Saturday, May 16, 2015

Watching Change

I must be strange, because it seems to be the little things that often could be easily overlooked that make me the proudest.  We are seeing such maturity springing forth from the kids lately, and real progress in areas where we had hoped to eventually see movement.

Recently, Olesya really shined.  This young lady came to us so timid, so willing to put her own needs aside for everyone else, so unable to speak her mind and share her heart.  She had spent years trying to be invisible, and to just get along with others by giving in, quite the opposite of her stronger willed older sister who had a fair amount of confidence and courage in speaking up.

A few weeks ago, we were involved in an important conversation with a family friend, and the kids were each voicing their opinions about certain issues.  Much to our astonishment, Olesya stepped up and with nary a concern boldly stated her opinion with great passion and thought.  Long gone is the child who willingly cloaked herself in the role of the proverbial "dumb blond" of the family, and there before us sat a strong, self-assured, assertive young woman. This is such a significant change for Olesya, and it is gratifying to see the consistent work put into developing her self-esteem pay off.  She is beginning to really see herself as woman of substance.  I couldn't be prouder or more pleased.

Last night I had another wonderful side of one of our kids revealed quietly to me, and both Dominick and I were deeply touched upon learning of this.  One of Matthew's fellow Civil Air Patrol cadets is moving, and last night was his last night at CAP before departing with his family to a new state.  After coming home from picking him up, I received an email for Matthew on my email address from this young man, explaining to Matt that before he had gotten home he had lost a letter Matt had given him that evening, and asking if he could resend it because he really wanted to read it.  I was unaware of what was going on, so I went to tell Matthew about the email and to ask him what was up with it.

Mr. Unassuming glanced up at me, and said, "It was just a note I wrote him to encourage him and tell
him how much I enjoyed working with him in CAP.  I know moving at this age is going to be hard, and I wanted him to know someone understood that, and that I know he will be a success wherever he goes."

Wow.  I know many look at Matt and see a teenage boy who is less obvious in his sensitivity.  He has an engineer type brain, usually quiet, very concrete and not as outwardly emotional.  But what others outside the family often aren't privy to is his artist's and poet's heart.  I look at him, and in moments like this, I see a young man with a capacity for caring, insight, and kindness that is unusual in someone his age.  We have worked a lot with Matthew on expressing his feelings, and this was a sign that we have made very real progress there as well.

These are the things that really matter, far more than Algebra or reading Shakespeare.  We spend a good portion of each school day working on life skills, on developing Emotional Intelligence, and on creating more self-awareness.  Through the years I have often wondered if my insistence on teaching these specific skills, which are often never given a second thought in a traditional classroom, has been wasted time because it doesn't give the appearance of true academics.  Maybe they are simply important to me, and we have lost valuable time that could have been better spent on other subjects.  Then something like this happens with Olesya and Matthew, and I am reminded that character matters, and that developing the whole child was our original intent 6 years ago when we started homeschooling, not just churning out report cards with A's on them.  We want to see our kids turn into healthy, happy, well functioning adults, who are sensitive to the needs of others and willing to step up to try and make a difference in the world around them.

I am so lucky I get to witness their gradual maturing into the neatest young people I know.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A New Era!

God has a sense of humor, I see it all the time.

For some reason, God really likes to play the Ultimate Comic in our life, and I can't help but chuckle over it.

This past Tuesday morning at 9:30 AM, God was belly laughing looking down on Dominick and I, as we signed documents to complete the sale of a new business we purchased.

Yes, finally, after what has seemed like an eternity of prayer, waiting, exploring, and fearing we would soon be packing up our home to try and start a new life, we found laid out before us the solution to our employment concerns for Dominick.  Despite our incredulity, and with a great shaking of heads along with an "Are you SERIOUS?", it became clear that God had a surprise for us.

We are the happy new owners of House of Spirits, a wonderfully busy little liquor store here in Montrose.

Yup, the couple who absolutely does not, and ever has, touched alcohol now owns a liquor store.  Ironic, isn't it?

Not when you listen.  We took Matthew's sage advice and really paid attention and were patient, trying very hard to discern what God wanted to us.  And true to form, when it is right, everything falls in place...not without a lot of struggle and hard work, but it became evident almost immediately that this was "the thing" that was supposed to be part of this next phase of life for us.

Not only that, but it fulfilled every single desire on our Business Wish List!  Our "Ultimate Heart's Desire" list included the following:

1)  Dominick wouldn't have to work physically as much anymore.
2)  It would bring in enough income for us to at least maintain...or come the lifestyle we have now.  We are at the stage that we don't have a whole lot left we can cut without it being things like life insurance, etc so we needed a base amount that came close to what we were earning before.
3)  It would be a business I could run if something ever happened to Dominick and he had to be out of work for awhile.
4)  It had employees so income didn't cease if Dominick went on vacation.
5)  It was a business that had a position available for Kenny to eventually work into, where he could feel satisfaction in a job well done, but would be supervised well for as long as it took for him to be able to work at and remember the daily tasks involved.
6)  We could find a way to finance it.
7)  We really wanted to stay in Montrose

We knew we would have to give in on a few items, as we knew we were seeking a lot, but if one is dreaming, they might as well dream big, right?

It is a long story, almost too long to tell, but this was obviously the exact thing God had in mind for us, and we are ever-so-grateful to have every single one of our dream wish list items fulfilled.  The deal was prayed over together by both Dominick and the old owner, there were connections all over the place that helped make it happen, everything fell into place in what was really only a 3 week period...and that means we were able to sell ALL the restaurant equipment without ever having to move it ourselves AND the detailing business ended up in the hands of the young man who had worked for us this past year with things falling perfectly in place for him as well as we and others circled him to give him a chance at a new future.  This may sound silly, but I am almost more happy for him than I am for us, for it was obvious he was deeply moved by some of us taking a chance on him and believing in him.

So, for the first time in almost 20 years, Dominick will have one job, and we might eventually get to see him more!  Well, not for awhile, for as I am typing this he is still not home yet at 10:30 pm and he was there at 6:00 am.  There is a learning curve, and a lot to do to get him up to speed, but he will do very well with this, and I haven't seen him this happy in years.

We are going to struggle.  A lot.  For years.  More than we have already.  This was an enormous leap of faith, our biggest yet.  We robbed Peter to pay Paul, and Peter is now in debt seemingly forever...HAHA!  This really did end up being our "Hail Mary" pass, and at our ages that is very, very scary.  However, our family never seems to do things the way others do, so maybe the fact that it was a big leap is most fitting for us. The kids are thrilled over this, and all of us feel firmly that this was the thing we had been waiting for, the opportunity that God wanted for us to move forward with.  That lessens the fear a little :-)

So, without further ado, here are the pics of our newest addition!

The store...House of 4900 square feet!

A Wall of Beer!

Dominick working at the counter :-)

The Wine Room

More Wine

We have it all!!

Dominick checking everything out!

We are relieved.  We have handled the stress well, but it has not been easy to live with the threat of losing everything hanging over our heads. There is a new concern of being able to handle the debt load, but we talked it over with the kids thoroughly, who really are our business advisers, and we all agreed that it was worth it even if we have to do without.  What a group of amazing kids we have, as each joked that we could always manage to get by on Top Ramen and hot dogs if we needed to, and you know what? They would happily do just that.  We all know that short term pain might yield long term rewards for every single one of us if we can just make it through this next year or two.

So a new era has begun, we heaved a sigh of relief, and then we hunker down to work even harder to make it all work!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Being Claimed

It was 15 years ago on Mother's Day that I became a mom for the first time.  Thrust into my arms was the tiniest, sickliest infant baby boy who wrapped his arms around me and never let go.  Fifteen years later, the strapping young man before me bears little resemblance to the 14 lb 11 month old he once was.  Little did I know that four more children would follow that would fill my heart and our home even more.

During that fifteen years span, we all worked together to do the hard work of claiming one another, of becoming family, of healing old wounds and seeing ourselves in new ways as we throw away old self-images and wrap ourselves in the cloak of love and acceptance.  It has not always been easy, many of you have been along for the whole ride and have watched the progress from afar.  I have spent countless hours holding, rocking, talking and nurturing children through their pain, and have been blessed to see them take tentative steps out into the light.  Some are fully there, and some are still hanging out in the shadows occasionally.  It is a slow process to become a Beloved One once one has been carelessly cast aside.  Accepting that you have value and worth, internalizing it, and living into it is harder work than anyone might ever understand.

It is usually I who has done the claiming, and I have never really been claimed in the way I have claimed others.  I really had no idea what it feels like, I only know the effort that goes into making sure it happens.  This year though, I have been claimed in a new and profound way, and it is more life changing than I knew it could be.  I truly had no idea how much complete and enthusiastic acceptance and love could mean.  Most of my relationships have gradually developed over time, there has been a slow dawning of what might be possible in a friendship with someone,  and then a slow yet steady living into a new connection.   I have some of the most rock solid friends a woman could ever want...or a family could ever want, for that matter.

The past few months, however, I stumbled into a friendship with someone with whom the claiming was instant connection on both sides after the sharing of a mere single email.  In stark contrast to how almost every one of my previous friendships began,  I was not only claiming someone, and stated so with no hesitation and almost immediately, but the claiming was reciprocal.  At first, I admit to a lot of doubt.  Why would anyone truly pursue a deep friendship with me, of all people?  No one could possibly like me that much, that quickly, to want to grab and claim me.  Yet the stuff of real relationship was all there, and it was important, and despite my feelings of unworthiness, someone saw value in me, and wanted me in their life.

Then something even more wonderful happened, I gained a couple more amazing kids in my life in the form of my dear friend's children, albeit long distance.  I, of course, fell in love with them immediately (Come on, I AM a "serial adopter", I have been told!) but with the distance and lack of opportunity to be interacting often, I had no real way of knowing if that connection would grow.

And once again, I was claimed...unexpectedly, beautifully, and lovingly.

I was adopted, and my "certificate" was in the form of a T-Shirt.  You see, my two newest additions conspired with my five "live ins" at the behest of one of the long distance ones, and created and paid for the coolest gift I could have ever received.  Take a look at this:

 Here we are on Mother's Day.  Everyone looks so tall and grown up!!
  I received a lovely homemade card in the shape of a flower, and each of the kids wrote a sweet note on the back of one of the petals. 

Yes, two more names, Christi and Billy, who both wanted to be included...
and claimed me, all of us really, as theirs.

Others have claimed us in very special ways, as I received a very lovely card from another friend who is not a mommy herself but who is very important to me.  One of the people who has claimed us all in a deep way is our beautiful Miss Mary, whose heart is as big as...well...a mural!

Certainly claimed by Miss Mary!  Best teacher they ever had...really.

I think this turned out so beautifully!  They all had a wonderful time, and I hear a little singing and dancing was involved along with painting.

Angela created this butterfly and the flowers freehand, getting ideas quickly from Google images on the spot.  Of course, tech was involved :-)

You know, I used to totally laugh over the phrase, "It takes a village to raise a child."  Many years ago, I would have absolutely agreed with the riff on that one that makes the rounds on Facebook from time to time that says, "I've seen the village and I don't want it raising my child!".  As I experienced a true sense of community around our family, I began to see this differently.  

We, as a family, have been claimed in a unique and wonderful way that still astounds me.  Over and over again, someone steps up with encouragement, teaching, nurturing, and support of all kinds.  Why do WE deserve so much care?  I can't help but ask that question.  I do know this, however.  If you don't want the village raising your children, maybe the problem is YOUR selection of the wrong village!  As for my village, we know we wouldn't be where we are without it, and we value it more than anything we have in this world.  It takes a village to claim us, and we claim it...then we do what we can to contribute to it.  

And that is really what it is all about.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

"You're a Nobody"

This past week I was incredibly moved by an article I read online, and I have wanted to write about it every single day, but simply could not find a way to approach what I was feeling.  I guess I had to sit and simmer with it a bit before attempting to put anything into words.

Lately the news has been filled with tragedies, events that have us questioning where our country is headed.  Where are we going wrong?  Episode after episode of questionable police shootings of suspects who are supposed to be considered innocent until proven guilty.  Abuse caught on cameras, now so ubiquitous that every passerby  has one and can record what was once a "his word against mine" policing culture that is being proven to be a bit more arguable than first imagined.  

There are natural disasters claiming thousands of lives in poverty riddled nations where rebuilding will be decades long, and where families already destitute are now worse off than ever before.

Daily there are horrific stories of abuse and neglect of children at the hands of their own parents, some almost unthinkable in scale.

Venom is spewed at every opportunity from political candidates who, in an effort to elevate themselves, manage only to pervert the national dialogue and leave the American public more passive and uninterested than ever in the governing process, jaded and sickened by the unnecessarily lie-filled rhetoric that bursts forth from both sides of the aisle.  

We are immersed in a culture in which we elevate that which is ugly, and tuck away that which is gentle and good, deeming that sort of news only fit for page 8 or 9 in the newspaper, buried away from the sensationalized front page headlines.

But every once in awhile, something happens that reminds us of the goodness of humanity, and of how even the seemingly most evil have souls that can be touched and transformed, if only someone cared enough.  

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's sentencing hearing found the infamous Boston Marathon Bomber with little support as the death penalty was being considered.  With the death penalty looming over him, and a very disturbing history working against him, there is little hope he might escape paying the ultimate price for his crimes.  Whether one is for or against the death penalty is not the point of this post, and there are millions who feel that even lethal injection would be too good for this 21 year old man.  In fact, victim of the bombing, Rebekah Gregory, who lost her leg in the terrorist act, is on record as saying in a comment directed toward Tsarnaev, "Now to me you are a nobody...".  Rebekah's feelings are certainly understandable, life as she knew it was ripped from her by a single destructive act, and she is entitled to all the rage and hostility she is feeling.

But what struck me so strongly was the very words she used. 

"Now to me you're a nobody..."
Isn't that really where the problem starts in the first place?  When we fail to see someone, when we fail to see their very humanity, they become desensitized and hardened, allowing them to commit acts one might not have ever imagined when the heart was softer and more pliable.  There is great damage in feeling you are a nobody.  There is great damage in no one "seeing you", and leaving you isolated.  We humans were made for relationship, and the further distanced we become from others, the harder our heart grows, and the easier it is to have blinders on to the pain and suffering of others.

And isn't that exactly what happened to Dzhokhar?  He was an acknowledged nobody, and when it begins to hurt too much, we all try to become a somebody, even if in the worst possible ways.  The callous, murderous act didn't suddenly "just happen" one crisp spring day in Boston.  No, the countdown clock to violence started ticking down many years prior, when Dzhokhar was far younger and walked through the world as a nobody to most folks.  

And those around him failed...they failed in compassion, they failed in nurturing, they failed in seeing him.  

This young man with the hardened heart, the one who had seldom been noticed, made a wrong turn somewhere along the line, and without even realizing it, his fate was would just take a couple of years for that to become apparent.

But teacher Bekki Norris is different, and she had eyes that could see.  Testifying at the sentencing hearing, Norris spoke of Tsarnaev as a "really smart, hard working kid" when in 7th and 8th grade.  It was an unpopular move for the former middle school teacher now turned principle.  Testifying in behalf of the defense about a criminal who committed an almost defenseless act.  Why did she do it?  Why did Bekki Norris step into the witness stand and do what few would ever do in this case, speak of Tsarnaev in terms that were caring and warm hearted?  

Her response was both surprising and Christ-like in every sense.  Sitting there in the lion's den, Bekki Norris found her voice and used it to counter the very problem brought to light by the understandably outraged victim, Rebekah Gregory, who named it so clearly in stating, "You're a nobody."  When posting on Facebook about why she spoke for the defense, Norris replied with compassionate conviction saying, ""Yes, he did the unforgivable. And yes, I still love him. And -- this one is hard to fathom, I know -- he still needs love."

Without negating the evil he had perpetrated, Norris added, "He was already rightly found guilty. I testified to help the jury see why he might be spared the death penalty. I also hoped to show him, in spite of what he's done, that someone cares about him as a person,"

Funny how Christ shows up in places you'd never expect.  

Isn't that what brought Dzhokhar to be carrying a homemade bomb that Spring morning in the first place?  Wasn't the fact that there was not enough care for him as a person the very thing that made it so easy for him to be persuaded to participate in such a heinous act, bringing about the death of so many and the life altering injuries of even more?

No one can blame Rebekah Gregory's response after the fact, we might all say similar things as we went about the act of "moving on" with our life and trying to come to grips with an experience that changed the entire course of her life forever.  I am not blaming her one tiny bit for expressing herself in those very words..."Now to me you're a nobody..."

What I am trying to say, and what Bekki Norris was pointing out, was that Tsarnaev was once a little boy with great promise, whose future looked bright until he grew ever more into the nobody that Rebekah called out.

How many nobodies are there in your life?  How many kids or adults remain unseen, unacknowledged, and unloved?  How might their lives be different if just one Bekki Norris stepped in early enough with eyes that see another, and words that  speak of possibility and hope? 

What good does it ever do for someone to be a nobody?

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's are not born, they are made.  They exist because they are nobodies in a world that has us all yearning to be somebody.  They are created very simply, by people just as normal as you and I, who elect to walk by without a glance.  This may sound like an oversimplification in this case, as one looks at testimony that outlines a trajectory that included exposure to radical Islam, an ever shifting home life, and an older brother who lured a younger one into a new way of thinking.

But when you think about it, oversimplification or not, when any human being becomes a "nobody", bad things happen.  When we are a "somebody" to even one person, that can sometimes transform a future.

No one deserves to be a nobody.

My faith teaches that regardless of what we have done, we still matter, we are still worthy of care, concern, and compassion.

Bekki Norris' words were perhaps the single best sermon I have ever heard, and she put action behind the words.  

May we will do the same.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Just Another Day in Paradise

"Just Another Day In Paradise" Phil Vassar

The kids screaming, phone ringing
Dog barking at the mailman bringing
That stack of bills - overdue
Good morning baby, how are you?
Got a half hour, quick shower
Take a drink of milk but the milk's gone sour
My funny face makes you laugh
Twist the top on and I put it back
There goes the washing machine
Baby, don't kick it.
I promise I'll fix it
Long about a million other things

Well, it's ok. It's so nice
It's just another day in paradise
Well, there's no place that
I'd rather be
Well, it's two hearts
And one dream
I wouldn't trade it for anything
And I ask the lord every night
For just another day in paradise

Friday, you're late
Guess we'll never make our dinner date
At the restaurant you start to cry
Baby, we'll just improvise
Well, plan B looks like
Dominoes' pizza in the candle light
Then we'll tippy toe to our room
Make a little love that's overdue
But somebody had a bad dream
Mama and daddy
Can meand my teddy
Come in to sleep in between?

Yeah it's ok. It's so nice.
It's just another day in paradise.
Well, there's no place that
I'd rather be
Well, it's two hearts
And one dream
I wouldn't trade it for anything
And I ask the lord every night
For just another day in paradise

Well, it's ok. It's so nice.
It's just another day in paradise.
Well, there's no place that
I'd rather be
Two hearts
And one dream
I wouldn't trade it for anything
And I ask the lord every night
For just another day in paradise

For just another day in paradise
Well, it's the kids screaming. The phone ringing
Just another day
Well, it's Friday. You're late
Oh yeah, it's just another day in paradise

Most people would take a look at our life, and would see anything BUT "paradise".  In fact, for many it would be more like Dante's Inferno, a chaotic, daily struggle to keep it all together.  Daily, it is so hard to just keep up...bills, dishes, laundry, appointments, grading, more laundry, grocery shopping, medical documentation, academic planning, banking, "churching", sweeping, sleeping.  

We forget that in the midst of all of that craziness, something is happening...a life is being lived out, touching other lives being lived out, and what happens in those moments is what life is really all about.

Taking for granted the little interactions each day, we forget that had one decision be made differently, everything would be different.  As time piles upon time, we forget what an impact we have on those around us, how the little things add up to big things.  

Every day, without fail, each of our kids gets a long, slow hug from me each morning.  For some, it is when they are barely awake and have just shuffled out for breakfast.  For others, it has been due to an intentional seeking out of mom for the morning hug.  Sometimes, we have raced to get ready for school, and when all are sitting there, it is a let's-go-around-the-table sort of thing as I lean over and bear hug each and every one of them.

Those hugs add up, and we don't even notice it.

The little consistent things matter far more than we ever would imagine they would, until we are on the downhill slide of parenting and see the tangible results of years of constant connection.  How many hours did we read with and rock Joshie and Matthew to sleep?  How many hours of that sort of interaction did the others miss?  

If we spent only 1/2 an hour each night with the boys until they were 6 years old, subtracting for a missing first year, we still would have reached almost 1000 hours of time together. 1000 hours!  And I can tell you for certain it was far more than that, for Curious George was begged for over and over again, and Green Eggs and Ham was served a gazillion times.  

And that was only bedtime reading.

I wonder sometimes how many hours of conversation I have engaged in with our kids, how many tears have been shed, how many horrible memories shared, how many reminders of how important they are to us have been stated.

Yesterday I received a beautiful email from Angela, and in it she said something I will cherish forever.  She made me rethink our life, made me step back and view it from all angles.  The grass is dying and much of it has been replaced by weed patches.  Furniture in all but one room is mismatched and some of it pretty threadbare.  Cars have dents in them, rusty doors, and far too many miles on them.  Money is tight and will be even tighter in months to come.

But you know what?  She doesn't see any of that.  She doesn't view our life through the same lens, and she opened my eyes last night with what she said:

"You know more about how to get a child's heart when it was once broken, and that is what makes our lives seem like  a paradise."

Paradise??? This??? REALLY???

So tell me, what blinders have I been wearing and how long have they been on?  What am I missing?

Ahh...I do fail to see it sometimes.  I fail to see the constant, daily laughter when we are all together.  I fail to see the peace which we live within.  I fail to see the comfort that comes from being heard, or the joy in finally accomplishing some new task or learning something new.  I fail to see much of it at all most of the time, blinded by busy schedules, school planning, and simply the daily emotional toll that is taken in trying with all my heart to be a very present and aware mom, which means tuning in 100% of the time.  All of it hinders me, and keeps me from seeing our Paradise.  I spend far too much time contemplating all the things that really don't matter, and I spend far too little time looking at...well...the little things that are really what make up a life.  The Big Things are often just interruptions in an otherwise dull, but fulfilling existence.  Why is it fulfilling?  Because you have to look in the right places and with great intent.  Paradise is really right there, it has been all along.  We just tune it out, placing others things on a higher rung than they deserve.  We elevate the superficial and relegate the important to the back seat, mismatched values fully on display with such acts.

Most people have lives that look a lot like ours...a mad scramble to maintain a middle class lifestyle, attempts here and there in little ways to make the world a better place, and lots and lots of failures along the way.  

Just like everyone else, we keep on trying.  

But I really think the thing I need to try harder at is seeing my own Paradise right here.  It may not have sandy beaches and crystal blue waters.   It has a lot more going for it than that.  It has love, respect, and peace.

Paradise is right here.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

All Work and No Play Makes for a Boring Team LaJoy!

Last week was a semi-vacation break.  We have had a lot on our hearts and minds, and we all needed some time together to simply be a work schedules, no worries (as much as possible), no school, no early rising.  Sometimes it is important to listen to that little voice that warns you that reconnecting is really necessary in any given moment in time, and that is what we did.  We listened, and we decided to just be present with one another.

That doesn't mean we didn't work on some smaller projects around the house, do a little yard work, etc. but we did take time to stay up late and watch movies, to sleep in late and ease our way into the day, and to hang out.  One day  we just went to a local park taking along bikes for some of the kids, and we went on a long walk:

Our city just added a new feature at our favorite park, and now the river is set up such that you can put kayaks and other floats in there, or easily walk down stone steps to fly fish.  They did a beautiful job of enhancing the park and this was our first glimpse of it.

Dominick and Matt are watching fly fisherman.

Josh, Kenny and the girls all brought bikes, while Matt's back can't handle that yet.

So much for being Big Kids! Haha!

Afterward, for a "big treat" to make the day special, we went to Burger King and had milk shakes.  Yup, we LaJoy's live life on the wild side, I tell you!  However, after walking and biking 3 or 4 miles, that icy cold shake hit the spot.

We live in a place that is admittedly less than exciting for most "city folk".  We have a bowling alley and a swimming pool, a movie theater and a Drive In, but that is truly about it.  If you need entertainment that is more arts and culture oriented, this is definitely not the place to be.  But the, the views are incredible, and we have many parks to enjoy, rivers, mountains, and more.  
As the week went on, we did a few projects:

All the bikes needed maintenance, and Josh is doing a fine job repairing tires and brakes these days. 

Matthew saved us a fortune by repairing THREE laptops, including changing out keyboards, cleaning the components, and soldering in new plugs.  Yes, we are very lucky to have our own personal IT Guy, though Angela has also done her own repairs, changing out her own iPad screen!  I love how the kids are learning how to do such tasks, and are so willing to tackle them:

Yesterday, we decided it was time to take the new Christmas gift from Grandma out for her maiden voyage.  We went to a local park with a small lake, and spent the afternoon on the water and walking/biking the trails.  It was an eye opening experience in some ways for Dominick, as the kids needed instructions to be able to properly inflate and use the kayak.  Kenny was assisting, and perhaps for the first time Dominick really and truly saw in a concrete way how Kenny struggles.  It is not that he hasn't known, but that he hasn't experienced it in a learning environment in quite the same way I have, and often when he is teaching Kenny something, it is a hands on activity.  This time, he was reading aloud from an instruction book, and didn't realize how little Kenny was catching of the verbal instructions.  Auditory Processing Disorder can be debilitating, and it has been estimated that Kenny is only picking up on about 40% of what is said to him if it isn't accompanied by visuals or interactive discussion.  Wow, was that apparent yesterday!  He tries so hard, and comes across as so articulate and engaged, that people seldom realize just how handicapped this young man really is.  We are continuing to pursue getting help for him and an evaluation for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, as that appears to be the underlying problem.  I often look back though, and think how glad I am that we elected to homeschool, because of all the kids, Kenny has benefited the most from that decision.  We still have a long way to go, but he has made enormous progress and continues to do so.  

However, walking through the world as Kenny LaJoy is not easy.  He has the most amazingly positive attitude of anyone I know, but he endures a lot of frustration, and a lot of misunderstanding.  Having what is essentially a "broken brain" is very, very painful on so many levels.  As he matures, he is more self-aware, and that also makes it harder.  The good thing is that he CAN learn, but he sure has to be taught differently, and I continue to learn new approaches with each passing day.

Eventually, after multiple explanations, we got the "yellow submarine" kayak on the water:

Isn't she beautiful??  Thanks grandma!

Hurray!  Finally on the water!

Good exercise for Matt, who is starting to go a little stir crazy lately with the lack of much physical activity as his back heals.

Lessie didn't stay in the kayak long, she has a little fear of the water, but is working on it!

And Dominick is just like her and refuses to go in the water because he doesn't know how to swim...he jokes that he sinks well!! Haha!

Western Colorado has been showing off this past week, with the most stunning blue skies and clouds.  Made for a really beautiful afternoon.

How these kids love their Daddy!  Every one of them adores this man, who has worked so hard for them, and does his best to spend as much time as possible with them, too.  Here we are, smack dab in the middle of the supposedly awful teen years, and we have been so blessed that these years have been just was wonderful, warm, and loving as the earlier years were.  We continue to wait for the other shoe to drop, as so many have told us "just gets worse."  So far, so good...and I can't think of five more interesting, thoughtful, sharp, kind young people to be around.  Well...I might be just a wee bit biased :-)

Even Sunny came along for the afternoon!  However, she stayed in Dry Dock...

As the kids occupied themselves on bikes and with the kayak and little blow up boat we also brought, Dominick and I went for a long walk around the lake, talking as we strolled, catching up, becoming almost re-acquainted with one another.  We spoke about the past 15 years of our lives and what a ride it has been, and where the next 15 might lead us.  After so many years of being exhausted by such incredibly long hours at work, it has been quite an adjustment for Dominick to be able to rise at a reasonable hour, and to be awake past 7:00 pm.  He has free time that he doesn't know what to do with, and of course great concern over the fact that he has the free time in the first place.  It is a huge adjustment, and we talked honestly and openly about the need for us to learn to be around one another more.  I have literally spent almost 29 years virtually alone every evening, and waking alone as well.  We were ships that passed as we snored at night.  In some ways, it might be a preview of what retirement might one day feel like (if we can ever retire!) and we each need to make figure out a new normal.  While wonderful, it doesn't mean it isn't odd at first.  I am so glad we have the sort of relationship where we can look at one another, admit such things, and laugh about it without either party being offended.   It allows for an honesty that helps us in so many ways!  No doubt, in time, a new routine will be settled into, and we will wonder how we ever lived any other way.  What will help is if we can feel somewhat secure in our future, as certainly that effects everything right now as well.

Today, after playing all day yesterday, we had an enormous project to work on...the dreaded Annual Garage Cleanup.  Those who know us or have read the blog might recall that THIS is usually the deal breaker, THIS is the thing that brings about our One Big Annual Argument every single year, always in early spring.  Don't get me wrong, he is a hot headed Italian, and I am a not-always-subdued German, so there are more small altercations throughout the year as our hard headedness gets in the way of good ol' common sense, but this Annual Garage Cleanup ALWAYS triggers it for me!! Haha!  I am a structured, organized Virgo who fits the usual descriptions to a "T", while Dominick is a typical Aquarian in that he is...uh...unpredictable and a bit less organized (a huge understatement! Haha!).  This year, though, I couldn't fault him, as everything that had to be moved out of the airport restaurant that couldn't be shed had to come home, so we had quite a mess to organize.  Dominick worked all day detailing cars and washing 18 wheelers, so the kids and I got our groove on, and kicked it into high gear cleaning, so he wouldn't have to face meant we could get rid of things while he wasn't there to say, "But I might use that someday!!", so we all hustled to take advantage of our window of opportunity!!:

Before the cleaning commenced

Sorting into piles...electrical...paint supplies (remember all the painting projects?  7 people painting means 7 rollers, etc.)

Seven hours of sorting, cleaning, tossing, and organizing times six people is 42 man hours of work
Team LaJoy strikes again!!

We look a little Cooler Happy there on the top shelf, don't we??
And yes, that IS 6 #10 cans of chili, thank you very much!  And 12 lbs of spaghetti, 8 lbs of penne pasta, and only 4 lbs of elbow macaroni.  It won't take long for that to disappear, sadly.

Tomorrow will be church, then home for a lazy afternoon.  Josh has discovered a new book series and has read 2 1/2 books over the past 7 days, each one over 400 pages long...I am betting he finishes book 3 tomorrow afternoon :-)  The girls will likely practice Russian, Kenny might watch a video, Matt will probably play Sim City and continue to build his metropolis, and Dominick and I just might take a nap...or read...or do as little as possible.  It will be a relaxing end to a week filled with not a whole lot that was very exciting, but was fulfilling in all sorts of ways.

A little work, a little play, a lot of love.  What else could anyway want?

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Celebrations and Hope

As we move toward spring, and an ever hopeful renewal of hearts and minds, a lot has been going on that is worthy of sharing.  Saying goodbye to the restaurant at the airport, we have sold off all the equipment, and the kids pitched in and were a huge help as we emptied everything out and cleaned up. Just this past Friday Dominick locked the door for the last time, and turned over the keys.  I have seen a remarkable man leaving behind an entire era of his life, being treated in a less than gracious manner, and yet managing somehow to show a maturity that few do in circumstances such as these.  I am so very proud of Dominick for how he has handled this, for a lesser man would have acted quite differently.

We are looking at one option for our future, which we are hoping works out, but it will require an enormous leap of faith if it all falls into place.  At this time I can't share what that possibility is, and it will be down to the very wire to see if it "flies".  If it doesn't, then we are going to get serious about looking elsewhere and will resign ourselves to leaving the home we love so much, because we will have run out of options. While it is such a gift to live in a small town, one drawback is that in rural areas, there are far fewer opportunities.  Montrose quite literally has two main streets in town with commercial businesses...and that is it.  It is our fondest hope that moving won't be necessary, and we are praying that we are right about hearing the Spirit as we look at this one last option.  If so, then regardless of how difficult it might be to pull off, my heart and mind will be at ease because I can rest easy knowing it will all work out regardless of how audacious it might be.  That won't mean it will be "easy", but we aren't afraid of hard work or risk taking if it feels God directed.  We hope to have something positive to share in the next couple of weeks, and we ask for prayer around this, because this would be requiring a willingness to do a financial "Hail Mary" pass, of sorts.  If it falls apart, well then I guess you will all be along for the ride as we try to figure out the next step of Team LaJoy's journey.

In the meantime, important things are happening...let's go back and catch up a little.

First of all, Matthew had a big night recently at Civil Air Patrol (CAP).  We attended an awards ceremony in his honor as he was recognized for achieving the rank of Captain, and received the Earhart Award.  For those who may not know anything about CAP, this is pretty much the equivalent of an Eagle Scout award for Boy Scouts...only 5% of all CAP Cadets ever achieve this rank.   A Commander came from Grand Junction to present the award to Matt, and just prior to the ceremony we were told that in recent memory, there has been only one Cadet who has reached this rank in CAP in Western Colorado, and that Cadet is currently a junior at the US Air Force Academy.  Here are some photos of the event:

Mr. Steve and Miss Jane came as "adopted family" to witness the ceremony.  Steve has been such a wonderful influence in Matt's life, and Jane has ever-so-kindly been our family seamstress in lieu of my own lack of sewing skills :-)  

Pre-Ceremony Prep.  Captain Irving is working with the group even though his own two children have graduated from the program.    

Cadet Captain LaJoy

Look how tall this kid is these days!  
A man standing beside two other terrific being a very proud papa!

Yes.  It finally happened. He is taller than I am :-( sniff sniff
Where did my baby go?
Love this young man's heart and sense of humor SO much!

Three years of hard work is represented there in that document.

Son to father, man to man...Matthew asked to have his dad and Steve present the award to him instead of the CAP staff.

Matt is such a humble guy, he didn't even let on much about the ceremony. His Squadron leader contacted me with details and asked if I could provide a cake, which we were delighted to do.  It was so cute to see Matthew surprised when the cake appeared out of the back of the van when we arrived...he was shocked that anyone made a big deal about it.  As Miss Jane said, he is a very modest young man, which is its own gift.  Though he is proud of his accomplishments in CAP, it is very clear that it is the journey itself that motivates him, not the recognition.

The entire family was so proud of him,  I loved how on the drive over they were all talking about how when any one of them does well at something, they see it as the family accomplishing something together, because it takes the support and encouragement of each one for us all to make it.  Matt said he totally agreed.

The Big Award!

There are two other big promotions Matt hopes to earn before the end of his CAP career.  There really is no equivalent to those in something like Scouting, because so few Cadets ever attain them.  The Commander from Grand Junction said he doesn't recall a Cadet in Western Colorado ever going higher that this current rank, so Matt has set his sights on going higher.  The highest rank sees a mere .5% of all CAP Cadets reaching it, and it is incredibly rigorous requiring a Cadet to show exemplary leadership gifts, aeronautics knowledge, and more.  It will take another year and a half for him to achieve it, if he is granted a disability waiver for his back...that may be an issue.  We will see, but this is a huge accomplishment, and we will continue to encourage him and hope he can reach his goal.

Next on the list, I guess, is ME! Haha! It is not really anything to celebrate, but I had an event of my own as I traveled to Denver to sing with my wonderful Sweet Adelines group, the DelRose Chorus. What a fun trip it was, laughing and singing with some very funny ladies.  We were not competing against other choruses this time as we didn't have quite enough members to compete, but we did get judged and scores will help us become a stronger chorus.  These ladies are such a hoot, and I am so glad I had the courage to walk into their rehearsal a year and a half ago.  It has been a great way to relieve some stress, and to make new friends.  Here we are in all our sequiney glory:

Hooker Look! I am not fond at all of THIS part of performing...or of actually being onstage in front of others. LOVE the singing though.  

The chorus has been one my one hobby, the one thing that gets me out around a wide variety of women, and has helped keep me sane this past very challenging year and a half or so.  We have had so many major events to deal mom's fall and near death, Dominick's loss of employment, Matt's back surgery, Kenny's ongoing needs, financial concerns, and more.  Having something that allows me to disengage for just a little while once a week is a soul saver.  The group has been enormously kind and flexible as my schedule to take care of everyone has had me traveling so much.

Something odd happened to me at the competition...I became surprisingly enamored of BLING!!!  WHAT??!!?? Me?!?!  Totally NOT the Cindy LaJoy I know, but seeing the beautiful costumes onstage of the large choruses had me shockingly thinking that our group needed more bling! HAHA!  For those that know the real life Cindy, that is completely out of much so as actually wearing makeup in the first place.  However, the feeling was real, and manifested itself in two purchases just for me...also completely out of character...haha! I saw the above canvas bag with a Laurel Burch print on it and I had to have it for my music binders.  I know it is a bit "loud" but those bright colors make me happy and have since I bought a Laurel Burch coffee cup way back on my honeymoon years and years ago.

Then for the REAL bling...taaadaaa...doesn't every Lead need a sparkly pin??
I tell you, being surrounded by that much estrogen and bangles overwhelmed my sensibilities.
Don't worry, I "came to" upon my arrival back in Montrose, and you aren't likely to see me running around town all glammed up.

Next up was Angela's 17th birthday.  Yes, you read that correctly...SEVENTEEN!!  

Angela and Olesya are far more "blingy" than their mom is, and so for her special day just she and I went to Grand Junction for the afternoon for purse shopping, and dinner at a nice restaurant.  Having the time alone with any of the kids is noteworthy, and Angela truly seemed thrilled to be with me, which of course warmed my heart.  We wandered up and down the mall, looking for just the right purse, which proved difficult.  We also decided to shop for Olesya's big 16th birthday gift while we were together and Angela could have the fun of helping select that.  We bought some shirts for Olesya as well, and finally stumbled upon the perfect purse for her at Payless.  It was exactly what she was looking for:

We are so blessed, particularly right now, that our kids' desires are small, and that they are truly grateful for every single thing they receive.

These are the sandals equally sparkly that her siblings gave money for, so while at Payless she felt like she really scored!! Haha!

Here we are at dinner:

We spent two hours at the restaurant, talking well after having finished our meal.  Angela is such a deep, big hearted, intuitive young lady.  The conversation flowed easily from one topic to the next, and I asked her what it felt like to be 17 years old.

"Mom, I don't feel like I am 17.  I feel more like 14 or 15."  She responded.

I asked her why she thought that was, and she said, "I think it is because it took me a couple of years to feel comfortable in my new family.  And I was growing up the whole time.  It's only been five years, and in some ways I feel like I am only five years old just because I don't want to leave you and Dad.  I wish people understood that, and I am grateful to you and Dad for protecting us and letting us be kids still.  I don't want to think about moving out or leaving my family...I just got you all!"

I reassured her that she had no reason to rush it all, and that our home would be hers as long as we were alive.  I told her that we all have our own personal journeys through the world, and often people think ours ought to look the same as theirs, or they judge us if it doesn't.  We both laughed as I recalled and pointed out all the ways in which others have thought our journey was faulty, wrong, fool-headed, or just plain crazy.  She then asked me, "How do you do it, Mom?  How do you keep from getting mad at people who judge you or who talk about you saying how stupid you are to do the things you do?"

I told her, "Angie, I've learned that sometimes people really don't understand.  They don't get that making a conscious decision to follow the Spirit means doing things unconventionally.  Most people aren't willing to risk their hearts, they are far too scared of others knowing them really well.  They put things and security above relationship.  Your Dad and I make decisions based on other criteria than most folks do, and I get that it doesn't make sense to others.  However, it does make us happy, and we wouldn't make a single thing different in our lives, even if it has been hard."  

There she sat, quietly contemplating and sipping from her drink.  She then looked up at me and said, "More than anything I want to be like you and Dad when I grow up.  You guys are so special, and you have helped me see the world totally differently.  You really will be my friend when I grow up enough that you won't have to be my mom all the time, we will be very close always, I think.  I really respect you mom, and I think you are a good, good person.  Even when people do or say mean things to you, you are kind to them.  I was very tough in the orphanage, and sometimes I just want to say mean things to people to get back at them.  But watching you and Dad, I am learning that doesn't make anything better, and it doesn't even make me happy.  Sometimes I don't like to think about what I would be like if you hadn't adopted me.  I wouldn't have liked myself very much."

"Do you like yourself now?" I inquired.

"Most of the time, I think I do.  I am different now, and I still have a lot more to learn from you.  Although it has been hard to have a lot of bad things happen this year, I have learned so much from watching you handle it.  I know I will have bad things happen to me, too, but maybe I will be able to deal with them better.  And if I don't, I know you will make sure I get straightened out!" she laughed.

She was in a mood to reminisce, and we talked about my one and only visit with them 3 years before we were able to adopt them.  She hadn't known that one of her friends there had boldly asked me if I could adopt her and her sister, as she desperately sought a family for them (they were subsequently adopted, thankfully), and she was quite moved to learn that I knew firmly that, despite my compassion for her friend, she was not my daughter, but that I knew instantly upon meeting them that Olesya and Angela were my kids.  We talked about the heartbreak of my sensing that so strongly, and having no idea if they could ever possibly come home.  We spoke with profound gratitude for our Adoption Angel, who made it happen financially for us and stood by with great encouragement and support the entire way.  Angela asked me how I knew that any of the kids were "ours", what it had felt like, and I tried to explain but it was a very hard thing to express.

Finally, it was time to leave, and we headed home where Olesya had baked a cake, and a package awaited her to open, special delivery from her new friend Christi in Massachusetts.  It had arrived several days early and  the suspense had killed her!  Haha!:

A homemade birthday card from her adopted little sister :-)

Surprise beauty products!

It is hard to believe that these two:

Have grown into these two young ladies:

I never could have imagined just what a gift they would be in our lives.  Don't get me wrong, I desperately wanted them, but what I had no clue of was how sweet they each were, how close we would one day eventually be, and how empty my life...all of our lives...would have been without them.

This past Sunday I filled the pulpit for our vacationing pastor, and MAN did I struggle with writing a sermon!  I realized one reason I haven't blogged as much the past several months is that stress seems to have taken my language away from me, and I have tucked a lot of things inside.  It was a gradual pulling away from writing, which is really a spiritual practice of sorts for me, and I miss it but find it very hard to write from my soul right now.  It isn't that I am hiding anything, but that my brain space is taken up with urgent matters, and I need to find a way to get more out of my head and onto the screen.  I am going to be diligent about that, and see if I can work my way back into more regular writing.  It's good for me, it helps me process things, and it serves as a Gratitude Journal of sorts...and I have a million things to be grateful for.

After church Sunday, Kenny came up to me and said, "Mom, I have a proposition for you.  Can I take you to lunch?", so I ended up having a wonderful date with my handsome, thoughtful son.  He took me out to Chili's, where we spent a couple of hours talking about all things theology, and then it turned to a more personal note as Kenny admitted he is very worried about his future, and about being a burden on his family.  He has a clear understanding of his real deficits, and I think he is finally beginning to grab hold of how hard it may be in adulthood.  

Can I tell you how heartbreaking it is to have a child who is so sincere, so very deep, so self-aware in many ways, and who really understands that he may never make it to full self-sufficiency?  Kenny is a "fall through the cracks" kid, whose challenges are such that there is no way to pretend it won't affect his future.  This tender young man is so eager to please, so very smart in a variety of ways, and yet is really quite handicapped, too.  His growing realization is something we are going to have to work with to promote the fact that he will have an amazing life, and that he is surrounded by support that is second to none.  His life will, no doubt, look different than the other kids', but even they see the enormous potential inside of Kenny and want to see him live into that potential to the best of his ability.  

Looking him square in the eyes, as my own started to shed tears, I told Kenny that I adored him, that we have never had a moment's regret about adopting him and would have even if we had known he would have problems.  To reinforce that point, I reminded him that we knew very well what the girls had been subjected to, and that it was highly likely they would come with alcohol related challenges, which we have been lucky enough not to deal with in only subtle ways.  I asked him, "Did we ever consider not adopting the girls even though we knew their past and the likelihood there would be some tough stuff to work with?"

The light bulb moment happened, and he looked up at me with a slow grin beginning and said, "Come to think of it, no, you never thought for even one second of not adopting them, and you DID know they would probably have the same kinds of problems I had!"

I them reached across the table and grabbed his hands in mine, and told him, "You never, ever have to consider yourself a burden.  We all take care of each other, we all will always take care of each other.  It is our job as family, it is why we were brought together.  We all have special needs, some of them just look different."

He then said, "I was talking to Matt a little about this a few weeks ago, and I told him I was feeling like a lot of the money for the family and a ton of your time was spent on me, and how that wasn't fair to the other kids.  Matt reminded me that everyone has needed more of you at one time...that he got you and Dad for the first few years before Josh came home, then Josh was a mess and needed you to help him be able to learn how to love, then I came home and took a ton of your time...and I still do...and then the girls who needed you badly to feel safe.  It was nice of Matt to try and make me feel better, but I do know you have had to put more time and money into me than all the other kids put together."

"And I've loved every minute of it Kenny, and you are SO worth it!  And who knows?  I am betting as time goes on, each of the other kids will have a need for us to help them in a big way at some point in time.  And we'll all be there for them.  It's not about being 'even Steven', sweetie, it's about making sure that everyone is OK and gets what they need...and some will just need more than others, and it has nothing to do with you trying to take resources more than the others.  You had no control over how you were born, or what the orphanage did or didn't do for you.  But we all have control over what happens next, and I know you would be willing to sacrifice anything for your brothers and sisters, and they know that, too. " I said.

He thanked me profusely for always being honest and for talking with him about it.  He said he wanted to be a contributor, not a taker, and we talked about ALL the ways he contributes, many of which he had never thought of.  As we eventually walked out the door, my tall, handsome, resilient Kenny threw his arm protectively over my shoulder, and said, "I love that I can always talk with you, you make it easy.  Thanks, Mom..." then he escorted me to our car.  

Tonight, after watching a movie together, we all somehow ended up gathered around the dining room table, snacking and talking.  Dominick is awake later these days, as his early mornings have disappeared.  There was so much nonsense conversation, so much laughter, gentle teasing, and connecting going on.   It was one of those times when nothing important is going on, at least not on a surface level, and yet not a single person wanted to leave the moment behind.   We are going through a hard time right now, but it is still beautiful to live in this family.  Nothing else matters, really, but this love that is shared, this presence we all enjoy, this walking together...more often than not hand in hand, literally...and we have each other.  Nothing else matters.  Daily, I give thanks, that I get to live in the midst of all of this richness, all of this emotional maturity, all of this willingness to speak of matters of the heart.

We also know we have plenty of people pulling for us...people who have threatened to lay down in front of our van if we have to move in order to try and stop us, people who have offered concrete help in our employment search, people who have prayed for us and continue to encourage us.  We're fine, we are strong, we are loving and loved.  That's all anyone really needs.