Sunday, March 29, 2015

When Love Takes You In

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We would have missed it all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Imperfect Little Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who needs a perfect pantry anyway?

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

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

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

It really is.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Love and Laughter Get You Through

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

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

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

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

Great Daddy material here someday!

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

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

Hurray for you Joshie Poo!!

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

In Kenny news, first a cute interlude:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh man, you bet we will!

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

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

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

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

         Embrace and Celebrate Individuals Within Our Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Patient Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.