Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Goal of Being Unseen

Being a stay-at-home mom is unglamorous by just about any standard.  Being a homeschooling stay-at-home mom is often perceived as just plain nuts.  There are no lunches at fine restaurants as a mid-day respite, no paycheck to deposit in the bank, and no gold watch presented at the and of your "career".  There are days you wonder if anyone in the world really "sees" you at all, and you often feel as if your own worth has diminished because you have no real "claim to fame" to point toward.  You lack regular adult contact and conversation, and the walls can close in quite quickly if you don't push back against them with great vigor.

So why do it?  Why stay home and teach, do laundry, and juggle the bills in the hope that you can stretch that paycheck a bit further?  Why not go to work, send the kids to school like a NORMAL person would, and stride firmly back into the adult word where, presumably, the conversational level would rise a bit above discussing which latest celebrity is a "hunk" and when the latest Marvel movie will arrive in town?

Because you'd miss the moments, the ones that make your heart squeeze in your chest and your eyes well with tears.  You'd miss the day to day quantity of time that eventually leads to the quality of relationship you desire.  And, in our case, we would have all missed being present for the emotional work that has led to gradual healing that was far more important and necessary than a bigger paycheck so the kids could have the latest and greatest next big "thing".

This week, the kids were given a writing assignment to share about one of the earliest strong childhood memories they had.  Each was a surprise and we enjoyed hearing about orphanage life and caretakers who were special, first days home, and more.  Finally, I got to Josh's, and began to read it aloud as I had the others.  Here is what he wrote:

I was probably around age four of five when this event happened.  This is one of the only memories I have that I can only remember in a first person point of view unlike my later memories.  It was the beginning of summer, I was following my Mom around the house as she cleaned and we goofed around, but then she had to go outside and told me to stay inside.  I immediately started freaking out, even though I subconsciously knew she would come back, when I couldn't see her outside the window.  The adrenaline rose in my body and I searched frantically with my eyes through the window.  At that point I walked outside and yelled out, "Mom".  No response.  Running to the edge of the concrete porch, Mom appeared around the corner with a frightened look on her face in response to my scared demeanor.  She walked to me and hugged me as tight as she could and told me, "I am never going to leave you, understand that.  I love you, Josh."  The pain slipped away and that feeling of security came flowing back.  I was safe even though there was nothing to be afraid of.  This is my earliest memory I can recall vividly.  I know my Mom would have never left me then, and she would never leave me know.

As I got to the end, I simply couldn't finish.  I choked up, leaned over and hugged Josh with all my might.  This tall, strong fourteen year old young man before me whose abandonment in infancy on that cold winter night has left an eternal imprint on his soul sees me.  He needed me to leave my ego at the door many years ago, and be as present as possible so that at fourteen he could write this with complete confidence in the fact that his forever mom would never, ever leave him.

You know what I realized from this revealing piece written by Josh?  My ultimate job, my most "realest" job as our kids' mom has been to help them heal, but also to get them to the point where I am, indeed, invisible.

What do I mean by that?  It may be hard for a parent of biological children to understand, but the hyper vigilance that comes from losing ones original parents, and the associated emotional trauma requires years and years of work to help mend, and necessitates a parent is always, always aware and within reach.  You are needed in an entirely different way to reassure, to remind of your commitment, and to restore a sense of safety.  You need to be touchstone, always present.

You need to die to self in many ways, so that your child can have new life through your care.

The goal is to have a child who is secure enough that they do NOT desperately need to see you, or to know you are present!  Counter-intuitive, right?  But so very true.

Josh has spent years going through moments of intense anxiety as he moved through Reactive Attachment Disorder, to Disordered and Insecure Attachment, to Secure Attachment.  Many's the time he has anxiously wandered through the house fearful that we have disappeared, that our dog has wandered away, that he is alone.  It was only a few months ago that he revealed to us with great honesty and courage that almost every morning he awakens and for those first brief few moments he is terrified and his heart races because he is afraid his family won't be here.

My "paycheck" comes in non-monetary form, and it requires an entirely different skill set than was necessary for jobs I performed in my "pre-mom" days.  My worth? Well, that is not for me to judge anyway.  But I wouldn't trade the ego feeding I might get from a career for the ability to be Unseen in this particular and unusual way one day by my kids.  For only then will I know it was a job well done.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Good Ol' American Interdependence!

Good old Thomas Merton, he certainly "gets it", doesn't he?

The theme of interdependence is one that is being regularly discussed in our household these days in an intentional, meaningful way.  When you have special needs young adults, the way you envision adulthood often changes as for some, independence is out of reach, and for others it is delayed.

Interestingly, as we have come to some clear conclusions about the future of some of our kids, and are trying to wipe away the haze as we gaze through the looking glass for the other kids, there has been a growing understanding for each of us that has altered how we view the world in general.

As Americans, we celebrate quite the opposite, don't we?  Living in a "pull yourself up by the bootstraps" kind of world, the idea of actually being interdependent is anathema and those who espouse it are viewed as being weak and incapable of making it on their own.

Ahhhh...but as Christians, isn't the idea of interdependence actually the entire goal of the Gospel???  That we are all connected to one another and to God, and through that connection we find real relationship and real meaning?  Isn't it sort of counter to all Christian teaching to think of ourselves as islands and "every man for himself"?

When one looks at our culture today, we see a world filled with disconnection and loneliness as we all cling to our pride of being able to "make it on our own", and yet where is that really getting us? We are a nation of independent people living in desperate isolation, despite the supposed increase in connection and "friends" on social media.  This is not what we need, what we humans yearn for to the core of our soul is to be known, to be understood, to be cared about and accepted, not to be artificially "friended".

Someday, we might all understand that there is a middle ground, a center point between dependence and independence, and that is interdependence.  Just as our politics can't seem to allow for moderate perspectives, our relationships can't seem to allow for a balanced blend of independence and intentional connectedness...we are an "all or nothing" sort of folk.

Our family will likely live together as a complete unit for a few more years, and we will also just as likely have to suffer the judgment of others because of it.  What intrigues me as we have already been pushed for Matt, who just turned 18 in June, to "strike out on his own in the world" is how many adults these days just don't get that the world is not what it was in our own youth.  As this CBS news report states, nearly 33% of young adults ages 18-34 now live with their parents, a number that seems to shock some but doesn't surprise me at all.  When one looks at the income figures alone it is easy to see why...then throw in massive college debt, and you have a recipe for communal living.

But is that really all that bad?  Is it so terrible that families cut costs by living together longer, as is the norm in many other nations today?  Is it a crime that a young adult child and their parents agree to share responsibilities, work, and finances so that ALL succeed?  Why is it that a child headed to college can have all their expenses covered by parents and loans, thereby still really not even close to achieving real "independence" and yet a young adult who elects to remain home and build skills, gain a foothold on saving for a new business, a paid off car, an emergency fund, etc. is somehow viewed as "a sponge"??

We tend to think of families as a group of people that remain together for a finite time that then spreads out and disconnects, but why?

Why not use the resources of all for the betterment of all?  Why not have interconnected long term inter-generational relationships where grandparents help take care of grandchildren, and children take care of aging parents?  Where the weaknesses and strengths of one another combine to help all succeed and lead happier, less lonely lives?  Hmmm...sounds like an earlier version of America, doesn't it?

We have one son who will likely never be capable of living fully independently, and others who are in need of a few more protective years under the wings of their protective parents to feel secure enough to fly off on their own due to having a family for less than a decade.  We have others who have goals and need time to study and work hard to achieve them.  Not a single LaJoy is lazy, they all contribute.  We are a content and cheerful bunch, as Olesya noted in a recent piece of writing when she said, "We never outgrew the kid laughter and smiles because this family always finds ways to be happy.  All these memories are surrounded by my loving family, to whom closeness, understanding, and laughter are important."

And isn't that really all that matters, that we are surrounded by those who love us, who understand us, and who laugh and occasionally cry with us?

I'll take interdependence any day over independence, for interdependence is where my faith and real life intersect.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Olesya, The Sculptor

Today was not a stellar day for me in the homeschooling arena, as I finally gave in to the realization that for a couple of subjects the resources I purchased are just not cutting it, and I need to regroup, repurchase, and reteach.  Special needs homeschooling is NOT for those who give up easily, that's for sure.  I was feeling a true sense of failure as I looked at the cost of switching things up, and wished I had been able to anticipate that we would "hit a wall", of sorts, in some areas with certain kids.  Knowing we will still manage to go around or through that wall somehow does little to ease the strain on the wallet, or the stress of not getting it right the first time.

Dismally, I sat down to grade a few papers prior to beginning hours and hours more research, and God handed me the perfect reminder that despite this momentary setback, we are succeeding in dramatic ways.  It was also a strong affirmation that Team LaJoy is such a gift to live in the midst of.  When one of us is frustrated or struggling, the other lifts us up.  When something proves difficult or wearisome, another offers a reason to keep on hanging in there.

Red pen in hand, I was poised to begin the task at hand and begin to edit and comment on essays that the four had written on a seemingly mundane topic that pretty much every kid has written about at one time or another, "What I did over summer vacation" but I added a spin and asked them each to write about how they had changed over the summer.  One by one, the Spirit whacked me over the head with a 2x4 (God and I have a "thing" about this because I am a wee bit hard headed!) as Josh, Kenny, and Angela all shared about how this summer was an important one for them in the areas of friendship, moving on from childhood, and not giving in to taking the easy way out.  Yea, I know, I get it...none of this looks like "failure", but I can be a little dense sometimes and need that whack upside the head.  It helped me to reflect on what really matters and how never giving up pays off in the long run.

Then, I picked up Olesya's essay, and I was more deeply moved than I have been in a very long time.  There I saw before me the truly transformative power of acceptance, of being deeply loved, and of being honest with one's self.  I asked Olesya if I could share her writing here, and she agreed but I could tell couldn't really see why I might want to.  This is my only "Memory Book" because I have been a busy and non-crafty mom, so I like to save important things here on the blog for the future.  This one was definitely a keeper, as was the comment she made in the email in which she forwarded her essay..."Dear Mom, I just wanted you to know that every change i saw this summer was because of your persistence, guidance, and the work of making sure i talked and expressed what i felt. You showed me that it was safe to do so; thank you so much for helping me grow and learn more about myself."

Here is Olesya's essay in full:

New Way of Thinking

As a sculptor needs his chisel to chisel away at the rough marble, so do we. We need the right tools to sculpt our best selves, otherwise we go from something workable to something that is so rough that no matter the tools, we can't chip away the roughness, or the damaged parts. That is how I understand we grow, and get real with ourselves, which trickles down to us being real with others.

I'm not ashamed to say that I have lacked confidence before. I didn't always believe in myself, therefore I thought I had nothing to offer to the world. I realized that I can do anything I set my mind to, no matter how big or small a thing might seem, I can do it. This is not arrogance , but instead the belief in myself as a person who has gifts,  and talents to offer to the world. I didn't gain confidence over night, it was years worth progress, and if I was able to foresee the person I would turn into  today, I wouldn't wish to change overnight, but rather still take each stepping stones.  I don't need to change myself to make others like me, and this is one the major things that set in stone this summer.

A mirror reflects only the outside image of you, and when mine was staring back at me  I realized that I lose confidence because of one major thing...weight gain. In the last couple of years I was happy after the volleyball season was over because of the fact that I lost weight, which made me feel lighter in body and spirit. Then not doing as much exercise as volleyball had required of me, I gradually gain the weight back, though this year is different, I was happier going into the season. One connection I made was that even losing ten pounds was enough for me to feel better and more confident. Until this year, I didn't realize how much weight had an impact on me. Dropping a few does something mentally for me, I don't wish I was something or able to do something, I make it happen.

One of the few words that I'm not particularity eager to use is normal. Why? Because normal is overrated, normal is what people describe others when they don't understand why they are different from the rest, normal is blowing off a problem to make sure kids fit in with their peers, and normal is a label we use when we don't have the reason  for a physical, or a mental disability. I don't doubt the fact that I have FASD – Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, and no I'm not ashamed of it now. Not understanding why I forget the simplest things on some days and not on others, and why I kept on saying “No” to everything made me pull inwards, and keep to myself. I was becoming unhappy, and  not until a breakdown, did I understand why.

We were talking about starting to learn to drive, and I, myself, was very uncomfortable with the idea, yet didn't say anything because I was seventeen and that is what “normal”  kids do, they start driving. My mom could tell I wasn't ready to learn to drive. My family could tell that I was changing, I was shutting down more, and “No,” became a regular word of my daily vocabulary. That day, after tears, laughter, smiles, and reassurance, I got what was wrong with me. I have a disability though not an obvious one, it comes through on occasion. The funny thing is, I realized over the summer that a disability is what others might define it as, but the way I'm starting to see it, is not a disability but rather “I'm able my way.”  I, much like a sculptor, need my tools with me, and I know that there will be days when I will be forgetful, or need a seventy-seventh explanation for a task, but I know that my family doesn't mind helping me out on those type of days because after all, my family isn't “normal” it is "limited edition".

In the end, some realizations take time to accept because we all believe that we are who we are, and there is no changing us.  Understanding something new about myself doesn't hurt me, it only changes me for the better. It's a domino affect, I had confidence, but instead of just saying that, now I believe it. Without realizing how much of an impact weight gain or loss had on me, I now know that with weight loss my confidence boosts a couple of notches, and vise versa. I have a disability, it may not be a serious one, but I don't need to hide it to appear “normal.”  In the long run, I have a supportive family, the right tools, and if I keep the right mind set, I will keep on growing and changing for the better.  

Re-reading this here once again, it is hard not to sob out loud.  I needed this one on this very day, a day when I was feeling defeated and ineffective as both an educator and a mom.  Olesya came to us so incredibly timid, so filled with self-loathing and often called herself stupid.  She gave in to others rather than assert herself, and thought she was unworthy of friendship and love.  She convinced herself that if she gave in to others they might not be mean to her.

She didn't see herself as wise, she didn't see herself as smart, and she sure didn't see herself as worthy.  Her severe math disability grew to global proportions in her mind, and her occasional memory and logic issues caused by FASD further contributed to her low self-esteem.  

Oh, my dear, sweet Olesya, what is reflected in this writing is a maturity and self-awareness many adults never manage to gain.  That you were capable of writing at this capacity after only 7 years of English is astonishing, but that you have allowed your soul to swell with love for others and yourself to the point that you can share such intimate thoughts openly is an even greater accomplishment. 

So here I sit, it is midnight after a challenging day, one that could have highlighted failure on my own part.  Instead, I see success and light and growth and love.  I am so thankful that tonight I will not head off to bed heavy hearted, feeling as I have so many nights before as doubts assail, and fear for futures of these young people I love so much are fuzzy and unclear.  Tomorrow is a new day, I will research and explore to find the very best tools to help them continue to mature, to learn, and to grow into the strong, kind, competent adults I know they will be.  Oh, I am not fooling myself, I know we still have some really hard days ahead, and that making it to independence for some will be no small miracle.  But tonight, I will ease into sleep seeing more than my own lack, and I will take Olesya's words to heart that we are ALL "able our own ways".

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Are We Doing It Right?

I think every parent steps back once in awhile and asks themselves, "Am I doing this right?  Am I providing them with enough opportunities?  Are they excelling academically?  Are they winning on the field?  Are they decent people?  Are they kind?"

I wonder, though, how many parents seriously and deeply consider these questions:

"Are they faithful?  Do my children exhibit the qualities and characteristics taught in my religion of choice?  Is their spirituality maturing?"

If I am being honest,  this is the area that matters most to me as a mom.  I want our kids to have a well developed, thoughtful theology that works for them and continues to evolve over time as they consider new ideas, new information, and delve more deeply into sacred texts of all kinds.  I desperately want them to have something to hang on to when the seas of life grow stormy, and to have a place to rest when they grow weary.

During our readings this morning for school, we were working our way through the works of Hafiz, the Persian Poet.  These simple, multi-layered little poems have a way of illustrating the essence of God in a profound way, and I was delighted as we stumbled upon "That Shapes the Eye" and we stopped to discuss it:

Can easily open the

That lets the spirit rise up and wear
its favorite costume of
Mirth and laughter.

When the mind is consumed with
Remembrance of Him

Something divine happens to the 

That shapes the hand and tognue
And eye into 
The word

This so perfectly expressed what I wish for our teens...that their souls live in laughter and joy as much as possible, and that they recognize that steeping themselves in the Sacred as much as possible will shape them into people who ooze goodness and love into the world.

Realizing this probably sounds abstract and odd to most, I still can't help that this is precisely my goal as a parent.  Maybe I was unable to even articulate it well until this very moment.

Sure, I wish for them success in their ventures, whatever they might be, but as we educate them, there is so, so much more I wish to embed in them before they step boldly out into the world.

We often laugh around out table as we recall moments when our unwillingness to jump into the Game of Competition that everyone wants to make life into confuses even our selves at times.  Life is not about winners and losers, it is not about A's and F's, it is not about success or failure.  Oh, surely it CAN be about that should we elect to make it so, but we DO have choices, and we choose otherwise. 

Witnessing from a bit of a distance as our lovelies proceed to take steps toward full fledged adulthood here and there, I find myself smiling more than I thought I might, and breathing in the sweet scent of relief in some ways.

I see Kenny engaged in the world of political change as he takes time on his own to write his congressman to encourage them to back health care changes.  He knows that being an involved citizen is one of the only things that ever brings about change.

I listen as Angela describes her time with one of the lonely seniors she has continued to visit in her "off season" at the nursing she couldn't stop seeing even though she had said she couldn't volunteer until after volleyball season was over, but she couldn't leave her all alone.

I help Matt select a remedial math curriculum to work with as he tutors one of his friends who graduated from high school but can't quite get a high enough score on military tests to live out his dream of being a Marine. Hours are spent reviewing, teaching, encouraging and I see the kindness of his heart as he really cares about this young man and wants him to succeed.  

I see the heart of Olesya as she readily awakens in the wee morning hours to go help her dad at the store, regardless of whether or not it is a "real" work day when she would get paid.  Her giving heart is always such an example.

I hear about Josh's incredible act of kindness as she describes how at our recent bake sale, and older gentleman approached them, obviously inebriated and expressing deep loneliness.  This man then began to talk about how Vietnam ruined his life, and then confusedly moved into preaching the gospel to them.  What does Josh do?  Is he scared? Does he blow him off? How does he respond?  He takes hold of this man's hands, and holds them, looks into his eyes, and offers presence and a listening ear.  He offers him free cookies tenderness, and unlike many 14 year olds, he doesn't roll his eyes or make fun of him as he walks away, instead, he tenderly speaks of how, "He was just lonely and sad."

These are the ways I am seeing success.  Sure, we have the occasional award and recognition, we have a well written paper or great scores on tests.  But in the grand scheme of things, these matter so very little.  And no, I don't say that solely because I dismiss academics or success because of the challenges many of our kids have...not at all.  

It is because A's don't make a meaningful life.  It is because throwing a ball well on a field doesn't make a meaningful life.  It is because being the brightest or the best doesn't make a meaningful life.

It is WHO they are that creates a life of meaning.  It is HOW they walk through the world that creates a life of meaning.  It is WHEN they put their faith and spiritual teachings into practice that creates a life of meaning.

And you know what?

I think they actually are living into that.  Nothing matters more to me, nothing.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

New School Year!

After a looooong and wonderful summer break (for real!) we started back to school this week.  LaJoy Academy now consists of one Freshman (Joshua), one Sophomore (Olesya), two Juniors (Angela and Kenny), and...a recent graduate and new "uncollege" student (Matt).

We are beginning our 9th year of homeschooling, and looking back I can't help but think of the wonderful, deep, introspective, and thought provoking conversations we have had around this very table.  There are moments when I am almost near tears in gratitude for the thousands of extra hours we have had as a family to share, to mold, and to shape one another.  The truth is, it is totally a two way street and I have been molded and shaped as mightily as I know the kids have been.

Homeschooling is NOT for everyone, but it surely has been marvelous for us. Our family is what it is in large part due to the ideas we have been free to explore that would never have been allowed in public education.  Faith in all its forms has been widely discussed, politics and culture have been delved into in depth, and so much more!  I seriously love our school days, and will very much miss them when we move on.  I suspect, though, that Sunday meals and daily breakfasts might include an awful lot of what we talk about now, it is sort of who we are these days.

This year will include social psychology, personal finance, World History 2, English/Writing, Art for Angela and Olesya, Film Making for Joshua, various levels of math for Kenny and Joshua while the girls will work on remedial math as part of personal finance, economics, Volleyball, Russian and Drivers Ed for Angela (and Driver's Ed for Matt) and whatever else we cram in.  Each of our subjects is quite rigorous, while still taking into account the variety of learning disabilities and memory challenges we have at the table...or giftedness in some areas.  As usual, Socratic style questioning, debate, and written work will be expected to be at a high level, while certain key areas for individual learners will have allowances made.  

Matt is starting his year out strong, and we are calling it "uncollege" as Dominick and I have offered to let Matt craft his own post-high school years.  After a lot of serious consideration, Matt decided to pursue tech learning on his own, and to create a schedule that includes all he wants to learn.  He is genuinely thrilled and grateful to be allowed this opportunity to deeply learn what he wants. 

Because we keep being asked what we mean by "He is staying home and continuing his education at a higher level, studying computer science courses and more" I will share his year ahead as we drew it up, to give folks an idea of what a young man will do who is working outside the system...if that young man loves to learn:

Self-Directed Learning Track
Matthew LaJoy

Professional Development (360 hours)

·       COMP-TIA Linux+                                              23 hours+Testing+Virtual Labs
·       COMP-TIA Network+                                          75 hours+Testing+Virtual Labs
·       COMP-TIA Security+                                           26 hours+Testing+Virtual Labs
·       Web site design, SEO, imacro , HTML/CSS        (Courses to be determined)
·       Programming                                                         Code Academy/Projects
           Project Based Learning                                          Design/build 8 bit computer
             (You Tube videos from                           Computer Scientist Ben Eater)
·       Basic Computer Architecture                                 Udemy

Business Development (240 hours)
           International Economic Institutions:                       The Great Courses
                   Globalism versus Nationalism
·       Economics                                                                The Great Courses
·       Calculus 1 and Lambda Calculus                             Textbook, Thinkwell
·       Learning Statistics:                                                   Great Courses 
Concepts and Applications in R

Personal Development (240 hours)

·       Personal Finance                                                     Starline Press
·       Middle East History                                                The 1000 Year War
·       Literature/Novels                                                                 
Modern Man in Search of a Soul                             C. Jung
Demons:  A Novel in Three Parts                            Dostoevsky
The Gatekeepers:  How the White House
Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency                 Chris Whipple

·       Flight lessons beginning 9/7/17                         CAP Pilots
*Minimum of 40 hours in air plus flight test and written test

The most important things learned this year, though, and every year, are character, kindness, a giving heart, teamwork, and helping others.  That may sound corny, but for us, it is real, it is powerful, and it is what makes a life of meaning.  Without it, all the rest is window dressing and worthless.

So, we are off!  A great first week, lots of school work greeted with tons of enthusiasm and diligence!  A teacher couldn't ask for more!

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Held in Tension

Our pastor offered us a remarkable illustration this morning during her sermon, one that will stick with me for quite awhile.  She was speaking about the tension that can arise when people are in disagreement with one another, and used a rubber band held in tension as an example.  Continuing on with her sermon, she pointed out that the more we avoid dealing with those we are in conflict with, the stronger the internal tension we feel.  Then, illustrating how the tension dissipates when we actually reconcile with one another, she slowly allowed the rubber band to come together, relaxed and at ease.

It sounds simple, doesn't it?  I mean, shouldn't we ALL get this?  And yet, how many times do we avoid someone we don't want to deal with?  How many opportunities have we had to restore harmony to a relationship and elected to ignore it...and find that it causes more stress as we feel that anxiety creep in even in anticipation of seeing someone?

In some ways, it is sort of like the dread we feel at a task that is awaiting our attention, that we put off and put off and put off.  The amount of energy invested in ignoring the task is far more than what it would take to get it done and off our plate!

Listening today, I had two important revelations.  Long ago I made a conscious choice that I would never live in tension with others, and that I would do my best to remedy the relationship whenever possible.  I saw the wisdom in the old phrase about not letting someone else's actions determine my response.  I will act as lovingly as possible, even if you are uncomfortable with that.  I will not avoid you if you are angry with me,  and I will take reasonable action to explain myself and make an honest attempt at reconciliation, however, I will not pursue you either.  

Sadly, of course, sometimes that is not possible because not everyone is willing to sit across from you to talk things out.  Often, others prefer to walk around on a low simmer, and seem to thrive on conflict.  There is little one can do in these situations but accept where the other person is, inwardly wish them peace, and move on.  If they continue to avoid you, if they are uncomfortable in your presence, just continue to act in love and don't let their anger or discomfort turn you into someone you truly don't want to be.

I was recently quite impressed with someone who had said something he thought had possibly offended me.  This dear, dear man had pondered this for an entire week and it left him feeling deeply concerned.  He immediately approached me the very next opportunity we had, apologized and I briefly reassured him that no offence had been taken whatsoever, and our relationship was immediately restored.  Many a less mature individual would have avoided me completely, never having the chance to learn there was no reason for his unease.  This single act endeared me to him even more, and we will no doubt be friends for many years to come, because I now trust even more that we can be truly open with one another, and will walk alongside each other in care and concern, never letting something come between us.

The second revelation I had was one that seems to tie into the deep learning God has grounded me with this past year, and it sneaked up and surprised me during worship.  I realized that while I can ably relieve the tension in other relationships with capable partners, the person who I am least adept at working through conflict with is...myself.

Now why is that?  Why is it that I can fully meet others where they are at, can see their perspective and grant grace, but I am pretty hopeless at doing it with myself?  Instead, I avoid dealing with my inner most wounds, and seem unable to apply to myself the valuable tools of reconciliation I have learned and used with others.

However, as I sat there in a contemplative mood, I realized something important...that example of the rubber band that was meant to be about external relationship, but that I was seeing as internal, was really about the eternal battle we ALL have with self.  ALL who want to bring goodness and light into the world fight a constant battle to not give in to the world's siren call.  The rubber band is our faith, stretched taught, sometimes achingly so, as we maneuver through the minefield that this life can be.  That stinging piece of rubber is the illustration of the battle between or lesser and better selves, of choices we make to allow darkness to remain or to be the bringers of light.

It isn't really at all about others intervening, causing us to make poor choices. That rubber band which is our faith is tugged at daily solely by our inner self and our decisions.  There is no one to blame, no "devil made me do it", no finger pointing outward.  There are only our better and lesser selves, and our faith holding both in tension.  If we let go of either side, if we give in to light or dark, the tension recedes, and there is a winner.

And that "snap" we all know far too well as the tensions sometimes "win" and forces one side to resignedly give in is a very painful experience, with no true winners, just a welt that often takes a very long time to go away.

We all have to be willing to work toward easing those two opposing sides of the rubber band as they come closer, the forces of physics at play as strongly as the forces of faith.

Light and dark, push and pull...these are the things of faith and of life.

Friday, September 01, 2017

On Turning 51

I sit here at my keyboard, writing and thinking as the soft and unique crackle of my wood-wicked candle (a birthday gift from the girls) punctuates the quiet evening.  I think birthdays are a wonderful time to reflect on who we are, where we are headed, and what matters to us.  What does a person know by the time they have reached 51?  Are they wiser?  Kinder?  Perfected? 

I spent this birthday bathed in love from my family and dearest friends, both in person and via Facebook.  I was treated to a special small cake as well as an enthusiastic round of off key "Happy Birthday" (anyone who knows our family cringes as I say this! Hahaha!)

Oh my, isn't THAT an attractive pose!

You know how kids have certain years where they mature a lot?  Where you can see them changing almost every single day right before your eyes?  This felt like one of those years for me.  The past year has been one of singular personal growth for me, of new awarenesses, of gradually increasing acceptance of myself, and of spiritual shifts.  It has been a hard year, but a very good one...a memorable one in many ways. 

I have rediscovered my deepest sense of gratitude to God for all that is in my life...for relationships, for abundance, for life itself.  I hadn't lost gratitude, it was just dulled, tempered, not flourishing as it has when I am at my best, most connected self.  Gratefulness is not something I learned while young, other than in the most "surfacey" of ways.  It was a gradual learning of how much better life is when walking in gratitude that came over me in my mid-twenties, when I realized how I had the choice in how I elected to experience my world...and the choice of having a grateful heart was a profound one for me that transformed my life in so many ways.  Feeling less in touch with this part of myself was deeply troubling, and it was apparent in everything I wrote, and everything I felt.  It wasn't that I didn't feel it or know it, but I wasn't walking in it, and that makes all the difference.  How silly it may sound to say I am so grateful for gratitude returning full flow!

This year I began to understand how burned out I was.  Eighteen years of being in the trenches of building and growing our family took its toll.  Ten years solid of preparing international adoption paperwork alone was enough to send someone over the edge!  The intense therapeutic parenting required to help our kids live into wholeness was harder than I can ever begin to explain, and continues to be as we truly are not done and there is always a new emotional chamber to explore.  Homeschooling five kids at different grade levels, some with tremendous learning disabilities which confounded every specialist we have worked with, has been the challenge of a lifetime.  Trying to keep ahead of my gifted ones, thinking creatively and out of the box for them while still meeting this wide spectrum of needs requires a mental nimbleness that is hard to muster every day!  Adapting everything, resourcing myself, taking on every single role that is held by multiple people in a traditional school well as being a cheerleader for each of the kids as well as myself...all of it has been exhausting, and wonderful, and magical at moments.  

So this year I finally put myself first.  Well, in all honesty, maybe not actually first, but from time to time I managed to create much needed space for me.  I "played" for perhaps the first time in my life!  I finally took to heart that I will be the lifelong caretaking parent to at least one special needs adult needing regular, consistent guidance as well as allowing space for growth for him, and I will likely be assisting far more with the girls for several more years.  Recognition of that is more important than I realized, as I need to take care of my own heart and soul so I can be fully present and attend to their hearts and souls as they maneuver a world that is far more challenging for them than for others.

Perhaps the single most important thing that happened for me this year may sound harsh, and yet perhaps others can relate.  I always try to be very honest here, and hesitated to post this, but decided to share because it was part of those changes this year has wrought.

I decided not to hate myself as much anymore.  I have spent years filled with guilt about not being enough for others.  I have spent decades hating my size, and how overall unattractive I am.  I have spent long nights agonizing over "woulda, coulda, shoulda's".  I have spent my days trying to please people who would forever judge.   I have spent excruciating stretches of time worrying about how others would perceive my choices and our family's non-conforming ways.

I don't think I am unusual for a woman my age.  I think many, many of us have these same feelings of inadequacy as we work our way toward being able to care less about the superficial.  I am ashamed it took me so long, and more ashamed that I will likely struggle my entire life with it...but I am determined to let go of as much as possible and simply be me.

After our cake, I opened a special gift that put so much of what I have shared above into perspective for me.  The boys giggled as Matt kept writing on the outside of the package, "Matt loves you more than Kenny!" and "Matt loves you more than Josh!".  They had purchased this gift months ago, each chipping in to get it.  When I opened it, I was thrilled!

It was something they had a hunch I would love...and they were right.  

It was a plaque of a quote found on Mother Teresa's wall in Calcutta, and I was quite surprised at the fact that the boys would think of something like this for me...not a typical teen dude gift at all.  When I asked what gave them the idea for this for me, my own sense of self was turned upside down when the reply was:

"Because this is how you are with everyone, so we thought it was perfect for you."

This gift wasn't "inspirational" or "aspirational", this was "representational".

Really??? Flawed old me???  I bit my tongue and kept from saying, "You've got to be kidding me." and instead expressed my delight at such a thoughtful gift from my sons, whose own depth always amazes me.

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you've got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.

Turning 51 has certainly been a gift, in more ways than one.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Radical Softness

This week I shared an image on Facebook that really struck me, for I feel as if it is something our family has worked toward living into in a counter cultural way. It expressed the idea of "Radical Softness", see below:

We have often discussed how, in America in particular, we tend to feel a need to live with walls around us.  The homophobic nature of our culture means any form of touch of another of the same sex lends itself to ridicule and derision.  The word "intimacy" scares the heck out of us, and yet at the same time our hearts absolutely yearn for intimate connections with others.  We deny our hearts for fear of what others will think, for fear of appearing too needy, for fear of being vulnerable.

The shocking part is that survey after survey reveals that loneliness is the #1 mental health issue of our era.  Still, like the unwisest of fools, we continue to repeat the same behavior hoping for a different outcome.

In our family, we decided a long time ago that we were not going to fear closeness, but encourage it.  We understand that the very best of relationships, platonic or romantic, all stem from a willingness to trust and be vulnerable with those we care about.  We hold long, hug often, and speak openly of the things that our hearts are troubled by.

You know what?  We can't make it without living in "Radical Softness".  Team LaJoy is what it is because we don't hide from our real selves, and don't hide our real selves from others.  I can not begin to imagine where we would be as a family if we hadn't always tried to practice Radical Softness with one another, and with those nearest and dearest to us.

When we sense teasing is cutting a little too close to the bone, we stop and apologize.  When one of the kids gets in trouble, it has always been our hard and fast rule that ANYONE who laughs at that child will be punished more harshly for we don't revel in someone else's mistakes.  When you make a mistake, you apologize sincerely, and that includes mom and dad, too.

We help one another, and we never let someone "go it alone" if we can help it, not even our friends in times of need.  Radical Softness means we love fully, without reservation, and if others want to criticize our love for others, then shame on or straight, white or black or purple, old or young, gifted or special needs, all are embraced warmly, with great vigor, and their humanity is seen.

In a world where we humans are told that we should never let others see our weaknesses, we distance ourselves from the life saving connections that help us thrive.  In a world where we are told we can't possibly be close with someone who is twice our age, such as our teens with the seniors in their lives who really matter, we all end up emotionally poorer.  In a world where toughness is valued, where "grit" means riding out the storm alone, and where you don't DARE hug someone for fear of how it might be interpreted, we all suffer from "touch deficit" as we ache to be hugged, ache to be touched in platonic ways, ache for someone to ease our emptiness.  

We live in a world where seniors go WEEKS without a single hand resting upon theirs, where our toddlers are put to bed without kisses or being held and read to.  We live in a world where men can't hold one another in a hug without slapping each other on the back in some "manly" effort to show they are straight, because dear Lord, don't let me even connect the word "intimate" with someone of the same gender.

But what does "intimate" really mean, and why are we so darned afraid of it?  According to, here are some meanings for the word "intimate":

Characterized by or suggesting an atmosphere conducive to privacy or intimacy; warmly cozy.

Characterized by or involving warm friendship or a personally close or familiar association or feeling.

Associated in close personal relations.

How I love the bolded above, "warmly cozy"...ahhhhhh...doesn't that sound like something we all wish for?

This photo of the girls long before we were able to bring them home oozes intimacy, it is what drew me to them because immediately I saw in them the relationship I saw in our boys...a closeness that is mirrored in the way our sons were with one another. 

Why?  Why are we so scared to express our affection for others?  Why do we prefer isolation and loneliness to togetherness and closeness?

I much prefer to be counter cultural this way.  I love NOTHING more than seeing our full grown teenage sons hug other men and older woman at church!  I love knowing I can turn to my own family to fill up my "love tank" when it feels like it is approaching empty.  I love that there is laughter without bitterness, kindness without agenda, and a unique kind of Radical Softness that means ANYONE is included in our circle who wishes to be, and they will be well loved.

We may be judged as "too open", we may be talked about behind our backs because of who we love and that we even USE the word "love" so willingly.  We may be criticized because we have raised our kids who once had no family, some for more than half their childhoods, to treasure the gift of heart connections that was so hard earned and allow them to remain home as long as their hearts need that connection.

In Radical Softness, I say, "let them be".  We will go on loving, being Team LaJoy, caring for others, holding and hugging and laughing as much as we can. Life is too short to do otherwise.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Holes and Shadows

Recently I have been reflecting a lot on wholeness, and on what it takes to live a life of true joy.  This morning Angela shared a thoughtful comic today from "The Oatmeal" which explained how our understanding of "happy" might be a bit skewed, and varies from person to person.  In my mind, happiness is momentary, while joy is deep and long lasting.  But what are the obstacles to joy, or happiness if you prefer?

Holes and shadows.

We humans tend to walk around hiding our holes from one another, fearing that if anyone really, really knew us, they would turn around and run the other way.  We all have them, you know, those holes that are almost impossible to fill up, the holes that are indicators of having lived at all.  No one gets out of this world unscathed, and yet we invest so much energy trying to act as if somehow we are different from everyone else and are "hole-less".  Ego is a killer in so many ways, and it is ego that urges us to secret away our Soul Holes, thereby denying others the possibility of getting to know our truest selves.  And you know what?  Those very holes that we ALL have are the thing that ties us together, that reminds us that we are not the only ones who have suffered, that others have experienced similar sorrows, disappointments, and losses.

Holes and shadows.

Have you ever thought that those very holes that cause us to feel "less than", that force us more into ourselves and leave us less connected, are the very thing that allows new life to sprout in us?  Think about a branch, much like the one pictured above that caught my attention a week ago.  That hollow place becomes a home for birds, insects, and small animals.  Oh sure, decay can settle in, but in picturing that, isn't that the best image of "dying to one's self" so that something bigger than ourselves can settle in?

Holes and shadows.

Pain from the past shadows us, haunts us, trails along behind us just close enough to remind us that we are unworthy.  Shadows hover and envelope us sometimes when we allow them space to do their dirty work, keeping us isolated as they whisper in our ear and speak of our limitations, our failures, our disillusionment.  We feed our shadow selves with our inner dialogue, rather than cast those shadows aside...for we feel unworthy of the light.  That shadow sometimes feels protective, keeping us safe from the knowing of others, but what the shadows do is hide our own light from others who need it.

Holes and shadows.

Once in awhile, we are blessed and someone casts their light on our shadows.  They whisper new and wondrous things in our ear to counteract the Shadow Voice...things like, "You are wonderful!", "You are so kind!", "You have amazing gifts!".  Slowly, we emerge from the darkness.  Someone sees us, and we are invited into community where the best of ourselves is affirmed, and our lesser selves are quietly worked with in love.  Slowly, we see how Light alters everything.

Holes and shadows...holes and shadows...holes and shadows.

Our family has spent nearly 20 years working to acknowledge those holes and shadows, allowing them space to exist as part of each of our stories.  However, we also point toward the Light, we value what we have learned from holes and shadows as we continually reach for more...more connectedness, more healing, more recognition that we are each part hole and shadow, as well as part solid ground and light.  We lift up ALL of what makes us who we are, and in granting all parts of ourselves space to "be", we become more.

And maybe our understanding of the totality of it all will help others come out from their shadows and show us their holes...and we can be one with them, too.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Hello, Adulthood...But Not Goodbye, Childhood

During these waning days of summer, new adults are slowly blossoming and, for one, childhood is very gradually beginning its tentative wave good bye.

We have yet another full fledged adult in the house, Olesya turned 18 this past weekend!  For those who may have lost track, Angela is 19, Kenny, Matt, and Olesya are 18, and Josh is 14.

This year has been one of enormous change for Olesya, as she moves further toward viewing herself as capable and confident, while accepting she has some disabilities that may make life a wee bit harder for her.  The painful, moving conversation we had back in the spring (see post here if interested) about her growing realization that she does indeed have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) has helped in surprising ways, as knowledge IS power.  Now she better understands herself and her "glitches", and no longer does that possibility have to bring about fear for the future, but can be worked with to create a new vision for a different kind of "tomorrow" that is hope filled.  She is laughing more, far happier, and interestingly is more willing to try new things where the effort of "hiding" her disability may have kept her from attempting something new for fear of being "found out".  Owning who she really is...not just the parts of her that have FASD but ALL the wonderful goodness that is Olesya...has been life giving, and I am so grateful we have always elected to handle these pieces of hard news with honesty.  There are no elephants hiding in the rooms of our home, no need to be anything other than all that we are, and no one will ever make fun of you, but will support and encourage you in every possible way.

For her birthday, we bought her shoes.  Yea, boring, yet necessary shoes!  When we visited CA for my mom's 80th birthday in June, we visited an SAS shoe store as we have always had a near impossible time fitting Olesya for any kind of shoe.  She has a double wide foot, with triangle shaped toes and one foot is over a whole size larger than the other.  On a whim I thought we should check out SAS Shoes and we found shoes that she glowed over, saying that they fit better than any shoe she had ever worn!  Though we intended on only getting one pair, as they are pricey (but my own history with this brand revealed they were incredibly well made) we ended up with TWO pairs of shoes that had her literally dancing for days.

We also attended a fine arts outdoor show in Ridgway, which we all thoroughly enjoyed, and then drove the long way home over Owl Creek Pass and past Silver Jack Reservoir as we tested out our new family member, a long desired and desperately needed 15 passenger van we have nicknamed "The Beast"!  She performed well over miles of dirt roads  At church the next day, Jane and Steve, our dear friends, attended and brought a cake to share to celebrate her special day with everyone.  All in all, it was a lovely 18th for her.

And how loved she is!!  Have you ever had one of those moments where you sat back and stared at your child, feeling so overflowing with love for who they are that you almost can't stand it?  This girl is perhaps the single most kind young lady I have ever come across, she is thoughtful, helpful, tender, funny, and has overcome so much.  I am humbled at the thought that God selected us to be the parents of ANY of our kids, and Olesya is no exception.  A gift beyond measure, my prayer for her is that as time moves on, she sees herself for all that she is.  Having come to us with almost no self-esteem, perceiving herself as absolutely "stupid", giving in to everyone and anyone solely to be accepted, Olesya is remarkably resilient, learning and growing in ways she never thought possible. That we got to spend her 18th birthday with her and the past 7 years is a total gift, that we have watched her begin to truly flourish is beyond words.  I love you, sweetie!!

 Speaking with her on her birthday, I asked her if she felt 18, if life felt different knowing she was now a legal adult.  She quietly responded that most days she felt about 15 or so, some days 17, but never really 18.  And she was so grateful that she has been allowed the time to be "Daddy's little girl" and to be a kid a little longer.  Folks often have no idea how much children adopted at older ages yearn to hang on to a childhood they feel was finally allowed them, and how hard it can sometimes be to move into the future having not been quite filled up.

Imagine really having a family for only 7 years by the time you are 18 or 19, as in Angela's case, and everyone already pushing you out the door, and asking when you are leaving home!  My goodness, the first three years were spent learning how to adequately function in a new language!  It was spent learning everything preschoolers were taught, for make no mistake of it, orphanage life in the former Soviet Union is far closer in relationship to a prison than a day care.  As I have witnessed many families with older adoptees fall apart over the past couple of years, I will fight to the death for my kids to have what they need, regardless of what others think about it.  I fully expect that some of our kids will easily live at home until they are in their mid-twenties, soaking up all they didn't get when younger, and helping them move on when they finally feel ready and have had their fill of family life.  There will come a time when they will be anxious to reach out into the wider world, but for now they need something very different and it is our job to provide that security while they continue to mature and grow fully into the amazing people I know them to be.

Then, there is Josh who is working his way toward leaving childhood behind, walking confidently toward adulthood.  Today was a day that could have a mom feeling a little weepy, as this is what I saw him preparing to get rid of:

Pooh, abandoned along with other stuffies being prepared to donate.  Childhood staring me in the face, as his deep voice replies, "Yea, I think I am getting rid of these now."  and yet I laugh inwardly as I know without question that if I tried to take his blankies from him, I would be threatened with death!  Haha, baby steps into adulthood, right?

Then, behind him, tucked into the corner of his bed where he has lived for 18 years, Matthew still has his beloved Froggie, the very first item I ever bought any of my children prior to becoming a mom.  Froggie will never leave, Froggie is a symbol of longed for family, of children dreamed of yet not found.  For Matt, Froggie isn't something he "needs", but it is the sole nod to his childhood, and the recognition that everyone should remain young at heart.

Kids AND adults need to recognize the power of a well enjoyed childhood, we need to value play more, we need to stop telling kids to "grow up" when, in fact, they are often acting appropriately their age and should not be expected to live as if they are 40 year olds weighed down with bills and choices that can't be easily changed.  I am not advocating for endless adolescence, what I am saying is that childhood really, really matters, and I know better than some just how important it can be.  When you parent kids whose childhoods began at 11 or 12 years old, it is very clear that a lot of damage can be done when developmental stages aren't fully experienced, and that does NOT lead to successful, happy adults.

The Goal of Being Unseen

Being a stay-at-home mom is unglamorous by just about any standard.  Being a homeschooling stay-at-home mom is often perceived as just plai...