
In Limbo

Several years ago, we found out that despite the passing of my USAFE (United States Army of the Far East) veteran father-in-law in 1999, the petition he filed in 1993 for my husband and Noy’s sister (my third sister-in-law) was approved. Moreover, the petition could be passed on to a family member who’s willing to continue the sponsorship.

My first sister-in-law, who lives in Guam, asked us if we’d like to pursue the petition. Knowing that the U.S. is a lot more medically and technologically advanced than our home country, Noy and I started dreaming of better opportunities for James, our son with cerebral palsy, and our three other sons. Once more, our prayer remained that, God willing, He would allow all six of us to migrate abroad.

New Year 2014
Around 2014, my two US-based sisters-in-law started doing everything they could to process our papers. They consulted an immigration lawyer who facilitated the changing of my husband’s petition category from single to married, and hired another attorney to ensure that our oldest son, who was about to turn 21, would not be denied a visa.

The back and forth submissions and approvals of documents took many, many months. Each time we thought we’d completed everything, we’d be asked to submit a certificate, another file, and another, and another until we were left wondering if that phase of submitting requirements would ever end.

For more than three years, our family felt like we were living in limbo, unable to make long-term plans, uncertain if we could really leave or not. Many times, we had prayer moments where we pleaded with God to just let us receive a yes or no answer from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services so we can be done with the seemingly endless wait and move on with our lives. 

celebrating James' 17th birthday in 2014
Roller-Coaster Ride

In early May 2017, we finally received our visa interview scheduled for June at the U.S. Embassy. From experience, we anticipated more bumps ahead, but we held on to our faith that God will see us through until the end of the journey.

Unfortunately, two of our sons initially didn’t pass the U.S.-mandated medical exam and had to undergo additional tests. Only four of us went to the June interview where our eldest son, Rey, was almost denied a visa due to the “age-out” issue. Despite our pleas, the consul refused to look over the legal papers drafted by our lawyer proving that Rey was still a minor when the petition was reinstated.

We were all in tears as we approached the releasing section to receive further instructions. Obviously, it was impossible to feel elated about going home with just three visas instead of four. Mercifully, the lady at window scrutinized our documents thoroughly and told us to wait as she consulted her supervisor, who then returned our family’s thick file to the consul.

After what seemed like an eternity, we were called back to the window to be told that Rey would also be issued a visa. As always, God was watching over us!

June 2017 -- after the visa interview
(minus Rey who was already late for work after spending five hours in the U.S. Embassy) 
With plans to travel together, we waited for two months for James’ and Josh’s test results, only to find out that our special child had to undergo another series of medical clearances. Although a difficult decision, we all agreed that my husband and two sons should fly ahead to the U.S. in early September so that Daniel, the youngest, could still make it to senior high school enrollment.

Josh, who was approved for a visa in August, insisted he stay behind to help me take care of James while we waited another couple of months for more of his brother’s additional medical test results. 

The first month away from my husband and two sons was tough. Thankfully, the video calls, often-teary conversations, that we made almost every day helped us to cope. None of us thought things would get more difficult, but they did.

first batch to arrive in California greeted by my two sisters-in-law
Final hurdles

It was a long and stressful day when Josh and I brought James back to the St. Lukes Extension Clinic the day before my special child’s U.S. visa interview in October. After 13 hours of waiting and lots of hassles in between, he was finally given medical clearance. 

The next day, we encountered another problem with a missing document the consul asked for but which was already submitted during the June interview. So I had to re-submit a copy of the said file via courier a day later, unsure whether James would be issued a visa any time soon, or if they would ask again for additional papers that would further delay the process. 

With Josh’s visa expiring earlier than mine due to the additional medical tests he had to undergo, my second son had to be booked on a solo flight so he would arrive in the U.S. without any problems. This new development left James and me alone for another month.

James' 20th birthday without his dad and two brothers
Those weeks were probably some of the loneliest in our lives, when I realized that homesickness isn’t really tied to a physical place. Rather, it is about separation from desperately missed loved ones. Now I know firsthand that it is possible to be homesick for people, too! Our house in Alabang by then already felt like an empty shell.

As days turned into weeks with no visa in sight and no updates from the U.S. Embassy call center agents I talk to almost everyday, I began to wonder if I’d ever see my family again. Although I kept busy during the day packing and selling what’s left of our stuff, I would feel deep despair at night as I watched James sleep, while longing for my husband and other sons. Once more, faith in God’s plans kept us hoping for the best. 

It felt surreal when James’ visa finally arrived at the house and the mad scramble for last minute packing finally began. Despite my worries of how to survive a 20-hour trip with a wheelchair-bound child in tow plus four big pieces of luggage and another four carry on bags, my determination to do everything I could to be with my family was greater than any other hurdles I may still encounter.

saying goodbye to my extended family at the airport
Coming home

I was deeply grateful that my mom, siblings, and nieces arrived the day before our departure to help me clean the house and finalize everything before my son and I left for the airport. Their love and support were such a welcome reprieve from the loneliness of the past weeks. 

The date November 16, 2017 will forever remain in my memory as the day I finally found myself home again when I felt my husband’s arms around me the moment James and I emerged from LAX’s arrival ramp. All the apprehensions and exhaustion instantly faded away with the knowledge that we were, indeed, finally where we were supposed to be.

I’ve read somewhere that we will never know how strong we could be until being strong is the only option we have left. I can attest to that, given everything that we’ve been through since we started our immigration process.

California, March 2018 
I’m sharing our story to encourage other families to keep holding on to each other and to continue trusting in God’s leading in the midst of challenges and temporary separations. Have faith that He will see you through. Remember, too, that many times, life may take us to unexpected places, but love will always bring us home. 

NOTE: This story was originally published on pp. 17-19 in Family Matters Magazine's June-Aug 2018 issue, the digital copy of which can be found, here.

Shop Popular Gadgets