Saturday, August 1, 2015

When the Going Gets Tough, Hit Your Knees

My God,

It was a year ago today that I first laid eyes on her. She was so tiny, so sad and beautiful, and leaping right off the page at me. We loved her even before we knew she was ours.

It was a dangerous proposition, but we trusted You. Now she’s officially a Hicks, and we are so incredibly grateful for this wonderful, indescribable blessing. Thank you, God.

I know it’s Your will. You’ve told us that care for orphans is “pure religion.” And by adopting us all, letting us call You “Father,” You demonstrated exactly what it looks like when love makes a family. 

But even more than this, I know that adoption is Your will for our family.  We have seen You move through every step of this long, winding process with us. We’ve watched You direct our steps as we navigated the sometimes rocky path, as You brought us to this point in our journey.

We’ve trusted You through the long years of waiting for the unknown, and now through the year of waiting for the known—a call that we can finally go pick up that tiny piece of our hearts 8,700 miles away.

We’ve prepared our home; we’ve prepared our daily lives, our friends and family. And oh, how we yearn for the day we will finally stop preparing, and start being.

I know that Your timing is perfect—things happen when they should.  I know it, but that doesn’t stop my heart from aching or the tears from falling. Why must we wait so long? I’m struggling to see Your plan. I don’t understand.

I can enumerate the long list of reasons she should be home now, but You know them all (and not just because I’ve told you a million times!). If “not yet” is the answer, I know the reason is good. Help me believe that. Help me really believe it, when I say it.

Give me peace, oh God. I need peace. More patience; greater trust in You. Help me lean on You. Help me loosen my Type-A stranglehold on the situation before I drive myself mad.

Help me get outside of myself and serve You while I’m waiting. Help me let go of how things “should be,” so that my heart is open and ready for the things that will be.

Help me wake up each morning and push through the ache in my heart for what’s missing, so I can focus on what’s here and now. I don’t want to miss it!

Most of all, help me remember to be profoundly grateful. She is ours, wherever in the world she is. She is loved, and will be all the rest of her days.

And when the time comes, when the call comes to finally bring our missing piece home, help me remember where every good and perfect gift comes from, and say “thank You.”

I offer this prayer for my daughter in Your sweet son’s name,


Monday, July 27, 2015

"Ready," Set, Glitch

I never thought I would hate any word as much as I hate the word "Ready" right now. I've seen it so many times that the word has lost all meaning at this point. I would really love to banish the word from my vocabulary entirely, and I will just as soon as I find a suitable alternative (suggestions welcome). But I'm getting ahead of myself...

"Big Brother Whale is giving Baby Sister Whale a ride."
We received confirmation from ICAB of our formal match with Baby Girl Hicks on March 12, 2015, but we had no idea when the official documents--match certificate, birth certificate, medical records, etc.--that we needed to continue the adoption process would arrived in Houston. In international adoption, you have to get your "approval to adopt" renewed annually, and we were coming up on the expiration of our approval (end of April 2015). Since we had no idea when the documents would arrive, we started the process of getting our approval renewed. 

Because this was our second renewal, we had to submit all new documentation, new background checks, an all new home study, new finger prints: the works! Fortunately, our local agency handled the background checks, and we were able to get the documents gathered and schedule meetings with our social worker for the home study update really quickly. But that still left fingerprints which, if you've been following me all along, you know is quite the process.

And because nothing is ever simple, this time around Jake was away (again!) when his fingerprint appointment was scheduled (of course he was!) and we had to mail off for a new one. Fortunately, he was able to make the appointment the second time around. Additional bright side? At least this time he wasn't in Afghanistan, where the military police had to do paper fingerprint cards and mail them home, praying that they would (a) actually arrive, and (b) be accepted by USCIS.

Meanwhile, Baby's documents arrived in Houston on April 6, 2015. Read: we didn't actually need to jump through the renewal hoops after all because we filed before our old documents expired (!!). But we were already so far along, we completed the process anyway. 

As soon as the documents arrived, I got right to work. First, we had to fill out an I-800 petition to have Baby designated as our relative (i.e., our daughter) for immigration purposes. We also had to fill out an I-864 petition to prove that we could care for Baby (financially, medically, etc.). Between them, the two applications were well over 100 pages, but we managed to get them compiled, notarized, and sent off by April 10, 2015. Meanwhile, we also had to send information to ICAB so that they could apply for Baby's Filipino passport (still in the works at this point).

Both the renewal and the I-800 were approved on May 15, 2015, and on May 21, 2015, the State Department sent us a letter letting us know that Baby's application for a visa had been submitted to the U.S. Embassy in Manila.

I was thrilled! After three years of "hurry up and wait," we had made a ton of progress in a sixty-day period. I started thinking that maybe we would have Baby home this summer! Especially when I saw this:

Redacted by me because the internet
So, really exciting, right?!?

Sure. Until four days later when something caused the entire global visa system to glitch. For nearly a month, not a single visa could be issued. Anywhere. Well, you can imagine the backlog from a technology failure like that. In many parts of the word, including the Philippines, the issue is still not fully resolved.

I check the State Department system every day, and every day I get the same screen I've been seeing since June 5. So that's where we are now--"Ready."

"Ready?" READY?!?! Well, yeah! Ready...and about to pull our hair out that an entire immigration application process can take the same amount of time we've been waiting just to get a visa and actually bring our daughter home! do any kind of planning whatsoever for our family's process of going from a threesome to a foursome. know something--anything???--about what's going on, when this will resolve, and how our Baby is doing in the meantime. 

Does she know about us? Is she wondering where we are? It hurts my heart, but I kind of hope the former answer is "no," just so the latter is too! 

The past week, several of our friends who were also stuck in the "Ready" holding pattern saw movement on their files. It's so wonderful, and it's giving us hope that our file will be moving again soon, too. But in some ways, it also just makes me even more impatient with the "Ready."

If that's even possible. I guess we'll see when I check status tomorrow...

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Interminable Wait

Seven Months. That's right, seven. Honestly, I thought we had the whole waiting thing on lock. I mean, we've been in this adoption process since 2012!! We know all about waiting!

But none of the other waiting prepared me for the void that followed our request to be matched with that tiny little girl with the tiny little profile.  It was July the first time we saw her on paper--this little bitty person with the huge, sad brown eyes staring right at us, a stark contrast to her pink floral ruffles and puffy white sleeves. We could see her entire, sad little story in the glance captured by that single picture. It remains, to this day, the only one we've seen of her.

It was the first week of August before our caseworker finally got a response from the Inter-Country Adoption Bureau (ICAB) acknowledging our interest in this little girl. But immediately, there was a hiccup--one of her special needs was not listed as "accepted" on our "acceptable special needs" list. When we got word of this issue, Jake was in Kansas (of course he was!) and I was traveling for work (of course I was!), and so the corrected form didn't arrive until three days later. Then came more silence. 

We heard silence all through August and all of September. The first thing that is supposed to happen after you request to be matched with a child is to receive their comprehensive file, and then state definitively "yes, we want this child." But two months had rolled by with no files, and we were beginning to think well, if they won't even send us files on the child, odds are they are not going to pick us for her.

On October 8, 2014 we finally received the little girl's full file. It contained the same picture we had seen previously, plus details about her history (sad indeed, and for a different post), as well as details about her medical issues. 

It was more information, but nothing that differed from what we learned about her through the little paragraph that originally accompanied her picture. We immediately notified our caseworker that "yes, we want this child," and she conveyed our response to ICAB on the same day. Which is a good thing, because we were given a deadline of less than a week to respond!

After that...More waiting. The rest of October passed us by, and half of November, too! On November 20, 2014, our caseworker received an email from ICAB asking if we were still interested in  the child, and noting that we must reply within three days. More hurry up and wait!! But it was an easy question to answer; in fact, my email back had only one word and five punctuation marks in it: 
After that email exchange, guess what happened next? Yep! More waiting. Thanksgiving passed us by, and then we rolled into December. When we were headed toward Christmas, I became convinced I was getting news as my Christmas present.

Never convince yourself that something out of your hands is going to be your present. Ever. It was a super rough holiday, and I did it to myself.

Christmas passed with no news, as did New Year's Eve and Day. It was two weeks into the new year, on January 14, 2015, when we got an urgent email from our caseworker, with loads of questions to answer about our family.  ICAB wanted to know more about Howie's medical history; they wanted to know more about our home dynamics; they wanted more information about Jake's service and his retirement plans. It was a ton of questions, but none directly related to the little girl we requested, which was a bit confusing. We didn't know if this request was about her, or if ICAB was just updating family files.

And, again, we were given a very short time frame in which to respond. 

There's nothing like waiting forever to be thrown into the frantic, over and over. 

We cobbled together answers to all the questions (read: the wordsmith in me poured over them endlessly until I thought they were perfect), got a letter from Howie's doctor regarding his medical history, and managed to get it all sent off within four days. I'm actually really proud we managed to respond so rapidly. 

...And you know what happened next. 

Honestly, these in-between places sometimes feel like a game of Jeopardy that will never end, theme song on a perpetual loop, when all I want is for someone to shout the right answer!! Anyone? Anyone?

On February 25, 2015, we received a FedEx package from our adoption agency containing, among other things, the news we had been waiting for...
"The Inter-Country Adoption Bureau has approved the placement..."
Oh the joy! I laughed and cried and would have been dancing in my office, if I weren't still trying to prove to my then-new coworkers that I was sane and well-adjusted. (Although I have it on good authority, however, that others were crazy-dancing on our behalf).

I was so excited about the news that I *almost* missed the fine print. The letter from ICAB was dated February 9, 2015. And the first line of the second paragraph read:
"Non-receipt of the couple's decision on the placement within fifteen (15) days...will be deemed a rejection of the proposal."
Anyone catch the math? We got the package on Day 15 in the U.S., which meant that Day 15 was already over in the Philippines. 

Our caseworker had been traveling on business for the adoption agency. No one checked her mail while she was gone. And now, after months of agonizing over whether we would be picked as this little person's parents, we were facing a blown deadline. 

And just like that, the fine print squashed our joyous celebration like a bug.

I don't know if I've ever felt that sad and that furious all at the same time. I raced to put together the materials required to accept the proposal. It was no small task! There were detailed forms to fill out, cashier's checks to obtain, doctors' notes to obtain, things to be notarized, not to mention a slew of things to collect to send to the little one (pictures, stories, etc.). 

Fortunately, I had already been working on a storybook for her, which was basically ready to go.

Mixbook - Create stunning photo books, cards and calendars! | Design your own photo book with Mixbook's easy online editor.

We threw everything together as quickly as we could, sending the acceptance first digitally and then by overnight courier to our caseworker, praying that ICAB might still let us bring home our girl.

It was another two weeks of waiting and wondering before we finally got the news--despite our missing the deadline, ICAB was going to let us proceed with the match. 

On March 12, 2015, ICAB confirmed receipt of our documents, and let us know that the things I sent for the baby were being forwarded to her caregivers.

I'd love to stop right here and stamp the whole story with a "happily ever after," and then pepper your social media feeds with pictures of our little brown-eyed girl. But it's July and we still only have one, rambunctious, boy-of-a-child running around our house, so you know the story isn't over.

No, we learned that the official match was only the beginning of a whole new process (and a whole new round of waiting!) to get from a match on paper to a child in the home.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Finding New Roads Through Transition

Transition is hard. There's nothing remarkable about the premise. All military families know transition is hard. I would bet that most Americans generally understand that transition is hard. But the full weight of what "hard" means doesn't smack you in the face until you are actually in it.

My husband Jake retired from the Army on April 1. It was a really hard decision for him, and one that I don't think he's totally allowed to set in just yet. Like many of the hard choices in life, I think he feels confident he made the right one, but he still mourns what might have been.

See, my husband is a warrior. He's a protector. A defender. He thrives on camaraderie, service, a keen sense of purpose, and getting things done. I'm sure to many of you that sounds familiar. Of course the problem is that this warrior fell for a lawyer, and she turned his world upside down. Marriage, a family, and a wife with a horribly importable career later, he found he'd spent seven years apart from his family--including a deployment when we were really apart--and realized that if he wanted to be there, a decision had to be made.

So now Jake is out, and trying to find his new road. He has a plethora of choices before him, which is precisely the problem. After two-plus decades of a single path, choosing a new one from so many options is a daunting task. If he chooses one, he foregoes others, and he's not yet ready to let any of them go. So what's a guy to do? Meanwhile, our family is going through all of the difficulties of finding a new normal--sharing closet space, actually co-parenting--and I'm trying hard not to push Jake down a particular path because I feel bad that he seems a little lost, and it might be a little my fault. Or maybe a lot my fault.

Transition is tough. It's not unique to our family; it's not the exception, it's the rule. Finding a new purpose is hard, and that's why it is so important that companies like GM support workforce development initiatives like Shifting Gears, and Hiring Our Heroes job fairs, as well as educational partnerships that help transitioning service members and their spouses find their next purpose, their next passion.  These programs, designed to help service members discover places to focus their energy and find community, really g0 a long way in helping with the painful process of re-learning how to be a civilian (and be surrounded by them every day).

It's also why I love opportunities to fellowship with other military spouses, who know not only this military life, but the life after the life too. And I'm so excited there's one such opportunity coming up next week on May 27! I'll be there for the good friends and great advice, but there's a bonus (or rather several) when it comes to this one! If you join us, you have a chance to win prizes, just for hanging out with some amazing men and women!

Jake is still searching for what he's going to do next professionally. I think he will be for a while. I can't really say that he's searching for his next purpose, though. I think he's been sure his whole life what he's on this earth for, and that's to serve. A few weeks before he retired from the Army, he announced that he was taking a summer trip: to Haiti. Yes, Haiti. On a medical mission with Live BeyondHe's actually there right now, working in the hospital complex Live Beyond built to provide medical care to the surrounding villages.

Of course he is. Because if there are two things I can be certain of with Jacob Lynn Hicks, it's that he can't sit still for long, and if he's moving, he's doing for others. He remains a protector, and a defender. Transition is hard, but I think for him knowing his purpose, and for me seeing what fulfills him, will go a long way in helping us weather it.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Chevrolet via MSB New Media. The opinions and text are all mine.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Five Important Things About Military Appreciation Month

Some twenty-five years ago, Congress designated the month of May as National Military Appreciation month. It's not a particularly well-known fact, even though there are a number of military holidays included in the month of May. And why, you may ask, is an entire month set aside for honoring our military? Quite simply, it takes that long to really run the gamut of what "military" means to this country. Military is past; it is present; it is future. It touches our lives every day in ways that do not even occur to us unless we actually take the time to sit and consider them.

There are many, but here are just five important things to remember about Military Appreciation Month:

Our Fallen. There is a price for freedom, and it is a steep one. As a nation, we've lost fathers, mothers, siblings and dear friends. The thought of the legions who have given their lives to preserve our American way of life is staggering. The sacrifice is worth remembering every day, but special time is set aside for this very task on Memorial Day.

Our Veterans. May is the month of VE Day, and especially this year as we celebrate its 70th anniversary, it's easy to remember the many lives put on the line so many years ago. But let's not forget the millions of veterans living in this country, with more leaving the service every day. They face some unique challenges, but they also come with the kind of skill and leadership that is not just taught, it's forged.

Our Service Members. May is also the month of Armed Forces Day, honoring the men and women serving in all branches of our military. On the every day, it's easy to forget that tens of thousands of men and women are still serving in hostile territories today, or that even more stand waiting to be called with any threat that comes our way. In fact, their very work is precisely why we can sometimes forget how hard-won our safety and security are. May is a month not to let the price of that security slip our minds.

Our Spouses. Often referred to as the "Silent Ranks" or the "Force Behind the Force," military spouses are anything but. They are vocal advocates for our military and their own families. They sustain the homefront while their service members are at war--raising children, caring for parents, maintaining household and sanity at the same time (which can be no small feat!). They care for their own families while their spouses are working to protect everyone's. They are the force beside the force, which is why the first Friday of every May is designated Military Spouse Appreciation Day.

Our Future. Being the mom of a five-year-old who has been an Army brat his entire life, I can tell you unequivocally that milkids serve too. When a service member commits to our military, the entire family serves. And military life can take a toll, straining marriages, relationships with kids, even the ability to start a family in the first place is made harder by military service sometimes. In a month where we honor families, mothers, teachers--let's not forget those families dealing with the many challenges of live and the many challenges of war on top of them.

I think perhaps the most critical thing in May--besides not saying "Happy Memorial Day"--is remembering that the month continues to have significance. Because our military, their families, our veterans, they are all sacrificing now. Today. Whether giving up time together, dealing with the strain and challenges of military life, or dealing with the wounds dealt to them by war, the sacrifices are continuous.

That's why I'm incredibly proud to be working with Chevrolet as part of its Chevy Salutes campaign. Chevy's programs really span the entire gamut of what it is to be "military." From workforce development programs like "Shifting Gears" and work through Hiring Our Heroes Fairs, to product discounts for military, veterans, and their families, to support of numerous non-profits working for veterans and military families, Chevy takes seriously its commitment to honor our heroes.

And for military families in the month of May, Chevy is going the extra mile (see what I did there?). For anyone looking to "find new roads" in a new set of wheels, the Chevrolet Military Program has you covered, with the best discount program of any car company.

Not looking for a new ride? Chevy still has a fun program for military families from now through May 17:

Now through May 17th, post pictures or video to Instagram (don't forget to use hashtags #ChevySalutes and #FindNewRoads). Participants have a chance to win one of three awesome cash prizes! Check out the official rules here.

How will you find new roads?
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Chevrolet via MSB New Media. The opinions and text are all mine.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The "Special Home Finding" Do-Over

After our heartbreaking near-miss with the adoption Special Home Finding (SHF) list last spring, I thought for sure that I had learned caution and expectation management. Falling in love with a child, then not becoming her family is, after all, sufficiently grueling to leave a lasting impression, right? No. I was giving myself way, way too much credit. 

It all started off well enough. We received profiles of SHF kids from our case worker in May and June, reviewed them pretty dispassionately, and passed on them.** Perhaps, we thought, our prior "incident" was telling us to be patient and wait for a match through the "healthy kids" track. So we waited, proud of ourselves for being patient, for not rushing into another match scenario right away.

But then July came with its own crop of SHF profiles. This was a big group: we were used to getting 15 profiles at a time, but this group was 25, at least. It was a little daunting. In fact, I almost didn't look at them. We're waiting, I told myself, quit being impatient.

I waited all of fifteen minutes from receipt of email. The profiles just called to me, like maybe I knew there was an extra something special in that giant pile of information about the many children in need of homes. So I started flipping through the profiles one by one.

She was in the middle of the group, by far the smallest child, with by far the smallest amount of biographical information. I felt that familiar pull on my heart, but I resisted. This is impatience, I thought. Besides, she's probably already matched just like the last one. I just need to keep waiting.

That lasted all of ten minutes. I decided to get Jake's opinion uninfluenced by me. So I sent him the entire group of profiles to look at with (what I considered) a rather casual note about looking at them when he got a chance. I decided that if he randomly picked the same child, then that must mean something. Sort of like picking a guy out of a line-up! If he picked her, she was bound to be meant for us, right?

An hour later, I still hadn't heard from Jake, and it was nearing the end of the day. I called Jake, who was headed to the airfield to fly. He'd been planning a mission and hadn't checked his phone. 
"You need to look at those profiles and tell me if any of them jump out at you."
He got off the phone so that he could check his email. I waited.

Ten minutes later, he sent me back the same tiny profile of the same tiny girl. Calm down, woman! I thought to myself. She may be matched already. The match could be rejected for other reasons. She's probably not yours.

But by this point, I was completely ignoring my voice of nay-say. I immediately called our caseworker, who didn't answer the phone. It was a Friday afternoon, late enough that she may have been gone for the weekend. But just in case, I emailed her too; just for good measure.

Sure enough, it was Monday before we heard anything. Our caseworker responded that she had passed along our request to be matched to the Inter-Country Adoption Bureau (ICAB), and now we just had to wait. 

This time, we didn't snap into planning mode, though. No talk about decorating a room or planning for her first few months home. No discussion of how to talk to Howie about this child. So maybe we actually did learn something from being burned--let's not get our hopes up until we hear something. 

But weeks went by and we heard nothing. And as the silence grew in length, my resolve that this child belonged to us grew deeper. In retrospect, it seems really backwards, like my heart was asking for trouble. But so it was that my certainty grew in the absence of news to the contrary.

Which is really dangerous, because it would be seven long months (and some self-imposed heartache) before we heard anything more about this tiny little girl with her tiny little bio.

**For an explanation of the different adoption "tracks," check out this post.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Match, Interrupted

Those of you who know me know that I tend to write our life on delay. Partly, that's for security reasons. But it's also because I'm a big-time processor. I (usually) want to give things a lot of thought before I write. In this particular case, almost exactly a year of thought. But don't worry! In the coming weeks, I will bring you up to speed!

When it comes to our adoption, we've gotten very used to the waiting. After all, we started this process in early 2012! So waiting and the Hicks family are old friends by this point. Still, what makes the waiting bearable is hope--that there will be good news at the end of all of the waiting. It's really only the hope that keeps you going on the tough days. And when it's not there? Oh boy!

Last year, on the Wednesday before Easter, Jake came home from nearly ten months in Afghanistan. It was an extremely joyous (if a little complicated) time for our family. For a brief few days, we were over the moon excited to just be together and have some fun. But as if having Jake home from a war zone wasn't enough, though, we had other things to be excited about too!

When you adopt internationally, you can do so in basically two tracks. On the one hand, you can be on the (long) waiting list to be matched with a healthy child. On the other hand, you can receive lists of "special home finding" kids, and choose a prospective match from those lists. In the Philippines, "special home finding" typically means one of three things: (1) the child is over five years of age; (2) the child is part of a sibling group; or (3) the child has a special need of some kind. The list is typically published monthly, and it is long.

That's why, since early 2013, while we have been on the waiting list for matching with a healthy child, we were also receiving the special home finding list from our caseworker. Or rather, we received child profiles from the list that roughly matched our family's file. If a particular list had 100 kids on it, we would receive about 15 profiles. At that many profiles a month, you can imaging how many kids whose stories we read.

The same day that Jake got home last spring, we received the April Special Home Finding profiles from our caseworker. As we were all snuggled up together before bed, we looked through the profiles, and found one that really struck us. She was a beautiful six year old girl, almost two years to the day older than Howie. Her story spoke to us, and we were certain we were the family for her. We contacted our caseworker and requested to be match right away. 

The messages we got about the match were very positive, and we started to get excited--planning her room, how to handle school readiness, how to get Howie ready for a big sister. It was both exciting and overwhelming all at once. And for someone who researches and plans...well, everything, it was a time when I hopped into overdrive!

Four weeks later, I was at the airport waiting for a flight to Lexington for work, and I got the call. There was a long conversation about the "why," but the gist was that the little person we'd been building our plans around was being matched with a different family. 

I just fell apart. I found myself sobbing on the floor in the United Club bathroom. I missed my flight, which led to a (now) hilarious, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles-esque race to get me to Lexington in time for my meetings. It was terrible. Calling Jake to let him know was worse--running through it all again, falling to pieces again. He handled it better than I did (he usually does), but it stung. Really stung. 

I can look back now and just be thankful this little girl has a family. And when she crosses my mind, I say a prayer for her. But it still makes my heart ache.

A few days later, I collected myself and I called my case worker again to find out what happens next. She began the conversation with "if you don't want to proceed with this any longer, certainly I understand." The statement struck me: was she asking if we'd given up? Did she think we were done? 

I talked to her and learned that many families reach a point in the adoption process where the emotional toll is too great, and they have to walk away. I thought about me, crumpled on the floor, and understood. But it gave me resolve that I didn't realize was there before. "This little one was not meant for us," I told her, "but it doesn't mean adoption is not meant for us." See, Jake and I have felt from the beginning that adoption is something we were called to. No one said it would be easy, and Lord knows we've had our challenges. But absent some insurmountable roadblock, we just know adoption is our path.

"We're in this," I told her. "Perhaps there will come a day when we decide that, for our family, enough is enough. But today is not that day. Not by a long shot."

A year and a dozen challenges later, it's still not that day. Not by a long shot!

To be continued...