Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Catch Up!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, a special little gift:

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

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

Kenny reading our card.

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

The Hungry Menfolk

The Women of the Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ready to shop!

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Sunday, November 02, 2014

A Big Sigh

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

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

Here are some photos:

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

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

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

Beloved Mr. Steve and his sexy legs!

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

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

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

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

Ready to pray

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Richness of Fall Fever

Our lives are played out in rather humdrum and ordinary ways.  We get up, we go to school and work, we have dinner, we watch TV, we head to bed, and we start it all over again the next morn.  But sometimes, within those 24 hours we find the sacred joins us in the most unexpected ways.  For some reason, God has seen fit to bless me with more of those moments than most, or maybe I am just more attentive to them than some might be, needing them more than others do.  Who knows?  

This past year has had me less attuned to the sacred in my life, and I have felt the lack of its presence as a deep yearning to reconnect, but had no idea how to do so.  Beginning with my mom's fall and subsequent long hospitalization and rehabilitation, moving through the greening of late spring, the dry heat of summer, it was like my soul was drying up as well, wilting in the heat of financial pressures, concerns about our future with Dominick's work, and a lack of opportunities for deeper connections with friends.  Going through the motions, I found myself gradually pulling inward ever so subtly, returning to a Cindy of years ago.  That Cindy had far less warmth, far less empathy, and far less desire to allow the Spirit to direct her path.  Our trip to the southwest brought many feelings of worthlessness and loneliness to the surface, and maybe that needed to happen.

Over the past month or so, as fall came sweeping in with its band of merry colors and cooler temps, something began to shift.  More than ever before, fall became "my" season as I felt an expansiveness arrive, as if I could literally take a deep breath again.  I have no idea why, as nothing changed much in our lives, nothing, that is, but my heart.  I began to pray hard for the Spirit to show up, and show up It did.  The past couple of weeks have included the most intense encounters of my life with friends near and far, people I haven't heard from in years popping quickly into my life, others who are on the fringes reaching in with words of kindness and love that have thawed the chill.  There have been numerous opportunities to reach out to others and help in a variety of ways...meals to a friend post-surgery, emails of encouragement to keep a fellow mom's soul lifted, holding hands and just listening in a gym, carrying another's heart for just an hour or two as they work through things...each opportunity to give of myself created space.  

Which comes first?  Does reaching out to others cause the heart to warm, or does the warming of the heart cause us to want to reach out to others?  I don't know, but I am certainly grateful to appear to be leaving that dry season behind and entering a new one.

And the giving doesn't end there, as I received a wealth of heart from our own kids this week, as sacred moments in unlikely places occurred...they doing their best to fill me up as they saw me doing with others.  How can I describe what it is like to have your child see you...really and truly see you?  Not just "Mom" who pushes and prods and bugs about laundry, but "Mom" who is a person in her own right.

Today I had Fall Fever, and decided to do just a little school work this morning, then take the afternoon off.  As the kids wandered off in different directions of the house to do some of their assignments, I declared that I was going for a long walk, and asked if anyone wanted to come.  Kenny jumped at the chance, while the others declined, so off we went to enjoy the crisp blue skies and the last remnants of golden yellows.  Out in our neck of the woods, if we take a walk "around the block" it means a four mile trek around acres and acres of farmland dotted with small little farmhouses.  Striding alongside alfalfa fields with their final mowing packaged neatly in bales dotting the vast field, Kenny began to speak.

"I love getting time alone with you, Mom.  You are so easy to talk to, and so different from other moms."

"Really?" I asked, "How many other moms have you had to compare with?" I joked.

"Well, one other mom, for sure!" he laughingly responded.

Then he said, "No, really, I can't imagine having a different mom.  I don't think I would have ever landed in a family with parents who are so dedicated to us, and a mom who just knows what I am thinking all the time.  You are a good person to work things out with.  You are logical, and you are a good and wise listener that makes people feel OK to talk about things, so you can really help them.  Some people are logical, and some people are good listeners, but most are not both at the same time.  You always help me work things out because of that combination."

Smiling, I looked over at him and said, "I am so glad you feel that way, you know you can come and talk to me anytime about anything in the world.   You never have to feel uncomfortable."

"Oh, I totally know that!  And I am working through some hard stuff sometimes, so I am glad you are around to keep me straightened out." he said.  Then he added,"I have been thinking about my 16th birthday a lot, and I want it to be something different."

"In what way?  What's going on for you with that?" I asked.

We walked past an irrigation canal, still flowing but soon to be emptied.  The quiet swoosh of the fast running water was the only thing accompanying his thoughts.  I waited, he thought, then he spoke.

"I don't know exactly how to explain it, but it feels like something is happening inside for me, like a new beginning.  I feel like school is finally not quite as hard as it used to be, and now I can read and write pretty well.  At least I feel like a real 8th grader and am working at about that level finally.  I want to discover myself this next year, I want to figure out more of who I am.  It feels like I am just starting out in life, which may sound weird, but it is what I have been feeling the past couple of weeks." he thoughtfully shared.


"So, have you thought about the fact that as of this year, you will have been with us and your family as long as you were not in a family?  Do you think that could have something to do with it?" I asked.

"Maybe, maybe!  I hadn't thought about that at all.  It is sort of like I am finally starting at Ground Zero when I turn 16, and maybe that is why I feel that way.  I couldn't have guessed that.  Thanks, that is exactly it." he said.

"Sort of like being reborn?  A rebirth of sorts, is that what you are thinking?"

"Yea, Mom, that's exactly it.  I feel reborn at 16.  I want to dig more into my faith, because now I can think more deeply about it.  I want to find a hobby or something I am good at.  I want to grow up a little more and I feel like I am finally not just behind all the time, but can move ahead now.  I don't know why I feel that way all of a sudden, but that is what I keep hearing in my head." he said.

Dried corn stalks with hints of green were in rows beside us, listening in to Kenny's soul sharing. 

"Let me see what I can think of to commemorate your rebirth.  I think I have a sense of what you are feeling, and maybe we can do something very specific to address this for you.  I think it is a wonderful idea, and very wise of you to recognize your inner self and be in tune with it.  I see it happening for you, too, Kenny. You are not alone in that." I said.

"Really?" he asked.

"Really...and throughout your life you will have times like this, when you just sense things are changing and you are moving in new directions.  Pay attention to them, because they can be very powerful periods in your life where you will grow into something new."  I said.

"See mom?  I know tons of kids think their parents are so stupid, but you and Dad are so smart.  I am glad we all have you helping us grow up.  I don't know why other kids can't see that their parents know a lot." nice is that?

But wait, there's more filling up to be offered to mom's exhausted and emptied soul..  Angela had helped me cook several meals to take to an old friend who had just had a hysterectomy and had reached out asking for help after complications set in and she wasn't able to do as much as she had anticipated.  She's also Miss Intuitive, the one who is super sensitive to the vibes in a room.  She had seen me visiting with a wide variety of people this past week who had turned to me for a little support or encouragement.  One has a dying father far away, another is locally homeschooling a grand daughter in her custody, yet another is a daughter of a friend of a friend asking for help with Dysgraphia.  Just a lot of this and that, with a couple of more intense situations in the mix as well.

Sitting there beside me on the drive home after volleyball practice, she turned to me and said, "Mom, how are you doing?  Are you OK?  Are you taking care of yourself right now?  Do you need to talk about anything?" 

"No, Angie, I am really and truly fine.  Why do you ask?" 

"Well, I was thinking a lot at volleyball practice.  And I was thinking about you." she said.

"Why were you thinking about me instead of volleyball?" I asked.

She got quiet for a moment as I pulled up to a stop sign, looked both ways, and turned onto familiar streets.

"Mom, I want to say something totally serious to you.  I am not joking, and I know you might try and blow me off but I need you to listen.." she said in an impassioned voice.

Uh oh...I didn't like the sound of that one.  So, bracing myself, I said, "OK, go ahead.  I'm listening." and I turned to look at her.

Taking a deep breath, she started in.  "You know how I am reading about Ghandi?  And Martin Luther King?  And Malala?  They are all people who made a big difference in the world because they were strong and had big hearts.  They are like Jesus in a way."

"Yes, they are.  They were pretty important people who did a lot to change the world we live in right now." I said, not really getting where she was going with this.

"Well, I am going to say something that you are not going to want to hear or believe, but I really need you to believe it.  Mom, you are like them.  You are like Jesus.  I was thinking about how almost every single day, you are helping someone, and no one thinks about it.  It is just you.  You email and help so many moms with kids with disabilities or who are having trouble with adoption stuff, you are always there for your friends, and then you look at our family and us kids...even getting us was a really big deal that we don't really think about."

A little stunned, I sat there quietly, headed toward home as the clouds were alight with the very last tinges of oranges and pinks.  She went on.

"I don't think it hit me until I saw you visit your friend with the food we made.  You were just so kind to her, and it was like I was watching you from the outside or something, seeing you differently. I am just so used to you being you, and I think none of us sees how really good you are inside, more than any other mom I have ever seen.  You would do anything for someone you knew needed help, and I guess that I never thought much about it until this week. I even counted the ones I knew about.  Did you know you helped 8 different people this week, not counting us?  But what really got me was when the woman in front of us started to cry in church Sunday, and you were the only one who got up to sit next to her and hug her.  Mom, I wanted to cry myself because it was so how you are, and I was  proud of you and wondered why you are the one who always sees things like that and then does something about it.  Maybe it was because we were in church then, but all of a sudden I realized how much you change the world for people.  That's what Jesus did, he was strong and he loved everyone.  That's you, Mom.  I really hope you listen to me because I think it is something important for you to know."

A mile from the house, tears were streaming down my cheeks.  Of course they were, how could they not be?  I couldn't speak a single word, I just grabbed her hand and held it tight.  As we pulled onto our road, I stopped the car at the mailbox, turned to her and said, "And you will be, too, one day, because you see it all, and are fearless and will act with passion.  You will be making a difference, too."

I think the Fall Fever has helped break up a lot of things in my heart.  I am softer again, and God is sending messengers from many different directions to fill me up in ways I have never been filled up before.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Nutshell Time

Oh Blog, I've missed you so!  I have been so busy traveling and writing for other reasons, that I have neglected to post here.  I am going to write an "In a Nutshell" kind of post, and will try and be far more prosaic in another post, maybe later this week.  For now, here are the highlights:

1)  Traveled with Kenny to Shriner's for a cleft team meeting.  It is like returning home, the staff there is so warm, and they always remember their patients, even if it has been a long time since they have seen them.  Kenny has to go back into a palate expander and braces yet again (3rd time), then another surgery to attempt for the 3rd time a palate closure.  They may be forced to take part of his cheek or tongue for tissue, but he is bothered by the opening in his palate, so it is worth it.  Probably going to be advised to pull a couple of teeth.  It was confirmed that as soon as his face grows to full maturity, he will need orthognathic surgery to break his lower jaw and bring it back to proper placement to match his upper jaw.  Yea, fun times ahead...and this young man has such a great attitude.  Shriner's also offered to do a neuro-psych evaluation for us, which might provide us with more answers about Kenny's ongoing cognitive/memory/processing issues, and that will be done December 11th back in Chicago.  Grateful for it, and yet it is another trip this year.  Seems I just get home and we have another ahead of us.

2)  Matthew and I travel to Shriner's in Salt Lake City for an appointment to schedule his back surgery, which will be after the first of the year sometime.  We have to be there on November 20th, and both of us are looking forward to time together, sans other kids.  Whenever I get time alone with any of the kids it is always a treat.  He is quite nervous about this, and I don't blame him, I am nervous, too.  Maybe the long drive will allow for time for conversation and reflection about what is ahead.

3)  Volleyball season is ending, with tournament play for all the kids but Angie tomorrow, and she will have hers next Saturday.  Looking forward to a fun day ahead, and the kids are so sad for the season to end.  I am glad to have some of the running settle down and get some schoolwork done.  Ready to settle in for the late fall and winter.

4)  Preached a sermon last Sunday, still so uncomfortable doing it.  I keep trying, hoping that one day I will find a little confidence hiding somewhere.  Not sure it will ever happen, but it is an honor to be at the pulpit anyway.  My sermon theme was about being will to say "I don't know", and as I type this it is hard not to chuckle about just how often I have had to say that over the course of the past 15 years.  It was a treat to have our former choir director play the day I preached, and with the knowledge that she and her hubby are moving in the spring, I realized I am already grieving that loss.  Funny how certain people crawl inside your heart, how I will miss her sensitive and gentle spirit, and how I have appreciated her quiet presence in my life.

5)  Olesya was treated to a shopping day for her had been tough to schedule it so Miss Jill took her out last weekend.  Olesya looked so beautiful in the outfit they bought, and Jill's patience with the difficulty in making decisions was much appreciated.  I wish I had taken a photo of Olesya, she looked so happy and I know she felt beautiful, something she struggles with as she battles this awkward stage in life.

6)  Joshua is changing so rapidly, that from day to day I don't recognize who is in front of me!  Boy flew out the window, and Man arrived overnight.  Never seen it happen so fast in a child, and though fun to watch, he is feeling unsettled at moments and I know this hit him a little sooner than he expected, too.  I don't often think much about the outward appearances of our kids, but I looked over at him this evening, and I saw the most handsome young man before me, my heart melted a little.  Then he came up and put his head on my shoulder, and I had little Joshie again for a split second longer.  Oh, this growing up is hard on everyone, even when it is beautiful.

7)  Preparing to give birth to my new little online business is taking up an extraordinary amount of brain space and time, but it is exciting to see it take shape, sort of like watching an ultrasound screen.  God spoke a lot to me about it this past weekend, sending numerous people my direction to chat with.  I have no idea if it will be successful, but we are working hard, everyone in the family is heavily emotionally invested in it and has taken on a role.  It would be impossible without a beloved friend who is putting her talents to work to make our dream come to life on screen.  We'll see what happens, but the next couple of months will have a lot going on, and might keep me from updating the blog as much while I write content and work on other tasks.

8)  In other ways, this fall has been the sweetest ever.  Our trip did a lot to help me purge some things, and the effect was dramatic.  I am not even sure what really happened for me, but there was a deep internal shift, and life began anew.  I had been in the longest dry spell, disconnected from the spirit and from other hearts.  I have been quite lonely, actually, which probably sounds nuts in a large and loving family, but I mean lonely of a different sort.  This past week has found me circled with all kinds of loving connections, big and small, and one budding connection that is touching my heart in ways nothing has in years.  Having had a challenging couple of days with school and learning disabilities making things very hard, every little outreach of others took on great meaning.  I am straddling many worlds this past couple of years, and fitting into none of them well.  In one particular area, I just finally gave up and told God I had worked very hard to find a place for myself , but it was obviously not going to happen, so I thew my hands up...and within a couple of weeks the tide turned, maybe because I turned away and looked in a new direction.  All I know is that it feels like the Spirit is back in the driver's seat, and I am filling up to the point I can pass it on once again.  I have absolutely hated the emotional place I have been in, like being on an island with no boat drifting nearby to get me off.    The older we grow, the more internal work to be done, I guess.

Not a very thoughtful blog post, but it's all I have to offer this night.  Unfortunately, I appear to be entering another phase of insomnia, which has plagued me periodically as an adult when my mind is in overdrive and I can't pull the key out of the ignition.  While that doesn't help during the daytime, i usually bodes well for my mind and late night blogging, so who knows?  I might be blogging more than usual in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Soul Peeks

I have always said you can tell loads about a person by the way they they side hug?  Pat on the back?  Gingerly lean in?  Full on bear hug?  There are so many versions of The Hug, and each one reveals a lot about a person.

I am a full on bear hugger, an enveloper, desirous of letting those I am hugging know that at that very moment I am all theirs.  I'd put most of my friends in the same category...long, warm, arms fully wrapped around you kind of hugs.  Dominick is a great hugger, as are all the kids...Matt a little more reserved than others with the exception of us, Joshua sometimes on uncomfortable days a little less "whole", Olesya still learning to trust and at moments a tad more distanced and yet other times giving in to what her heart feels, Angela long and slow hugs that really try to say something, and Kenny...he gives the absolute best hugs in the world, sort of melt-into-you embraces that make you want to protect him and treasure him in all that vulnerability.

Recently I realized there is another very unique way to take a peek into a person's soul.  Viewing what has been saved on iPads or what photos have been taken has been so revealing.

While we are on vacation, I challenged the 3 kiddos taking photography to use the trip to come up with a few really solid photos using the composition rules we had been learning about.  Olesya, Angela and Josh all spent a fair amount of time shooting, and by golly, when we had our next class and shared what we thought were our best photos, it was clear they had been paying attention and had learned a lot!  I'll share their photos soon, once they are done editing them, but we all were surprised at the differences in the kinds of photos we took.  Mine were a combination of landscaped, people, and stills of things.  Olesya had virtually no people in any of hers, and she tended to like closer photos of nature scenes, a reminder of the tiniest shell she still has around her that is ever gradually melting.  Angela was taking expansive landscapes and almost nothing close up, her eyes always on the horizon for the newest adventure or scene to be revealed.

Josh was far and way the most interesting, every one of us saw his favorite photos and turned to each other saying, "Wow!  He has a real eye!!"  Josh sees the world differently, and has this lovely sweetness that unexpectedly showed up.  He took a few family photos, a couple of which were quite wonderful, and these unique and unusual abstracts.  At almost every turn, he saw something none of the rest of us saw at a particular place.  He had carefully researched and purchased a small pocket Canon camera, and quickly learned all the features and functions so he could get the most out of his little $60 camera.  I hope he continues, as at 11 years old, he really surprised us all with his artistic side reflected in photos.

We also joked that he will be the one out of all of the kids to eventually be the King of Selfies, as he was fascinated with taking photos of himself and then manipulating them with software into oddball images! Haha!

Angela and I were looking at Matt's iPad as he was showing us a photo, and we both glanced at each other at the same time as he bypassed a few things he had saved.  I asked him to show them to us.  Lovely, soulful quotes, images that were not the kind you'd usually find in a 15 year old boy's photo collection...reflective landscapes, fields of blooms, in fact at this very moment his screen background is a tulip covered field with a farmhouse nearby.  There was also the occasional macho jet or motorcycle, but they were actually few and far between.  Angela and I spoke afterward and she said, "Mom, know one knows how deep boys can be."

Kenny's heart is revealed more in the music he has compiled, a small collection of church favorites, old hymns and anthems, some contemporary Christian music...and a handful of younger kids's songs that we are not yet ready to abandon.  Unlike the other more tech savvy kids, he has saved little, but his writings are there, long missives about his understandings of God intermixed with a story or two about Knights and Kings of old.

Contrast that with Angela and Olesya's incredible mix of world music, Russian pop songs, Bollywood hits from India, and more.  Olesya tends to lean more toward a little bit of the American teeny bopper pop music, while Angela enjoys contemporary country from the likes of Brad Paisley and a little Garth thrown in.  Matt totally digs 70's and 80's slow rock, and Josh's musical tastes are All Disney All the Time.

Each young person who resides with us is so unique and wonderful, so different.  What I have been surprised to see over time is there has been no trash saved on iPads, nothing that a parent of typical teens would roll their eyes is as if that little tablet encases a tiny extension of their precious souls, and what is contained therein is Important Stuff.

Every day I am learning, every day I am exploring through the eyes, hearts and minds of those who are accompanying me on this journey of life.  

Monday, September 29, 2014

Over-Rated Roads

Taken our first night camping...we were all awestruck.  
Such views are healing for the soul.

Home.  Unpacked.  Laundry being done...well, let's face it, it's never fully "done".  Walmart run completed and groceries in for the week, maybe two if I can stretch it.  $419 and two carts full.  I wanted to gag a little, it always feels that way after we have emptied the fridge prior to a trip.  Nothing but food, and only 4 meat items purchased.  I laughed out loud recently when someone asked about our food bill.  I offered the explanation like this:  "Well, if I buy a single bag of apples, there are usually 7 or 8 apples in it.  That is one snack for one day." That was greeted by a stunned silence as the realization set in.  No one I know wants to trade grocery bills with us.

We had a total blast, really enjoyed our time in Durango, and all the beauty of the southwest.  I am sharing photos randomly on this blog post, just because :-)  We ended up coming home on "Color Weekend" through the mountain passes in Western Colorado, when the hues of yellow and orange were at their most show-offy.

PS:  All these photos were taken with my tiny little iPhone camera, as an experiment.  
What do you think?

I know my last blog post sounded a bit like a Pity Party for Cindy, and I regretted posting it after I closed up the iPad that night.  I mean, my life is far from awful, in fact, it is down right beautiful in all the ways that count.  Seriously.  I don't make anything up here, I have too many "in real life" friends who come visit me here on the blog and they keep me honest! Hahaha!  Our family genuinely IS very, very happy.  We DO laugh that much.  We DO deeply love one another. And yes, our kids DO actually get along that well.  I am not faking it when I post about the know the ones...because that is how we live our lives. I take no credit for it, aside from making sure God is as present as we can manage, and though I know many don't "get it", that changes every.single.thing.  It really does.

But I long ago vowed that this blog was for us, and because of that, I had no reason to hide anything or sugar coat it.  As time passed, and I realized there were more people reading it than my 2.5 friends, it became even more important to be as articulate and open as I could possibly be.  As I was preparing myself each and every time we adopted, it seemed everything I read was either a Fairy Tale or a Horror Story.  I knew it was neither, and that folks were just too uncomfortable to share their truth....all of it.  There are things, out of respect for the kids, that I don't share.  They know I blog, and they will sometimes say, "You won't post that, will you?", and of course I won't.  However, they all know what a challenging road we travel as a family, and they have seen first hand and heard from many, many others who have explained how much it helped to read things I have written through the years, so our kids see our blog as a ministry of sorts, and are supportive of us reaching out in whatever ways we can to help others see things more clearly.

My regret about posting my Mini-Mama-Meltdown was completely wiped away when I received this comment today:

I've never left a comment here, but I always looks forward to your posts because I truly feel that we are living very similar lives, although my kids are a few years younger than yours (13. 11. 10. and 5). I have searched and searched to find other blogs or other moms that can understand what I'm going through and your blog is the ONLY one I've ever found that seems to parallel my life. I just wanted to tell you what a blessing today's blog post was to me. You articulated so many feelings and fears that I have. In fact, I was just out on the back porch talking to myself (because, you know, NO ONE else understands, so you end up talking to yourself.. a lot) and I expressed the same feelings that you're feeling right now. I don't have any advice or really anything good to say, but just wanted you to know that you're not alone in this. And can I tell you how much I appreciated knowing that I'm not the only one who explains the same thing over and over and over again, even after a very logical explanation? I really thought it was just my family. Thanks again for your blog. It keeps me from feeling that I'm alone in this."

I have often said, both in person and in my blogs, that no one should ever have to feel alone.  It is one reason I am incredibly passionate about the company I am working behind the scenes to create, which will hopefully offer some level of support, encouragement, and resources for families like ours, and like my fellow mama above.  We shouldn't have to feel this way.  We shouldn't have to talk to ourselves, we shouldn't have to cry alone, we shouldn't have to fight every step of the way to convince professionals that we are not idiots and something is very wrong with our beloved children.  We shouldn't have to research it, present it, and beg for testing...that is THEIR job.  We shouldn't have to feel that crushing sensation as we look around and realize there isn't a single place to turn to for understanding and help.

We should NEVER be alone in this.  Yet, we are.

I may sometimes feel that alone, because our circumstances are different and others have no experience with it, but I am inordinately blessed with friends who listen, who care, and who offer tangible help when they can.  Even with that, I still feel deeply isolated at moments.  I think all special needs moms do.  That's why I try to write with honesty.  Those who have followed us for a long time, hopefully, see that reflected in my posts.

However, the funny thing is that most of the time, I actually forget I am, indeed, a special needs mom.  Dumb, huh?  I mean, isn't it obvious even with Kenny?  Let alone the fact that every single one of our kids has some sort of diagnosis?  (No, I am not a "diagnosis" junkie, but we've needed to know so I could find great tools to teach with...and to know when to press and when to let go.)  Well, if you knew our kids in person, you might better understand why it sometimes catches me off guard. They are indeed, "uniquely developed" or "Limited Edition", as Angela has dubbed us.  They ARE bright, they ARE deep, they ARE smart!  

That, in a nutshell, is why it can be so disheartening and hard...because they ARE so many things other than a label.

LaJoy Men...Strong, Good, Awesome!

After much reflection, I realized that part of what erupted for me was grief stemming from  the growing realization that I think we might be dealing with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or some related disorder with Kenny, and likely with the girls as well.  Of course, we know that is highly probable with the girls, as we have a history that includes incredible alcohol use.  We are undoubtedly fortunate that it isn't much, much worse with the girls.  With Kenny, it is a big unknown. Surprisingly, not a single specialist has ever suggested it with Kenny, and I am not sure why.  In reading more and more about it, a light bulb is going on for me.  He has such a myriad number of issues, all of which could be independent of FAS, but together seem to point directly to it. 

And with each new level of understanding, with each new layer uncovered for our children who are in many ways complete enigmas at moments, it is as if I have to take a deep breath, and allow myself time to grieve the latest understanding.

So much damage very much that was 100% avoidable and unnecessary.

Tonight, here alone in the quiet with nothing but my keyboard and my thoughts, I marvel at the path God has encouraged me to walk. Having talked it all through, cried it all out, and handed it over to Something Bigger Than Myself, I am better able to be and feel all I need to be and feel.  It builds over time, all of "this", and it needs to rise to the surface.  How grateful I am, though, for all that Team LaJoy is together.  For all our "failings" in the eyes of the world, for all that doesn't work the same as it does for everyone else, for all that is frustrating and aggravating on a daily basis, there is one thing I know for certain:

We are never in it alone.  We, the seven of us, are there forever for one another.  We have ALL healed and have scars, we have ALL overcome, and we are ALL going to make sure that everyone makes it.  Sometimes I need to look back a bit, and see just how far we have already come.  We have such a "Two steps forward, one back" kind of life, that it can be hard to measure the true distance traveled.  Oh man, have we made it a long, long way. How could I ever forget that?

Josh was listening the other day to some music, and on came the song I used for the adoption slide show I created for the girls.  We have come to think of as "the Girls' Song", popularized by Rascal Flatts (Broken Road), though we used the version by Selah, which is far more beautiful. Josh started humming it mindlessly, or so I thought, until he glanced up at me and said, "Hey mom, this song is really about our whole family.  God really did bless the broken road that led us to each other."

Straight, perfect roads are highly over-rated.  I'll take the broken one, has more to offer my heart.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

This Gig Ain't Easy

Here we are, in Williams, AZ, and I decided it was time to have a little meltdown.  Thankfully, it was short lived, but it snuck up on me and I was completely unaware that I was emotionally depleted.  There was nothing in particular that triggered it, and we truly are having a lovely, relaxing trip.  The drive through Monument Valley was nothing short of spectacular...the contrasting hues of the deep red rock and verigated greens of the various plant life were set off by crisp blue skies in which clouds of billowy white were nestled.  Definitely a photographer's dream setting.  I didn't take many photos though, preferring to view it through the windshield or as we stopped to stand in amazement without muddying the experience with a camera in my hand.  I'd post photos, and will when I get home, but I seem to be having trouble posting them to the blog from my iPad, which is all I brought with me.

Spending the night in Utah, we arrived just ahead of the storm clouds, but they rewarded us with a stunning landscape post-downpour that, for me at least, made the entire trip worthwhikle.  We drove to Williams, AZ the next day, and are staying in a very nice campground run by a couple who have owned it for years, and you can tell it is their life.  It is not resort style accommodations, but it is a wonderful family-type facility and we all are enjoying the conversations and friendliness of the owners and others here.  We went to the Grand Canyon yesterday, and spent the entire day walking the rim.  The weather couldn't have been better, mid seventies and clear.  Though we enjoyed the Canyon, every one of us thought the beauty of Monument Valley was unrivaled by the Canyon, and perhaps our favorite part of the visit was people watching, and predicting when Victim #27 would fall over the edge and die.  There have been 26th deaths thus far this year, we were told, and it seems that Selfie Addiction is causing people to use poor judgment in their attempts to get ever cooler selfie photos to post.

This morning, it seems everything caught up to me, and I felt the weight and reality of being a special needs mom in a way I don't think I ever have.  We are blessed with children we adore, and whose behavior is very easy to be around, and I think that has caused me to overlook the day to day stress of dealing with the challenges we have in other areas.

I couldn't ignore it today, for no particular reason, and I felt such sorrow, anger and grief that it overwhelmed me for quite awhile.  There is no getting around it, I am exhausted from being "on" 24/7, teaching, guiding, correcting and pointing out inconsistencies that seem like they will never be "fixed".  Over a 24 hour period there were 5 or 6 instances where the lack of logic was so stunning and "in your face", where memory loss kicked into high gear, that I just felt defeated.  Most people who are around our kids view them as reasonably bright, fairly articulate, and avoiding the spotlight at all costs...none of them care to be out in front, though like anyone they do like to be quietly noticed.  I am realizing it is because they don't want to be seen as "dumb" because they can't always come up with appropriate responses...for some of our kids, their brains don't work as well as others.

Every single day, multiple times a day, I find myself repeating exactly what I just said five minutes prior, or one of the kids will ask a question that I just answered with a solid explanation.  Oh, so many have told me "it is typical teenage brain", and I get that, I know it to be true, but this is NOT typical.  Angela is showing serious signs of disconnect and memory issues at times, not typical stuff but truly not recalling any facts about something we might have studied for a good solid week or more.  We continue to work on strengthening logic daily, but there are moments that all I can do is shake my head and move on.  Olesya is so, so behind in math, and her disability there is staggering, alongside the same sort of logic issues we are seeing with Angela.  Kenny, poor sweet Kenny, the need there is so huge, so beyond my ability to fix, and my heart breaks as I see him try and try, never giving up, and yet watching him do something as simple as a word search and having it take two full hours to complete it is agonizing as his mom.  Seeing Olesya struggle over a simple 3 or 4 digit addition problem is awful, watching Angie as she grows so frustrated at not knowing something she knows she ought to be able to recall is so hard as the emotions play across her face.  Throw in Josh and his emotional turmoil that hits periodically (He is doing very well on the trip, despite crying for 3 days before we left because it just felt wrong to him and he didn't know why), and Matt with his challenges with writing and emotionally as he looks toward surgery and is frightened of it, and I guess it is no wonder I am feeling this way.

And I am tired.  Worn out.  The well is dry.  I am exhausted from repeating over and over,  I am tired of worrying about the future, I am tired of trying to diagnose the seemingly undiagnosable, I am tired of wracking my brain seeking yet another way to get information across that might make it stick, I am tired of no one seeing how damned hard it is every day because learning disabilities are hidden, I am tired of interpreting everything, I am tired of checking in to see if something was understood, I am tired of advocating, I am tired of trying to meet both ends with two on the gifted spectrum at the same time, I am tired of feeling like a failure at least 7 or 8 times a day, I am tired of begging for help where no help exists, I am tired of fighting, I am tired of nothing coming easy, I am tired of reteaching phonics and basic reading skills and months of the year and making sure proper grooming is done at 15 or 16 years old, I am tired of being the logical one for five others, I am tired of cheerleading when there is no one to cheerlead for me.

This is one of those rare days when I feel I can't possibly do it anymore, and I couldn't stop the tears from coming over some stupid repeat of information.  I wanted to scream, but I didn't...and I know that every single day they want to as well.  It was one of those days that has me wondering if any of my kids will ever be gainfully employed, let alone in jobs they enjoy.  It was one of those days when gratitude for all they are was hard to summon because of all the worry, and all the beating up of myself because it feels like I am failing them over and over again because I can't fix damaged brains and I can't go back and redo their childhood.

I want to hit the very next person who minimizes my daily struggle with a shrug and a knowing comment flung out about how it is just because they are teenagers, as if at age 20 all of this will pass and they will magically have memories returned and brains healed from trauma, neglect, malnutrition, and very likely alcohol or drug usage.  This doesn't go away, and that might be the very saddest part for me, because I'd love more than anything to grab hold of that and rest secure in the fact that all of this is temporary, and they will emerge with everything suddenly healed and whole at age 20.

The difference is that I can't have that sort of casual assurance like other parents can.

On days like this I remind myself of what is important and what is going right.  They are deeply good human beings, they are respectful of others and willing to stand up for what they believe in.  They are helpful, kind and incredibly thoughtful.  They are connected spiritually and are active in their community.  They don't hate their parents, despite the fact that at this age, our culture tells them they should.  They are very forgiving of our failings.  They are incredibly hard workers.

I know all of this, I am grateful beyond words for it.  But maybe just for today, I had to allow myself to feel ALL of it...the frustration, the concern, the exhaustion, and more feelings I can't quite name yet.  I really have no one to share all of this with, other than virtually, and that makes it harder.  There is no commiserating with anyone who walks in shoes like mine, and it is isolating.

I got over myself, and the afternoon eased into a beautiful reflection of all the good stuff...we walked the main drag in Williams and visited the Route 66 gift shops, and even returned in the evening to see the old hotel signs all lit up.  Dominick bought us each a couple of caramels, a simple little treat that was somehow so sweet because he surprised us with it.  We played badminton badly, tossed the football around a little, and laughed into the evening.

Special needs moms are not super heroes, but what we go through can often build and build, and leave us filled with doubt.  I am there this night.  It'll get better, I know that, and I'll repeat myself another million times until they get it.  I'll explain and re-explain until they hopefully begin to develop skills on their own to logically think things through.  And I am sure I will shed more tears along the way, some of frustration, and some of delight as I witness a mastering of a skill or an ability to remember something.

Tonight I feel a bit purged.  Maybe I needed to get away from our usual environment for this to rise to the surface, if so, it is good.  I know how blessed we are, and I know we'll all make it somehow.  I wouldn't trae my life for the world, but this gig isn't easy, and I think it just caught up with me.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

One Step at a Time

Once again, I have failed to blog this week until this very moment.  It is not because of a lack of interest, but because my "free time", such as it is, has been taken up with other projects, including writing.  I was blessed with the opportunity to write for a new homeschooling magazine, Learning Tangent and here is the cover of the latest e-issue (they are working their way toward print):

See that article at the top?  Toss the Textbook! An Eclectic Approach to History is mine :-)  I really enjoyed writing this, and will be writing for their Winter edition as well, which will be right up my alley as it is about Family and Faith, but from a very respectful...not proselytizing tone.  For those who don't know the homeschooling world very well, it is largely Christian, and secular, non-Christians, or more progressive Christians can find it difficult to connect with others.  I am hoping I can craft an article that is interesting, and yet perhaps addresses this specific issue.

I also was asked to write a review for a new homeschooling handbook written by one of our favorite curriculum developers, Steven David Horwich at Connect the Thoughts.  Here is a link to my review, at the bottom of the page, for anyone who is slightly interested:  The Homeschooler's Handbook .

In addition to these little writing projects, we have been hard at work...and learning some hard we continue to develop our newest family "member".  I have mentioned previously that there is something going on behind the scenes, and this week it became apparent that already it has grown larger than we ever anticipated when we first kicked the idea around.  We are working on a homeschooling web site with special needs as the focus, and this week we had to abandon one platform and look at moving to another as we needed something with more capacity and features than we initially thought.  This meant hundreds of hours of work had to be ditched, and I was feeling quite depressed about it, enough to feel like walking away from the idea all together.  It was inspiring to me, upon sharing what was going on with the kids, to have all three of my Data Input staff (Angela, Olesya, and Matthew) look at me and say, "There is NO WAY we are going to quit!  When do we start over?"

I was "schooled" by my own kids in Resilience 101, and Stick-to-it-iveness 201.

With the help of our adopted auntie, who is a Web Diva and incredibly talented, we are going to begin anew.  Reminding myself that tackling something new means taking it one step at a time is important.  I learned a lot, and realized we wouldn't be at Iteration 2.0 of our project if we hadn't learned so much from Iteration 1.0, so it is worth it...still a little disheartening, but we'll get there.  If everything works out, it is going to be phenomenal, and hopefully a huge help to other families out there like ours.  That is what is keeping me going, because I know how hard it can be, I know the frustration and how lonely moms of learning disabled kids can feel, and I don't want anyone to have to feel that way.  Our kids are all quite excited, for this is really going to be a family thing and each can participate in one way or another.  Already they are learning a lot about using images online, spread sheets, marketing, etc.  Kenny already is proving to be quite creative in thinking of social media, despite never using it before himself...he just gets it.  We will see where all of this leads us, but it is occupying an enormous amount of time at the moment and is where my focus is.  In time, we will reveal our New Baby.  

Tomorrow we are taking a little camping vacation, or first "real trip" with the trailer.  We are heading out to the Grand Canyon and Southern Colorado to explore, take photos, and slow down a bit as a family together.  We have driven through this area, but never spent much time there, so we are all looking forward to it, and I should have lots of photos to post!  This is a test run for what we hope will be several more longer trips in the trailer to explore America.  We'll see how it goes, and if we are comfortable with that many people in that close of proximity to one another for that long :-)  Hahaha!  Saying a little prayer for us would be a wonderful thing.

Now we are off to participate in the Montrose CROP Walk, which is sponsored by Church World Service to raise awareness about food and water insecurity locally, and throughout the world.  It is a small event here in town, which we hope will grow over time.  Dominick is working at a BBQ and Street Dance at Sharing Ministries, the local food bank we volunteer at,  as they strive to raise funds for a new facility.  I guess it is Service Weekend for the LaJoy's before we head off into the sunset tomorrow!   

Sunday, September 14, 2014

How to Love Well

Today dawned crisp and clear, a beautiful Colorado fall morning.  Everyone slept in late, enjoying the opportunity to rest more after a busy week.  Angela and I were preparing to head up toward the Grand Mesa, where I was going to sing at a wedding in the afternoon.  The location was stunning, a small ranch with log cabins dotting the hillside, sheltered by aspens.  It was a great chance to spend a little one on one time with Angela, and the drive up and back was lively as conversation flitted from one topic to the next.

The young couple, so earnest as they recited their vows to one another, were completely authentic and endearing.  This was a wedding that was not a high budget, over the top extravaganza.  A beautiful homemade dress, a groom donning a cowboy hat and tails, decor pulled together by the mother and future mother-in-law, all helped to create an atmosphere that was the antithesis of "Say Yes to the Dress" kinds of affairs.

Someone thought to visit each table with a video camera and asked guests to offer their best marriage advice to the newlyweds.  Put on the spot, everyone sputtered a quick sentence or two with general comments of well wishes, and I did much the same.  Afterward, however, Angela and I talked a lot about what love is, and I was called upon to give some real thought to the questions, "What makes a great marriage?  What is real love like?"

Interesting to ponder after this week's news reports of the fact that, by official count, 50.2% of the American population is now single.  So often I hear such negative comments about married life, including today at the table as those who were embittered over love gone wrong struggled to find any positive things to say at all about being married.

I realized something as I conversed with Angela.  While not an expert by any means, I do know a little something about the topic.  I am blessed with a thriving, healthy marriage of 28 years, and we have welcomed five strangers into our home to live with us, developing deep bonds of commitment and respect, let alone abiding love.  I had never given it a whole lot of thought before, but I have finally arrived at an age and stage of life where I have gained a little wisdom and experience.  I know things now.  I've tried and failed at many things, succeeded at others, and figured out "how to do love well".  

I know that love is acceptance, not of mediocrity, but of human frailty.  If only we could look inward in complete honesty, we would see our own failings, and that honest assessment might help us come to a place of humble acceptance of others and their very human failings.  

We want one person to be our Spiritual and Physical Everything.  That order is far, far too tall, and incredibly unrealistic.  While I deeply love Dominick, and I know he deeply loves me, we are far from each other's Everything.  The human soul is much too complex to be able to have a single person fulfill each and every part of us, and to expect that from another is unfair.  It is also lazy, as that means we are unwilling to do the hard work of putting ourselves out there to meet others who can fill in the cracks that our One and Only leaves not quite completely covered.

We are harmed more by our pasts than we ever want to admit, or are even capable of seeing.  Love doesn't stand a chance if we hold every potential partner accountable for the sins of others that came before.  We generalize, we categorize, we don't leave space for new people we meet to be wholly themselves, as they stand before us forced to be imaginatively dressed in the garb of our former partners or parents.  We make them pay for all the wrongs of others, then wonder why they don't live up to our expectations.  Such difficult patterns to break, and yet break them we must in order to allow someone to stand before us undiscovered and unfettered.

I have learned that love is often contradictory, it is a study in opposites attracting...then having those very opposite qualities that once called out to you drive you nuts!  Appreciation wanes, and frustration drifts in.  Acknowledging that this will inevitably happen is how love survives.  Forcing yourself to see the value in partnering with one whose strengths are your own weaknesses, and vice versa, is what can help love to thrive.  That whole "You complete me." romantic statement can only be true if your "other half" is indeed the other half of you that is missing, and not an exact replica of the you that you bring to the table.  This can infuriate and fascinate those who are willing to grab the hand of their mate and, fingers entwined, move forward in gratitude for those very frustrating qualities that we don't always understand, yet intuitively know we need in our lives.

Being voluntarily accountable to one another is love, and one key to that mysterious emotion that many resent the most.  We must be willing to be bound to another, and that can be very hard to do.  
Men and women alike tug at the reins, unwilling to be yoked to someone else and pulling in the same direction.  Of course, we are Americans, boot strappers and lovers of all things independent.  But love leans on one another, and freely recognizes that in relationship with others, we have an obligation to them.  For many, this can be the hardest thing to do, but it is necessary for a healthy, committed relationship.  Are you giving up something?  Yes, undoubtedly so.  But I have a secret for you, one that few today ever want to readily admit in our "You can have it ALL" world.  You can't have it all, you really and truly can't.  You are playing head games with yourself if you believe this to be true, for you have to give up something to gain something.   Love can often be more about deciding what it is you are willing to give up, than it is what you will take.

Love requires presence.  It asks of us that we work hard at it, all the time, and that we don't neglect it, leaving it sit on a shelf only to be pulled down from time to time to appreciate.  Love has a shelf life,   if left disregarded, it withers.  Oh, it might still be sitting there, waiting for you, but without regular attention, you are missing out on the sweetness of all that love can be, and are instead settling for a stale version, hardened and lacking texture.

Most of all, I have come to learn that everlasting love, the kind worth giving your heart over to, asks of us to be courageous.  To be in a satisfying relationship, be it with a spouse, partner, parent or friend, means exposing as much of your whole authentic self as possible, and that can be terribly frightening.  It means asking the questions you are afraid to ask, it means boldly risking rejection as you share your innermost thoughts, and it means daring to trust another with your yearning and devotion, hoping against hope that it won't be thrown back at you.  The kind of love that is singularly fulfilling means you must have the courage to reveal your tender spots, as the one you adore gingerly does the same.  It is that process of bringing all of ourselves to the table and laying out the emotional buffet that makes the kind of love that fills us up possible.  Without that courage and revelation, there will always, always be something missing. 

Loving well is a complicated, messy affair.  We think it is the thing of Romcoms and billowy white wedding gowns, when in reality, it is everything but that.  We also almost never get it right the first time, or even the second or third time.  It must be practiced and tested, but over time, we just might eventually get it right.  If not, keep on trying, for love is worth all the effort.

Now, if I could only learn to love myself as fully and completely as I seem to be able love others.  There's always something to work on, isn't there?