Thursday, October 08, 2015

Yes and No

Fall is gradually creeping in this week, as temperatures have dropped from the low 90's to a far more reasonable 70ish.  My favorite time of year is upon us, and we are settling into the hectic rhythm of autumn with full time school, volleyball practice or games every single night of the week, church participation, and seemingly unending medical appointments.  Dental visits, Shriner's visits, and Dermatology visits abound, and sometimes juggling the family schedule feels as if I am more like Command Central.  With the new business, it is proving even more challenging as we don't have the luxury of Dominick's previously more flexible work hours which.  Somehow, though, we are managing.

The choices we have made for what our family life looks and feels like are not the choices others might make, but we wouldn't have it any other way.  It does mean life is more challenging in all kinds of ways, but the benefits are enormous.  Our super scary (and sometimes still is!) decision to homeschool all five was outside the norm, and I know it isn't the right choice for everyone.  It is hard, harder than I often let on for a variety of reasons, thankfully none of which have to do with my kids or their attitudes.

Homeschooling is hard for our family because:

1)  We have a tremendous number of special needs
2)  The income lost by my being home has made our lives more challenging on many levels, and has put a lot on Dominick's shoulders in order to provide for us.
3)  Being all roles has been exhausting.
4)  I doubt myself every single day.  That is hard on the old ego, and I wonder if I will ever be able to look back with complete confidence at what we have accomplished with homeschooling and not feel like a bit of a failure.
5)  No feedback, no job reviews, no raises to affirm you.
6) With special needs, you DO feel like a failure all the time, because learning that appeared solid, suddenly isn't, and it feels like it is your fault.
7)  With gifted, you STILL feel like you are never doing enough to help them become who they can become.
8)  I miss grown ups, sometimes more than even I realize.

When I think about all I would have missed though, if we hadn't made the decision to do so, I want to cry.  The past couple of weeks have been so reflective of that very thing, it is all the affirmation I need.  In no particular order:

1)  Angela, Olesya, Kenny and Josh all had an assignment for Miss Mary to write about the qualities they wanted to find in their future mate.  This came from beginning to read The Hiding Place by Corrie TenBoom and Corrie's beau that ultimately did not become her husband.  I was privy to the hearts of my kids, to the dreams of their future husbands and wives.

But Olesya...oh my dear sweet Lessie!  All of us sat there quietly thinking what huge change taken place in this young lady over the past 5 1/2 years.  She spoke with such confidence about wanting a man who would love her the way she is and not want to change her, who would be wise, who would value her completely...and she said it as if she deserved it.  FINALLY, my daughter sees herself as worthy, and it has taken years to get there, and daily reminders over and over again of her worth.  That would not have happened had she been in school, away from the family who is nurturing her out of her prior life and the perspective of herself she came home with.  She and Angela both spoke openly about the need to be with someone who was physically warm and affectionate, who would be unashamed to hold their hand or put their arm around them in public.  This from the girls who literally had to have "Hugging 101" lessons when they came home.  Sweet victories I am not sure we would have had if it were not for the inordinate amount of time spent enveloped in open expression of love.

2)  A couple of weeks ago, we were studying Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and then the conversation turned to Chernobyl.  Angela asked me about what radiation really was, and why you couldn't see it.  Matt turned to me and said, "Mom, can I answer that?", then he proceeded to go to the white board and offer a 10 minute explanation with diagrams about what nuclear energy is.  Where in the world did he learn this?  I didn't teach him any of that?  We then watched a video that said almost verbatim what Matt had taught us.  I sat there dumbfounded.  I asked him how he knew all of that, and he explained that he had just taught himself somewhere along the line.  What I am discovering now that we are this far in is that homeschooling has offered the gift of time, the gift of exploration and not being overburdened with "have to" work so that "want to" work can happen.  All of the kids, at one time or another, astonish me with some new concept they understand that was never taught them.

3)  The freedom to be who they are without fear of ridicule.  If they were not homeschooled, I highly doubt that Josh would be sitting here beside me as I type, wearing his brand new full sized pink headphones that he got on a deal because the retailer was donating to breast cancer.  What 12 year old boy would tell you his pink headphones were totally cool and who cares what anyone else thinks, and besides mom, I like pink.

4)  We get to spend time with people we care about, who care about us.  We have had such wonderful support in our homeschooling journey, with friends sharing their talents and interests.  This past week, our friend George came and shared his love of poetry with the kids, reading to them his favorites from his collection, challenging them to think differently about poetry which is hard for most of our kids because they really struggle with rhythm, and of course Kenny can not hear rhymes to save his life.  We have Miss Mary who has spent hours and hours in deep conversation on topics ranging from news stories to relationships to faith as she weaves in and out of their lives working with reading with them.  Through the years there have been numerous caring adults who wanted to contribute, and who have made a real difference...and the kids have different relationships with adults because of that.  Rog, Pat, Lael, Steve, Jane, Kim, each blessings in many ways.

5)  They haven't had to grow up too fast.  When you have kids who have lost half their childhoods to isolation and incarceration (that is what it really is), being able to take your time to enjoy what time is left, and maybe step back a few years, is vitally important.  There is enormous internal work to do, trauma to overcome, trust to develop, and there is the need to let go of having to take care of yourself at all times and to settle in to being taken care of.  That work alone takes years, then there is no rush to move out of that once you are finally comfortable with it.  Homeschooling has allowed our kids the time to mature at their own pace without external pressure.

Angela, at 17 years old, just got her first real pet, and watching her excitement over it is so much fun!  She researched it all, bought all the supplies, and found a cute little parakeet she has named "Alejandro", and calls him "Ali" for short...because she couldn't decide on her favorite Hispanic name or a name for a boy in India, so I suggested she go with this one.  She loved it, and adores her new little friend!  But think about it, 17 years old and finally just ready to take on something like this.  It takes time for them to grow into who they can be once trust is established.  We don't need to be thinking about things like boyfriends and driving, we need to be thinking about our first pet!  The rest will come, in time, when she is ready.

6)  The kids are around all ages and kinds of people, something that wouldn't have happened had they been in school around solely same age peers.  Opportunities such as working at Sharing Ministries, helping out around the businesses with Dominick, volunteering at the library, helping out our adult friends from time to time because they are home when others are not has opened up the world to them in a different way than it would have been had they attended traditional school.  They easily chat with adults with little awkwardness, and they are comfortable around anyone in general, regardless of socio-economic status, race, etc.  This was so evident this past weekend at the store for our Customer Appreciation Day, where they all visited with our customers with ease and respect, where I saw them interact with disabled folks, non-English speakers, rough hewn construction workers, and more.  They had fun, and they can't wait until next year's event.

 7)  Thanks to homeschooling, Kenny can be Kenny, and he can be loved,  corrected, reminded, and laughed with (not at) as we continue to struggle daily with his broken brain.  That child would never have made it had we not homeschooled, it literally saved him in a million ways and he says so all the time.  For that alone,  I am deeply grateful to have the opportunity to do be with him.  Yes, our days are sometimes incredibly hard, yes, I spend an inordinate amount of time in "training" mode, but the more I read about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, the more I am filled with love for this son of ours, who, unlike many has the warmest heart, takes correction so graciously and with great understanding and wisdom, and who never gives up.

You have to give up something to gain something.  For every "yes", there is a "no" that must be said.  We have had to say "no" many times, but the things we have said "yes" to make every "no" seem easy.  For that, I am so thankful.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Dad Gets a Break

"Teenagers are awful!"

"I can't wait for them to get out of the house."

"You poor thing, 4 teens so close together?  You have my sympathies."

Almost daily I hear some sort of comment about how terrible the teen years are, about how awful it must be to be me and be stuck at home with so many kids so close in age and all hitting puberty at the same time.  Often it is said right in front of the kids, which infuriates me, and it is a cultural bias I simply don't buy into, and decided years earlier to ignore.

I have come to think of it as a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy...if you choose to think the teen years are awful, they will be.
How often have I replied back, "Oh man, these are the BEST years!  Our kids are my favorite people to be with, I am so blessed to be their mom."...and I make sure to say it loud enough that if the kids are around, they hear me affirming my joy at their presence in my life.  I am not "stuck" with them every day, I am privileged enough to be able to BE with them every day!  

Dominick feels the same way, though he admitted to me that while I was gone last week he got a good dose of how hard it is to be me these days, and he thanked me profusely for all I do that goes unnoticed so much of the time.  But that is the logistical and teaching components, it is not the interaction piece.

Dominick and "da Boys" took off for Denver for the weekend at my urging, to take a Manhood Break and simply be together and do whatever hit their fancy.  We can't really get away for a real family vacation right now, and probably not for a good year or so more, at the earliest.  He has been working so hard, as many hours as he was with two jobs and maybe more, and he is worn out completely and needed a little fun, and some real time with the kids.  So we thought a guy weekend might help all four men connect more deeply with one another, and give Dominick a chance to relax and have a little fun.  So off they went, to do exciting things like play laser tag, claw their way up climbing walls, explore two "escape rooms" which for those who have never heard of them is a new adventure type of game where they describe it as an interactive video game where you solve puzzles and look for clues to help you escape from a themed room.  Not being major sports fans, going to a game was not anything of interest to any of them, so this was a terrific Nerd Adventure Weekend for all of them, and if the photos being texted are any sign, they had a blast.

Here they are at Puzzah!, the escape room challenge they did.  Successful at Room 1!
They really don't look like anything other than young men now, do they?  All three, so mature and mom thinks they are pretty handsome, too.

Go Kenny!  He and Matt, in particular, really enjoy climbing walls.

Late afternoon burnout.

Successfully completed room #2 and reportedly with only 11 seconds to spare!  Love the Sherlock Holmes props, totally fits these guys :-)

I was at our store yesterday, filling in a little for Dominick, when one of our employees asked what Dominick was doing this weekend over in Denver.  I explained that he hadn't had much time with the kids this year, and wanted to take the boys on a weekend just to get away and be together, and that what they did wasn't really going to matter much because they'd find ways to have fun somehow.  I got a bit of an odd stare, as if wondering why in the world he'd want to do that.  Why?  Because this man adores his family, and his sons are some of his most favorite people in the world.  Now, I know this doesn't sound like a major cool thing to do, but it was planned by the boys, they researched what they wanted to do that wouldn't be too expensive, and they knew their Dad would do anything with them, solely because he loves spending time with them.

Yea, teenagers are just so hard to be with. :-(

That left the girls and I to have an at home Girls Weekend, and though it was a quiet one, it has been sweet in so many ways.  We all went to work, and the girls spent a few hours redoing shelf tags while I stocked shelves and the cooler, bagged ice, and did a little accounting work.  Major excitement, right?  Not for most, but do you know I was thanked twice for "letting" them come to work with me?  It was late afternoon, so we elected to have a rare treat out and go to an early dinner at Denny's, where we three sat and visited for an hour after having finished our meal.  Once again, we were mistaken for a foreign exchange family, and Angela explained that I was their real mom, and the young waitress said she loved their accents.  That led us to a much deeper conversation about our family.

Angela's class would be in their last year, she would be aging out, and that weighs heavily on her heart as she shared that she often thinks about the kids left behind, and what they will do with their lives.  I find it hard to think about as well, and it seems that right now I have many adoptive family friends in crisis right now, and it all just feels so hard, and I feel so fortunate that the challenges we face are manageable.  It sure is a reminder though of how far we have come, how things could just as easily go the other way, and how I will never take for granted what we have here.  Together, we have all overcome some really awful pasts, and we work diligently every single day to maintain closeness.  Sometimes, that is just not possible because hearts have been too badly broken to allow connection.

Everyone is home now, all settled and tucked in for the night.  Our regular routine starts back tomorrow, with school, volleyball, and church meetings on tap.  There is something quite precious about the ordinariness of it all.  The girls pointed out during out conversation that they love that no one in our family needs anything all that exciting to be happy, that we all have fun together doing things that might bore others, but they realize that real life is not always filled with excitement.  Angela said she really wants us to have a family "camp out" again, because she loved it in her early years home when we all slept in the same room together, telling stories in the dark and just being together. That's one reason camping is so sweet, because we are all tucked in together in the same room, giggling in the dark.  I was so touched to realize those moments meant so much to her, and though we were short changed in terms of their childhood, this was something lasting that we were able to offer to carry with her the rest of her life.  So maybe we need to plan a family camp out soon.

A new week begins, and many more hours with my "awful teens" will be thoroughly enjoyed as we all continue to learn and grow together. Time for mom to hit the hay so I can be supercharged for the morning.  And as I roll over and curl up in my blankets, I will give thanks yet again for the sweetest teens in the world, who are thoughtful, generous, hard working, and a gift to me in every possible way.  Sometimes, I can't believe how much I love them all, and how easy it is to do so.  Yes, the cute younger years are behind us, and now the adults are gradually emerging.  The coming years will be every bit as tender, every bit as wonderful as the younger years were.  How can they not be?  Team LaJoy works hard together, plays well together, and loves fiercely.  Nothing else really matters.  

Thursday, September 24, 2015

D-O-N-E done

Mom was done.  D-O-N-E done.  I was as flat as could be, in desperate need of something to uplift me and help see me through this next season of our life which has more on my plate than ever before.  I had no idea what I needed, but I knew this was just too much and I was cracking.

Since the addition of the new store to our lives, a blessing no doubt, I have ever more to contend with as I am handling much of the back end paperwork and handling marketing and "Big Picture" thinking while Dominick handles the day to day operation.  Then there is beginning the training soon for Civil Air Patrol Leadership while handling all the travel for volleyball for five kids on three different teams every single week day.  Oh yea, then there is that homeschooling gig, helping my mom with her bills, laundry and grocery shopping for 7 people, medical care coordination and travel, and throw in a little church volunteering around the edges.   

D-O-N-E done.

I was seriously crying almost every other day, exhausted and at wit's end, feeling unseen, unknown, and like I couldn't manage to walk one more step.  Giving up singing with Sweet Adelines temporarily because I just can't figure out how to fit it in felt as if I was giving up that last teeny little thing that was just for me.  Of course that was true, because I do very little in this season that is solely for me.

It is how it is, I still wouldn't change a thing, and I love what I do...but I can't do it all without a break, it's just too much with too little in the mix that fills me up.

That is one reason why the gift of this past weekend was so necessary.  The other was that I needed a fresh perspective on my faith, I needed to continue the work of exploring and informing and nurturing my heart of hearts.

Wow, did that ever happen, and more.

My best friend thoughtfully planned a special birthday treat months ago with Dominick to take me to the inaugural Why Christian? 2015 conference, with 11 amazing prominent female speakers.  This was not a "Women's Conference", not by a long shot.  These 11 strong, charismatic, thoughtful women all answered the question, "Why Christian?" and wove the stories of their lives into the answer.  Sounds boring to some folks, I am sure, but I have become a certified Church Geek through the years and found it to be the most inspirational experience ever, as did just about every attendee if one bases that judgment on the Facebook posts to the conference's page afterward, where over and over again comments were made about how folks were still feeling moved and steeped in their faith in a new way days afterward, and wondering how to translate what they felt into change in their local congregations.

Rachel Held Evans

With each story that was woven on stage, the more I listened the more my own heaviness lifted.  Hearing these bright women speak of their trials, their failures, their eventual successes, and their humble understanding of themselves as very, very human sunk in.  Back at our hotel room, conversation flowed late into the evening as we shared our thoughts about what we heard, and we wrestled with The Church in ways that only a couple of Church Geeks might do...and man, did I enjoy that. It was one thing to be present and listen, it was wholly another to have someone equally passionate about faith to share it with.

Most importantly, I think that I may have really and truly heard something for the very first time, I mean deep in my marrow understood it to be true.  I am a beloved child of this Spirit we call God.  It was repeated over and over again as each speaker shared their story, a profound discovery for each as they, too, internalized it at some point in their life journey.  Though said in many different ways, it was the main theme, though I doubt many heard it that way...I am beloved, I am God's, even when the world rejects me or doesn't see me, I am seen and known, I belong to God.  

I don't think that I have ever really known that to be true aside from an intellectual perspective, but faith doesn't happen as much in the head as it does in the heart...and mine is absolutely a Heart Faith...and I got it, I really, really got it this time.

I am beloved by God.

In the moments when no one sees the dumpy homeschooling mom, I am beloved.
In the moments when my needs and desires are put aside for others, I am beloved.
In the moments when it all feels too heavy a load, I am beloved.
In the moments when I look ahead, and all I see is years more struggle and challenge and I want to give up, I am beloved.
In the moments when others judge me for how I walk through the world, I am beloved.
In the moments when I fail to be as kind as I wish I always were, I am beloved.
In the moments when deepest despair overtakes me, I am beloved.
In the moments when I doubt, I am beloved.
In the moments when no one understands me, when I feel foolish for having spoken up, when I hurt for lack of connection, when I ache to be known and viewed as valued, I am beloved.
In the moments when I yearn to be used by God and don't always see how God wants me to live into a call to ministry that will most likely look (and may already look) non-traditional, I am beloved.
In the moments when I silently hate myself for how I look, I am beloved.
In the moments when I just need to be hugged, I am beloved.

There was one moment though that transcended all others at the conference, one that I shall remember as long as I live, for it was marrow deep and washed away so much for me.  As one presenter spoke, she paused for a moment and began the chorus of "It Is Well With My Soul", and a chorus of 2000 voices joined with her a capella, broken into four part harmony as if rehearsed.  The sound filled the high ceiling cathedral, an unexpected moment of unity so soul filling that many of us looked around as if to ask, "Hey?  Are you feeling that, too?" and the brief moment of awed silence that followed was as if God had breathed a beautiful sigh at the sheer loveliness of the moment.

My dear friend has a Challenged Child as well, and I realized something throughout the course of our time together.  I have never spent any real quality time with anyone who has a special needs child.  Other than my lifesaving online connections, I have never had a relationship "in real life" with a special needs mom, and that has left me somewhat isolated in a unique way that I am only just now beginning to understand, as stupidly, I am really just only beginning to take in that yes, I am a special needs mom...times five.  Funny how it has taken me this long to see that, I am not really sure why and it puzzles me.  Of course, I have known it about the kids forever, but I have never viewed it in terms of what it means for me, their mom, and the different roles I have to play.  It is a little disconcerting to suddenly get that when it really ought to have been so obvious. 

I needed this time with someone whose child is also suffering and struggling, and who desperately wants to help that child succeed in the world.  I needed to feel met where I have lived so long without someone to walk through it with.  I needed the intellectual conversation about Things That Matter aside from my kids, I needed the deep connection with someone whose faith carries her through...who has been injured by life herself multiple times...who sheds tears over what she can't fix for her child.  I needed someone who would turn to me at a key moment when someone said something profound on stage and mouth "Wow!".  I needed to feel less alone as a mother, and as a woman, for my role as a special needs mom has completely overtaken me at times the past couple of years, and having no peers "in person" has left me drained for it takes too much effort and energy to explain to someone who has no idea what it feels like to have children who simply can not do what others can.  Online is great, and I am so glad I have some in the Cyberworld with which to connect, but there is nothing that substitutes for a hand being held as difficult truths are being wrestled with.

I have a child who will never live unsupervised on his own,  but who at first glance appears perfectly normal.  I have another child who still can't manage to tell time on an analog clock, or easily subtract 200 from 1600 in her head.  I have another who can't write without software that fixes his every other word mistake,and yet can picture electronic connections in his head and build just about anything.  I have another who appears to have a little challenge, but whose memory or logic hiccups in ways that are absolutely not normal.  I have another child whose giftedness causes him to feel alone in ways I can completely identify with, who also daily still works internally to overcome silent risidual effects of Reactive Attachment Disorder that has him racing around in a panic when the dog can't be found, or clinging desperately to me because I might disappear someday.

And those children of mine are beloved, Oh My Lord, how they are beloved!!

And so am I.  So am I.

God, in the most loving way possible showed up for me these past few days.  God brought me loving companionship, music that moved me, and words that healed me from women who are "Someone" but who also understand that their being "Someone" really comes from being a beloved child of God, not from any accolades, education, or outside affirmation.

Me too.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Falling Apart, Accepting Truths

He sits beside me, ever taller, ever lankier, and he searches for the words to express his thoughts, words that so often fail him by eluding his mental grasp regardless of the effort put into chasing them down.  This time, however, as he has thought a lot prior to speaking,  the words flow easily...too easily for all the weight they bear.

We are traveling in every mom's secret Conversational Weapon, the family minivan.  How many discussions of import have happened side by side, where eye contact is lessened and tongues are loosened?  How have kids through the ages not foreseen that their secret hearts will be revealed solely because they feel safe enough to speak their truth in a passenger seat?  Be it a '57 Buick or a 2007 Dodge Caravan, teens are helpless when sitting to the right of mom, her attention seemingly divided between road and word.  Walls develop cracks during those drives, just wide enough to allow an opinion to be heard, and fears are expressed in seemingly casual language that any self-respecting mother can hear with a single syllable uttered.

Sometimes, though, the heart and mind rush like water released from a dam that cascades over a spillway, and it is all the beloved son or daughter can do to keep themselves from tumbling...tumbling...tumbling over their own thoughts, so eager are they to be joined in their misery, wishing for reassurances that their imaginings really are blown out of proportion, and seeking the blessed relief that comes to us at any age when we hear our moms say, "Don't worry, honey, it's all OK."

But what do you do when it's not ever going to be all OK?  How do you respond when your son turns to you and asks the question he already knows the answer to, and wishes with all his heart you would be able to wave a magic wand and **POOF** a different result appears?

It was a week after having sat Kenny down to talk openly and honestly about all I had been learning that pertained to FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders).  I knew at the time that this would have to be digested in small chunks, that we would most definitely be revisiting this as soon as some of what I had shared settled in.  I spoke to him about shocking statistics, about patterns of behavior and deficits that finally fit him, and about the disturbing outcomes for the overwhelming majority of folks affected by FASD.  Kenny is a young sage of sorts, a bit of a philosopher who needed time to ruminate on all he had heard, but I knew in time it would be brought forward.

And here we were, and bring it forward, he did.

"So mom, I have been thinking a lot about what you said to me about my brain, and all that doesn't work right, and what my future looks like." he said.  "It looks like this is really what is going on for me, and it looks like all your worries were not overblown.  Is it really true that so many people never make it to living without help?  Do that many really end up on the street or in jail?" he asked.

"I'm afraid so, Kenny, and it makes sense.  People with this many multiple challenges with their brain just can't pull it all together to create an independent life that is safe.  It's not their fault, but no one understands why they can't do the things everyone else does, and they can't easily hold jobs or take care of themselves.  It is terribly sad, but it is true, and in your heart of hearts, you know it, too." I replied.

This conversation came after a very difficult 3 or 4 weeks, when Kenny's brain seemed to have completely short circuited, something that happens with regularity but not usually to this degree.  We are assuming that puberty arriving full force has something to do with it, but it has been almost impossible at moments for his brain to function.  We have had everything from forgetting how to form letters, to being unable to recall what items make up a salad, to leaving the oven on, to saying, "Hey Mom!  Guess what?" and when I immediately respond, "What?" there is a blank stare, a panicked look, and a comment of "Oh man!!! I totally forgot!  Why is this happening to me all the time right now?" There has been an uptick in impulsivity, mostly in the morning, as his worsening ADHD symptoms make it difficult for him to stop interrupting others, playing with things, etc.  At the dentist this past week it was like being with a toddler, as he had to touch and play with every single item on the desk in front of us as I was trying to make arrangements for future work.  At WalMart I had to grab him and pull him back from an SUV that he walked right in front of without looking as we exited the store.  Having a conversation with him at home with the slightest bit of background a dishwasher, a TV playing quietly in the other room, someone down the hall talking...has me constantly repeating myself, as "Huh?" has become a refrain.  It has been so challenging that Matthew even had a talk with Dominick, whose long work hours have kept him away from home a lot, and Matt told Dominick just how hard it has been on me with Kenny, and that he needs to understand that things are escalating right now and my frustration level is justified if I seem to have less patience.  It touched me that Matt cared enough to speak to his Dad to fill him in.

It is hard right now, and I don't know when it will get easier, or if it will ever get easier.  Kenny is this amazing young man, and FASD doesn't necessarily always mean a low intellect, it is more that the brain malfunctions, and he can't organize his life, recall patterns of daily living, can't retrieve words, and truly can't take more than one step instructions or complete even the smallest of tasks without being drawn off course.

I have tried to write about what this feels like, but my heart has been aching too much to do justice to it.  How do you describe what it feels like to have your 16 year old son look over at you and ask, "Mom, will anyone ever love me?  Will I ever be able to have kids of my own?  How can I when I can't even take care of myself or keep myself safe?"

The silence descends as I try as gently and honestly to answer, "I just don't know Kenny, no one can predict their future, whether they have challenges like yours or not.  The one thing I do know is that God continually uses you, and will always do so as long as you say 'yes", which you always do.  Other than that, honey, there is nothing that is guaranteed.  Many people never get married because they just don't find the right mate, and that has nothing to do with disabilities."

Quietly he responds, "Yea, but I read that book and a lot of those profiles online of people like me, and none of them were married or had kids.  Funny how that is the thing that is bothering me the most right now, thinking that I might never be able to be a dad.  I ought to be more worried about being able to support myself."

Errand after errand was run, and each time we got back in the Magic Talking Machine, the subject was explored from another angle.  I explained to him that our job was to help him lead as independent a life as possible, but the older he was growing, the more it was obvious to all of us, even him, that full independence was not likely in the cards for him.  I shared that he was too high functioning and bright for many options, and wouldn't qualify for services, and that there were few places for someone with his abilities AND disabilities to live.  Explaining that there were only a handful of group homes, etc. that might accommodate someone with his needs, I let him know that if that sounded like something he wanted to explore in order to have some independence in his future, then I would do more research and try and get on waiting lists, etc. but that odds were slim of being accepted into any place as there were too few homes and too many people in need.

He wrestled with that one a moment, and then looked over at me and asked, "Do you and Dad care if I live with you?  Will I be a burden on you?" and the tears started to fall.

"No, Kenny, it is never a burden to be with someone as interesting, as intelligent, as wise, and as helpful as you are.  Your Dad and I would happily live with you forever, without a moment's hesitation.  I just want you to know what options there are out there, even if they are few and far between, because I don't want to limit you or be over protective of you.  If you have a desire to try and live life as independently as possible, then it is my job to help you achieve your goals.  But don't ever, EVER think you are a burden on us.  Of course it can be frustrating, but so what?  Lots of things in life are frustrating and we still do them and find joy in them, right?  You will always and forever have a home with us, until the day we die, and even then I am sure your siblings will find ways to surround you with love and support, because we all love you, and your challenges are our challenges.  You are never alone in this."  I

He was trying to gather himself together, to continue the conversation without the tears, but it was hard.  This is hard.  This is awful.  It is impossible for me to even fathom what it must be like to be almost 17 years old and know you will never be able to drive because you will most certainly kill yourself or someone else, and even he has been saying that for the past 3 years or so...he is wise and knows his limitations.  It is impossible to fathom what it feels like to be almost 17 years old, and have every dream limited because your brain won't work well enough to allow you to pursue those dreams to their fullest capacity.

"So, I guess seminary really is beyond reach, isn't it?  I need to give that one up, and I know it.  Mom, I can't really organize myself enough to even do my work now without lots of help, let alone imagine living on my own and going to school. "  Kenny wants to go to seminary.  He wants to work in ministry.  He wants to attend college.  He wants to engage in deep thinking, deep conversations, and deep theological exploration.  Somehow, I have to find a way to fill him up in this area, while making it do-able.  He will never be able to attend college on his own, and I am not sure we will be able to get his reading level up above about a 9th grade level.  It is incredibly difficult to build vocabulary when your brain can't retain the definitions of words not commonly used.   And it is so hard to describe Kenny, because there is a level of depth that is beyond what it ought to be with the brain he has.  In so many ways he is capable, and yet in so many ways he really is not.

People who meet Kenny often have no clue he is as hampered as he is, he comes across as very articulate, very introspective, and very bright...and he is all of those things.  It works against him, as he looks and sounds "normal" (and honestly, sometimes above average), and expectations are quite different than what he can live up to.

And that is the hardest thing of all, seeing the potential there that will be unrealized, at least in the traditional ways.

We are too far along now to not be honest about things, we can not live in a Pollyanna world as he are almost at 17 years old and legal adulthood is barrelling down on us.  He has 4 years of high school to complete, and will do so and probably be academically higher than the vast majority of his local peers.  But he can't fill out a form without help, he can't recall his middle name or how to spell it, he can't answer questions at the dentist's office about why he is there that day.  Daily he loses things, daily he forgets important information, daily he has to stop and sound out words that the day before he knew how to pronounce.  While I'd love to be able to allow time for his high school years to be lived out before dealing with anything, he will be 18 before we know it and we have to be honest about the level of assistance he needs.  We have to be prepared, I have to be realistic as we look toward a future for him and what will give his life meaning and keep him engaged.  My son will NOT become a statistic simply because I didn't want to admit the truth.  He also will NOT be left unfulfilled working at a menial job with nothing meeting his need for intellectual stimulation.  I have a lot of work to do, for he is incapable of doing it, and I absolutely must find ways for his life to bring out his very best, for there is SO much there of value to the world!  But neither of us can pretend it is all going to be OK, because it really won't.  His life will be very different from his siblings' lives, and we are all grieving over that.

Kenny has an invisible disability...or really set of disabilities.  However, he has a very visible set of abilities as well.  He is blessed with a church family that sees the sum total of Kenny, not the parts that are damaged, and he is treated with acceptance and respect by everyone.  His thoughts are valued there, and they have no idea how life giving that is right now for him, for it is authentic, and it helps him feel he has a place where he is seen for all he is, while the deficits are acknowledged and yet seen as a part of a much larger whole.  That is a gift of untold measure for a young man like Kenny.

Today, while driving yet again, he and I were alone, and I told him that one of my biggest regrets in life would always be not recognizing things sooner, not being able to sort out his learning disabilities sooner, or advocating harder, or expecting him to perform in ways that were impossible for him, though I had no idea at the time.  He interrupted me and said, "Mom, I want you to get rid of that guilt right now, just put it in the trash can.  No one would have understood all that was wrong or why, and honestly, sometimes when you came down hard on me I totally deserved it, after all, I may have problems but I am still a kid and I still try to take the easy way out...and you always catch me.  I will never, ever blame you for anything, so you can just let that go and not walk around feeling that way, OK?  You are a terrific mom who has made mistakes like we all do, but it was because none of us knew what was going on, that's not your fault, you weren't working with enough information sometimes.  When you feel bad about something with me, just look at how far I am now, and know I wouldn't be doing half of what I am doing if it weren't for you,  Others thought I was just dumb, and over and over again I heard you in those meetings telling people that I wasn't dumb, that something was broken and you didn't know what, but that you just knew I was smart.  You believed in me when no one else did, and it changed everything for me.  What if I had ended up with a different mom?  I would have never made it. Don't feel bad, feel proud you got me this far."

I went on to say, "You know this really isn't your fault, and it isn't mine either I guess, someone did this to you, and you have to suffer because of it, and that kills me sometimes.  I know that your bio mom probably had no idea, but it was so preventable, and I hate that this happened to you."

Then my son blew me away, as he so often does when he said, "No mom, you are wrong.  She did it to you, too.  She did it to our whole family.  All of us have suffered, and sometimes I think you have suffered even more than I have.  You taught me it was always you and me against my brain, it is always us as a team.  She hurt both of us, mom, not just me.  Remember that because I think it is important for you to understand that it's OK for you to be upset and hurt over this, too, because it isn't just my life that was changed because of her drinking, it was your life and dad's life and my brothers and sisters lives that were changed, too.  But mostly you, because you are dealing with something you didn't cause, but you have to fix.  And I am the luckiest son on earth to have you as my real mom, because I don't know any other mom who would work this hard for this long and care this much.  But like you told me that it is OK for me to grieve over this and it might take a while, it's OK for you to grieve, too, because you ended up with a son who was not what you had dreamed of.  So you need to grieve too, because you have worked so hard and done everything you could for me, and I know you still will...and no one knows how hard that is for you to be my other brain all day every day.  No one knows, mom, but I do.  No one gets it, but I do.  We're a team against my broken brain, and I get how hard it is to be you, and you get how hard it is to be me, and we might be the only ones who know that."

Blinking away tears, I couldn't speak, I just reached for his hand and grabbed it tightly.  How wrong he is.  I absolutely ended up with the son I always dreamed of, a kind, thoughtful, courageous son who loves so well, forgives often, and is the very definition of grace.

We are working through a lot of hard things.  This is a time in my life where I am more emotionally wrung out, more mentally exhausted than I ever recall being.  I am being cut into pie pieces that are tiny slivers, and I am trying my best to remain afloat.  Replacing broken computers and unreliable vehicles has placed added financial concerns at a time when we are already stretched far too thin.  I feel "flat" in a way I never have, somehow managing to be present when the kids or Dominick really need me to be, but not managing to be present to myself or the Spirit right now.  I am sort of lost, as I wade through the lovely brokenness that surrounds me.

I need to find myself again, and maybe I will this coming week, when I attend Why Christian 2015  in Minneappolis, a soul filling, generous birthday gift offered to me as a surprise by my dear friend, Candi and arranged ahead of time in cahoots with Dominick.  When they plotted about this several months back, they couldn't have known how very much I would need this at this very time.  There I will, for the very first time in my life, be submerged in feminine wisdom and story that speaks to the deepest places of my heart.  I will hear Rachel Held Evans, whose fabulous writing makes me want to weep, and Nadia Bolz-Weber whose tattooed Lutheran faith is vividly different and wildly challenging.  There will be other moving stories shared by many other Spirit filled women speakers whose differences will, perhaps, make me feel less alone, and whose faith journeys were as quirky and diverse as they get.  I am begging God to use this time to renew me, to bring me "home" so I can rest in a way I haven't been able to do in a very, very long time.  I need to be inspired, I need to be invited to see differently, I need to be immersed in something that tickles my brain and massages my heart.  I need to feel God's call fall anew on me, and to maybe gain insight into why I felt it in the first place and never, ever feel as if I am living into it.  It is a hard thing for me to talk about, and it is an awful, raw edge I rub up against every single day.

I want to blog more faithfully, but my heart has been falling apart, bit by bit lately, and I have to allow for that to happen and just trust that the words will come when they will, and my "working it out" place, as I like to think of this blog, will still be there when those words come more easily.  Free time doesn't exist in my life right now, except for in dribs and drabs late at night, when fatigue overwhelms and the hard stuff is just too big to approach with words.  But I'll keep trying, and in time, tension will ease, paths will be clearer, and my heart will be lighter.  I know this, because it is promised to me by God, and I have experienced those mini-resurrections over and over again.  And in due course, it will happen yet again.  I am certain.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

The Words are Hiding

I can't write.  I've tried off and on for days, and words aren't there, so I am giving up. I have stories to share, but everything is so hard right now, so painful emotionally and such a struggle that it doesn't seem to want to be put into words yet.  If I can't be really real, I don't want to even try because for me, writing is sacred, and it is where God and I sort of meet and talk.  Perhaps later this week I can find the ability to be a little more vulnerable, but right now I am not capable.

In the meantime, this is a photo post.  It's about all I can do right now.

A couple of weekends ago we went to the Grand Mesa and rented a cabin for a little getaway.  We have had little time together as a family, with the new business taking so much of Dominick away from us and my attention falling to the logistics, marketing, and accounting pieces.  The entire family was looking forward to our "vacation" , as that will be about all we can manage this year.  We had a lovely time.  There are also a few other photos here to share as well.

Matthew helping Dominick replace the broken blinds in our bedroom, nice to have handy sons who are growing ever taller!

I love this picture of these three! Poor Lessie is now permanently the shortest member of the family now that Joshie has grown so much.  He looks so mature in the face and body these days, it is hard to believe he is only 12.  I wasn't ready for that to happen almost overnight.

Kenny lounging around.

We ran into one of my most favorite people, Pastor Karen!  I love that though we did the unusual for us and "ditched" church to stay home and have brunch together as a family (a rare occasion for us), we didn't have to feel awkward running into her at the craft fair later.  This woman has had a profound impact on our family with her faithfulness and teachings...and love.  So lucky to count her among the LaJoy Beloved Ones!

Macho, macho man...

Best picture I have had of the girls in a long while :-)
These two are the sweetest daughters anyone could ever have.
They were worth every moment of waiting, and then some.

Relaxing in Ouray after the craft festival .

Aaaaaandd...dead to the world after a long day. 
It is hard work straddling boyhood and manhood.
He is so beautiful to me.

Josh is taking a photography class that begins this coming week, and here he is sharing a little of his knowledge with Mr. Miller.

We went to the Brass Band Festival in Silverton, our second year.  The kids LOVED it and didn't want us missing it like last year.  For some reason, I find that so funny as it is not an event attended by kids, for the most part, but it is some of the best quality of music I have ever heard with top notch musicians we are lucky to draw to this area.  I am so pleased that the kids enjoy it and begged to go again, for we have worked hard to expose them to a wide variety of music and it is nice to see that pay off a bit.

I have mentioned that Matt was working on building his own 3D printer with financial help from our friend, Miss Jane.  It has been a months long exploration into electronics and development, as he is building it from scratch.  Parts have had to be re-ordered from China, slowing things down on multiple occasions.  There has been a lot of trial and error, learning programming, modifying schematics, and more.  He is super close to having it functioning, and has spent hundreds of hours learning and growing from this experience.

He has also recently had a few paying jobs for optimizing computers long distance using, helping Miss Janet think about her future computing and wireless needs, purchasing and setting up a "cloud" server at our store, and just this evening helping one of Dominick's sales reps delete over 400 viruses on his computer. It has been such fun to sit back and watch Matt teach himself so many new skills.

It is also wonderful to have our own reliable, personal IT Guy available at no cost to us! Hahaha!

My hair looks so wild!  My "Big Girl" hopped right on my lap when Kenny grabbed my camera.

Lots of opportunities for bike riding at the cabin we rented near Vega Lake.  Also lots of opportunities for a variety of pairings of kids!

Kenny and Angie hung out together most of the weekend, talking up a storm, canoeing together, and talking long walks with mom while the others rode bikes 8 miles around the lake over and over again.

Early morning light falls on my babies.

Lounging on the front porch.  A day and a half wasn't nearly enough time, but we were grateful to have even that together.

Serenity.  Peace.  Presence.

It's S'More time!

Kenny at sunset, a picture in contemplation.

We're a team, a mighty team, and we have won some hard fought battles.
We have a lot more ahead.

Our off-road bikers had so much fun!

Matt on his birthday bike.  He put a LOT of miles on it that weekend!

Kenny trailing behind, the other boys forging the trail ahead.

Something many people don't understand about kids adopted at older ages who missed out on so much...they delight in many of the things younger kids do because they missed out on the typical touching, feeling and exploration that toddlers do.  At every turn over the weekend Angela was finding something to revel in; walking barefoot along the shore, finding a crawdad claw that was blue, pointing out a bunny near the outhouse, all of it was fascinating.

The Spirit showing off, reminding me to be still, to try and rest easy, to look for the light in the darkness. The end to a restful weekend, just what we needed.

Maybe this coming week the words will find their way to the surface, maybe not.  I hope so.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

2 x 4 Grief

Many of our blog readers are people of faith, and many are not.  Those of you who are long time readers know me to speak casually and frankly about my understanding of God in my life, and you know that in the past I have spoken of being so dense that I literally pray for God to hit me over the head with a 2 x 4 so that I will be absolutely certain that what I am sensing is, indeed, Spirit led and not headstrong Cindy led.

But what do you do when that 2 x 4 that whacks you upside the head is Grief with a capital "G" What about Grief you'd prefer to keep held tucked away,  Grief you'd much rather not reveal because the effort of explaining it requires too much of you, Grief that you don't even have sorted out yet and don't have a handle on?

What do you do?

You listen when God begs you to share.  You cry out and let your tears speak the words you can't quite find to eloquently express what you are feeling.  You set your pride aside, you be as vulnerable as a person can be, and you let God do what God does best...hold you in the arms of others, whisper in your ear through the sweet messages of others, and look into the eyes of others who may not fully understand but who care enough to want to connect in some way...any way.

This week has been one of hard, painful truths being explored.  It has been a week of coming to grips with a reality no one wants, but half suspected.  It has been a week of emotional depth for many different reasons, coming at me from all sides, requiring of me a level of spiritual maturity I don't really have, but need to have regardless.

I have spent 8 1/2 years advocating for our dear, sweet Kenny.  Starting with a blank slate, and quite literally not a single medical record relating to the 8 years that were lived prior to being adopted, Kenny has been...what is that saying?  He has been "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma."  And I just snorted out loud with laughter as I looked this up and discovered how apropos it is that this is a Winston Churchill quote about the actions of Russia. Yea, the actions of the former USSR...could this be any more telling?

How many IEP school meetings did I find myself fighting tooth and nail to get someone to listen to me about the fact that what we were seeing in Kenny was absolutely NOT just language acquisition challenges? In how many of those meetings did I hold back the tears, knowing something was desperately wrong with my son and understanding that not a single person believed me or saw what I was seeing?  Why did uneducated, non-specialist, non-degreed mom...have to bring diagnoses to MD's and educators and beg for testing and be blown off time and time again, despite ultimately being proven correct in my personal assessment?

And there sat Kenny, always trusting me to have his best interests at heart, always working harder than any kid ought to ever have to work to do the simplest things, like learn to sound out words, learn phone numbers, learn to acquiesce with incredible grace when he made mistakes all day long.

The patience and forgiveness this young man has offered me, even when young, is beyond my understanding.  How many times did I expect things of him that were impossible?  How many times, in my lack of knowledge, did I hold his behavior up to him and point out how illogical it was, as if he could somehow "fix it" if I made him feel bad enough about it?  How many times did I learn something new about his brain, and suddenly realize why he did the things he did, or didn't do the things he didn't do?

After years and years of adding up diagnoses, and pursuing every possible avenue for help for Kenny, I finally decided to look into Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. I "liked" a Facebook page many months ago for caregivers of those with FAS/FAE (Fetal Alcohol Effect) and it was a gradual "aha".  The statements being made WERE the life we were living with Kenny. Why hadn't anyone ever suggested this, and why hadn't I put two and two together myself?  Of course, I knew it was possible in some sort of distant, random way, but we kept being given specific learning disability labels with no umbrella ever suggested by a single specialist of what the true root cause might be.  So, we focused on each development as it arose, accommodating as best we could with academics and ever changing expectations.

As I continued to read posts in this Facebook group, I decided we needed to pursue this, and spent months finding the right place to get an evaluation.  We ended up trying to work with the University of Washington, as they have not only an international adoption medicine program with a fabulous MD who reviewed videos of Matt and Josh all those years ago, but she is also involved with the USA's longest running FAS Clinic at the U of WA.  I came to discover that even getting permission to be seen by the clinic is a bit of a process, and we had to send in photos, provide a history, and needed to know if the biological mother used alcohol before we would even be considered for an appointment. Hmmm...good luck with that one when you have a child who was abandoned immediately after birth outside a police station with no note.  The one thing that saved us in being allowed to apply for an appointment was that 8 1/2 years ago we immediately took Kenny to see Dr. Boris Gindis to be evaluated in his native Russian language, and in Dr. Gindis's report he stated that one of the orphanage documents he translated stated that at some point, there was a suspicion of fetal alcohol exposure for Kenny.  That, along with the obvious challenges he has, was enough to have U of WA say "yes", and we are currently awaiting a date for an appointment for an evaluation, which we told will be 4-6 months from now.

This week, it really hit.  FAS is hard to diagnose without firm knowledge of birth mom usage, and there aren't always facial feature anomalies as determining factors.  Often, it is solely a broken brain that is the only clear sign of FAS/FAE.  And that makes it harder, because these kids LOOK normal, but they absolutely can not think the way the rest of the world does. Like Kenny, they can also be quite bright, and yet their brain is broken and what might have been an exceptionally good brain misfires randomly and with no warning.

After another mildly frustrating day with Kenny, when everything was disconnected, and yet again he forgot to take a shower...and when asked if he forgot he couldn't even recall if had had showered 30 minutes earlier, I decided more research was in order.  I sat down and started to seek more information, this time instead of searching for just FAS or FAE, I Googled FAS in Young Adults.

And there it was.  Validation unlike any other I have ever found.  A report was quoted that was generated by the U of WA about a long term study of 451 young adults over 21 years old and the statistics associated with their success.

Oh shit.

Sorry, but that was the only thing I could think of in the moment to say.  Oh shit.

Not only have I been right all along when I have said, "I am not so sure Kenny will make it on his own as an adult, we will just have to wait and see.", but I was more right than I ever could have imagined.  So many times in casual conversation about the kids and how they are doing I have  mentioned something along those lines, only to have the person who knows him look at me like I
had a third eye sticking out of my forehead, or that I was some sort of slightly insane, over-thinking, overprotective mother.  Kenny?  That Kenny who can carry on a conversation for hours about any event in history and analyze current events in context? Kenny whose theological depth is truly almost unparalleled for a kid his age? Kenny who is funny and engaging and tender hearted?  What in the world is wrong with Kenny?  You must be nuts, mom.

The only person who truly believed it was Kenny himself, for he and I have daily fought on the battleground to regain brain function for almost 9 years now, and we both know something is just not right here.  As he read some of the data I had found, as well as combed through an ebook I had downloaded, he looked up at me and said with conviction, "Yea mom, this is totally's sort of like you wrote it specifically about me."

The statistics in the report were devastating, and yet so very sadly validated that sneaking feeling I have had for years. Not a single man  in the study of 451 people was able to live independently unassisted.  They end up homeless, victimized or in jail. Of the 451 people studied who are adults living with FAS/FAE, here are the percentages that needed concrete help with these daily tasks:

Getting dressed - 4%
Public transportation - 24%
Hygiene - 36%
Staying out of trouble - 47%
Structuring leisure time - 47%
Cooking meals - 49%
Grocery shopping - 52%
Interpersonal relationships - 56%
Getting medical care - 66%
Getting social services - 70%
Making decisions - 78%
Managing money - 82%

Yes, 4% even need help getting dressed.  How many times have I had to tell Kenny that wearing long sleeved fleece shirts when it is 96 degrees out is probably not wise?  Do you know Kenny has revealed to us that if he had to drive somewhere on his own, he would have no idea how to get to Walmart, church, or the library...and we live in a town with only 2 major streets.  Even today, I sent him to go find a Tshirt for volleyball while we were shopping, and when he returned he admitted to me that he got lost and forgot which direction the grocery section was in.   16 year olds can find their way around the major departments of a Walmart...but not ours.

And helpful, wonderful, kind and caring people think that something as simple as "make him a list" will be a solution to a problem that is far larger than a list can solve.  And that alone is so isolating as a mom, I can't even begin to tell you.  It is isolating to have no one really understand the level of handicap because your kid looks normal and IS smart. It is terribly lonely to feel something in your gut and no one believes you, and you know you are losing valuable time trying to work with it because you don't have solid answers (and you have already lost half their childhood).  It is isolating as hell to have to look your child in the eye, and tell them their dreams are truly out of reach, and they will need to lower the bar...not a little, but a lot.

The 2 x 4 of Grief whacked me in church this morning, after having spent several days this week in
conversation with Kenny over this, struggling to wrap our minds around the fact that, indeed, this lovely, inquisitive, articulate (when he isn't trying hard to find the right word that escaped his brain), wonderful young man will absolutely never be able to live safely on his own without a fair amount of support, and with the degree of deficit Kenny has, truthfully probably he will never be able to live completely alone.  It is unsafe for him in many ways, and he gets that too.

I am sitting there with our family, a wonderfully challenging sermon had been delivered that "hit" me on so many levels, and it was time for us to share prayer requests.  Now, mind you, no one is aware of this week's awareness that had struck us, no conversation had been had with anyone, and there were only about 20 of us in church today.  The very first prayer request?

For parents who will be parenting children long into the future, who have kids who will need care all their lives and move into adulthood never being able to be independent.

It was so unexpected, so out of the blue, and even out of character as a request from the woman who made it, that I literally almost crumbled with the weight of the knowledge of God's presence in that very moment.  It was impossible for her to know anything about our deep disheartening dismay this week, and yet there she was, sharing a prayer request knowing it.

The tears welled, my chin trembled, and I had no idea what to do with what I was feeling.  The weight of this very real awareness of what Kenny's future looks like was much more than I had realized until that very moment. And I knew then that God wanted me to have the courage to speak, to share, to allow the Spirit to be ever more present to me in my time of need, despite how foolish I felt knowing I would barely be able to even find the words, despite how desperately I just wanted to be alone in some ways with this, despite the embarrassment I knew I would feel at being so publicly vulnerable.

But, do we take the Gospel seriously, or do we not?  Do we seek out God's healing presence or do we stubbornly insist on going it alone? Do we shed our tears in private, or worse, hold them in? Or do we dare reveal to the world our pain, our longing, our fear, our sorrow...our Grief?  This was Grief I am just beginning to grab hold of, and have little understanding of. This is Grief that is layers and layers of "stuff".   It is frustration, realization, self-flagellation.  It is sorrow for what can't be  but might have been if only...if only...if only...

Sitting there, trying to speak, I knew that part of the need to share was to rid myself of misplaced shame and to lift up Kenny's experience and our family's experience of walking through the world with children who have been hurt by others, and yet make it somehow...through faith, through love, through sheer determination, and through the power of community...the very community that sat right there with me, patiently waiting for the ache and the tears to subside long enough to speak.

I was inarticulate, I was unable to look up, I was unable to do much more than briefly share what had just happened for me, and to mumble words of heartfelt gratitude that, at the very least, I knew we weren't going to walk these next miles alone because of our faith community's care for us, shown in a million little ways.

And you know what?  No matter what happens in the future, Kenny is a beautiful soul, who has already touched so many lives.  I can't help but give be SO SO SO thankful to be his mom. I can't help but be thankful for how, in some ways, I have been broken time and time again by being his mom, learning and growing right alongside him. I can't help but be thankful for the subtle nuances of "knowing" that have helped me not to give up, and spurred me on to discard the "experts" who said, "He is just mentally retarded, you may be expecting too much."...a more laughable statement has never been uttered, as anyone who knows Kenny would attest to.  To say that flashes of brilliance are there wouldn't even be much of a stretch.

The Grief hid from me, I wasn't aware of how rooted it was as I immediately went upon the task of beginning the net phase of research.  I was't running from it, truly I wasn't.  I didn't stop, I didn't allow for a moment of sitting with it emotionally, so God made sure that happened with my 2 x 4 today, for I need to grieve, this unique kind of Grief that thankfully not many are familiar with...the Grief of giving in to reality, of better knowing that some things truly won't get better, the Grief of having to help someone accept what will be when they are only 16 years old.  I'll share more later in the week what that has looked like for us...but let me say that it is imperative at this age that we begin to be realistic and honest about what the future looks like, and not play the "Well, don't make him feel like he can't get better." game.  Our family does a very good job, I think, of holding in proper tension hopes for the future and for possibility right alongside acceptance of truth.

My 2 x 4 came in the shape of a lovely 70 something woman this morning, who had no idea God was using her.  How blessed I am that the Spirit has listened to my request from years ago about making things abundantly clear to me, so that I might better enter into relationship with God and not miss lessons to be learned, opportunities to be jumped into, and relationships that are life giving.  How much more I have felt, how much deeper I have been drawn, and how much love I have experienced because of a 2 x 4 moment.

The Grief will remain awhile, until it dances gracefully offstage to be replaced by new dreams, new visions for futures, new happiness which no doubt awaits.  I trust that.  God is ever faithful.  Always.

And as another piece of Divine Intervention we sang my very favorite Taize chant of all this morning, smiling as Angie looked over at me upon reading the bulletin and saying, "Look Mom, it's your song!"...a chant I sang over, and over, and over again as I waited for the girls to come home, a chant that has gotten me through thick and thin...the brief yet oh-so-appropriate words so often a balm to my soul.

In the Lord I'll be ever thankful,

In the Lord I will rejoice!
Look to God, do not be afraid.
Lift up your voices, the Lord is near,
Lift up your voices, the Lord is near.