To Love a Rose: An Ethiopian Adoption Journal

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Pictures from the Cancer Battlefield, Part 14: TRANSPLANT PARTY!

Today was mom's REbirthday!  All the months upon months of chemotherapy have been to get to this point - transplant.  God has been so good to her and all of us.  We know we have been blessed, and I know that we have learned to never take one single day of life for granted.

Mom's donor was in Europe (roughly 7 hours ahead of us); so, last night a little after midnight we started praying for him.  As it turns out, because of when the cells arrived here in Chicago, we can know that we were praying for the donor right around the time they were harvesting his stem cells 1/2 a world away - SO COOL!

The cells arrived earlier than expected (around 3 p.m.), and then were processed by the lab here at the CTCA.  At 5:54 p.m., mom's transplant began...and thus her new life of total restoration and divine health!

I will let the pictures below speak for themselves, but I want to reiterate how very grateful we are to mom's donor, her doctors, her nurses, her fellow stem cells patients and their families, and everyone here at the Cancer Treatment Center of America.  She was told her situation was hopeless (stage four Philadelphia positive adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia DOES seem pretty hopeless when looking through the eyes of the world); but they NEVER turned her away and NEVER gave up hope.

And of course, I have to thank God above for seeing her through.  He is Jehovah Rapha, "the God who heals you"; and He has made good on every promise He has made to my mother.  I am not naive, I know the outcome could have been different; so I rejoice every day that He has blessed us with more time together.

Both of mom's doctors got a bag like this.  Dr. Redei got a bottle of chocolate wine from our favorite coffee/wine shop in Branson, MO - Vintage Paris.  Dr. Abutalib got a bag of gourmet, cola-flavored coffee (his two faves are Pepsi and coffee).

Banner I made mom for her hospital room.
A closer view of the banner I made for mom.
Decorations above at head of her hospital bed.
Mr. C made a couple of these Eiffel Towers for mom's room.  The trophy in the back is from one of mom and dad's employee's sons.  Both boys race carts and gave their first trophies of the season to mom, because "She's a winner!"  SO adorable!
One side of mom's room.
The other side of mom's room.
Mom's doorway.
My attempt at drawing "la tour Eiffel" - haha!
Mom napping before transplant.  Her numbers were quite low today (which is normal and what they want), but she was very tired.
Words of inspiration from the chaplain.
Mom wearing the cute, pink mustache we got her.
Dad and mom taking a moment.
Channeling Inspector Poirot. ;-)
Mom and her nurse, Kim.
Mom and PCT, Lisa.
I made treat bags for all the nurses and doctors and other friends of ours around the hospital to celebrate mom's REbirthday.
Inside each bag was a hand-made chocolate mustache on a stick, a party noise-maker, a bag of Ghiradelli chocolate squares and Jelly Bellies in cappuccino and French vanilla flavors, and a stick-on mustache.
A few of the chocolate mustaches that Mr. C and I made.
We made cupcakes for the doctors and nurses.
Nancy, Kim, and Ron bringing in mom's donor's stem cells (ie: mom's new immune system)!
Making sure everything's right.
Mom was ZONKED during/after transplant!  LOTS of steroids and Benadryl given beforehand...she slept pretty much the entire time.  Prograf is anti-rejection medication.
Mom and the "three elves".
Mom and Dr. Redei - photo taken a few days ago when she was admitted for transplant.
Dr. Abutalib with his "cola coffee".

There were so many pictures from today and the past few days, I had a hard time choosing which to post here; but I hope you can see how joyful we all feel and are about this milestone in mom's healing journey.  Every day she is going to feel better and better!

We are so thankful to all of you for your support and continued prayers.  We will never be able to thank you enough!

Love and Blessings to You and Yours,

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My Birthday Wish 2012

I'm writing this today (Tuesday the 15th), because mom is having a slew of pre-transplant tests done on my actual birthday (Thursday the 17th) that I really want/need to be present for.  So, I will be posting a link to this blog on Thursday before we head to the CTCA that morning.  *fingers crossed*

Also: The friends/families listed below do NOT know I'm doing this...I sincerely hope they are not offended by this, but rather are excited to accepted the gifts and blessings that I really hope are coming their way.  So, please know that these people did not solicit me to do this; I WANT to do this to help them out in some, small way.  Thank you.

As my birthday approached this year, family members and Mr. C kept asking me what I wanted for my birthday.  As usual, I wracked my brain trying to think of something I really wanted or needed.  Beyond finances for the adoption, there was nothing I could think of that I felt I truly, desperately wanted.

The only thing weighing on my heart right now are the people I've been touched by over these past few years.  My family is not the only one out there struggling with disease.  I have been blessed to have my life touched by so many old and new friends who are fighting their own good fight just as my family is.

So, it hit me that what would make me truly happy as I embark on my 31st year here on this planet would be if I could somehow go beyond what my own, insignificant hands can do and really reach out to my struggling and hurting friends.

This is what I'm asking of you, dear friend: could you, would you - please - take a minute of your time to write a card or letter to one of the following friends of mine who could really use your support right now?  Just a note to let them know that you're praying for them and thinking of them during this time.  If you feel so inclined, send them a gift card or check to help with bills, groceries, lunch somewhere other than the hospital, etc.  This is what I really want for my birthday, and it would mean the WORLD to me if you would do this for one of my friends. 

I will NOT be giving out these people's addresses (I just don't feel comfortable doing that without their permission); so, my plan is that you can send your cards and letters to me HERE:

Mandie Hickenbottom-Conner
2400 N. Samson Way
Apt. 1C
Waukegan, IL 60087

Then, I will forward them all on to the people you wrote to (and no, I WILL NOT be opening the cards - I will forward them on just as you send them to me).


Here is my list of friends - choose one or all! :-)


If you've read my blog lately, you've probably read about my friend, Vince Guereca.  If not, you can read about his impact on my life here.  

Vince was a loving husband to his wife Silvia and devoted father to his four children Julie, Priscilla, Elliot, and Jesse.  And at only 36 years of age, it was hard for me to understand why our heavenly father decided to take him home; but as I've said before, there are many things I know I will not be privy to in this lifetime.

One thing I know is that Vince would never have left if he wasn't certain that his wife and kids would be taken care of properly.  While I know that their church, New Life in Chicago, is doing their best, the burden of being a single parent to four little humans ages 6 to 15 is a lot for anyone.

I know Silvia is smart and strong, but I also know that we are called to care for widows and orphans:

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." -James 1:27 (NIV)

So, I ask that you consider writing/donating to the Guereca family; for they are humble and most worthy.  

If you would like to donate directly to Silvia, a bank account has been set up specifically for donations:

Chase Bank, account #: 948075536


This is a photo of Mary and Jim Day.  I had the pleasure of meeting them at the cancer center where Jim was a stem cell patient like mom.  Sadly, Jim lost his fight with cancer not that long ago; and understandably, Mary has lost her best friend and partner in life.

Jim was a godly man who knew exactly where he was going and showed true strength of character and immense bravery until the very end.  He has inspired me to live without the fear of death (something I used to struggle with quite a bit), and I know I will never forget him.

Mary stayed by Jim's side night and day.  All of the nurses at the CTCA were deeply moved by her devotion to Jim, as was I.

I know without a doubt that Mary would love to hear from you - that you care, that you are thinking of her, that you are praying for her.


This sweet, little guy is Paul Melchoirre.  He was born to my college pal, Colleen, and her hubby, Dan.  Paul also just so happens to have been born with a heart condition called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome.  This has required baby Paul to undergo numerous surgeries followed by long stints in the NICU at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital in Nashville, TN.

Paul is a fighter, and I KNOW that God has an awesome purpose for his life.  As someone who understands days upon days spent in a hospital, I am sure that Colleen and Dan would appreciate your thinking of them with a nice gift card to someplace like Starbucks or another eatery like Panera where they could take a tiny break from the NICU and replenish their bodies and minds.  Just a card letting them know you care enough to think of/pray for their sweet boy would mean a lot to them, I'm sure.


This is my friend, CaryJean, and her dad, Gary.  Gary has been fighting pancreatic and now lung cancer for the past year or so.  This picture was taken at Cary's recent graduation from college.  A friend made sure that a private ceremony was held so that Gary could SEE his daughter graduate, as he could not have made it through the entire ceremony held for the public.
Cary and her mother, Valerie, are devoted to Gary during his treatments and recovery periods.  I know they would love to hear that you are thinking of Gary as he continues his radiation treatment in preparation for more surgery and chemotherapy.

There are so many more friends that I could place here today, but I don't want to overwhelm you all with choices; so for now, I will stick with these four options.

Again, please send all cards/letters/etc. to ME at the address above WITH the name of the family/person you are writing to on the back of the card so I know where to send it. 

I just want to THANK YOU all in advance from the bottom of my heart for doing this for me/my friends.  It is the BEST birthday gift I could ever receive, and I want you to know how much I appreciate it!

For those of you who don't know, mom's stem cell transplant will take place on May 23rd.  If you'd like to write her some encouraging words as well, you may write to the address above (just put her name in instead of mine) or you can send it directly to the CTCA here:

Kerry Hickenbottom
Cancer Treatment Center of America
Stem Cell Unit
2520 Elisha Ave.
Zion, IL 60099

Thank you again, friend!  I hope you have a blessed day!

All the Love in the World,

Saturday, May 12, 2012


Last year, I was definitely in a different place in regards to my feelings on Mother's Day.  I wrote this blog about the hurt I and so many infertile women feel from time to time about the holiday.

Oh what a difference one year can make!  There will probably always be a bit of my heart that remains broken from this infertility journey.  I can't wipe the truth away, but I can begin to mend...and I think I have.

This adoption has truly saved my sanity in a sense.  I'm still bitter at times that my body didn't give me a choice in this process, but I'm smart enough to know that I am greatly blessed to have the ability to adopt a precious child who will need me as much as I need him.

And then there is my own mother...

Mom at our apartment in Zion before heading to clinic.
I am BEYOND GRATEFUL that I get to celebrate another Mother's Day with her.  There was a time last fall when I wondered if I would, and it was the most terrifying time of my life.  I owe her everything - she stayed at home to be with my two younger sisters and myself while we grew up, and she encouraged us to be who we were meant to be and do what we loved.  There was never a distance too far for her to travel to make sure we had what we needed to succeed in life, and she would do anything for her children, husband, family, and friends.

Her stem cell transplant is set to take place on May 23rd, and we're throwing her a party on the stem cell unit floor.  I am so glad I get to be a part of her "rebirthday", and I look forward to celebrating many more with her.

I hope I can be as good of a mother to Des as she was (and is!) to me.  I am such a blessed daughter to have her in my life.

So, to all of you moms out there:

pregnant moms

first-time moms-to-be

foster moms

adoptive moms

first/birth moms

surrogate moms

egg donor moms

pet/fur moms

those who choose to not be moms but still have mom-hearts for others' kiddos

those who are hoping against hope that they get to be moms one day


grandmoms/great-grandmoms/great-great-grandmoms and so on :-)

single moms

widowed moms

stay at home/work from home/work in and out of the home moms

granola moms/preppy moms/artsy moms/just trying to get by moms

moms who have experienced a loss (or more) whether in the womb or of an adult child

older moms/younger moms

teacher "moms"

Whoever you are...wherever you are...however you are a "mom"...I want to wish you a FABULOUS Mother's Day!  And I want you to know that God sees your heart.  He knows every selfless, loving act of kindness.  I believe great blessings come to those like you.  So know on this special day that you are loved and cherished and greatly prized.

Blessings and Much Love to ALL of You,

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Pictures from the Cancer Battleground, Part 13: in[VINCE]ible

One of Vince's friends made this lovely tribute to him using his "Strong Arm" photo - just beautiful!

Tonight was our friend Vince Guereca's wake.  We couldn't be there; so, we streamed it online through his churches website.  Ever since Vince passed last Thursday, I've been sad; but I had no idea I would break down so much tonight.  My whole body was shaking; I just could not contain the sadness any longer.

Knowing that I couldn't be there, I prepared a written word to be read at the wake tonight.  It was completely surreal watching someone else read my words through the video screen.  My dad wrote something too, and it was beautiful.  So many people got up to share stories of how Vince had impacted their lives; it was a wonderful testimony of Vince's work for God here on Earth.

Vince was such a wonderful person.  It's so hard to reconcile the outcome of his battle with cancer in my heart and mind; but I know that there are many things I will not be privy to in this lifetime.

One thing I forgot to put in my speech about Vince was something that happened one Sunday when he was particularly not feeling well.  I remember he asked me, Mr. C, and our friend Neil (also a stem cell patient who just successfully underwent his third transplant - AMEN!) to go down to the little chapel just down the hall from the stem cell out-patient clinic to go to a service with him.  The CTCA has chaplains and pastors who will put on mini-services every Sunday for those of us stuck in the hospital and unable to attend at our home churches, etc.

Of course, we went with him.  He was hooked up to a bunch of tubes, getting some sort of infusion; and honestly, he was looking thin and tired.  When we got to the service, we sat in the back, as we were the last people in; and naturally, the pastor asked us to introduce ourselves and say if we had any prayer requests.

Stupidly, I acted like an idiot, barely talking and barely even remembering to mention my mother who was upstairs in the stem cell in-patient ward at the time.  I don't know why I was acting so thoughtless, it's not like me to be tongue-tied in any way; but I was, and I felt like a fool.

Vince was just sitting a few chairs away from me; so when it was his turn to speak, he stood up and introduced himself.  The only prayer request he had was that everyone please pray for Mr. C and my adoption of Desmond - that it go smoothly and that we receive all the funding that we need.

Needless to say, I was humbled to the point that I wished I could literally crawl under a chair like a shy, little kid!  Here is a man fighting for his very life, and instead of asking for people to pray for him, he asked only that they pray for US!  That is something I will just never forget.

That is just a tiny portrait of what Vince's heart was like.  It was beautiful and selfless, and so full of love for people and his Abba God.  I was so blessed to have known him, and I look forward to hearing all of the amazing things he has to tell me when I get to see my brother again one day in Heaven.

Here is what I wrote that was read at his wake this evening...such a sad attempt at capturing the beautiful human being I got to know these past 5 months:

May 7th, 2012

(To be read at Vince Guereca’s celebration of life.  New Life Church, Chicago, IL)

To Silvia, Julie, Priscilla, Elliot, and Jesse:

My heart is aching for you all right now.  It has been for days.  I keep trying to think of just the right thing to say, the right thing to write…nothing seems adequate.  But here is my attempt at trying:

I met Vince Guereca on a battlefield – the stem cell unit of the Cancer Treatment Center of America in Zion, IL where my mom was and still is undergoing treatment for stage 4 acute lymphoblastic leukemia.  As in many battles, you seem to quickly bond with those in the trenches alongside you – your brothers in arms – and my entire family got to know and love Vince and Silvia both.

It was very easy to love Vince – with his big, bright smile and readiness to listen, he was an instant friend to my family and my mom especially.  They would often encourage each other with Bible verses and stories about life and what God had already done for them both – so many miracles.

Yes, it IS a cancer center; but it wasn’t all dreary and dull.  We had good days too - an afternoon playing Apples to Apples (Silvia won, of course J) or the day we got Vince to eat Kentucky Fried Chicken (no mere feat considering how much his appetite had waned at that time in his treatment).

But my favorite times were when Vince would talk about Jesus.  He had such a HUGE heart for our Abba God, and he wanted everyone to KNOW how much Christ loved his children.  I can honestly say I doubt I’ve met anyone as willing to be bold for Christ in a real-life sense as Vince; and I hope I can be more like him in that respect each and every day.

When Vince talked about Jesus his whole face lit up, and when you seemed to “get” what he was trying to tell you about God, he broke out into that famous big grin of his - the only other time I saw his face shine that bright was when he spoke of his beloved wife, Silvia, or his four kids. 

He once told me that if his journey with cancer ended with him in Heaven, it wouldn’t matter how miraculous it all was around him, he would be waiting for Silvia to join him so that he could enjoy it all with his sweetheart.  While I’m sure Vince actually really IS enjoying himself in Heaven at this very moment, it was still touching to me to hear him speak this way and how full of love he obviously was for his wife.

Vince also praised his children often during the hours spent getting infusions and treatments in the stem cell clinic.  He was beyond thrilled to be a dad, and he would say over and over how he knew God had amazing plans for each one of his kids.  He couldn’t wait to see what they were going to become, because he already knew each one was such a wonderful human being who loved Jesus…”everything else is just a bonus”, he told me.

Toward the end of Vince’s battle, he and I would talk about F.F. Bosworth’s book Christ the Healer a lot; and maybe it is particularly because of those conversations that Vince’s passing has been so especially difficult for me.  For the first couple of days, I just could not understand how our loving Christ Jesus, who so obviously wants to heal his children, would not heal Vince.  Why he would let this disease “win”.  I was praying and praying for some sort of understanding…some sort of peace; but I felt as though God was not answering my prayers.  It was not until last night while I was once again trying to figure out what to write here that God spoke to me. 

Often, when God talks to me personally, it is a mere word or phrase; and I feel like He then leaves it up to me to discover the significance for my life and circumstances.  Perhaps this is because my Abba knows me better than anyone and knows how much I like a good mystery (haha!); but deep-down I’m sure it’s because He wants me to grow and learn.
Last night, the only word I received from Heaven was this:


One word.  Very simple.

But I was angered by this word – invincible?!  Really, God?!  Vince is no longer with us, and you give me the word “invincible” as my answer as to why?  I was bewildered.

But as I said, God knows me better than anyone…

I began to twist the word around and around in my head.  You see, I love languages; and in college, I got to study several, including many years delving into Latin.

“Invincible” just so happens to be rooted in Latin.  Its core stems from the Latin verb “vincere” or “to conquer or vanquish”.  Putting “ible” at the end of a verb denotes ability – in this case the “ability to be conquered”.  And lastly, prefixing a word with “in” negates whatever is to come, making this not so much a mere word, but a bold statement:


Take also into account the fact that Vince’s name (or at least the sound) is right smack in the middle of this word, and it all became clear to me.  Vince was not conquered.  He was not vanquished.  He did NOT lose.

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in ALL CREATION will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 8:37-39

Yes, it may seem to the world that he did lose.  It may seem that Satan won; that the disease won…but that is the glorious thing about Christ’s never-ending love and mercy – we get to live forever with him, no matter what our circumstances here on Earth may have been.

Vince is “more than a conqueror” through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross at Calvary.  Vince is in Heaven – totally restored, totally whole, totally healthy!  AMEN!

So, HAHA, cancer!
HAHA, Satan!

YOU are the losers!  YOU are the vanquished ones!

Yes, we will all miss Vince while we live out the remainder of our days here on Earth, that is a sad truth; BUT we can live on with the constant reassurance that we will be reunited with him again for all eternity.

I am so glad that we all serve a SAVIOR who never closes a door without opening a window.  I am so glad that Christ Jesus loves us lowly humans enough to always gift us HOPE.  I am so glad that when we ask for grace and mercy and peace, it is given to us.  And I am so glad that God allowed me to know my brother, Vince Guereca, even if only for a short while here on Earth; and I look forward to seeing him again in Heaven – he will have so much to tell me (and all of us), I’m sure! 

So, that is how I will remember invincible Vince Guereca: “he who cannot be conquered”.  And to those of you who may be listening to these words, I am praying for Christ’s love to overwhelm you with peace and warmth at this time and always, especially Silvia, Julie, Priscilla, Elliot, and Jesse and all of Vince’s family and friends…

All the Love in the World to You – Blessings,

PS: Vincent means "conquering"...he was born to be a winner!  RIP, my friend.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Pictures from the Cancer Battlefield, Part 12: A Homecoming

Look at me, following through on promises and writing another blog; please, hold your applause. *wink*

For those of you following along at home, you already know that my mom was diagnosed on November 14th with stage 4 adult Philadelphia positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia.  It's as nasty as it sounds, and from that day forward, mom was holed up doing treatments in preparation for a bone marrow transplant at the fabulous Cancer Treatment Center of America, Zion, IL.

When I say "holed up", I mean it.  Mom had not been allowed to go home since that fateful day back in November.  We spent many holidays in the guest quarters and hospital; so mom could be safe in the vicinity of her doctors and nursing team.

While she was grateful to be watched so closely, one thing she desperately wanted to do before her transplant was go home.  After transplant, one must stay at the hospital for 100 days to make sure that the new stem cells have fully ingrafted and that there are no complications.  Mom is committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure her health and safety, but her one request was a reprieve at home (no matter how brief) before her "rebirthday" (transplant day).

Well, she got her wish!  Mr. C, myself, and mom were in the stem cell out-patient clinic a couple of weeks ago when Dr. Redei (head of the CTCA stem cell unit) twirled around in his chair and told mom she could go home for four days!  I've never seen mom pack so quickly (we were out the door within 20 minutes tops!); she was so excited to go home!

Mom giving the thumbs up as we take off for Iowa.

Our first stop once home was to go watch the Fairfield High School theater department's production of The Wizard of Oz.  This was the first real show I ever did at the age of 11; so I was really excited to watch it as well.  Mom's friend's oldest daughter, Baylee, was cast as Glinda the Good Witch; so, we rallied together and made a little cheering squad in the auditorium.  Mom was a good girl, too.  She wore her mask the entire time.

Part of the cheering squad: mom, Heidi, and Blair.
Mom and the show's director, Scott Slechta (my former high school drama teacher). :-)
Mom and Glinda (err, Baylee!) after the show!  She did a GREAT job!

Mom also got to visit with her friend, Debbie, who's husband is mom's chiropractor.
It was not long after this that mom found out that she had to go back to the CTCA for her LAST bone marrow biopsy and inter-thecal (injection of chemotherapy directly into spinal column) before transplant; BUT that after that, she would be allowed to go home for the remainder of the time.  Which also meant that she did NOT have to do her last round of "part B" chemo (methotrexate).

She was pretty excited about this, because the methotrexate always hit her quite hard and made her feel extra awful.  Instead, she would take higher doses of Sprycel to prepare for the transplant.  She's not too fond of Sprycel either, but it's better than the methotrexate; AND it acts like a sniper to keep the Philadelphia chromosome from causing a "blast crisis".

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, mom travels to Mt. Pleasant (about 1/2 hour away from our hometown of Fairfield) to the Henry County Health Clinic's infusion center to get a CBC (complete blood count) and any infusions she may need (magnesium, potassium, blood, platelets, etc.).  So far, they have been GREAT; and we're all feeling blessed that mom can still receive excellent care while being able to be close to home.

Mom relaxing at the Henry County Health Center's infusion Clinic.
Also, we like them; because they usually have treats like these:

Chocolate oatmeal cookies.
Italian sugar cookies.
Mom starts the procedures before her transplant on May 16th (the day before my birthday, no less); but until then, she's glad to be home - working in her craft room and sleeping her own bed.  She's been especially glad to be able to visit her home church, Faith Christian Outreach Church, to see all the faithful who've been standing with her in prayer and hope for her total restoration.  We all feel blessed to have such loyal, God-fearing brothers and sisters on our side.

Next stop: TRANSPLANT!  :-)  Until then...

Love and Blessings to You and Yours,

Adoption News: Fingerprinting and Beyond

I owe you all an apology.  A BIG FAT one, actually, don't I?  Yes, my's been FAR too long since I posted a blog; and that's just unacceptable.

I'm going to try to make it up to you, my dear ones, by posting several blogs in the next few days.  I'll be *attempting* to get a jump on the chaos that is sure to follow.  Mom starts her pre-stem-cell-transplant chemo on the 16th of this month; so, I'll be back in good, ole Zion, IL by this weekend, I'm sure.  BUT, that's for another post!  This post is about our I-600A's!  Well, the fingerprinting part anyway.

Mr. C and I got our first break from the cancer center this past week.  We hadn't been home since January, and before that, November.  I've LOVED being able to be with mom during this most important journey, but I will be honest with you, I desperately  needed a break.

It turned out to be decent timing, because we received news from the USCIS that our initial I-600A paperwork had been accepted, and that we needed to come in for our (*hopefully last*) set of fingerprints for the I-171H.  This is exciting news, because the I-600A is the document that applies to the advance placement of an orphan.  It is essentially the LAST step before we receive our referral (match with our child)!

The problem was that the USCIS office we were to report to was in Ft. Smith, AR and we had to be there at 8 a.m. on the morning of April 30th.  Hooray.  Not only did we have to get back to Branson, but we would have to turn right around and make the 4 hour journey to Ft. Smith to get fingerprinted again.  Ugh!  I was dreading it so badly, but I knew I didn't want to reschedule knowing how important the next three months were going to be for mom and her last phase of cancer treatment.  So, we sallied forth!

We got home to Branson around 11 p.m. on Saturday the 28th and slept like logs 'til 3 p.m. on Sunday the 29th.  Then, we got up, ate, and packed smaller bags out of the clothes in our suitcases and drove to Ft. Smith; where Mr. C had wisely booked us a hotel room.  We got in late and went straight to bed (all we want to do lately is SLEEP!).  8 a.m. came far too quickly, but we were up, checked out, and in the car to the USCIS office in record time.

Of course, it started to rain; but we were excited to be on our way to finishing the last thing between us and our referral - weeeee! 

Mr. C and I in the car with our I-600A fingerprinting summons. *so official*
As tired as we were (and when I say "tired", I mean "totally, freaking exhausted beyond belief"), we were glad we got to the office when we did.  We were literally the first in line; which not only meant that we would be the first to be processed, but we also got to stand under the awning while others who had also been summoned for 8 a.m. on April 30th had to stand in the rain by order of the very "friendly" (yeah, that's sarcasm there) officer who checked you in, "one family at a time".  (Oh, and did I mention he would not let anyone into the building a second before 8 a.m. on the dot?  Yeah, nice guy.)

Once Mr. C and I got in the door, the super kind guard/officer (let's call him, Mr. Happypants, shall we?) instructed us to not make sudden moves and to empty our pockets slowly into two plastic bins he had sitting on his desk.  I had nothing in my pocket (had not even brought my purse knowing it would just be rummaged through anyway); so, I proceeded to walk through the metal detector.  It beeps immediately.

This sent Mr. Happypants into a frothy-mouthed tizzy.  "I thought you said you had nothing in your pockets!"  He said accusingly.  "I don't!"  I swore, turning out my pockets to prove it to him.  His eyes narrowed, "Come around and go through again."  I did.  Once again the unholy metal detector beeped at me.

Scanning me up and down through squinted eyes, Mr. Happypants stopped dead on my head.  "What holds that flower in your hair?"

Crap.  I had totally forgotten about my hairclip.  Of all days, I forgot while stepping through a metal detector at the USCIS.  Classy, Mandie.  Reeeeaaaallly classy.

"Crud, I'm sorry, yeah, it's held with a metal clip," I started to take the flower from my hair.

"NO!  Don't touch your head, ma'am!  I'm going to need you to step over here please...spread your arms and legs out, do not touch your clothes or body."

What the WHAT?!  Are you serious?!  I wanted to scream.  What did he think I was going to do, pull a poison dart from my hairclip?  I'm sort of flattered, if that's the case.  I never took myself as the type that looks like a foreign spy with mad judo-chopping skills and James Bond-esque weaponry at my disposal; but apparently Mr. Happypants had full faith in me.

I had never been frisked before, but honestly it wasn't as degrading as I thought it would be.  Mr. Happy pants was surprisingly gentle about it all.  I can't wait to tell Desmond this story one day.  I hope he knows that I'd go through this scenario a million more annoying times if it meant I got to finally bring him home.

When I was found to be blow-dart free, Mr. C and I were ushered to the "help desk" (which is an oxymoron of a statement if ever there was one) where a very "bright and cheery" girl (again, sarcasm, people!) took our fingerprint summons and gave us a number - 82. 

About 15 minutes later, a tall woman came out of a thick, metal door and called out, "Number 82, please!"  That was us!  I was up first, and Mr. C could not be near me while the fingerprinting was done.  (I don't know if they thought he was going to try to tamper with them or something, but he had to sit all by his lonesome about 20 feet away on a folding chair.) 

After nearly snapping off both my pinkies, because they're "too small to get a good imprint of the swirl patterns", I was done!  Mr. C was through quickly (guess he has better pinkies than I do), and I thought we were done when the lady performing our fingerprinting got a worried look on her face.  She came and asked me for my summons again and took it in a side office and shut the door.


Sure enough, when she came back she had the great news that my fingerprints had to be done over again.  "I forgot to put in your social; so, it invalidated them as soon as I tried to upload them.  They're gone."

Great.  This time I thought my pinkies were goners for sure, but the digits made it through intact - all 10 of them.  *whew!* 

We were quickly ushered out the door, and that was it.  All that stress and headache and driving and exhaustion for about 30 minutes tops of fingerprinting and procedure.  I wanted to take a picture of the USCIS office, but Mr. Happypants came outside to tell me that "photography was not allowed".  So, I sneaked a quick one through the dash window when he wasn't looking:

I. am. such. a. rebel.  Ha!

Not too exciting really (except for Mr. Happypants).  We were done, and that was all that mattered.  After talking to the Holt Korea team, we should be able to safely say that a referral should be coming our way by July or August; but with things the way they are, I wouldn't be surprised if it was more like September when it finally arrived.  That's okay, though, we have enough going on with my mom right now; so, we're not worried about timing.  God has a perfect plan anyway.

After the fingerprinting, we got in the car and headed directly back to Branson where we've been ever since.  It's been strange being away from the CTCA, and especially sad; because while we were gone, our dear, dear friend Vince Guereca passed away after his second stem cell transplant.  This is another topic that deserves (and will get) it's own post, but suffice it to say, Mr. C and I are heart-broken; and while we know God is good and in charge always, it's been particularly difficult to reconcile this situation in our hearts and minds. 

Like I said earlier, we will be heading back to Zion this weekend, but in the meantime, we've been sleeping in, eating at our favorite Branson restaurants, seeing friends and family, and spending loads of time with our precious, little fur-child, Eagan.

Eagan Fitzgerald Conner...being cute on his mama and daddy's bed (ie: HIS bed).

We also had a chance to buy a few more fun items for Desmond:

More and more books.  This kid has a serious library already, but I love adding to it.  Books were my treasures as a child, and I hope to pass that love of books on to Dez.
A "monster" bowl and spoon, car and robot plates, and a cutlery to go caddy with chopsticks included!
That is all there is to say about our fingerprinting adventures...more bloggies to come - I pinkie swear with my now hanging-by-a-thread pinkie fingers!

All the Love in the World,