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.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

No More!!!





Over 100 people trapped in a nightmare, screams of terror, gun shots rat-a-tat-tatting as the blood spills...and spills...and spills.  Last words via texts that will never be deleted, answers that will never quite suffice.  Pundits kick tidbits of news around like a soccer ball, speculation and repetition doing its grand work of creating more "awareness" but what really happens is the "Specticalization" of death, in reality not all that different than the crowds of old that surrounded the guillotines and gallows and watched in half horror, half fascination.

Why?

Because human lives that are not enough like us are not valued.  Because hatred has been skillfully fomented.  Because good people are scared to speak up, to stand up, to say, "No More!"...and they look from side to side thinking someone else will say something or act.

A young woman bravely shares the story of the worst night of her life, after having been exscoriated publicly for having the audacity to imbibe too much at a party and pass out, while her attacker is given a sentence of a mere 6 months for sexual assault because, after all, he was a "good young man" and "had a future".  The ruling sent a message to all young men that women are essentially "fair game" if they are incapacitated, and that the world understands that males can't really be expected to control their sexual urges because young men are basically nothing more than animals in heat.

Why?  Because human lives that are not enough like us are not valued.  Because hatred has been skillfully fomented.  Because good people are scared to speak up, to stand up, to say, "No More!"...and they look from side to side thinking someone else will say something or act.

Children at schools across our nation, shot in the hallways as binders clatter to the ground and bodies crumble, teachers scrambling to lock down classrooms or bravely stepping in front of a barrage of bullets to lay down their lives for their young charges.  Disturbed young men  behind the gun sights, many victims themselves of years of abuse, neglect, or lack of access to effective mental health care, living inside heads that project images of violence and mayhem quietly urging them toward their 15 minutes of vengeance and fame.  Most yearn to finally be seen in a world they wandered where no one saw them at all, their invisible selves often having walked the very same hallways where they one day bring their anger, and inflict their rage on institutions that were asked to do too much with too little.

Why?  Because human lives that are not enough like us are not valued.  Because hatred has been skillfully fomented.  Because good people are scared to speak up, to stand up, to say, "No More!"...and they look from side to side thinking someone else will say something or act.

Black men falling, failing, flailing about..."I can't breath!" they cry, "I am innocent!" they cry, "I am hurting!" they cry, as unbelieved as they always have been, cast aside as unworthy and unnecessary by society, locked up longer and more frequently than white counterparts for similar crimes, their protestations of inequality dismissed over and over again, their charges of brutality ignored until The Era of the Phone Cam proves their case for them.  Their families forever altered by their lengthy absence, their young black sons follow in foot steps that lead right up to the cages waiting for them as they shake their heads and feel as trapped by their lives as their fathers before them, and their fathers before them.

Why?  Because human lives that are not enough like us are not valued.  Because hatred has been skillfully fomented.  Because good people are scared to speak up, to stand up, to say, "No More!"...and they look from side to side thinking someone else will say something or act.

Men and women in uniform called upon to save us all, be it on the streets of Baghdad or the alleys of the Bronx. Bravely they perform their tasks as their minds become contorted by all they wish they had not seen.  The majority are fine folk, who take the heat and wear the shame of those less honorable in uniform who let power overtake them and act cruelly and unfairly.  Daily, their jobs become harder as they want only to return home safely each night to their families, and the injustice created by the few causes the anger to rise, the outcry growing to a cacaphony that points the finger at all for the actions of a few.  Gunned down in those same streets and alleyways, both here and overseas, we elevate them to hero status posthumously, or allow them to return home shattered to a sickening lack of services.  One by one, they pull triggers with barrels pressed firmly against their own heads, or find other ways to end the suffering they experience for the sake of protecting us.

Why?  Because human lives that are not enough like us are not valued.  Because hatred has been skillfully fomented.  Because good people are scared to speak up, to stand up, to say, "No More!"...and they look from side to side thinking someone else will say something or act.

Debate after debate reveals the lack of character and missing moral compass of our candidates, and the rhetoric grows more divisive with each primary vote that passes.  We have the candidates we deserve, for our silence is an assent, and now our disbelief speaks too softly.  In the name of a campaign, we allow the flames to be fanned and we hand over the bellows with our Facebook memes and our own lack of civility with one another, giving silent permission to those wishing to lead us to up the ante with their own hateful language.  We ignore truth, we ignore facts, we ignore decency, then we blame "them" rather than look inward to find our own inner Trump...or Clinton...or Sanders...or Cruz...or...or...or.  With each passing year the names change, and we all complain, yet we accept statements that would have once been reprehensible and are now the norm.

Why?  Because human lives that are not enough like us are not valued.  Because hatred has been skillfully fomented.  Because good people are scared to speak up, to stand up, to say, "No More!"...and they look from side to side thinking someone else will say something or act.

We create the world we live in, we suffer because of the world we have chosen to create.  

Let's create something kinder, something safer, something fairer.  We can, you know, but to do so we have to reject the fomentation, we have to really "see" others and find our commonalities while respecting our differences, we need to find our backbone and cry out, "No More!" loudly and proudly, and then, rather than looking from side to side, we need to be the one to step forward.

Grab my hand, it's a little less scary if we do it together.

No More!!



Alaska...You Restored Me

Was it really only two weeks ago that I was blissfully cruising through Alaska's Inside Passage, having spent the prior week exploring Denali, Kenai and more?  ::Sigh::  It was a dream come true, long held and never imagined, and yet there I was.  Colorado on steroids is what I called it, Alaska is the single most beautiful landscape I have ever been privileged to experience.

The trip was a blessing on every level, and I returned home with many an insight, 1500+ photos, and an incredibly grateful heart for this wonderful, unexpected gift.  Turning 50 years old this coming August, this excursion was an early once-in-a-lifetime birthday surprise from my best friend, and honestly, the time together was more than enough, let alone the adventures we shared.  However, what made he trip extraordinary were the many ways in which God showed up...from having our lunch secretly paid for the very first day we arrived by a lovely couple we met on the street, to being among the few who get to clearly see Denali's full splendor, to having repeated opportunities to visit with a wonderful older couple we met onboard and share rich, deep conversations with them.  The weather was stunning for this time of year, we wandered around in shirt sleeves for the vast majority of the trip, often enjoying 70+ degree weather as we viewed snowcapped peaks and meandered through Skagway, Juneau, and Haines.  Without further ado, here are a handful of images from our trip.
















Being away from home and hearth for 18 days allowed for enough time, really for the first time in my adult life, for me to "detach" from it all.  About 7 or 8 days in, I finally felt like I was able to tuck the financial stresses and emotional work of others away for just a little while.  I was free to think only about myself, a luxury that would seem easy enough to grab but has seldom been part of my life in recent years.  Concerns about the future for our kids, work worries for Dominick, homeschooling, being attentive at all times, and trying to discern best paths in multiple directions were, for a couple of weeks, not part of my daily agenda...neither was laundry, meal planning, curriculum research, medical and dental appointments, nor robbing Peter to pay Paul when Paul is pretty much broke!  I was able to unwind for the first time in forever, and everything was handled for me, so I didn't have to think about a single thing, nor did I have to make decisions for anyone other than myself.

Heavenly.  Tranquil.  Laughter filled.  Soul restoring.  It was all of this, and much more.

I came away from this time of reflection and relaxation with a better sense of myself, and a desire to make some changes in my life to help me keep my head above water when at times it feels like the Titanic is close to sinking.  I really spent some time in prayer and did a little inner work, as the setting was so conducive to it, and I am at a time in my life when I really needed to sit back and examine a few things.

Resolving to do things like limit Facebook time, read more fiction, find ways to include more music in my lfe, and remind myself that I need to "play" more were helpful and are already shifting me to a more relaxed place.  Letting myself admit that my life is hard sometimes, is important as well.  Sometimes, because I love living in this family so much and there is a beauty to it that surpasses just about anything I could have imagined, I blow right past how hard it can be for me, because I am still so very grateful and happy for what envelopes me.  It denies my heart the chance to feel the pain,  to also grieve the losses, and to deal with the frustrations inherent in spending my days with kids who work so hard to overcome enormous challenges...difficulties that didn't have to be part of their lives if someone had stepped in earlier, avoided alcohol, or simply cared enough to feed, clothe, and hug them.  Sometimes, I manage to do a little of that work for myself here on the blog, but that is not always enough for the heart heaviness I sometimes feel.  The financial pressures are very real for us as well, more so than they ever have been but we work around and through them with a great sense of abundance most of the time. The mystery of how it all manages to get covered still eludes me, as at the end of each month I look back and whisper a quiet "Whew!  Thanks, God!".

I am blessed to live in a family that recognizes my role as important, and also encourages, nurtures and supports not only the youngest among us, but myself and Dominick as well.   The kids "see" me, something I think doesn't always happen for a lot of moms with kids this age.  Everyone was excited for me and pulled together to keep things going smoothly at home, with some outside help from dear friends as well now and again.  I was sent off with the blessing of the most beautiful letter and a significant amount of spending money from Kenny, the contents of which I will not reveal but which was the single most humbling, precious expression of love I have ever received.  Literally sobbing as I read it, which I had been instructed not to do until I was far from home, I was more moved than I have been perhaps in my entire life.  The ways in which all our kids are so willing to express in word and deed their care for those they love blows me away.  At times, what I do day in and day out feels lacking, as the world doesn't exactly lift up stay-at-home moms, and the homeschooling piece is often met with ridicule or eye rolling, as categories are applied to us that really don't fit at all.  There are moments though, like when I held Kenny's letter in my hand, when I understand in my deepest places that no outside job would ever matter as much as what I do at our kitchen table each and every day.

Spending every night of the trip playing games, listening to music, laughing at comedians, and watching magnificent sunsets helped me step out of my "real life" for just a little while.  I think we all need that from time to time.  The true blessing of the trip, though, was having time to talk and talk and talk with someone whose life has mirrored my own in some ways, whose love of God is palpable, and whose heart is open, honest and fully accessible.  Many people had teen years and early twenties during which they really kicked up their heels.  Neither Candi nor I have had much opportunity to "play" in our lives, and once you get to a certain age, that part of yourself can be fairly well buried beneath layers and layers of responsibility and just plain old life.  The older you grow, the harder it seems to tap into that younger part of yourself.  Some of us never had the opportunity to allow the lighter hearted sides of ourselves to develop in our youth, as family pressures and pre-mature adulthood were thrust upon us due to circumstances sometimes beyond our control.  The safety of being with someone who accepts all of who you are, and likes you anyway :-) helps those long dormant desires to laugh and play to be gently tugged at and encouraged to emerge.

By the end of the cruise, the person who looked back at me in the mirror had a completely different, more relaxed, more "whole" look to her.  We boogied and played trivia, we held sled dog puppies and giggled at the silliest things.  We let go of cares about children, spouses, and the future and for
once...just once in my life...I was able to live fully in the present and just appreciate what was before me.  Standing on deck as vast, open vistas were on display, watching as pods of Orca whales happily danced their way through the waves, quickly shushing everyone on our raft as we spotted a moose and drifted close enough to catch photos as it lazily nibbled on the grasses near the shoreline, I felt held by God in a way I am not sure I have ever quite felt it before.  The Spirit was everywhere on this trip, almost tripping over itself as if to say, "See?  Here...lookie lookie!!!  Life is SOOO GOOD!!!  And I love YOU!!!"

Returning home was renewing in itself, as I was excitedly greeted at the airport and reminded that I matter to those who love me, that they need me and I need them.  Roses in hand, Dominick offered me the best early 50th birthday gift ever in simply handling it all and letting me go guilt free, encouraging me to have a wonderful time, and being warmly attentive in listening to the tales of my Big Adventure.  We laughed together as we realized that though this was something we had talked about doing ourselves through the years, he would have been miserable as we were so often on various boats and he really dislikes water and is quite uncomfortable on boats.  Whale watching with heavily leaning smaller boats would have freaked him out!  We determined that rafting, speed boating, and even the cruise ship itself would have had him sitting out much of the adventure.  Handing out the small souvenirs I managed to pick up for everyone, I couldn't help but smile as their reactions far outweighed the value of the small tokens.

The first two weeks back hammered home my need for breathing breaks, as we had more happen financially, medically, and life-wise than most have in a year.  It was actually unbelievable how much happened so fast, and we couldn't help but laugh out loud about it when we weren't busy stressing.  But this too shall pass, I am committed to a few little things that might make a big difference, and we will work through it all somehow.

Ahhh...Alaska, how I miss you! Hahaha!