Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Child's Legacy

It has been a long while since I posted much about adoptions in Kyrgyzstan.  Sadly, it has been because there has been no movement at all, and 60+ children who were previously matched with adoptive parents are still waiting to join their waiting families.  Three years and counting, and children suffer the consequences of a government's inability to function efficiently.  They also suffer due to the misguided and irrational logic of organizations whose opinions reflect their utter lack of understanding of the incredible harm that comes from years of institutionalization.

Even more shocking is that these children, many of whom have multiple medical issues that need immediate attention, pay the ultimate price for adults who can't place their welfare first.  They will never have the chance to have the kind of life they could have had should intervention have come quickly and early on in their lives.

And some of them die.

There is no dramatic intention there, it is truth.  Let me share just one story...

Suzanne Bilyeu is an ordinary wife, mother and pediatrician who was faced with unfathomable choices that would tear out the heart of any human being.  She and her husband tackled the paperwork, and were matched with a child, a beautiful little girl named Altynai whom they had planned to name Addison.  When Altynai was a tiny 3 month old baby, they traveled to Kyrgyzstan to meet her as part of the adoption process, expecting to return 2-3 months late to bring their daughter home.  Upon returning home, Altynai experienced her first illness, and within a month their court date for adoption finalization was cancelled as the adoption process ground to a halt when adoptions in Kyrgyzstan were "temporarily" halted.

As the family waited and months passed, it became increasingly obvious that little Altynai's physical condition was rapidly growing worse.  Measurements indicated that she had  hydrocephalus, and her head circumference continued to increase as fluid pressed on her brain, causing unknown pain...and untold damage.

At 13 months old and due to the extraordinary advocacy work on the part of her Mom, a visiting medical team performed the life saving surgery that would provide Altynai with a fighting chance.  I call Suzanne Altynai's Mom because I know what it is like to be separated from your children for years at a time, knowing in your heart that God has already matched you and no court on earth can ever change that.  We moms, whether legally recognized or not, will do all that is humanly possible for our children, whether they reside with us or not.


Unfortunately, by the age of 16 months, it was clear that the surgery was not going to yield the hoped for results, and the decline in Altynai's health left her able to barely lift her head, and with vision and hearing loss.  Her parents and so many other waiting parents worked tirelessly (and still do) to convince the Kyrgyz government to free their children to come home to the loving families that awaited them. 
 
At 28 months old, Altynai's condition worsened to the point that she once again had emergency surgery to relieve the pressure on her brain. It came too late, and a month later, a much loved little girl died in the arms of an orphanage caretaker.  Altynai would never have the chance to giggle while being tickled by her Mommy and Daddy, she would never hear the words "I love you" whispered softly in her ear, she would never be able to walk and talk, ride a bike or throw a ball.  Her life was cut short, and it was 100% avoidable.
 
I was blessed to have a few phone conversations with Suzanne as she worked through the emotions of this heart wrenching situation.  I was able to see the heart of a Mom, one who was powerless to help her daughter who was so far away and in distress.  I could do nothing more than lend a compassionate ear and  murmur a few words of encouragement as we both recognized the hopelessness of the situation. 
 
Suzanne handled it all with far more grace than I ever could have.
 
That grace now extends towards the families who continue to wait...families whose lives have understandably changed over the past 3 years, whose financial situations have possibly been affected by the economy as well as the ongoing efforts to bring their waiting children home.  Suzanne contacted me and shared a little about her plans to raise funds for the remaining waiting families, so that their adoptions could be finalized should Kyrgyzstan release them, and that financial need would not stand in the way.  She established a fund as a lasting legacy to the life of Altynai...the child whose own government and legal guardian completely ignored.  Please check out her web page at:  http://www.altynailegacyfund.blogspot.com/  .  There you will read just a handful of stories about some of the other waiting families, you will see the faces of the children they long to bring home.  If you are so moved, please donate to this cause....you will be helping families whose Herculean efforts to bring their children home are inspiring.
 
You will also help Suzanne to know that Altynai's life was of value, that she was not some anonymous orphan who died a silent death and will forever remain unrecognized. 
 
Remember Altynai...
 

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Space In Between

It's 1:00 am and here I sit, laptop in hand, a victim of my own fall off the Diet Coke wagon.  Caffeine is surging through my veins, and yes, it feels GOOD! Hahaha!  Actually, I have been very good and only had DC a couple of times during the past month and a half or so.  Tonight I had a lot to accomplish though, so it was a purposeful fall.  Tomorrow I will step back up on the wagon, for a flurry of activity awaits.

Perhaps though it is not just the caffeine high that has me still upright rather than curled up in bed.  There is much rolling around inside my head, and it is these late night spiritual explorations that often garner the most fruit.  I have been ruminating over the incredible sermon our pastor delivered this morning.  Isn't that an interesting way to say it..."delivered"?  But I am certain that for a gifted writer and orator, that is exactly what it must feel like, giving birth to something that had been growing inside for a time and was arduously brought forth to be presented to the world.  The good ones make it look easy.  It never is.

The Space In Between.  That was not the sermon title, but that is what has my mind doing an endless loop as I contemplate what that really means.  What we do with the Space In Between reveals who we are more clearly than anything else we might ever say or do in those times outside the "Between".  Are you totally lost?  Let me explain...

Someone harms you in some way, insults you, attacks you, or just unintentionally ignores or causes you emotional pain.  Maybe it is much worse, maybe someone physically assaults you or someone you love, or destroys something of value to you.

How do you react?  What do you do?  Is retribution the first thing that enters your mind?  Is "payback" the path you walk?  After all, an eye for an eye, right?  Why not?

Oh, if only it was that simple.

The Space In Between., that split second that falls between thought and response, that is the time,  no matter how infinitesimal, when we have the opportunity to redirect ourselves. The Space In Between is when we have the opportunity to live up to that which we aspire to be, or we can give in to our lesser selves and respond in a way which might bring temporary gratification, but later upon honest reflection might bring permanent mortification.

Sometimes the Space In Between is not imperceptible, sometimes there is a considerable amount of time between an event which directs us to a particular thought, and the reaction to that thought.  Take, for example, America's response to the tragedy of 9/11.  We had time to measure our response, and for years to come there are many of us that will question the wisdom of our response as a nation.  One wonders what has really been accomplished with the plan our leaders came up with as they reflected during their Space In Between.

Whether almost immediate, or months long, the Space In Between is when we consciously make a decision to practice what we preach, or to give in to the world's day to day lack of grace.  It is when we become who we want to be, or we continue to be who we wish we weren't.

The Space in Between is when we show others what we know in our heart to be true, but often can't model due to our very humanness...it is when we have the opening to prove that Love Wins.

The biggest Space In Between is the one between birth and death, and it is so long that we are afforded many "do-overs" when we fail to get it right.  Every morning when we awaken, we can take in a long, deep breath and thank our God that we have yet another chance to get it right, to make the Space In Between have meaning and purpose, and to make our response to our culture be something that reflects a different way of being in this world.

I am reading a book right now by Richard Rohr for our book club at church, "Falling Upward, A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life".  This book is not a difficult read, but it is proving so for me because on every page there is something that speaks to me and demands I hear it before moving on.  On the first page of the introduction he writes of the two halves of life like this:  "The first task is to build a strong "container" or identity, the second is to find the contents that the container was meant to hold.".

 He explains this further on the flip side of that page when he clarifies about the second task being "what we are really doing when we are doing what we are doing."    Confused?  Read it again...what IS it that we are doing when we are doing what we go about our day to day lives?  What is our purpose?  What are we doing with our Space In Between?  Are we mindful of our actions?  Is there intentional thought in our responses when we have been wronged somehow, or do we do as all others around us do, react without allowing time for Grace to appear?

We all have Space In Between.  We all encounter situations every single day that ask something of us, when the question lingers unspoken in the air "Who am I?".  It is in our answer to that question that is raised during each and every Space In Between that we shore up our character, it is where we make conscious decisions about who we really are.  Oh sure, we often say "Well I just didn't think!" and that can be true.  However, I tend to assume that more often than not, we DO think, then we react in a way that is in concert with what we thought.

Our reactions and thought processes involved during our longer Spaces In Between are informed by all the thousands of very short Spaces In Between.  Just as a mason builds a sturdy, high brick wall, we too build our larger Spaces In Between on the building blocks of the smaller ones.  In other words, a life is created and looked back upon that is based upon all the smaller Spaces In Between that make up a whole.  We ultimately become that which we were in the smaller and less significant moments.  And if those moments are filled with small graces, we become gracious.  If those moments are filled with anger and hatred, we become hateful and compassion-less.

There are so many levels to this idea of Spaces In Between that it makes my brain hurt to think too much about it.  Sometimes I find myself overwhelmed, wishing that I could chew on much smaller bites, but one bite leads to another, which leads to another, and the next thing you know you have a seven course meal in front of you and you have no idea where to first stick your fork!!

I also wondered late this evening, as I mulled some of this over, what did others walk out of church thinking today?  What point did they most connect with in the sermon?  There can be no doubt that there were as many different sermons delivered this morning from our pulpit as there were members attending worship.  Each walked away with a significant sized nugget, the difference being the angle at which it was being held which provided a strikingly different perspective.

It is now after 2:00 am, long past time for me to get some rest.  I am sure I will have a few "Space In Between" moments tomorrow, and I am sure I will not always handle them as I might wish.  Perhaps simple awareness will increase the odds that grace will suddenly appear...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Birth and Rebirth In the Family that God Built

Terribly long post with lots of photos...WARNING....

It's been a rough month, emotionally speaking, with lots of ups and downs, twists and turns.  There has also been an indwelling of the Spirit that continues to steady us, despite the roller coaster ride we seem to never quite disembark.  It is what we cling to, it is what props us up through it all.  How, I wonder, did we EVER function during those long, lonely years we spent so distanced from God?  I know we were never this happy, were often filled with anger and were easily bruised.  There is a resiliency that comes from living the Jesus life, something I never quite understood until the past few years.

And there is love...oh, how much love!!  There is continual renewal and rebirth, and we get to see it every single day even in the little things.  God has had arms stretched tightly around us this past few weeks, arms that take the  form of beloved friends.  We celebrated so much, and despite the uncertainty and minor upheaval, we are continually reminded of the blessing it is to live together, both in this particular and unique family as well as within the community of faith we walk within.

Olesya's birthday was the day after Kenny's surgery, so her celebration was put off until this past weekend, when we could give it the attention it surely deserved.  We joke about the kids growing up so fast, but when you adopt kids who are already halfway to adulthood or more, each birthday is especially precious.  Olesya turned 12 on the 12th of August, and we had a treasure hunt themed party for her.  Her gift from us was a metal detector which she used to find hints and clues hidden in several places in our yard and neighborhood.  Friends, knowing we were a bit drained after our marathon this past couple of weeks, offered help in the ways they could and did everything from creating the final treasure chest to be found, to offering to bring a beautiful bejeweled pink pinata, to coming early to help decorate.  Olesya had a wonderful time, and her face glowed the entire day!  She had been dancing around the past couple of days, filled with great excitement at the party to come.

Although we only had a few extra kids over, I love that all our children consider the adults in their lives true friends and do not limit themselves to children only their own ages as friends.  Young, old and in between are truly treasured and they dearly love each and every adult who has spent time with them and cared about them.  Here are some pictures from the special day:

Our Big Twelve Year Old Girl!!

She loved her gift!

Dominick out on the hunt, trying to recall where he hid the clues.

Great pinata and treasure box!

Angela enjoying time with a friend

Delighted with a movie!  Princess are the current theme :-)

So many people we love...so blessed are we!

Josh enjoying the party

Matt desperately wanted to frost the cake, and then it broke into 3 chunks on him.  Oh well, with all the earthquiakes lately, it is fitting,...and it still tasted great!

Another year down, thankfully, many more to go!

Olesya is so dear, and I am eternally grateful that the past 2 birthdays have been spent at home, embraced by a family who cherishes her.  I can't help but think of all their friends back in Petropavlosk whose birthdays go unnoticed, who don't receive a specially frosted...even if broken...cake, who are overlooked and forgotten by the entire world.

Our children are reborn when they are adopted, they come to life in ways that are startling and amazing.  A child who experiences unconditional love for the first time may struggle to accept that it is real, but when they cross over and allow their hearts to open up, it is a glorious thing to behold.  While there is no comparison to giving birth the traditional way, it is in itself an awe inspiring event to witness...the first time a child hugs you close with no distance between you, the first time a child risks placing a kiss on your cheek, the first time a child looks at you with wide eyed wonder when you see them...truly see them...and they recognize for the first time that they have worth.

We have spent the past year and a half watching Angela and Olesya gradually be reborn.  As we celebrate Olesya's birthday it is a delight to look back on how far we have come as a family, and to know that God has walked every step with us and all we had to do was trust.  That was not always easy, but it has been worth every awkward moment and every heartbreaking revelation.

My own birthday was today, and I too was treated to a celebration of my birth 45 years ago.  Dominick was off with Kenny getting stitches out and having a post-op recheck while I was home alone with the kids.  I woke up to the girls excitedly presenting me with a hand drawn card and a little gift of handmade soap and foot balm that they bought at a craft booth recently.  I also received a heartfelt email from my own Mom who expressed her love for me in words I will always treasure. We all teased Matthew throughout the day because he forgot it was my birthday, but after returning with Angela from volleyball practice I came home to a note on the door that said there was a party inside waiting for me.  I entered and Matthew had created a treasure hunt for me and I had to hunt around the house for clues.  Then I was treated to a delectable afternoon snack of frozen Italian ices on a plate surrounded by frozen Sugar Babies and topped off with a peppermint :-)  I also had a plate of freshly made sugar cookies, and there was chopped banana with frosting on top, as well as being served Diet Coke (Yes, caffeine free) in a champagne flute.  Oh yes, let's not forget the leftover Christmas plates and place mats that were used to create a festive flair at my candle lit table.

Yea...I know it wasn't Tavern on the Green, but the love with which it was served simply can't be bought...or served...anywhere else.

I was wished Happy Birthday in the best possible way, being referred to as "Your Highness" or "My Queen"!!! HAHAHA!!!

Here I am in all my 45 years of glory...Boy, the older I get, the more I have my Dad's eyes, huh Mom?

My chefs for the afternoon, including Joshua who looks like he is trying to play a GQ Romeo on the side :-)

Was there ever a more beautiful table set for a Queen??
45 years ago I was born into one family, who nurtured me, provided for me, and sent me off into the world.  45 years later, I am still being nurtured and provided for by my family, but that family is larger these days and includes almost no one related by blood.  Not all of that family lives under our roof or shares the name LaJoy, but they are family nonetheless.  I was treated to a pot roast dinner and cake made from scratch by our adopted grandpa this evening, which was a prelude to him once again kicking my bootie in Scrabble.  I was delighted and surprised to find bright shiny balloons and a card waiting for me from another dear friend.  I received many, many good wishes on Facebook from friends across the globe, some of whom I have never met face to face but who have been a part of my life for many years now.

These are the kinds of birthdays that mean the most...the ones with presents which are not measurable in currency, but instead are measured by the heart.

Rebirthing often means revisiting pieces of childhood that were missing or never experienced, and doing so in an environment where that is safe to occur.  We are always aware of our kids' need to do this, and try to provide time, materials, and encouragement to do whatever it is that feels necessary.  The lack of judgment here creates a safety zone that is desperately needed, and all can grow at whatever pace they need to, and can also pursue whatever it is they are interested in regardless of the "cool factor".  It actually tickles me sometimes, and I find it extremely healthy even though I realize many other adults would never understand.  It isn't always the three adopted at older ages either who need that safe place.

A couple of afternoons ago I walked into the boy's room where Matthew sat drawing and painting in water color while listening to classical music by choice.  I just grinned from ear to ear as I put his laundry away, and also realized that were he in a different setting most of the day, we never would see this happening for it would be deemed too "geeky".  A week or so ago I found everyone but Matthew on the floor of the girls' room playing with Barbies and trying to create new clothing for them.  Kenny and Joshie were having as much fun as the girls were and were attempting to sew too!  It was fun to see them being creative and not feel this was strictly a "girls activity".  It was also important for Angela and Olesya, despite being 12 and 13, to have time to do things they never got to do when they were younger.  I know few girls their ages these days would be caught dead playing with dolls, but I am very, very grateful they can do so without fear of ridicule.
Barbie needs a haircut!

Josh sewed this little top!

Kenny's doll never did get quite dressed :-)

Shampoo anyone?

There is also the rebirth of the mind, which has been startling in the girls.  Their curiosity has been piqued, and the non-book loving, bored with academics kids we brought home have lit up in a million ways, and are seriously beyond any expectations we ever would have had for them at the year and a half mark home.  Writing in English, reading and comprehending so much, asking to look up things they are interested in, it is as if someone opened the flood gates!
Using coins to represent Kings, nobility and serfs as we study various forms of government and  the advantages and disadvantages of each. Communism doesn't work, but then we already knew that first hand :-)

The rebirthing process continues here as Kenny's lip and nose heal to reveal the new version..."Kenny 3.0"!!! Oh, how thrilled he is with the results!  Many don't notice much of a difference, not having spent much time looking closely at his face and not being the one wearing it in this world.  The subtle difference is just perfect, the scars are straight as Kenny had long hoped for, and already less noticeable than his previous ones which were wider and further apart.  His nose has the tiniest difference but definitely is an improvement worth having the work done.  Kenny is surprised at how much happier he is with his nose as well, and it is great to see him feeling so good about himself rather than thinking he is ugly.  I think this surgery was a rousing success and he will never again look in the mirror and judge himself lacking, and that is the most important thing.  Here, take a look 2 weeks post-op:

He's BAAAAACCCKKK!!!  LOVE that smile!!!
God built this family, and continues to work with us, mold us, and lift us up every single day.  Sure, we have rough waters sometimes, everyone does.  But we never, ever forget...we are LaJoy's.  We are Team LaJoy.  We have each other, we have others, we have God.  Nothing else is needed, nothing.  If we are open to the process, we are all being rebirthed daily.  Every day we start anew, for God gives us do-overs every single day.

And 45 years later, I still know I need a re-do most days :-)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Finally an Update!!

Sorry it has taken me so long to post.  In addition to everything else that happened last week, we had an internet and phone outage due to a lightning strike right overhead.  Finally got up and running yesterday after our service provider came out and discovered they had to re-run all the wiring as it all fried.  Plumbing, electrical, medical...all in one week.  The perfect Trifecta!! Hahaha!

Kenny is healing nicely and the swelling is completely gone.  Now it is important for us to be diligent with scar care so that 6-8 months from now it is as minimal as possible.  He will be using a silicone product over the area for that time period in order to promote healing and lesson scar tissue build up.  We will see how it goes, but he is even more pleased with the overall appearance and we are so happy for him.

We just returned from Grand Junction today where Matthew and I had a "date".  Well, if you call getting an MRI, a CT scan and a orthotics specialist all in one day a "date".  Somehow though, it did turn out to be a very special time together, and my usually quite son was talkative the entire 2 1/2 hour drive there and back.  We yacked about innovations in education and how technology will be integrated more and more, changing the face of education forever.  We visited about his brothers and sisters, laughing about their antics and talking about their futures.  He talked quite a bit about his own future, college, scholarships, and direction.  I just love being with any of our kids, they are the most interesting people I know!!  There is never a dull conversation and their observations are always so insightful to me. 

Our first stop was the orthotics office, where he again got forms made for new shoe inserts, then we moved on to discussion about the back brace he will be getting.  Here it is, and it's a beauty:


We had a very interesting conversation with the orthotist (Cool title, huh?).  He explained a lot to us, and was actually quite surprised when he learned Matthew's diagnosis.  He said that in over 25 years of doing this sort of work he had never seen anyone so young with it, that even though my online research indicated that high school and college athletes can occasionally be found to have the condition he personally had never worked with one, let alone one who was 12 years old. 

He also delivered a little more bad news.  This brace, if it is found to work, will have to be worn until Matthew reaches full skeletal maturity, which as he said at his young age is quite a long way off.  What concerned me is that he also said that even if it corrects itself without surgery, there is a high likelihood that the vertebrae that are slipping and separating from one another can re-slip a few years later.  Because Matthew may literally have to be in a back brace for years, there is great cause for concern about abdominal and other muscles deteriorating, so we need to ask about how to address that issue too.

Leaving his office Matthew was quite open to talking about things, and said he was thinking that if there was a real chance that long term bracing would correct it, but only for a few years, he would prefer to get surgery and get it truly repaired and not have to worry about it again.  We talked about how limited his life will be for awhile, regardless, and he accepted it with ease.  I am so thankful for his maturity, even at only 12 years old.  He is able to see things from all sides and even think about things we would never expect him to think about.  For example, he said to me "Mommy, what happens if this thing fails later on, and I am older and don't have health insurance and can't afford to take care of it?" and then "I could spend years unable to do things I want to do, trying to keep this from getting worse again, and then it still slips back into the old position and need surgery.  Or I could have surgery, get it over with, maybe have a year or two and then get back to what I want to do."  I was actually pretty surprised at his logic and practicality about the whole thing.  However, we will see what the test results provide in terms of more information, and will wait the four months if possible while doing more research. 

Then, my Little Old Soul asked if we could go to a used book store in between appointments, so off we went where he got a bundle of books that made him very happy.  It was quite funny when we got to the register and the sales lady asked me out of the blue "Do you homeschool?" and I replied that yes, I did, and that we had 5 kids at home all homeschooling.  She smiled and said "I could tell." and I asked how.  She answered "Homeschool kids always get the coolest variety of books, they are always the ones who you have to drag out of the bookstore."  I looked down at Matthew's selections and mine for the other kids as she held up one of Matt's selections... "Tactics of Modern Warfare:  Rapid Deployment in the 20th Century", "Annotated Guide:  Architecture The World's Greatest Buildings Explored and Explained".  Then there were a few others, for Joshua a 200 page full color DK book "The Ultimate Spy" which featured spy gear from past and present (He eagerly jumped up and down with excitement when he saw it), "Pocket Puzzles" for Kenny along with "Swiss Family Robinson" for alter reading for Matthew, a T-Shirt design book for Olesya along with several easier readers for both her and Angela.  Yea, a pretty eclectic bunch, I'd say. 

We then went on to the hospital for the scans, and then came on home where our friend Mr. Steve had spent the entire day watching the remainder of the kids as they worked on school work independently.  It was nice to be able to have that time alone with Matthew to talk about his emotions about all of this, and I think it really helped keep the stress down for him.  This is a lot for him to absorb, as all of a sudden his life has dramatically changed.  Sure, not in the way cancer would change it, but still, for a 12 year old to be told he can have almost no activity for at least a year or more other than walking  or maybe biking, that is a lot to take in.  Being a kid who thinks far ahead and has big dreams of perhaps military service, it also means readjusting, which thankfully he showed today he is handling well.  We are in "wait and see" mode, but being pro-active about thinking about options.  What has disturbed him the most is that he has to give up TaeKwonDo when he is one step away from Black Belt.  That was a bigger blow than anything, I think, but even that he handled with aplomb as he spoke today saying "Well, that just means that maybe Joshie and I will become black belts together, as he is the next closest!  That would be more fun anyway to take the test with him."

Speaking of thinking about options, Matthew has decided he wants to pursue archery seriously...so much so that he is even looking at the Cabela's catalog to see what compound bows might cost.  He had tried it in June at an outdoor event and really liked it, and then this past weekend he tried it again at another event here in town, where he also managed to make the front page of the paper as he tried it out.  We spoke with the gentleman there who happens to teach classes and he will gladly take Matthew on as a student, so where one door closes, another opens:





We are beginning our Busy Season as well in the next couple of weeks, as all the kids are beginning new activities.  We held things back a lot last year and the year before, needing time to readjust to new lives, etc. but we find we have a greater need for outside activities with homeschooling, so are allowing them all to try a few new things as long as we find our family life is not too overtaxed.  It would be easy to get too involved and never be home, which to some degree will happen no matter what, but we are all together and at home more than most families now that we are homeschooling, so we are going to take a step out and do a little more. 

The kids will all do TaeKwonDo with the exception of Matthew, then there are Kenny and Angela doing volleyball with the local homeschool group. They had their first practice yesterday and I was oroud of Kenny as he actually hit the ball a couple of times.  He has made a new friend there who he met at track and who also has cranio-facial issues and is about his size.  Hopefully this will be a good avenue for him to stretch and grow.  Angela did terrific and is going to be a very good player, it is easy to see.  I love though that on the way home she said to me "Actually Mama, sports are for fun but they are not what life is about.  I like to do it because it is nice to meet other kids, but I think school is more important and better for my life."  What a turnaround from the child a year and a half ago who had no interest in academics, hated books, and thought all she was good at was sports.  Now, she has so many interests that sports are secondary.  She has a much healthier perspective about it all, and that was great to hear...and to see her enjoy herself thoroughly on the court.  Olesya is terribly excited about taking a dance class one evening a week.  No, not ballet, not jazz...hip hop!!  This is so totally her, and I am glad she is giving it a try.  All of them will be taking art outside the house, as well as still taking music lessons.  We are going to be busy, at least during volleyball season!!  Somehow we must fit in archery for Matthew, it will be really important for him to feel he still can do something aside from academics.

Well, that's it...long update but grandma's need to be "in the know", so if I bored you to tears, I apologize.  Now that we are back online, I'll try to post more frequently!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Not Such Good News :-(

It's been a long day...heck, it's been a long couple of weeks...and today's news was surprising and not what we had hoped for.  Dominick and I are both processing this, and are very concerned but trying to remind ourselves Who is in control and that in the long run, this is but another bump in the road.  I guess it is a bump I was emotionally ill prepared for today, probably because I am just so exhausted.

Matt's appointment went well, and we did get answers, but they were very different from what we anticipated.  I was there with all 5 kids, and the other 4 waited in the waiting area.  I told them to expect about 30 minutes.  Two hours later we finally emerged.  What a blessing it is to have kids who allowed me piece of mind by knowing that I didn't need to worry about them or their behavior when out there alone for that long.  When we came out, there all four sat patiently, books in hand quietly reading and not disturbing a sole.

We expected a quick re-check, sharing that Matt was still having some pain, and getting a prescription for new orthotics.  We departed with a diagnosis of a serious back condition that is likely to need surgery because it is advanced beyond the norm.  Matthew's leg pain is being caused in part by a condition called spondylolysis and spondylolosthesis.  What has happened is that one of his lower lumbar vertebra was either weakened due to congenital issues or trauma...but it is/was fractured.  This causes it to shift out of place and compress nerves, causing pain and other issues.

It was only caught because of a last minute question asked by the MD after being unable to figure out what was structural causing what Matt was describing, and my prompting of Matthew yesterday to share everything led to him making a one sentence statement about pain shifting and sometimes being in his buttocks that made her suggest getting a back x-ray, just to rule anything out.  One minute after seeing the x-ray and it was clear even to my untrained eye that something was definitely wrong.

Normally, this condition can heal itself when caught early.  It is not totally  uncommon in young kids this age, and that often after a period of profound growth like Matt has had this year the condition can become more noticeable.  Usually rest for 4-6 months from physical activities can allow time for the bone to heal on its own, and we are indeed going to try that at the MD's suggestion.  Matthew will be wearing some sort of mild back brace for that time.  However, as she first started talking to me she immediately jumped to surgical intervention in her explanation, because the shifting is quite pronounced.  While she said "Sometimes with rest we find these can heal" she also went on to say she was immediately ordering a CT scan as well as an MRI because she was concerned about the degree to which this had shifted, and in talking with me discovered that Matthew has walked like this (a little sway backed) since toddlerhood.  His long history of foot and hip pain means it is likely he has lived with this since a very young age.  She also said that malnutrition most likely definitely contributed to it, as this is an area where bone can be thin anyway, and his lack of decent nutrition in his first year and perhaps in-utero certainly didn't help.

So really, it is three different problems in one.  He definitely needs orthotic intervention for his feet, and then these two conditions together which affect his back and nerves to lower extremities.  We will be getting the MRI and CT scan done next Tuesday in Grand Junction, and will make appointments for the same specialist for the orthotics and the back support, then we will hear from the MD when she gets the results.  She scheduled us for a follow up in 4 months, but said that is dependent upon what she finds with the scans.  If she doesn't like what she sees, she said she will schedule us to return immediately to look at surgical options.  If everything looks stable, then we see what things look like in 4 months and hope for the best.  Untreated and at his current state of shifting, this can lead to really serious problems.  If he has to have surgery, we were told it would actually be two surgeries...one to wire things together, and another later to remove hardware.

While standing there I just felt so overwhelmed.  Coming off an already emotional week, being in overdrive myself at the moment, coming off 3 hours sleep the night before, it felt like just too much to take in.  Then I thought about other families who deal with SO much more...Shannon and her family with little Marissa's 30+ surgeries, families with children whose emotional needs effect every moment of every day, families whose adopted children are so emotionally damaged that they will never ever bond with them and will grow ever more violent with each passing day.  How DARE I think that THIS is overwhelming??  It just caught me off guard and ill prepared, thinking you are going in for shoe inserts and discovering your son has potentially crippling spinal issues that have gone undiagnosed far too long is quite another.

But I couldn't help but think on the long drive home about what this might mean for Matt's future, for his dreams.  Would this automatically preclude him from entering the Air Force should he decide to go that route?  Would he heal well if he indeed needed surgery, or would it be like with adults where most are never really the same afterward?   Looking back over the past 11 years, was there anything we missed...should we have pressed harder with the orthopedic issues that have plagued him for at least 6 years?  Even this time around it almost wasn't caught.  Why didn't I suspect it was something more?  He has always walked stiff backed and less loosely than others, but we just thought that was Matthew, not a problem.

Ahhh...this one I will probably struggle with for awhile.  As Dominick and I talked about this evening, with Kenny we expected all that has happened.  It doesn't make it easier, but we knew what was ahead.  This was a complete surprise, and was perhaps preventable...if we had adopted him a few months sooner, if there had been better nutrition at a young age (being taken off formula at 4 months old and having tea in a bottle was certainly not helpful), who knows?  Was there a genetic component?  Did Matt experience some sort of traumatic event in the orphanage that caused a fracture?  Was it a combination?

And the bigger question, will he have to go through surgery or will, by some miracle, this begin to heal on its own?  The MD was quite skeptical but wanted to allow for the possibility, of course not wanting to jump too quickly to surgical intervention.

Where is the good in this?  Where is God on days like this when I want to throw my hands up in the air and say "Why are you throwing us another loop??? This is too hard!".  Thankfully, blessedly, God's presence is felt even on days like this when my own exhaustion magnifies everything.

Let's find God tonight, because I need to:

 In the span of just a few short days Dominick and I could have found ourselves under mounting debt with a quick hit of $10,000 owed in medical bills for the boys with our insurance deductible needing to be paid, but God has taken care of that for us with wonderful hospitals and terrific physicians and coverage for bills that we would be at the bank tomorrow taking out a loan to cover.  Tonight though, we are not filling out loan applications nor worrying about their care over the coming years.

Kenny feels he is handsome.  Finally.

Matthew's back is not broken.  Well, technically due to the fracture I guess it is, but he is not paralyzed, nor bound for a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

Three kids are physically healthy.

Five kids are emotionally healthy.

Monday evening while playing in the park, I was sitting and visiting with friends on a bench in the twilight when one of them turns to me and says "You can sure see that your children love their Mom a whole lot, and they are so kind!".

Dominick's business is still afloat, despite how hard a year it has been.  Food was on the table tonight, even if it was a quickie of french toast sticks and grapes.

We didn't have a flat tire on the way home.

There are friends who continue to love us, nurture us and support us, even when it is hard, even when they must get sick of spending free time helping us out.  Phone calls checking up on us while still driving through No Man's Land (Thanks Jill!), emails, hugs...what a precious gift each one is.

Oh, I needed that!  God IS all around, God is in the laughter in the next room, in the crickets chirping outside, in Sunny curled up on the couch, in my warm bed waiting for me.

Tomorrow will be recuperation day.  No place to go, no reason to get up early, nothing we have to do.  All worries I think I am going to put in God's hip pocket for the evening.  It can all be handed back over to me tomorrow if I decide I really need to carry it all.

And maybe, if I am indeed growing in wisdom and maturity, I will leave those worries right there in God's pocket where they really belong.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Family Talk

I am writing from a hotel room, where another child of ours awaits an important medical appointment tomorrow.  I have the gang with me, all the kids wanted to go on a road trip, and we have the blessing ahead of us of meeting friends here for dinner soon...fellow students in my ministry classes who I am looking forward to catching up with.

And I am tired, emotionally very, very tired.  It snuck up on me as I left this morning.  Dominick was home and had the car all gassed up and cleaned, ready to go.  He even had sandwiches and snacks all set up and wrapped in paper on which he had drawn a heart to say he loved me.  As I gave him a hug as we waited for yet another child to run back in for something they forget, I just leaned on him and wished I could stay put for awhile. 

I don't often give much thought to the emotional tole on myself, as I have more to contend with in the kids. But sometimes it is not easy.  The constant fears and late night conversations, the work at looking for ways to encourage more openness and emotional closeness, it is all actually very hard and yet very important work.  To heck with the homeschooling, this is far more important!

Kenny did very well with everything, but he was nervous and in the dark quiet of his room after the surgery he revealed to me that he spent some time staring in the mirror at his "old face", hoping that the next day would not bring a totally different face to look at in the mirror.  He said he was very afraid he wouldn't look like himself anymore, even though he really wanted to get the work done.  I shared with him that I too had been afraid of that very thing.  He sat up and asked me "Well, why didn't you say so Mommy?" and I told him that this was not my decision to make, that he was the one who would have to walk through this world with the face he had and he had to be happy with it, not me.  He got quiet for a moment then asked "Are you happy with it?" and realizing this was not the moment to thrust it back at him and ask if he was, I reassured him that I thought it looked fantastic...way better than I had anticipated.  Although I couldn't see his grin I could hear it in his voice as he responded "Yea....me too...I still look like me, only better!".

He will have to wear a silicone sort of band aid over the scarring for the next several months, 24/7, in order to have the best results.  He told me how very happy he is that he won't have to do that at public school, that he knew the kids would tease him badly over that but that knowing he would be mainly at home, church and a few other places where he would feel "safe", he wasn't uncomfortable about that at all.  He said "See mommy?  Eve more good reasons to homeschool!" as if I had never given that one any thought at all myself.

Matthew is OK about his appointment tomorrow.  The harder part with him is the complete opposite of Kenny...getting him to articulate what he is experiencing is never easy.  He is a young man who has to work hard at expressing himself when it comes to things like this, so we have to practice ahead of time with me asking questions and helping him sort out what he wants to say ahead of time. 

Olesya's birthday was Friday, and I felt guilty about missing it.  We are having a small little celebration this Sunday for her, and I have yet to really plan it.  I will try and do some planning late tonight.  We are doing a treasure hunt theme...and the kids will have to follow a treasure map and hints to find the buried treasure.  What's the treasure?  Beats me.  But we are going to use our entire neighborhood and make it interesting.  Have I created it yet?  Nope, but it'll come to me eventually :-)

When we returned last night, it was sweet despite the loss of luggage...which by the way appears to be truly lost as of this morning with no one having a clue where it is.  It didn't just miss our flight, it is LOST.  With every pair of jeans in it that I own other than the ones I have on right now.  With Kenny's new pants in it too.  Anyway, we got in the house and the kids all asked if they had to go to bed yet, or could we all stay up and talk for awhile.  You know what?  Honestly, that is what we all seem to love to do best.  Angela asked if we could go lay on our bed and have a :family talk" so the kids all piled on or sprawled on the chair there and with a soft light glowing we took turns talking about our week away from one another.  I was informed about the major plumbing leak we had that Dominick discovered at 5:00 AM as he heard water running under the house.  They missed church to get a plumber there.  Dominick then quickly feel asleep and we all giggled as he snored in between our comments.  Kenny talked about the hospital and surgery, about our friends in Chicago and our flights.  The rest of the kids all took turns flopping this way and that on the bed as they told about all that they did with Lael, who watched them for the week for us and is always WAY more creative than I am (thankfully!), and about Mr. Steve and Miss Jane and their time spent with them on Friday when they were treated to a birthday lunch and treats out for Olesya's birthday...at least she had a little something to mark the day.

We talked about "real school" starting soon, and how we will celebrate the first day of school next Monday with our own "Not Back To School" day where we will go do something fun outside, not stuck behind a desk or kitchen table.  Believe it or not, we already have logged about 180 hours per kid of school this summer, just by doing a little here and there.  The kids all said they didn't feel like it was much school at all, but it sure added up! 

And we dreamed a little, as so often happens during these impromptu family talks (with Dominick awake OR asleep!).  We dreamed about things we might one day do together, about trips we hope to take to visit people or places, about what they all might do when they grow up and what we might do when they fly the coop.  We gently tease, we laugh, we have gas and giggle about it, and most of all, we are grateful....grateful for this little tiny group of people on this earth where we are safe, where we feel secure and loved, where a hug is but an arm's length away.  It is what fills us all up when we are weary, it is what helps us be who we really are without artifice.  It is Real in a way nothing else ever is or ever will be.

I know that as they grow and mature, things will change.  I know distance may one day separate us all as dreams are pursued independently.  What my deepest desire is though, is that these days are carried with them forever into the lives they will eventually lead.  I also hope that somehow, some way, we can be a family that beats the odds and is counter cultural...remaining close in healthy ways even as our kids enter adulthood.  As I look around me at the isolation so many families inflict upon themselves through dysfunctional relationships and an inability to understand how distorted our society's idea of "family" has become, I wonder if we will eventually succumb, or if Team LaJoy will rise above it and manage to lead lives of extraordinary connectedness and recognition of the value of family you can truly count on. 

I am hoping for us to remain countercultural.  A family where siblings really, really enjoy being together and love one another.  A family where parents don't cling but kids enjoy their company as much as the parents enjoy being with them.  A family where love is not bought by offers of cars, houses or businesses.  A family where "I love you" is spoken easily and with meaning attached, not just out of habit.  It'll take even more work, and upping the ante as they grow older.  Bigger, bolder projects, larger dreams to accomplish as a family together. And no doubt, suffering through some rough times of which we are not even aware yet.

I pray we make it.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The LaJoy Travel Curse Strikes Again

Of course...we knew it would happen...and it would happen when I have a quick turnaround.

We are home, safe and sound.  That's the good news.

Our flight was over an hour late.  That wasn't so bad.

Our luggage didn't make it.  That's bad.

Because all my jeans were in there, all my personal care stuff like curling iron and hair dryer.  Yup, everything.

And I leave for Salt Lake tomorrow morning.  Nice of them to say they think they can get my bag to me by tomorrow night. In Montrose.  Where I will not be.

Hmmm...wonder if Kenny even owns another pair of pants to take with him tomorrow...

Well, that's a problem for tomorrow.  Tonight, it is time for bed!

He's healing well, looking good already, and no I can not take pics to post yet as I just haven't had time.  I'll post one when we return though.  It is amazing, and he is one Happy Camper.  I was so glad that when his brothers and sisters all saw him that every single one of them talked about how great it looked.

Now, on to Stage 2.

Night!

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Morning After

Well, we made it through!  Kenny's surgery was last on the schedule, so after getting up at 5:00 AM he didn't end up having surgery until 1:30 or so.  The long wait wasn't so bad, as Mom had brilliantly brought along school work to occupy any downtime we might encounter :-) 

Man, my teacher is SUCH a taskmaster!
The surgery went very well, took about 3 hours or so, and the results have made Kenny very, very happy.  Thankfully, he went into this with very realistic expectations, and also knew that swelling would keep him from seeing clearly what the end result might eventually be.  He was not in a lot of pain after the first hour or so, and said that on a scale of 1-10, he was only at about a 2!!  I am so glad this was not as difficult as the last two surgeries were.  He ended up having the nose revision, which was subtle and just the right amount of change to keep him looking like Kenny LaJoy and yet correct a couple of small issues that bothered him.  Most would not notice much of a difference, but already I can see that this will be a beautiful outcome for him.  His scars were straightened :-)  That is what is so funny, it bothered him a LOT that his scars were "crooked", and if we provide good aftercare they will be much thinner than his original ones.  His lip is definitely more evened out, although I never thought it looked all that bad before.  He slept really well last night but is still quite tired today, and even said he might take a nap later.  That is after the Taskmaster makes him do some school work :-) 

They also pulled 2 of the 3 teeth that needed to be removed, so we still have to deal with the impacted tooth eventually so oral surgery is ahead for that.  Many cleft kids have oddball teeth hanging around that are badly misplaced.  We also discovered at our orthodontist visit right before we came out that he has a rotten front tooth, which is the one we weren't sure would be saved all along.  The braces straightened it out and where the face of it had been completely turned and was against another tooth and couldn't be cleaned, it had decayed.  They want to leave it in as long as they can though, as that is where his previous bone graft is and it needs to be stronger before they remove it.  So it hangs there, wiggly and brown, and eventually going to be extracted as well.  I have lost count of how many teeth have already been pulled or will need to be pulled, but I think it is somewhere around 6.  And no, I am not able to even fathom what implants might eventually cost us to replace those.  Breathe deeply, one step at a time, pay off the orthodontia first, right??

The important thing is what he said this morning "Mommy, I am really pleased with how this looks!".  He will gain confidence and feel as handsome as he has always looked all along.  Dominick and I are so happy for him, and also glad we eliminated a couple more procedures with this one visit.

Here is a little better picture than I was able to take yesterday:

This is his attempt at a smile...that old brilliant Kenny grin will be back soon!



Doesn't he look about 15 years old in this picture??  In person he is still so tiny...a mere 78 lbs (he had managed to hit 80 but lost a couple!) that it is hard to believe he is almost 13, especially when he is standing next to his gargantuan "baby" brother, Matthew! Hahaha!  Mutt and Jeff, totally!

So, we take off on Sunday, and then it is on to Matthew's Shriner's visit in Salt Lake, where we hope we can get him more relief with his feet and leg issues.  Not sure if it will be new orthotics, or what.  Hoping surgery is not ahead of us for that one. 

Then, and only then, maybe we can get back to normal life.

Yea...I know what you are saying...LaJoy's normal?  Never!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Pre-Surgery Night

Twas the night before surgery and all through the house...

We had our pre-op appointment today for Kenny's surgery tomorrow, and it looks like more work will be involved than we originally thought.  Kenny was given a choice about having work done on his nose at the same time, and after some consideration he opted to go for it.  So not only will they be doing considerable work on his lip trying to realign things and reduce the scarring which bothers him so much, but they will now be ervising his nose as well.  There is also a chance he may have up to 3 teeth extracted tomorrow during surgery, including one impacted tooth.  We won't know until tomorrow as they were consulting with our orthodontist back home and hadn't touched base with him yet before we left today.  We are hoping they do the extractions as that will save Kenny quite a bit of emotional trauma and pain.  It would just be easier to do it now.

I'll admit to being a bit nervous tonight myself.  He will likely look quite a bit different when they are done and I don't know what his expectations are about the results.  I think he was in a  good place about his lip but the nose is going to really look different I think, and I am not sure if he is prepared to see it that way since he hasn't had time to mentally prepare.  I guess I haven't either.

So any prayers sent his way would be appreciated, tomorrow is a bigger day emotionally than the other surgeries.  Those were likely more painful, but this goes to the heart of how he feels about himself and we want him to be pleased and confident.

Early morning wake up call, so I am off to bed!

Monday, August 08, 2011

Becoming

A child is laid in your arms, and your heart soars while filled with trepidation at the task before you.  Taking a human being and nurturing it, meeting its needs, guiding it and helping it grow to healthy, mature adulthood is about the hardest job there is.  It is not the "work" that is hard, it is the continual tug at your heart that makes it so challenging.

We have officially entered the stage of our children "becoming".  Matthew is pulling us there gradually, and with three others all the same age, they soon will follow.  Only Joshie will provide us with a few years respite. 

This weekend I went to pick Matt up from camp by myself, not needing to drag the entire family on the overnight 10 hour round trip. God must have been nudging me on that decision, as it turned out that Matthew and I definitely needed time alone for him to decompress after camp. 

I arrived at camp to find the kids were not quite ready, so I waited alongside the other parents while the 17 or so kids were out in the meadow participating in their closing circle.  About 15 minutes later they all came to meet their parents and together we would all watch a quick slide show comprised of photos of their week there at La Foret.  Matthew approaches me in his steady gait, a gentle smile on his face and a beautiful tie dye T-Shirt on that he had made.  Somehow though, I could tell something was not quite right, and as he hugged me I whispered "Are you ok?".  He nodded in the affirmative so we went in to watch the slide show.  When it was over, we left before the others and jumped in the car to go to his cabin and pick things up, where he showed me where he slept, who the other boys were who shared his room and what bunks they had, and a 7 day old pizza that had somehow become the mascot of the week with a note written on the box.  Disgusting, yes, but what happens at camp, stays at camp :-)

We load his gear in the car and are on our way, and as we pull away from camp he quietly puts his head back on the head rest and says "That was the best camp ever, I wish I never had to leave...other than I'd miss you guys."  I was quiet for a moment or two then asked "Were you trying not to cry when you left the closing circle?" and he looked over at me and without saying a word nodded his head, then quickly looked straight ahead, blinking back the tears that were trying to make themselves known once again.

I let it rest for a bit, and a few miles down the road I asked "So what made this the best camp ever?  What was different this year?".    We spent the next hour in conversation about his experience as he struggled to find words to express what he was feeling.  There were many pregnant pauses, and moments when I had to nudge him by providing a word here or there that I hoped was the one he was searching for.  Matthew is a linear guy, an engineer minded sort of kid.  Emotions, while definitely not foreign to him living with Team LaJoy, do not get expressed as simply and easily as they are with the other kids.  He has to be precise when using words to explain them, he also has to tell himself to "let go:" and let others see inside his heart.  It is work for him.  He is not a cold kid at all, but I can see how living within the confines of a different sort of family he might become more bottled up.  Here, with us, he is not allowed that opportunity and is encouraged at every turn to share what he feels, so while not natural for him, he has learned how to do so.

What a gift the camp experience is for our kids each and every year!!  What an important part of their growing up it is!!  Matthew replied that his camp counselor, Robbie, who is a very young man I have watched from afar as he has grown up within our conference and turned to leadership roles, was very spiritual.  He explained that everything Robbie did and said was deep, and that even though some of the kids couldn't "go there", he felt drawn to thinking about God for the first time in very different ways.  Matt was so moved by this past week, and we spent a great deal of time with him talking about what it is that God wants from him in this world, what his own calling is.  He grabbed my phone and asked if he could find something online, and he pulled up a song by the Black Eyed Peas that had been used in camp which was "Where is the Love?" which speaks of all that is wrong in our world...hatred, discrimination, lack of care for one another.  He was so touched by this song that he also had to show Dominick the video immediately upon entering our home.  He spoke of walking the labyrinth and although he had done it once before, he said this time was different..."I didn't just rush through it, I walked it slowly and something happened...I don't know Mom, but I totally felt God the entire time at camp this year."  He shared about late night conversations and afternoon discussions ranging from topics such as do aliens exist to things that happened in Japan this past year and what our response should be.  He praised Robbie for being always able to bring things back around to something meaningful while still keeping it fun. 

Camp, for our kids and in our minds, is about this...these heart shifting moments.  It is not about a fun week and vacation away from mom and dad.  It is about the stretching and growing that occurs each and every time they go.  Matthew said "I don't think I'll ever be the same, Mom" as we drove through the mountain passes.  I turned and looked at him and replied "No Matt, you won't...this is the beginning of your great "becoming"...of becoming the man you intend to be, of figuring out who you are and what you stand for...and how you will walk through this world.  You are no longer fully a child, and yet won't be a full-fledged man for a long time yet, but it is beginning.  Welcome to the baby steps to adulthood." He grew quiet and looked out the window and said "It's a little sad, isn't it?"  and with tears in my eyes I said "Yea, it is, but thankfully it doesn't happen all at once.  You don't have to suddenly give up Legos or being a kid.  You'll just be more aware about things and be seeing outside yourself and your own needs more often.  We'll be slowly saying goodbye to the boy Matthew and gradually saying hello to the adult Matt."  I then paused and as we held hands driving I said "And I have a feeling that the adult Matthew is going to be a man I admire very, very much."  He grinned at me and said "I hope so."

As we drove on, he fell asleep for a couple of hours, then stretched lazily and sat back up for more conversation, this time less intense and more about the kids at camp, the activities they did, laughed out loud at some of the antics, and he slowly came back to being Matthew, decompressing.  When we finally arrived home in the later afternoon, he wandered around the house for quite awhile, seemingly unable to settle in.  I decided I wanted to go for a walk and stretch after the long drive, so I asked Matt if he wanted to go with me...something he would usually decline.  Instead he grabbed his shoes and was out the door with me.

We walked hand in hand in the early evening golden hour, corn fields next to us whispering their secret language as the wind rustled through the tall stalks.  The road was empty and we were undisturbed as hand in hand we walked quietly for a couple of miles.  He softly said "I wish I was still at camp."  and I said "I know, but those times in our life are not meant to go on forever. We experience them, they change us, and then we take them on into our real life.  I know exactly how you feel right now, when we came back from Kazakhstan with the girls I felt like that for 3 or 4 months...different, totally out of my element, wondering if it would ever feel normal again.  It took a very long time, but eventually I did, however I was changed just a little after that whole experience."  He looked at me and said "Really?  I guess I never knew that...that it had been so hard for you.  I guess we don't think about that stuff when it comes to our parents."  I said "No, but you are now growing into a different person who will be more aware of others and their feelings.  It's what happens when we grow up." 

These moments with our children are deeply precious.  Being present...not just physically but emotionally and spiritually...is all I have ever wanted to be for them.  I don't want to miss these key times in their lives, either because I am simply not there or am unaware.  The gift of being fully present is worth more than anything else we can ever give them.  Dominick and I had a long talk Saturday night about how quickly the kids are growing up, and how we have to be extremely creative and seize any opportunity we can to draw our kids closer to the heart of the family, as the world is going to be cruel and they need the stabilizing force of each other and the commitment we all have to one another.  We talked about things we could do to keep them engaged and involved, while still allowing opportunities to reach out in the world gradually...but not be sucked in by our very harmful modern youth culture.  I guess it is the age old question of how to be in the world but not of it. 

As Matthew and the rest of the kids try to figure out what that means for them, we too need to figure out what that means as we lead our family through the new stages we will be soon encountering.  How do we keep materialism from becoming important?  How do we help our kids encounter God in life changing ways?  How do we help them see that relationship matters over all else, for that is what the Kingdom is made of?  How do we become an extraordinary family who makes it through complete, whole and intact?  One of my friends stood up in church yesterday and spoke of being at a family reunion and having several generations present.  Each of them spoke about "kids" of our generation in their family and younger succumbing to drugs, alcohol, damaged relationships.  She asked that we pray for them, for our world today is ever harder to navigate and our youth tend to look in all the wrong places for fulfillment and peace. She's right, it is harder and harder to raise children to adulthood and have them reach it relatively unscathed.  I am not talking about the usual broken hearts or challenging decisions they have to make, but every family does indeed seem to be touched by life threatening situations, be it in the form of substance abuse, sexual acting out in very harmful ways or falling into suicidal level depression. 

We can not let that happen to Matthew, Angela, Olesya, Joshua and Kenny.  Part of the reason I am staying home and homeschooling, and we are doing without the income I could bring in is because they are worth it. They are worth every single sacrifice we can make to see to it that they, in our unsusual family make up, make it in this world whole and complete.  We are at far higher risk than most for trouble down the road.  Our kids struggle against things other families can't imagine.  It requires our full attention if we want to see them succeed in this world.  And I am betting our idea of success is quite different than the world's idea of success.  It has nothing to do with college diplomas or big pay checks announcing they have "arrived", and has everything to do with them being fully present to their own husbands, wives and children some day, or knowing when "enough" is really "enough".

It was hard not to be a little weepy Saturday evening as I hugged Matthew good night.  We had traveled a great deal of distance that day, and not in miles.  How truly and completely I love my son!!!  How hard it is to watch the growing pains, knowing he has to walk through them just as we all did.  And really, how hard it is to say goodbye to our little Matt-Matt  for soon he will be no more.  We will be saying hello to Matthew R. LaJoy though, and that is a mighty good consolation prize :-)  In fact, I already see a glimpse of him now.

I don't know who this "becoming" is harder on, the mom or the child.

I love you, Matthew, always and forever.



Thursday, August 04, 2011

A Smattering Sort of Update

My mom complained that I am not updating the blog often enough, so I am writing this one just for her, even though we just had a 2 hour conversation on the phone last night! (Hi Mom!)

Beginning tomorrow I personally am on a whirlwind with various members of our family.  No, I did not plan it this way and no, I don't necessarily like to be this much "on the run".  But when Shriner's calls and wants to schedule, you say "yes" or you might be another 4-6 months before you can get in.  So, I leave tomorrow to drive to Colorado Springs to pick Matt up from camp, return on Saturday night, church on Sunday, leave with Kenny on Tuesday for Shriner's Chicago for his next surgery which is on Thursday, return Sunday, get in the car Monday with all the kids and drive to Salt Lake City Shriner's for Matthew's next check up on Tuesday, spend the night, and return on Tuesday evening.  Then...and only then...will I finally be home for a bit.  Well, two weeks, then I head to Denver overnight for a Conference Ministry meeting.

In between I have a few other things on my plate to work on :-)  Yes, your prayers for my ability to keep up the next 2 weeks would be greatly appreciated.

Kenny is going in for a lip revision, as I mentioned earlier.  He has a great attitude going into this surgery, as this is all his choice, and we are hoping that his scarring will be reduced.  As he told me awhile ago "Mommy, if it makes even one less person in ten not stare at me or ask questions, it'll be worth it to me."  It will actually look worse before it looks better, as the insult from this new surgery will cause it to be inflamed, but in time and with healing they said it is likely it will look a little better.  I have not yet decided what I am going to take with me to read, or work on to occupy my time, but surely I will find something to haul along.  I will be again staying in his room with him while there, and when not we will be enjoying time with our dear friends in Chicago.  It always gives these trips a little lift to know we will be enveloped in the love of their home.

Matthew's situation is a little different, and we don't know what to expect.  The orthotic inserts definitely helped significantly at first, but not so much now and it is easy to see the turning in of his left foot again.  He is also mentioning hip pain as well, so with this follow up we will see what else we can learn and what they might be able to suggest.  It might just be new orthotics, which we are hoping for.

Sunny can dance like this for 2 or  3 minutes at a time!
We had a scary evening yesterday when Sunny turned up missing, having gotten out sometime in the morning dash for us to leave and coming home 8 hours later to a Sunny-less house.  Oh my goodness, the panic was palpable and Olesya totally lost it.  We drove up and down the main road...the one where I won't let the kids ride their bikes because people drive 50-60 mph on it.  We called to her, and all the while we knew it was no use.  She was loooooong gone.  All the kids were upset, but Sunny is 100% Olesya's baby, and it showed.  They all had to go to work with Dominick that evening, as they had an unfinished job of pulling weeds around his shop that the landlord is going to pay them for, and Olesya got in the van, tears streaming down her face, hugging a picture frame with Sunny's photo in it.  I told her I would continue to look and that I'd make posters to put up, and we'd check the shelter tomorrow.  About 30 minutes later I got a call that someone a couple miles away had her, and luckily tragedy was averted.

When kids have already suffered the kinds of losses that ours have, these situations can be more tense than for others.  So much is at stake...they finally feel safe, they have gained a little footing, and they let go and finally form attachments.  Olesya is deeply attached to this dog, and losing her would be a huge setback for her I think.  She sleeps with her every night, carries her everywhere, is the main one to make sure she has food and water.  Her natural mommy instincts are full blown with Sunny.  I am just glad we didn't have to deal with this sort of loss last night.  And Sunny obviously was very happy to have us back as she flipped out when I went to get her and she saw me.

We were supposed to be hitting the books yesterday, and instead hit the pavement and got some great deals at JCPenney. You know, the only way we can afford to clothe our brood is to "bulk buy" when on sale, and we maximize our savings to the best of our ability.  When we see polo shirts on sale for the boys, and they are high enough quality and cheap enough, we stock up.  Sure, we get sick of seeing them in the same shirts for 2 or 3 sizes, but it is worth it!  We bought about 15 polo shirts yesterday for the boys, most to put away for the next couple of sizes, and got them with all our discounts and sale prices for about $3.50 a shirt.  Regular price?  $17.99 each.  All in all, we saved over $750 and spent $430...and got 44 items including 7 or 8 pairs of jeans for the girls and 2 pairs of shoes for the boys too.  I know $430 sounds like a lot of money to some, but for 5 kids to get that much clothing that was a huge, huge savings.

It makes me feel successful to find such bargains, and like I am pulling my own weight. Since I am not earning any income, I take it on as my responsibility to save us where we can, so that we are not squandering what Dominick works so hard to earn.  We are very fortunate that both of us view money and how to use it from the same perspective, so when we feel it is worth it to spend more on something, there is no squabbling, and I can take advantage of sales and stock up without feeling worried about coming home and telling him.  It helps a lot because when either of us is out and can't reach the other, we can jump on something and not lose out on a deal without fear the other will feel it was a waste. 

I just had to stop this blog post to accept a package from UPS...oh, is Matthew going to be excited when he comes home from camp!!!  His Civil Air Patrol BDU's are here, along with his dress uniform shoes and belt.  I have never seen Matt this excited about anything before.  He came from his last meeting and finally had been approved to order his uniform, and was almost dancing a jig as he asked me if we could pllleeeeeeaaasssseee order it tonight so that it would come as fast as possible.  It was midnight before I got the order finished, as we had to get out tape measures, guess at sizes, etc.  He snuggled up next to me and "oooohed and ahhhed " over everything online. 

You know what I love most?  Matt is not here, and all the kids rushed to the dining room table to see his uniforms as I opened the box up, and every single one of them said "Matt is going to look so handsome!" and Angela said "I am going to be so proud of him!".  They were almost as excited as Matthew will be.  They are so dear to one another, which is about the biggest blessing parents could ever ask for.  Sometimes I have to pinch myself when I witness the love they have for one another, and how kind they are with each other.  Instead of competition, there is encouragement and support.  It is awesome to watch between them.  Here is a sneak peak of what Matt will come home to:




So there I am, holding up my son's shiny new size 10 dress shoes and combat boots, looking at a name tag with "LaJoy" on it, and realizing that I might very well be holding my son's future in my hands.  You'd have to know Matthew to realize that for him, this is not just some club or activity he is joining...this is the first step in the pursuit of his dreams.  Will he ultimately join the military or become a pilot or aeronautics engineer?  Who knows, but those of us who know and love him certainly wouldn't put any bets against it happening.  He has many directions he could go in his life as he has a lot of gifts, as do each of the kids, and I hope that joining Civil Air Patrol will help him enjoy his passion and figure out his life's path.  Funny, but I had someone younger tell me just the other day that they remember seeing Matthew dressed up at Halloween as a pilot...seen right here:  http://lajoyfamily.blogspot.com/2007/11/halloween-and-other-holidays.html  He said that even back then in 2007 it felt like Matthew fit a little too nicely into that military role.  Here we are, 4 years later (can it go by THAT fast??) and now he will be wearing the uniform for "real", or at least as real as it can get at this age.

And as I think of this, I am filled with a little excitement as well, because we get to be by each of the kids' sides as they discover who and what they are meant to be in this world...how much fun will the next few years be!!  Watching them explore and discover, try new things and try on new persona's, while surely it will be a little heart wrenching as we see them step out further into the world it also will be glorious to behold the wonderful adults they will become.

Angela and Kenny are signed up for volleyball, which for Kenny is more about challenging himself to stop being afraid of things being thrown at him that it is a desire to pursue "jock-dom".  He was not going to do it, but on the last day when we had the parents meeting told me "Mommy, I think I want to try it.  I made a commitment this year to learn not to be afraid of a ball coming at me, and this would help me a lot. Can I play too?"  What a kid!  So we talked about how he would likely not get to play much at all, but he would practice and get to play a little in the games...would this hurt his feelings?  Also, I pointed out that often the more important player on the team is NOT the best player, but the best encourager who kept up a good attitude and lifted the teams' spirits if they were not doing well, and he certainly would be gifted at doing that.  He said he didn't care about being good at all or even playing that much, but this would help him work on something that was scary for him, and would also help him make new friends.  To say that I am proud of him is an understatement, and it didn't take a cool uniform to garner that pride either :-)

I am really, really glad Angela expressed an interest in playing, as she still absolutely will not think about playing basketball thanks to her coach in Kazakhstan.  What damage that woman did to her!!!  I am quite angry about it, but realize that her decision not to play the one sport she truly loves is clearly an emotionally charged one, and her heart is more important than playing a game, regardless of her gifts.  We are hoping that playing volleyball will lead her into playing basketball if she makes friends and is exposed to a different sort of coaching.  The coaches in the Christian Homeschooling League are the same ones here who worked with the kids at track, and I was quite impressed with their kind and gentle leadership.  I plan on having a talk privately with whomever ends up coaching her and explain a little about her background and see if we can have another person working to encourage her gifts in athletics.
Olesya has decided she would like to try dance class, sort of the High School Musical dance type stuff, so I need to see what I can come up with for her.  We are going to have her go to camp by herself next year, yes, even though it would be the one year we could have all 4 older ones going to the same camp at the same time.  However, Olesya needs to blossom outside her siblings, she needs to become more independent and not worry about meeting the needs of others.  We want to encourage her to dig deeper and discover who she is, what she likes, and not think about deferring constantly to those she loves.  That kid would give you the very shirt off her back if she thought you even slightly wanted it!!  What a terrific and loving heart she has!  However, she needs to "become", and we have to do all we can to foster that in her, so giving her a chance to be on her own here and there more often is a good start.  Guess next year it is 3 different camps again :-)  Sometimes convenience doesn't usurp a child's needs. 

Then there is Joshie.  Hmmmm....they don't have pre-med classes for 8 year olds around here, no Dr. Clubs, and that is what he is talking firmly about at the moment.  Will it remain?  I have no idea, probably not, but I think something in the sciences or maths will be a given.  He really isn't squeamish about anything and loves to see the inner workings of living things, so who knows?  I highly doubt we will be lucky enough to have two kids who discover their life path this early on, that would be very unusual.  In the meantime, he will continue with TaeKwonDo where he is really doing well and has been at it since he was barely 5.  If he finds something he wants to try, we'll of course give it a go.  Actually, he is quite coordinated and if he had any interests in sports would probably be fairly decent at them.  But he is more a "book" guy than a "ball" guy, and we like it that way.

So there you go, another wordy, lengthy update.  I am going to try and post as I can to keep everyone informed about Kenny's surgery.  Since I will be on the fly for about 2 weeks, no promises but I'll do my best.  Thanks to all who will be praying for Kenny...and I hope for Matt's appointment too.  We need a good outcome there for him as well, as unlike Kenny he is often in a lot of pain. 

Here's to the last mad dash of summer!!!  Off we go!!!!