Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Miracle of a Home

I challenged myself quite some time ago to dig deep when I write.  To fumble through the file folders tucked away in nooks and crannies of my poor shriveling brain and find words that were able to paint pictures.  I enjoy doing this.  But not now.  I promised this story to my friends and my family and even some pseudo-strangers, nearly 2 months ago, but life keeps kicking me in the gut...mostly in the form of crazy children who struggle to sleep all night.  So I am finally taking the time to write this story.  And no.  I am not going to "wax poetic" on this one.  I am not going to dig deep and fill it full of beautiful words that paint brilliant pictures.  Nope.

I'm just gonna belly up to the bar, so to speak, pour a shot of whiskey and tell this story bare bones style.  It's all I've got the time and energy for right now and I fear if I wait till the time and energy increase, the details of the story--and that is what makes it so amazing--will have faded and decrease.  I can't risk that.  ...and let's face it...some stories don't need all gussied up...they just tell themselves...

So, we moved to Hawaii.  Nearly three month ago.

If you are one of my ridiculously large number of FB friends, you will likely know this and I am sorry if this bores you to tears but there may be one person out there who isn't my FB friend and who just might stumble upon this blog and not know some of the back story to the real story so just pour another shot and hold tight...

I should probably add here for any random reader who doesn't know me, that we aren't millionaires who just up and moved to paradise because we wanted to.  We are an Army family and Uncle Sam sent an email to my husband one day in February and it said, in much more professional language, "Hey you...gather up your kin...we're movin' ya to Hawaii this summer."  So...he did.  Complete with all 4 kiddos, most noticeably our newborn baby girl.

This is the part where I pour another shot for myself, drain it quickly, and tell you straight out...moving with a baby...not for the faint of heart.  'Nuff said.

As I often do, I dreamt of this move.  I tried my darndest to sprinkle my dreams with healthy doses of realism, but apparently I need to be more generous in my sprinkling.  Regardless, we moved with a very positive outlook on the whole thing--this was afterall Hawaii.  I'd imagine there are a handful of places slightly harder to imagine moving to happily.

Another shot of whiskey please, and feel free to have the bartender switch it out to the cheap stuff cause this could long and agonizing and potentially expensive before it gets pretty again...

If you've ever moved, whether across the street or across the globe, you know the one tangible thing that makes itself the center of attention is your home.  HOME.  And is often the case in our American society, we want to make our home within a house.  A physical structure, sturdy and sufficient to keep us warm when it's cold and cool when it's hot and dry when rainy and wet when dry.

Whoops.  Sorry about that...perhaps I should slow down on the beverages...where were we? Oh, yes...a house/home...

We were very proactive. We contacted housing almost immediately upon receiving our RFO (request for orders) in February and got the how-to's on getting on the wait list for housing.  We also began scouring the web for rentals so we would know what to expect if we were forced to live off post.  At some point in the late spring/early summer, we officially got on the housing wait list.  Two weeks before we flew from the Mainland we made one more "hey just checking and seeing what the latest news on movement was" phone call.  A 3-6 month wait for housing for a 5 bedroom in the area around where my husband would work, but at least one month of that will have gone by by the time we arrived and we knew we were taking 30ish days of leave to enjoy the island, so maybe, it would seem even shorter.  Mid-July we arrive...exhausted but feeling blissful...Here we are in HAWAII!  And not just for a week or so but for 3 YEARS!  WOW!  Our little born-and-raised-in-southcentral-Illinois hearts could hardly contain the excitement!  How blessed we were!  This Army journey we've been on for the last 13 years--though full of stinky times--has blessed us with the opportunities to live in places we had only dreamed of--Alaska, Germany, Ft. Polk, Louisiana 

Joking!  There is beauty to be found in every duty assignment and some people loved it there. 

That was a Friday.  The following Monday we were in front of the door to housing 15 minutes before they even opened.  We said a prayer that they'd be able to hand us keys that day and walked in.  But this is where the story gets real.  Where the feel of paradise starts to give way to the reality that no place is perfect.

Better put on some strong coffee.  

Nine to twelve months.  To wait for on-post housing.  Surely there had to be some mistake.  I smiled at the woman across the desk and politely reminded her that we'd just called in 2 weeks ago and were told it would be 3-6 months, and things can't just change like that...can they?  Apparently so.  Dead serious she was.  We. Were. Not. Getting. A. House. On. Post.  Begin your house hunt.  Another employee spread a map of Oahu out in front of us and gave us a canned speech about living here, here, here,  "Well over here on the leeward side you are going to get more bang for your buck--bigger nicer newer homes--but you will pay for it in the 1.5-2 hours you will spend a day in commuting.  But over here on the windward side, your commute will be negligable but don't expect as many choices. Now go begin looking and, oh, by the way, you have to prove to us that you are looking by documenting every phone call, email, text, and in-person visit you make and why you won't take each home that you look at. Bye now!"  Um...yeah...okay.  So where to begin?  It was a lot to process.  A couple of deep breaths later we got logical and decided to start first by applying for housing with the Air Force and Navy since neighboring JB Pearl-Hickam would allow us to get on their lists.

First stop, 5 bedrooms.  That's fine...we'd "settle" for a 4.  Okay...fill this out and check online for your status in a day or two.  By the way...your priority 4...not Key and Essential personnel, not AF, and not Navy (the whole Joint Base thing).  Fine.  I'll just go over and see what the Navy says!  TAKE THAT!  Afterall, he who casts his net the widest reeps the biggest benefits, right?  And right here I need to stop and tell you that this was where we realized that none of our GPS devices like Hawaii.  At.  All.  I enter in the Naval Housing office address...the TomTom (whom we affectionately call "Tomantha" seeing as she is a girl) takes us to a Target parking lot.  Not quite the same thing by any stretch of the imagination.  So after driving around and asking random strangers (who look like maybe, just MAYBE they might be military and perhaps know where the Naval Housing office really is) where the heck we should go, we arrive.  I shlep all four kids into the office solo because hubby has to continue in-processing back at the Army post (that whole 30 days of leave...yeah...didn't happen...but that's a story for another time).  They won't even see me.  They are "by appointment only" and the soonest they can get me in is 2 weeks out.  I take it (and then lose it and have to reschedule thanks to not one, but two back-to-back hurricanes headed for us, the first in 20 years).   The cold hard truth hits: we are going to be living off post.

Now, this is the point where I need to start downin' the strong coffee and get serious and let you in on a couple of crucial points that many folks on the mainland don't realize about Hawaii.  This island is tiny: 30 some miles across at it's longest point I think (those whiskey shots make it hard to remember the exact number).  There are a LOT of people living on this tiny island though.  There are only 3 Interstates (just stop...we realize it's a misnomer to even call them "interstates" since you cannot use them to get to any other state).  The maximum speed limit I have found on this island is 55mph and only for very short stretches of road.  Factor those all together and it makes for a nasty little cocktail known as a Mai Tai Hawaiian Traffic.  Sure you may only live 10 miles from work...but it can and will take you an entire hour to go that far if you are traveling with the flow of traffic during peak rush hour.  If there is an accident, even longer.  It isn't fun, pleasant, or remotely enjoyable unless one actually likes sitting in traffic and would list it as a hobby. But there isn't much that can be done about it other than trying to avoid it if at all is what it is.

Let me wrap all the details of the house hunt up quickly:  scour every website recommended to find a rental (buying was not an option for our family)...investigate every single home that fits in our budget and could fit all of us and our stuff...learn the hard way that online pictures and descriptions are often better than the real thing...begin to realize that we may just end up living on the "dreaded" leeward side which means being in the thick of the horrible traffic...hearing half the people say to NEVER live out there and the other half saying that while it does stink, make the most of it as many are forced to do...find out the hard way that the more "choice" rentals are highly competed for and that it's hard not to take it personally when you aren't selected as the "winning" family (and begin to second guess every little thing your family does or says in the presence of owners and property managers, like, oh, maybe...a toddler who picked his nose and wiped it on me)...keep calling housing and asking ever so nicely if ANYTHING has become available yet, only to hear "no"...finally get selected for a home in Ewa Beach (yes...that is in the "horrid commute zone")...all this while enjoying the splendor that is living in a hotel with 4 kids for a month or more.

Maybe we should ask for the whiskey back?  

But in all seriousness, just knowing we were finally on the path to getting the keys to a home did so much good for our family.  A huge burden off our chests for sure.  And no, we weren't going to like the commute but we aren't the only ones and maybe we just need to realize that God wants out there for a reason.  In all of this melee of a move, I had to swallow my pride and realize that at least one or two of the boys needed to go to brick-and-mortar school this year.  I just couldn't homeschool them all and do it well this year, my health had started to go down hill and I absolutely could not afford to get sick again.  I had to get serious with myself and realize this.  So we googled "Catholic Schools+Ewa Beach" and stumbled upon Our Lady of Perpetual Help just a mile and a half from the house!  PTL!  Sr. Davalyn (I'm probably butchering the spelling), the principal, was incredibly welcoming and thrilled to have the older 2 boys attend.  So while they took a modest little placement test on a Wednesday afternoon, I set in to fill out copious amounts of paperwork for the school.  Upon the completion I handed the stack over and asked Sister, "what about the $800 to hold their seats?  It's not refundable.  And we don't officially sign the lease till Friday afternoon after you all will be out of school.  I mean...well...I guess there is a super-slim chance housing could call us and say we have a house on post in the next 48 hours and..."  She politely shook her head "no" and stopped my stammering line of questioning, "Amanda, don't worry about that.  The boys will start Tuesday, assuming you signed the lease for the house here.  If you don't, we wouldn't want you feeling locked into driving daily all the way out here just for school especially when there are some excellent Catholic schools nearer to where you'd be, so just can pay that Tuesday morning."  And then she paused, and smiled so very knowingly, "Because you never know...God can work miracles.  God can work miracles."

This is where I look you dead in the eye and tell you that in all seriousness, when she said that, the oddest little sense of relief and calm came over me.  I couldn't explain it.  I still can't.  But it was the first of many little oddities that should NOT have happened...but did.  Need a refill on that coffee?

Friday rolled around.  At 4pm we were meeting the property manager--a tiny little Filipino woman who honestly intimidated the crud out of me--at the house to sign the documents.  At 3:50pm I called the head of housing for one last attempt at an on post home.  Nothing still.  And she asked if I wanted her to put us on the "locked into a lease" list so that they would not call us with a housing offer in 2 weeks after we were legally locked into a lease for 18 months.  YES!  Put me on the list!  Because for heaven's sake, do NOT call me Monday morning and try to offer me housing...I might lose it and go more crazy than I already am.  So that was it.  At 4, we signed the lease, got the keys, put some of our luggage in the house and took a deep breath of relief.  We had a home.  ...And then I screamed!  "STEVE!  We forgot to give her the deposit check!!!!  Oh no!"  I panicked...remember...she intimidated me and I immediately feared the worst: that she would use our forgetting the check as grounds to evict us a mere hour after we moved in.  This check wasn't tiny either--$5500 thanks to the high cost of living.  I called her as fast as my fingers would dial, "The check--we can get it to you now--can you come back??"  In an almost Jekyll and Hyde manner, this formerly stern and no-nonsense property manager seems immensely kind and understanding, "Oh, don't worry about it.  Will you be back this weekend?  I'll just get it then."  Sure...Sunday afternoon...I thought that check was mortar holding the bricks of this rental agreement together, but if you don't want it immediately that's fine...I have NO problem holding off on handing over that much money.

So let me ask you...would YOU be so nonchalant about a big ole check like that if you were her? neither.  Again...this should NOT have happened, but it did.  Pass the cream and sugar please...

Sunday rolls around.  I am in Walmart (home of heepin' helpings of craziness at rock-bottom prices) with all the minions solo again (funny that Uncle Sam should think he needs my husband to actually work...that's sarcasm by the way).  Let's just say nothing went right and by the time I got back to the van, I had all humans present and accounted for but a hefty amount of sanity was left behind and we were running late on getting back to the house.  SO... I called her and apologized, expecting her to be peeved but still meet me since she needed the money.  Not so much.  After finding out that I was not anywhere near the house (well, at least by Oahu standards), she told me not to stress and make an extra trip.  Could I meet her tomorrow afternoon, say 4pm?  Yes.  I can.

Yes, I have been stirring my cuppa joe for the last 2 minutes straight without one sip, but I'm just trying to prove my point...THIS. This should NOT have happened...noticing a pattern here?

Monday morning: a delightful young man whom I was put in contact with by my baby girl's Godparents arrives at the hotel where we are staying (until our household good arrive since we sorta need beds to sleep on) to watch the youngest two while I take the older two to finish gathering schools supplies and uniforms and cap the day off with FINALLY getting that check handed over.  A couple of hours later while in the uniform store, my phone rings.  It's our doctor.  One son had had some tests run because he was needing to use the bathroom a LOT for no apparent reason.  Urine sample revealed blood in the urine and he wanted more tests run.  On top of everything else we've just dealt with, this was super scary.  I didn't need this. But before I could allow my mind to wonder off into bad scenario land, the phone rings again.  It's housing.  I mumble a few words in my head that I'd like to say out loud.  She sounds scared.  Very scared.  I think she was afraid I'd materialize through the phone line and physically choke her for what she was about to say: Mrs. Huber, are you locked into a lease yet?  Um...HELLO!?!?!  Did we NOT just have this conversation 3 days ago?!?!?  But I remain calm, "maybe." That's all I could say.  She goes on to tell me that they MAY have a 5 bedroom house for us just 2 exits down from where my husband is working.  There is one family ahead of us on the list who are still in a hotel just like we are and they MUST give their answer to housing by 2pm that very day.  My response, "Yes. We are very interested.  I have to know by 2/2:30ish though and in the meantime I will make some calls about getting out of the lease."  We hang up.  WHAT ON EARTH IS GOING ON?!?!?!?!  My son could maybe be seriously ill.  We might not be living the home we thought we were going to live in because we may instead be living in the house we had wanted to live in.  This isn't confusing at all, nor overwhelming!!!  I do my best to call the property manager to begin this awkward conversation.  She picks up quickly and for some reason, I immediately go into the days news chronologically which means I start out by telling her about the call from the doctor even though it seemingly has nothing to do with why I called her.  She cuts me off in the most soothing, reassuring voice I'd every heard from her, "Amanda, you do what you have to do, do you hear me?  YOU do what YOU have to do to take care of your family.  You may need to  be closer to Tripler Hospital, no? Do what you have to do and call me later's okay."

Pushing all beverages aside because they really don't matter anymore, look me in eye cause I NEED you to know how serious I am when I say this.  When she hung up I shivered.  Not because I was cold but because of the chills that had just been sent down my spine.  NONE of this was suppose to happen.  NONE OF IT!  A private school that needs the money doesn't just blow off $800.  A property manager (for a very picky owner) doesn't forget--and keep putting off collecting--a check for $5500.  The same prop manager doesn't basically just invite you to walk away from the contract without you even asking.

I do not have to tell you that the next 3 hours were quite possibly the longest 3 hours of my life.  2:15 pm--I've heard nothing and so I am not to proud to call housing and ask.  Of course, I get the voice mail.  The boys and I are on our way back out to the house to organize their stuff for school the next day.  We pull off the H-1 "interstate" on the Ewa Beach exit and the phone rings.  Hawaii is hands-free so I pull off onto the shoulder.  It's housing.  I hear these words, "Amanda, the house is yours if you want it."  Tears immediately start rolling down my cheeks.  I am as thrilled as a kid on Christmas who just got the best present of her life.  But then I remember the hell we have been through this past month and stop crying and say straight out, "What the heck is WRONG with this house that a family passed it up?"  We've been burned this PCS and I just can't be too careful.  "Nothing.  Nothing is wrong with this house.  If you can, come by and look at it in a bit.  The family ahead of you had signed a contract to buy a home the same day you signed a contract to lease.  Fortunately for you, lease contracts are a breeze to get out of compared to trying--and failing--to get out of a mortgage that has already begun processing."  So I agree to swing by the house.  I already know we want it, but if I learned anything from the house hunt it was that you never never never sign for a house site unseen.  We get there and confirm that's it more than what we wanted.  This is home.  A quick call to the prop manager and she asks if they were able to get us a house.  When I say yes, she congratulates me, informs me that no, I don't need to pay them anything for electricity/water/cleaning for the weekend we were in and out, and ends by saying she was going to keep our son and our entire family in her prayers.

One week later and we had the keys to the house.   Our house sits on a hill, a big hill, and when we look out our back windows we see the Waianae mountains, the Aloha Stadium,  and Pearl Harbor.  The USS Missouri and the Arizona Memorial from our own backyard.  This house with any and all quirks that may come is more, SO much more than we could ever have asked for.

Fictitious beverages and bar scenery aside, this story tells itself.  Life is hard, even if our current problems are oh so very "first world."  Our journeys are rough.  We are gonna stumble and fall and for seemingly no good reason at all, for no bad choices on our part.  But I think that sometimes God takes us to the destinations He wants us at via the longer rougher path so that we can appreciate so much better the destination itself.  Perhaps if He'd taken us on the smooth and short path, we wouldn't be able to see how grand our destination really is... 

Jeremiah 29:11 (RSV)--11 For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

God didn't tell his people this right before he gifted them with amazing splendor, riches, and an easy life.  Rather, He tells them this right before they are sent into a bitter exile in Babylon for years.  He's reminding them that ALL things things work for good through Him...even our sufferings.

I've never been sent into exile.  I've never been diagnosed with a terminal illness.  I've never lost a child.  I've never experienced starvation, persecution, torture, slavery, rape, or any other horrendous plight upon this earth.  But I have experienced my own suffering.  We all have.  And while in the midst of it, it hurts like hell.  It stings, bites, pinches, snarls, and snags the happiness out of our lives. You may yell, kick, scream, and whine because it hurts.  Go ahead.  Do that.  He is still there with you.  And He does bring us out of it.  And sometimes He uses little miracles to do so.  I'd like to think it's his way of saying, "the ways of this world say that none of these things should have happened, but look...I am not of this world...and I can make any and all things happen, even the impossible.

In the end, I hope this little story of how my little family ended up in this beautiful little house on a hill in Hawaii can put a tiny smile on your face, send a tickle of a chill down your spine, but most of all remind you that not matter how big or small your suffering, your "exile" is, He will bring you out of it.  Have hope.  Have faith.  Hold on strong knowing you are where you need to be on this journey and He will bring you out in the midst of joy...

Well, the bar is closing.  The barkeep is cleanin' up.  It's time to back away from the bar and say good night.  As the saying goes, "You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here."  But me?  I am going home...home sweet, amazing, MIRACULOUS home.  Prost!

(Note: I cannot end my telling of this without adding 2 more miracles that happened in the course of all this playing out.  First, we didn't stumble upon another equally awesome little Catholic school just outside the back gate to my husband's work.  It's run by tiny little Filipino nuns (non-intimidating sort) who love to laugh, dance the Electric Slide with the kids, and wear Hello Kitty watches given to them by students...and one of my sons has an amazing teacher who is helping him catch up to where he should be!  Second, and far more important, the blood in the urine...a complete fluke.  No signs of it at all in the further testing.  Some may say "coincidence"...I say miracle.)