Saturday, March 27, 2010

Away from Blogging for a Week

With the beginning of Holy Week, I will be taking a week off from blogging so as to spend as much time as possible in prayer, which, in reality, will be considerably less than usual and certainly far less than I would like.

Unfortunately, I cannot take a week off from traveling and am sad that I will be on a plane between Ohio and Texas Thursday evening, which means that I will miss Maundy Thursday Mass, which is one of my favorites. (The year that Fr. Greg, a priest assigned to our parish on an interim basis, was here, 2007, I was one of the 12 whose feet he washed; then he asked the 12 of us to wash the feet of everyone in the church -- it took a long time, but it was a very good experience for everyone.)

I even have to work on Good Friday this year. Usually I can manage my schedule so that I can get off work. Fortunately, the senior manager I am traveling with is also Catholic, and I have charged him with finding us a Mass in San Antonio. I hear that there is a wonderful cathedral near the Alamo. (He is reliable; we have attended Mass together during our required travels in Korea and in Germany at churches that he has tracked down.) I have told our San Antonio branch that once we know the time of Mass, they will have to work my meetings around that time. I will be back early Saturday afternoon, in time for Easter vigil at Old Mission, which is where I really prefer to be -- in my little town which one visitor once called "namolein" (Russian: "saturated in prayer").

I will be back after Easter, and I wish all of you a wonderful, blessed week and as much time as you want to spend with God.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

God Loves Shane (and Me)

I have been chronicling on this blog the things that have happened to Shane since he unexpectedly lost his job and the hidden blessings that came from it. As he is now about to start his new job at a lower salary than his two previous jobs, he has managed to cut his expenses to the level needed to match income to outgo, but with nothing left over for emergencies or anything beyond routine bills. I therefore impetuously promised him to send him an additional $100 per week. Where I would get that money, I did not know when I made the promise, but God always helps me when it is important. One reason that I have limited funds at the moment is that I over-promised support to St. Francis Retreat and have had to rely on God to help me fulfill that pledge on a regular basis, and God always has.

This week, as I was working on the already-stretched-to-bursting budget, I received a letter from the personnel office at work. I had been given a $98 a week bonus, starting the same week that Shane begins his new job. Eureka! Helped again! Finding the other $2 should be a cinch!

I have no idea why God takes such good care of my family, but I do always remember to say thank you -- thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you! :)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

That Nathaniel, Again

Recently, Nikolina was evaluated by the spina bifida clinic at the University of California at San Francisco (USCF), where Shane and Lemony are considering transferring her care because Stanford has no way for all the specialists to see her in one day, meaning six trips instead of one, for each of her followups. The USCF clinic can pull together the team in one room on the same day. So, to SF they went in spite of the slightly longer distance.

As the various staff members and doctors came in to evaluate Nikolina and talk to Shane and Lemony, Nathaniel drew on a coloring board that had been placed in the room for children. He made little noise, so no one paid much attention to him, including Shane and Lemony. He seemed quite involved in his art work.

As they were leaving, all the appointments being finished and only the clinic coordinator staying to talk to them, Shane moved toward Nathaniel to start to gather him in, then froze for a minute. He quickly moved away from Nathaniel's location until he had finished talking to the clinic coordinator and she had left. The reason? Apparently, Nathaniel had set up a comparison chart and had been keeping score: UCSF vs Stanford in categories such as distance, time, convenience, quality of urology, quality of neurosurgery, etc., giving relative points to each. Yep, it was better that no one see what he had been doing!

Indeed, life with Nathaniel is interesting and is likely to get a lot more interesting the older he gets!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Shane's Hidden Blessings

When Shane was fired from his job in Mountain View, we were all flabbergasted. He has always been a model employee. When we learned that he did have a clean file and even positive comments (including a salary increase for good performance the month before being fired) and discovered the likely reason -- Nikolina's medical bills -- we were even more flabbergasted. Of course, beyond the simple shock was the devastating and sinking feeling that here were two kids (Nathan and Nikolina) with birth defects and no health insurance. That sent Shane scrambling for unemployment compensation, which he easily was awarded since Mountain View could not cite a legitimate reason for the firing, and COBRA, which Donnie and I have been paying because the cost is way out of Shane's reach at 60% of his unemployment compensation.

One would think that this should be a considered a dark moment in Shane's life, but it has not been that. It has been a bright moment, in fact, a series of bright moments. Here are some:

(1) Shane found out how well liked he was by his colleagues. They raised a ruckus at work over the firing, not concerned about retaliation, and the Union, which is not supposed to represent management (Shane was a supervisor), took on his case. We don't know where that stands but since Shane was conditionally (based on passing a medical exam) offered a job at California Highway Patrol on Monday (to start o/a April 1), it no longer matters what the outcome is of that investigation unless Shane wants to take Mountain View to court. (Not a bad idea, should they want to do the same thing to other employees in the future.) Shane's colleagues also have been writing to him every day on FaceBook and calling him, offering encouragement, support, and ideas for jobs.

(2) After nearly a year of non-stop physical activity and emotional turmoil, given the stress that comes with being a supervisor at work, his undiagnosed appendicitis that brought him close to death and into emergency and extensive surgery, and the birth of Nikolina in an unassembled state that took Stanford University Hospital months to assemble and repair Shane got some rest. Just enough rest before a different kind of stress (unemployment issues) could set in: 6 weeks. In that time, he was able to put his financial house in order, take some vacation time (including a trip to Disneyland and to the San Francisco celebration of Chinese New Year, using saved funds), and find a job.

(3) Shane got to feel the kindness of many people, including strangers. Stanford, for example, wrote off the amount of Nikolina's bill that Shane owed personally, not only for the past year but for ALL future bills! Unheard of! Simply unbelievable! Talk about God working through people!

(4) Going back to CHP feels like returning home to Shane since most of the people he used to work with are still there and excited about his coming back. Working for the state, even considering the difficult financial state that California is in currently is infinitely more secure than working for a city or a private company. Even if there is some reduction in force, it is not likely to affect him. He regains his 12 years of seniority the day he walks in the door. Moreover, there are other options long-term. As he finishes his education in computer science, he can move from dispatch into a tech job, which pays more. It is likely that he will be asked to do the regional computer coordination that he did in the past, and that will facilitate a move in that direction, which is the field in which he would ultinately like to work.

(5) Since unemployment does not pay much and going back to CHP also means going backward (or down) in terms of salary, Shane has had to scale down his expenditures. With Stanford's assistance with medical costs, he has been able to do that. It is always good to have stricter control over one's finances!

(6) Perhaps the most important blessing has been time with his family. Shane has had family time that few fathers rarely, if ever get, to spend with Nathan and especially Nikolina in their early years. He has been able to see those daily things that usually only mothers see. He has taken scads of photographs of little Nikolina has she grows up and learns to enjoy life. In fact, it is hard for anyone, being near her, not to enjoy life. Her favorite game in recent days is to heave her bottle, watch it fall, and then crack up at herself for doing it. She is the happiest little thing and brings smiles to anyone who meets her.

What a wonderful thing it is that Shane lost his job! God works in the most marvelous and unpredictable ways!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Clan Rising

The clan is rebounding from the siege! Once again, God has pulled us from the muck! He does not let us roll around in the muck for very long. (I don't know what we would do if He forgot about us, but He never does!) Like the phoenix bird, the Clan is arising from the fire and ashes!

Actually, I don't think Shane and Lemony have worried very much. Perhaps Lemony more so than Shane because Shane has been a clan member all of his life and knows that once things burn down, they get built again and much more beautifully. While he is not counting his chickens before they hatch and is continuing his job search, the supervisor at the local office of the California Highway Patrol (CHP) told him that she had an opening and asked if he wanted it. It is less pay than he has been receiving as a suprvisor, but it will cover (just barely) his bills and, more important, provide health insurance. He was able to get COBRA, but the $850 monthly fee was out of his reach while on unemployment insurance, so Donnie and I have been paying it. It is a stretch for us, too, so we are happy that there will be an alternative. Even without a job, Nikolina will qualify for a state family insurance plan that is a much cheaper alternative to COBRA in April, when she turns a year old. (Yes! She will have lived an entire year that all but one doctor thought would be possible. Now there is no question that she will live; the only question is how well, and the answer to that appears to get better every day.) Although the salary at CHP is low, which is why Shane left earlier, the benefits are great, and he will be able, with time, to move over into the technology side of the house, where the benefits are better although we are not in a hurry for that because it would require relocation to another part of California, there being little need for tech specialists locally. Shane will need to re-pass his security clearance. He has been placed on the fast track to get it done as quickly as possible, and since he had one earlier and had one until he was terminated from his previous job, it will hopefully not take long. We expect an answer in April and are trusting that the answer will be yes. (So is CHP!)

Since there is only so much time that can be spent on job searches, Shane has used this intervening period to spend more time with his family, especially with Nathaniel who has missed out on a lot of parent time during Nikolina's various surgeries and hospitalizations. (Of course, Nathaniel has learned a lot about medicine this past year, but all of us would have given up that "education" had it been possible.)
So, in recent days, Shane took Nathaniel spelunking in the Pinnacles National Monument which is near to us in this part of California. There are a number of small, natural caves there, as well as walks up and down the rock formations in the hills. That was more education, but of a very different kind and much more pleasant to learn!

Following the spelunking experience, the whole family headed to Disneyland in Anaheim. Shane likes to take the kid(s) there every other year or so. For Nikolina, this was a first-time experience, and she apparently got quite involved with some of the exhibits, laughing at some, crying at others, and not particularly predictably. I am happy that I have been able to give Shane a few dollars each week to supplement his unemployment so that the family, while significantly tightening its belt, can have some breaks from the stress of unemployment, job searching, and health problems. I had been helping Lizzie pay off the surgery that Princesse, her cat, went through last fall after being flattened by a falling bed, but Lizzie said that Shane needed the dollars more than she did. So, I diverted them.

This past week, Shane and family traveled north to San Francisco to the weekend Chinatown parade and festivities that they attend every year. Lemony began the traditional 11 years ago, right after she and Shane married. Then, along came Nathaniel, and he was introduced to the tradition. Nathaniel really likes Chinese culture and food, and has a few Chinese outfits that he wears for special occasions, such as this one. For Shane and family, the weekend was good entertainment, away from the concerns of regular daily life, and fortunately they could keep up the tradition this year. (Shane is like me. He does not worry about things over which he has no control and just goes on living as if nothing had happened. Of course, it helps that whenever we head over a cliff, God always hands us a parachute.)

One great parachute has been Stanford's reaction to Shane's situation. The financial aid office unsuccessfully sought ways to help him with the COBRA situation or alternative insurance but could not. I guess they felt bad about that, so they offered to help him in a way that they could: they offered to his share of Nikolina's medical bills to date and from here on out. Obviously, Shane accepted that offer with a big smile and big thank-you. I think that they felt good about doing this. People, even institutions, really can be kind and generous. We hear a lot about stingy hospitals and unhelpful service representatives. We don't hear often about the opposite, so when it happens one should shout and share! Thank you, Stanford University Hospital!

There have been many positive results from Shane's job termination. Friends and former colleagues have rallied. The latter have rallied so strongly that perhaps it won't happen to someone else. Even the union got involved in spite of the fact that Shane is management and not rank-and-file. No one should lose a job because they have a baby in the kind of difficulty that Nikolina experienced, fighting for her life. It is enough to fight for your child's life. You should not also have to fight for your job. I think this is a topic that Shane, once re-employed, will follow up on, trying to get some policies changed.

Family also rallied. Clan members called more frequently, offering emotional support. Katrina, my sister, who is a specialist in student placements, helped Shane rework his resume. I, of course, provided dollars -- more than I otherwise could have, thanks to Lizzie giving up her dollars.

Former colleagues, acquaintances, and friends jumped on the bandwagon, helping Shane search for job possibilities. It was through this network that the CHP office heard that Shane was looking for work and contacted him.

As for Noelle, she, too, has had some better news recently. Her left leg is responding to new treatment and will not need either surgery or amputation. Her right leg is more recalcitrant; however, the new doc in town is hopeful that he can avoid amputation through some experimental surgery -- and now the right leg, while the surgery is still being planned, has started to improve, too. Yes, up from the ashes!!

Never give up! Never despair! God will find a way! That is the Mahlou clan's story over and over again. It is also the story of many clans I have encountered. I almost welcome these kinds of difficulties just to see what God will do next. As Shane said when he was terminated, "It will be interesting to see what better things are in store now."

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