Thursday, August 11, 2016

One or Two Years and a Couple of Changes


This has been a unique summer for Matthew, one in which he has had some wonderful opportunities as he gets ready to enter his senior year.  Though we know he still has one year to go, Matt really is a man in every sense of the word these days, and a delightful one at that.

Dropping him off at the airport this morning, his bag of Fritos (Ok, that sort of negates that "man" thing! Haha!) and carry-on in hand, I think I was far more excited for this latest adventure than he was!

Recently, Matt applied for and was accepted to be on the Rocky Mountain Region Cadet Advisory Council for Civil Air Patrol.  This is a Cadet run three person advisory board for the five state Rocky Mountain Region, and is quite an honor.  Matt had to submit an essay with several ideas he hoped to see implemented in the Region, and he was thrilled when he was invited to be a part of the Council.  What he wasn't aware of at the time was that he would then be offered an all expenses paid trip to the Civil Air Patrol National Convention in Nashville, TN this weekend!

And what did he do when he learned of his new position?  Nothing.  Nothing at all. 

There was no boasting, no need to point out the honor to others, just an inner sense of accomplishment and only explained what was going on in his Squadron when it became necessary.  In a house full of many extroverts, Matt is our most introverted.  He can be hard to read, which can sometimes make you wonder what excites him, what motives him.  What he is, is humble...something that you rarely find in another human being to this degree.  He is intrinsically self-motivated and has little need for outward recognition, though I am sure at moments he appreciates it like everyone else. He remains cool, calm and collected regardless of the situation.

Upon completing the reading of David Brook's "The Road to Character" at the end of last school year, a book I am now very slowly working through with all the other kids, Matt remarked that he learned a lot about  what true character looked like and how best to develop it, and I noticed that this hugely impacted his spiritual life.  Somehow, the message came through in reading about a wide variety of famous folk who all struggled against their lesser selves, that developing self-awareness and willingly subjugating yourself to God (in whatever form that was understood) was a common denominator.  He identifies quite firmly with his Christian faith, and told me on the drive home from his last year at camp this summer that he realizes as an adult he will always need to attend to his spiritual self as he has the capacity to be colder and more distant than some might be, that God calls him to be a more intentionally loving person and he likes the reminder that practicing his faith brings to work on himself regularly, to bring his better self to the forefront.

He is easing his way gently into adulthood, and it is so sweet to watch.  He has plans laid out for this coming year, ambitious ones.  I am sure that in his methodical, quiet way he will accomplish all he sets out to do.  

I am reminded of a particular line from a Jackson Browne song, Fountain of Sorrow.  Though it relates to something else in the song, it reminds me of where all our kids are:

I'm just one or two years, and a couple of changes behind you...

Our other three 17 and 18 year olds are on a different trajectory.  They came home much older, had so much to catch up on, so much to work through, and so much more to challenge them.  Yet they are all slowly working their way toward adulthood as well, perhaps not at the pace others think they ought, but nevertheless, they will find their way in their own time.  Matt may be leading the way, despite technically being our middle child, but we all see the growth and maturity steadily happening in Olesya, Kenny and Angela.  A couple of years from now, we will see ever more blossoming, wings unfolding, and wind catching beneath them leading them each into worlds unknown.  What we can best offer them all now is the gift of time...time for those changes to occur, time to reach backwards toward childhood as often as is necessary, and time to discover who they are.  There is no rush, they'll be fine, and they will do just as interesting and valuable things as Matthew is doing in his chosen arenas. 

As their mom, I am reminded by Matt's nature to remain calm, cool, and collected in the face of comments and nudges that they are somehow "behind".  It can be hard to bite my tongue, to gently change the direction of conversations for those who are insensitive to the ways in which their seemingly benign inquiries actually touch nerves that can be, in any given moment, quite raw.   Graciousness is something I need to work on.  I am always stunned how crass some people can be in assuming they understand the needs of our kids.  If you have not parented a child adopted at an older age from an institution, trust me, you truly are pretty clueless about their needs, their pain and grief, and their suffering.  I know this because I was once that clueless.  The difference is I have never assumed I had the right or the knowledge to be able to offer my critique and advice to someone who was in the trenches and had more experience than I.

Yup...and perhaps me remembering that others are in the same place as I once was will lead to more graciousness.

I'm just one or two years, and a couple of changes behind you.

And that is perfectly OK.  


Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Fake Family


The world is all a twitter over the following news story about Simone Biles, Olympic gold medal winner (Yea!!) and the comments made by NBC broadcaster, Al Trautwig, which many consider demeaning and dismissive of her adoptive parents, who are her biological grandfather and his wife. For those who are unaware of the controversy taking the adoption world by storm, you can quickly read about it here:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carrie-goldman/dont-let-anyone-tell-you-adoptive-parents-arent-parents_b_11404534.html?

I have pondered this one for the past 24 hours, trying to ascertain what my truest thoughts are about having an adoptive family so blatantly denied the validity of their relationship.  I have come to one conclusion...

Eh...it just isn't worth it.

Knowing I will be in the minority on this one, that my hackles aren't up and my ire is not aroused to the degree that many think it ought to be might need a further explanation.

You see, almost every single day of our lives as the LaJoy Family, someone somewhere questions our legitimacy.  I have lost count of how many times we have been assumed to be a foreign exchange group out in public.  Any time we are walking through a store and one of our sons puts his arm around my shoulder and leans in to say something, we get stared at quizzically.  Our daughters' accents mark them as foreigners and it is never, ever  thought that I am their mother.  When they try ti explain that I am, indeed, their mom often there will be stares and an utter lack of understanding as it takes a few moments to "click".  When samples are handed out, I have had to be forceful more than once that yes, indeed, I am their mom and am entitled to give permission for them to partake of the goods being hawked.

Is it right?  No.  Do I like it? No.  Is it what is? Yes.

Frankly, I have too many other more pressing concerns to get hot and bothered about.

That doesn't negate the fact that education starts with me, or that other families find this more disconcerting than we do, or that even from time to time we all get a little tired of explaining and being stared at.

Walking through the world as a family that is so obviously different than the norm, you grow a thicker skin.  The world will think what it will think, and there really is little we can do about it.  The fact that the imagination of the average American is so narrow that it can't possibly fathom that people of different races might really belong to one another is not something likely to ever change easily.  Over time, as more diversity is reflected in film, television, and advertising there will be a growing awareness of mixed race families.  Meanwhile, I'll do my little part by kindly correcting, gently pointing out the errors.  I have never found that being militant about anything ever brings about much other than anger.

What matters far, far more to me is that our family views itself as legitimate, that we are strong enough to be public and not hide, nor feel shame or embarrassment because we don't "match".  Long ago, I realized that this was forever, that for the remainder of our lives we were walking around "branded" as different, and I had two choices.  We could walk around with a chip on our shoulders, taking offense every time it happened and waiting to pounce to correct someone, or we could recognize the innocence behind most of it, and that there was no judgment behind the mistaken categorization, but merely a lack of awareness or exposure to a variety of differently matched families.  We could laugh and keep the moment light, or we could elect to darken it ourselves with a layer of assumed prejudice or delegitimization.

We can't walk through life that way, we are the only ones that hurts.

Sure, I agree with the argument that we are "real" family, and I understand the need to change our collective understanding and language around this.  I also see how this was an extreme situation and there was an obvious lack of sensitivity in the case of Simone Biles and her adoptive parents.  I am not even at all against the numerous editorials and Facebook posts condemning Mr. Trautwig for his crass denial of this family's legitimacy.

But regardless of what anyone else ever says or does, there is not a single thing they can do to refute the Real Deal...the love the exists between us creates a bond as strong as any biological connection could ever be.  I have wiped their tears, I have encouraged them through struggles, I have giggled at their silliness.

I am called Mom by five of the most wonderful young people on earth, and the fact that I feel they are the most wonderful young people on earth and burst with pride at every little accomplishment, or fight tears with every discouraging or painful moment means I have earned that title.  Whether there were court documents to support that claim or not matters very little.  I am Mom, they are sons and daughters, we are family.  Let others say or think what they may, it won't change a thing.  We aren't a "Fake Family", there is no such thing!

Asian eyes smile at me, heavily accented English greets me each morning, dark skinned arms wrap me in warm hugs.

Let the wars go on, and we'll do our small part along the way to help change hearts and minds.  Time will change things, and in the meantime, we'll keep on loving one another openly and joyfully.

And in the long run, that really is the only thing that changes anything.


Monday, August 08, 2016

Not-So-Lazy-Days of Summer

These "lazy days" of summer haven't been so lazy around here!  Take a look at a DIY project Olesya and Josh were helping Dominick with:


Water and snow had damaged the bottom of our siding in our patio area, so it was time for our Handy Men and Women to go to work!


Olesya is so much like Dominick in many ways.  She truly enjoys more physical tasks, and loves things like detailing cars and working with her hands. She is also far more domestic than her mom (I totally admit that one!) and is a happy explorer in the kitchen, trying new recipes.



With Dysclaculia, a math disability that makes math concepts far harder for Olesya, using basic math in real life situations helps her gain a greater understanding of certain math skills.  Measuring and cutting helps with fractions, something that still stymies her.


Josh came long and provided labor as well, and learned how to use a caulking gun in the process.  Metal flashing was also installed beneath the siding.



Having such willing and eager helpers makes life so much easier!  While Matt and I were in Salt Lake City the next couple of days, and Dominick was at work. Kenny, Angela, Joshua and Olesya all repainted both sides of the house where the siding had been replaced.  A few years down the road, it is rewarding to watch as the kids put into practice some of the practical skills we have taught them on various projects, like the rental rehab we all worked on about 4 years ago.

Matthew and I were in Salt Lake City at Shriner's Hospital to have his back checked.  He is having considerable pain, with numbness and tingling as well shooting down his legs all the way to his feet.  Though he was in pretty good shape a few months after his spinal fusion, something has caused a shift and he is in constant pain right now, and his life is quite limited.  He is trying to be as active as he can be, but that is proving very difficult.  Sleeping is not restful, sitting is hard, bike riding can be done but brings on pain fairly quickly.  Xrays revealed little, so an MRI is being ordered and we will hope that answers will follow.

It isn't slowing him down in other ways though, here he is working on his 3D printer in his recently created work space in the garage.  He is making good use of his Creative Space, and spends many hours out there doing things I don't understand with parts that I have no idea what they do...hahaha!


We have been crafting Matt's senior year in high school, and he has asked to take both Pre-Calculus and Trigonometry as he is seeing the need for it in the work he is doing on his own.  We also found an awesome resource for him which will teach him all he needs for a wide variety of IT certifications in all kinds of content areas for tech...when I asked him what he wanted to focus on for career learning post high school, he quickly responded, "Everything...every single thing I can find to learn.  I have no idea what I want to do yet, but I find it all fascinating and none of it boring, so can I learn it all?"  Yea, that didn't help so much, what does "all" mean?  Ummm...according to Matt, it includes, but was pointedly not limited to, "Networking, Cloud Storage, Mobile software, repair, Windows certifications, Cisco certifications, Amazon Web Services, and...anything else I can think of.  Oh yea, and drones, and GPS technology."  He will start with a fundamentals course for COMP TIA certification, and work his way up the list, I guess.  That ought to keep him busy for awhile :-)  



Aside from driving hither and yon all summer long, I have been compiling resources for our coming school year.  We are going back to a bit more eclectic approach for science, as the textbook was a big fat flop for us for retention this past year.  Sooooo...back to the drawing board, and I decided to use videos from the BBC series' Life, Planet Earth, and Human Earth along with tests I found online in various places.  In addition from Teachers Pay Teachers I found a wonderful series of science articles based on current topics along with thought provoking questions.  We will see how this works.  We have a tremendous amount of work to cover next year, and a lot of fun and interesting things to learn!

Angela has been working diligently on all kinds of Russian translation with Olesya, as well as tending her lovely flower garden, so I have beauty in vases often right now:


We have had my friend Candi's two kids visiting us throughout the summer, with Christi coming first, then Billy.  It was such fun having them with us, they were a joy and contributed so thoughtfully to conversations we had, helped at the store, and just hung out and relaxed.  We did a little mall hopping and sight seeing with each of them, though mostly we just lived life together:



Rural girls don't get mall opportunities often!


Moms being teased by Mall Hopping Teens


Love my sweet, sweet daughters so much...and yes, you can tell I am not good at selfies and keeping my arm out of the shot!




Boys and boulders.  Nothing more needed.

This is the first summer since beginning homeschooling that we have taken completely "off" from school, and we all really needed it.  We won't even start our studies until the day after Labor Day, which is when we traditionally started when I was a kid.  It feels like we are playing hookie!  I love it, and we have a whole month left.  Full speed ahead once we start back up though, so we are all taking advantage of it while we can!

Thursday, August 04, 2016

What is Real?

Growing older, it becomes more obvious that my life is exactly how I perceive it to be.  If I view it as troubling and difficult, then that is what it is.  If I view it as exciting and interesting, then that is what it is.  If I view it as filled with abundance and blessings, than that is what it is.

Every single one of the above noted descriptions could be used to describe my life, and our life together as a family.

So which one is "real"?  If we are talking about the same family with the same circumstances and the same challenges...which description is the most honest?

The one which best fits the desires of my heart.  

You see, it matters not one whit what others think, what matters most is how you view your circumstances, and that perspective often gives birth to the very life you seek.  

The other night I had a lovely phone conversation with a long time adoption Facebook friend who I have never had the pleasure of meeting.  There was a sharing of information, some reassurances that were hopefully helpful, and a little laughter over similarly experienced quirks that are only found in families like ours.  As the conversation drew to a close, there was a sweet moment where I was offered some beautiful compliments about our family and a word or two about how our blog makes it all look so perfect.  I laughed at that, recognizing how often I have felt the same thing as I have read blogs written about other families through the years.  Between Pinterest worthy photos of gatherings and Facebook posts about accomplishments and awards, it is hard to ever get a sense how authentically a family is being portrayed.  For some, it is a desire to have only the best and brightest image reflected to the world.  For others, it is something entirely different, and perhaps even less believable.

I think we fall in that latter category.  

Sharing as much as I do on the blog, and having as many people read it who know us in "real life" it would be impossible to fake it.  It really would.  We'd be called out in a minute flat.  I have revealed more intimate moments our family has experienced here than most ever would, and with our children's blessing I might add.  Do I reveal all?  Of course not, that would be impossible and intrusive into our life, but I have shared some of the very hardest nights of darkness, the painful past, and the hard won battles.  I hide little, and share openly the summaries so that others can perhaps learn from our mistakes, and catch a glimpse into a family life that is lived just a little differently.

We are far from perfect, but you know what?  You can be very, very intentional about how you live your life together, about how you move through the world, and about what you value.  We actually do view our life together as the single greatest blessing any of us has ever received, and we cherish it...each and every one of us.  We actually do cry openly with one another, revealing our vulnerabilities so that we are not alone in our fear.  We actually do laugh at those things that are difficult and embarrassing so that we don't take ourselves too seriously.  We actually do offer as much love as we possibly can to those around us, knowing that doing small things with great love makes a difference in the world.  We actually do respect one another, sibling to sibling, parent to child (Yes, not child to parent...respect starts with modeling it, and our kids deserve the same respect we desire.).  

Dealing with so many hardships could sour our family life, it could alter our outlook on the world, it could color others and ourselves in great depressing swaths of darkest purples and muddy browns.  We don't let it happen, we have simply decided to let God lead, to let Light in, to see abundance rather than lack.  We have permanent disabilities, we have financial challenges, we have pain, we have fuller than full plates, we have great grief, and we have pasts that are hard to acknowledge.


There is no attempt to sugar coat it, in fact most of you long time readers could easily recite how much we have been through and how hard it is.  However, there is one difference, and one difference only...we choose how we view it all.  And our family life is ALL of the things described in the first paragraph!  It is abundant and difficult and exciting and sometimes troubling, a plethora of adjectives could be aptly applied and all would be true.  But it is the descriptors I elect to cling to that define us and end up influencing behaviors.  

We are not Pollyanna-ish, but we are positive, we are motivated, and we are very hopefully Light Bringers into dark places even if only in little ways.  We are also realistic and honest about limitations, we allow the real to show through and we don't run from it or pretend the outlook is better than it really is.  

Allowing vulnerability to show is, for some, the single hardest thing to do.  Man, does it require a level of courage that is hard to summon!  But that very vulnerability, that ability to show others your emotional boo boos is the single greatest tool for healing and for healthy interactions.  

So, lest I leave you thinking mistakenly that the LaJoy family lives in Shangri-La, let me assure you that we have the same "discussions" about how there could possibly be 45 empty glasses sitting around not put in the dishwasher, and we have frustrating moments when kids are not getting it with school work and I have tried every which way to explain some concept and want to pull my already thinning hair out.  We have musty smelling towels because someone left them in the washer too long, and we have disagreements over what to do on a sunny afternoon.  We have messes and procrastination and tired cranky people who live here, too.

But we don't yell at one another, we don't disrespect one another, and we don't stop loving one another.  Ever.  And we all view our lives together as beautiful, precious and finite. I guess you could say we have the life that fits the desires of our hearts, in all its chaos and clutter.  It's not that we don't see the bitter hard pills on the Table of Life, we just elect not to swallow them.  After all, we all really do have a choice.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

No Shame

As young people mature, there are those days that mark the next step taken towards adulthood.  There is the acquisition of  a driver's license, dating, first part-time job, first trip alone without your parents, and more.  Each event is noted with glee (and perhaps a little trepidation!) by parents and youth alike, as they celebrate the gradual increase in responsibility and maturity.

For a young person with FASD, those moments are often out of reach, or are unable to be attained until much further down the road.  Developmental age doesn't match chronological age, and some things will remain forever out of reach, much to the sorrow of everyone.  Some, like Kenny, can straddle two worlds.  Others don't fare as well.  Kenny is able to bounce between his older and younger with great facility, but there is a reason he is unable to sustain friendships with anyone his own age...he can't remain in that "older" place for too long without needing to have extended periods of true younger aged play.  As a camp counselor, this works marvelously well for him, as an almost 18 year old man, it makes life an uncomfortable fit.

However, there are milestones, but we hesitate to mention them or lift them up because there is a sense of loss, or even shame around it all.  There is the diagnosis finally obtained, oftentimes after years of what seems like fruitless chasing before finally it is confirmed officially.  This may not seem like much, but for an invisible disability like FASD, it can affirm for the parent and child alike that, no, they are not crazy or imagining it, there really and truly is something wrong, regardless of whether a brain functions well for a week here or there and then proceeds to completely malfunction the next. We have celebrated with Kenny when he finally went an entire week making certain his wallet was in his back pocket each morning!  We have celebrated when he came out dressed appropriately for the day's weather, and not wearing a polar fleece when it was 100 degrees outside (Seriously, more times than I can tell you!).  We have celebrated when he finally, FINALLY learned to read...at 13 years old.  Each is an important milestone, regardless of what age it was reached or how insignificant it is for some people...or even if that milestone ends up lost when the behavior backslides a month later.  

A young person might perform fabulously in a well structured environment with a timeline laid out and a familiar setting, like Kenny did as a camp counselor, and yet be unable to find their way to the grocery store in a two main street town...as Kenny can't.  When cues are able to be taken in by those around them doing things that can be copied, FASD kids can succeed, but when left alone, they can't initiate changes in schedule, or facilitate even the most basic of needs such as making certain their personal hygiene is handled every single morning.  FASD is characterized by regular malfunctions...and then seemingly smooth sailing...then malfunctions over and over again,  The very lack of consistency is enough to drive you crazy!  What was easy yesterday, is completely impossible today.

The patterning takes years, and sometimes, the fact that we have been so successful with Kenny because of his literally having 24/7 therapeutic parenting works against us.  Depending upon the setting, others just don't encounter the Kenny we have at home.  They don't see the confusion when we walk through an airport and I try to guide him to find his way, and it is impossible because there is too much "data" to take in.  They don't see the 17 year old who cries because one day he can do something, and the next for some inexplicable reason, that skill is lost and has to be re-taught.  They don't have to watch him in a parking lot as he is blissfully unaware of cars coming behind him because his brain can't make out the direction it is coming from...or that it is even there.  They don't see the young man whose voice cracks as he speaks of the frustration of living in a brain like his, unable to recall basic information some days, or able to follow a simple recipe on the back of the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese box.  Give him a lunchroom and food that appears, give him a tightly held schedule, give him a single task and he performs like a rock star.  However, try to have him live autonomously as most kids his age are doing, and he is lost, unable to perceive when it is time to go to bed or rise for the morning, unable to initiate any activities of his own volition without them being suggested, unable to even keep himself clean or dressed appropriately without gentle reminders.  His intellect belies it all, but his arriving at the retreat for counselor training without sleeping bag, pillow, or towel after having gone to camp for 10 years is our daily norm.

Thursday we had another milestone to celebrate, one that would might force some parents to grimly accept the inevitable, and the young adult to hang his head in shame.  We had an appointment with attorneys to discuss legal care for Kenny in the future.  Turning 18 in November, Kenny will likely need help with his finances and medical care all his life, along with numerous other activities we all take for granted.  We began working on Medical and Financial Powers of Attorney for Kenny, and he was present to ask any questions he had, and to be part of the entire process.  It just so happens that one of the attorneys in the meeting has an adult daughter adopted from China, and there was a tangible understanding of our situation because of that.  God arranged that one, we didn't...we had no idea prior to entering the room that Kenny's needs might be so well understood.  

Waiting for our appointment.


On the drive over to the office prior to picking up Dominick, Kenny and I talked about how important this day was for him.  "This is just as important for you as other things are for your brothers and sisters.  You need this to move safely into your adult life, and we are going to make sure you have all the support you need to be all you can be in the world." I shared with him. 

"While I wish I didn't need it, " Kenny responded, "I am so glad it will be taken care of and that I won't have to figure this stuff out all alone.  But I bet this is a sad day for you, mom, and dad, too.  No one signs up to have kids like me."

"Sad?  NO!  While I wish things were different, I am happy you are so high functioning that you can take part in this in a meaningful way.  And I am also refusing to see you moving into your adult life as sad, but instead as a gift and a surprise.  Who knows what you will do?  Who knows what you will accomplish?  You have so much going for you, Kenny, so much to work with versus many kids who will never get half as far as you have!  And, we aren't even done with high school yet, I am sure that with the right help, you will attain your dreams of being in ministry somehow, even if in a less traditional way, and that you will do something with your life that really matters.  This paperwork is important, but I am not going to view it is 'settling' or to feel bad about it, in fact I am celebrating that we have come so far and have figured out what we need to have in place to not only protect you, but to help you blossom.  You have a long way to go, so much more to learn, so much to discover, and having the right protection in place ensures that you are safe and can focus on what is important rather than struggle with what is impossible." and I sat there quietly afterward.

"I am so lucky to have you and Dad.  Most parents would be so disappointed, but you always give me hope.  You are also very realistic with me, which helps more than you might know.  Hiding from what doesn't work never helps.  Thanks, mom."



No Shame.  No Hiding.  The truth really does set you free, and we are celebrating that Kenny is who he is; a wonderful. bright, amazing survivor of more than most of us could handle!  This family doesn't hide from the truth, we embrace it, we work with it, we accept it, and we look for ways to celebrate wherever we can.

FASD is nothing to be ashamed of, neither is living with your family as an adult or having the wisdom to ask for help when you need it.  The shame would be in hiding from it.

Kenny and I have work to do, research to explore, and hopefully a new blog to create where we will share what we are learning, and where he and I will both write about what this all feels like.  It is our way of working with it, of helping others perhaps understand what it is like to live in and with a brain like Kenny's.  There are also ministry avenues to pursue, high school to finish, and a slowly emerging adult to enjoy.  

What there isn't time for is shame.




Friday, July 22, 2016

A Love Not Limited

I went to bed long ago, and here I am up again.  It seems there is something that needs to be written, something that won't allow me to rest until it is captured in digital form and displayed, and maybe then sleep will come.  There are moments like this when I have no earthly clue why a thought grabs hold of me and shakes me until I DO SOMETHING.  Sometimes that something is to write a blog, sometimes it is to call someone, sometimes it is to read something.  Over time, I have come to trust this instinct despite the fact that I may never understand, and because of the fact that once acted upon I will then finally have peace.

Tonight, the Spirit swooped in and sat awhile on my shoulder, reassuring in Its presence and awe inspiring in Its power.



Kenny is in a confounding and terribly heart breaking place, a place I wouldn't wish on any teen.  I have held him in my arms as he has cried out in the greatest pain imaginable that his disability combined with his sexuality will mean a life of loneliness and dependence.  The words "I will be a burden" have been spoken far too many times by him, and the yearning to know that love will be, at the very list, possible for him is an ache that is hard to even write about here.

How does one parent through this sort of grief and uncertainty?  How can one offer comfort and assurances that he will be the one to defy the odds that are stacked so high against him and not sound like an overly optimistic mom who is unable to grasp the full weight that he is carrying?

I have yet to figure it out, and daily I question what in the heck I am doing here, and how can I ever be what he needs me to be.

FASD and LGBT are an alphabet soup that collides in his mind and equals UNWORTHY.

Living where we live, there are no PFLAG groups and almost no one who understands the limitations of FASD.  Kenny has never met anyone like himself, other than Angela and Olesya who are far more mildly effected (we are certain at this point), who lives with the crazy combination of learning disabilities that make normal life nearly impossible.  He has never met anyone like himself who will never safely drive a car, or be able to live on their own.

Just yesterday evening Dominick and I discussed the importance of my reaching out for Kenny to find "his people", and that we need to somehow find a way to fund his attending conferences on FASD with me so that he can hear stories of success and how best to maneuver through a world that, as of yet, has very little research available and few resources for adults with FASD.  As important as it is for Matt to have his future supported and nurtured with attendance at flight camps, it is equally important for Kenny to have his future supported and nurtured with attendance at progressive Christian conferences.  Just like Matt, he feels a calling in his life that is just as real, just as valid, and just as necessary to fuel.  The harder part is that for Kenny, the only way to pursue some of this is to travel out of our area, and he also can't do it alone as Matt could this year, necessitating a lot more money being spent.  Somehow, we will figure it out.   He needs desperately to feel less alone in his diagnosis, and he needs to feel as validated around his future as any other kid, too.

Participating in a few Facebook groups for FASD as a lurker, I have gradually become aware of just how blessed we are.  You see, it is no exaggeration at all to say that adults as effected as Kenny absolutely can not make it on their own without considerable supports in place.  Reading the stories of young adults, parents, and others whose lives are impacted by FASD is a real eye opener...continual job loss, repeated encounters with the law, explosive emotional outbursts caused by frustration and lack of emotional regulation, homelessness, and more fill my screen and have me whispering prayers of gratitude that Kenny is emotionally more stable than most with FASD.

It is in this place that my heart has dwelled this past year, and it is a hard, hard place for the parents of an FASD adolescent.  There is little that is positive, there is little in terms of services available or able to be qualified for, and there is little guidance about adulthood for your child.

Pleading for help and hope, my prayers have been ever more fervent.  How can I help Kenny see that love might come his way?  Concretely, I prayed for someone...anyone...who might be able to be held up as a "this is possible" sort of model as an encouragement for Kenny.

Oh, how the Spirit listens!  Oh, how the Spirit provides in the most astounding ways!

Now, I know that some of my more theologically conservative friends probably have been dismayed when reading about our open acceptance of Kenny's sexuality.  They may have trouble seeing that our family attending a church open to the LGBT community long before there was even a thought of Kenny being in our midst was God preparing us for Kenny's eventual needs.  Those whose religious teachings point toward the "sinful nature" of homosexuality may have a difficult time imagining the Spirit serving to be just as present for us in our life as it is in theirs.  I have no issue whatsoever with those whom I love who have a different perspective on any of this, however it is not a belief I have ever held.

I am, however, deeply grateful to be in relationship with a God whose love is not limited, whose provision is not narrowly defined to being only for those with "right thinking", whose presence is just as potent, just as powerful, and just as encompassing as it is for any other Christ follower.  Humanity likes to divide into categories and split hairs, God just wants our hearts and our longing for presence...and God shows up regardless of how humans like to say God shouldn't or won't based upon our infinitesimal ability to comprehend the vastness of God's love for us all.

God showed up miraculously tonight in the form of a man named Tim, the loving husband of a man
with FASD.  Reaching out based on a single post I read on Facebook, I asked Tim privately if he would mind visiting a bit, and it led to a rich exchange online that I couldn't have possibly arranged had I ordered it through prayer on a menu.  In the person of one kind man, there was hope for love from a non-FASD effected gay partner, an understanding of adoption and race issues, an admission of how hard it can sometimes be to be the caretaker, and the unexpected and beautiful fellowship of someone who is a person of faith and worships within our own denomination in a much larger city.

God knew what Kenny needed.  What surprised me was God knew what I also needed even though I had no clue I was in need at the moment, and provided for me as well through this conversation.  At times I have left myself out of the equation, not realizing that I too have suffered because of FASD, I too have struggled because of FASD, and I too grieve a future that won't be the same because of FASD. I too have no one to talk to who understands the complexity of intertwined issues that make for a remarkably intelligent person before me, and yet an equally remarkably disabled person before me that no one who isn't knowledgeable about FASD can understand.  I am the interpreter of the world for him, and of him to the world, a role that is taxing in ways I can't explain...and yet Kenny is so dear and precious I am eager to jump into that role for him.

Isolation is a soul killer.  The Spirit brings us together to nurture and care for one another in striking ways, and in amazement I shake my head yet again, and wonder how anyone can ever think God would find it preferable for someone to be "out" and others "in".  Our little pea sized brains just can't fathom that kind of love.  The world would be infinitely better if we could.



Monday, July 18, 2016

Hard Isn't Bad, Hard is Just Hard



I have two hours alone in my house, something that seldom happens in my life.  It is hard to even allow myself to feel that gleeful giddiness right now, as my heart is laden with layer upon layer of emotions bubbling up from the depths of brokenness.

Don't get me wrong, it is all so necessary, so powerful, so good...and so very painful.  At times, it seems endless, as if we will never reach the bottom of the pit.  Then I remind myself that I, too, am a work in progress, a product of every event, interaction, and relationship.  We are all crushed and reborn on a daily basis, and as Josh recently pointed out in his own words, everyone has "luggage" to carry around, it is just different for each person.

I think you get to this age with your kids, and you allow yourself the illusion that you have worked through the hard stuff, and it should all get easier.  While that may very well be the case for some, we seem to be revisiting issues at a much deeper level, processing and working with a wellspring that feels somehow quite fresh.  As a matter of fact, at times this feels like it is harder than ever.

I want to write in more detail, I want to share so others can perhaps know that they are not alone in their journey with their children, but for some reason, I just can't.  I can't seem to get it right, can't seem to convey what it feels like to hold your almost-adult-sized child whose body is wracked with pain as the sobs burst forth.  Two children this week have cried out in great anguish, "It's so unfair!  It's just not fair!" as they examined what never was, or what may never be.  We have one admitting that every single morning in life they awaken with anxiety clutching their heart that somehow their entire family has disappeared or will do so, and they will be left alone.  Another whose heart aches to have photos of themselves as a baby or a toddler, who yearns to hear stories of what they were like when they were little...and who wonders if either birth parent has even given them a second thought. The pain is as tangible as if they had been injured physically. Yet another child is coming to grips with his future that will never, ever look like anyone else's, and trying very hard not to give up and give in.  The grief washes over him anew as this reality becomes more and more internalized, as dreams of what might have been possible must be released and he stands in the void of what could have been and what will likely be.

And there I am, on the periphery, wishing with all my heart that there was something I could do to ease the suffering, knowing there isn't a darn thing I can really do but pull them close, whisper softly into their ear that I am here for them, that I understand, and that I see the unfairness of it all, too.  I offer with each one to be the one to carry it when the load grows too heavy, I ask them to symbolically hand it over to me to give their souls a much needed rest, and then to let me help carry it when they are ready to pick it back up.  I brainstorm with them, suggesting strategies for how best to deal with the facts that can never be erased.  My tears mingle with theirs, as we rock back and forth in silence, each grateful that if it has to hurt this bad, at least we are not alone with it.

I know there are some who say they could never love a child that is not of their blood.  All I can think of is that my love for each of them runs so deep I can't even imagine it being different from a biological child, and that I would even have them ripped from my arms and lose them if I thought it were ever possible to turn back the hands of time and have their life story change to be one filled with light and love from the moment of their birth.

I can't fix it for any of them, and that will be the single most frustrating piece of knowledge of my entire life.

Luckily, I don't need to.  Even in these most poignantly difficult times, the Spirit swoops in and hovers around us all, comforting through others, providing opportunities at critical moments, and refreshing our souls when it feels like it is all too much.

For me, that Spirit often comes in the very form of the suffering before me.  On the camp run to Colorado Springs this weekend, we gathered around a table at a restaurant and with two boys simultaneously working desperately to choke back overwhelming emotions, Angela turns to me and asks, "So mom, how do you do it?  How do you manage to handle all of this from every one of us and still be OK yourself?"  Matt threw in other questions, and we discussed how faith helps us, how leaning on one another is so important, how honesty and revealing our heart aches is an absolute must so that none of us sink into a place too murky to bear.  I pointed out the courage it takes to show your pain in front of others, and how that was the healthiest way to deal with it rather than stuffing or ignoring those feelings.  I also pointed out that crying in front of others is permission giving to those who also feel weighed down and need to release it all.  I never imagined a table at Applebee's to be an alter, where in quiet conversation we each, in our own way, thanked God for the presence of the others in that booth and placed our sorrow and grief before the only entity that can ever really offer the soul-deep solace we all needed in that very moment.  One of our more concrete family sayings has grown to become "Hard isn't bad, hard is just hard."  Laying out our burdens before one another and before God helps us feel less alone, and we can be pointed toward the recognition that we can truly make it through the hard stuff, and we will likely come out stronger and better for it.  Hard isn't bad, hard is just hard.

God is with us.  God is with us. God is with us.  Throughout it all, God is with us.

And there was joy...oh, there is always so much richness and joy throughout it all!

I watched as we dropped off each of the kids but Josh, and not a teen would part ways without every single one of them warmly embracing one another as well as their mom.  "I love you's" were boldly spoken aloud in front of others with absolutely no reticence.

And there was joy.

I witnessed them embracing another in love, as our teenage friend Billy was dropped off at the airport, and all wanted to accompany him to security while I circled the airport.

And there was joy.

I saw Kenny as he admitted through sobs as well as laughter that he had totally given up on his life, but that being a camp counselor had served to be a "mirror moment", and he now saw that some sort of meaningful life was indeed possible for him...and the seed of a couple of realistic dreams began to emerge.  I have my son back, thanks to the intervention of others, the young man who will grab hold for all it is worth was lost to me for a short season.  Hearing him weep almost inconsolably as he tried to speak saying, "I have hope now, I have hope...I can do something that matters and impact lives." was a lightning bolt moment I was privileged to be present for.  We cried together over what will never be, and we dared speak of what might eventually be.  New life, optimism for the first time in a year or more.

And there was joy.

I saw Angela be able to enter fully into being a high school kid as she anticipated camp, and let other concerns about straddling adulthood and childhood slip away for just awhile.  Giddy as she put her hair in curlers the night before, and packed...and repacked...and repacked her bags.  Old life prior to adoption faded and the present was something to anticipate, and will no doubt change her.

And there was joy.

I sat beside my 13 year old son, and for five hours straight we talked on the drive home.  No radio, no uncomfortable silences, just meaningful conversation about things that matter.  As each mile passed, his smile returned, his heart felt lighter, and his strategic plan for working through anxiety began to take shape.  About twenty minutes from home, he surprised me with one of the sweetest things I have ever been told as a mom.

"You know when we drove over to the Middle School Fall Retreat this last fall?" he asked.

"Yea...why?"

"When I was getting out of the car to get my stuff, I almost didn't want to stay." he responded.

"Why?  Were you nervous about being alone there at your hard time of the year?" I asked.

"No, I was just thinking to myself that I had spent five hours talking with the coolest person in my life, and I could have happily driven five more hours and kept talking with you.  It wasn't about me being afraid or nervous, it was because I enjoy my time with you so much, and you always make me think about things as deep as it happens at camp.  I just realized then, like I feel right now, that I am really lucky to have you in my life." he said.

And there was joy.

Hard isn't bad, hard is just hard.

And, thankfully, there will also always be joy.





Friday, July 08, 2016

It Starts With Us

This week.

Murder, sniping, brutality, death, screaming, chaos, marching, filming, protesting...

Dying.

Mothers and girlfriends pleading for it to stop,
Children texting daddies in uniform and not
Begging them to be safe and just come home.

Our communal life is a war some deny is being waged,
With some deemed "good" and some deemed "bad",
Often deemed both, depending upon the declarer.

All police are not corrupt,
All black men are not dangerous.
All are human.

Social media explodes with questions, accusations, and fears on display.
Everyone asking, when will it stop?  Why is this happening?
What can we do?

Simple.  It starts with us, yes, you and me.
It starts with us raising children so they see the humanity in all, even if others are different...
Different race, different class, different loves.

It starts with us, as we don't hold in our correction of those who speak ill of others,
Who prefer to categorize, generalize, and classify.
We need to say, "No, not in my presence...human is human."

It starts with us, vigorously and vehemently fighting for the rights of ALL people,
Not just those who looks most like us, not just those who act most like us.
All are worthy of dignity, of justice, of equity.

It starts with us, confronting our own biases
As we avoid talking with those whose lives are different
Or mumble undeserved epithets as we pass by.

It starts with us, it starts with you, and me, and ours.
We can't stop reaching out, we can't avoid it any longer.
Or chaos is our just reward.

Gentle words, gentle hands, gentle hearts...
This is what the world needs, always.


Saturday, July 02, 2016

Juxtaposition

Our family lives in a world of daily juxtaposition, some more poignant than others.  This week has been a stark reminder that it is hard to straddle two worlds, and hard to hold on tight while you wend your way through darkened paths.

We don't compare in our family, even in families without the wide disparity that ours has it is unfair and damaging in all kinds of ways.  In our family, where everyone struggles with some challenge not of their own making, it is even more cruel, and we are blessed to have kids who support and encourage one another rather than hinder and harm.  

But sometimes, the contrast is startling and impossible to ignore.  

We have two sons that are 8 months apart, but often 10 years apart in terms of development.  Matt is actually 8 months younger than Kenny is, Kenny is technically the "big brother", and yet that has never been the case.  Kenny deferred to Matt from Day 1 (as has Angela, who is also older than Matt), and as time moved on and the boys grew older, it was clear Kenny would always remain behind developmentally.  Of course, we now have an explanation as to why, but we were puzzled for a very long time over this difference.

Tonight, we sat Kenny down at the table and had a long talk with him.  Our almost 18 year old son can not schedule his day without help, his mind doesn't "trigger" him to do simple things like get up at a regular time in the morning and prepare for the day without reminders, to mix up his day with a variety of activities without someone suggesting those things, or even to look around his room and see what needs to be done to clean it without guidance.  He is perfectly happy doing whatever is asked of him, but Fetal Alcohol Syndrome has robbed him of the ability to "see" the world the way the rest of us do.  

This has been a hard year for Kenny, and he is working emotionally with a now-clear diagnosis, and there is a bit of a letting go of hope that we are seeing, a giving up on himself and his future that is incredibly hard for him to imagine, as it would be for any of us facing such a difficult life with no true independence.  Who can he be?  What will he be capable of?  Why not just let everyone else carry the load of his life since he can't really carry it anyway?  While there is no real evident attitude displayed, there is a definite lack of motivation we are seeing, and so we had to call him on it hard this weekend.  He admitted it is very hard because he can't figure out who he will be, or how to be who he might want to be.  Having a sharp intellect (trust me on that one, better than average, by far) and yet a diminished capacity to function in the world in very important ways is more of a challenge to work with than one might imagine.  

We made it clear that we are here for him all the way, and yet we will only give him 100% if he gives us 100% effort back.  Success for him is not measured by achievement, but by hard work.  We established with him that he is welcome to live with us as his Support Team our entire lives, but not if he won't work as hard on his own behalf as we are willing to work for him.  He gets it, and we drew up a schedule, and some concrete tasks for him to work on every single day.  You see, Kenny simply can not structure his days...not at all.  So we literally made a schedule for every hour of each day.  We made a list of "projects" he can work on during "Project Time" each day on non-school days, so that he doesn't spend hour upon hour in front of a screen.  He added in physical time where he will do some sort of [physical activity each day.  We talked about what it means to balance productive and play time, and how happy lives have a fair amount of both.  He was also tasked with creating a list of dreams for his future, so he can start to recognize that he can accomplish a lot more than he thinks, but only if he has some targets and goals...and he realized he has given up any goals, and so it was an effective eye opener for him.

It is so damned hard to be Kenny.  I hurt for him far more than I write about.  He is a happy young man, surprisingly so, considering all he faces each day, and he credits God with giving him an extra measure of happiness so that he can make it through each day without feeling crushed.  I have no doubt we will find ways to engage him and keep him on track, and honestly, I think he is entitled to this little period of grief and giving up...but it was time to address it now, and I think I saw a little light in his eyes as we honestly shared about what expectations need to be, and how far we think he can go in this world...which is quite far, but not if he doesn't share that vision.  He began to get a little excited as we talked about projects he could explore, which are simple but such things as using adult paint by numbers kits, working on puzzles, building simple woodworking kits, writing stories, taking on more responsibilities with the dog, and doing all of these without suggestion from us would be the goal.  It is hard having a young adult who has no clue what to do with their free time, and needs to have suggestions offered constantly.  That is our life with Kenny.  Our one summer without the structure of ongoing part-time school has turned into a hard one for him, something I hadn't quite anticipated to the degree we are seeing.  As his caretaker, that was my fault, and I am learning as we go along, too.

Then there is Matt, who is having the time of his life at Civil Air Patrol Flight Camp.  He traveled there by himself through airports, has kept a rigorous schedule and had to study his tail off for ground school while there.  He needs almost no direction and is completely self-motivated.  He had 10 1/2 hours of flight time, though there was a plane malfunction while he was starting his solo flight and the instructor had to take over, so he didn't get to log an official solo flight towards his pilot's license, but he can get that handled here at home.  They were working from 7:00 am to 8:00 pm each day and he wrote a couple of brief emails explaining he was exhausted from learning so much, but enjoying himself a lot.  

One son, firmly stepping into manhood, seemingly effortlessly.
One son, wanting it desperately and uncertain what that looks like, or how to get there.

The juxtaposition is hard to "not see", and it feels achingly unfair.  It leaves me wondering daily how I can level the playing field.  How do we celebrate one's accomplishments without causing pain when the other struggles so mightily?  How do we juggle the disparate needs in our family, yet support and encourage one another with recognition offered for achievement that may not look as "cool" and yet may be real progress?  How do I help all our kids walk through the world seeing all they can accomplish rather than focusing on what might be impossible?  

I am constantly doubting myself, and live with the uncertainty that comes from having no Owner's Manual on how to parent each of this extraordinary souls well.  Having so many virtually the same age means these things rub up against each other more, and yet thus far we appear to have avoided the sibling issues that are the norm, and most often compassion and acceptance are exhibited.  However, it still doesn't change the fact that some will move forward faster and further than others, and the inequity is due to circumstances beyond the control of any of us...and it occasionally hurts.  Maybe it hurts mom even more than them.

Tonight as I write, I hold back the tears that are wanting to fall for one, and I smile as I acknowledge a milestone event for another.  I remind myself that for one, simply getting up each morning and taking care of personal hygiene without reminders is a huge win, while for another the goals are far higher...and for each one of them, success is success, no matter how it looks.

In reality, that is how it is for all of us. To have a healthy outlook one has to recognize that the world is unfair, we do our best, and we must measure our progress against ourselves and not others.  

Easier said than done sometimes.

Here are a few images from the remainder of Matt's flight camp:





Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Sweet Early Summer

2016 is a year of "markers" for our family, as yesterday Dominick and I celebrated our 30th anniversary, Angela celebrated turning 18 in April and Kenny will turn 18 in November.  I'll be turning 50 in August.  That is a lot of celebrating in one year!  I wish we could have turned this year into an extravaganza of events, but we simply can't afford to do that, so our celebrations have been necessarily low key.  This past year has been one of enormous financial challenge, and we are at the stage where our house is almost 20 years old, and every major appliance is electing to die an unceremonious death as well.  They have served faithfully, but as one after another after another heaves its last breath, all we hear is "Ca-Ching, Ca-Ching"!!

Last night though, as I looked around the table, I realized that low key suits us.  We are not a flashy family, and Dominick and I laughed over our big anniversary meal of nachos as we talked with the kids about other "big" anniversary years...our 10th as we were separated and working on moving from California to Colorado, our 25th as the girls came home and we couldn't manage any sort of celebration really.  There was a lot of laughter and joking, and sweet handmade cards with surprise gift cards in them so we can have a night out sometime when things settle down in our life.  The store has been super busy, a real blessing, and I am traveling every week or week and a half to Denver or Colorado Springs for the kids for camp or other events.  We decided we will wait until fall and then maybe have a little overnight getaway when we would really look forward to it, rather than trying to "cram it in" around everything else.

And you know what?  It's all good.  We are enjoying the life we have, not needing anything more because what we have here is all we need.  We moved to live where we would not feel a need to have to "go on vacation" to get away from it all, we have a very happy family life and live with the kindest, most helpful teens, and Dominick is SO happy with his work life now, it is a joy for me to see.

We are having a wonderful time hosting Christi, my friend Candi's daughter, and are very excited that her son Billy also decided he wanted to come for a visit, so we will be adding another "adopted" son next week, as I pick him up when I pick Matt up at the airport in Denver.  These two are such wonderful additions to our lives, and we are so happy to have the chance to really get to know them better this summer.

Matt is having a once in a lifetime adventure himself right now, as he is in Bangor, Maine with Civil Air Patrol at Flight Camp.  There, for ten days, he is immersing himself in official ground school and will hopefully be passing enough to do his solo flight as he pursues obtaining his pilot's license.  If all goes well there, he will return and work on flying enough hours to get his license.  He flew by himself, a first for him and another rite of passage for our young man.  We are all enjoying reading the camp's blog and receiving photos of his time there.






Clearly, he is taking this all very seriously, as he should.  Matt has a strong desire to remain with Civil Air Patrol as an adult and work with the younger kids.  He'd like to be the one flying and taking them up for their first flights, and helping train them.  

Here are a couple of pictures of Christi with the kids, I stole them from their Facebook pages! Hahaha!




We haven't done anything exciting while Christi is here, nor will we with Billy.  It always leaves me wondering if I am a good enough "hostess" when we have company.  Our idea of big thrills was to go cherry picking locally, where the kids all happily picked 9 lbs of cherries, which as of this writing 2 days later are all gone.  We've gone for a drive to get out of our hot home (swamp cooler is broken and being replaced) up to the mountains to Silverton and wandered around.  We are going to Sam's Club today and are joking about how many trips to Walmart Christi will make with us (four thus far, shooting for eight).  But we are laughing together, reading together, playing games together, having long talks together, basically, just being us in our little world.  




We can't wait to have Matt and Billy join us!  It's been a sweet, sweet summer so far, and stopping school to enjoy a few weeks of true down time for the first time in years has been wonderful for me, as well as the kids.  There is still much ahead with church camp to look forward to for them, and a week at Lake City in August.  In the meantime, Sam's Club awaits...so we are off!



Monday, June 20, 2016

Waxing and Waning...Real Life

The waxing moon, so close to full illumination, shined down upon us as the entire family spent the latter part of the evening enjoying one another's company on the cool darkened patio.  Kenny and Josh, re-enacting some super hero scene on the trampoline, Dominick's face aglow as he researched store items on the iPad, and the girls, Matt and I sit snuggled up side by side on the picnic table, the occasional swipe at a mosquito the only interruption to our inconsequential conversation.  We lean on one another, one head on one shoulder, then a shift the other direction, as we tell silly jokes, reminisce about younger years, and just soak up the simple pleasure of being safe in "our" place with the people we love the most, where acceptance is always present, where quirks are known, and encouragement is but a word away.

Earlier we had gathered at a friend's house, shared a Father's Day supper and continued with an ongoing study of what the Bible really is and means.  Somehow, we began talking about what was considered sacred, and what "sacred" really meant.  The Bible, Koran, or Torah can be sacred, cathedrals can be sacred, landscapes of inescapable beauty can be sacred, too.  We can find the sacred in relationship with one another, when our heart skips a beat and we open another door so that the one before us can see more of who we really are...oh, that is sacred beyond all doubt.

For me, my family is sacred, and our home is a sacred place.  It is a place where healing has occurred, both for our family and others.  It is where you can be all of who you are, feel all of what you feel, and say all of what needs to be said...and still be held closely.  Our home is a place where respect is expected, where the Spirit isn't just invited in but hovers around us, nudging  and enlightening us.  Don't get me wrong, I am not one who is tied to material things at all, and I could easily leave this structure and create another sacred home elsewhere...but this home matters right now, and it is where "my people" live or are invited in to be loved and cared for.

We all live in a home where nothing is perfect, and yet somehow, that alone makes it the ideal place to be.  There are some days that gently wrap around you, pulling you in and creating a nest for you to rest in.  That is what the past few days have been for me, as I look around at this family that God called to be as one, and I reflect on how far we have all come together, how wonderful it is to be in the midst of this, and how much distance yet still left to travel.  What lovely and loving companions I have for the journey still before me!  Gratitude oozes from every pore this night, peace envelopes me, and all problems seem a little less overwhelming, despite their  acknowledged presence.

Last weekend we celebrated Matt's 17th birthday (Can you believe it??) with a little family escape to Denver to visit our first Maker Faire.  We have had very little time together without work hovering over us, so this was a much needed opportunity to reconnect more deeply, as well as to explore the Maker world, described as "an event created by Make magazine to celebrate arts, crafts, engineering, science projects and the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) mindset".  We weren't quite sure what to expect, but we knew it would probably be interesting and it would have displays of great interest to Matt.  As it turned out, we all loved it, and hope to go to another sometime!


As we waited outside, I forced them all to pose for a picture together, as it has been awhile since I had one with them all!




Once inside the event, held at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, we entered a world which somehow expertly combined both high tech and low tech to create one fascinating day for us all.  We watched someone create handmade lace, which is somewhat of a dying art:


The incomplete piece below has already taken the artisan over 60 hours to get this far!



We watched demonstrations by scientists.


Explored CNC technology...




Tried our hand at lock picking...for real!


Ok, a couple were stymied and never quite got the hang of it :-)


We also saw the inner workings of the various parts to a pinball machine and learned how they all worked together to create the much beloved games.


One of the most interesting things we did was to visit with a poet, who took a single word offered by each of us, and crafted a poem on the spot.  


Here, we are, waiting for our poem to be written...it was fascinating!

The words offered were:

Dominick:  Maddening
Cindy:  Drone
Angela:  Gypsy
Olesya:  Seriously
Kenny:  Joy
Josh:  Orange
Matt:  Nebula

Hmmm...what was he going to do with this strange little collection of words.  Wow, in mere minutes he returned something pretty amazing!

Let your joy be maddening, 
let it drive you utterly crazy, 
abandon anything that does not feed you,
that does not nourish you as you make your way,
wanderingly, the eternal gypsy, 
with everywhere your home.
And people will call you crazy,
they will call you their one true love,
and they will call you jackass,
but none of that matters, 
none of this is to be taken seriously.
Our little finite minds making sand castles, 
to stand for eternity
and the oranges and reds and blues exploding 
in a nebula, dazzle and delight,
and yet they could be tragedy and disaster for others.
But beauty is only for the beholder,
as is tragedy,
you should take it all personally,
and let the drone of the multitudes, 
blend into the background,
as the ample theme music to your life,
and your own daring acts of living.

For someone who didn't know us, we all found this to be quite eloquent in terms of how it described our family and the way we try to live our lives...ignoring the finite minds of others, letting the droning of others blend into the background as theme music to our own daring acts of living.  We've been called crazy, that's for sure!  Someone's one true love?  Eh, ok, not so much :-)  The kids all loved this and each took a photo with their devices to save.

Matthew was in seventh heaven as he wandered from booth to booth, speaking with vendors about laser cutters, 3D printers, electronic components, and much more.  There were several booths there from colleges and trade/tech schools, but he was uninterested in them despite several of them offering courses of study I know were along the lines of his interest.  I am wise enough to recognize he has a path laid out before him that feels authentic and true to him for his future, even if ill defined at the moment, it has some form and substance to it and we are trusting what he obviously feels called to do, as well as how he feels called to do it.  College has been discussed numerous times, with pros and cons thoroughly explored.  I am learning daily that truly gifted kids are marching to the beat of a different drummer, and my role is to simply suggest various rhythms.

We don't often talk about Matt's giftedness, though it has grown more evident the past couple of years as he blossoms more and more into his own true self.  His quiet and helpful nature is reflected in how he explains things clearly to his siblings, never talking down to them, always excited to share some new factoid and then go to the white board to create diagrams to help us all better understand.  He is proving to have quite a gift at teaching complicated topics in easy to understand language.  The fact that he is also considered twice exceptional, with a learning disability in writing, makes it all the more interesting.  He is one of the most passionate learners I have ever encountered (in our house, that takes some doing as they all really are), and he is quietly self-educating in a wide variety of topics of interest to him.  Economics and economic theory, physics, computer coding, ethics, the art of great design, and more are all areas where I am simply providing access and asking him to share with me what he finds interesting, facilitating far more than teaching, and being a sounding board for his ideas.  His last library visit included a tome on the history of Rome, Einstein for Dummies, Python Playground (Python is a coding language), Digital Handmade (a beautiful book on how 3D printing and other additive or subtractive equipment are being used in the creation of art), and Why Beauty is Truth:  A History of Symmetry.  No, I can no longer keep up with him.  No, I don't view that as a problem in educating him...again, I am a facilitator, not the educator and Know It All.  No, I am not worried about him or his future.  I've trusted his (and my) gut and God this far, no reason to stop now.  This next year, in addition to a full course load for his senior year, he wants to add in College Algebra and some sort of course yet to be nailed down on RFID technology and other radio wave "stuff" (Please don't ask me anything more! Hahaha!).

Soooooo, needless to say, this event was very satisfying for him, a great way to celebrate his birthday.  The bonus was that all of us discovered new and interesting things at the Faire, we all left praising the event and talking about each of our favorite exhibits.  Everyone was quite taken with a presentation in the planetarium, where you felt as if you were racing through the galaxy.  Josh and Olesya were both also quite fascinated by the Raptor Exhibit, where various birds of prey were on display.




The next day included a meandering through IKEA and dreaming of home decorating ideas with the girls...dreams that will never be able to afforded, though those kitchens are really awesome!  We also did an Escape Room together, which everyone chipped in to pay for.  For those who have never heard of it before, an Escape Room is an interactive experience, sort of like walking into a video game puzzle room.  They are becoming all the rage and you are locked into a room with a particular setting and story line, with clues hidden that you need to figure it out in order to escape your room.  We did manage to escape within the allotted one hour time frame, but it was not easy!

After returning home, we jumped back into our summer routine, which for the first time in a long time isn't including much school.  Mom needed a true break in order to re-invigorate myself for the coming year, which will be filled with a wide variety of topics to learn, and a lot of thought required on my part.  The girls are very much enjoying their volunteering, with Olesya working at the shelter and Angela volunteering at the nursing home.



She's official!

When I pulled up to get Angela Tuesday afternoon, she was sitting outside visiting with an older resident and they were clearly in deep conversation.  Though she saw me, she continued to offer her gift of presence to this gentleman, knowing I would "get it" that she was exactly where she needed to be in the moment.  Oh, what a sweet and gentle way she has with the elderly!  I sat there in the car, watching her from afar, loving her so very much as I thought of how much softer that heart of hers has grown...and how much larger.  So much intentional work on her part around smoothing the rough edges caused by her past, I couldn't be more touched by all she has successfully worked on in herself, and how much that matters to her.  This young woman has the most beautiful soul, and a sense of self-awareness rarely found in someone so young.

Kenny also had a fantastic growing experience at camp counselor training a couple of weeks ago, spending the weekend learning the ropes, and finding a peer group who sees how much he has to offer with a little outside help.  It was a very important event for him, as he walked away telling me he finally felt like he was among a group of people with whom he really belonged for the very first time.  Yes, he forgot his sleeping bag.  Yes, he forgot his pillow.  Yes, he forgot a towel.  Yes, he forgot his way back from the chapel and had to return and go the other way :-)  But he sees how he can contribute in a meaningful way, he sees how he can be part of something separate from his family as long as the support and understanding of his disabilities is there...and it clearly was, much to our unending gratitude.  Our road with Kenny is not a straight highway, but a winding canyon road, with switchbacks galore.  I have no idea where it is leading him for his future, but I am determined to be by his side 100% helping him figure it out, and I know God can use him in ways I can't even fathom...and probably already IS using him.

In the midst of the early summer sweetness has been some major financial chaos, with a couple of surprises with the business expenses that are huge, Matt's new braces that were a must due to damage occurring, a broken oven, a broken swamp cooler, and a broken BBQ as of this afternoon.  Yea, all in 2 weeks time.  Buying a home that was new when purchased almost 20 years ago means every appliance goes around the same time...::Sigh::  But in the face of what has every right to panic us, we are at peace.  It's all ok, looking around us we are managing to make it somehow, and I trust that will continue even if it isn't easy.  The Spirit is present to light the way, carrying us through the dark and sometimes...on days like today...actually providing emotional space to figuratively sun bathe and let it all go for a bit.  Like the moon which waxes and wanes, so too does life.  But whether you can see all that is before you clearly, or not, you know the solidity is there, and it will only take patience and little bit of time before all is clear and illuminated just for you.