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...

Sunday, February 01, 2015

All That Matters

It seems my vow to make certain I blogged a couple times a week has been broken yet again, but this time only because I was busily trying to prepare for leaving home again, and also because a lot is going on that is emotionally challenging and I am a little overwhelmed at the moment.

So let's backtrack, shall we?

When I last posted here, I was on the brink of an Excellent Adventure, heading off to Massachusetts to meet a new friend, Candi, whom I had developed a strong long distance friendship with.  Lo and behold, we both struck gold, and it was an amazing week spent getting to know one another in person.  What a delight it was to talk for hours and hours, to wander the coastline together in the brisk winter weather, to laugh and cry and celebrate together.  Never have I felt so connected to a friend, and though I was missing my family back home, it was a great gift to be "Cindy" for an entire week and to focus just on myself...something I don't think I've done in perhaps 20 years or more...maybe ever. Candi is the pastor of a small church, and she invited me to participate in worship with her so we offered a joint sermon in which we spoke about answering God's call in our lives.  

What a blessing it has been to stumble upon such a wonderful friendship with someone I ought to have never met. Actually, it was our beloved Miss Mary who introduced us via Facebook after having met Candi at a conference this past summer, and she kept gently nudging each of us to connect until finally we did, telling us that she just knew we had a lot in common and would be a good fit.  Man, was she many ways I have met my twin.  Seriously.  We have found so many unusual similarities in our lives that if we didn't know better, we would get a DNA test performed!  Candi has filled a gap I didn't even quite know existed, but surely felt.  Her deeply connected faith, her love of others, and her kindness are all great gifts in my life.  Nothing can be as sweet as meeting someone you know is "forever".  The challenge for us is living so far apart...

Here are a couple of photos of our time together:

Lunch after worship...and no, the color choices were not planned...we are just really that much alike that we weren't even surprised we selected the exact same colors without speaking to one another about it.

Dear friends make life so much richer, and our family has been blessed ten times over with "framily"...friends who become family. appears we will need them and their support now more than ever.  I learned upon returning home that we have indeed lost the contract at the airport for the restaurant, and as of May, we will lose our main source of income and an era will come to an end.  So I came home feeling so peaceful, so rested, so cared for, and WHAM, 3 hours later all was chaos in my heart, and fear overtook me.  I had not yet moved past the emotions of leaving behind a dear new friend and meaningful time together, and already we were on to the next crisis as only Team LaJoy seems to have happen to them.

I pulled inward for awhile, part of the reason I didn't blog or post much on Facebook...I just needed to be disconnected for a bit to grieve and process everything.  What are we going to do?  How are we going to feed and clothe everyone?  Why hasn't God done God's usual thing and whacked me over the head with a 2 x 4 with some insight about what our next step is?  I spent 3 or 4 days living in an unusual place for me...Terror City...and then things started to settle down in my heart, and we started getting busy brainstorming.  It is not as if we have not been proactive, and in fact we have spent the last 2 years actively searching for Dominick's next career.  At 50 years old, we have long known he can't physically detail cars forever, and we had an inkling we were not going to be at the airport much longer, so we have been checking out every possibility for a new business for him for at least 2 years.  Thus far, nothing has risen to the surface as "the thing", though we have been quite serious about a couple of opportunities.

So, we continue to pray, we continue to look, we continue to think and brainstorm...and did I say pray?  Yea, a lot of that going on around here.  The kids are handling the news fairly well, showing us great faith in our collective ability to figure it out and trust God.  Josh has struggled more, and as he said through his tears, "I don't know what to do...the airport has always been in my life, and I am scared about it not being there."  Blankies have been broken back out again and are being snuggled with around the house, which is quite telling as they had gradually drifted away over the past couple of years, so we know a great deal of insecurity is beneath the surface for him.  All four older kids offered to go out and get jobs to help support us, which touched both Dominick and I so deeply, but which we kindly declined saying we know everything will be OK and their job is to be students at the moment.  

But we will both admit it, we are very scared and trying hard to trust all will be well.  Somehow, it has to be, right?

In the meantime, we continue to press on, working hard, taking care of business, and moving forward.  We had a grand old time at the optometrist recently, as not one, not two, not three, but FOUR of the kids needed glasses!  Olesya already had them, but needed a stronger pair, and everyone else but Josh was suddenly joining Olesya and I in the "four eyes brigade"!  Angela opted for contacts,  but needed a backup pair of glasses.  Matt wanted contacts but can't seem to get them in his eyes, so it is glasses for now and he will keep trying to see if he can get them in.  Kenny is glasses only as he can't be certain he will remember to take care of them effectively.  All look wonderful in their new optical wear!  More importantly, all were stunned at all they had been missing...Here are pics of our 3 newest wearers:

Today, as I write this, suitcases are packed and beside the bed as Matthew and I head to Salt Lake City for his back surgery, which will be tomorrow.  So far, Matt is doing fine with it, but I know he is nervous as twice he has awakened and joined me late at night on the couch, admitting he is scared about the procedure.  I am sure that on the long drive together this afternoon, he will share and talk, and we will be able to be honest about his concerns.  He was offered the chance to go to work one last day today before leaving, but he declined, saying he'd rather be in church this morning, so that told me everything I needed to know about where his heart is right now.  We hope this will finally bring some much needed relief after years of pain and limitations, but it is scary for him and we don't even know for certain exactly what will happen during the surgery.  Malnutrition was likely the cause of the broken vertebra, and they don't know for certain if that will cause problems for the hardware holding solidly, so they are planning one type of procedure which will take 4-5 hours, but if they get in there and screws don't hold well, they will move on to try something different.  

Needless to say, we are all feeling a little helpless and praying for a great outcome for Matt.  I am so grateful not to be alone through this one, as Candi offered to fly out and be with me through the surgery. Dominick has to remain home to work and take care of the other kids, and others are so graciously pitching in to help with transportation, etc. so that he is not alone in handling everything. Our lives are not easily managed with just one parent around, and we will be gone about a week and a half. We are so blessed to have support, to be able to have the surgery for Matt in the first place, and to feel God's presence through others all around us.

Another couple of weeks have passed, but it  seems a lot happened during them.  We'd sure appreciate any prayers and thoughts thrown our way right now...for a successful outcome for Matt, for work opportunities for Dominick, for peace in all our hearts.  Team LaJoy will make it somehow, but this is definitely a very hard time in our lives.  It feels as if we are spiraling out of control, and yet we are all clinging to one another and know all will be well somehow.  I am not yet sure how, or what our life looks like in the coming months, but somehow, we will make it. We desperately want to remain here in Montrose, where all our support is, but are reminding ourselves that we need to remain completely open to God's leading, and if we do that, we will find ourselves in the best situation for us.  I can't imagine leaving home here, and am praying that we find a way to stay in our beloved community and still be able to support our family somehow.

Now it is time for me to close this with a couple more pictures, a strong reminder to me of what is most important in our lives...being connected to God, being kind to others, raising our children to be thoughtful and decent human beings who contribute to the world.  How we all love each other!!  How we will somehow manage to make it!!  Here are Kenny and Joshie, reflecting the love back to the world that they receive from so many others. When I saw this happening at the Food Bank, I was reminded to keep it all in perspective.  Continue to give back, continue to love others...that's all that matters:

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Pain Endured or Opportunity Lost?

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

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

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

Love changes everything.  It really does.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 05, 2015

The Winter of Hygge

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

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

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

Here are some photos from our day:

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

Smiling Male and Female Duos

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

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

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

And there he is again...

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

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

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

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

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

Ready to open up the gift!

But first...

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

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

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

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

How I love him!!

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

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

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

Friday, December 26, 2014

Happy Birthday Joshua!

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

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

You were so beautiful, very beautiful to me.

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

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

I have loved every single stage with you, Josh!

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

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

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

You wanted to marry Mommy!

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas is a Feeling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone volunteering at the Food Bank!

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

All My Menfolk...


Our Twins wishing you Merry Christmas!