Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Few Little Glimmers of Sunshine

I've tried to blog.  I know I promised I would, and I had every intention of doing so, but life has intervened and the truth is, we are going through a very difficult time right now and are doing our best to remain patient, diligent, and faithful.  Some days that is easier than others, but we are hanging in there and doing our best.  I explained to my friend that the past few months it has been very challenging to find the words to share all that I am feeling despite my best efforts...sometimes the language escapes me and all my emotional energy is going into remaining centered and tuned in as best I can be.

We're actually doing quite well, considering the challenges we are facing financially.  Though there is concern, and at moments panic creeps in, we are all pulling together and everyone is encouraging and optimistic that the right thing for work for Dominick will reveal itself eventually.  I am pleased to see that real stress is being handled with considerable grace and unity.  Conversations have not been easy as we have had to prepare the kids for the fact that we are now at the point where we have to consider all option, and that may very well include moving far from what we feel is our heart's home. Living in small town rural Colorado is a little slice of heaven, but it also means opportunities are decidedly limited.  We have been anticipating a change for years now, and have been looking at every possibility for over 2 years, but nothing has panned out as of yet.

So, at the moment, we are in a little grieving process as we say goodbye to the life that was, and remain as open as possible to what lies ahead.  Equipment from the airport restaurant is being sold off a little at a time, final paychecks have been issued and loving goodbyes said to wonderful, dedicated of whom has literally made it possible for us to leave for each and every adoption, and whose daughter we also watched grow up.

And yet, God continues to show up and remind us that we have not been abandoned, and right now I have to tell you that each and every reminder makes a huge difference. We received a very special gift from an anonymous person who has no idea just how much their help brought us hope...if you are reading this, Dear Friend, thank you with all our hearts, not only for the gift, but for the love shown and the faith you have in our family.  I don't know why over and over again our family is blessed so often with the love of others, for we truly don't deserve all that has been showered upon us, but we are eternally thankful and have never ever forgotten all we have to "pay forward" in whatever ways we can...knowing full well it will never equal all we have received.

Easter turned out to be a lovely "gift"of another sort, as it was lining up to be a less than stellar holiday for us.   The last day of ski season turned out to land on Easter Sunday, and Dominick and all the kids except for Matthew worked.  With just Matthew and I attending church, everything felt a little out of kilter, and not just a little lonely.

As usual, just being at church lifted my spirits a bit, and prior to arriving there I turned to Matt and told him,"Thank you for coming to church with me today. I know most 15 year old boys would argue and fuss about it and refuse to go with their mom."

Matt glanced over at me and said, "Mom, you don't have to thank me, of course I'll go with you anytime, even when you are older.  I know I don't show it much, but I like being in church with you."

And a little glimmer of sunshine peeked through the clouds of my soul.

After church, we learned that two of our dear friends were going to go home and be alone, so we immediately invited them over, and I phoned Dominick to inform him of our guests.  Matthew and I rushed home to clean a very messy house, and ran to the store to purchase a few additional items to dress up our meal. as we had not planned on much of anything to go with our ham since it was just going to be us.  The two of us got everything cleaned up and the meal prepared, and we had no clue that a little surprise would arrive along with our guest, who had planned a Big Kid Easter Egg Hunt for the kids!  What a blessing, as we didn't buy Easter candy this year because...well...honestly...the kids are getting older, and candy for five is a bit expensive, so with trying to save on costs as much as possible we all decided not to do anything this year. Well, in comes our personal Easter Bunnies who hid eggs containing not only a little candy, but also $1 in some eggs to "up the ante".  Oh, how cute it was to see these big hulking monster children of ours act as excited as a 4 year old on Easter morning!:

Our Sweet, Kind Easter Bunnies!

Matt keeping the masses at bay until the go ahead is given!

The hunt is on!

Amazing what a few plastic eggs and a little love can do for someone...

Such a little thing, an egg hunt for older kids, but the thoughtful gesture delighted them all!

Even the 12 year old going on 18 got a kick out of it!

We had another sweet little surprised waiting for us from Massachusetts in the form of a box marked "Don't Open Until Easter" didn't take the kids 2 minutes after arriving home from work to rip  into the box:


Hmmm...what did our MA family send?  Did Candi send...

Candy? Along with beautiful cards!

It has been pointed out to me that our family is the "huggiest" family around.  What a wonderful thing to be known as!  The chocolate bunnies were so thoughtful, and just being remembered and loved long distance was special.  Auntie Kim also gave the kids a little Easter treat and sent it home from church for each of the kids, so they each ended up getting a few small treats from magical bunnies.

Olesya made a beautiful card as a thank you, but it had to be delivered via photos because the real blossoms would fall off in the mail. Love this young lady's caring heart!

These faces...those smiles...and not just from the ones with the last name of LaJoy...God provided us with people to share the day with so it became special for all of us, and not just another lonely holiday for any of the 9 of us.  So glad our home can be a home for many we love.

Afterward a killer game of Scrabble ensued, while Rummikub was played at the other end of the table by everyone else.

Josh is grinning because he just figured out how to double a score with the word "lotuses"...I picked the right teammate!

We actually had a repeat of the week before with our friends George and Wendy coming over on a spur of the moment invitation, as we had gone to hear George sing in a concert the weekend before, what will likely be his last concert with the Valley Chorus.  We all loved being there to support him:

I am glad the kids know it is as important to be there for their adult friends as it is to them to have their adult friends there for their special moments.

And how our friends support the kids. God showed up again when dear family friends sent Matt a "Request for Proposal" for the dream project he had of building his own 3D printer from scratch, then creating plans for a drone and building it from parts made on the 3D printer.  Yea, pipe dream...but they wanted to help him fulfill it, so here he is reading his "RFP", he was SO surprised!  

Their "Investment Firm" required him to put together a written budget and show them plans, then he had to give them an oral presentation about the proposed project.   He is in mid-build of the printer right now, awaiting more parts from China before he can complete it.  He spent SO much time researching this, learning and studying.  He is taking a Udemy course right now online about Engineering and AutoCAD for 3D printers.  All of this was Matt's idea, so I am glad I didn't have to come up with anything to design a course.  At this stage, he is "hacking" his own education in some areas and bringing me ideas of what he wants to learn, then pursuing it.  We still do standard core courses together, and I love that I still get to read side by side with my 10th grader :-)

God showed up in more concrete ways as Kenny has begun to do the same thing as Matt with his own interests, and I am getting such a kick out of watching these kids blossom in their own ways!  Kenny wanted to take a Comparative Religions course (Any surprise there?  I think not!), so I found him a curriculum, but he has gradually added to it on his own, wading his way through a challenging book by Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, in order to better understand Atheism, and he just finished a short read he picked up at the library titled, God's Message to the World: You've Got Me All Wrong.  As he is reading, he decided on his own to create documentation with "pro" and "con" columns to record his thoughts about the major themes he is reading about.  For Kenny, this was a huge leap in self-direction, and I was really proud of him.  

Through times of uncertainty, the learning continues all over the place as we finally finished American Government and the kids had their final exam...a 4-5 hour monster test. I have been told I am a little tough as a teacher :-)  Interestingly, those comments come from those who are not my students!  My "students" have come to expect such things...hahaha!  The girls are taking Russian and still really enjoying it.  They feel they have a mentor and friend in Kamala, and Skype has made a lovely relationship possible between them and their teacher who is doing a fabulous job, and no doubt improving her English at the same time.  Josh has just finished a course on Rifles, taken from a Boy Scout merit badge book, and we'll see what he wants to study as an elective next.

And me?  Well...I am lucky enough to continue to be able to sing with our church a capella group and our local Sweet Adelines chorus.  It has helped keep the stress level down, as music is really something that transports me a bit.  We had a performance the past two nights, and here I am in full stage makeup (i.e. The Hooker Look!  Not my thing, clearly...) One of the kids commented that I never post pictures of myself, so I guess I have to once in awhile...dang, I am looking old!!

Over and over again, in our uncertainty, we are reminded that we are being the arms of loving friends who reflect God's love to us over and over again.  And sometimes, that "being held" happens right here and God slides in between our bodies and wraps us all up in a warm hug. Just tonight, as Angela headed off to bed, she gave me a of her firm, lingering ones, the kind you can just sink into for a few moments and say everything without words. Tears sprung to my eyes as I stood there, rocking gently back and forth with her in the kitchen, and I couldn't stop myself from expressing what popped into my mind that very second as this tall, strong young woman was enveloping me.

"Angela, there are so many times I wish we had back the years we lost.  I so wish I could have held you when you were tiny."...and then she heard the catch in my voice and hung on tighter.  We stood there for awhile longer, then I pulled away and said I was sorry, that I didn't know where that came from as I wiped my tears, and she said, "Oh no, mom, don't say you're sorry...I think it is sweet."

Off to her room to ready herself for a good night's sleep, while I sat here on the couch trying to compose this blog post.  A few minutes later, I receive an email from her, sharing all the emotion that she couldn't speak out loud earlier.  I won't share her precious words here, but will tell you that she quoted the refrain from the popular children's book, "Love You Forever", and she changed the words to be loving me forever.  Suffice it to say, Angela is easily able to reveal her heart in writing, and though not genetically connected, she is a bit like her Mom :-)

You know, I needed that this night.  As we try hard to keep worry in it's rightful place, and wonder at moments how we are going to take care of us all, I can't help but remember what someone once told me as we prepared to bring the girls home.  "You'll live in a trailer, you just can't afford to do this and one day you will regret it." I can't tell you just how many times over the years those biting words have come back to me. It is harder to push them aside when times have grown even tougher.  But then I have something like tonight happen where our life is not measured in dollar bills or zeros in our bank account, but in the length and strength of a hug, and the words shared from a heart that had long been hidden from view.

Go ahead, God...give us a trailer if that be the case.  These two were worth it, as were the other three. Others may never understand that even if we end up having little of what the world values, we have all we need.  I simply can not conceive of a life lived without my resilient, amazing, loving daughters...Olesya and Angela would be worth it even to the boys, as Kenny told me recently. He said, "Mom, there is no way the girls weren't ours, and even if we have to do without a lot so we could all be together and so they could have a real life and a real family, then it is worth it. I have the sweetest sisters in the world, and I can't imagine Angela on the streets right now, and Olesya close to it. We need them, and they need us...and God won't let us down. It just may be hard for awhile, but we've got each other."

Amen, Kenny...amen...and you, too, are a blessing of untold worth, as are Matthew and Joshua.

God'll show up, God shows up every single day...maybe not in the ways we wish for, but God shows a smile, a hug, a loving arm draped across a shoulder. God shows up in the music we hear, the unexpected gifts we receive, and in the love we offer others.  I'll keep on looking for God in all the little places, and in the faces of those who surround me.  I have no doubts, no doubts at all...God's there.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

When Love Takes You In

Have you ever looked back on a moment in your life and realized that had you made a different decision in that instant, the trajectory of everything would have changed for you?  Have you ever abandoned it all simply because it felt like the right thing to do even if at first glance it appeared to make no sense?  Have you ever been questioned by others, had your motives doubted, or been called "nuts" simply because you elected to live your life guided by The Voice that others sometimes ignore, or never hear at all?

We each have opportunities every single day to listen, to discern, and to act.  Some of us do things others would never imagine doing, and that onlookers will never truly understand.  Others select the road more solidly trodden, with ruts worn deep by the feet of all who went before.  I think I tend to take the barely discernible path, and that has led to so many who look upon me completely perplexed.  In fact, just about any decision of any consequence in my life has had its much so that I have learned to recognize that the more puzzled and skeptical others are, the more likely it is that I am taking the God Road, for God's ways are often contrary to the world's ways, and are often sorely misunderstood.  It's only taken me 48 years to figure that out, and to cast aside the comments of others as so much flotsam, and let it all be carried away by the ebbing tides.

The past couple of weeks provided an opportunity for just such jettisoning, as the girls and I embarked on a seemingly simple overnight trip to Denver that ended up turning into one of the most sacred times of our lives, though I am sure looking in from the outside it would seem like a period of huge inconvenience.  How wrong that perspective would be.

Our family was blessed to have my new friend, Candi, and her daughter, Christi, come visit us over Spring Break.  It was a very short visit, cut even shorter by a flight cancellation at the beginning of their trip here.  We had both really wanted to have our families meet, and though Candi's was necessarily two short...having left her partner and son behind due to work and school obligations...we felt strongly that there was the potential  for something between the girls, in particular, and we wanted to test the waters to see if we were right.

The visit was sweet, but whirlwindish, and after a mere two nights off we went to return our precious cargo to Denver.  Because of the brevity of the trip, nothing had really been able to be lived into.  Little did we know that the real visit was about to begin.  Everyone has heard that saying that "We make plans, and God laughs.", and that was exactly what happened upon our arrival in Denver.  Due to the freak winter storms on the East Coast and travel coinciding with the end of Spring Break, two different flight cancellations led to an additional three days, then another two day stay in Denver.  

We didn't ask for it, we wouldn't have planned it, we could have made different decisions...and I am so grateful that we listened and just let God go to work on all of us, using weather and airlines to create a spaciousness and connectedness that no effort on our part could have ever crafted.  What happened among the five of us was truly a tying of hearts, a cementing of souls unlike anything I have ever experienced. Suddenly, we had hours and hours to spend together with nothing to do, and no real money to do anything with.  It was the best thing that ever could have happened.

I could have gone home and left our guests to fend for themselves for several days alone in a large city with no transportation, and no one to be with.  It didn't feel right, and more importantly, it felt as if we were supposed to be there, so I listened, called Dominick, and together we decided the girls and I would stay. I have the most fabulous husband ever, who "gets it" that sometimes, things happen for a reason, and we need to remain tuned in to that.

With the luxury of more time, the five of us began to really get to know one another better.  We did nothing important at all...we visited IKEA and the Container Store and wandered the aisles dreaming of beautiful kitchens and super organized cupboards, we walked the 16th Street Mall at night as we people watched and listened to the sounds of the Big City.  We went to an indoor mall and treated ourselves to ice cream. We found "our place" for lunch and dinner, Sams #3, which we vowed to visit every time they come to Colorado.  

We built relationships, we built memories, we built a sense of belonging to one another.

And God showed up all over the place, offering us moments to enter into the sacred with our teen daughters in ways that were profoundly moving and deep for every single one of us.  The five of us went deeper, spoke more intimately, and felt things more intensely than I think I have ever done with any other group of women, regardless of age.
If I had not listened to The Voice and felt the need to rush back to "real life", bypassing the opportunity to simply be present to the Spirit and the "spirits" of the women I was with, we all would have missed out on SO MUCH!

We went to the kids' summer camp, La Foret, and showed Candi and Christi the chapel, and walked
the labyrinth in the late afternoon sun...quietly sharing stories among ourselves as our footprints were left in the soft pine needles.  We sat in the center of the labyrinth on tree stumps, listening to the wind in the trees high above us, speaking of things both young and old and letting God wash over us in a way that usually only happens when one is young and away from home.  Pictures of hugs all the way
around were a necessity, and the smiles were broad and very real as arms were slung over shoulders and words of "You are my sister forever" were exchanged.

And did you know that the gas station is Sacred Ground?  As we pulled up to a pump not long after departing La Foret, Christi asked a question about the nature of God, and I turned off the ignition, and there we all sat, in the fading light, and without need of a look or a nod we moms understood this was A Moment, and there we stayed quietly speaking of how God works in the world, of how others imagine God to be, of the need to speak our own truths and live them out being essential to becoming authentic women.  I don't know if I will ever forget that 30 or 40 minutes we all sat there, bathed in a golden glow as we let time stand still and simply sat with God in the middle seat in our minivan.  I will also never forget what it felt like to be with another mom who senses those moments as well, who doesn't feel a need to give in to the world's push to rush from one thing to the next and miss out on the very real Presence that is far more important than moving on to the next task at hand.  Together, we answered questions and offered our own thoughts, each encouraging the girls to all share their own perceptions.  It was as sacred a moment as any I've ever had in church, and if truth be told, it was probably more sacred.

Had I pushed to do what the world would have thought was rational, and left our new "sisters" behind so we could get home, I would have missed out on the evening we were all sprawled on a bed, giggling and laughing as we talked about inane teen girl stuff, then witnessing the conversation turn ever so gently in a new direction when I asked that we each name things we had learned and appreciated about each other.  Our PJ Party turned sweetly down a path of beautiful affirmation, and
we all saw ourselves in a new light as thoughts were shared.  I would have missed Angela saying she had one special thing to tell me someday that she was saving to tell me on her Wedding Day, and then as she lay near my feet with her arm flung across her face to hide a bit from the depth of what she was going to say, with a little hitch in her voice she said that one great thing was simply being able to call me "Mom" and to be my daughter.  As tears welled up, I thanked God for allowing me to be there in that moment to feel all that my beautiful daughter couldn't say that was also in those few words.

Had I given in to the urge to return home, I would have missed out on seeing Olesya blossom unexpectedly into a more open, humorous, sharp witted young lady who is usually placing herself as far behind the scenes as possible.  Oh man, was she funny!!!  And with every witticism, we
complimented her and saw her blush reveal how pleased she was at being noticed and lifted up.  I would have missed seeing her carefully create a friendship bracelet for Candi, then place it on her wrist tying it in place.  I would have missed seeing the love develop between those two, as long, firm hugs were offered to someone outside the family, perhaps for the first time.

We all would have missed out on singing Billie Jean together in the car five thousand times, we would have missed out on joking about Rocky Mountain Oysters as we initiated the New Englanders into the lingo of the Wild West, we would have missed out on seeing the joy on the girls' faces (and the jumping up and down) as they learned that yet a second flight had been cancelled, and we would have missed out on the tender moments as we consoled Candi as frustration overtook her at that news and tears fell unbidden. We would have missed out on seeing a sisterhood of three form as they all verbally claimed one another as such, we would have missed out on catching a glimpse of the future with daughters on the verge of adulthood yet still not quite ready for that world yet.  We would have missed out on laughing more than I have laughed in years...perhaps ever....we would have missed out on painted toenails, short jokes, and walking arm in arm five abreast.

We would have missed it all.

But you know what it took me a couple days back to realize?  We all would have missed what it felt like when love takes you in.  In that unexpected seven day interlude, love took us all in, and yes, as the song goes, everything changed.  Everything.  I gained a new niece/daughter in Christi, and Candi in turn gained two new nieces/daughters in Olesya and Angela.  We all fell madly in love with one another, we shared a mini-summer camp (OK, maybe winter camp is more appropriate!) sort of adventure and we bonded in a way I have never bonded with other women before.  I was never fortunate enough to go to summer camp and I never lived in a dorm, so this was living into something, even if only for a week, that I never experienced when I was younger.

And maybe...just maybe...I gained a sense of what our children have felt like when they were adopted.  I have always done the adopting, and never really been adopted myself.  I have adopted other adults into my heart, I have adopted our children one by one, but I have personally never been special enough, or important enough to be adopted by someone else...until now.  
I think I now know what it feels like when love takes you in, and everything changes.  I know what it feels like to be fully accepted, and loved "because of" not "in spite of".  I think all five of us walked away from this past week feeling a little piece of this, and it was beautiful, and it was extraordinary, and it was sacred in every way.  

Our love was mirrored back at us, the girls and I, in a way that has never happened before.  Reminding me of the stunning reflection on Blue Mesa Lake that we stopped to take photos of as we brought Candi and Christi home from Denver, we were able to offer love and have it returned to us in exact proportions, in equal measure.  The love that we offered was reflected back to us unabashedly by others who know how to bring it as deeply, and offer it as openly and completely.  

When love takes you in, everything....everything changes.

"When Love Takes You In"  - Steven Curtis Chapman
I know you've heard the stories
But they all sound too good to be true
You've heard about a place called home
But there doesn't seem to be one for you
So one more night you cry yourself to sleep
And drift off to a distant dream

Where love takes you in and everything changes
A miracle starts with the beat of a heart
When love takes you home and says you belong here
The loneliness ends and a new life begins
When love takes you in

And somewhere while you're sleeping
Someone else is dreaming too
Counting down the days until
They hold you close and say I love you
And like the rain that falls into the sea
In a moment what has been is lost in what will be

When love takes you in everything changes
A miracle starts with the beat of a heart

And this love will never let you go
There is nothing that could ever cause this love to lose its hold

When love takes you in everything changes
A miracle starts with the beat of a heart
When love takes you home and says you belong here
The loneliness ends and a new life begins
When love takes you in it takes you in for good
When love takes you in

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Imperfect Little Life

Mommy Blogging today is a world unto its own. There are heavily advertised and promoted Mommy Bloggers out there who have made careers out of writing about hearth and home, whose blog photos are Instagram knockouts, and whose children appear perfectly dressed in matching outfits on a regular basis.  Their latest recipes are drool-worthy and photographed up close with the precise amount of background Gaussian blur, and their homes look like something out of House Beautiful with organized pantries that make you wonder if anyone ever really takes the time to empty their just purchased whole grain cereal into those beautiful canisters with chalkboard labels lined up ever so neatly on decorative shelving.

Their lives look magazine printable, and sometimes they even share their trials and tribulations in such a way as to make you feel that even in your struggles you can't ever live up to the Mommy Blogger Standard of perfect revelation with  cheery and pithy sayings plastered on beautiful sunset photos speaking of surmounting all odds with great grace.

I sit back and marvel at those moms, who appear almost superhuman in their mothering, and homemaking talents.

I am not one of those moms.  Yea, I think you already figured that out.

I have a super huge trash can that is often overflowing, I have children whose cereal comes from 3 lb bags shoved on top of a teeny tiny little pantry cupboard and said bags inevitably fall on my head when I open aforementioned cupboard.  I have at this very moment headed off to the bedroom to write while tonight's pizza mess remains spread across my formica (not granite) counter tops.  There is something sticky on the kitchen floor that has been there for 3 days which I have yet to get around to mopping up, and the boys' bedroom smells like...well...3 teen boys, that's what it smells like.

And unlike those Mommy Bloggers, who tend to present solutions for every problem (Storage challenges?  I've got you covered! Discipline problems?  Suggestions that WORK!  Husband working too many hours?  Here's how to entice him!  And more, more, more!!), I think the more I mature into motherhood and homemaking, the less I feel I know and the more doubts I have.

I have continual doubts about the kids' education, and if I am doing right by them.  Am I meeting the needs of each one? Am I challenging enough? Am I taking into consideration each special need and teaching to it adequately?  Are they seeing success?  Have I come down too hard one day or not hard enough in another?

I have ongoing doubts about healing and wholeness, and if I am picking up on all the little signs that tell me something is not quite right with one, or if I have overlooked circling back and working with another's emotional turmoil.  Have I addressed loss appropriately?  Have I helped shore up battered self-esteem issues enough?  Do I detect a little dread around something?  Have I heard what sometimes they don't have words for?  Am I tuned in?  Am I showing enough balance between tenderness and toughness?

I always have doubts about the kind of wife I am, and if Dominick has gotten lost in the shuffle.  Did I remember to compliment him today?  When was the last time I told him how very much I appreciate all he does for our family?  Does he feel as loved as he really is?  Am I encouraging him enough during a time of crisis and concern?  What can I do to be a good partner for him so he feels supported and cared for?

There are the other doubts about my abilities (or lack thereof) in the Homemaking Arena.  Walking through my home I see failure after failure in creating the perfectly styled middle class home.  Mismatched chairs at the dining room table would cause many a Mommy Blogger to snicker.  There are no handcrafted pillows adorning my couches, no "upcycled" cute stack of vintage luggage being used as a decorator item in the corner.  There is no stenciling on my walls, no salvaged barn wood dressers, not a mason jar craft in sight. I have failed miserably in Home Decorating 101, and I know it.  I also don't grind my own wheat, bake my own bread, blend my own organic smoothies, or meet my hubby at the door each night with a martini in hand dressed in my company best with a strand of pearls around my neck.

Doubt is a daily partner of mine, walking through each day as I ask myself if what foods I served were healthy enough, if what clothes I put on them all were decent enough, if what life lesson was taught was earnest enough.  Doubt is my companion on the journey of life, never allowing me to have the confidence enough to dare offer advice to others.  Guilt is a close runner up to Doubt, as I continually kick myself for not providing the perfect environment, captured in Super Scrapbooks for all time.  I feel guilt for not being all that those Mommy Bloggers portray that I ought to be.  I have no book deals, no cute cowboy husband with a ranch as my backdrop, no lurid past to share in which overcoming is a theme that elevates me to minor celebrity status.

I am just plain ol' me, and truth be told, many's the day I feel lucky to have just made it through.

But you know what?  I look around me, and when I really take a closer look and don't let the voices and images of others taunt me, I realize I am content. I am satisfied.   I have a hard working husband who adores his family, I have children who are not perfect nor dressed alike but they have hearts that are alike...and kind...and generous.  I have a solid roof over my head, and a decent little home that keeps us safe from the elements and cozy during cold winter nights.  It may not be photo-perfect clean, but for 7 people living in it virtually 24/7 it is actually relatively clean most of the time.

Perhaps most importantly, it is all as real as it gets.  There is no artifice, there is love and joy and hope that fills this house (Yes, maybe even hope that I will have enough hot water for my own shower, but it is still hope!  Don't laugh...we gotta take it where we can get it!).  Friends are welcomed with open hearts and arms, there is more than enough laughter to go around, and there is a sense of peace that permeates it all.

Who needs a perfect pantry anyway?

So while this Mommy Blogger has an aging looking, unattractive and outdated  blog, at least I am still here, and I am opening up our home to you to take a peek inside, regardless of the lack of perfection.  You see, if you are a real friend, you aren't here to judge it anyway, right?  And if you are here to judge, you will find it sorely lacking and will move on with the click of a mouse anyway, so why let doubt get the best of me?

Comparison is a killer, isn't it?  I think I am taking a personal vow to stop looking at the Mommy Blogger version of Perfect Motherhood, and just enjoy the imperfect little life I have without celebrity status or attending Mommy Blogger conferences (Yes, it is a thing...and a big business for some).

I am me, Cindy, and this is my family.  And it's all good...

It really is.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Love and Laughter Get You Through

Alas, the blog has been silent far too long yet again.  I am posting fairly regularly on Facebook with little snippets of life, but haven't seemed to be able to settle down and get much long form writing done lately.  I miss it, and there really is much to share, but it seems hard to get dedicated time to write.

The past 3 weeks or so have been filled to the brim with goodness emanating from many directions, though at the same time it has still been quite challenging as beneath the surface we continue to grow ever more concerned about our future.  One reason for less blogging time is the ongoing internet searches for opportunities and ideas for Dominick to consider as he moves into this next stage of life.  We are trying to be as faithful as possible as we try to be wise and listen for the Spirit's guidance, but as of this writing, nothing is even on the table as a possibility, and that is troubling.  We continue to trust that if we remain diligent and open, God will reveal something ahead of us that is well suited to meet our needs...but in my weaker moments it is harder than I care to admit.

On the brighter side, daily we are surprised by our special little clan here, as years of loving, teaching and hounding (Haha!) are rising to the surface in truly beautiful ways.  When we are struggling in other ways, it has served as a very potent reminder that keeping our priorities straight is the single most important thing we can do, and even if life should deal us a tough blow here with financial issues, there are things that matter far more.

This past week we had two little ones staying with us as we helped out a young family from church with temporary childcare.  I had no idea the precious gift that I would receive by offering this, as I got to watch all the kids gently and sweetly care for these young kiddos.  The biggest surprise was Joshua, who surprised us all with his nurturing care for his little buddy, and the ease with which he worked with him.  We all would watch him and grin over his head as he would wash hands, play with, or guide this tiny little 2 year old.  I couldn't help but think back to 10 years ago, when another gentle, kind Big Boy was a gift in Josh's life as he carried him around on his shoulders, snuggled with him, and showed him the very same kindness.  Paying it forward without realizing that was what he was doing, Joshie showed just a little more of the young man emerging:

Great Daddy material here someday!

Josh also shined in another way, as a couple of weeks ago, as a 6th grader, he started high school math, as he completed Pre-Algebra and began Algebra 1...reaching a big goal for himself!  It was sweet to watch him just this afternoon take Olesya to the white board and help her figure out a problem with decimals in it, and I realized how much respect he has garnered from his older siblings that Olesya would even feel comfortable enough to go to him and ask for help, regardless of his age, and knowing he would not make fun of her but would kindly guide her to figure out the answer.  Watching them together, I was quite moved, actually.

We are proud of Olesya as well, as she has spent the past 6 months working with not one, but TWO math curricula to try and see if we can shore up some of her basic math skills.  Having a math disability that was initially not recognized prior to her arrival in our family led her to feeling like an utter failure, and as a family we have circled her and continue to point out her academic strengths, which are many.  Math is always going to be very difficult for her, but she finally sees herself as being quite smart and not allowing a weakness in one area to cause her to view herself as less than capable in every other area.  Things like number and time lines, analog clocks, and more may never quite click for her, but using remedial tools, she is finally starting to see success with math.  For some reason, fractions are making sense to her while something as simple as place value still occasionally stumps her...go figure.  Decimals are going to be a nightmare, I fear :-)

Hurray for you Joshie Poo!!

There are moments when he is so obviously maturing into this husky voiced, broad shouldered young man that it feels odd to still call him "Joshie", but with those close to him he still signs cards "Joshie" so I guess it is still OK for a while longer :-)  I fear he will always be "Joshie" to our family...or "JJ" to Matthew.

In Kenny news, first a cute interlude:

See?  I told you it was cute! Haha!  Kenny has had a rough couple of weeks, as we all have had to deal with the ebb and flow of his attention and memory difficulties.  He was quite out of kilter the past several days, and it frustrates him just as much as it does us.  This guy still gives it his all though, and has the most gracious attitude of anyone I know when being corrected or firmly disciplined.  We have had to repeat and repeat instructions, constantly remind him to wait his turn to speak, remind him of where all his school materials are...or his wallet...or his dinner plate...or...or...or.  His work ethic, when he is gently guided, is incredible, and recently we are seeing that he is more able to notice when he has veered off course, though he still needs help to be pulled back on.  It is a step in the right direction.   Kenny is a doll, seriously, a total doll of a young man, and it breaks my heart at times to see him suffering from so many permanent deficits.

We are still waiting for the Neuro-Psych evaluation from Shriner's performed in December, and we are almost positive that the cumulative deficits are pointing toward Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.  We have decided to get a disability lawyer and see what is necessary to try and get a disability rating for him for permanent SDI.  We know he will always be challenged to find suitable employment, and we are not at all giving up on him, but being realistic we need to plan for his future.  He will fall between the cracks, far too bright for a typical sheltered workshop situation, and yet truly handicapped enough to probably  ever be employable in the traditional sense without a deeply understanding and patient employer willing to spend years training him.

And all of this is so frustrating, because even with being unable STILL to recall the months of the year, or deal with dozens of malapropisms a day (for those who don't know what that is, here is a definition and example: the mistaken use of a word in place of a similar-sounding one, often with unintentionally amusing effect, as in, for example, “dance a flamingo ” (instead offlamenco ). , he is currently studying Comparative Religions at a high school level, and of his own volition is also reading Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion" and creating his own "Pro and Con" list of each chapter as he explores the atheist perspective.  Kenny is SO incredibly bright, and we continue to try and feed those areas of interest, nurture and fill up all we can, and will trust that God has something very particular in mind for him somewhere along the way.  There is a difference between learning disorders/processing speed/memory loss and being "dumb", and Kenny is a constant reminder that you can not judge a book by its cover, and that every chapter in that book has its own strengths and weaknesses.

We found ourselves quite bored with a couple of areas of school this year, so we decided to veer off course and follow the Muse of Learning, letting it nudge is in new directions.  I cast off the boring old traditional textbook we were all growing so weary of, and found new resources for history and government that are fascinating, and have allowed me to think outside the box a little more as well.  We are in our second and final year of American History, and are at WWI.  We are also nearly finished with our US Government course as well, and we started a little project that I thought would be short and sweet, but which morphed into this amazing, thought provoking larger activity that surprised even me in its eventual depth and triggering of much deeper learning.

We were talking about the Bill of Rights, and contrasting it with laws, and at the suggestion of my friend, I decided to have the kids create a Bill of Rights for our family.  This idea was actually well received, and I told them I was going to stay completely out of it, and that they were to come up with this all on their own with no input from me whatsoever.

Uh oh.  None of us had any idea where this was headed.  I certainly didn't expect it to become perhaps the single most engaging learning project we ever did.

They elected a leader, and I was surprised that Olesya was their temporary "president".  I think all the kids recognize her need to put herself "out there" more and wanted to offer her the chance to do so in a safe environment.  It wasn't long before she was truly leading, as I listened in from the other room, and she very quickly guided them to stay on point when the drifted.  A couple of hours later, I was called into the room and asked, "Mom, we think we need to do more than a Bill of Rights, we think we need a Family Constitution, too."  and most touching was when I was asked with the most serious of expressions on everyone's face, "Can we take this seriously and really create something that we actually follow in our family?  We think this is important, and we don't want it to just be a school project.  It will mean more if it is real.  If we come up with something good, will you and Dad agree to it?"

Oh man, you bet we will!

And they were off and running.  Sitting in the other room for THREE entire afternoons, I was able to hear them all wrestle with whether something was a right or a law, what kinds of rights and laws there should be, who was going to be tasked with which pieces, how enforceable something might be, and the need for even more documents to create a fleshed out governmental system for our family. I heard conversation about how things would be handled with spouses eventually part of the dynamic, with friends who are "adopted" and considered permanent members of our family, and how things should be handled before and after 18 years old in terms of parental control.

At the end of the 3 days, they had a Constitution, a Bill of Rights, a set of Laws, a list of Family Values, and an Oath to be taken by anyone who eventually would join our family.  They then convened a family "assembly" as our meetings will now be called, and asked for parental review, agreement and blessing of this governmental system and guiding principals.  There was absolutely NO better way to have them understand how difficult it was for our Founding Fathers to create a living, breathing, well planned government, and they were absolutely engaged the entire time in the process, which pleased me inordinately.  Here are some pics of our Founding Mothers and Fathers hard at work for hours and hours:

Here is the list of Family Values they started with to build on:

         Time Together
         Life Long Learning
         Inner heart
         Open Acceptance of People and Ideas
         Relationships Over Material Wealth 
         Listening to one another
         Individual Contribution
         Work Ethic
         Words Mean Things
         Accomplishing Goals
         Living in the Present, Knowledge of the Past, Hope for the Future
         Helping Others/Paying it Forward
         We Value to Keep in Touch, Even When We Have Our Own Lives
         Compromise and Agree to Disagree
         Respect in all Forms

         Embrace and Celebrate Individuals Within Our Family

I loved this list so much, and I was deeply moved to see what they all viewed as things our family values. It provided me with great insight into the hearts of our children, and all that they take away from all these years of being in relationship together.  Seeing "laughter"on the list, and that they really want to remain connected when the have moved on to their own adult lives was quite touching to me.  

There was a lot of work that went into the creation of their documents, and they utilized their white board just as mom does as they crafted their Bill of Rights, editing carefully 2 and 3 times:

It was an enormously profound exercise, and what made it so powerful was the ability to let them take as much time as they wanted to on it, once we saw this was growing into something deeper than I had initially thought it would be.  One of the single best things about homeschooling, for us, is the ability to linger on a topic as long as we want, exploring it as deeply as we desire and not feeling bound by 40 minutes class sessions and a school bell that will ring to tell us we should drop what we are engaged with and quickly move on.  Rarely a day goes by when we don't toss out the clock as we deeply immerse ourselves in interesting conversations about history, current events, the steps of writing, or some lovely piece of literature we have all read.  It has been a real gift, one I think we all appreciate, to learn at a pace that suits us...often spending 2-3 hours on a subject.

I know these are the days I will never forget, and I think it is obvious the kids won't either.  For that, I am so grateful.

Matthew is healing nicely, and is able to sit for as long as needed now, though he can not stand long yet.  He has no pain, though he is not bending at all yet and might when he begins to put that to the test.  

And Angela...what can I possibly say about that beautiful, emotionally aware young lady?  She continues to grow in her ability to speak her heart clearly and boldly, and so often sends me lovely emails of encouragement, as well as reaching out to others with great love.  She sent me a video clip that I shared on Facebook this past week, about the power of a caring teacher, and she said this in her email:  

I thought you might like this video. We rarely tell you or dad how much you are changing our lives with simple words that push us to be the best we can be.

To feel as appreciated and cared for by our children as we so often feel is the greatest gift ever.  I have no idea how Dominick and I were fortunate enough to become the parents of these specific awesome kids, but during times like this, when everything feels a little heavier, when it all feels so much out of control and a bit scary, knowing that we have the support and love of these five remarkable young people means a lot to us.  

Then there are friends...who are offering support in so many ways, loving us through this time of uncertainty, reassuring us that we are not alone, blessing us with financial support here and there for things with the kids...and coming incredibly long distances to visit and show their love.  When on shaky ground, having a foundation as solid as we have with the circle of kind and caring people around us definitely helps keep us from feeling as if the floor is ready to cave in.  The coming months are going to be hard ones for us, scary and uncomfortable and requiring new ways of thinking and perhaps new risks being taken.  I am going to be very intentional about looking for the Spirit's presence in every little place it appears, to focus on not being abandoned, and to recognize love and laughter is all around us.  

That's really all that ever gets any of us through, isn't it?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Patient Season

Home at last, having arrived yesterday evening, I have pondered how I could approach writing this post.  The past week and a half have been an almost spiritual journey of sorts, unexpected and delightful in the midst of the pain and suffering of our beloved son.  How can one express that they experienced God in the heart of their child?  How can one speak to the spiritual maturity that was exposed, the affirmation of years of hard work revealing the most thoughtful, introspective, strong young man? How can one share how being met in deep friendship by another was like holding God's very hand?  I have no idea if I can fully give voice in mere words to all that was experienced the past ten days, but I'll give it a try.

It was on the long drive to Salt Lake City that it began, this wisdom sharing.  Traveling hours and hours across wide open spaces beneath crystal blue skies with nothing but our voices and our thoughts to accompany us, the conversation flowed gently, purposefully, thoughtfully, so rich in its content.  Surprisingly, we touched only briefly on the major surgery ahead, with Matthew saying he wasn't as scared as he thought he would be because the pain had grown so great he was actually looking forward to eventual relief.  I realized his suffering had been far more than had previously been shared with that statement.

Our family's financial future was brought up by Matthew, as we spoke about losing the airport contract and our need to find long term sustainable self-employment for Dominick.  It was there, in that very moment, when 15 years of faith-filled conversations, hundreds of sermons, and hours of listening to message filled music all came together in the words of our son.  I asked him if he was personally worried about what this meant for us, if he needed to talk about it to share what was going on inside.

Suddenly, my 15 year old son became a Man of Faith as he turned to me and said, "Mom, I feel it really is the right time for change in our family and I actually am not worried at all, though I know it is easy for me to say that because I don't have to provide for us.  I don't want you and Dad just
jumping at any opportunity because you are scared.  One thing I have learned through the years from you guys is that people tend to jump too fast and don't know how to wait on God to come through for them.  I think God has something better for us, and it may take us awhile to figure that out and hear God talking to us about it...and being patient can be scary."

Matthew then added, "Actually, I trust you and Dad because you listen for God every single time, and I know you will make a wise decision then work really hard at whatever we come up with.  I also trust our family to work together to make things happen, and to do without if it takes awhile.  I think I am more worried that fear will get in the way for you guys, and you might not wait for the thing God has ready for us.  But that's OK, if I see that happening, I'll be there to remind you."

And I reached out for his hand, and held it so firmly, speechless as the vast expanse of the desert lay before us, and the future seemed more secure than ever despite the very real uncertainty we are facing.

There were SO many moments on this medical journey that reflected a sense of maturity and being "tuned in" with Matthew that had never risen to the surface before.  They say that it in the face of adversity you see the real person emerge.  All I can say to that is that Matthew is a young man I admire very, very much and he showed his true self throughout the past couple of weeks in marvelous ways that were an affirmation of all we have tried to teach and model the past 15 years of our lives as parents.

So many of my posts are about the challenges and the rising to face them of our children, and yet I seldom speak of the gratitude I have for those very challenges that have allowed for the development of unique, wonderful, faithful young people of great spiritual and emotional depth.  We have been through some really hard experiences...some of them gut wrenching...and here we are, in the mid-teen years, and I don't think Dominick nor I could have ever anticipated the result of the molding and shaping that was going on throughout it all.  I heard via email from every single one of the kids throughout the trip, each one reaching out to reassure me of God's presence for us, each one mentioning praying specifically for Matthew's healing and peace for me, each one trying their best to offer loving support and care from afar...something that even some adults struggle with.

Our family is blessed with extraordinary friendships, and they have sustained us through so much.  While I was in Salt Lake City, our new friend, Candi, flew all the way out to spend the week with Matt and I to be a very present support and advocate when at moments we needed one.  That someone would go to such great lengths to be there and put their own very busy and complicated life on hold speaks volumes about the quality of human being they are, and our entire family was filled with gratitude to have someone there for Matt and I.  Back home, many of our nearest and dearest stepped up to cart the remaining members of Team LaJoy to and from work, volunteering, church and
Doesn't Josh look more and more like Matt in this picture?  Breakfast out for the ones at home!
more.  So much love surrounds us and carries us, and the modeling that has been done there for years and years is also a huge contributing factor to our kids becoming the kind and thoughtful young people they are today.  Breakfast out and shopping, a birthday dinner provided for everyone for Dominick while we were gone, and so much more all helped make a difficult time much easier, and we are so very thankful.

Matt's surgery went well, though they ended up doing more work than originally anticipated, using more hardware which may eventually have to be removed if it causes discomfort, but it will be a couple of years from now before we know if that is necessary.  They fused his spine at L5-S1 using a
different method than originally planned on.  We received constant compliments about Matt being a "super patient", and throughout he was polite and courteous to every single nurse and aide, even while completely drugged up and very uncomfortable.  What touched me even more though was how free he felt to express his love for me, and his appreciation for Candi's within moments of our arrival in the post-op room he reached for both of our hands and held on tightly, smiling and giving me the Three Squeeze "I love you" silent message that we have used together since he was a tiny toddler, but which hadn't made an appearance in quite some time.  It is rare that a 15 year old boy would willingly express their love for their mom in front of others, fearing they would lose their ability to be perceived as "cool", but Matt had no such reservations and I could see how it made everything easier for him to never have to worry about maintaining such a facade during an emotionally stressful time in his life.

He easily reached out in word and deed to offer and receive love and comfort, regardless of who was present, and his warm welcome and acceptance of Candi's presence...someone he had never before met...was sweet to witness and they quickly developed a witty and kind rapport that was the beginning of a relationship that will clearly have great meaning in his life.  That this could have happened during such a difficult time spoke to my heart deeply, for it reflected Matt's ability to be incredibly open hearted.

After his discharge, we all took up housekeeping at the hotel suite we were in, and fell into a pattern of restful days that allowed for healing for him, and for time to simply enjoy being together.  We couldn't tackle the long drive ahead without a few more days of healing, so we hunkered down and made ourselves at home.  Though we missed all of the family members who were not with us, the rhythm of our days and Matt's Oxycodone induced haze made for an oddly peaceful time of periods of great reflection, and "nothingness" as we simply entered into a time of "being".  We played games, we laughed over Matt's goofy "insights" while under the influence...something about a crazy chicken and Paul turning into Saul were talked about, along with the "inside joke" started by Matt of being an "Oxy Moron".  We caught a glimpse into the heart of Matthew as, during a more lucid moment, the three of us sat curled up on the bed looking at quotes and photos that Matt had saved on his iPad which were quite revelatory in nature, and I had the delightful experience of watching someone else fall a little in love with one of our children as Candi got to know him.

God appeared everywhere in lots of little ways, from the words Matt used to claim Candi as family and naming the unusual connection she and I seem to have as almost twin-like and matter of factly correcting the two of us when we talked about it being "weird", as he said something like, "Well, that is what happens when God is in the middle.  God is in the middle of our family, Candi is family, so it's all God and not weird at all."  Uh...yea...and I was totally "schooled" on that one by my kid.  Then there were his incredibly thoughtful insights over what it took to be a good leader in Civil Air Patrol and what he would be looking for in others as he moves toward planning for his leadership position at this years Encampment...he reflected such insight and understanding of what it takes to be a true mature leader, and I realized that the hundreds of hours spent on being very intentional with homeschooling to include a strong focus on Emotional Intelligence have really paid off, as it was automatic with him and I could see directly the application of so much I thought he had truly been ignoring.  It was as if God was patting me on the back a little, telling me, "See?  It wasn't wasted time!".

And now we are home, now we settle back into real life and face the biggest challenge thus to feed and clothe our family in the coming months, how to discern a new path for us all, how to keep all of this together and honor God throughout.  Living into being patient is what this season is all about...patience for slow healing, patience for God to point us in the right direction, patience to trust, patience to keep at it when it at times feels futile.

How I was reminded how worth it all it is!  It's not a race, it's about living into the fullness of any experience, good or bad, and reaping all it has to teach us.  I was also reminded that often, we don't see the results of God's work early on, as it can take years and looking backward to have your "ah hah" moment when you realize what was really going on and the progress that was made despite the fact that you had no clue if your efforts were paying off.  Steadfastness is highly underrated.

So here's to The Patient Season, may we live into it as fully as possible, and may we find joy smack dab in the middle of it all...