Thursday, September 15, 2016

Military Spouses--Take Care of You!

You know who is the absolute worst when it comes to self-care? This girl! Seriously, for all the times I've told friends to take care of themselves, I categorically ignore my own good advice. All the time. And you know what? It's not just me that suffers...
I don't have time for me... and so I'm stressed out and edgy with my husband and kids.
Next time, I'm sure I'll... except I never do, because when you're a wife/mom/insert-laundry-list-of-titles-for-a-military-spouse-here, there's always more to do. There's always a burner further back, and that's always where we shove ourselves.
But you know, it seems so selfish...except when I take care of me, I'm a better wife/mom/insert-laundry-list-of-titles-for-a-military-spouse-here, and I know it, and yet I always have excuses.
Military Spouses, it's time to call B.S. on all the excuses and carve out some time for a sanity check. And I know just the place to do it!

The Second Annual Military Spouse Wellness Summit is coming up October 17-22, and it's brought to you by InDependent, Corie Weathers, and Armed Forces Insurance.

This is a completely virtual summit, filled with great content from really incredible speakers, all geared toward giving spouses the tools to care for themselves, and for their marriages. Because, let's face it, all too often quality time with our spouses is right on the adjacent back burner to care for ourselves.

Reasons this event is awesome and absolutely for you?
1.   Participate in your PJs, on the go, in your office, while trying to wash the disgusting out of your spouse's PT gear, or waiting for your kids to finish whatever practice you're patiently enduring--it's virtual!!
2.    The Summit is on your schedule--watch what you want, when you want!
3.  There are prizes for participating, including a grand prize trip--an oceanfront getaway for two donated by the Military Benefits Association!

Here's the best part: if you purchase your VIP ticket before October 1 with code EARLYBIRD, your admission is just $15! (that's 44% off!). This ticket gets you access to downloadable interviews, a one-year membership to Thrive Market, access to the private Facebook Group for the event, and a chance to win our fantastic prizes!


So, who's in? Let's take some time to take care of ourselves, so we can help our marriages and families THRIVE.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Providence in the Wait

This is a story about how small the world is, and about how the smallest kindness can sometimes be the thing that keeps you sane.

It was the summer of 2015. For months, we'd been waiting with no news about Baby Girl J. We knew she was ours, but we had no idea when she would finally finally get to come home to us. The waiting was interminable, but the uncertainty was worse...

You see, there should have been no uncertainty. We had official records on Baby J--where she was, how she was doing, her history. But then something happened. Starting in March of 2015, I had gotten into the habit of emailing our agency every other week to check status. I wanted to stay on their radar, since they were the only ones with the ability to email ICAB and say "can you tell us what's going on?" Typically, I'd get a "no news" message and go about my day. But in June of 2015, the messages changed.

I had requested the ability to Skype with Baby J. It's allowed as long as the caregivers have the technology available, and many of them do. So the Skype request was part of my regular check-in ritual. In response to one particular check-in I received an email included the following:
...unfortunately, it won't be possible for you to Skype with Baby J, as the foster family caring for her lacks the technology...
Um, what? Everything we ever read about Baby J told us she was in an orphanage. Not just an orphanage, but an orphanage on a hospital campus, where she could be treated for her medical concerns. A foster home? What happened? What's going on???

I emailed the questions to my agency, and the response I got was, in my view, unacceptable. There was no urgency in it; no clarifying information; nothing. Just "we'll get back to you."

I was beside myself. I turned to a private group of adoptive parents for some prayers and support--had anyone else experienced situations where their child had been moved into foster care while their adoption was being finalized? No one had heard of such a thing. I got more nervous, which was maddening because there was nothing I could do.

One of the moms messaged me privately asking where my daughter was supposed to have been living, and I told her. That was a big day for providence: July 28, 2015. This wonderful woman connected me with another woman, and she saved my sanity. She was in the Philippines with her own adopted daughter, bringing treats and supplies to orphanages around the country. It just happened that the orphanage NEXT on her list was my daughter's orphanage. 

My request of her was simple: would she see if Baby J is there? Could she just tell me if Baby J was doing alright? It's a big orphanage (70ish kids!) and honestly, I had no idea if she'd actually find my baby or not, but she promised to try.

She did better than try.

The following Monday, I received pictures in my inbox of my sweet Baby J, smiling and happy, and right where she should be. Pictures of this wonderful woman who barely knew me, loving on my little girl in my place. Pictures that taught me the first thing I ever learned about Baby J: she loves spaghetti and chocolate cake! Oh, how I cried!

It would be two more months before I would finally be able to put my own arms around my sweet baby girl. And it would be another two weeks before my agency confirmed for me what I already knew--that my daughter was where she should be, and that the confusion was merely a mistake on their part. They were talking to me about a different family's child. 

Frustrating in and of itself. But all those frustrations and countless others were made easier to bear by the incredible, simple kindness of a woman I may never meet, who understood what a little bit of knowledge can mean to a waiting mother. 

It's an awesome thing when you can actually see the world getting smaller right before your eyes. That's what I think about when I remember this moment in our adoption journey. That, and how the power of women working together never ceases to amaze me. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

Adventures in Toddler Nesting

For over a year now we've had basically no control over the adoption process. All we can do right now is wait, and waitand pray, and wait some more.  For someone like me, who plans contingencies for her contingencies, it has been all kinds of maddening.

Naturally, all that energy had to go somewhere. So I turned my attention to converting one of our guest rooms into a room for Little J. I spent hours pouring over bedding sets, room themes, and color swatches. But eventually, I landed on a little piece of history. 

Baby J's wall mural, and the kitchen Howie is sure she will love to play in.
Before we knew that Howie was going to be a boy and chose his airplane pattern--Jake: "His Dad is a pilot. How else would we decorate his room?"--we found a pattern for a little girl we just adored. It was girly but not traditional "girl colors," cute but something a baby wouldn't outgrow for a while.

It came up in conversation as I was scouring the bazillion baby sites on the web--not super thrilled with any of them--and it just clicked. Not only was it something we loved, but it was also in a color scheme that is very similar to the place where Little J is now. We are hoping the room will be comfortingly familiar to her. 

We weren't sure we'd be able to find the pattern, though. After all, it had been six years since we first picked it out! It took some serious internet digging, but eventually I was able to piece together the whole set. I found a great little company to make wooden letters for her; I found a woman on Etsy who made a beautiful set of matching wall decals for her; and by serendipity, a Houston artist of whom I'm a fan had done a beautiful piece of artwork in exactly the right colors to compliment the rest of the room. And as an added touch, Howie decided that his kitchen would look great in Little J's room (such a sweet big brother!).

Bookshelves in need of filling. We're working on it!
We picked out some furniture for Little J's room, then got to work on paint selection. Jake and I have this entire process of elimination we go through with paint samples before we land on a color. Usually we wind up going through thirty or more swatches. But this time around, even as we observed our whittling ritual, I think we both knew that Little J's room was going to be yellow. Jake was a little uncertain of the color when it went on the walls--"it's really bright!" he said, as though he hadn't spent quite a bit of time in the colorful city that is Manila. But once everything was in the room, he changed his tune. 

Getting the room together was not without its challenges. For instance, the furniture that we ordered arrived in boxes. Unassembled boxes. While Jake was on assignment in Louisiana. Of course they did!

It took hours and hours, but I'm more than a little bit proud that I put it all together myself! And it made me chuckle because exactly the same thing happened six years ago--Jake was gone, and I put together Howie's furniture too! So I guess now it's a tradition I should prepare for; if furniture needs assembling, Jake is sure to be gone!

The other issue, of course, is that the eighteen-month-old in my head isn't eighteen months old anymore. She's three! (Yep, that's how long this process has taken!!). My baby, but not really a baby anymore. Instead, a small walking, talking person. So, what started out looking like this:

We started with a crib but...

Had to be converted to this:

Now Baby J has a toddler bed.

I have to confess, I was a little heartbroken to change it, thinking about the missed years and missed milestones of her life the change represented. I let myself have a five-minute pity party and a few tears. Then I reminded myself to look ahead--I choose joy.

So, with this (relatively) minor change, we're ready! So very, very ready! And with the room finished, I'm now looking for some other place to channel all my most frenetic energy. (Suggestions welcome!) So far my usual "fill the schedule" ritual isn't really working. Also, it's slowly starting to drive Jake just a little bit crazy. 

Then again, this entire process is kind of crazy-making. Lord, give us patience! 

Also, please let us bring our baby girl home soon!

Friday, August 21, 2015

To My Sweet Girl on Her Birthday

Our Sweet Baby J,

Today is your birthday. Three years old! It's the second birthday that you have passed since we asked to become your parents.  It's a long process, and it's definitely weighing on me. I'm ready to have you home! Ready to stop waiting and start building our new life with you in it.

But I hope it's not weighing on you. I hope you passed the day happy, playing with your friends, noshing on your beloved spaghetti. I hope your third birthday is bliss for you!

You're so loved, baby girl. Even as I feel my heart breaking that you are still 9,000 miles away from me, it's filled to the brim with how many people are praying for you, harboring hopes for you, ready to embrace you wholeheartedly when you do finally come home. 

You aren't just getting a family, sweet little one, you're getting a village! And oh, the strength and the heart of this village!

Your Kuya Howie is so excited to love on you. He talks every day about the things he will teach you, ponders what you will like to eat, what toys you will play with. Let's just say he's really hoping that chocolate and super heroes make your "likes" list! 

He made a beautiful doll for you with painstaking care. Okay, so a very nice lady in San Jose actually made it; but he poured over every detail--she should have hair like Baby Sister, with a flower. She should wear orange--Howie is sure that you will love orange--and blue so you'll have his favorite color too. 

Howie was hoping to give your new little friend to you for your birthday, but things didn't go quite as we hoped. Instead, you will meet her when you meet your brother (hopefully soon!). He's so very excited to see the smile on your face! And he's a hugger, so you should prepare yourself!

I got a little something for you too, Baby J. What can I say? I couldn't help myself! It's nothing big, just a little bit of shine that is all your own. Peridot is something of an odd birthstone; I hope you like green! It reminds me a little bit of the tropics where you've been spending your days. I can't wait to spend some time there with you as a family!

You'll find I really like to shop with a cause, sweet baby, and this necklace I chose for you is a special one in that regard. It was made by people who have overcome their own challenges, just as I know that you will overcome the ones that are in front of you!  I'm in awe of your strength, little one, to have endured so much in your short life, and still to wear a smile.

You're three, so I doubt this little trinket is one that will last very long. But I can imagine the smile on your face as you open the little box--a gift that is all your own!

I don't know when we will get to celebrate with you, Little One. I hope that soon we will all be together, and that your Kuya, Daddy and I can love on you in person! Learning to be a family is going to be, in itself, a journey. It may be a wild ride sometimes, but we're ready! We can't wait to finally finally be a family of four that is all in one place! And we can't wait to introduce you to our incredible village.

But in the meantime, we are sending you every ounce of love in our hearts. We are thinking about you, we are praying for you, and wishing you the happiest, happiest of birthdays sweet Baby J! 

I hope you can feel all the love and warm wishes all the way on the other side of the world!

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...