Saturday, July 19, 2014

IT'S A MIRACLE! By Lj Salceda Schroeder

(15 week sonogram of our baby.)

Lj Salceda Schroeder

"You have until the age of 30 to get pregnant. That is if you want kids, otherwise the chances are not in your favor." Those are the same words from two different doctors that I consulted when I was in my mid-20's. 

It was through a routine ultrasound for a urinary tract infection (UTI) that I "accidentally" discovered that I not only have a UTI but a more serious condition that I have never heard before: poly-cystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). On top of that my uterus was also inverted. And if those weren't enough, I wasn't producing the right amount of hormones to regulate my monthly period, one of the symptoms of PCOS.  

I wanted to respond to the MD's: "How can I do that when I don't even have a boyfriend or a potential spouse in sight? I'm not sexually active nor do I have the intention of having a baby before I get married. I have always been open to adoption (and I still am), but it's not the same as having my own flesh and blood. You're not God, how can you be so cruel?" Sigh... 

"Ok, so I have a few years left, maybe I could still beat my body clock or mother nature. Is there anything I can do? What? How much will it cost? Why me?" More sighs...

The thought of not having biological child/ren after the age of 30 was disheartening to say the least. I can't imagine life without kids. I can see my dreams slowly slipping away. There goes my potential husband… There goes the essence of being a woman… There goes my lineage... Ouch!

I've known married friends who have struggled with infertility and although their marriages have withstood the test of time and nature, I've seen first-hand the plethora of emotions they went through as an individual and as a couple due to being childless. 

When I had my first boyfriend at 27, I was SO tempted to give in not just to lust but to the enticement of the devil. Sleeping with him might be my "only" chance of producing an heir to my earthly kingdom before my "expiration" date claims my reproductive capacity. Lol! It did cross my volatile mind! However, my faith in God or more like my mother's sermons prevailed. I realized that it is selfish of me to bring a life in this world for the purposes of satisfying my "nurturing/mothering" instincts or for the expansion of my family tree. Although those are valid reasons, but not substantial enough for me. I don't want my kids to grow-up without a dad like me and my brother. I want to have a solid lifetime partner in handling such a ginormous, yet fulfilling feat- raising a family.

After learning that PCOS can be managed and is non life-threatening if diagnosed and treated early, I've come to accept my condition albeit with reservations. While I was still dating John (now my husband), I was upfront with him. It didn't bother him that we might have to face the possibility of not having a junior in the future which was a relief. I'm grateful for supportive and encouraging friends and family as well. My mom even rebuked my "lack of faith," by saying, "Would you rather believe in doctors or in what God can do?" Maybe it was a little too in your face, FYI: she's my mom and she's a pastor. Not that I or she was discounting or undermining physicians' or medicine's capacity to diagnose and treat diseases or conditions, but she was trying to remind me that I have a powerful, awesome God. He has never failed me! (Most of the time, it's the other way around.)

To shorten the story, I met an amazing guy when I was near my cut-off age (two months before I turned 30) for potential child-bearing, got married (at 32) and relocated in the USA. It still took us more than a year (our first year we decided to use contraception since I didn't have medical insurance and a stable job then) before we intentionally embarked on the "baby-making" process. We have always been open about our desire to have our own kids. We weren't shy to ask friends, church groupmates, missionaries, even strangers to pray for us.  

April this year, I started having weird food cravings. I found my self day dreaming of all the sour soups (sinigang, sinampalukan, cocido etc.) from my native country. For days I told my co-teacher that I missed Filipino cuisine. She was very sympathetic since she is also from Asia. One afternoon I went home from work very nauseated. At first I thought it was food poisoning. But just to be sure I took a home pregnancy test (HPT) since my period has been late for more than a month which is not uncommon for someone who has PCOS.

(Different brands, the same result: all positives!)

A positive! Could it be real? I've done dozens of HPT's before and needless to say they all turned out negative. So I asked my hubby to get me some HPT's from the drugstore. When he got home, I intentionally hid the first test. I had to make sure before I break the news to him. So, I did one more. The same result: a +! Then another one, to be very sure. Three positives! Hallelujah!!!  

When I finally told John we were expecting, he could not believe it. He said unless a doctor says so he won't accept the HPT results, but he was happy nonetheless. (I know, confusing.) The very next day I called an OBGYN, made an appointment and two weeks after, the ultrasound showed we were 7 weeks pregnant! Hurray!

At the age of 35 by the end of this year, we are going to welcome our first baby- a boy. I am so grateful, over the moon and still in awe. A human being is growing inside of me. It's beyond comprehension at times. It's scary. It's exhilarating. Above all it's God's answer to our prayers. I will be a mom. We will be parents in a few months. For real! Let the journey of parenthood begin... 

(My favorite time of the day is when my husband prays over my bulging belly/our baby.)

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Our Fiance (K1) Visa Saga: Chapter Two

Our Fiance Visa Saga: Chapter Two
LJ Salceda Schroeder

(pic c/o my Aunt Vivian)

Akala ng iba madali, masarap at bongga kapag may bf/fiance/asawa kang 'Kano. Ang 'di alam ng marami, sangkatutak na papeles, red tape at sakripisyo ang titiisin mo para lang sa lovelife at loved ones mo. Bago maging isang nobela ito, back to K1 tayo. If you missed Chapter One, here's the link.  

After passing the medical exam, it's time to PAY AND SCHEDULE THE VISA INTERVIEW.

The interview process was both exciting and nerve-wracking for me. I've been granted a 10-yr tourist visa before I applied for the K1 so I am aware of the routine. What made it worrisome was, some of the documents that I needed for the interview did not arrive on time because John sent it via post office! This is a NO-NO for very important and original documents. (Use Fed Ex or UPS or other shipping companies, NOT the post office if you or your significant other need to send anything valuable to each other!) I had to re-schedule the interview (twice) if I'm not mistaken because I wasn't sure if I should go through with the interview with our incomplete documents. When it did arrive (two days after the interview) in the mail it was opened and a masking tape was used to re-seal it. Sigh!

The day before my interview, I was scrambling and petrified. After chatting with John and praying together, I asked him to scan and e-mail whatever copies he has left of income tax/investments/bank accounts or anything to prove he is financially liable of myself once I get there (another important requirement for the K1 application). I also asked him to write a letter to the Manila US Embassy explaining what happened to the rest of the financial support papers which I brought to the interview. 

FYI: If the petitioner does not reach the "poverty guideline" in his state, he may look for a qualified co-sponsor.  

In spite of our dilemma, we entrusted everything to the Lord then I reviewed some of the possible questions for the interview.

ON THE DAY OF THE INTERVIEW July 1, 2011, I woke up at 4am, got ready, double-checked my list, asked my mom to pray  for me before I left (a lot of help to calm my nerves) and arrived at the US Embassy gates by 5:30am. My interview was at 6:40am and the line was already loooong as expected. 

I was in-line for at least 30 mins (protocols and specific requirements at the embassy are included in the interview confirmation e-mail) before they started letting people in, getting checked by security and going through some of the documents (interview confirmation letter, receipt etc.)

K1 visa interview is slightly different from the Tourist Visa Interview. Once inside the embassy grounds, your documents will be initially checked and you will be given a number. By batches (using you number) you will be fingerprinted (biometrics), then you will have to wait again until your initial interview. 

When my number was flashed, I went to a room with a Filipino consul/staff. He checked my docus (I organized them in a huge plastic envelope) and just asked the basic questions- my name, the petitioner's name, do I have all the documents etc.  I showed him John's "explanation/apology" letter and explained what happened to the rest of our papers. I think he said it's up for the interviewer to decide. When he was done, he told me to wait (in the lobby) until my number pops up above one of the windows where the actual interview will happen.

I silently prayed and practiced some more while waiting for the "actual interview". I also observed how some of the interviews went (you will learn a lot just by observing.) I noticed that one of the girls that was being interviewed (who was either denied or given the "colored" slip I don't remember how it ended) was having a hard time explaining her annulment. She was a little feisty too! 

When my number was shown, I was thankful that I was assigned to a very friendly American (Caucasian) man probably in his 30's who was wearing a barong tagalog. He again asked me the basic questions- my name, my fiance's name, how we met, what he does for a living, wedding planning etc. Then he noticed John's apology/explanation letter. I started explaining and apologizing and promised him I will come back and submit the rest, but he assured me and this is his exact words because I clearly remember to this day, "Your fiance seems to have enough money to support you. No need for additional documents." (Whew!) Then he congratulated me and swore me (to get married within 90 days) and gave me the white paper (where you have to put your mailing add for the visa delivery.)   

A miracle! An answered prayer! A relief! 

It took more than a week for my visa to be ready for pick up in one of the 2Go branches. You can also have it delivered as an option. I stayed in the Philippines a few more weeks to spend time with family and friends, work on the rest of the wedding, attend the Commission on Filipino Overseas or CFO seminar (another requirement prior to departure) and on July 31, 2011 I flew for the third time to the US to be with my man for the rest of my life.
Again, it's not an easy journey. It doesn't end once visa is in your hands or once you are married. K1 is just the first process among the succeeding processes you will go through if you decide to marry a foreign (American in this case) national. It is not for the faint of heart that's for sure. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Our Fiance (K1) Visa Saga: Chapter One

Our Fiance (K1) Visa Saga: Chapter One
LJ Salceda Schroeder

Even before John and I got married and to this day, I still receive e-mails seeking advice/tips/prayers/information regarding fiance visa a.k.a K1 visa. A few examples:

"Hi ate LJ!  Ask lang po about some ideas- paano po mag apply ng US fiance visa? salamat po! God bless."
please can you help me get some information about fiance visa in the US? I will be getting married soon also and I do not know how to process the papers. I hope to hear from you.

just wana ask, madali ba magfile ng visa? how did you do it? how much money did you spend? is it easier to go there or get married here? just want an idea what to do... my bf really doesn't know where to start... 

my gsto lang po sana akong itanong. may mareng friend po ako na my boyfriend na foreigner nagpaplano po cla na magpakasal,ano po ang unang ginawa nio para makapagfile  ng mga papers na mapunta ka po states? ano po ginawa ni Mr. nyo nong pumunta cya dito pinas? Sya po ba nagpunta sa american embassy? pls.po need ko lang po kasi malaman gsto ko lang po matulungan marengfriend ko,di po kasi alam gagawin nya.maraming salamat po!

Now that one or maybe two (not sure) of my cousins is/are dating an American guy as well-I've decided to recall, recollect and blog about John and yours truly's K1 journey. Hopefully, I'd be able to answer most, if not all of their (and yours too) visa related q's.

Disclaimer: I am in no way an expert on visa or relationship matters. For legal, official, up-to-date and first-hand info, always consult the experts or authorities. 

For the definition, types of visas, requirements, frequently asked q's, fees and the complete process, please refer to the US embassy website- or the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website- What I will be sharing with you here is more on our personal experience when we applied for the fiance visa (different from the Tourist B1 or Spouse visa K3/IR1/CR1.) 

Prior to John popping the question and the ring, we knew with certainty that our relationship was heading towards marriage. With that goal comes TONS of hard work, patience, faith and resources. I started reading, researching and gathering the evidence or documents early on in our dating stage. It helped that I am an organized, detail-oriented and very sentimental person. I saved our chat logs, receipts, airline tickets and took lots of pictures. You will be needing majority of these as part of the evidence of your relationship- one of the requirements for the K1 application. (I always reminded John to save and send me a copy of our chats whenever I was ym'ing him from my phone because I can't do it in my phone.)

Note that K1 is a PROCESS. Sometimes stressful, overwhelming, draining, long and might take it's toll in a relationship, but rewarding if you make it to the next stage (marriage). Every case or application is different. USCIS usually gives a timeline as a guide not as a rule. Many factors can come up and affect your application along the way.

John proposed to me on January 05, 2011, during my second trip to the US. Another side note: meeting each other in person is another requirement for the K1 application. It doesn't matter where or how long basta magkita kayo ng mata sa mata. :) 

We filed our application end of January or early February 2011(my memory fails me when it comes to dates, that's why it helps to save docus). This is the first official part of the process- FILING OF K1 APPLICATION BY THE PETITIONER. John (the US citizen or petitioner) has to send the application (forms, additional documents and fee) to the USCIS in the United States (not the US Embassy in the Philippines) via snail mail. Most of the documents required are from the petitioner (John), however there are requirements from beneficiary (me) as well, such as passport pictures, biographic info (form G325A), letter of intent, etc.

FYI, you will encounter a lot of acronyms, terms, document types etc. as you go through the K1 process. Yung mga forms may mga letters pa sa huli like A,B,C,D at ina-update from time to time. Good thing is, there are plenty of resources and support groups on-line that you can turn to for answers, clarifications and to help keep your sanity. :)

Feb. 10, 2011, USCIS received and acknowledged our K1 application by sending us a notice on e-mail and a hard copy a.k.a Notice of Action (NOA1). By May 13, 2011 (3 months after our application) we got our coveted second notice- the approval (NOA2) in the mail. 

Note that this is NOT the visa approval, this is just the K1 application approval. Once the application is approved it will be sent to the National Visa Center or NVC. The NVC will then forward your approved documents to the US Embassy in Manila. 

It is rare for an application to be denied at the initial stage. The worst you can get is what they call a Request for Further Evidence (RFE) which could be a missing/updated/proper document.) Once you send what they want and they are satisfied with it, wait for the notice (or an update if you are signed up on their site), then upon approval you have the go signal to move on to the next stage.

While waiting for the approval or NOA2, we started collecting the rest of the requirements (proof of relationship, NBI, CENOMAR, proof of financial support etc.) for the forthcoming stages (medical and interview).  I also tried to squeeze in exercise and vitamins to boost my immune system in preparation for the medical exam. 

PREPARING FOR THE MEDICAL AND INTERVIEW (after receiving the NOA2), was probably one of the most stressful, arduous, challenging parts of the process. You see, while going through the K1, you are also hoping/trying to prepare for a wedding abroad, maximizing whatever time you have left with family and friends and in my case leaving my 
job of more than a decade and moving my stuff from my place to my mom's apartment.

(Gown-fitting with my gown maker, Ate Laila Ramos)

After the petitioner gets the notice of approval (NOA2) in the mail, the beneficiary will then receive an appointment letter (might take between two weeks to a month) stating that he/she is eligible to schedule for an interview at the Manila US Embassy. Mine arrived on June 15, 2011 (more than 1 month after our NOA2.) 

Prior to this you have to undergo the dreaded medical exam at St. Luke's Medical Center Extension Clinic (SLMCEC) in Manila. During our time, you can go on with the medical exam even without the hardcopy of the appointment letter from the Embassy and without scheduling for the visa interview, (you do need to have your Case Number which your petitioner can get by calling the NVC hotline in the US). However a new rule is now being implemented- you need to have a schedule for an interview at the embassy first before you can do the medical (walk-in and on-line appointment are both allowed at SLMCEC). Also, there is another set of requirements and fee for the medical exam that you will have to prepare/pay/bring at SLMCEC.

FYI: the steps, fees, forms change periodically that's why it's important to check the USCIS or Manila US Embassy website for updates.

The medical exam during our time (feels like ages ago) was a two-day visit. May 30, 2011 was day 1: I paid the fees, presented the requirements, waited for my turn for the vitals, blood draw, x-ray, physical, interview with the doc etc. May 31, 2011 was day 2:  vaccines and getting/reading the results. Some applicants get a positive result on the TB test and this can be one of the roadblocks you may have to face because the doctors will require you to do a re-test and medication that could last for months. Also if you had an annulment (bring your papers), they will require you to talk to a psychiatrist and if psychological incapacity on your part was the reason of your annulment- you will have to go through a psych exam. Be prepared for more time at the hospital and expenses. If everything goes well the first time, then you are (almost) at the end of the K1 visa journey. 

If you made it to this part, I highly commend you! Nevertheless there's MORE to come... It's not a saga for nothing!

Side note: K1 is not the visa for couples who plan to get married in the Philippines but would like to settle down in the US. You need the spousal visa for that. Although if you are a K1 holder you can both have a wedding in the US and once you have adjusted your status (AOS) or in the process of AOS with the appropriate documents you can go back and have a wedding in the Philippines. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Life as an Agent (Front Desk Agent that is)

(Special mementos that I received from some of our guests.) 

Life as an Agent (Front Desk Agent that is)
Lj Schroeder

If you want to see the worst and the best in people, work in Customer Service- to be more specific, work as a hotel Front Desk Agent/Officer (the front line of Customer Service in the hotel industry).

I thought I've already encountered most (if not all) types of folks from different strokes of life having worked in media for almost 12 years. Wrong! The four months I spent as a front desk agent has been eye-opening, grueling, draining but also enriching. Thanks to my former supervisor Sharonica Naidu for opening the door for me to experience the life and work of a hotel agent.  

Prior to working as a FDA, I had so many thoughts and misconceptions such as...

1. Hotel front desk work is only for attractive people or as we say in the Philippines, people with pleasing personality. While I was applying from one hotel to another here in the US, I noticed that physical appearance is NOT a major factor for this job (not here at least). So far, I've seen and worked with agents from different cultures, with various accents, skin color, height, weight, age, religion, educational and work background. If you can do the job well and fast with less mistakes, then you might just have a shot in this field.

2. Hotel front desk work is for less talented and not-so-smart individuals because all they do is answer phones, greet guests, check-in and check them out. Another HUGE misconception! Yes, they do all those and more!

They also handle the register, memorize a gazillion of information like rates/codes/telephone numbers/bank info/discounts/room numbers/acronyms/packages/promos/usernames/last names/dates/events etc. They also have to drive (I don't) if the bellboy is not available, assist guests with their luggage, stock the gift shop, maintain cleanliness in the lobby, report complaints, deal with complaints, file documents, make reservations, make keys, follow-up on requests, call other hotels for their rate/occupancy, deliver mails or packages and a thousand more things.

FDA's are expected to be expert navigators, restaurant reviewers, weather forecaster, TV technicians, magicians, counselors and business people.  

One of the most frequently asked questions while I was doing front desk work is direction. Man, I am the last person you want to talk to about directions. Thank God for Google map!

3. Hotel front desk is pretty laid back and uncomplicated. Far from the truth, it is one of the most exhausting (they work while standing for almost 8 hours sometimes more in a day, 5 times a week), they wear many hats while dealing with various people (from rock stars to smelly students competing in a tennis competition to bridezillas).  It is a combination of physical, cerebral, emotional and technical skills.

4. Hotel front desk pay is easy money. I earned five times more than what I used to earn as a radio announcer in the Philippines, but it is hard-earned money. Front desk officers belong to the lowest wage earners in the hospitality industry (in the US) and if you are not aggressive, sensible and wise enough with your finances, everything will go to waste. Just an update: I actually earn more now as a nanny/housekeeper compared to when I was a FDA. 

5. Anyone can do front desk work. After being on the job for four short months, I could say from experience this is not the case. Few, selected folks have the ability, drive and tenacity to last in this job. And those that have stayed, oftentimes expressed their choice of not doing it again or just using the experience to climb up the ranks. 

I remember crying a lot because of the pressure, fear of making a mistake, being called out after making a mistake, losing the job, losing my control etc. 

I don't have a lot of "great" memories while working in hotel. Two of the things that stood out though were- during my last week, there was only a few of us left for the night shift which happened to be a busy night. The hotel I worked for did not keep housekeepers for the evening shift to save some moolah, so guess who does some of the housekeeping jobs? Us- the FDA's! One guest requested for a personal fridge which happened to be kept in one of the storage rooms. Since there was no one else but the front desk agents left (me and the overnight shift), I had to carry (I couldn't find the luggage cart) the fridge from one end of the hallway to the guest's room! When one of the other guests saw me doing this, he offered help and handed me my first "I appreciate you card!" 

One of my favorite guests was this older man who trains therapy dogs and take them to hospitals and schools. He travels from city to city and talk about how the dogs help children who have serious medical conditions. This was the only time I took a picture of myself at work.

After my brief stint as an FDA, I'll never see or treat this position or the person lightly nor lowly again. 

Hats off to them!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Nanny LJ by LJ Schroeder

(pictures of my alagas)

Name: Love Joy "LJ" Schroeder
Occupation: Nanny/Home Organizer 

Who would have thought that I will be back to my very first job? Taking care of kiddos! A.k.a. nanny, babysitter, caregiver, yaya, katulong, kasambahay, alipin (ibang era na 'to).  

I remember being the one in-charge of my younger cousins as early as grade school days because I'm the oldest among them. By high school, I led/taught Sunday school for kids and also volunteered as counselor for youth camps. In my last year in high school, I struck a deal with my aunt. I agreed to be the primary caregiver  of her sons (my cousins who were then toddlers) in exchange she will help me pay for my tuition fee in college. You can read an article I wrote for the Philippine Daily Inquirer's Youngblood about my previous nannying experience through this link

So after 12 years in media, 4 short months in the hospitality industry, I am back to my roots and I am loving it... well most of the time.  

I've always adored kids and my training when I was younger helped me developed the skills and character that I am putting into great use. But man, things have changed a lot.

When I was younger I knew nothing about CPR or first aid or peanut allergies. Nowadays, especially here in the US- nannies, babysitters or caregivers whether part-time or full-time are mostly required to have a certificate/training to be even considered for the job.

Some employers look for applicants who already have insurance, bond, specific trainings/certificates, references related to the job, licenses and even their own transportation! 

Twice I was turned down because I'm not a mother (yet.) A few times I was told I was overqualified and the employer assumed I might get bored with the job. (Perhaps I should take that as a compliment.)

But I kept the faith and kept on looking. After more than a month of sending applications and a number of interviews- I finally got a full-time nannying job! Since end of November, my regular workday runs from 8-6, Mon-Fri with occasional Saturdays. I also accept part-time housekeeping/babysitting/organizing jobs mostly on weekends and at night. Like most occupations, there are certain things that I love about nannying and things that just makes it a job.  

The perks of being a nanny: Always casual Friday because I don't have to dress-up or wear make-up or even take a shower (not that I don't like cleaning myself or being presentable). No deadlines to beat and lesser stress. Additionally and surprisingly, it pays better than my previous job as a front desk officer. Plus, it's been something I've done or been doing (house chores) for many years. No additional trainings needed, college diploma is optional but you do need to be able to communicate well with your employers and the kids.

The challenges: Caring for two toddlers (one a cancer survivor), teaching them the basics (it's like going to kindergarten all over again) and the long commute. We (my hubby still drives for me) travel about 40-45 mins to work and back, and double that for my loving husband. 

In my previous jobs I talked to celebrities, leaders and politicians now I am teaching a toddler how to s-p-e-l-l and form a sentence. I used to play popular songs as a radio host, now I sing nursery rhymes all day long. I used to produce, travel, attend events, research, write, give awards but now I feed, play, read, clean-up poo poos/pee pees, look for missing socks, organize, put them to bed and put up with their tantrums and break fights.

I have discovered new BFF's too- Dora, Diego, Mickey Mouse, Bob the Builder and Thomas the Train. 

The first few days I felt I was demoted. I was a little demoralized and on the verge of writing myself an invite to a pity-party. 

Then I realized I am living one of my childhood dreams of becoming a teacher, an influencer, an inspiration. I never expected that when my alagas learn the difference between dark blue vs light blue, or that 2+2=4 or that hearing the word PLEASE would give me so much delight and pride. 

The kids hate it when I say my favorite expression C-A-R-E-F-U-L, but could you blame me? God forbid something happens to them, I will not only face the wrath of their parents but also the court. It's a life, a person, his well-being even his future that I am entrusted with. Unlike businesses, customers or products lives can not be replaced. I always have to be mindful of this important fact every single day.

I was having a conversation with another Asian a few days ago. She was complaining about her husband not being a sipsip to the bossings so he would get a promotion. She then asked me, "How about you Lj, have you learned the art of kissing someone's behind (she actually used the a- word)

I answered, "Nah, it's not my personality."  Looking back, I would have answered it differently. I'd probably say, I'd rather clean someone's behind (hopefully a baby's) than kiss it.

It's not the most glamorous job (like the previous jobs I've had) but I can certainly see myself doing this for long and possibly to my own soon... maybe this year? God-willing. :)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Be a V!

Be a V (Volunteer): Benefits of Volunteering
LJ Schroeder

Answering the phone for a CBN Asia Special 

If I only have enough money to sustain me and my family I would volunteer most of my life.

Perhaps it was my mother who encouraged me to reach out and help others especially fellow believers when I was younger. I was in 6th grade when I first volunteered to be an interpreter/translator for a group of Kiwi youth missionaries while they were doing a crusade in a nearby barangay(village) in our town.

Then I became an active (girl) scout in high school and volunteering is a huge part of the movement. We cleaned streets, planted trees, visited orphanages, distributed relief goods as part of our regular activities and to earn badges.

But I think it was in college that my passion for volunteering went into full bloom! I started stepping-out and initiated more often. I became a regular volunteer or member of Christian organizations such as Youth With a Mission (YWAM), MV Doulos (Operation Mobilisation Ships) and the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF).

Cleaning-up shores in Sorsogon with YWAMers

After college I started volunteer work for a local Christian radio station, 1125 DWAS in our province which eventually paved the way for me to be in the broadcast industry for many, many years.

Although I don't have as much time and energy now I still volunteer whenever possible, mostly in our local church, for various organizations and events such as Fish Festival.

I've found many benefits to volunteering (although I am not after what I can get when I volunteer). The reason why I volunteer first and foremost is to HELP. My life slogan has always been to serve God by being a blessing and an inspiration to people. Volunteering is one of the ways I can apply it. 

I wish I can encourage more people to volunteer by stating some of the reasons why I love doing it:

1. Paying it forward.  I've been helped, inspired and encouraged by countless people my entire life. I was able to attend camps through donors, finished a college degree via my aunt's generous help and overcame obstacles because of the prayers of my churchmates. By helping others is my way of saying thank you and I appreciate the people that the Lord has used as channels of His blessings.

2. Investing in someone's life and possibly changing their future. I have a very high regard for teachers and mentors, especially unpaid Sunday school or volunteer vacation Bible school (VBS) teachers. The people that planted the seed of the gospel in my life were the VBS teachers from the Nazarene church. Every Summer my mother (who's a firm believer of education) encouraged us to attend their VBS in order to continue learning and being productive while school is close. I don't remember everything they taught us during those scorching days, but I carry in my heart the dedication and patience they had for  a bunch of raunchy kids.  
Aboard the MV Doulos ship selling books and doing outreach programs with MV Doulos staff and fellow volunteers

3. Gaining friends and contacts. I've lost count of the wonderful people that became my friends,  brothers and sisters, sources, go-to-people that I've met and worked with through volunteering. Before the social media sites (Friendster, Multiply, Facebook etc.) became popular I was banking on my connections for information, guest hunting and ideas for my radio shows and articles. They were my saving grace!

4. Experience. Here in the US, previous volunteer work can be included in your job employment history. What better way to fill out not just your resume but your time and life than by helping others.

5. The perks! It's a rare occasion when volunteers get paid (yes, there are volunteers who do get stipend or renumeration) but there are other perks that you get as a volunteer. If you work for concert organizers or radio stations, most of the time you'll get back stage or media pass to performances or an opportunity to meet celebs. You also get goodies like t-shirts, bags, CD's or books. 

Since most volunteers don't get paid, org's try to at least provide their meals= FREE FOOD or even transportation.

Meet and greet with Ptr. Louie Giglio and Matt Redman before a concert 

6. Lessons learned. It's a blessing to give than to receive so says the Bible. When we were younger and money was nowhere in sight borrowing from family/friends for food or school was the only option not to succumb to poverty or worse, crime. I remember how humiliating and belittling the experience was, nonetheless it pushed me to work hard and finish school. I made a commitment to myself that one day the roles will be reversed. I will be in the side that's extending help and not getting it (not that there's something wrong being helped.)

7. It could lead to greater things. By volunteering to write, I was able to publish my first book. By volunteering to produce and host a 30 minute talk show called Pauro-Ayahay (Siesta/rest time), I landed my first job. By volunteering as interpreter, I honed my English language and communication skills and now I'm married to a foreigner. Volunteering could unveil your potentials, skills, personality and could even open doors for you.    

My first book- Eating With One Chopstick 

Volunteering does wonders not just to the volunteers but to the company or organization that needs them. According to our pastor, our church was able to save $10,000 last year because of the people that stepped out of their comfort zone and stepped-up to the plate.

Don't miss out being a blessing and being blessed - volunteer! 

"For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." - Ephesians 2:10 ESV  

Gary V and Sonicflood front man - some of the artists I've met and interviewed while working for FEBC.

With Ms. Coney Reyes of CBN Asia 

With Purpose Driven Life author, Ptr. Rick Warren during Fish Festival

With Reuben Morgan of Hillsong

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Coming to America by LJ Schroeder

Coming to America
Lj Schroeder

366 days in the US of A! Thank you Lord for another milestone!

It has been exactly one year and a day today since I left everything - my country, my home, my family, my friends, my work, church, traffic, life in the Philippines to be with my (then) fiance John now my husband of ten months. Yay! Come to think of it, there has been a number of milestones since my big move overseas. Except for settling down, I also I received my Green Card, found a new job, ended a decade-long career/ministry in radio, finished two semesters at the School of Ministry (and coming back for more) and did a few travels.

Life has not been perfect here in the US as most people in the Philippines assume, but I believe I am where God wants me to be. Good things don't come easy as the saying goes. I had to start from scratch, make new friends, speak a different language (moreso argue in another language), re-learn, familiarize and adjust. I know that the people and situations that I encounter have a purpose. Challenges and struggles are part of life, of growth, of our destiny. No complains - just a heart full of joy, appreciation and anticipation for things that are yet to come.

I clearly remember the first challenge that I had to deal with during my first few months- my body's reaction to the weather. Although a lot of people are drawn to the warm, sunny climate of California, my skin on the other hand got very dry and itchy... a few days later I was covered in rashes because I can't stop myself from scratching. It was hard to sleep (both with the jetlag and the skin rash) and it even got worse when I developed chronic flakes in my scalp for months. It was embarrassing and stressful. :( Good thing I found an ointment for the rashes and my body eventually adjusted to my new surroundings.

Another challenge I faced was being very dependent on my husband both financially and physically. In the Philippines, I made a living for more than a decade as a radio announcer/producer. In between I took part-time jobs like writing, wedding coordinating and hosting events. I was able to finish short-term courses, travel when and where I want to and even publish my first book.

After our wedding last September, I spent most of my time preparing then waiting for my papers (Green Card and Social Security) before I could apply for a job, so I relied a lot in my spouse for finances for getting around. For some people it's not too bad, but I felt like teenager again asking my Mom (this time my hubby) for money so I could buy simple things like sanitary pads or lotion or shampoo. It reminded me of the time I was in college- someone who just can't wait to have a job and have my own spending money. My husband has always been supportive and generous, but not having the opportunity to earn, to be productive, to contribute to our finances- made me feel powerless and miserable at some point.

Did I mention I don't drive too? Public transpo here is as rare as a Filipino obeying traffic rules. It's a MUST (even a requirement for most jobs) to have a valid driver's license.

Another thing that I have to deal with was making new friends. This is perhaps the most challenging one so far. I may have tons of acquaintances but I have kept very few close friends and they are mostly in my native land. I always tell my hubby, I wish I have friends that are not his friends (not that I don't like his friends). Oftentimes I feel like I am only their friend by affiliation.

Don't get me wrong, I love being with my husband but he can't stand walking in a garden for an hour or window shopping for four hours with me. There are specific occasions or places when a girl friend is all you need. :(

So far I haven't begged my husband to send me back home yet (a good sign!). I haven't had any major bouts of homesickness, although I dream frequently about my family, friends and the Philippines.

This country has plenty to offer, but like any other nation it has its traps, temptations and illusions. If I'm not rooted in the Word or surrounded by people that keeps me grounded, it's so easy to be carried away by materialism, commercialism, idealism, egalitarianism, individualism and all the other ism's that are rampant in this great land.

I miss my beautiful country and my people sorely, but wherever God directs me to go- I will call my home and its people I'll treat as a family.

Oh and I have a husband who's CRAZY in-love with me! (He forced me to write that. Just kidding!) What more can a woman ask for? :)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Until Then...

(Control 5/Studio)

Until Then...
Lj Schroeder 

This month marked my 12th year in the broadcast industry. I look back and can't help but be swept away by emotions... I am overjoyed, humbled, accomplished, blessed, enriched and nostalgic for all these years. Above all, I feel grateful to God and in-debt to the people He used for opening the door to my dream job/ministry and for the enumerable lessons and treasures I've acquired along the way.

But alas, even good things must come to an end!

Next week is also the final days of my "on-air" ministry with Far East Broadcasting Company (FEBC), my home and family for many years. After more than a decade working as a full-time staff, dozens of shows, hundreds of events, thousands of listeners and co-workers I've met, tons of memorable experiences- I bid farewell (for now) to a huge part of my life. It has not been an easy journey, but I wouldn't be where I am and who I am today if not for the training and opportunities that working in FEBC has given me. My heart is like a treasure box bursting with mementos- the time, the people, the craziness, the tears, the laughter and the hundred other things that continue to inspire, challenge, shape and guide me to my destiny.

I started as a volunteer right after college, then as announcer/producer, until a few months before my early retirement I was "promoted" to an OIC-position for one of our new programming divisions and back to being a volunteer when I settled down and migrated to the US. In spite of the distance and the time difference, I managed to host and produce a (temporary) daily show for almost a year!

In my life I've always struggled with good byes and separation. I thought I had gotten over my separation anxieties, but here I am having radio withdrawals. Lol! 

So with all the courage that I can muster, it is with great delight albeit with tear-stained eyes that I say MARAMING SALAMAT at HANGGANG SA MULI (Thank you and Until then) to radio broadcast...
to my former home, my comfort zone, my family...
to you our dear listeners and friends...
to shows, the studio and the airwaves... 

So long consoles, microphones, headphones, audience, queue sheets, playlists, scripts, recordings, interviews, OB's, OTS, textjock, static and dead air...    

Join me next week for the final episodes of Love On Air on 702 DZAS,, between 11pm-12mn (Manila time.)

What an honor and a gift to serve my Master through FEBC! 

(FEBC MIC Awarding Ceremony, June 2011 with Kuya Dan and Kuya Caloy)

It is now time to pursue other passions, create new dreams, discover different paths and make more friends. 

Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven...