Friday, May 06, 2016

A Random Assortment


"Dad and mom this is true in our family. Sometimes it is difficult for all us to see how far we came because still SO MUCH work has to be done. The difference is that we NEVER give up." - Posted to Facebook by Angela LaJoy this week.

Dissecting the report from the University of Washington with Kenny's firm diagnosis of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome was hard on the heart.  SO much potential in that young man, and yet so much damage done.  We sat around the table one morning this past week and I reviewed the report with the kids, and later with Dominick.  It is imperative that we all understand how hard it can be for Kenny, that we not blame him for what his brain simply can not do, that we are supportive and encouraging in all the ways we can be.  Tears came to her eyes as Angela saw parallels to her own occasional challenges, as she and Olesya are recognizing along with us that exposure to alcohol in utero is most certainly causing them difficulties as well.  There were the emotional wounds for them from lives lived with violent, impaired birth parents, and now they are facing and accepting the fact that there was more damage than just to their souls

You know what though?  This week I saw resilience in action.  Though serious information was being imparted, the kind which can alter a person's view of themselves forever, there was laughter as we joked about the ways in which we have encountered all of Kenny's "blips". I was thanked the next day in the car by Angela for my willingness to be honest and help her better understand herself, even though it was hard.  We can't work on challenges we don't admit are there, and every single one of our kids has a remarkable spirit which allows them to keep at it, even when it is heartbreakingly hard.

I also saw such kindness the past couple of weeks, such warmth for one another.  One moment that deeply moved me was a couple days after we had this conversation, and we had some scheduling conflicts with Kenny's orthodontist and Olesya with the optometrist.  I was trying to figure out how to be in two places at once, knowing I couldn't just drop Kenny off as there would be discussion about his treatment plan and when he might go back in braces again.  Matthew spoke up and said, "Mom, why don't I go with him, and then I can tell you what the orthodontist says."  Relieved, I dropped them both off, and then shook my head as I realized this was probably the first of many times in the future that Matt or one of the other kids would willingly step in to be Kenny's back up brain, and in doing so also take a bit of the pressure off of me.  Sometimes I can't split myself into enough parts to cover all of what Kenny needs, and still be there for everyone else.  Matt has no idea how much that helped me, nor how thoughtful that really was.

We also celebrated Angela's 18th birthday a couple of weeks ago, but I didn't get any photos posted.  It was low key, but heralded her arrival on Facebook, as we have determined not to allow the kids on social media until they are more mature.  She has happily been posting things, asking me what is safe to do, sharing some sweet sentiments that speak to who she is inside.


18 years old...blossoming in so many ways.
How I love this insightful daughter of mine!


With her gift card to Sephora, Angie went on a birthday shopping trip, with Josh and I along for the fun.  As she sat down for a mini-makeover, she handed me her large white, "blingy" purse and asked if I could hold on to it for her.  Josh reached over and grabbed it from me, throwing it over his shoulder casually and saying, "I'll hold it for her, you already have your purse." Now, mind you, this wasn't a joke, this was done with an ease and lack of self-consciousness that most adult men would struggle with (though Dominick wouldn't!).  Thus adorned, he said he was going to go look for shirts in the Men's Department, and off he went.  Angela and I looked at each other and remarked upon how Josh carries himself with such confidence and self-assurance, and that he truly wouldn't care one whit if someone made a remark about him walking around with a purse.  He is just the kind of kid who knows who he is, and is immune to the pressures of being macho or fitting in.  He is also developing such a masculine aura about him and yet is totally blind to that fact.  13 has been a wonderful age for Josh.



Josh has also had some success at Gun Club this year, and at season's end he walked away with 3 patches, a pin, and a trophy for second place at a competition.  





Another adventure the past week or so was visiting via Skype with a multi-aged after school club in Kazakhstan!  We awoke at 6 am to be ready and smiling at 7 to meet our new friends, and the conversation was interesting and giggle filled as both sides of the world had young people not quite knowing what to say to one another, and yet fascinated with the faces on the screens before them.




Olesya is still very much enjoying volunteering at the animal shelter, and is also enjoying being glasses free as she tried contacts and fell in love with them.  She dislikes having her picture taken so I have fewer to post online of her as I respect that (I hate it myself!), but I think I can talk her into one decent one soon without glasses.  Her supervisor at the shelter made a point of coming out to my car while I waited to pick her up a week ago and she told me that Olesya was a wonderful young lady, a hard worker, and already one of their best volunteers.  She was asked to come in on her day off and help with the spay/neutering clinic, so she is excited about that and this is really helping her self-esteem.  I love watching her gradually move into a different way of seeing herself, a more positive and loving way.

Angela's stint at the nursing home is still filling her soul, and it is clear she has a calling in this area.  She missed two weeks because of a failed tuberculosis test due to she and Olesya both having had TB when they were young, so chest Xrays were finally cleared and she was back this week.  She bounced into the car, proud to show me her new badge:



Matt has been quite happily working in the garage on his new workbench and "Tech Arena", spending hours absorbed in all kinds of projects. He also was a guest speaker at a local community forum attended by 70 or so local citizens and he shared about the Civil Air Patrol program.  I received a photo from an old friend I haven't seen in a few years, who was quite impressed with Matt's poise and presence.  She wanted to make sure I knew that, and sent me the picture.


Kenny has been asked to be a camp counselor at the kids' church camp this year for the youngest ones there.  His prior counselor, a wonderfully kind and warm woman who has been doing this for probably 20 years, reached out to me and asked if I thought Kenny would enjoy it, and be capable of it with support.  She has read the blog from time to time and wanted to come alongside Kenny and support his dreams of ministry.  We chatted for a bit and she fully understands Kenny will need support to succeed in this, and she has other counselors who will partner with him.  I love how she viewed the counseling role as also a way to minister to others, and this will certainly do just that for Kenny.  When I told him that Miss Teddy had called and asked specifically for him, his face lit up like I don't think I have ever seen it before.  He was hesitant to respond until I explained that she understood he would need help but thought he could contribute meaningfully to camp, and she would put in place people to help him.  He immediately asked if I thought he would be a burden, as that word comes up a lot right now.  He said he didn't want to go if it would make things harder, and I assured him that she really did want him and was hopeful he would say yes.  The next thing he so thoughtfully asked was if I would mind driving him over the extra weekend required for training and then a day earlier for camp.  He knows I am feeling like I am operating a taxi service to Denver this next few months, we have so many trips over I must make, and I have to admit I thought it was quite kind of him to even consider that for me.  So, I guess we have a camp counselor in our midst...hurray!













Monday, May 02, 2016

Letting My Soul Be Changed



You know what's kind of funny?  When you understand a "truth" to be true for others, but not necessarily for yourself.   I can see how others have put forward every possible ounce of effort, I can lift up their successes, I can see their failures as mere stepping stones rather than road blocks. I can look at any other human being on earth, and see their humanity, appreciate their gifts, and view them as worthy of all the goodness that life has to offer.

Myself?

Not so much.

I am quick to understand that God sees all as precious, and yet often add a silent "except for..." when it comes to myself.  It isn't something I do consciously, it just sort of happens.

I think many women do, not just me.

I have deemed myself never quite good enough, never quite smart enough, never "worthy" enough, and I don't really know why.  Every day, I feel as if I "coulda, shoulda, woulda" done more, that I haven't quite done enough to help the kids through all the challenges they have, that I want to be more for Dominick as he works so hard, that I haven't reached out to my friends enough. Seldom do I sit back at the end of the day and think to myself, "Yes!  Today I really rocked it!"  I don't know if part of is it cultural expectations gone awry, my own internal sense of self, or something else I have yet to put my finger on.  All I know is that since I was very young, I have been my own worst critic.

Our family, in particular, has been blessed time and time again, and not just in little ways, but in enormous ways, with very real commitment and care.  It always leaves me feeling as if I can never do enough to repay the generosity and kindness of others, though I desperately wish I could.  We have been cared for better than any family I know, in a million different ways, and at the end of the day, I often ask, "Why?  Why us?", for there is no reason I can discern for God to have wrapped us up in so much love and goodness.

Next Sunday afternoon, I am embarking on a very special trip, an early gift for my 50th birthday...a
land excursion and cruise to Alaska, a place I have always wanted to see.  My best friend, Candi, is treating me to this amazing adventure, something Dominick nor I could ever imagine being able to do at this stage of our lives, and honestly, maybe never.

I should be excited, dancing in the streets, hardly able to contain myself, yet most of what I have felt is that I am unworthy of such a gift, guilt because of leaving the family for so long, and concern that I could never offer such a thing in return, despite the fact that I know this is freely and lovingly offered.

My God loves me a heck of a lot more than I love myself, and through this experience, which is perhaps one of the first blessings that is really and truly all about me, I have discovered how my lack of self-worth has caused me to miss something special in the lead up to this trip...I have ruined the joy of anticipation with my sense of being undeserving.  It is particularly ironic, largely because this is the very thing I have worked so darned hard on with Olesya, to try and build her self-esteem, to help her see herself as worthy in every possible way.  I am a big one for modeling behavior, and I have failed on this one, Big Time.

As we sat around the table tonight creating a menu and going over schedules for the time I will be gone, it was obvious that everyone was excited for me, and that they were happy I was getting a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Dominick smiled and said he totally has it covered.  I swear, that man is a better mom than I am, sitting there with his schedule all coordinated, meals laid out with each kid cooking one day a week, grocery list already started.  Wayyy more organized than I am! They all want me to relax and enjoy myself, and, sadly, it seems I am not quite sure what that looks like anymore, or how to "have fun" for more than 10 minutes without jumping up to move on to the next task.  What I do know is that they are all quite capable, and they really aren't "babies" anymore, not by a long shot.  I was reminded tonight by them that I have no reason to feel guilt about leaving them, as they are all excited to enter into their own "adventure" without Mom around for a bit.

This morning our sermon once again spoke to me.  Initially, it had me thinking in a couple of totally different directions, but as I sat down to write this blog post tonight, it was something that hit me a bit about this as well.  The message was based on Psalm 67, which starts with:  "May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us..."  

Duh.  God doesn't view any of us as unworthy, not even me, and is instead gracious and good to us, God wants to smile upon us, to bring light and hope to us, and to refresh our weary souls.  I have so very much to internalize, not just know in my head, but to take in deep and let my soul be changed by it.

So I have decided that this is where it ends, that I am going to stop viewing this marvelous gift ahead of me as something to feel unworthy of.  Well, that might take a lot of work, but I am going to at least try to enter into the coming week with enthusiasm and excitement, to put aside a lot of the heaviness that has been a hard load to carry the past year or two and see this as a a way of God wrapping me up in a hug.  I will grab my camera, pack my bag, and set aside all labor to go play.  No teaching, no laundry, no cooking, no guiding, no planning, no grading, no robbing Peter to pay Paul, no feeling like I am never quite doing enough.  It'll all be waiting here for me when I return, and a fresh perspective will surely bring a lighter-hearted Cindy back home, ready to dig in and deal with the myriad challenges that are coming our way this year, that are too many to mention.

May we all feel worthy, as we truly are.
May we all feel loved, as we freely are.
May we all feel blessed, as we surely are.




Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Love Comes First




I was 16 years old, barely on the job a year, when I walked into the back room of the drug store I worked at and stumbled upon a scene that was new for me.  There, my kind and helpful older co-worker, a young man in his mid-twenties, was kissing his boyfriend good bye.  The look of sheer terror on his face when he realized he had been "caught in the act" was to shape my understanding of what it meant to be a homosexual for years to come.  This was in 1983, a mere year after AIDS had been labeled in the media as the "gay disease", and the societal condemnation of anyone suspected of being gay was palpable.  Mike's fear of being "outed" was well founded, and the fact that it was a very young co-worker who had observed a benign kiss had him trembling before me.  Fumbling to find the words to explain what I had just witnessed, he blanched and fell silent.

Standing there in the dimly lit stock room, we both recognized the seriousness of the moment.  This wasn't just about Mike losing his job, it was about the ostracization that would occur should word get out.  It was about the death threats he could no doubt imagine and the epithets that would surely be thrown his way.  His life as he knew it would be over, all because a young girl walked in on a casual kiss goodbye with his longtime committed boyfriend.  Had it been between a man and woman, it wouldn't have even registered on the radar, but this was different, this was "gay on display" during an era when living outwardly as a gay couple was foolhardy and could lead to bodily harm as others attempted to show their own "manhood" by assaulting those who were different and considered a threat.

His partner silent and holding his breath beside him, I reached out and touched Mike's arm as I quietly said, "Don't worry, Mike, it's really OK.  I promise.  There's nothing wrong here." and I slipped back out the door.

We never spoke of it again.  His panic-stricken look was to be etched in my mind forever.

A handful of years later, I was a twenty-something married woman when my mom and I joined a women's bowling league.  The first couple of weeks passed, and teams had yet to be finalized.  Soon we discovered why.  Two women were suspected of being a lesbian couple, and no one wanted to partner with them on a four person team.  Though not living as an out couple, the assumption was made, and therefore they were deemed unworthy of sitting next to on a bench, or standing side by side with on a lane.  Without hesitation, my mom and I offered to partner with them, but for the first
few weeks there was an awful awkward silence as it took these two bright, funny ladies time to feel safe.  Four years later, we were still partnered and though there was the occasional muttered nasty comment from members of other teams, wordlessly all four of us would ignore the maliciousness and balance it with humor, enjoying ourselves thoroughly and letting it roll off our backs.  Over time, our friends opened up more and we learned about their lives and their history together.  Unsurprisingly, there was very little that was different about their lives from our own.

It is much easier to live into your true, authentic self when you feel accepted and understood.  Hiding in plain sight is a soul crushing way to live.

There were others brought into our lives whose sexuality differed from ours, but in every other way they were very much the same.  However, there was always an inequality that Dominick and I would never experience.  We watched helplessly as one friend had his commitment ceremony turned into fodder for our entire community, and whose family reacted with venom and spitefulness, yet we were so impressed with his graciousness and forgiving attitude later on.  I listened as another opened up after a lifetime of living as a straight man as he explained that he had indeed been running from his true self his entire life, and couldn't do it anymore.  I have watched as others have denied themselves an authentic life and have ached with loneliness for years and years, never quite being able to bring themselves to admit openly to loving someone that many say they shouldn't.

My dearest friend is gay, and I love her very much.  She has been deeply wounded through the years as she has attempted to live her life honestly and openly, never trying to garner attention, but simply attempting to live with integrity.  A woman of great depth and substance, she and her partner of twenty years have been through more than most due to their open commitment to one another, and it has honed her faith and strengthened her resolve to always, always be kind.  Yet, there is a steel backbone that was forged through trials I can't imagine.  I did, however, catch a glimpse of her vulnerability when, as we tentatively began to move our friendship beyond the casual to a richer and deeper place, I was gently cautioned by her that others would likely make accusations about me due to her being gay, and I was asked quietly if I was ready for that.  I knew by the uncharacteristic timidity I could hear in her voice that I was really being asked a subtly different, unspoken question.  "Will you, too, turn on me should the going get rough?  Am I worth risk?" and perhaps the biggest one, "Do I dare allow this to be all it can be, or will my heart be broken again?"

My answer?  "You clearly don't know me well enough yet or you'd never ask that, but eventually, you will."



You see, I believe the Spirit brings us encounters to prepare us for what is to come. Initially, we may see no connection whatsoever, but looking back over our shoulder we find ourselves saying, "Ahhhh...I get it now."  Our hearts are transformed ever-so-gradually, our minds are molded by The Grand Sculptor so that, when the moment arrives, we are ready to bring our best selves to a circumstance.  We are more empathetic, more compassionate, more educated, but perhaps most important of all, we are more loving and kind.  The Sculptor has shaved off the rough edges, smoothed the marble that is our soul, and crafted an entirely different version of ourselves to share with the world.  In lieu of mallet and chisel, The Grand Sculptor uses the power of relationship and the witnessing of the callousness of others, both highly effective tools.

Each and every experience builds on itself, knowledge, insight, and awareness grows within us.  Suddenly, there is the moment when you are faced with a new situation, and you realize you are ready, you can handle it, and somehow God did that sculpting work and there is nothing to fear.

Like when your dear son summons the courage to tell you, in a quavering voice, that after months of reflection and prayer, he is certain he is gay.  He looks up at you expectantly, questioningly, fearfully, aching for what he hopes is still there.

That is the moment when, in a millisecond, your responses will be measured more carefully than they have ever been in your life, and you need to react from the place God has worked on the most.  When you wrap him up in your arms, accepting all of who he is with an unwavering love, that is when you fully understand the reason for the journey you have been on.

Unrehearsed but well prepared, chiseled and shaped, that is the moment when Love Wins.

Our sermon this past Sunday spoke to my heart at a time when I really was open to hearing it, and I recognized that my silence means I am complicit in the lack of acceptance we are seeing and hearing around our LGBTQ friends and loved ones.  I haven't necessarily avoided it, I just haven't elected to speak to it specifically and enter into the contentiousness that always accompanies such conversations.  I know there are many whose faith leads them to quite different conclusions than mine, and I respect that, having never had a need to persuade others that my understanding is the correct one.  But I realized as I listened this morning that my voice needs to be added, and that I can do so without disputing what others feel to be true, but that I might be able to shine a light on the pain I have witnessed of those who are pushed out to the margins, who are excluded and "other-ized", and yet who have the same hopes and dreams we all do, and who, in my opinion, also have God's equal and abiding love.  Thankfully, God doesn't separate and divide us the way we humans seem to have a need to do.

I believe that when I love my LGBTQ friends and child, I am doing exactly as Jesus would have me do, and I am living into my faith as wholeheartedly as I can.  I will not be silent, for Mike, Sue and Carol, Kent, Candi, my anonymous closeted ones, and Kenny need me not to just merely accept them, but to stand side by side with them in a world that often seeks to place them in the "Unlovable" category.  If that is where they belong in your opinion, then place me right alongside them.

Don't worry, I'll be in great company.



Thursday, April 21, 2016

Life Skills 101





I have been busily planning courses and researching curriculum for next semester, which really begins in a scattered form.  We are so far off the traditional school schedule these days that we just throw in a new course when one is completed.  This next year or two is going to get us somewhat out of the books for some subjects, and out into the world a little more.  While academics will still be strong, we are bringing some other things alongside.

One course that I plan to teach, with Dominick's help in a couple of areas, for two years is Life Skills.  You know, as we think about our kids one day heading off on their own, we have realized there are many non-academic skills we want to make certain we have been taught before they make their own nests someday.  As academics and testing have been pushed into the public school arena, classes such as home economics, shop, family and child development and more are being replaced.  Both Dominick and I took a wonderful Family Life course in high school from the same teacher that was enormously helpful as we looked toward our future.  It made us pause and consider what kind of life we wanted to build together.

We also want the kids to be able to handle their finances well, cook a decent meal, understand enough of a conversation with a car mechanic that they won't get ripped off, and be able to save money by performing minor repairs in their own homes.  All of these skills have helped us manage to have a decent life even on a lower income, and provided us with a sense of self-sufficiency and confidence early on in our married life.

This will also offer us the opportunity for a lot of project based learning, the first of which will be hard wiring the electrical outlets and plugs in the garage and adding in new lights.  I have all kinds of ideas that will make this learning take root, and provide many moments of laughter, too, I am sure, as we work our way through a cookbook and the kids each plan meals, shop for them on a budget, and prepare them.  I am going to recreate an experiential learning project which we did in that high school class where the kids will be "parents" to baby "eggs" for a couple of weeks, and need to meet the needs of their child, take it with them everywhere, make sure they have babysitters they pay, etc.  That one should be a hoot and also informative as they get a tiny sneak peek at how much responsibility goes into having a baby.

We also have a business development project in mind that will be a major effort for the kids, more on that to come in a few months, if it works out.  This will flesh out their Entrepreneurship course this year, which all the kids have learned so much from and really enjoyed.  Ask them about P&L's, assessing the financial health of a business, the value of marketing, and more...they are prepared to answer!

We are going to build things, make things, read things, discuss things, clean things, and more!  So much to learn, so little time.  Oh yea, and along the way we will probably do some Algebra, Earth Science, and tenth grade literature...and a handful of essays just for good measure!

Here are the texts we are going to use over the next two years, that cover everything with the exception of three personal finance texts, including more personal topics and relationships:



The Family Handyman Do-it-Yourself Manual has already been broken out, and a two hour "field trip" to Home Depot with Dominick took place, as electrical wiring was investigated and the garage project laid out.  Dominick said it was so funny, all five kids had their Manuals with them and were looking at electrical switches when an employee walked by, totally puzzled, as they were reading and learning while deciding what parts to purchase.


Angela getting conduit...and now knows what conduit is! 

So much to learn, so little time!!  Life skills, reading, math, science, it is all fun!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Annual Battle of the Garage Was Won!!

For those of you who have followed our blog for any number of years, you might be familiar with our Annual Garage Cleaning Marriage Battle, the only thing Dominick and I ever truly go to war over.  You see, he is a "Hoarder in Training" and I am a "Minimalist Chucker"...meaning chuck everything in a pile and get rid of it! Hahaha!

This year, Dominick and I sat down to have the Pre-Spring Fling conversation, and the idea was brought up that we need another storage shed, and maybe he'd like to build one.  Hmmm...not a bad idea, until I really started thinking about it, and then I put the breaks on that.

"Whoa!!!  Wait a minute!  We already HAVE to sheds AND a garage!  How about we save the money and just do a major clean up and get rid of a lot of stuff?" I asked.  I then added, "I am finding it hard to justify spending money we don't have to build a shed to hold more junk (OK, so I really said "crap") when half the stuff we are storing we haven't touched in years, which indicates to me we don't really need it at all."

He sat there uncharacteristically quiet, and then...and then...and then...
he agreed!!!

:::And the angel choir sang Hallelujah!!!::

Sooo....a couple of weekends ago we tackled it, and we tackled it hard.  Sadly, I don't have the wretched "before" photos to share, as the kids got busy before I could get out there to take a picture.  However, it took us two solid days to empty both sheds and the garage, sort through things, create piles, and re-assign items to new locations.  It was a major "win" in my book, almost 20 years in the making, and I am thrilled!

Here are a couple of "semi-before" pics:





This was not at all as bad as it was at its worst, it was early on in the emptying process...the two sheds were packed with business paperwork for twenty years, old school work that I was keeping in case we are ever checked on, etc.  It was time to trash it all.

Now, admittedly, with a family of 7 and a small supposedly two car garage (One of those that really and truly couldn't easily fit two real sized cars side by side and actually open a car door), we do have additional storage needs versus smaller families.  Winter sledding gear, bikes, larger appliances, no decent pantry inside the house all lead to us needing a tad bit more space.

However, my real "urge to purge" and Dominick's relatively easy agreement really stemmed from the realization that Matt was desperately in need of some real shop space.  As he moves into the next phase of his "tinkering" and learning, he needs to have space other than in his bedroom so he can spread out and work on projects.  He needs tools and space to store them, and his 3D printer is quite loud so if it has to run for several hours, he would like it away from their study area.

We ended up taking two full trailer loads to the dump:

Olesya securing the load

The garage project was a great opportunity for Dominick to see first hand how seriously effected Kenny can be. Though, of course, Dominick has often worked with Kenny, it is in easier and more structured settings, and many times other kids are guiding Kenny and Dominick hasn't realized it.  Kenny's adaptive skills are wonderful, he takes cues easily from others, etc.  But this was a very difficult setting for him to work in, there was chaos in the environment, and clearly chaos in his brain. Unlike the other kids, Kenny can't walk into a situation like that, select an area to start cleaning or emptying, and begin working.  He can't "see" what needs to be done or plan it out in his head.  He is a very eager and super hard worker, but needs to have one on one supervision to be productive, and this was a perfect example for Dominick to see how he struggles more than we often understand.



No kidding, during a two hour period, I stopped counting at 13 times I personally had to re-direct Kenny.  He would start a task and his attention would be drawn away, or he would have no clue what to do if I told him to clean a particular area so I would have to give him step by step instructions, but he would forget so I would need to remind him again, giving directions to him in ever smaller increments.  His auditory processing effects him far more than we realize, and we had to turn off the radio every single time we talked to him, or he would not pick up what we say.

However, it was instructive for Dominick to witness more of what I personally deal with every day with Kenny, and he and I both realized it might be helpful if I got more training in how best to work with Kenny as he matures, and then share that information with Dominick for when Kenny moves more into working at the store with him.  There are things I am used to doing automatically, that Dominick hasn't ever needed to do in working briefly with him in less distracting settings, so we are recognizing  we are moving toward a new phase and we each need to learn more.


Matt breaking down an old shelving unit


He looks reasonably content with the tossing, doesn't he? ;-)



Oh Good Grief!  That dog is such a spoiled little princess!


You never know what you are going to find...a 12 year old Cat in the Hat costume worn by Dominick when Matt and Josh where little!

It takes so little to make me happy...so very little...just a little organization and cleaning and I am one thrilled woman!


Cleaned and re-organized shed


Ahhh, I can get to my supplies now


Matt's corner work space beginning to take shape

How long will it last?  Oh Lordy, who knows!  I long ago gave up expecting more than a month or so.  However, for the moment, I feel somehow cleansed.  It is as if Marie Kondo herself visited our home and "KonMari'd" it.  We kept only those items that bring us joy.  Well.  That might be a stretch.  I am sure I get little joy over 4 different sizes of Igloo coolers, but they sure are useful when needed!

Regardless of how long the KonMari magic lasts, I am filled with peace and tranquility as I walk into my now spacious garage.

That is, until next year.  ::sigh::  Stop it, Cindy...feel the joy, feel the joy!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Holding Us So Tenderly

We are a family who has literally been carried in the hearts of so many people.  The love showered upon us continually has been beyond all comprehension.  I'd give anything for  other adoptive families to be supported in such a way.  There is this tiny band of Team LaJoy cheerleaders that has literally made all the difference in the world for us, provided for us both spiritually and emotionally, as well as sometimes even financially.

Why?

What did we ever do to deserve to land in the outstretched arms of others?

I will never have the answer to that, but both Dominick and I know, without question, that our family would not be what we are without this ongoing outpouring of love and concrete assistance.  It has transformed us from trying to thriving, over and over again.  How I wish we could one day repay this debt of love!  We try in small ways to pay it forward, but it can never, ever equal all we have been given.

Recently, we had another sweet gesture made.  A dear long time friend (and Josh's church companion) was celebrating her 70th birthday.  Dinner out at a local nicer restaurant was planned, and the guest list included our entire family.  This was the sort of place that was well beyond the price of Little Caesar's Pizza, our usual family "treat" if we want to have a meal out, so it would have put it beyond range for us financially.  What an incredible surprise to be told about the big night, and at the same time have it explained that each of our kids had already been selected as "dates" by others who stepped up so generously to offer to pay for their meal so we could actually all go!  We didn't have a moment's concern due to the thoughtfulness of several others.  I couldn't believe it, and the kids were quite excited to eat at a nicer restaurant they had never been to before.  Here are photos of the kids and their sweet "dates" for the evening!


Josh and Kim



Angela and Pat



Bob, Beth and Olesya


Kenny and George


Matt and Miss Mary (She will always be "Miss" Mary!)



Dominick and Wife #2, Jeannie, who was our faithful employee and friend for so many years at the airport!  This woman literally made every adoption possible by managing the restaurant while we were gone, and being a steadfast presence in our lives.



The birthday girl, Francie, arriving in style with her hubby Mark


George and Kenny deep in conversation, no doubt about politics or theology


Francie with her second boyfriend, Joshie!
These two are adorable at church, and she always teases that she is going to get the two of them kicked out for being disruptive :-)


Francie with her birthday cake maker!


Olesya's birthday cake for Francie, the theme was "throwback" with lollipops as decorations throughout the room, so Olesya made small little lollipops by hand rolling Starburst candies.  The effort others put into helping Olesya shine is making such a difference for her.


These...and more not pictured...are our people.  They love us, they nurture us, they matter deeply to us.  We are all walking through life together, and they are making certain our family succeeds.  Every time I stop to think about it, I am so thankful for the love that surrounds us, for I know deep in our heart we would never make it without them.  My fondest hope is that, over time, we can find ways to repay the tenderness with which we have been held.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Special Kind of Loneliness



She walks to the car, her smile attempting to hide the trembling chin.  Angela had just finished her second afternoon of volunteering at our local nursing home.  Her supervisor came around to my window, and explained that one of their residents who Angela had visited with was nearing death, and she gave me a knowing look.  I thanked her for her time with Angela, then we pulled away.

Quietly, I asked if she was OK, and grabbed her hand to offer comfort for what I knew had to be a very hard moment.  We drove to pick up Olesya, who was just finishing her second shift at the animal shelter, filled with exuberance about her time spent with the very kind staff and enjoying caring for the shelter pups.

Upon arrival at home, Angie walked toward her room, but I grabbed her hand and pulled her past her brothers who were doing dishes, and into my own bedroom.

"We aren't going to blow this off, come snuggle with me."

We crawled into bed and she rested her head on my shoulder, tears allowed to fall.

"What is hurting the most right now?" I ask.

A few moments, then she responded, "It's not about death, I am OK with that." she explained.

"Then what do you think it is?"

No response, but her shaking shoulders told me what I couldn't see.

On a hunch I asked, "Is it the loneliness?"

Oh yea, that was it.  A special kind of loneliness that perhaps only people who have experienced abandonment in institutions can understand, where physical needs are met, but souls are left unattended.  That Angie knew all too well, and it was breaking her heart, though I doubt she could have named it herself.

This volunteer gig is going to stretch her and feed her in unanticipated ways.  Her first few months home I had witnessed several encounters she had with elderly folks, and saw a special tenderness come over her.  Angela has a comfort level with seniors that few have, and I vowed then that when she was old enough, I was going to find a way for her to live into that side of herself a little more.  We have talked about her volunteering for the past year or so, and  I knew I had hit on something that was speaking to her heart when she kept urging me to make the arrangements through the year.  Finally, our schedule cleared enough for timing to make sense.

This is Angela's first true foray out into the world alone.  I had her handle all the paperwork and arrangements herself, encouraged her to make the follow up phone calls and visits, and waited outside in the car while she introduced herself.  That may not seem like a big deal for an almost 18 year old, but our kids are on a totally different timeline, and she was finally really ready to take these first tentative steps on her own.  I was proud of her as I watched her walk confidently into the nursing home that first afternoon, and even more pleased when she came bounding back in two hours later, filled with stories of how she had spent her first two hours as a volunteer.

What I hadn't expected was the enormous impact it would have on her faith.



The very first words she blurted out after that initial volunteer shift were, "Mom, this is the most spiritual place I have ever been in.  God was everywhere, and I was so surprised.  I kept telling myself that I wished you were there to feel it with me.  This is the best thing I will have ever done in my life, thank you so much for suggesting it, I wouldn't have ever thought of it but I really belong here and I can't wait for next week."

She then went on to share about various residents she had spent time with, how she had encountered a Ukrainian woman who also volunteers and she had been thrilled to speak Russian with her.  I heard about her hesitancy to read out loud because of her accent and how she got a kick out of one woman who kept leaning in and touching her arm.

"You are so right, mom, people do need human touch...I could see it in almost everyone there!"  She exclaimed.

This second week was more about the wisdom shared by a dying resident, about the aching loneliness of those who are never, ever visited (the majority, it seems), and about how every moment there matters as Angela brings her smile, her laughter, and her hugs.

Snuggled with my precious daughter whose tears threatened yet again, I asked her if she thought this was going to be too hard.  "Oh no!" she said vehemently, "I totally want to go back.  It is just hard, but that's OK. I can do this, and I love them all already.  I don't know if I will ever get used to why people don't visit their family though, but I want to be there."

This young woman has a strength and sensitivity to her that truly only comes from having suffered.  As I curled up into her, holding her close, I felt a mix of emotions.  I spoke quietly about how she knew what it felt like to be left alone someplace with family who never showed up.  I spoke about how that made her uniquely tuned in to what the residents at the nursing home were feeling, how hard it is to feel trapped in a place with nice enough people, but little freedom to come and go as you please and know one to whom you were special.

How grateful I am that none of our children are still abandoned and alone in the world!!  How humbled I am by the courage each exhibits in their own way, and by the ways in which they so easily see the Spirit at work in their lives.

And how very, very much I love and adore each and every one of them.  

I have a strong sense that this is only the beginning for Angela, that these last two visits very much were about her calling in the world, for either vocation or avocation.  She has many gifts, an unusual awareness of the hearts of others, an ability to "read" the human spirit at a level many never achieve, and an abundance of love to offer.

Watching our kids ever-so-slowly begin to figure themselves out, stretch their wings gradually, and move tentatively into the adult world is exciting.  Loving them through the bumps along the way is a blessing.




Saturday, April 02, 2016

Which Road Will He Travel?



At 16 years old and in his junior year in high school, Matthew is beginning to think more concretely about his future.  His mom is trying with all her might to hold her doubts at bay.  Is she pushing hard enough?  Has she homeschooled him well enough that he will be well prepared for the life ahead of him?  Does taking the road less traveled make sense, or will it lead to...the "f" word..."Failure"?

As his peers are anxiously sitting for the SAT's, beginning the Great College Search, and tirelessly working and reworking those essays they will soon submit with applications, Matt's attention is on tinkering, reading, and flying.  

The other day, as we were sprawled on my bed during our literature class, it was clear to me that reading was not going to happen, but that the time was ripe for conversation.  Matt needs space and time to talk, slower to speak and more thoughtful in response than some of our "Chatty Cathys", and our time alone is both precious and paramount for our connection.  I asked him if he had been giving any thought to his post-high school direction, and he said he indeed had.  He admitted it was a little hard to stand by and listen silently as his friends at Civil Air Patrol, many juniors like himself, talked about college and all they are doing in the chase to the finish line of their senior year.  I asked him if that meant he had changed his thinking about attending college, and if so, we needed to immediately shift some gears.

"No, mom, not at all.  I know that is not the way for me, at least not right now.  What is hard is I don't know how to say what I am doing." he replied.  He added, "I would feel so trapped in college."

"Can you explain that?" I asked.

"Mom, I don't want to spend another two years studying everything I have already studied...more history, literature, and science.  The thought just kills me."

Watching him carefully, I said "Then clearly, that is not what you need to be doing.  So...tell me...what calls to your heart?"

Instantly he sat upright and became animated.  "I want to build things, I want to explore every area of computers and maybe even programming.  I want to work on projects, learn networking, and cutting edge drone technology!"  Oh my, he was on fire!!!  He went on to further explain, "I want time to learn everything I can learn.  The hardest part is going to be figuring out exactly what I really do want to eventually do, because it is all so interesting!  I am using all the math I learned with the 3D printer, so I might need to take an additional math course, but maybe not."

"I want to build the drone I dreamed about two years ago, I want to build it from the ground up, design my own plans, print my own parts for it, learn how to add in a GPS system to it, and learn everything the way I did with the 3D printer because I really, really learned because I needed to so I could accomplish what I wanted."

His eyes lit up, his excitement was contagious.  I realized that THIS is what I knew was inside of Matthew LaJoy that day the second week of 5th grade when I walked in with knees knocking and voice quavering and disenrolled him from public school.  THIS is what we have been working so hard to develop in all the kids...a craving to learn more, a desire to jump right in and explore, a work ethic that will allow them to use that intellectual curiosity to its fullest.

We talked about language he could use to describe his post-high school plan, which will include self-directed study and project based learning. Matt wants to obtain certification in a wide variety of computer areas.  He wants to work toward his CompTIA certification as a repair technician, a
networking specialist, a server specialist,  and possible a fourth certification with mobile devices.  He wants to earn the professional certification for AutoCAD.  He wants to perhaps learn some programming.  He wants to achieve the goal of getting his pilot's license.  No single one of these would be an easy route, all of them add up to a pretty ambitious plan, certainly nothing to sneeze at.

How is he going to do it?  His own way, and I trust him.

Yesterday morning at our Morning Meeting we had a long discussion about doing things differently, following your truest self, not letting the cultural expectations pull you off your own course solely to fit in.  Olesya always reinforces for us that we are "Uniquely Developed" as a family, and that reminder is an important one as our kids begin the slow process of moving out into the world.  Looking into the eyes of each of my children, I urged them to be courageous, and emphasized that we would be standing alongside them no matter what path they follow.  Angela was deeply disturbed recently to read something online about how life starts "after high school", and passionately explained why she thought that was demeaning and demoralizing, as if her life in the here and now didn't matter.  We all agreed that whether you are 5 or 15 or 25, all stages of life have great meaning and the essence of who you are needs to be continually fed, not ignored until you have suddenly "arrived", or you might never recognize yourself when you finally do "arrive".

A couple of weeks ago, we had finished our textbook for the year and decided to do a few book studies, so I asked Matt what he'd like to read fully expecting it to be a business biography of some
sort.  I had set aside a book I ordered on Amazon for my own review, The Road to Character by New York Times columnist David Brooks.  Matt saw it and asked me what it was, so I handed it to him to look at  and said I had found the premise interesting and wanted to explore it.  After reading the preview, he looked up at me and said, "How about this one?  I'd really, really like to read it."  I was surprised, but pleased, and agreed to that one along with a couple of other titles we selected for the remainder of the year.  He asked if he could have my copy, and wait for a duplicate for myself.  I said sure, and off he went, and read three chapters by lunch time, returning to me to tell me how it was maybe the best book he had ever read.  Hmmm...

This morning we read more and talked about what had been covered so far.  The depth of conversation we had, the yearning our son has to be a person of integrity, and his willingness to speak so openly about that yearning with me was a blessing I realize so many moms of 16 year olds never experience.  Matt shared that when he was younger he almost never felt much compassion for others and it bothered him a lot, but that as he grew more aware and more mature, he realized the key to relationship was putting himself in the other person's shoes for a bit, because you almost couldn't help but have compassion if you could see things from another's perspective.  When we came to a paragraph about the need to continually want to improve yourself, I was reminded how Matt had often shared quotes of Benjamin Franklin's and his ongoing pursuit of becoming a decent, moral man, and I asked Matt, "So who does this remind you of?  Who do you recall always worked to better their moral character?"

Without hesitation he looked up at me and said, "You."

What???  Me???  Now that was totally unexpected and not at all where my mind was going.  I told him that I had been thinking of Benjamin Franklin, and he said, "Oh yea, him too."

I said I was humbled he saw me in that light, but I thought others did a much better job of building character than I did, and tried to move the conversation back toward Benjamin.

"Wait Mom, no really.  You don't see yourself right sometimes.  You are always trying to improve yourself.  You admit mistakes and apologize, and better yet, try and work on it afterward.  You continually try to act lovingly even when it is hard because others are unkind.  You are always asking more of yourself than of others.  You read a ton and are always educating yourself about new things.  I think having a living example like you and Dad around is a lot better than a dead old guy who lived 200 years ago. "

Then he added, "I really want to try and live a life of character, everything else doesn't matter and is only about my ego.  The older I get, the more important that is to me.  I have the potential to be really self-centered, that is why I really wanted to read this book, to see how others have done it."

Listening to this young man before me, I realized that though he has a lot of experiences yet to have, he has already grown up.  He has a self-awareness of an older, more mature soul, and a heart that strives for excellence.  It matters not what road he travels, he will be exuberant, he will be open-hearted, he will be listening for the Spirit's leading.

Most importantly, he will be a good man, a self-made man, a hard working man.  Any road he takes still leads there, for that is already apparent, and it is all I have ever desired for him.