Wednesday, July 29, 2015

And We Press On

It was Sunday after church, and our Leadership Ministry meeting was just about to begin.  Kenny had been invited to participate as an interested youth, this was his 3rd meeting to be in attendance.  He sat next to me, equal parts studious and ravenous as he waited for the go ahead to fill up on the pizza that was being provided.

This is no surprise to anyone who knows Kenny personally, as it was obvious his heart has always been God's from the very first day we met him,  He is gradually moving into more meaningful roles within our small little church, having been liturgist at the ripe old age of 12 or so, now occasionally teaching Sunday School to the little ones, and now sitting on the Leadership Ministry.  He feels called to something, and is open to just about anything that seems suitable.

So there I was, my son sitting next to me when he was asked to briefly share what he had gotten out of his recent church summer camp experience.  My usual "Mom Radar" went up and I prepared myself to nudge him to stop him from rambling on and oversharing as only Kenny can sometimes do, or stand at the ready to gently re-direct him back on topic.

And I'll be darned,  not only did he summarize three key points, it was clear to everyone that those important points were directly related to our church, and he had obviously spent a significant amount of energy and time at camp thinking about our congregation's needs.

To say I was quietly stunned is an overstatement.  Who WAS this kid?

As the meeting went on, Kenny was an active participant, contributing to the conversation in significant ways, gently urging us to remain open to Spirit leading rather than "Worker Bee" mentality.  His insights were thoughtful, well articulated, and sometimes surprising.  This was a young man beside me who was discerning in every possible way.  He had analyzed things deeply, his suggestions were thought provoking, possible, and pragmatic.  There was a logic present that had been years in the making, but more importantly, there was a sense that God inhabited this young man.  Were he not my child, and were I to be sitting in on a meeting with him for the first time, he would be someone I would immediately be drawn to because of his depth and gentle way.

Was I proud?  No.

I was so humbled, grateful, thrilled, stunned, and filled to the brim with God's healing goodness.  Once I was so near tears I thought I would lose it, but managed to reign it in.

Those present are the people who have come alongside our family, the very ones who have supported and encouraged us, and loved us through some very hard times.  They still are loving us through some very difficult times.  There are many others who were not there that Sunday afternoon to see what their care and cheerleading hath wrought.  There are some who have invested financially in him, their belief backed by funds we couldn't provide to get him tools and resources he needed.

Where would we be without God wrapping arms around us through so many?

This lovely young man who couldn't read a lick five years ago, who couldn't have summarized a cartoon, let alone organize his thoughts to be able to articulate them quite so easily and comfortably, has blossomed in ways neither Dominick nor I could have dreamed of.  Though everyone around the conference table knows him well, there was only one other there who has a real handle on how very handicapped Kenny is in terms of his brain and learning deficits.  Our beautiful Miss Mary was sitting directly across from me, and kept looking up at me with each comment he made, eyes widening as much as her grin was.  She knew...she knew this shouldn't have been happening.  She has been here twice a week for years, offering her gifts as a reading teacher, supplementing my efforts, and watching the gradual and unlikely transformation.

There are no words, my friends, no words at all really that can convey all of what was going on for me that afternoon as I listened, and witnessed the miracle that was Kenny.

The slow stutter-step progress he has made over the course of the past 5 years has been exciting at times, and incredibly disheartening at others.  Day after day, books spread across the kitchen table, such painfully slow reading that every single one of us has sat patiently through, correcting the same mistakes over and over to the point of utter frustration for all of us.  And yet, we all valiantly carried on, encouraging, never showing any sign of the irritation that could have been given voice.  Kenny's siblings are true heroes in many ways, encouraging, reassuring, building his confidence as they let him know there was no rush and he could take his time.  A more compassionate group of young kids you would never find.

Complete phonics programs THREE times (not including in school a fourth time!), constant correction of ADD behaviors as he interrupted others a gazillion times and I firmly got in his face reminding him that his was not the only opinion deserving of an airing and that he needed to "Hold it, mold, it, then show it" before impulsively speaking.  We STILL work on this daily.  Five years of daily verbal news article summaries, reminding him to share the key points and not every detail...and not assume your audience has background knowledge.  Night after night, hour upon hour of researching what the best teaching methods, tools and curriculum would be for working with him.
Memory loss kicking in and reminding him yet again (still) what sounds letters make, what his zip code or area code is, or how to work with his auditory processing by taking things one step at a time.  Discussions about themes for every single thing we have ever studied, Socratic questioning to get the logic to start kicking in, explaining the definitions of so many words on a single page that it takes us half an hour to complete the reading of that single page.

There have been so many dark days, when I felt like the worst mom in the world because Kenny was the one always being corrected, always suffering consequences, always breaking my heart a little.  Outsiders have actually commented that I am harder on him than the others or that we don't love him as much as the other kids because they lack knowledge, they lack understanding, and perhaps they lack the gumption it takes to tackle parenting a kid like Kenny in the face of judgment that is undeserved.  It has hurt me deeply at times, and made it hard to pick myself back up after having been hit over the head with an emotional mallet like that.  And yet Kenny and I get it...we talk about it openly, we share together, we have a wonderfully warm and delightfully connected, affectionate relationship.

We know what others don't.

We know it is he and I against his brain.

And damned if we aren't going to win.  It may take years more, it may take ALL of my hair falling out, it may take ten thousand more behavioral modifications and corrections, but this kid WILL succeed, or he and I will both die trying.  You see, we have conspired against the evils of probable Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and the  other awful brain damaging effects of long term institutionalization.  We know we are in a battle for his very future and we can never give up.  NEVER give up.  I told Kenny when I brought him home to begin homeschooling that I would give him my all, and I would do my best to have him reading at a high school level before he graduated (YES!!! He is already there!), but that he would absolutely have to dedicate himself to working just as hard, that we were a team and had a big job to do.

Boy, did he take my words to heart.  I have never seen a kid work so hard to learn.  Well, that may be unfair, as I have a houseful of 'em who have overcome a lot, but even among this bunch Kenny stands out even in their minds as the hardest working student.

I have always known it.  I knew it from the first photo I received with those warm smiling eyes staring back at's always in the eyes, in case you didn't know...the intelligence and warmth of a child you are referred can not be missed if you look carefully at their eyes.  When we met him, it took five minutes to see the clever intellect that resided beneath the four year old behavior in the 8 year old body.  How I advocated for him and his brain, knowing no one knew what I knew, knowing no one saw what I saw daily in deep, rich conversation with him.  I declared it boldly to every teacher in every conference, one of whom looked at me and said, "Maybe you are just expecting too much, after all, he is borderline mentally retarded."

I wanted to choke the know...out of her.

Our children are NOT their test results, beneath the challenges and the delays reside heart, guts, soul, determination, and intelligence that damage done to them by others hides.  As you gradually work to peel back layers, you begin to see ever more wisdom, courage, and not a small measure of grace.  My Dear God, I live with some extraordinarily special people, a gift of untold worth.

So there in our meeting sat Kenny, and there sat I.  For the very first time in the 8 years as his mom, I discovered I wasn't in "Mom Mode", something I never thought would be possible.  I was able to sit back, as I have had the luxury of doing from time to time with our other less hindered kids, and simply observe and enjoy.

No one else could have known what a victory that afternoon was.  No one else had images in their head of Kenny hitting his own head with his fists in utter dismay crying out, "Why am I so stupid?? Why can't I learn anything like everyone else?".  No one else was recalling the sound of his heartbreaking sobs as he asked why his life was so hard and begging me not to give up on him after a particularly difficult day with behavior.  No one else was there just this past December at Shriner's when he took a break from neuro-psych testing and came out utterly dejected telling me he just couldn't figure things out, and he was suddenly really understanding how "broken" he was.

And there sat my handsome, open-hearted, loving, bright, amazing kid...16 years old going on 50 in terms of life experiences, suffering, and compassion.  16 years old going on 13 at times in terms of other developmental markers.

All I could think to utter in my soul over and over again was "Thank you.  Thank you, God.  Thank you for letting me be the forever mom to this remarkable young man.  Thank you for helping me help him.  Thank you.  Thank you. Thank you for giving me the guts to keep at it.  Thank you for exposing me to his unique spirit, from which I have learned so very much.  Thank you, God...thank you."

Then, as if God was reminding me of just how far we still have to go, yesterday at the table I was teaching and asked the kids to take notes.  I spelled a word for them to write, it was the name of the font "Calibri".  Kenny asked me to repeat it.  I spelled it again.  And again. And again.  And again.  Six times I spelled it slowly.

You know what?  He stopped and looked up at me with eyes that were quite disturbed.  He had forgotten how to make a letter "B".  Completely forgotten.  I reminded him.  He went on to the "R".  He forgot that one, too.


And we press on.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

House of Spirits...or The Spirit

I have been on an unplanned hiatus from blogging, the first "real" one in the 8+ years of its existence. Two months of not writing here has been due, in large part, to being unable to find words of value to name or talk about what is going on in our life.  No, it isn't anything that is really wrong, but is likely due to the preoccupation that comes with a new business venture, and no doubt the fear and trembling that are associated with it.

Also, I.Just.Couldn't.  I couldn't.  I don't know why,  but maybe something had to give and I have finally matured enough to recognize that when life overwhelms you, something's got to give, and this was it.  I couldn't tap that place within me, as I may still not be able to, to write the sort of posts I prefer to write...messages that are deeper, not daily journals expounding on "what we did today", but observations of the sacred each day.  Right now, I have to hang on to that sacred just for me to make it through, and the effort required to share it simply seemed to be too much.  It may still be, but I sense that maybe I am slowly easing out of that place.  I hope so.

Many of our blog readers have literally followed us for close to a decade...a time filled with emotional ups and downs, a sharing of our hearts and lives, and you have been with us as we have weathered some heavy storms.  The past 15 months have been the longest extended period of time of tumult we have experienced yet.

Beginning with the late evening phone call and near death experience of my mom being found on the floor of her home after falling and lying there for 4 days, the long distance coordination of care and several trips to California to help her, and Matt's major back surgery, recovery and the associated several trips out of state for that, I think I have literally been in survival mode as we in the Sandwich Generation often are.  Then there was the year long knowledge that we would be losing our main source of income with the loss of the airport contract for the restaurant and the emotional toll of not knowing what God wanted for our lives as we searched and searched for a new opportunity for Dominick and tried to be as faithful as possible in that endeavor.  There was the dissolution of two small businesses and the financing of another that had to be done in 3 weeks.  Then the learning curve that continues at this moment as we try to get up to speed and learn an industry we are unfamiliar with, and create systems to organize ourselves.

Oh yea, then there is actually homeschooling the kids, the arduous and ongoing pursuit of a diagnosis for Kenny's developmental and learning disabilities which has required a couple of trips out of state and awaiting yet another,  and his emotional struggle over maturing and greater realization around his limitations, as well as other very important concerns.

It has been hard, and I need to acknowledge that.

But the past couple of nights as Olesya, Joshua, Dominick and I worked the entire night through stripping and waxing the floors of our beautiful little store, all I could feel was a growing sense of gratitude for every single thing this family has endured, and the blessings we have had bestowed on us.

This new endeavor of ours at House of Spirits is a big, big deal for us, and we are throwing our heart and soul into it.  We have to, and you know why?

Because God provided for us Big Time, and we need to respect that and cherish it for the unique and wonderful gift it was.  We need to see the ministry revealed beneath it, and we need to show our gratitude for this opportunity by working harder than we ever have because we know this had nothing to do with our efforts and everything to do with God.  We saw the Spirit move in extraordinary ways to make this happen for us, just in time, and there can be no doubt Who arranged all of this.

Why us?  Why now?  Why the trust placed in us by the old owner willing to carry an enormous loan on a handshake?  Why our banker who worked hard to squeeze every bit of equity they could out of our home to help us?  Why did someone anonymously help us with enough cash to carry us through the very trying first couple of months as we are literally held together by glue...and that gift?

We may never have the answers, but there are things we can do to repay all of that trust and generosity...

We can be LaJoy's.

We can offer the acceptance and love we always try to offer others.  We can look for every tiny ministry opportunity we can with our customers, our employees, and our friends.  We can work hard, laugh often, and love vigorously.  We can pay our debts responsibly, we can show others that their trust in us was not wrongly placed.  We can remind ourselves often that a particular Spirit hovers over the House of Spirits, and we have a duty to live into that.

And most importantly, we need to be the family we are...authentic, flawed, open, and caring.  We need to be together, we need to work together, we need to think about the future together for each and every one of us.  We need to be thankful together.

We also need to trust.  There is that old saying about mortgaging the farm, and it is easy to let fear reside in your heart when you are the ages we are and it feels as if you are starting all over because now you literally don't own even a piece of your home, have no savings, and have laid it all on the crap table of life to see if your gamble will pay off.

However, we were reminded by someone just a week ago that if God is in it, it is all good.  Dominick and I went for an overnight stay at a little lodge about an hour from here up in the mountains while the younger kids were at camp.  It was only the 3rd time we have ever been away in 16 years without the kids, and was a one night treat to celebrate our 29th anniversary a few weeks late.  There, we met Gary, the enthusiastic and kindly proprietor, who sat down and visited with us for awhile.  He talked about his great leap of faith there with his lodge a few years back, and we ended up sharing about our great leap of faith two months ago.  When I said, "We know how you feel, it's a little scary to do something like this!", Gary, a man of faith looked at me, and replied, "I don't know where you two stand in terms of faith, but if God's in it, you've got nothing to worry about.  Just put in the work, God will take care of the rest.  Just let it go, and do your job...if God set it up, it wasn't so you'd fail.  Trust that."

That was exactly what I needed to hear, and when I needed to hear it.

So here's to tossing away doubt, to living in joy...or "LaJoy" as the case may be.  Here's to recognizing blessings and another adventure.  Here's to hard work, time shared, and laughing often.

I'll share several photos to catch up on the past couple of months a bit, as this is the only place Bad Momma records anything.  If I don't place pics here there aren't even scrapbooks created yet to look back on so I have to make the effort here.  WARNING:  Tons of photos, sorry!

This picture clearly shows I can't get away with calling them "The boys", now the only appropriate term is "The young men".

Hiking and exploring our special place, Rifle Falls, with dear friends Candi and Miss Mary.
Where's Waldo?  I mean, where's Matt?  Can you see him??

Our church family at it's 2nd birthday celebration.  These are the people who have made us who we are, in so many ways.

In Salt Lake City at the movies...a rare treat thanks to a friend, and I suffered through...ahem...I mean I enjoyed a superhero flick accompanied by three handsome guys.


At Matthew's Shriner's Hospital follow up visit Build a Bear was there and Matt gave Josh his ticket to build one of his own. 

Josh still loves his stuffed animals, despite that deep voice that has appeared.


Matt's special 16th birthday arrived, so we all had our treat of a meal at a restaurant, something we don't usually afford.  He elected to go to Texas Roadhouse, and here is Olesya's creative birthday card for our resident techie.


Our "twins", Olesya certainly knows her brother!  She bought him a charging unit for his iPad.



Proving that real men love flowers too, or at least the gift contained within, Matt opens his gift from Angela, a Bluetooth speaker for his new bike that attaches to the handlebars and is supposedly indestructible. Well, we'll see...


Our other twins :-)


Sticker from mom...LOL!


No, it's not a car upon turning 16, but it IS transportation!  A new rugged mountain bike!


Beginning the freshening up at the liquor store beginning with the bathroom and a new coat of paint.

More paint on the walls, please...not on your clothes!!

Kilroy was here!


Skills being put to good use, learned on the rental project we did three years ago.  Has it been that long?  My goodness!  The painting was well done!

And of course a Home Depot run, the first of many :-)


More painting, thank goodness we have such a hard working crew!


We knew Dominick and I had selected our overnight mini-retreat well when I took the photo below, turned beside me, and saw the sign above...
Yup!  Looks like we must be in the right place! HAHA!



A nice little getaway, and we were treated royally!



Dinner served to us in the "Tree House"


Aaaannnd back to work the next day, as the boys helped by installing vinyl baseboards.


Angie grubby after several days of hard work, but happy as can be!
This is the bulletin board Angela installed, note her handiwork in the lower corner.  I am sure our construction worker customers will appreciate that...hahaha!


Nothing fancy, but the bathroom has a new toilet, new flooring, a fresh coat of paint, and the "junk" is hidden a bit.



While Crew #1 was at work, Crew #2 was at church camp.  When Crew #2 arrived, Crew #1 had their turn at camp.  Crew #2 got stuck with the night shift as it was time to resurface the floors by stripping, sealing and waxing them...hard, exhausting work and as you can see, much needed after years of wear and tear in a  busy store.                                 


No complaints though, just digging in and "gettin' 'er done"!! A little pizza and soda helped, too.

We inherited outstanding, experienced, helpful employees.  Here is one, Debbie, in our "before" photo.

"After"...some yellowing of the tiles that can't be helped, but it is shiny and clean and that area is covered by mats anyway.


Watch out, Ole' wields a MEAN mop!!

Yea, sometimes I look at them and my heart melts.
Who am I kidding.  That happens every single day in life.


Where's American Idol?  These two were singing "Down to the River to Pray" after Josh learned it at church camp, and couldn't get it out of his head.  Late night duets...I love it! And it makes hard work a little easier when you sing the night away.


By 3:00 am on Night #2, Josh stalled out and fell asleep like this while waiting for coats of wax to dry.

Taa Daa!!!
All done...whew!

That's it for now, and hopefully more posts on a more regular basis as we ease back into some semblance of normalcy.  Not really sure what that is anymore :-) 

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!