Sunday, January 11, 2015

Pain Endured or Opportunity Lost?

A couple of days ago, I was lounging on the couch talking with Angela, while the other kids were off doing their thing.  It was dark and quiet, and we were softly speaking about Things That Matter.  Angela brought up my trip this next week to Massachusetts to go visit my new long distance Sister-Friend, and the subject of  sisterhood and real siblings came up as we talked about how close she and Olesya are.  I casually said I realized she would always feel something different for Olesya than she did with the boys.

With a hint of indignance  she looked at me and vehemently said, "No Mom, you are wrong.  Maybe at first I felt closer to Olesya, but not for a long, long time.  I love my brothers just as much as I do my sister, and I feel like I was born into this family and they are just as much my real brothers as Olesya is my real sister.  I have the kindest brothers in the whole world, and they are my real brothers and will be forever.  Blood doesn't make a difference, and you know that.  Just like you are my real mom and dad is my real dad.  You are more my parents than my birth parents ever were, and I don't feel closer to them because they gave birth to me.  I feel closer to you because you love me, and that is what matters most."

Yea, I was schooled.  And I couldn't be prouder or more touched.  Guess that judge 5 years ago was a little off base, too, when she doubted ethnic Kazakh kids could get along in the same family as ethnic Russian kids.

Love changes everything.  It really does.

How often do we make assumptions about how strong a connection might or might not be because someone doesn't look like us, have the same background as us, or has a different lifestyle than us?  I have a friend who is reaching out with great vigor into the dating world, and she has elected to push herself to be more open than usual, and is making a great effort not to automatically kick people out of the "Possibility Pool" based upon preconceived notions because of what they do for a living or what hobbies they enjoy.  She has met some incredibly interesting men because of this openness, some of whom she has had very strong connections to despite her initial thoughts based upon data that might have previously caused her to pass them over as "not a fit".

Unless we are willing to take chances and reach out to others who are different from us, we never grow.  Unless we take risks and reach out to others who might hurt us, we never really find true connection and fulfillment.  We can't guard ourselves forever, we can't keep bars across our hearts tightly welded and then say we have never experienced real love, blaming it on The Universe when really it is our own unwillingness to open up to possibility that causes our isolation.  We have to be willing to be hurt, we have to be willing to reach out and from time to time get burned a little.

Every single time we have adopted, our kids took a risk, just as we did.  Each of us yearned for love and acceptance, and we tentatively reached out, hoping we weren't making a mistake, but willing to make a big one on the off chance that maybe, just maybe, real love awaited us.  Sure, it might not have worked, and great pain would have ensued...but what would have been missed if the risk hadn't been taken?

For some, it is easier to remain with the comfortable and familiar and be able to point and say, "See?  At least I didn't do something like that and have my heart broken." and then they can count how many times they have been "saved" from pain and loss other more adventurous souls experience. But what those "Secure Suzies" are not counting is the amount of joy and love that has been missed because "safe" is better than "risk".  How many connections are not discovered because it is too hard to look at someone and bluntly say, "You know, I really like you!  Why don't we get to know one another better?" or because we are too scared to tentatively reach out and grab a hand or offer a hug.

For some, they hear an internal scream that says, "Don't do that!  You know what might happen!  You could get HURT!".  Others hear a gentle quiet urging, "Go ahead, give it a shot, what's the worst that can happen?  If you get hurt, you'll get over it, but if you miss this opportunity, you might regret it forever...go for it!"  I guess it is all in perspective, and what would bring the greatest regret...pain endured, or opportunity lost.

I know what category I fall into...opportunity lost is far more painful to me than pain endured.  In fact, my experience has shown that sometimes, pain endured often leads to love found, so even then that pain can be categorized differently.

At 6:00 am Tuesday morning I am embarking on a little adventure of my own as I leave my family
behind, and with their blessing, travel across the US to meet someone I have grown to love virtually, and will be meeting for the first time.  This may sound odd to some, but to those who know me, it is actually something I have lived out over and over again...meeting people I have grown to love or care about  prior to ever being in their presence is familiar and comfortable for me, and I have done it over and over again, my life always enriched by the discovery of someone new.

This time, there is a certainty that is seldom present, for I have found the most wonderful friend in the world, and I am anxious to spend time with her.  I was going to add "and get to know her in person" but frankly, that seems silly because I already know her completely, and the meeting is a mere formality.  We have each invested an enormous amount of time in building this connection, because the hint of what might be possible contained within our very first email exchange was that silent Spirit voice urging us to "Go ahead...give it a shot..." Because we are both people who are fearless in our willingness to put our hearts out there, and are open to emotional risk, we have been rewarded abundantly.  Each of us has been profoundly hurt in the past, and yet it didn't stop us from trying again, over and over, because This Matters, and our previous pain taught us a different lesson than it might have taught others.  We learned that pain can be moved through, that it makes you stronger, and that the love and friendship found when the risk is taken and is successful is worth the pain when the risk is taken and from time to time the attempt fails.

It's worth it. I have been taught that by my very own children, and Angela is the best example possible.  The symbiotic nature of the learning that happens between parent and child is such a gift, if the elder is open to learning from the younger.  How much wiser I am, how much more experience I have gained from being in relationship with my children.  They have been the very best teachers for me, because I intentionally watch and listen to them.  I don't discount their innate wisdom because of their age, for they have so much to offer me, and so often model a different way of being in the world that has moved me forward in so many ways.

Pain endured or opportunity lost...I'll endure the pain once in awhile, for I simply can not bear the lost opportunity.

Monday, January 05, 2015

The Winter of Hygge

Today I stumbled upon a term that was new to me, it is a Danish word for which there is no real English translation. The word is "hygge", which loosely translates to "coziness" or a connected sense of community which brings about that sense of warmth we often associate with quiet conversations around a warm fire.  I love this new word, and I quickly recognized it as what I am feeling as we enter 2015...hygge is where I am at this very moment.  Knowing we have a lot of stress ahead of us with work and medical issues, I am allowing myself to claim "hygge" for the moment, which may be all I am allowed but I will live in that coziness for as long as I can.

As we awaited the New Year, and as Dominick has begun working full time at the restaurant for the winter, the kids and I entertained ourselves by going on a short hike with friends to view something few get to see in "real life"...after church last weekend we saw some petroglyphs!  What started out as a gloomy, overcast day turned into a crisp, bright, sunny afternoon just for our hike!  The warmth of the sun radiating off the red rock cliffs helped keep us from freezing, and we had a wonderful time as our guide told us all about this protected area.  She grew up nearby, and had scrambled through this rocky area many a time as a child, and so had many personal stories to share about what we were seeing, which made the excursion even more interesting.

Matthew was unable to join us, as he was working with Dominick that day.  The kids have all given up some extra shifts so that Matthew can work while he can and earn money for the year before having his work season cut short by back surgery.  I love how thoughtful the kids were in coming up with this plan and offering it to Matt as their little gift to him.  He was quite grateful, and so until the first week of February he'll be working every weekend.

Here are some photos from our day:

Everyone enjoyed the guide's stories, and we all learned a lot!

Smiling Male and Female Duos

As you can see, these were really stunning.  I am so glad they are being protected and that you need permission and a guide to view them.

It was one of those days where one kid just seems to naturally be in Photogenic Mode.  My friend kept nudging me saying, "Look!  Take a picture!" as Josh just looked so masculine and much older looking these days.

Kenny asked a lot of questions and really pondered it all...

And there he is again...

Coming down the trail, it was warm for a bit, but soon temperatures dipped and jackets were firmly back on.

A few days later, we hosted a houseful of friends from church for a New Year's Eve party, during which we also celebrated Joshie's birthday, which falls the day after Christmas.  Hard to believe that this little guy:

Turned into the big strapping 12 year old we have today!

Do you ever look at photos of your children, current or older pictures, and just feel your heart burst with love for them?  Do you ever think what your life would have been like without them and quickly turn from that thought because the pain is too great to fathom?  Looking at old photos tonight, I was so struck by young pictures of each of the kids...some we are very fortunate to have of Angela, Olesya and Kenny of their earlier years in the orphanage.  We have 4 or 5 baby or toddler photos of Kenny, but sadly, we have none of the girls before about age 6 or 7.  I can not tell you how much I wish we had even one photo of our sweet daughters when they were babies.  It is a special kind of loss to not have a picture of them as young little ones, as we do of the all the boys.  Did they change much as they matured?  Did they look as much alike when they were very young?  Did they smile as broadly before life really hit them hard and they found themselves homeless and so ill?  Questions we will never have answers for, I am afraid.

Josh received a special gift this year, as we spent a lot more than we normally do on a birthday gift.  Because it is so close to Christmas, we often simply can not afford much, and it always feels as if Joshua's birthday is not celebrated with as much enthusiasm.  Because he is enjoying the Gun Club so much, we decided we wanted to get him his first real gun.  Dominick and I went shopping and found a beautiful little .22 rifle for him, something Josh never expected.  He was quite surprised!:

Ready to open up the gift!

But first...

He carefully read Mom's card.  It is interesting to me how just this year, all of the kids have commented on how the cards I write are as meaningful to them as any gift itself.  I find that so touching, and realized I need to spend more time writing notes to the kids.  It seems to be something very special to them.  Josh actually carefully read every single card he received from anyone, not allowing himself to be rushed by others.  It told me a lot about his heart to watch him do that.

Later, after everyone had left, Joshie told me, "Mom, thank you for trusting me so much.  I really like my new rifle and I promise you I will always be careful and will use what I am learning at Gun Club so I am safe.  I can't believe you and Dad gave this to me!  You are the best parents ever.  I know you had to give up something to afford this for me, thank you so much.  I am so lucky to have you and Dad."  And my heart melted a little.

12 years old, and still willing to snuggle with Mom.  I am whispering to him here and had no idea someone had grabbed the camera.  Seeing such tenderness from the outside and knowing how hard Josh and I worked to have this with each other, I feel so blessed that we are able to enjoy this sort of closeness with one another.  I will never forget how we almost didn't have this, how difficult it was for him to accept nurturing touch of any sort.  A lot of healing has taken place in this little guy, and I am so very proud of how far we have come. 

And yet, even now attachment struggles and insecurity I prepare to leave next Tuesday for a week, Joshie is already showing signs of an internal struggle with my absence, as it manifests itself in the usual way with him wandering around the house every 10 minutes looking for the dog to make sure Sunny is not lost, and needing his blankie again.  We keep working toward him feeling 100% secure, and we will get there, but such moments remind me we are still are not quite there yet and have ongoing work to do.

How I love him!!

A strong, capable, responsible young man before longer a boy, not really straddling childhood and adulthood as he leans far more toward one than the other these days.  Yet he has the tenderest heart and is so open and warm, sharing his emotions in cards and letters so beautifully.  We received the sweetest Christmas note from him, and I was blown away by the ways in which he expressed his love for Dominick and I so eagerly and easily.  I am the luckiest mom in the world to have children who each are so affectionate and kind with their parents, particularly at the ages our kids are.  

Despite the busyness of the holidays, now behind us, and ski season, still before us, we definitely are experiencing "hygge"...a special coziness that is wrapping around us all.  Spending time with friends, which has happened frequently the past month or so, and simply being together as a family brings the warmth of winter to us.  It might be 20 degrees outside, but inside our home we experience light and love the likes of which are not found often.  We'll be returning to school tomorrow, everyone eager to get back to a routine after 2 weeks of uninterrupted blissful unscheduled days.  We have lots of exciting learning ahead of us, and we can enter into the next semester renewed in many ways.

2015 may prove to be very difficult for us, but we will hopefully carry that feeling of "hygge" forward with us, allowing us to be very present and attentive to God's leading.  We pray that the year stretching out before us is gentle with us, and is filled with all the goodness and wealth of a sort that money can not buy...

Friday, December 26, 2014

Happy Birthday Joshua!

Sometime in late January 12 years ago, an infant was abandoned behind a building in Uralsk, Kazakhstan.  Left in the bitter cold, his cries alerted a passerby, and he was found and brought to safety.  A police officer or social worker named him and assigned this anonymous child a birth date of December 26th.  He was passed from maternity hospital to orphanage, where he was still relatively anonymous and just "another baby" to be wiped and diapered.

In November 2003, Joshua Aaron LaJoy was anonymous no more.  He became The Beloved Child of Dominick and Cindy LaJoy, and the dearly treasured brother of Matthew, and eventually Kenny, Angela and Olesya.  More than any of our children, Joshie has suffered and endured the incredible emotional loss of abandonment and knowing that no one wanted him.  He has heard thoughtless strangers ask if he was "one of those kids thrown away in a trash can".  He has fought and won a battle to allow others to hold him and love him, and now seeks comfort and nestles within the arms of his parents easily, willingly, joyfully.

You were so beautiful, very beautiful to me.

On this, the day we celebrate his birth, and though we know someone didn't want him, I can't IMAGINE my life without Joshua...his inquisitive nature, his heart, his beautiful smile.

Today he stands before us a strong, healthy 12 year old young man on the brink of teenage exploration.  He has always been our wise little old man, a 50 year old in an elementary aged boy's body.  He is a contrast in so many ways.  How many then 11 year olds would want to read (and truly enjoy) the Notebook with their sisters?  How many could accurately label themselves and consistently articulate a political mindset as a 9 or 10 year old as well as my little Libertarian leaning young son does?  How many 12 year old boys would beg for anything Frozen and gleefully thank you for giving them an Olaf stuffed animal for Christmas?  How many then 11 year olds would so responsibly set their own alarm to awaken at 4:00 AM, shower, and be ready waiting for their dad to take them to work for four hours each Saturday morning for four months straight...and never once over sleep or need an adult to nudge them into getting moving?

I have loved every single stage with you, Josh!

This year was the year for him...the year his body began the process of changing from boy to man.  3 pant sizes and one barrel chest later, no longer do I feel I am holding my little boy, but instead feel that the roles have been reversed and that I am being held by my young man.  The deepened voice singing Jingle Bells all year long (Ugh!! Haha!), the shoe size larger than Kenny's, and the need for daily use of Strydex all signal the end of my parenting younger children, as Josh steps firmly into the next phase.

It took me about three years to be able to have Josh accept my touch, so damaged was he by the Original Loss of being abandoned by his birth mom.  But when he did finally give in and accept the love offered, he fully embraced it and we made up for lost time...and continue to do so.  There are no words to express what it feels like, even this past Sunday in church to have his head rest upon my shoulder as he lovingly reaches out in ways to physically connect to me.  We both almost missed that, and we will forever treasure our ability to love one another fully and without reservation, because it signals a healing that quite literally might not have happened had we both not hung in there with one another.  Joshua, I will never tire of your hugs, or your reaching out to hold my hand.  I know we have already begun the years long transition that will see our roles reverse from me taking care of you, to you taking care of me.  That we can both rest in the knowledge that each will always be there for one another is a victory unlike any other in my life, and in yours.

My sweet boy, how I love you!  Daily, you amaze me, as you easily keep up with your siblings in school and often challenge them to think differently.  Hearing you play superheroes out on the trampoline, I wonder how much longer you will have one foot planted in childhood when the rest of you is racing so quickly toward adulthood.  How I will one day miss hearing your sound effects!! Haha!

You wanted to marry Mommy!

Already, I know I will have to craft a different sort of path for you for high school, as this sixth grade year has you gaining high school credit in classes like US Government (And boy, do you know your government!) and you begin Algebra 1.  Secretly, I look forward to that last year or two of school with you, where my "caboose" and I can study anything we want and sit side by side reading and thinking together, just as Matthew and I get the privilege of doing right now.  Your volunteering at the library has you bringing home stacks and stacks of books to read or flip through, as you love visual encyclopedias of any sort.  Your future is wide open to you, filled with possibilities, and lately you have seriously discussed the possibility of being a fireman or EMT, career choices that would make so much sense for you as you are not easily rattled and have an inordinate amount of common sense and the ability to we say "gore" that others can not...and besides, everyone knows all fireman are adorably handsome, that would fit you to a "T"!! :-)

My tender hearted son, how I love you with all my heart!  You have changed my life and who I am in so many ways, and I am so grateful that God brought us together.  You are my youngest child, my "baby", and you will always be that to me even when you are 6 feet tall and towering over me!  I eagerly look forward to watching you continue to blossom into full manhood, and to accompany you as you move toward your future.  You bring me great joy, Josh, and I love nothing more than to spending time with you...and I always will look forward to the little things you email me :-)

The coming year will have you settling into this new stage of life, and you will begin to understand things about yourself and about the world around you.  You will have many new insights as awareness grows, and I have no doubt you will continue to shower everyone around you with your gentle and giving spirit.  Happy birthday, my sweet little dear Joshie.  I love you more than all the stars in the galaxy, and all the grains of sand on the beach :-) Beat you to it!  Biggest, longest hugs to you, my amazing Super Hero!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas is a Feeling

The older I become, the more I rebel against the holiday season.  Don't get me wrong, it is not at all in a "bah humbug" sort of rebellion, but instead is a rejection of the accepted cultural norms that are shoved down our throats from oh, let's say, about mid-August, until December 25th.

How can one not suffer a case of Holiday Burnout when we are told for over four months what that holiday experience ought to look like, how much we ought to spend, what we ought to create in the kitchen, and who must be present?  There is an unrealistic expectation established for us that would challenge even a Normal Rockwell representation of what the Christmas Season should be like.

Moving beyond the Santa Stage with the kids has only heightened this awareness, and in some way, I think our entire family has silently agreed to gradually shift our thinking about what our Christmas should like.  I am speaking more at home about Advent, about the religious meaning for the season, and about toning down the expectations and frenzied activity so that we can enter into the parts of the season that mean the most, and reject anything that doesn't have real meaning around it all.

It has led to one of the most relaxed and warm hearted Christmases we have yet to experience, and will forever guide our future holidays.

We are not one of the fortunate financially fit families who has a large happy extended family nearby and the understanding that Christmas Eve and Day will be spent surrounded by relatives with a laden table and a package packed living room with a tree that is barely visible peeking out from behind those beautifully wrapped, carefully selected gifts.

We have never gone "home for the holidays" because work intervenes, and "home" is really where the seven of us are, anyway.  God has been good to us in offering us the bonds of friendships that are really more our "framily", a blessed combination of friends and family that replace what we don't have in our lives...a network of adopted surrogate aunties, uncles and grandparents from church who fill in the gap, and create a sense of extended family that helps us feel whole.

Christmas is not about what others think it ought to be, it is about what brings meaning into your lives, it is about being reminded that over 2000 years ago, for  those of the Christian tradition, God became flesh among us in the form of a child and we were taught a little more about the meaning of love.  It is about recognizing the humanity that exists within every one of us, it is about intentionally reaching out to acknowledge that connectedness between one human being and another.  What does that have to do with racking up a credit card bill that will break the bank, or with the perfection with which we must present our families to the world on Instagram or Facebook?

Our family is not perfect, but it is connected to a degree that fills me with great joy.  Our family will not have matching Christmas PJ's accompanied by professional portraiture, it will not have presents piled high, it will not have the "ooooh and aaaaah" worthy gasping over a lovely table setting.

Our family will have one moderately priced gift each from mom and dad, and a couple of smaller shared family items, which will probably take a grand total of 10 minutes for all to open for 7 people.  Our family will have stockings in which the only items they are filled with are small candies, for we don't have the financial ability to fill them to the brim with "real" gifts as well.  Our family will not have relatives visiting, or a grand turkey or ham displayed with all the trimmings.  In fact, our entire family will be heading off to work Christmas morning, spending the day at the airport serving travelers.  All of the above might not lend one to thinking we will have a very happy holiday, and oh how wrong they would be!!

What we have received instead this Christmas has been the sort of things the holiday really ought to be about...we have been given the gift of presence, as a couple of friends will spend Mexican Fiesta Christmas Eve dinner with us for the second year in a row prior to heading to church...and a tradition is being built.  We will spend tonight at a candle light service at church, which every single one of us loves.  We have been given the gift of music in multiple ways, as we sang and enjoyed the singing of others multiple times during Advent.  We have done something as small as walking down Main Street in the dark sipping hot chocolate, and somehow, that became a little about Christmas, too.  We have been offered the gift of long standing tradition and love from our adopted Grandpa, who once again allowed us to help him usher in the holiday season as we decorated his tree for the 5th or 6th year in a row.  Because of the intentional efforts to tone it all down, I have personally received the gift of less stress, which has been so lovely.  We have baked together, wrapped together, hung lights together in an extravaganza that Kenny and Matthew improve upon each year with great enthusiasm and planning.

But perhaps the single most important moment came last night, after having pulled our traditional 12 Days of Christmas Secret Santa prank.  For the past 12 days, we have driven across town to anonymously drop off a little gag gift by playing "Ding Dong Ditch" and running away.  For 12 days, we have thought about a couple who is going through a very challenging time in their lives with an unsuccessful back surgery which requires yet another surgery after the new year.  We have giggled about surprising them, prayed for them, and hoped we could brighten their very stressful and difficult Christmas this year.  Last night was the Big Reveal, as we visited for the 12th and final night of our prank, and offered them a small plate of goodies and some hugs.

How can I possibly share with you all the ways in which that very moment made it Christmas for our entire family?  How can I begin to express that I wish each and every person could, for a moment, enter into that experience with us?  Christmas is NOT NOT NOT about pretty paper and expensive gifts!!! Christmas is about the tears streaming down someone's face as they felt loved in a way that touched them so deeply, it is about the hanging on for dear life as someone wants desperately for you to know just how much what you did mattered to them.  Christmas is looking into someone's eyes and saying, "I love you, and I am so grateful you are in my life." and knowing that, even if only briefly, you have made a difference to someone.

As we all piled back in the van after our brief visit, everyone was silent for a few minutes, moved beyond words by the depth of emotion we had just experienced.  Then Matthew spoke up and said, "Did you see them crying like that?  I think that was Christmas for me.  I didn't know it would matter so much to them.  This was the best time we have ever done this and I am really glad we did it."  and the conversation began about how Christmas should never be about the "ought to do's" but instead should be more about the "want to do's", and connecting heart to heart...

So many good things have happened the past couple of months, nourishing us after a long and somewhat difficult year, and filling us as we head into yet another difficult one that is ahead as we face surgery and healing, financial challenges and uncertainty galore.  We have had the absolute joy of knowing that Emir, Kenny's long prayed for friend from his orphanage, along with another friend named Tilek, are finally, FINALLY legally adopted and will be coming to their new home in January!  Something feels "finished" for me with that, and is allowing me peace as we know that all 3 of Kenny's closest friends from his childhood now have families and are safe from harm.

The girls are developing a new long distance friendship with a young woman named Kamala who is teaching them Russian via Skype from Kyrgyzstan The giggles heard every Tuesday and Thursday night, along with the enthusiasm with which they are hitting the Russian book reflect how successful and meaningful this venture will be, and Dominick and I have the added bonus of knowing we will be helping Kamala financially to move into her own future.

After a lengthy interview process Matthew has been awarded a key leadership position assisting at the annual Civil Air Patrol Encampment at Colorado Springs, which will give him such incentive to work toward healing after his upcoming back surgery in February.  What a blessing that this came along just when he most needed the encouragement and something to look forward to!

There has also been great joy in watching Joshua blossom into a man.  There are no two ways around it, he is no longer a child and is in every way a responsible, caring, thoughtful, strong young man who may still play imaginary super heroes and love stuffed animals, but has one foot planted firmly in adulthood these days.  He is just a couple of days away from turning 12, but already I have that sense of security and safety when I am with him, just as I began to feel around Matthew when he was this age.  The man that is emerging is going to be stable and strong, and he still loves to be held and cuddle with his mom...what more could I wish for?

Kenny is beginning his life anew, and exploring many things about himself this year.  The joy there is that he is so fearless in self-examination, and he allows me to be part of the process with him.  Believe me, there is no deeper boy than Kenny LaJoy, and it is a complete privilege to be privy to the thoughts that he shares with me.  Full of heart, and such an acceptance of all that he struggles with, our journey with him is far from over, but is rich and full in ways that one might never imagine if they only looked at test results on paper.

Dominick has found the joy in quietly doing what he has done for years and yet is paid little notice of ...nurturing along men in his employ who very often would never have a chance anywhere else to repair themselves and turn into good, solid workers.  The past year he has seen 2 or 3 of his former employees move toward better and more stable employment after a stint with him in which he encouraged them to have a better work ethic, and patiently explained the expectations of all employers.  So many of his employees the past few years have been men re-entering the work force after time in prison, or very young men who have no skills, and have built families without making commitments.  Day by day, as he works alongside them washing cars or making sandwiches, he shares with them what his own life is like, and without judgment talks about the need to be there for your family, to "own your mistakes" and make amends, to work harder than you ever might think in order to get ahead.  The gift of acceptance, patience and nurturing he offers these men is a ministry all of its own, and one that is always going unacknowledged.  He has had the joy of seeing success with some of them this year, and that is a gift itself.

As for me, I have very little need for materials things, but a great need for relationships, and that need was met in astounding ways this year.  The feeling of Christmas might have lasted all year for me, as I have had the greatest blessing of all in having old relationships deepen in profound ways as friendships that were lived into more on the surface level took plunges that were very meaningful and are a light in my life.  The sustaining love and care that my friends here have brought me has made all the difference in my life, and I hope I have well enough articulated that to each and every one of them.

But my greatest Christmas gift this year will be a bit late, as I will travel in mid-January to Massachusetts to meet a new friend in person for the first time.  Through the adoption world, I have often met people in person after years of developing an online friendship that centers around our shared experiences with our kids, and every single time I have been delighted and never been disappointed.  This is different, however, as this friendship has developed via the connection intentionally made for me by another dear friend of mine and was literally brought to me on a silver platter as she said, "See?  I have something here for you...I think you'll like it!!", and as the dome was lifted, there was someone who seemed to have been almost custom made just for me. That my dear Miss Mary recognized that God was speaking to her about this will forever be something I am incredibly grateful for.  This friendship has quickly taken up space in my heart and life in a way that is all about me being me...not about shared challenges and kids and homeschooling and adoption journeys.  It is a friendship of a depth and richness I have never experienced before, and at a time of great general struggle in my life, God has met me in the form of my new friend.  It has been years and years (indeed, perhaps never!) since I have developed a friendship of any sort that is not about being a mom, but allowed me to be fully Cindy.  I am so glad that I have "intensely practiced" long distance connecting for so many years, as that has made it incredibly easy to be very real quickly with Candi, and we have been able to enjoy a level of depth many can't easily enter into at a distance because of it.  Dominick and the kids have encouraged me to explore this, and have given me time and space to do so, which is truly their gift to me this year.  I will spend 7 days being "Cindy" in January, not Mom, not Wife, not Homeschooler, not Adoptive Mommy Friend...just me.  I already feel incredibly spoiled, and it is with great anticipation and delight that I look forward to my Christmas gift of friendship coming in mid-January.

Christmas really is a feeling, something we often tend to overlook as we make Christmas into something it never should wish for you all is that today and tomorrow, as you go about your various holiday activities, you have somehow been able to find a way to tap that feeling that is Christ in the world.  Maybe it is in church this evening as a candle is being lit from one person to another, symbolizing the connectedness of Spirit.  Maybe it is in the laughter and enthusiastic squeals of your children as they open that gift they always wanted.  Maybe it is in the glance at your spouse as they look over your children's heads and give you that knowing look and grin.  Maybe you find that Christmas feeling around the table as you all hold hands and give thanks.  Maybe you won't have any of these things this year, but a stranger will touch your heart somehow.

Or will find that feeling inside yourself, as you contemplate all the blessings in your life, no matter how big or small.  Maybe you can hear God speak to you this day, telling you, "All is well, my Beloved, All is well."

May your lives be filled with all that is meaningful this holiday.  May you be satisfied with all you have.  May you yearn for nothing that really matters.  Amen.

With love, from All of Us to All of You, Team LaJoy wishes you the loveliest of holidays!

Everyone volunteering at the Food Bank!

Ice skating yesterday...on Christmas Eve Eve! Haha!

All My Menfolk...


Our Twins wishing you Merry Christmas!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Catch Up!

It has been awhile...too long in fact.  I haven't blogged in 25 days, that has to be a record for me and hopefully not one I will repeat again.  I have missed you, but have been engaged in other ways as a new friendship has entered my life and I have been taking the time to attend to it, nurture it, and watch it blossom in extraordinarily wonderful and unexpected ways.  My evening writing time has been taken up with hours long phone calls, and lengthy emails.  While the blog has suffered, I certainly have not, and this Thanksgiving I am especially thankful for God's care for me in this way.

Friendships matter, and I have been blessed with particularly rich friendships in the second half of my life.  I spent the first half of my life devoid of real friendship, and now I value each and every person who enters my life so much, and I am more willing to put in the effort that a truly strong friendship requires.  This time spent in a personal "retreat" of sorts has been fruitful in ways seldom experienced, and already I can see how I have grown from it.

So what has happened over the course of the past 3 weeks or so?  One big thing is that we now have a newly minted 16 year old in Kenny!  We celebrated Kenny's birthday last weekend, in a low key but very special way.  Here's our birthday boy:

Big changes this past year for Kenny, as he has matured so much and grown into himself in many ways.  It is a big change from the little 8 year old we brought home 8 years ago:

This was taken in our first couple of hours with Kenny...that same softness seen in his eyes is still very much present today.

For our 16th birthday tradition, we let Kenny pick out where he would like to go to dinner, which for our family is a special treat to actually eat out at a real restaurant.  Kenny selected the Olive Garden, which for those who know Kenny and his appetite would be no surprise with unlimited soup, salad and bread sticks! Haha!  Kenny then anxiously opened up his gifts from us.  Here is what he found:

Kenny got a new dress watch from a real jewelry store :-)  He loved it!

Then, a special little gift:

This one needs some explanation.  Kenny had spoken with me at length about how his 16th birthday felt somehow very different to him.  He described it as his life finally starting at Ground Zero, as if he was truly starting over now that he has been home as long as he was in the orphanage, and also now that he has made so much progress in school and other areas.  Matthew and I were talking, and Matt said I ought to get something for Kenny with a Phoenix on it, signifying rebirth and renewal.  I loved the idea, so I went to a silk screener and had this sweat shirt made for Kenny to recognize his rebirth.  Kenny LOVED the symbolism of it, and loved the hoodie.  It meant a lot to him.

What deeply touched me though, was when Kenny first received his gift bag and he grabbed for the card.  He looked at all of us and said, "I love mom's cards the most, they are the best part of the gift." He took his time to read it carefully before opening anything up, and he repeated it again that my cards are more important than any gift.  Yes, it was hard not to tear up at that one.  I love how our kids can express their emotions so well, and never hesitate to do so.

Kenny reading our card.

Joshie also wrote him a sweet note, our kids love for one another and their unabashed willingness to express it to each other is probably one of my greatest joys of parenting.

The Hungry Menfolk

The Women of the Family

When we were finished with dinner, we went to the mall, because the kids had to purchase Kenny's gift...a new sport coat.  Now, mind you, Kenny is a very slender young man, so this was no easy task.  We tried on jacket after jacket with each one being too large or not the exact thing they were all looking for.  It was so fun to watch the kids all trying to find the right thing for him while Dominick and I just sat back and watched the action.  

Matthew led the charge, and it was extremely moving to watch him gently steer Kenny here and there, holding coats up and helping him in a very caring way.  These two are really great friends and dearly love one another, with Matthew being protective of Kenny in some ways, and Kenny being the mouthpiece for the quieter Matthew sometimes.  Matt was determined to find just the right thing for Kenny, and then at Kohl's they found it, a sport coat in a slender.  The problem?  It was $185, way, way more than all the kids were pitching in to pay for.  Matt took one look at it, then told Kenny they were getting it.  Kenny said, "No way, Matt, that is way too expensive."  Matt just told him to be quiet and step away for a moment while he talked with me.  I tried to talk him out of it, and Matthew shut me down quickly.

"Mom, 16 only comes once, and I want Kenny to have a special gift from us.  He has always had it harder than the rest of us and I think he deserves it.  I will pay the difference, I brought an extra hundred dollars." he said.

"I think that is way too much to pay for this, Matthew, and you really ought to wait and we can see what else we can find elsewhere." I replied.

He came back quickly with, "This isn't really your decision, Mom, it is mine and it is my money I earned, and this is what I want to do with it.  I don't mean to be disrespectful, but I really want to get this for him."

How could I argue?  So off to the register we went, where thankfully, we discovered it was on sale with quite a discount and ended up being less than $100.  I was so glad that it was more reasonable than we expected, but I looked at Matthew through new eyes when it was all over, and I saw that our quiet one runs very, very deep in his feelings for his brothers and sisters.

Ready to shop!

We have also had a trip to Salt Lake City during my blog hiatus.  Shriner's is going to do Matthew's back surgery on February 2, 2014.  It will not be a minor surgery, and we were told it will take between 4 and 5 hours, depending upon what they find when they have access to his spine.  Matthew has a broken vertebra he has had perhaps for his whole life, probably due to malnutrition when an infant.  He will be in the hospital for 5 days there, then it was suggested we remain in SLC for another 2-3 days before the long 6 hour drive home, so that his back has time to heal a little more.  He has been experiencing increasing pain, and really wants to get this over with.  Matt suffered with rickets as well, and his shins are somewhat curved but not bad enough for surgery, though when he was younger it was thought he might need it to correct the curvature.  Orthotics have helped with that issue, and he will need those the rest of his life.  We lucked out on that one.  He has had limited physical activity for years, and we hope this will bring him permanent relief.  

Josh continues to grow and grow and grow!  He needs all new clothes again, and has been borrowing a few of Matt's as his shoulders are so broad he needs them, but the sleeves are too long :-)  That will have to wait until after the holidays, as we can't manage a new wardrobe right now for the 3rd time this year.  He continues to check himself to see if he is taller than Olesya yet, so that he can move out of "Shortest in the Family" status :-)  What a sweet and hard working young man he is becoming, hard to call him a boy any longer for he definitely carries himself as a man now.  

The girls are blossoming in all kinds of ways, reaching out toward adulthood gradually.  What a gift Olesya and Angela are in my life, let alone the entire family.  It is hard to believe that once I was scared of having daughters, thinking I was mainly a "Boy Mom" and not really capable of being a "Girl Mom".  I am no different than I was, I still don't know how to dress well, seldom wear makeup, and in general still eschew many things most women enjoy.  It doesn't matter, not a whit.  The girls and I couldn't be closer, and every time I need to even make a quick run to the store they both beg to come with me, just to be with me.  We talk about everything from cute actors from India, to what has happened in Ferguson, to God's presence in our lives.  Enjoying their company has been so rewarding, and watching them grow into young women is quite a gift.  They are often found helping with various things at church, and enjoy being with our older female friends very much, all of whom treat them with great respect and kindness.  Their English is suprisingly good these days, though we still have a long way to go with written English.  But it was interesting to watch Angela tonight as she was watching some show on Netflix that was Korean, and had English subtitles.  I told her, "Can you believe that in less than five years, you are watching films subtitled in English and understanding everything?", and we both laughed about that.  How far these sweet girls have come, how much they have overcome, and how deeply I love them both...

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and if ever a family had a lot to be thankful for, it is us.  That we found one another in this world, that we are living together in great love for one another, that we are surrounded by the love of friends...yes, we have surgeries and work worries and other things ahead, but somehow, that all pales in comparison to what we have been blessed with.  More importantly, we never seem to forget how blessed we are, it is a constant part of our daily conversation, and I think that alone makes a big difference for us all.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Sunday, November 02, 2014

A Big Sigh

We have had a busy and fun couple of weeks! Fall has been kind, fall has been gentle, fall has offered more beauty than I can even express this year.  Dominick and I were both talking about what a lovely season it has been.  Friendships seem to be warmer and richer, new ones are circling, school is...dare I say it...finally, FINALLY a bit less stressful.  As I write this Sunday morning, laying here in bed as the sun peaks in through the blinds and rests on the walls before me, my soul feels as bright and warm as the light before me.

We had a Halloween Bash at our home Friday night, 30 people were crammed into our not-really-little-but-not-really-30-people-sized house!  Oh, it was SO much fun!  The laughter, the visiting, adults dressed in costume, kids out on the trampoline giggling, cupcakes everywhere...we had the most wonderful time and the warmth will fill me for several more days to come.

Here are some photos:

Kenny, Auntie Kim, and Matt
Funny, Kim doesn't look all that scared!

Angela with her M&M costume she created by herself.

Dearest friend George...such an appropriate costume for him!

Beloved Mr. Steve and his sexy legs!

Dang, when did Josh turn into this mature looking young man?  It's happening all in one year with him, I think, not gradually, but manhood has grabbed him by the shirt collar and is not letting go.

A little love fest as everyone arrives and enjoys the costumes!

This is not everyone who came, but is everyone who was dressed up.

My Home Boy and My Home Girl friend, Monica
Throwback to our SoCal days...Dominick pulls this off nicely! Haha!

Ready to pray

This.  I love nothing more than this...a houseful of people I love (and yes, I love our friends very, very much!), laughter, sharing...this is what brings me great joy.

Me being all "Pinterest-y"  Plastic cups, a black marker, and dollar store candles.  That's about all anyone can ever expect from me.  It sure made the driveway look pretty as these little luminarias lined it.

Volleyball season is officially over for the year, and it is time to settle down and get the books really crackin'.  In a couple of weeks I will be traveling both to Denver and to Salt Lake City, so there is movement on the horizon.  We have Kenny's special 16th birthday ahead of us, a "work retreat" for me with my buddy and Web Diva as we work on our new business, a Sweet Adelines performance, and I even get to officiate a wedding for the first time!  Lots of wonderful things ahead this month, and I am very, very happy down to my tippy toes, for the first time in quite awhile.  I haven't been miserable or any such thing, but I feel I have finally returned to a place that is more centered,  and am feeling more content than I have in perhaps years.  We still have some big challenges ahead, and maybe God is preparing my heart for another rough season by providing me with a fall that is equal parts sweetness and fullness.  Whatever the case, as I have eased into this place, it is as if I have let out a big sigh.

I hope you have been able to enter into this fall season as beautifully as I have.