I Married an Undocumented Immigrant – Update

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Many of you read my story on CNN iReport about how I Married an Undocumented Immigrant, and have expressed a lot of support and concern.  So I wanted to update you…

At the end of August our lawyer contacted us saying that a limited number of visas had become available and needed to be disbursed by September 10, and that Rafael needed to get his biometrics (which basically means fingerprints) updated in order to receive the decision from the judge (and then a green card, if the decision was in our favor.)  The attorney made us an appointment at a biometrics field office in Philadelphia for September 4th.

Rafael and my dad went to the 9AM appointment and spent the entire day there because the biometrics unit of Homeland Security insisted that they could not do Rafael’s fingerprints because he did not have a pending court date with Immigration court.  Immigration court contacted Biometrics to explain that he had already had his court date, but Biometrics wouldn’t budge.

So Immigration court was like, “the judge said to take this guy’s fingerprints.”  And then Biometrics was like, “No! You’re not the boss of me.”  So Immigration court was like, “You’re a pain in the butt.”  And Biometrics was like, “Well at least my head doesn’t look like a butt.  STILL NOT GONNA DO IT!” So Immigration court was like, “Fine, I’ll play by your rules, because MOM SAID TO DISBURSE THESE VISAS BY 9/10!” So Immigration court created a made-up court date notification for Rafael and sent it to Biometrics so that they would take his fingerprints, which they finally did. (I know – our immigration system is cray cray.)

So, on September 15th we received a letter from our lawyer stating that the judge had released her decision to cancel Rafael’s order for deportation.  So if you skipped all the boring preceding paragraphs about how it’s hard to maneuver through the immigration system, here is the news.  On September 15th, the judge gave us her decision to allow Rafael to legally stay in the United States.

We told a few of our close friends that night and the next day.  And I must admit that I thought to myself, “Why don’t I feel more excited?”  All my friends were rejoicing, because they love us, and that was wonderful.  I just had expected to be overjoyed, and maybe cry a little. But when I read the letter, it didn’t feel momentous, just kind of surreal. It felt sort of like going into labor (minus the excruciating pain and all) – at first you think it’s practice contractions and then it slowly dawns on you, this is really happening!

I called Rafa at work and we just kind of sat on the phone and didn’t know what to say.  It kind of sounded like this:  “So that means you get to stay, and we just need to get your passport stamped…. <chirp chirp>… and then we’ll get the green card in the mail…  <chirp chirp>….Uh… Duh… <little bit of drool>…. Ok?  <chirp chirp>”

Then I went to go feed the kids and clean the kitchen.

So, I guess our life will remain normal, which is really awesome news. It feels kind of like being in a really noisy room with a lot of flashing lights for a long time (like a night club, minus the fun), and then stepping into a silent, softly lit room.  Peaceful, but I don’t know quite what to do with myself.  Don’t get me wrong, we are immensely blessed and absolutely grateful.  I think it’s just going to take a little while to get used to the quiet.

When we packed up the kids and went to the local field office to get the passport stamped on 9/24, I started to get all excited.  We talked on the way down about seeing his family (him for the first time in over a decade and me for the first time, ever).  It’s about an hour drive, which meant a day off work, and then when we got there they told us that they couldn’t do anything for us, and that we needed to go to the field office in Philadelphia (where we might have to deal with our favorite biometrics guy again). We were pretty disappointed that day.

But really, it was just a little bump along what has been a pretty bumpy road, and we were able to go to the Philadelphia office on 9/26 and Rafael got his passport stamped. And wouldn’t you know it, it was the same guy who wouldn’t take his fingerprints. So while Rafael had previously kind of wanted to punch him, this time he told him he wanted to kiss him.  So that was awkward.  Anyway, here we are, legal residents of the United States. Can you believe it??!!

So I just want to say thanks to everybody for all the words of encouragement, prayers, support and friendship, and for sharing my story, which I think helps people understand immigration issues a little bit better.

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Rafael with a baby on his head

And thank you to the local police officer who saw some Mexican guys swimming at the beach early one morning in 2011 in their boxers (I know, I know, who goes swimming in their boxers?  Guys who drove down to the beach after working at a hot, stinky restaurant for most of the night and didn’t stop to get their bathing suits, that’s who) and decided to run their names and arrest the one who had an unpaid traffic ticket on his record.

So thank you, Officer, for deciding not to let my husband put on a shirt or shoes and taking him before a judge in his underwear. Because humiliation is funny, especially when it involves such a dangerous criminal.  (Note: I am not one of those people who dislikes police officers; I know of many officers who are kind, professional, and helpful. You, sir, are just not one of them.) But really, we couldn’t have done it without you, so I guess we got the last laugh, if you want to look at it that way.

And thank you to the federal agent who told me to go pay bail and drive two hours to get my husband but forgot to tell me that, oh yeah, immigration put a hold on him and is transferring him to federal prison, so you won’t actually be able to pick him up after all. But thank you for telling me the real story when I burst into tears and told you I was about to have a baby.

And thank you to the several Corrections “professionals” who advised me not to pay bail because, “he’ll just run.”  Because you know my husband and his situation so much better than I do.

I guess I’m still a little bit angry.

Yup, every now and then I realize that I have rage in my heart, and I try to let it go.  But, then I remember that it’s not really about the police officer, or the federal agent, or the people who make ignorant comments about things that are very personal to me, it’s just the injustice of the world, and there are much bigger injustices happening every day. So I guess it’s about recognizing it, and doing what you can to correct it, starting with ourselves.

But to go back to the not-sarcastic thank you’s:  Mom and Dad – I love you.  Thanks for all of your unconditional love and support.  And I just want to close with the words that every parent hopes to hear from their daughter: I hope now you can get your bail money back.

THE END

for now

Thanks again for reading.

On Marriage, Mexicans, and Misunderstandings: I’m not a freaking bird

First, let me state for the record that I love my husband and have never regretted our marriage, although it’s been a rough road at times.  He is compassionate, sweet, intuitive, a great dad, brave, and smart in all the ways that I am not smart.  But we fight a lot. Like really, a lot.  So for those of you who are viewing this through Facebook, that magical land of rainbows and unicorns and my-life-is-oh-so-perfect-all-the-time, and sweetheart-you-are-my-sun-moon-and-stars-and-our-marriage-is-pure-heaven, let me just get real for a minute:

WE FIGHT A LOT.

The thing is, my husband and I don’t speak the same language.  No, really, I’m being literal.  He’s Mexican.  Like Celia Cruz, his English is not very good-looking, and like most of my gringo friends, my Spanish sounds like el crap-o.

When we were dating it was sweet.  Like OMG, I’m learning SPANISH!!!  He would cook me fajitas and qCAM00471 (1)uesadillas and margaritas (mostly margaritas) and we went out salsa dancing every weekend and we would fight and break up and get back together and it was dramatic and blissful.  When he would text me things like “you get done work hourly today?” I thought it was cute and endearing.

But, as it turns out, when you have to manage a household and babies and full time jobs, constant miscommunication can actually be quite frustrating. (Shocking, I know.)  So now when I get a text that says something like “the baby made a mas on the carpet,” I want to scream, “Learn to spell in English!  And by the way, are you talking about poop, or food?”

Needless to say, we get frustrated with one another.  We blame the other person, for everything.  Somehow it becomes my fault that there’s a bottle of what was once milk under the couch that is now full of cheese and smells like dirty diapers.  Or maybe that smell is actually coming from dirty diapers.  Or maybe it’s the trash, or the dirty dishes.  Who knows, our house always smells like that.

And clearly it’s his fault that our three year old screams “I WILL NEVER LISTEN TO YOU!” in the church narthex, or that he hit his sister in the cornea with a toy stethoscope the other day.

Then there are the “cultural” misunderstandings.  I’m usually a pretty laid-back person but in the context of our marriage, I find myself obsessing over plans and goals in a very American way.  And I find him always saying these very Mexican things that boil down to “let’s just go with the flow,” or “it’ll happen when it happens,” or “I’ll be home in a while,” which could mean anything from 20 minutes to 46 days and it makes me think my head is going to explode.

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COME ON!!!

The funny thing is, as more of my friends get married and have children I find them making the same complaints as I am.  So I’m starting to think that some of this stuff is actually pretty universal.  A couple of our main struggles include going the extra foot to put your clothes in the hamper instead of on the floor, and of course, the correct way to load the dishwasher (my lack of spatial intelligence apparently makes this difficult).

We also have a hard time with the division of labor, and the amount of time we spend together (or don’t spend together), and whose fault that is.  These are not things that are going to drive us to a divorce, but they are things that cause real hurt.  And that is where I would like to introduce my words of wisdom:

Don’t marry a Mexican.

Just kidding.  I love being married to a Mexican man, mostly for the music and food, but also because Mexican culture stresses love for family, and church, and other things that I like.  And all joking aside, being married to someone from a different world has forced us to learn how to see the other side of the story, understand the viewpoint of someone very different from ourselves, and learn how to find common ground and peace and most of all love when we are frustrated and perplexed.  And it has been challenging, and often joyful, and really, don’t all couples have to do this to some extent?  That’s the beauty of marriage – how it teaches us on an intimate level how to relate to someone outside of ourselves.

So back to the words of wisdom:

No matter how compatible you are, there will always be things that bother you about your spouse, and that’s partly because we are all different and partly because none of us is perfect.  So I will dedicate this post to someone very special to me.  No, not my husband obviously, I just spent the last 6 paragraphs talking about how he makes our house smell like diapers. But I will dedicate it to one of my best friends whose big day is swiftly approaching – the day when she will walk down the aisle to wed the love of her life.

There will come a day, my sweet friend, when he lets you down; When one of you says something thoughtless and hurts the other’s heart; When he, even he, will make you cry.  Heck, you might even make him cry.  And there may be a little seed that drills deep doFunny-Birds-03wn into your gut telling you that maybe, just maybe, you married the wrong guy.  But you just tell that little seed before it germinates that HEY THIS IS MY GUT, NOW GET OUTTA MY GUT, WHAT IS A SEED DOING IN THERE IN THE FIRST PLACE, I’M NOT A FREAKING BIRD.

Stop judging me, it’s late.

So what you might actually tell yourself is: this too shall pass, and nobody’s perfect. Though it may not always seem like it, there is a plan in place, and I can show him love even when I don’t feel like it.  I can show him compassion when really I just want to slap him across the face.  And when you do choose to show him love instead of annoyance, you’ll find that compassion breeds compassion.  (It does – it’s science – I saw it on BRAIN GAMES).

And you’ll find that it does pass, and that you will both come out understanding grace, and true love, and peace that passes understanding much better than you ever imagined.  So don’t expect it to always be a fairy tale.  Don’t expect it to be Facebook-perfect.  But do expect it to be something much better: a living, breathing picture of God’s grace in a flawed person showing unconditional, intimate love to another flawed person.  And free yourself to experience the joy that comes from that powerful, lifelong love.

And I promise, no matter how much I complain about my husband’s less-than-awesome English and lack of housekeeping skills, I will do the same.

For Those Left Behind

Last week I watched some of the Simpsons Marathon (that’s right, they aired every episode EVER on Fxx) in memory of my brother, Jesse, who died a few years ago.  Yes, I have to close my eyes when the Itchy and Scratchy Show comes on, and I am aware that some Christians feel personally attacked by the show’s portrayal of Ned Flanders, but what the hay, neighbor, let’s get past all that, since it’s not what I’m writing about.

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Jess and Charlie

When he was depressed, Jesse would spend a lot of time on my parents’ couch in the den, watching reruns of his favorite shows (The Simpsons, Boy Meets World, Seinfeld) and whatever films were being aired on TV.  I can picture him snuggled under an afghan, with our cat Charlie.  He wasn’t a lay-around kind of person, but sometimes that’s what depression looks like – a head full of turmoil and tension hidden under a layer of lethargy.  I think it was his way of trying to comfort himself.  This is not a tribute to TV and films, but there is something comforting about them, especially the old, familiar ones. They engage you while allowing you to be completely relaxed. In that way, they are like old friends, but they don’t expect anything back.

I think that is one of the reasons why the death of Robin Williams strikes at the heart of America.  A lot of us grew up with his movies and thought of him as an old friend.  For me it was Aladdin, Jumanji and Hook; movies I loved when I was young, as only a child can do.  After watching one of these, I would spend days imagining that I lived in the world created by the film, that I was part of the story.

Anotherrobin williams reason that it strikes at our hearts is that our old friend didn’t just die, but he took his own life.  It reminds us that someone who made a living by bringing laughter to people could be so sad that he could not hope to feel joy himself, that he had reached a point of pain that felt unbearable.

Like Robin Williams, my brother struggled with depression. He, too, was a creative and sensitive person, who was very good at making people laugh (and sometimes cry.) And like Robin Williams, he took his own life.   And that is how I know that as Robin Williams’ death fades quickly from the news and from most of our minds, those who knew and loved him personally are only beginning their season of sorrow.

They will continue to be crushed by imagining what was going on in his mind at the end of his life, jarred by the images of his death so graphically and publicly described, and distressed by the common and constant plague of survivors of suicide loss – the what ifs.  What if I had been more in-tune with his emotions? What if I had called him that night like I’d meant to? What if I’d said something differently? What if I had been a better… sibling/parent/child/friend? Would he still have felt the need to go?

I understand and have experienced the desire to blame someone when we are in pain, whether it’s ourselves, or someone else.  I spoke to a woman recently who had just lost her father to suicide.  She said, several times, that he always was a selfish bastard.  I have heard professionals blame parents and parents blame professionals.  I’ve heard people pin it on medication, malpractice, substance abuse, bullying.  But the truth is, suicide is complex, and rarely the result of one factor.  And when it comes down to it, the human condition is to blame.  We live in a broken world, and we desperately desire hope and freedom from the tears we that we cry and the pain that we feel.  I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a person who has never thought about it all being over for a moment.

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Three strikingly good-looking individuals

But in the midst of all that, life is beautiful, and hope exists.  And that’s why for most of us, that fleeting thought doesn’t lead us to consider killing ourselves.  So after losing a loved one to suicide, most of us eventually come to a place where we can begin to be comforted, and can reach out to others, for help or to offer hope. SOS (Survivors of Suicide) support groups meet around the country where people are able to share their stories, and talk about what has helped them begin to heal. For me, this is my faith.  Warning: this is where my proselytizey-ness comes out.

I have great hope because I believe in a God whose grace is sufficient to cover my lack of love and unwillingness to reach out to the wounded; whose grace is sufficient to cover a person’s decision to give up because they feel their pain is too much to bear; whose grace is sufficient for those (like myself) working in a mental health system that sometimes fails to prevent such decisions.  I believe in a God who ordains our days and has a sovereign plan, even through the worst of tragedies.  In other words, I am finally humble enough to believe in a God who knows better than me.

Through my work, I have also spoken to ministers who have told me that suicide is the unforgivable sin, because you can’t repent of it.  Now friends, if I haven’t remembered to repent (or even noticed) every time I’ve had an unkind thought or broken a traffic law, I guess my soul could be in jeopardy.  But I tend to believe otherwise.  God is personal (Luke 12:7), wants the best for his children (Romans 8:28), and nothing can separate us from God’s love.  “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35.  Nor suicide, guys.  It may be a sin, it may even be an awful sin, but it is not an unforgivable sin.

My faith is what has allowed me to heal, and to let go of the “what if’s” and start considering the “what now’s?” It has allowed me to work in my field and believe that it matters. My work has been a source of healing in my life, so here is my spiel on ways you can get involved if your life has been touched by suicide, and you want to do something positive:

You can participate in a walk or other fundraiser for your local chapter of American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Mental Health America, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or one of the other reputable organizations that work to end stigma and research evidence-based ways of preventing suicide.  (For example, you can raise money for the STARTLINGLY excellent MHA in Delaware, by joining the team “Jesse’s Joggers” at eracingtheblues.com).  You can attend a gatekeeper training on suicide prevention, or become an educator yourself (which would take a bit more time and work, but opportunities are there). If you’re really ready to be challenged and make a difference, you can volunteer at your local chapter of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

But whether or not you get involved in those ways, I hope that you are able to find something that comforts you, whether that’s through something profound (and I hope it is), like connecting with God; something proactive, like reaching out to a friend you think might be depressed (or having the courage to reach out for help if you think you might be depressed yourself); or something simple, like spending some time remembering your loved one (and that’s important, too), snuggled on the couch watching a few too many episodes of The Simpsons.

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The Pope and I

The Pope was interviewed about a month ago, and gave a list of Ten Keys to Happiness. I liked the list overall. Take the Sabbath off?  Much needed and very Biblical!  Stop harming the environment?  We should be better stewards, indeed!  A healthy sense of leisure?  Heck yeah!

The ones that made me pause and think for a minute were number one, where the Pope says, “Live and Let Live,” and number nine, where the Pope says “Don’t Proselytize.”

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The Pope

Here in the US, we like the phrase, “live and let live,” and in some sense (and likely the way Pope Francis meant it), it is also very Biblical.  Matthew 7 is very often quoted in regards to this – Judge not lest ye be judged.  Don’t go looking for the splinter in your brother’s eye when you’ve got a plank in your own eye.   Work on your own behavior before you work on someone else’s.  But how far do you take this?  Are we not supposed to make any judgments as to what is right and what is wrong?

Those who know me well realize that historically, my personality makes it fairly natural for me to be peaceable and courteous most of the time.   But I would rather slam my head into a wall than face interpersonal confrontation of any kind, which means that my personality doesn’t as easily lend itself to standing up for justice, disagreeing with the majority, or making disciples of all men.  (And that is where we get into number 9, proselytizing.)  I would rather suspend judgment completely than have to disagree with you.

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And I

But something inside me has started to change.  Maybe it’s because I’ve spent a lot of time praying for boldness.

So here is my question:  If I don’t challenge myself to confront, well, anything, am I really acting out of love?  If I lack the boldness to make my voice heard, am I following Christ?  I have a feeling that agreeing with other peoples’ opinions all the time, and ignoring things that I think are immoral or unjust are not what the scriptures (or the Pope, for that matter) are talking about.  So while I get “live and let live,” I just don’t think I can have any kind of impact on the world by always following that rule.

I also take the path that there are, in fact, absolute moral truths.   People often think that “my truth” can differ from “your truth,” and I tried to buy that for a little while, but it just doesn’t really work.  While my perspective may differ from yours, that doesn’t change reality.  In other words, the grass is green, a chair is a chair, and child porn is wrong no matter how you slice it.  That being said, I also understand that moral issues are often complex, and should be viewed through a lens of love and compassion, not a lens of judgment.

I understand that it may seem presumptuous to say that I have the monopoly on truth.  However, it seems equally presumptuous to say that I create my own truth.  Unless you spoke yourself into being, we are not the creators, but the created.  Therefore, we don’t get to create truth; we just get to discover it. But I can’t imagine that any of us have done this perfectly.

So why proselytize?  Sure, I think I know something important and healing and wonderful and beautiful, and I want to share it.  But it really rubs some people the wrong way, and some of them have really legitimate reasons why.  And isn’t God’s revelation of himself up to God anyway?  This is where it gets a little tricky.

To proselytize is defined as inducing someone to convert to one’s own religious faith.  I understand very clearly that I am not the voice of God, and I still have much (MUCH) to learn.  So while I’m not starting a campaign to say that I’m always right and the rest of the world is wrong, I am interested in sharing my story, using my voice, and defending my beliefs.  And in doing so, I may make some judgments about right and wrong (don’t we all, really?), and I may even cross the line into proselytizing.  And I’m OK with that.  But no worries, Pope Francis.  I dig Matthew 7 and I still think you’re pretty great.

So as a person striving to understand who God is and live in a way that reflects God’s goodness, I am hoping that my journey is helpful in showing some part of God’s truth, love and wisdom to others. Or that through this dialogue I will learn to understand God better. Or that I will provide something mildly entertaining for you to read. I’ll be writing in this blog about current events, everyday life, and my faith, and you will probably catch me talking (or blogging, rather) about moral truth or God’s grace in my life.  So please don’t be offended.  I’m just doing the best I can to speak the truth in love, and it’s a life-long learning process.  Hope you’ll join me.