Monday, August 31, 2009

Cultural Sensitivities

I just finished reading a thoughtful and well written post over at www.lifeunderthecalicosky.blogspot.com in which a topic was addressed which I have not really ever written about here on our blog. It was the first part of her post which struck me as very important.

There are those who argue against international adoption for many reasons, the most prevalent being that it us unfair to "rip a child from their culture", leaving them with no cultural identity to connect with. Sounds like a good point, doesn't it? Especially when one considers all that a child must leave behind that is familiar, how extraordinarily difficult such a transition must be. There was a time when I had a hard time arguing against this one...

Not anymore.

Adopting Kenny opened my eyes to an entirely new perspective on this issue. An older child has the ability to share more about what their life was like, how they perceived the world they lived in, and how they identified with their culture. We have had many stories shared over the past couple of years as Kenny has proceeded to meld his old life and new life into a new amalgamation that he can better relate to.

What anti-international adoption advocates don't seem to understand, which even my 10 year old clearly does, is that children who are institutionalized in an orphanage setting are so disconnected from their birth culture it is already as if they have been removed from their country. They are dehumanized, they are essentially jailed and they reside in an unsavory sub-culture of their birth culture...one which exists behind closed doors and is not revealed much to the outside world.

Kenny had to actually be taught about Kyrgyz culture, he had very little knowledge at 8 1/2 years old of the country he had been born and raised in. He thought he could speak Kyrgyz but was speaking Russian. He had no understanding of the nomadic culture, of the conflict between Russians and Kyrgyz as they try to stake out their claims, he had no idea that neighboring Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan were so similar in so many ways. He knew he was Kyrgyz, but he had no sense of what that meant. Ask him about orphanage life and he could give you an earful, but he had never experienced every day life in his own country...his culture was that of an isolated orphan kept within the confines of an institution which could have been in Timbuktu for all he knew.

So I ask you, really, what is it that he was giving up that related to culture? Was he walking away from a part of who he was when he left Kyrgyzstan? Yes, but not in the way some might like to picture it. As a cleft affected child he would have most definitely remained in an orphanage until he aged out with an inferior education and no safety net to save him from drowning in the sea of that Kyrgyz culture he barely knew nor understood...for he would have never lived within it.

Kenny has a new culture now, as do all 3 of our sons. It is an eclectic mix of orphan culture, Kyrgyz and Kazakh culture, and American culture. Like any immigrant, they have assimilated into their new culture and yet still recognize they are Kazakh or Kyrgyz. Much as my husband still identifies with being Italian and yet when asked says "I am American".

Are children better off being adopted internationally than languishing for years in an institution? Of course they are, for the most important culture I have yet to mention is that of a family. Being in a family and being a part of the family culture is the single best remedy for a child who can no longer live with their birth family, regardless of the reason. Surprisingly there are those who would argue otherwise, but their argument dismisses the simple human need to belong someplace where we are loved, where we are nurtured and encouraged, where someone would be willing to die for us if need be. It is a need that surpasses all others, and it causes any other argument against international adoption to fall like a house of cards battered in the wind.

You can not argue with the fact that children grow better in families, period.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Different Currency


Have you ever heard a sermon and felt it was written just for you? As if someone had been plopped down in the middle of your life and read your mind? Like God just knew what needed to be reinforced for you at a particular moment? There is a theme running through this past week for me and it culminated in the message today which I heard loud and clear, but am ruminating on even as I type this tonight. The theme is:

I am rich.

Yea, I really, really am. I have known it for a long time, but I think others are blind to the fact. My wealth isn't even hidden, it is out there for the world to see. Of course, it could be that the worn out Walmart jeans or the cheap and oh-so-bad haircuts leads others to believe we are poor. We have a nice, neat and clean home but it is not high end, there is nothing at all fancy or upgraded about it. We drive "experienced" cars (haha! Like that one?) and our kids are fortunate enough to have remarkably well dressed benefactors who offer them hand-me-downs that keep them looking sharp.

I think the reason others don't perceive us as wealthy is because we operate with a different currency than they do. Instead of dollar bills, our currency is hugs and kisses. We don't have the Euro, we have friendships we bank on. The LaJoy's are engaged in a different kind of commerce, one that requires true give and take with those we care about, one that doesn't place a cash value on an act of kindness nor has a balance sheet to make sure all is equitable and repaid in a tit-for-tat style.

I had a long and splendidly candid conversation with someone important in my life this week, and it wandered "all around John Henry's barn", as my mom would say. It was a faith dialogue, and it was a "safe place" where I didn't feel too corny to share what my heart really believes and what I hope my life exhibits daily. Most of the time, I feel a little odd to express much about our "LaJoy Family Currency". Others start looking at you like you are an overly pious nut case when you say in all sincerity: "I have been given so much, I have been blessed beyond all measure, it is not about money to me and I feel an obligation of gratitude to do as much in the world as I can to repay God in the ways I can." or "I trust God to meet our needs and step out on faith every day to do that which others deem ridiculous."

Even as I read that I tend to cringe. It sounds so "churchy", so "look-at-me-aren't-I-the-perfect-little-Christian"-esque. It is what often keeps me silent accept for here on the blog, where for some odd reason it feels more private when I write versus being in public walking around in real life which is REALLY a joke because far more of you come in contact with me via the blog on a daily basis than I probably speak to in a week in real life. People look at you like you are loopy if you admit that you actually really and truly believe that God provides and you don't need to worry. They shake their heads in disbelief at you when you indicate you really don't think it is all about you or that you feel blessed by certain things you feel are gifts from God...including $900 vans and decent hand-me-down's which others might consider throw aways.

It is those same people who look at you and roll their eyes who can't understand our currency. They do not see that time with our kids and with each other is priceless. They don't understand that at the LaJoy Savings and Loan we are not FDIC insured but we are certain that our assets are protected, that every precious moment we spend right now earns dividends later on...and at our kids' ages we are starting to cash in some of those dividends and are well pleased.

The LaJoy wealth lies in our love for one another...love that if we lived in a trailer or a shack would still provide us with warmth and happiness that so often eludes others. Our wealth is in our appreciation of a cascading waterfall, or a giggling dash to the car in the rain. It is in our silent hand holds, with our private LaJoy Morse code which all 5 of us use...3 squeezes means "I love you", or in Matthew's case continually squeezing a gazillion times means "I love you all the way to the moon and back". It is in the security of knowing I have a faithful and loving husband, whose bombastic and quirky humor are the heart of our home.

Maybe...just maybe...our wealth lies in the fact that we can appreciate these things in the first place, for gratitude itself makes for a happy life. For even with all these things, if our collective gratitude didn't exist and we didn't have the ability to recognize all we have been given, we would be living an impoverished life, wouldn't we?

And this leads me to the other ways in which this theme has visited me this week...

Three times this week now I have been approached about allowing others to participate somehow in offering items for the girls when they come home. Three totally different directions, but the same theme. I was asked in person what we needed and I replied in what I felt was an honest fashion, "not much really". It goes to this whole discussion on being rich or not I guess, we DO have everything we need for the girls...all the important stuff that is. We have plenty of love, we have sense enough to prepare emotionally, we have the sticktoitiveness to outlast them should issues arise, and we have an ample amount of hugs and kisses to provide.

Will they need clothing, toys, school supplies? Yes, of course they will. And somehow I am sure we will manage or we wouldn't be moving forward with this in the first place. After all, we are rich, remember? ;-) All the needs will be met and a few of the wants probably will as well.

This week I was encouraged to register as if for a baby shower, which is something I never did even when getting married...for I already felt rich in the ways that are important even way back then. And to me, it felt like begging for a gift, as in "Here...let me give you a list of all the things I desire so you can pick one, and make sure it is exactly what I want!!"

Then I find a posted comment from my adoptive mommy buddy Carrie which she posted in the hope that others would read it as she and another buddy are trying to "cook something up" to help us celebrate...and her posted comment was the first I knew about this.

This is a tough call for me, folks. As my friend here in town explained to me, others want to participate but want to know they are getting something we actually will need rather than guessing. I also know several of you have been following our family for almost 3 years now, and a few of you perhaps even closer to 10 years if you participated on Kazakhstan adoption groups long before blogs were invented. To me, you are part of my extended family in a way...a few of us are watching our children grow up together via the internet, despite the fact we may never have met in person, and you sure are not anonymous to me, nor am I to you. I have prayed for many, many of you as you wait for your Kyrgyz children to come home, I have actively tried to do every single thing I am capable of to help. I have spoken on the phone with some of you as you have weighed the pros and cons of adoption decisions. Yes, we truly are an extended family of sorts, aren't we?

But for us, it is not about "the stuff". It is 100% about relationship, community and love. And we have already determined we are wealthy enough to be philanthropists in our own right when it comes to those categories and our own "LaJoy Currency".

So how do I handle this? I had been thinking for awhile about asking you blog readers to mail us a postcard from your hometown as a "shower" of sorts, so I could one day show the girls how they had been carried in so many hearts for a very, very long time...for that is wealth, LaJoy style. Can you imagine them sitting down at a table a year or two from now, postcards from all over the world with messages of care and hope meant just for them? How cool would that be? I hope when I post that request that many of you will do it, as it would be very meaningful to all of us.

This is incredibly awkward and yet touching...that others care enough about us to want to show it in a tangible way. And yet, a part of me is so uncomfortable with it all, as we have already been given so very much that can not ever be repaid. I have thought about this for the entire week as each new situation has arisen, and yet over and over again it keeps coming up to the point where I can't ignore it anymore for fear of being rude to people whom I know care about us and only want to help. It is an unusual place for us to be in...accepting with no way of giving back. With friends in person, you can at least hope the chance will come where you can repay their kindness with a kindness of your own, even if it takes a few months or even years for an opportunity to present itself.

It seems obvious to me though, that God is talking on this one and I need to relent to some degree, to set aside pride and allow others to be involved should they want to even if I have my own misgivings about it. So maybe we can do this, and I can live with it. If you want to participate with Carrie, you can email her at cdelille@verizon.net , I have no idea what is going on and her sneak attack post (very creative Carrie! hahahaha!) was the first I knew of anything...but please, please keep it very small and more about the message of love, care and faith. It is that message that is what the girls and our family need more than anything. Remember the LaJoy Currency in all of this!!

I hope I don't come across as ungrateful, your care for us is profoundly moving actually and brought me to tears more than once as I typed and erased, typed and erased this post. Part of me wants to jump up and down and shout "Yiipeee!!!!" as we are SO excited and I want you to join us too if you'd like! The other part of me worries about God's intent with all of this, about honoring the miracle that has been bestowed upon us in the first place with everything that has happened over the past couple of years. Dominick and I both are touched by every single person who continues to reach out to our family in all kinds of ways. We don't really understand it, we have had to learn to live our life in a different way, to let go of control and to let go of pride...yet continue to work our hardest in whatever ways we can to honor what God is doing here. It is humbling, and yet has brought us to a totally new place in our understanding of God's presence here on earth and how the Spirit uses ordinary people like you and I to reach out and touch others. Sound too churchy? Sorry about that, but it is true.

So using a different currency, one which perhaps has little hearts, x's and o's on it rather than eagles and arrows, we LaJoy's continue to feel rich beyond measure, treasuring all the things that make us wealthier than most. One of those things is you, our readers and our dear friends. Thanks for being with us, for adding so much joy to our lives.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Very Special Day

Today we had a really neat day! A special family friend treated us to the theatre for a children's production in beautiful Creede, Colorado. It is about a 3 hour drive from our home, way up in the mountains in an old mining town. The drive itself is amazingly beautiful and added to the magical feeling of the day. Quite literally it was over the river and through the woods as we crossed and recrossed the Rio Grande and traveled roads that meandered through beautiful Aspen and Lodge Pole Pine forests.


Here the boys are outside the Creede Repertory Theatre. Creede is a tiny mining town established in the 1880's. It currently has only 400 or so year round residents, but their nationally renowned theatre draws over 20,000 theatre goers every season! The children's production today was based on the brothers Grimm and a fanciful retelling of some of their most well known tales. I was pretty sure the boys would enjoy it, but I had no idea just how much they would really love it! All three were sitting on the edge of their seats, enraptured by the live action on stage. Kenny's high pitched squeal could be heard throughout as they all giggled up a storm at the antics. This was such a professional performance, it was hard to remember we weren't in a big city somewhere!! At one point Joshie turned to me and whispered "Mommy...this is AWESOME!"


After the long drive and sitting through the play, we were ready to do some exploring as we had never been to Creede before. We visited their fire station which was built in a cave-like manner, cut out from the side of the mountain. It was left open for the public and showcased a couple of older vehicles along with housing their current equipment. For some odd reason, there was a display case which contained a stuffed cougar that was on loan to the Fire Department...not sure what the significance was but it was cool to see. We then wandered down their main street where the boys played in a small park, walked along the old railroad tracks, and we had a picnic lunch we had brought.

On our way home we had another unexpected adventure. We had stopped at a store to pick up some drinks and someone mentioned there was a beautiful waterfall off the highway on our way back, so we decided to investigate. This is what awaited us, awesome, isn't it? Another reminder of how lucky we are to live in Colorado and have such sights so readily accessible to us to enjoy. We all commented on how loud and impressive the falls were despite the fact there really wasn't that deep a river feeding it. I imagine it is even more breathtaking during the peak time when snow runoff feeds it. We wandered deeper into the area and took a couple of short hikes in different directions, quiet forests and beaver ponds surrounded us in one area...it is what you imagine a true forest to be with moss softening the sounds, a bed of pine needles cushioning the path, a moist earthy smell filling your nostrils, all this as gentle light filters in and bathes the forest floor in an almost otherworldly glow. Dominick and I laughed as we followed behind the boys who, as one would expect with boys their age, took the most wandering route the could find, winding their way through, around and over fallen trees and pointing out deer droppings whenever they saw it as if they had found stolen treasure. It was Boy Paradise!!




We didn't set foot back home until almost 9:00 PM. As we all flopped our tired selves on the couch, the boys wrapped themselves up in their favorite blankies (And those blankies keep getting bigger and bigger as bodies get bigger and bigger!) and we all just lay there yacking, wanting to stretch out our perfect day just a little bit longer. I asked the boys what their favorite part of the day was and it was quickly and unanimously agreed that the play was a huge hit and way outweighed the waterfall and the forest hike. But everyone agreed that the entire day was very special and we were so grateful to our friend for providing us with the tickets. It was such a thoughtful thing to do, and something we never would have experienced otherwise. I have a feeling we have acting potential in Kenny, as he is fearless and able to visit that place that few of us can, where he can imagine himself to inhabit a character's body and becomes someone else. I asked him if he thought he could be on stage someday and he quite confidently responded "Oh yea, but I need to learn to read better so I can learn what I need to say." Who knows? It wouldn't surprise me at all. Dream big dreams, right?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Tenderized Hearts

Have you ever turned to look at one of your children and suddenly seen an entirely new person there? The past couple of weeks that has happened more than once for me with Matthew. At church during our "passing of the peace" I turned to the person behind me and it was Matthew and I was literally startled at how he has changed. He is growing more into his "man body", he is sturdy, broad shouldered, taller and to my mommy eye grows ever more handsome with each passing day.

He is dipping his foot in the pool of pre-adolescence and it is such a treat to watch him. While camping with our friends, he went on a 2+ hour bike ride where they must have ridden several miles and he came back exhausted yet feeling quite accomplished. The other day we stopped on our way home at a gas station and Josh had to use the restroom. I won't let the boys go in alone, so Matt offered to take him. As I watched them walk away Matthew had his arm draped over Joshie's shoulder in a fatherly fashion, and it felt almost as if I was watching him a few years down the road with his own son. I know he is still only a 10 year old little boy, but particularly with Matthew there has always been something a little older about him.

Their childhoods go by so quickly, don't they?

No news on the adoption front, anxiously awaiting "the call" and feeling an underlying urgency to get things done around the house. Nesting has set in, I fear, and poor Dominick has his "Honey Do" list. It was hilarious to hear him as he lectured the boys on Mommy's nesting the other day, telling them that they were now old enough to pitch in and help with the preparations for their sisters' arrival. They each got a big kick out of asking what big nesting project signalled their arrivals into our family. With Matthew it was scrubbing the floor with a toothbrush at 2:00 AM, with Joshie we took down every blind in the house and took them to be ultrasonically cleaned, and Kenny was the biggie with our TV room being transformed and putting in our tile and Pergo floors. They asked what big project we were doing this time around and we replied that the girls' bedroom has to be done and tons of little things needed to be fixed up or touched up. They volunteered to once again touch up our exterior paint where the snow settles against it on our patio and garage and every year needs to be redone...and they want to tackle sanding and urethaning a wooden bench on our front porch after doing so well with their wagon.

For Mommy, it is more mental preparation than anything else. Oh, of course there are cupboards to be cleaned, closets to be emptied (and filled!), but it is the nesting that goes on in my head which is the most important. There is so much to consider and think about...reminding myself of key Russian words and phrases, anticipating what they will most need to know about our family life and our special family culture so we can have an interpreter explain it to them, planning for educational issues.

Most important though is allowing myself to be vulnerable. Why? Because in that vulnerability lies the key to their attachment. If I can be strong, yet vulnerable, then my own walls are deconstructed and they can see my heart for what it is. If my own walls are up, if I can't help them feel we are all in this together and it is new and sometimes scary territory for us all, then I become distanced from their own experience and will not be sensitive to the effects of this tremendous transition. this may sound totally strange to almost everyone, but it is something that has worked for me each and every time, and in fact I think in some ways it was the single most effective thing to help Joshie. You just can not be afraid to bare your soul to your children, and yes, they will stomp on it sometimes, but that "soul nakedness" is really at the heart of every terrific relationship and if you start off that way it is far easier than to try and "go there" later after patterns are established.

I remember sitting with Kenny on my lap many a time, after we had gone through a rough afternoon with control issues and had settled down a bit. We talked in hushed tones about how hard this was on both of us...and I still remember the surprised look on his face when he realized that this was difficult for me too. We talked about how angry we could be with one another, and yet how much we still cared for one another. I explained and reasoned with him about why we had certain rules, I tried to give him a visual picture of what his life would be as an adult if he didn't learn to be a little boy rather than the too-young-man-in-charge.

I recall the time when Joshie was about 2 1/2 and I cried with him, each of us hurting over what had broken his heart and being unable to mend it easily. And in that moment, we came that much closer to healing our relationship.

This morning on the drive to school we talked about the girls, and how with each one of our children I found myself in tears at one time or another pre-adoption as I realized how much they had grown from referral time to travel time...how much we had missed in their lives and how I had wished we could have been together sooner somehow. I felt Matthew's hand on my arm and a gentle little squeeze as he said "But it all works out the way God wants it to, doesn't it Mommy? We are all together and soon we will REALLY all be together! And then they won't be growing up without you.". Kenny asked from the back seat "Did you cry over me growing up Mommy?" and I said "Of course I did! I missed 8 1/2 years with you and even though God's timing is perfect, sometimes we have to let go of those feelings to grab hold of the new ones." and I saw his furrowed brow in the rear view mirror as he contemplated that one.

I have felt emotionally numb about a lot of this the past few months, as I had to distance myself from the never-ending process in order to make it through. Now, little by little, I feel myself reawakening gradually to hope and promise. And in the midst of that reawakening I have to steel myself for the challenges that most definitely lay ahead, for it will most assuredly not be all sweetness and light. It can be hard work to be your child's 24 hour a day interpreter for a new language and culture, to anticipate their unasked questions, and to try to help them open up emotionally. In fact, as I look back on it, I would say it is the most exhausting job I have ever had. As I shared with someone yesterday, on the outside people see our little family walking around and they marvel at Kenny's language acquisition or his understanding of things so early on in his new American life and they don't see the day to day unusual issues we have to tackle with regards to race, culture, adoption, attachment, etc. They see the end product, and thankfully thus far it has been pretty decent...but they don't see all that it took to get there. Maybe that is a good thing as those who walk into this might be too daunted to try it if they knew what a big job it really is! hahaha!

So we begin the next stage, gradually getting things done around the house, gently tenderizing hearts and marinating them so they will be just perfect by the time they are set on the fire. There are tears shed as stresses mount and anticipation becomes palpable...it is a special time that can not really be easily compared to the pregnancy experience.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Less Lonely Journey

It is a very different experience to adopt an older child or children. It becomes even more so when it is not your first go round with adding to your family via international adoption. Much as it is the same for parents who elect to have larger families, the excitement has dimmed some for bystanders, there are comments such as "Are you done yet?" or "Don't you think you have enough kids?" accompanied by requisite eye rolling and smirks. Somehow, others feel that because it is not your first or second child, expecting another one should lose it's luster, it shouldn't be as special as it was the first or second time.

While I certainly don't have a pregnancy experience to compare it to, I have happily attended many showers and visited tons of friends who have delivered as they recover in the hospital. And believe me folks, not having an extra large tummy (well...at least not due to pregnancy! Hahaha! I DO have a big tummy!) makes all the difference in the world in terms of how others perceive what you are going through. While there are plenty of kind inquiries, it is different, pure and simple. And often when you are adopting, depending upon the circumstance and the details involved, the questions can get harder and harder to answer as so much is out of your control and the wait can be a real struggle.

When all is said and done, we will have 5 children. I won't have given birth to a single one, and yet each is as precious to me as if I had. There is no difference in what the heart recognizes as the love a family has for one another, regardless of superficial things like skin color or eye shape. Each trip to adopt has been remarkable, each has changed all of us in profound ways.

But each time it has felt a little lonely.

Each time Dominick and I found ourselves preparing for our new addition pretty much by ourselves. We live far from grandparents, aunts and uncles. For the most part we prepared nurseries by ourselves, we bought onesies by ourselves, we dreamed by ourselves. There were no showers, there was no "ooohing" and "aaahhing" as cute outfits were admired by others. When Matt came home we hadn't lived here very long, we were not involved in a church and had spent so much time working for survival that we just hadn't had time to develop many close relationships. One friend I had at the time made an attempt and had a cake and I think there were 3 other people there which was about all I actually knew in town!

This time, surprisingly, it feels different. I feel a little less alone in all of it. Part of it is due to you, our Dear Readers, who have cared for us and followed our journey since Kenny's adoption. You have prayed for us, you have written us, you have continued to offer your virtual support and it has helped enormously.

Part of it is also due to the dear friends I now have who simply will not allow me to feel that this is not just as important as having a baby! It is a new experience for me, and it is amazing to have friends who tell me that despite my own worries about it they will never tire of hearing about our little mini-drama here and they are as excited as we are about our newest additions. They are letting me share it, letting me feel "pregnant" for the first time, they are supporting and nurturing me through what has to have been the World's Longest Virtual Pregnancy.

Yesterday I went to lunch with 3 close friends, and much to my surprise one of them pulls out a JCPenney catalog so we could all look at girlie bedding and plan a beautiful bedroom together. Good thing too, as I have absolutely no taste at all and need my Idea Machines to help!! We flipped from page to page making comments like "too mature"...or "too young", and I ever-so-slowly began to feel something that I have never felt during our prior adoptions...I actually feel kind of "pregnant"!!!


What do you all think of this one??????

And you know what? I AM!!! At least in the only way I will ever be, and quite frankly in the only way that feels "normal" to me! Hahaha! Community...sisterhood...it makes all the difference in the world. Just having someone to share it with, people who really care about our family and who voice how they are imagining us all together someday...knowing they have even GIVEN it a thought...it creates an entirely different environment surrounding this event.

And have I said how very, very wonderful it is to feel for the first time fairly certain that we will actually complete this adoption...that years of high hopes and dreams might actually come true? The release of carrying around those bottled up emotions is healing. The dread of each email telling of another uncontrollable delay, the fear that I might live the rest of my life feeling as if I have children out there who will never make it home has shuttered my heart for a long time and I am slowly gaining a sense of confidence that we just might actually make it through!! Even Dominick is beginning to check out the weather in Kaz (always a personal adoption milestone I can count on...when the weather checks begin for anticipated possible travel times!) so I know he is feeling as upbeat as I am.

Today, to help step up the anticipation we received the travel package of information compiled by our agency, Pearl S. Buck/Welcome House http://www.psbi.org/site/PageServer?
Our representative there, Leonette Boiarski, has put together the single most comprehensive travel preparation document we have ever received, bar none. I was amazed at how culturally sensitive it was, how thorough and well thought out it was. Of course, much of what was shared was information we already know from our previous trips, but especially for the newcomer it was chocked full of all the little details that agencies often don't think to share with their clients.

We have been truly fortunate that each of our adoptions was with an outstanding agency, ethical and helpful. Somehow we managed to avoid the ones that through the years have been shut down or were corrupt. I have to laugh though that we will have adopted 5 children and used a different agency each time...not with intent or because of discontent, but because that is just how it worked out!

I am ever-so-glad that I have spent the thousands of hours online doing research and participating in online forums as it has truly paid off in our own personal preparation and kept us somewhat safe and well informed. If you keep in dogged pursuit of information, it doesn't take too much to figure out which agencies to avoid after reading repeated stories about issues parents have overseas, etc. but it does take diligence to seek out information from a variety of sources. We have never had the money to lose should we make a mistake so my research became terribly important, especially in light of situations with larger agencies in the past such as Yunona and its subsidiaries or Orson Mozes, both of whom were working in Kazakhstan and both of whom had large fraud cases against them.



Although this has been, by far, our most arduous and difficult adoption to date (and definitely our last, regardless of now owning a 15 passenger van!), it was in no way due to the fault of our agency, and Leonette has been uber professional the entire time, even when at moments I know she had to dread picking up the phone to inform us of another delay in dossier processing. The Pearl S. Buck Foundation and Welcome House Adoptions have been around for over 50 years and their stellar reputation is well deserved. It is also what helped Dominick and I have the confidence to continue despite all the struggles this time around, we knew we had a good team behind us and each step further into our adoption that is becoming more and more evident.

So I guess the time has officially come to begin working on a bedroom, to think of yellows and lavenders, of flowers and butterflies. It is as safe as it ever gets with international adoption, so we will proceed not with caution, but throwing caution to the winds and rejoicing in the fact that this time, we are not alone!!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Travel Date Contest!!!

I have been thinking it would be fun to involve all of you a little bit in our wait for a travel date. Your support has meant a lot over the past 3 years as we traveled to bring Kenny home, then found ourselves quickly on the path to adopting once again unexpectedly. As the Tom Petty song goes..."The waiting is the hardest part.", so let's make it more fun!

At the left top of the blog I will create a permanent list that will hold over from post to post. We will have a little contest to see who can guess our travel date! This will be the actual date we hop on the airplane here in Montrose to depart for Kazakhstan. While I will list the dates Dominick and I have each guessed (and Dominick is being ridiculously optomistic!!! I just rolled my eyes at him so don't use his as a guideline unless you have some inside information I don't know about! hahaha!) but of course we will not win, so feel free to also pick the dates we are listed for. One person per date, please. To keep it interesting, there has to be a prize and while it is not much the winner will receive a $20 gift card to Target!

So check it out and email me at CyndiLJ@aol.com with your best guess. If we have fun with this, we might do another one further down the road for the date our daughters actually set foot in our home for the first time! It's not much to show our gratitude for all each of you does every day in terms of encouragement and prayer for our family, but it is a small way we can say "thank you".

Go ahead, make a guess! We will make the starting date one month from now, as there is now way we are are traveling anytime before then...so guess any date after September 24th. No cost to enter! Cheesy Target card for the winner! Nothing to lose!! Email your entry today! hahaha!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

43 and Counting


Happy Birthday to me!! I turn 43 tomorrow, and while I am not particularly disturbed by growing another year older, I admit I certainly don't feel young any longer. Arthritis in my hip, obvious need for reading glasses which are a pain in the neck to tote around, the stray gray hair here and there are all signs of my ever aging body.

I am fortunate enough to be having an extended celebration of sorts...nothing over-the-top but lots of thoughtful little things happened over the past week. On Monday I had helped plan a get together with about 50 of our church family for our visiting friends as well as to celebrate the birthdays of 2 of our members who were just turning 60 years old. Little did I know as I was helping plan for others, I was also being included in the celebration with a cake and a beautiful hand made gift! Some friends had pulled a fast one on me and as I was at our church council meeting one evening, they got all our kids together (theirs and ours) and created a lovely and long-lasting very special bouquet for me. Their thoughtfulness and creativity touched me deeply, and it was perhaps the very best gift I have ever received. I love the non-LaJoy kids included almost as much as I do my own, and it was a really sweet gesture from their mom's as well.




You know, this is the stuff that a good life is made of. Not the grand gifts, not the huge parties (although my 40th was a great surprise for me!!), but simply knowing that others love you and relishing their expression of that love. For me, that is all I have ever wanted in life...to love and be loved. Nothing else compares, and I feel incredibly blessed to have friendships with others who openly express their love and affection for others, who will go out of their way to say "I love you!".

That being said, I have to admit publicly that I am AWFUL about remembering special days. It is something I do not like about myself, that I am not organized or thoughtful enough to keep track of my friends' birthdays, etc. If reminded I love planning birthdays and surprises, but I fail in many ways in terms of being that thoughtful someone who always sends a card, etc. I can only hope that I am forgiven, and that I show my affection throughout the year enough that it makes up for being remiss in other areas.

This evening we were invited to dinner at our friends house, and I am looking forward to visiting and catching up. Dominick and Joshie made a birthday cake for me to take over to their house, and I received a rough cut wind chime from Dominick that he had custom made which has crosses on it and has the most beautiful sound I think I have ever heard from a wind chime. I can't wait to hang it up on our patio and hear it's lovely tinkle in the evening. The boys pitched in together and treated me to a gift card to Target to buy some perfume which I have not had for maybe 3 or 4 years. I will get some "smell good stuff", as Joshie calls it!

But I guess the best birthday gift I received was the email earlier this week that our dossier was finally moving. Amazing what a lift that has given my spirit, and how energized I feel. List upon list is being created in my mind, and I have finally allowed my thoughts to drift to what our first moments together as a family will be like. I am trying to envision a newly decorated bedroom, a new life as a mom of five, a new way of being family. It is nice to feel "unstuck" as I enter my 43rd year...and I hope it remains that way for the remainder of the process. 2 years + has been spent in Limboland, and I think that is about enough!

I have a lot on my schedule this next 3 weeks or so, which might help the time pass more quickly. Lots of ministry homework, a trip to Chicago for a check up and another chance to be with our friends, a school field trip, planning for the new year of Scouts, volunteering in class for all 3 boys, and maybe...just maybe...time to read a book or two late at night when the house grows quiet. Yea...right...I doubt it but I can dream, right??? Hahaha!

One thing that I find kind of hilarious right now is that my own mother is going through the adoption process as well for the first time. She has decided the time is right to get a cat to keep her company, and she is working through a group who provides foster homes for cats until they are adopted. We were joking on the phone today about her having to be interviewed, sign a contract, find a cat through an online photolisting, etc. The only thing she doesn't have to do is get an FBI background check!!

We are finally all settled in after our friends departure after spending time camping, staying up late and playing games together. Although the majority of our summer was a rough one with illness running rampant, we ended on a high note. The kids are happy in their classes and each has a really terrific teacher this year. It seems like every year I am surprised at the level of talent in our children's classrooms, and how dedicated the teachers truly are. This isn't a public "suck up" as none of them reads this blog, it is just an observation. There are so many negative comments about public education, and parents tend to scream "foul" when they are concerned about their child's education. Often it is NOT the teachers at all, as they have a daily struggle to teach children in their classrooms who come to them ill prepared to work at grade level, who are not getting the necessary support at home, and who many times are dealing with emotional issues that are far beyond the reach of the ordinary classroom teacher. I, for one, think our kids' teachers have been phenomenal and have nary a complaint. I am looking forward to being in the classroom a lot this year volunteering!

I realize this has been a bit of a rambling post, unlike the norm. Just a lot of odds and ends to share I guess, and my mind is actually rambling quite a bit so that is what you will get! Hahaha! Below are some photos of the boys taken on our camping trip. I realize that much of the time what I share here...photos or otherwise...are not of interest to the vast majority of you. I think you are here more for the adoption story, the journey we have been on and the journey we are hopefully soon to take. But this blog also serves as a diary of sorts for our family, documenting our adventures and our daily life for the kids to one day look back on and enjoy. I think I realized more fully the significance of what I share here just yesterday when the boys were looking for a particular photo on a cupboard which happened to have several years worth of all the pictures I have which were not digitally created and were taken with actual film (remember those days???). They spent over an hour with a couple hundred photos spread across the floor, exclaiming "I remember that!" and "Look how cute you were!" as they viewed all of them. It reminded me that what I blog about and the photos I place here are more for them than for anyone else, and one day they will get a real kick out of reliving our life here on the blog. It is honestly what keeps me blogging, imagining them reading this one day with big grins on their faces as they relive the important and not so important moments of our life together.

These pictures were not taken by me, and perhaps that makes them a little more special. I surprised myself and never broke out my camera the entire trip...I just relaxed and enjoyed taking long walks and visiting. As I edited some of these photos which were taken by my friend, I realized what a gift it is to have someone else who obviously looks through the viewfinder with the same love for my kids as I feel when photographing hers. It comes through in the photos I think, in the facial expression captured which also tickled her as much as it would me.





Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday Five: Rules

As you may recall, I am part of the RevGalBlogPals group and they have a Friday Five question and answer game to play along with each Friday. So here it is:


After a family vacation with our four children and three additional "partners," I am more aware of rules, spoken and unvoiced. Expectations are not always clearly expressed, but are still expected. . . . unbeknown to all unless one is not fulfilled! So how about writing about rules in your families and workplaces? Choose one or more for each category, especially if one seems odd or funny to you now.
1. Formal rules in family of origin: The usual, don't talk with your mouth full, clean up after yourself, and the always firmly spoken "If you and your brother are going to fight, take it outside!"
2. Unwritten and unspoken rules in family of origin: God is not spoken about, don't ask any questions about Dad's time in the Korean war.
3. Formal rules in current family or workplace: If you are old enough to do a job, you should be doing it...not Mom! "I don't know" is NOT an answer, it is a way of avoiding giving an answer and is NOT acceptable. Be Kind. Period. Family First Always. We are Team LaJoy...we stick together and work hard together!
4. Unwritten rules in current family or workplace: We never ridicule each other, hugs are mandatory.
5. When was a time that you became aware of different rules in different places/families than your own?: I was pretty young, maybe 8 or 9, and was at my best friend's house whose mom was divorced and often brought home different men for the evening. I realized the rules were very different when my friend told me she wasn't allowed to open her bedroom door in the morning until her mom gave her permission.
I wonder what rules my kids will remember when they are adults, what will stick with them and which they will think were totally ridiculous!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Our Amazing "Coincidences" Continue!


Awhile back I wrote a post about Divine Coincidence, and a couple of hours ago I was blessed with another which I can't wait to share!!


Adoption news has been scant the past few months. It has been growing ever-more-difficult to answer people's caring questions about "Any news on the girls?" or "Are you still waiting? Will you ever get them home?". Our dossier process has been interminably long and an incredible struggle this time around, unlike our past experiences and it has sometimes led me to question if God has been trying to tell us something that we are ignoring...like maybe we were pushing for something that was never intended to happen. When I began to feel that way, I had to remind myself of all the obvious signals that we had been given that indeed we were on the right path and should continue to plod through, despite the uphill battle. Somewhere buried very deep inside there is no doubt, but on the surface ripples of fear appear once in awhile. When I have had passing thoughts of giving up, I also remind myself that there is not another single, solitary soul in the entire world who will fight for my daughters. They are nobodies, they are not important or precious to anyone but us. If we give up, there IS no one else to advocate for them, to restore their faith in familial commitment and love.


One of our obstacles was obtaining Matthew's new Kazakh passport. His old one had expired, and we reapplied back in October of 2008 for a new one. You would think this would be a fairly simple process. After all, we applied for Kenny's US passport 3 weeks ago and received it this past weekend, no sweat. Well, not every country operates the way we do and keeping that in mind that is why we started so early...and I am very glad we did. After a visit to the Kazakh Embassy in Washington, DC, at least 10 calls with the help of our friend to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Astana, Kazakhstan, and countless fretful nights worrying about it, we had a message on our machine yesterday from the Embassy in DC that Matthew's passport is completed and back here at the Embassy!!!


The mere thought of leaving Matthew behind was enough to make me want to cry. It is an incredible gift from our Adoption Angels that we are able to also bring along the boys...and in our minds an extremely important part of the forming of our family to have them present as we adopt their sisters (not our daughters...we are bringing home THEIR sisters!). Each time in the past when we have traveled there was no question that regardless of how much longer we would have to pay on loans, we would bring the boys along. We just couldn't imagine doing it any other way. If we were at the hospital they would be there looking through the nursery window and we feel that in large part we have had very smooth transitions as we have added to our family because our sons understood every step of the way what had happened, what their sibling's life was like pre-adoption, and it also helped them better understand their own adoption story. Additionally, we simply can not leave Joshua behind...it would set us back months if not years in terms of attachment issues. So we are eternally grateful for this opportunity to have our family remain together as we add another page to our adoption story.


And now on to the "Divine Coincidence"...


I have said all along that regardless of my heart's desire to get a travel date as soon as possible, if it meant waiting for travel longer so that we could be certain Matt's passport issues were resolved then I would happily wait another month or two.


I have also said I would not feel comfortable moving forward with actually painting a bedroom or buying anything to prepare until we got word that our dossier had left the Embassy here in the US for Kazakhstan.


After receiving word yesterday about Matt's passport, guess what news I received today via email...


Our dossier is FINALLY FINALLY FINALLY approved by the Embassy here and is at this moment winging it's way to Kazakhstan via FedEx!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Mere coincidence, or Divine Coincidence?
You may think what you may, but I feel I am witnessing God's plan unfolding before me.
Funny how I type all of this, and don't feel that ripple of emotional excitement. Instead my response seems to be one of urgency to get to work. Lists need to be made, a bedroom needs to somehow be put together in girlie fashion, tentative plans can now be made with an eye towards traveling in a couple of months, no longer is it "sometime" but "we think in 8-12 weeks or so"! When you can count it in weeks, it somehow seems I am more "pregnant". But we have been there and done that, we know what needs to be accomplished at this stage and are anxious to begin looking at airfare, comparing costs, gathering items and making preparations that are possible this early.
At least we have moved from "if" to "when", and that lifts my heart more than I can begin to tell you.
One day soon, our entire miraculous story will be shared here on the blog. One day soon our heartache will change to heart singing. One day soon, my arms will be draped around more children I dearly love and can't imagine living without.
One day soon....

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Back To School Eve - Rambling Thoughts





I sit here on the eve of yet another new school year, silent house enveloping me, and I think of my hopes for my children for what they will begin tomorrow.



I have always had a tendency to "overthink" things, to analyze to the hilt every nuance of a conversation, or to plan years in advance as if I actually have control over this thing we all participate in together called "life". This compulsion of mine has been both a blessing and a curse at moments, sometimes allowing me to be better prepared for imagined events, and others to wallow in disappointment when life doesn't turn out the way I had it all laid out. Inevitably though, I continue to grow and learn despite whatever failings or gifts I may or may not have.



Education is an important and serious matter for me. I come from a long line of high school drop outs or those who definitely could and should have attended college yet didn't as life called sooner than it should have or the necessary encouragement and leading to gain further education simply didn't exist. It was a culture of acceptance that you went to school, maybe graduated high school, then went to work.



This evening in the car the boys and I had a long conversation about education and why it is important. We talked about long term goals for life, about the expectation that Dominick and I have that some how...some way...each of our children would attend college for at least a couple of years. But we also talked about how learning is a lifelong process, that it occurs both in and out of the classroom, and I shared all the many things Dominick and I have managed to teach ourselves despite having no specific education in a particular field...typing, bookkeeping, insurance, adoption issues, business management, pest control, computers, home maintenance, marketing, photography...and so many others.



We also talked about how important learning the basics is, that you CAN teach yourself many things in this world if you can read and write well, and if you can perform basic math calculations. A hunger for knowledge can lead you down paths to extraordinary learning experiences that are self-directed and rewarding.



But beyond all of that, and perhaps most importantly, we quietly all talked about what is most important for a happy life. Character, caring for others, honesty, integrity, work ethic, compassion, good decisions regarding the selection of life partners and friends. You don't learn that in school. It might be reinforced there, but those are the things we don't learn sitting behind a desk copying what has been written on a chalk board. I asked the boys where they thought they went to "school" to learn those things and was quite pleased when Kenny responded without hesitation "Home and church".



We all focus so much on making sure our kids SAT and ACT scores are the highest possible, we want them to have the "right" coach so they can gain scholarships in sports, we push them to join every club possible to look good on college applications. But do we honestly put as much effort into teaching them how to be decent human beings? Do we forget they need to "go to school" for that as well and that WE are the most highly qualified teachers they will ever have for Character Class? I know many parents lay awake at night worrying about whether their child will be accepted into their preferred college, but do they ever lay awake at night worrying about whether their child is kind and non-judgmental when not in their parent's presence? Do we only find ourselves staring at that proverbial ceiling after the fact...perhaps when we discover that our children have made a monumental mistake that revokes that long hoped for dream of college and a professional life that will make us proud to say "My son the doctor" or "My daughter the CEO"?



Matthew, Kenny and Joshua are all bright children. We are fortunate that none has faced learning disabilities or organic problems which would keep them from being just about anything they would like to be. They are not geniuses, they are not high IQ, but they have good brains which thankfully would allow them to be a doctor, lawyer, architect or just about anything else should that be their hearts desire...they will not be hindered by the inability to learn.



What might eventually set them apart is their stick-to-it-iveness, their maturity when approaching homework, their "Steady Eddie" qualities which keeps them in the game not because they are the hare who runs as fast as they can and shines in front of a crowd, but because they are the tortoise who doesn't veer off course and keeps the finish line in sight.



I worry during those ceiling staring moments of my own about my own failings as a parent. What am I not exposing them to that I should be? How much is too much pressure? Do we have balance in our lives? Is God and Family being kept a priority? Am I teaching them all I should be teaching them? Are they secure? What am I missing?



After all, this is the most important and challenging job I will ever have, despite the fact it doesn't come with a paycheck attached. I want to succeed at this job more than I have ever wanted to succeed at anything else in my life.



Tonight, as the boys fell asleep, they shared prayers with their special older friend, a young man entering his senior year of high school and beginning to realize that adulthood is knocking on his front door. So many decisions to make, so much to consider. I have loved this young man for years myself, watching him grow from a 12 year old child into the 17 year old man who towers over me. As he willingly readied himself to sleep there on an air mattress on the floor of his adoring young friends, I thankfully realized that there are others who have contributed to "Character Class" and done an outstanding job of it. There are as-yet-to-be met influences who will shape and mold our children. There are those from all walks of life, all ages and stages who are helping our sons in the areas that school doesn't address.



And there are those who have been mentor parents to us, leading us as we learn, showing us by example how to raise children who are respectful and kind, relaxed and yet still disciplined. For we are all really going to school every single day, as long as we remain open to the learning opportunities and experiences presented to us. For some of us, the learning never stops!



So tonight as I think of the next 9 months, I wish for my children to absorb it all, to have motivating teachers, to find new things to excite their souls and draw them to learn more. I want more than anything for everything to "click" for Kenny this year, for Joshie to further his love of reading and for Matthew to feel more confident socially. I also hope that God uses me somehow as I volunteer in the classroom to touch the lives of other kids, that maybe I am there at a moment when a hard working mom can not be and I can offer a smile or a "great job!" just when it is needed.



But I guess overall it is what is learned outside the classroom over the next 9 months that concerns me most, for it is those skills learned far from the class that are what takes a life and makes it whole and complete.



So here's to another school year, for those parents who have yet to walk hand in hand with your child up the walkway to their new school, for those who are seeing the remaining years dwindling, for those in between who are beginning to see the results of the impact of education and yet recognize they are only part way up the hill...have a wonderful new year and always remember you too are a teacher and in fact are the most important teacher your child will ever have.




Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Melancholy Madness Unmasked

I was driving around town today running a few errands when I instantly realized where some of my morose emotions are stemming from. I had pushed it to the back of my mind but it is not easily forgotten as it is a special day for Joshie's best buddy as well...

It is someone's birthday tomorrow, another one. Still not home. And immediately tears sprung to my eyes.

How many more stinking posts do I have to write like this?

I don't even feel safe (or brave) enough to make a cake and mark the day somehow ourselves, like we did with Kenny's birthday before he came home. Emotions are too raw, things feel too unsettled and uncertain. And yet I guarantee you I will think of nothing else tomorrow.

My heart breaks, the sobs well up in my throat, and yet we keep on believing, we keep on having faith on both sides of the world.

God will reward that faithfulness, I continue to pray.

Oh please...let this be the very last birthday post ever without photos accompanying it.

And I will walk around tomorrow feeling hollow and a tiny bit broken inside, and no one will know it, no one will care. For I am not "pregnant", I am merely "waiting" and for most that is not the same at all. How many of us carry things that others never see and can't comfort? Far more than we realize, of that I am sure.

But Someone knows, and maybe that is all that is necessary if I can get my head in the right place.

My dear, dear daughter...how I yearn for your presence in our lives, how I have prayed unceasingly. You have never, ever been forgotten, not for one moment. Someday you will read this and know how much my heart was with you at all times. It's not much consolation now, but it might be a revelation one day and somehow work to fill any little voids left in your heart.

So Happy Birthday, precious one. Go to sleep feeling our arms wrapped around you, imagine the kiss goodnight you will one day be tucked away with.

Most importantly...

Believe.

Love You So Very, Very Much,

Mommy

Still struggling, but making a choice to see otherwise!

I was in the shower after writing the previous post and am literally typing this in between getting dressed and putting contacts in. I want to write what pops in my head randomly that is GOOD in my life, I need a reminder:

1) Kids who at this moment turned off their morning cartoons, are getting dressed and brushing their teeth all without me asking them too...and I'll bet if I go look their breakfast dishes are already in the dishwasher. Oh yea, and I hear one of them playing their keyboard that gives me a smile as it was an unexpected gift from someone who has added so much to my life.

2) Dominick was out as usual at the crack of dawn, working to support us. What a gift to have a husband who takes his responsibilities so seriously and does the job so well! And is so quiet in the morning when he leaves so we can all sleep in ;-)

3) The sunlight through my bedroom windows (we have 4 of them in a small room) cheers my soul.

4) Friends in my life who love me and encourage me, who I could call at 2:00 AM and instead of hearing a nasty "Whaddaya want?" on the other end I would find only concern...and they would cry with me.

5) I have food in the fridge (right now, lots of it actually with our guests coming!).

6) My bed was warm and cozy last night.

Walking away from my list to get dressed...

7) I have a nice minivan to drive which starts easily when I put the key in the ignition. For some reason I am always grateful for that after owning a few clunkers in my day.

8) Books...man I LOVE books! I have 4 of them started sitting around the house, and I am so happy for a plethora of books at our library, for those who loan me theirs!

9) God's ability to refresh and renew us, moment by moment. I'll still be in a funk after writing this, but it will be a "lighter shade of funk"...hahahaha

10) A husband who whispers softly in the middle of the night when I am still wide awake mulling over my life "I hope you feel better tomorrow".

11) The ability to see good in others, even when at moments you don't like the way they are acting. Took me years to develop that!

12) Glasses and contacts. As I put them in my eyes I think how much happier I am with contacts, how much better I see (at almost negative 10 diopters in each eye, you truly do give thanks for corrected vision! I know what blindness is like as I experience it each day when the glasses come off).

13) A closet full of clothes. I may not like the way I look in any of them, but I have clean clothing and though not fancy it covers my body and keeps me safe and warm.

14) Our globe willow trees, their shape is lovely and we grew them from $20 Walmart sticks and they are beautiful!

15) The person helping us financially to adopt the girls...I think if her daily with gratitude and amazement.

16) Diet Coke. Caffeine. More Diet Coke. Need I say more?

17) Sons who pushed me aside with $300 worth of Walmart shopping yesterday as they emptied the cart and then loaded the car, then lugged it all in the house saying "Step aside Mom, this is a job for real men!".

Aforementioned glasses off, contacts going in...

18) Hair. At least I have some. I don't often like mine, it is not pretty, it is not a nice texture or style, but I have it and I am glad I am not losing any as some have at my age. Don't care if it goes gray or not.

19) Colorado sunsets, then most beautiful in the entire world...blazing oranges and peaches and often reflections off clouds which create amazing views.

20) A toilet with toilet paper. Sanitation. Things I take for granted that keep us all healthier.

21) Friends who call Kazakhstan a million times with you, interrupting their evening, to interpret over a frustrating passport issue.

I could name a dozen more easily, but need to get moving. Funny...I DO feel a little better after just taking a brief few minutes to think only of good in my life.

There is so much. Who cares about the rest?

Struggling...

So I have come to the conclusion that I have a stinky attitude right now and need to get it together. Not sure why, but it has been a gradual yet certain descent into the depths of...I don't know. I have no real reason for it, but I am definitely not myself and I am tired of it! I am not necessarily Pollyanna all the time or Miss Merry Sunshine, but I am usually pretty upbeat and positive about life. Lately, not so much. I am struggling to see the bright side, I am wallowing at moments which is totally not me at all.

Maybe it is the uncertainty of my future, of our family's future. Maybe it is that I am struggling to figure out who I am at almost 43 years old and what path I should be following. Trying to keep priorities where they most surely belong often means I end up thinking of opportunities missed right now rather than seeing the long term gain of healthy, happy and healed children. Am I really meant for ministry in some form? Or am I totally misreading it all? Am I failing in areas I am unaware of and therefore can't correct? Is our adoption ever going to be completed? If it was all over tomorrow, would I feel as if I had accomplished anything? What will next week bring? Next month?

And in the long run, why am I fretting over it all? Usually I am much better at letting go, of seeing more clearly. It just isn't happening right now. Maybe it is similar to the melancholy I always felt prior to the start of school when I was a kid.

We have our dear friends from Chicago coming to visit today, and we will all go camping together for a few days. I am hoping that this will pull me out of my little funk and bring a brighter perspective. 10 people in our house, lots of laughter and games, and most importantly tons of love...how can I not be uplifted by that?

I also am excited for a blog following family from Hawaii who is traveling to Kazakhstan in a couple of days to adopt. Wishing you guys a safe journey and an obvious leading to a particular child who will delight you and melt your heart.

So I guess I am off to kick myself in the derriere and get back in the game!

Friday, August 07, 2009

A Friend and Her Passion


Speaking of passion in yesterday's blog post, I found I couldn't stop thinking of my friend in Wichita. This is a woman who has found her passion and is pursuing it with gusto, and yet will likely never feel she is "good enough" as her inner drive for perfection continues to speak to her.

She is an incredibly talented photographer, completely self-taught, still learning more about Photoshop and lighting and so much more as she is indeed passionate about her craft. Watching her as she talks about it, seeing how animated she becomes and how intense she is when working at it, it is obvious she is one of the lucky few who have stumbled upon that one thing that is utterly absorbing for her.


While we were in Wichita, she created some wonderful portraits of the boys which were the first pictures of each of them which I felt totally captured the essence of their personalities perfectly. I'd like to share a few of them with you below:
















As I look at these beautiful (can you say that about boys???) photos of our sons, I shake my head as I know my very talented friend does not see her work as others do. These photos are NOTHING compared to the absolutely incredible portraits she has taken of her own children. This is a gift, this is her calling. She is her own worst critic, and I only wish I could imbue her with the confidence necessary for her to continue on this path for a career.

We often pick ourselves apart, we tend to judge ourselves quite severely. I often have wondered how much talent has been left unrevealed to the world because someone was overly critical of their own work? How many writers, poets, musicians, painters, and singers have we all missed out on because someone wasn't encouraged enough, or didn't "hear" others as they praised their work?

I have no such obvious talents. Oh, I guess I am gifted in certain areas but it is not in any area such as the arts. I can in no way produce something tangible with my gifts, much to my dismay at times. I'd love to be able to create a colorful quilt, write a spirit moving poem, take a photo which captures so completely the essence of a moment in time. I can't paint, sew, draw, write, or sing well. I am adequate at a few things, I am pretty good at intangible things such as relationships, etc. But I have always secretly wished I could produce something which would add beauty to the world. That just isn't something I will ever be able to do, and that's OK.

But when someone has a skill or excels at a craft, it is thrilling to watch their skill level increase!! I have seen the photos my friend has taken improve phenomenally over the past several years, I have portraits of her children on my fridge and bulletin board not just because we love their family, but also because they are beautiful to look at!

A few weeks ago I preached, and part of my sermon was about not allowing ourselves to be the ones to hold others back because we are somewhat blinded by familiarity and assumptions. But I wonder how often we do that to ourselves? How many times in our own lives do we limit ourselves because we can not see what is right in front of us...that we have a gift or a talent that could be shared with the world and appreciated by many...all because we pick ourselves apart to the point that we lose all confidence in ourselves.

So while she might not be willing to share her gift with the world, I am doing so here on my blog with a hearty "Thank You" for the time and effort it took to create such wonderful photos!

Wind In My Sails - Friday Five


As some of you may have noticed, I recently joined the RevGalBlogPals web ring. This web ring is "committed to building a supportive online community for women clergy, women church professionals, and women in religious life.". There is a fabulous list of bloggers who are part of this web ring, and it is an honor to be included among such gifted and talented thinkers and writers. I have found several blogs I enjoy following among their large group of bloggers, some funny and some serious, the majority are ordained clergy in various denominations, all are articulate and thoughtful to follow.

As part of their group blogging activities, they always have a "Friday Five" group of questions about a particular topic which is voluntary to answer. I will be trying to play as I can on Fridays and will post here on the blog. Sometimes it may of be interest to my adoption readers, sometimes not. As I have explained in the past, I can not really separate my blog into categories or create two blogs, as faith and adoption are intertwined for me, so if a post is boring for you, then visit another day and I will surely be blogging about something that is more "up your alley".

So here goes, my first "Friday Five", which this week is about personal passions!:

1. Is there a sport/ hobby that is more of a passion than a past-time for you?

Well, I suppose blogging might be called one, but that seems quite obvious and is not really a hobby or sport. I can lose myself totally in photography, but sadly I am not nearly as gifted at it as I would like to be. I also read voraciously and that is probably the thing I can not imagine living without being able to do. Words linked together and the emotions they evoke or the mental picture they can create simply by placing them in a different order from the next guy or gal always excites me and has since I was in Kindergarten.

2. Outdoors or indoors?

I am in indoorsy kind of gal :-) Never hear anyone call it that, do you? I don't like heat much, can't stand wind, and could never imagine myself running a marathon or hiking Everest (not that I shouldn't be doing those things!).

3. Where do you find peace and quiet?

Hahaha! With 3 young sons in the house, the shower is the ONLY place I find peace and quiet! But all jesting aside, it actually is the one place I find I am the most contemplative. I also find my mind doing some of it's best thinking on long car drives when I am driving.

But there is nothing that compares to a snowy Colorado winter evening curled up on the couch, admittedly usually with laptop in hand, in front of a blazing fire in the woodstove around midnight when all my loved ones are tucked away in bed.

4. A competitive spirit; good or bad, discuss...

I am not at all competitive. Never have been, never will be unless with myself. For others I think competition has the potential to be both good and bad, when kept within reason. Many of humankind's greatest achievements were the result of being spurred on by a competitive spirit...our medical breakthroughs, space exploration which simultaneously brought us new inventions and materials to work with here on planet earth, etc.

Sadly though, competition often causes us to lose sight of the fact that life is not a game to be won, but is a journey to experience. We humans get caught up in winning at all costs and lose our compassion and all sense of generosity of spirit. Competition makes us climb over others, often crushing them beneath our feet as we reach for greater heights...and the cost can be devastating to our own souls as well as those whom we have trod upon.

5. Is there a song a picture or a poem that sums up your passion ?

If I am honest, my real passion is not a hobby or sport, it is my family and the world we are creating within the walls of our home as well as the lives we touch outside our home. But that seems so...well...trapped in motherhood, so utterly not just about me.

So maybe the picture at the top of this blog is the photo that best sums up my true passion.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

God Hates? God Loves?

We happened to leave Wichita on Sunday, and were "treated" to two different episodes of picketing at local churches as we drove out of town. These picketers were from the infamous Westboro Baptist Church where the equally infamous "Pastor" Fred Phelps presents his version of the gospel, and encourages the members of his congregation (largely his family) to spread a skewed version of the Good News. For those of you not familiar, the Phelps family has demonstrated at funerals of our fallen soldiers, leading to the creation of laws banning such protests so that grieving families may lay their loved ones to rest peacefully. The members of this congregation have also protested against homosexuality, at the memorial service of the former leader of the LDS church, and at Michael Jackson's funeral...to name just a few of their causes.

Matthew was sitting next to me as we passed the first group of picketers, where a couple of children who appeared to be no older than 5 or 6 held up profanity laced signs. He immediately perked up and asked me what this was all about, and why those kids would hold up signs saying such awful things, and why they would do so at the entrance to a church. Joshie and Kenny had not noticed, as they were playing in the back seat, so I attempted to explain the group's actions in terms Matthew would understand without treating his curiosity with a lack of respect or by "dumbing down" my responses. Sadly, hate is a part of our world and at 10 years old Matthew is becoming more aware of the larger world around him. He is also very perceptive and introspective. He would immediately know if I was dodging him, so I always answer his questions straight up.

But how does one explain such things as Fred Phelps and his anger at America and Americans? I struggled to find the words to combat the words printed boldly on the signs Matthew had read, words that are contrary to everything he has been taught...God Hates. He was quite confused by one sign in particular that declared "Thank God For Dead Soldiers". He looked up at me and asked "Mommy, why would God hate soldiers who die for us? Aren't they doing a good thing protecting us? These guys make no sense to me!".

I found myself in a moral dilemma, one that many of you might not find to be a dilemma at all. For many parents it would be a quick "These guys are nut jobs, just ignore them." and that would be end the conversation. Or perhaps the entire thing would not be acknowledged and questions would not be answered in an effort to protect a child's innocence. Maybe that is the road I should have taken, but as I sat there quietly mulling all of this over, I realized a simple answer would not suffice, and that ignoring it would be the chicken's way out. I may be a chicken in some regards, but when it comes to my kids I am a Momma Bear and sometimes even Momma Bears have to face challenges they'd prefer to avoid.

So, taking a deep breath and carefully measuring my response, I decided to take this to another level with Matthew. I felt he deserved it, and it was my job to figuratively take his hand and walk through it with him. So we began...

I explained that there are many approaches to Christianity, many extremes in all faiths, and that he had just witnessed one of them. I tried as best I could to explain the Phelp's family's perspective about how God hates all evil and those that Fred Phelps personally perceives as being evil, based upon his interpretation of the Bible. We talked about the contrast between hating sin but not hating the sinner, about forgiveness, about redemption.

Then we tippy toed down the most difficult path when I asked Matthew "Do you think what they are doing is right?" and he replied "No way!", and then I asked "Do you think God loves the Phelps family as much as God loves you and I, even though they are spreading hatred in God's world?"...and Matthew remained quiet for a few moments, then replied thoughtfully "Yea, I think so, because I think God loves everyone, and if God can forgive murder and stuff like that, then God will forgive these guys for saying mean things." He then added "But I still think they are pretty bad people to even have their kids carrying around signs with bad words on it.".

The conversation then drifted towards the rights of every American to voice their opinions about anything, even if it is distasteful to the majority of people. I said "Do you realize that the very soldiers they are saying such awful things about are willing to die in part for the right for these people to say such things? You know that in many countries people would be killed for saying things against the government or against what the government thinks is right. How do you think the soldiers families feel when they see signs at their son's or husband's funerals?". We spent the next 20 miles or so weighing whether it was worth it or not to die for people like this to say horrible things. Ultimately, Matt came to the conclusion that he loves living where we can all be free, and that freedom means that everyone is free...not just those who agree with us.

I personally find Fred Phelps and those of his ilk repulsive. To my way of thinking, they are twisted and represent a distorted view. Are they evil personified? It might be best if we reminded ourselves that just as we may see them as evil, they too see us as equally evil. Who is right? Does God love or does God hate?

If I am to truly embrace that God loves us all, then that means that God loves Fred Phelps and his family. Ooohhh...that is a hard one for me! It puts it all out there, doesn't it? God loves our enemies just as much as we are loved, and man, that is a concept that is hard to swallow sometimes, especially when we feel that someone is the antithesis of what the gospel teaches, and yet there is that unrelenting Love that we claim to believe in. We show we truly believe it when we recognize that even those who are at odds with us are still loved, even if not by us.

And isn't that a comforting thought? To know that we too are always loved even when at times we might be despised by those around us? Whether that loathing is earned or not, we have redemption and love waiting for us.

God may hate behavior, God may hate actions or thoughts or deeds. God does not hate us, no matter our failings.

And God loves Fred Phelps too, whether I'd be capable of that or not.




Guess We Aren't In Kansas Anymore!!



Sad Faces As We Leave Behind Our Friends!

I received a few emails asking if we had dropped off the face of the earth because the blog was so silent. No, the earth is still round and not flat, and I did something I rarely do, I decided to be impulsive and the boys and I jumped in the car with 24 hours notice and drove to Wichita to spend the week with our friends. We had planned to do so earlier in the summer before our FluFest hit, and this was the last chance we would have to leave before school starts, so we loaded the car with an amazing array of videos, snacks, blankets and stuffed animals (even Matthew just HAD to bring along his froggie and Big Dog "Spike"!) and we were off to the Heartland.

The Heartland...that is exactly what Kansas has become for us, for it is there amidst the flat prairie landscape that we left a little piece of our own hearts. Our friendship with a family there began long ago, almost 10 years in fact, when emails were exchanged after their daughters came home from Matthew's orphanage and a young couple offered to be our guide through our first adoption journey. We have somehow managed to maintain this friendship through the years with only 4 short visits in person but with ongoing email contact. What makes it so interesting is that this friendship is less about adoption and maintaining cultural connections than it is about the rare gift of finding people in this world whom you truly care about.

How can an entire family be adopted? I didn't know it was possible, but after this visit there can be no doubt. Who has adopted whom, I am not sure, but I know we have somehow become unofficial "family" and the kindness and generosity shown us by their entire extended clan is something I only wish I could repay but know there is no way to do so. We left with great memories of boat rides, sand in our shoes from hours spent at "grandma and grandpa's" beach at their lake home, bags of seas shells gently clanking in our suitcases, and tubs and bags of "hand me downs" that for my kids are really more like "hand me ups" as there was indeed an entire wardrobe there for Matthew!

I so enjoyed spending time with my unofficial twin, a Diet Coke ingestin', digital photography lovin', over-organizin', kid adoptin' Momma! I have been blessed with a wonderful assortment of adopted sisters throughout my life, but this one is the closest to being a "mini-me" that I have ever had. We talk fast, we think fast, we analyze everything into oblivion, we drink copious amounts of Diet Coke (believe it or not, she drinks me under the table!! Hard to fathom even for my kids who were surprised!), and we both recognize that life, time and distance don't allow us to have the friendship we might otherwise have if circumstances were different, but we see the value in what we DO have...and it is worth the efforts we make to keep it.

The boys had their fist experience "boarding" behind the boat, and the grins were a mile wide after courage was gathered to try it. Kenny surprised me by being the first to beg to hit the water...but then maybe it wasn't such a surprise after watching him beg to swim in the pool at church camp when he first came home, despite the fact I knew he couldn't swim a lick. He has tons more courage than skill, but after two years of swim lessons and a lot of time floating with a life vest on, we both knew he'd be fine. It wasn't 2 minutes in the water before he started to show us he truly had no fear and was trying to catch waves in the wake of the boat and slide up on the side. I stood back watching him once again dumbfounded at this kid who never fails to surprise me.




As has often happened over the course of the past two years, Kenny's confidence encouraged Matthew to step out of his comfort zone! I love it when this happens, as so often in many arenas it is Matt who leads the way due to his maturity. It is a nice balance for Kenny to be able to excel and lead in some areas. In school it is Matthew who leads due to Kenny's late entrance into our lives, but Matthew lacks confidence and is more hesitant in many situations. I think this recognition on both their parts of what they can learn from one another is one reason that having 2 sons who are both 10 years old has worked for us versus creating the internal displacement within our family which might have occurred. Each is proud of the other's gifts!


Then there was Joshie, who at first didn't even want to go out on the boat, then wasn't so sure about being pulled behind the boat on a tiny little board with nothing other than his life vest on. But after seeing the huge grins on everyone else's faces my timid little guy decided it was worth the risk.
To say the kids had a total blast is an understatement...this kind of adventure is something they have never had and might never have again.

We sat there and watched all of our children in the twilight as they played at the edge of the lake, a blend of bio and adopted kiddos brought together halfway around the world for whom nothing much mattered but the pure unadulterated joy of building sand castles and jumping off the dock making huge canonball-like splashes. I was reminded that in an uncomplicated way this was the creation of community and I wished that somehow it was that easy for adults to accept with ease our differences and join together to form connections without messing it all up by focusing on skin color, religion, or political persuasion. How much happier would our lives be if we, as adults, stood hand in hand on the edge of the dock and jumped in together, giggling all the way? Somewhere along the way, we lose that ability to accept each other at face value, we find it harder to walk up to a new kid on the playground and say "Hey, what's your name? Wanna play with me?". Instead we stand back and judge, we look for reasons to turn our backs or exclude others simply because they are not like us. So sad, for we all miss out when we do that.