Friday, September 30, 2011

Longhorn State, Long Drive!

We're here!  Yes, we have arrived in the land of one stop light towns, 10,000 Church of Christ signs, and young ladies with Daisy Duke shorts, cowboy boots, and big blond hair!  What a culture shock! 

We took 2 days to drive down here to Houston, and drove through some of the most incredibly flat, desolate land I have ever seen.  It was beautiful, in it's own way, and redundant as well.  It was almost predictable by the odometer when we would come across a grain silo, a cell phone tower, or a one horse town.  Angela commented after a few hours that these little towns were a sort of spooky, for they all looked as if no one actually lived there and as if they were put there merely for appearances for those passing through.  We seldom saw vehicles in front of any of the stores, and there was virtually no activity on the streets at all.

The kids occupied themselves well with DVD players and video games.  They gorged on them during the drive, and believe me will be going through withdrawals once we get back home when they go on a "screen diet".  But I could hardly blame them, there truly was nothing much to look at.  If you looked out the window once, 2 hours later you were assured to be viewing the exact same thing.  I remained alert by listening to one of the Great Courses on CD, one on comparative religions which was quite interesting. 

I also discovered that Matt and Kenny were not as engrossed in their computer screens as I thought they were, when they each spent time talking to me about another book on CD I listened to, "Our Endangered Values" by Jimmy Carter.  People can say what they want about the man as a politician, but I found his thoughts on faith as it intersects with the issues of our world today to be very well expressed, and he made more sense than many others I have listened to when it comes to living out your faith in a way that is true for you.  "Moderate" is a word that used to be praised, and Jimmy is a moderate which doesn't set well in our world today of passionate, over-the-top rhetoric from radio talk show hosts and extreme right and left wing politicians.  Hearing his book was like taking me back in time, to my childhood, when people could disagree in a far more agreeable fashion and without demonizing everyone who views the world differently.  Oh, I know it wasn't paradise and there was still plenty of name calling and derision, but not to the degree that we have today, and there was a level of respect that existed...perhaps because we were not all so polarized and separating ourselves into "red" and "blue" states.  His views on extremism from any side being detrimental to the cause of peace were a breath of fresh air.  I may not have agreed with all I heard, but one would be hard pressed to not find some value and truth in much of what he shared.  Today people are mocked for being considered "moderate", as if it is a four letter word.  The world is not all black and white, and somehow we have all come to miss the hues of gray that surround us on a daily basis.

I was surprised as Matthew moved to sit right behind me and said he had found the Jimmy Carter book so interesting to listen to.  That is more the sort of thing Kenny would find fascinating, as he is growing to be an astute and deep thinker in matters of faith and social concepts.  But Matt is the quiet one who lets it simmer, then surprises you when he does finally speak.  We had the most fantastic conversation as we talked about what it means to stand for something you believe in, how hard that can be to go against the crowd, and when he has faced situations in the past.

He opened up for the first time about his experiences that first couple of weeks of fifth grade prior to us deciding to give homeschooling a try.  He said "You know Mommy, already I was not liking who I was there.  It was easier to go along with everyone than to get made fun of, and I think I would have ended the year a different kid.  I'll be honest, I was playing around in class like everyone else was, even though I wanted to learn.  I tried to be a good boy, but it was too hard as that whole group of boys was already making fun of me if I acted like I cared about what we were reading about.  So I'd fake it and pretend I didn't care, but I'd still try and read the book when they weren't looking."

I asked him what he thought it would take for him to grow and become strong enough to not go along with the crowd.  He had the most interesting answer when he said "I think that it has to matter to me, and school sort of seemed to have no point other than a report card.  Maybe I was too young, because that was 2 years ago, or maybe school didn't feel enough like it mattered so I didn't really care.  Now I think everything matters a lot.  Or if I thought someone was going to get hurt, or be treated unfairly, I think that I wouldn't care if anyone made fun of me...I'd stand up for it.  But things have to matter for someone to be willing to be made fun of.   Something has changed for me though, camp made me see things differently, you've made me see things differently.  I don't know how to say it, I just care more about stuff.  I see how I can make a difference, how everyone can make a difference even in small ways.  I never felt that way before.  Maybe I was too much of a little kid then."

We went on to talk about Mr. Carter's ideas on faith and politics, his thoughts on the death penalty and his statistics to back up his statements.  We had all just viewed a movie on the death penalty at church Tuesday evening which was powerful and thought provoking, so I had inadvertently picked a good follow up tool with this book on CD.  We then moved into deeper discussion as Matthew brought up a fantastic point, that just about every American president or politician lays claim to being Christian, and yet they often leave their Christian faith behind when it comes to action.  We talked about the war in Iraq and how it departed from previous American foreign policy, and whether it was a just war or not, we spoke about the prisoners still being held at Guantanamo without due process and how that fit into Christian teachings.  He was really a pretty aware kid, surprising even me a little with points he made.  We talked about the separation of church and state and whether that is a positive or negative thing.  He was able to draw connections between power and leaving behind long held beliefs versus what God calls us to do when in positions of leadership in a country, and through our conversation he began to see that it can be a huge challenge to remain true to your faith when called to act on the will of the people. He ended the discussion feeling that often our political leaders claim Christianity but are unwilling to lead from a faithful place as their actions are often a stark departure from their faith. 

If it took us 2 days of driving through the flatlands of Texas to have this conversation, than I would say that was 2 days well spent.

Watching the kids develop critical thinking skills and apply them as they assess the world around them is one of the single most exciting things I have ever experienced as a human being.  Kenny has made some comments lately at church and at home that show he is thinking on an entirely different level than most of his peers, and is able to make connections that even adults struggle to make...and he cares deeply about those things which captivate him.  Seeing the compassion developing in all of them as they begin to tentatively explore their world on a deeper level and figure out who they are and who they want to be is something I stand by and watch with bated breath, wondering what will connect with each of them, and who they will ultimately turn out to be.  How could anyone not find parenting to be utterly fascinating?

The biggest delight of the drive down was unplanned and one of those serendipitous things that make life take on greater meaning.  I had been contacted by a lovely years long blog reader who expressed a desire to meet us if we were coming her way.  Plans were made on the fly to meet at her place for lunch, as she generously offered to host us and allow the kids time to get out and take a decent break from the drive.  How glad I am that we accepted!!  We met the most interesting woman whose hospitality was enthusiastically offered, and meeting face to face after years of "knowing" one another was a real treat.  Funny how we find kindred spirits in the most unlikely ways, and meeting this person was like visiting with an old, dear friend.  I truly regretted looking at the time and realizing we still had many more hours driving ahead of us and needed to get on the road.  This grandmother of two adopted granddaughters from China was a real dynamo, and I felt like our conversation had only just begun.  I have a sneaking suspicion that will prove to be true, and our relationship will grow over time and via email.



It is encounters like these that I wish every single person at my retreat a couple weeks ago could witness.  The power of  "social media" and the new ways in which we are building human relationships are not to be underestimated.  I had the feeling the entire weekend that my fellow participants hadn't even scratched the surface of what can develop from the use of our 21st century tools.  Oh, we see it from a marketing perspective, or for trying to build our churches, but that entirely misses the point.

It's about reaching out, it's about connecting regardless of distances, it's about very real relationships being created in cyberspace.  Having been part of this phenomena for the past 12 years or more, and watching it blossom from the inside, it is so easy for me to understand what so many others are just beginning to grasp.  You limit yourself when you have the wrong priorities.  If churches, pastors and lay people want to harness the power of social media to make a difference, they will think first about the very real human being on the other end of that screen.  They will cast aside concerns about  blog hits and numbers of "friends" on Facebook and simply do what we all are called to do in this world, love one another.  That love does not have to be hindered by text and miles, it is SO easy to offer! 

When I was told how crazy it was for us to come all the way to Houston to visit our friend, I just smiled inside.  Our family has been loved for so long by so many who have gone so far out of their way to express it, how can we not do the same??  Friends who have never met us but driven 2 hours in LA traffic to get us into Disneyland, friends we have never met who sent us a Baby Shower in a Box, friends who have hosted a family of 7 over and over again, friends who sent postcards and prayers, friends who have translated and made phone calls repeatedly for passports, friends who have sent gift cards, friends who have given up mileage and points so Kenny and I could go to Washington to advocate for the Kyrgyz kids STILL left behind.

And a 6 day trip to Houston is considered "going too far out of my way??"  Sheesh, I couldn't even BEGIN to pay the love forward if I had ten lifetimes!!  We have been beyond blessed, our kids see it and know it, and as we pulled away from our new friend's home yesterday afternoon, Angela said it best when she said "Momma, we are so lucky...you always help us make nice new friends.  I am so glad we stopped to meet her.  I hope we see her again!"

Me too :-)

Now, on to the real reason for our trip...a teddy bear delivery and Big Bear Hugs this afternoon after Mr. Cbuck is done with radiation treatment!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Extraordinary


ex·traor·di·nar·y

  [ik-strawr-dn-er-ee, ek-struh-awr-] 
adjective
1.
beyond what is usual, ordinary, regular, or established:extraordinary costs.
2.
exceptional in character, amount, extent, degree, etc.;noteworthy; remarkable: extraordinary speed; anextraordinary man.


The kids and I are heading into our fall mini-break this next week, and we have a plan. Yea, I know, we LaJoy's always have some wacky scheme up our sleeve.  We are going to take a special road trip.  You see, we have a teddy bear to deliver.

A special friend of ours from church is in Houston being treated at MD Anderson for cancer.  He is there for two and a half months, and he is alone, as his wife has responsibilities here she can not leave behind.  We were talking about ways we could help Mr. Chuck feel cared about long distance, and the kids committed to sending him letters every week while he was gone.  Joshie brought out one of his favorite teddy bears and said he wanted to send it to Mr. Chuck to keep him company.  I sort of half jokingly said "I wish we could deliver it in person!", and thus the idea was created for the LaJoy Love Road Trip.

I was asked the other day why we are doing this...driving two days down, staying there for two days, and coming home two more long days.  I was taken aback for a moment as I wasn't expecting the question, and offered up some lame sort of answer that was completely unmemorable.  Not that it has to be a memorable answer :-) but I hadn't give it much thought to articulate it well.

Why drive all the way to Houston to essentially say "Hi"?

I thought about it a lot later, and realized there really is an underlying reason, one which I realized I feel quite strongly about.  This may sound just as "lame" as my prior answer, but the fact is, it doesn't have to make sense to anyone but us.  So here it is, in a nutshell, Cindy LaJoy's personal mom motto:

In order to raise extraordinary children into extraordinary adults, you have to do extraordinary things.

Dominick and I want to raise extraordinary kids...who become adults who will go beyond what is usual.   It is our hope that they just might grow up to be a tad different than the world around them, that they would somehow stand apart from the fray.  For us, it is not necessarily about "success" at all, but about values.  But that means that we have to be outside the norm and go beyond what is usual to model that for them.

We want to raise children who will have an extraordinary work ethic, not often found in the youth of today.  That is why they see their Daddy working from before sunup to sundown to take care of his family.

We want to raise children who will have extraordinary patience as they walk through a world in which delayed gratification is long passe.  That is why they see us trying our best not to use credit on a daily basis.  That is why they saw us wait years and years without giving up for the girls to finally come home.

We want to raise children who have an extraordinary desire to ponder the Big Questions of life, who know God intimately, who have a role model for living in a Jesus that they have heard about over and over again.  That is only one reason why we regularly attend church and are part of a faith community, for what is found in the fullness of congregational life can make up for the deficits we, as their parents, have.

We want to raise children who have an extraordinary sense of service.  That is why we offer our time in multiple directions, and that is why we go as a family to our church's road cleanup and work days.  It is why we have done everything from leading Cub Scouts to serving on our public school homeschool program board to being a Court Appointed Special Advocate for kids in foster care to serving on church committees and council to using our car wash business as a freebie for local sports teams to assist with fundraising and much more.  We want them to be the ones in their communities someday who make a little bit of a difference, who step up to the plate, who participate fully and recognize that service also makes a difference in themselves.  People who think outwardly instead of focusing solely on themselves are always the happiest folks.

We want to raise children who dream extraordinary dreams and have enough confidence to know they can achieve them.  That is why we dream out loud and then try to make it happen.  That is why we say "I wonder if we could somehow come up with a way to take all of us to Washington, DC and NYC and really see all that we are studying!".  That is why we say "Heck yeah we can take on 2 more kids...somehow we'll find a way to raise them!", that is why we pursue our own dreams of owning our own business, or going through ministry training.  That is why we have a 12 year old son who says to us "I want to get my pilot's license before I graduate high school." and is already pursuing it.  That is why we have a 13 year old daughter who says "I want to be Amelia Earhart and Florence Nightingale...and maybe a few others too!".  That is why we have a son who can't read at 12 years old and yet never gives up until he succeeds.  That is why all five kids are dreaming of a trip to see London when they all begin to graduate...and that is why if they really want to do it, they will make it happen without any doubt.

We want to raise children who are extraordinary in their sense of welcome.  That is why we open our home to all, it is why we have friends from all walks of life, all faiths, and with as much diversity as we can manage to muster in Western Colorado.  It is why we welcome unconditionally those of all ages and call them "friend", it is why we could care less about sexual orientation or race.  It is why we are not disturbed by disability or infirmity.  God says to love all...and we take that seriously.  Loving from afar is not what Jesus modeled, loving up close and welcoming all is what he practiced, without reservation.

We want our children to know what extraordinary forgiveness is, and to practice it.  That is why, when we screw up, we go to them and seek forgiveness from them.  It is why we can fly halfway around the world and be rejected, and yet still find a way to forgiveness and untold joy.  It is NOT easy, this forgiveness path.  It can be hard and require great internal work to turn away from our natural inclination to cast aside those who have hurt or harmed us in some way. 

Most importantly, we want to raise children who know what extraordinary love is, and boldly proclaim it.  That is why we use the word liberally with those we care about, that is why we hug often and forgive easily.  That is why we try to go out of our way to show it in many ways, even to strangers.

And THAT is why we are taking our fall break and creating a memorable reason to get out of Montrose for a bit...THAT is why we are going to drive to Houston and back in 6 days.  Extraordinary love put into practice.  Someone we love is alone, and we have that teddy bear and a few hugs to deliver :-)  I can't think of any better reason to go.
 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Reflection

The past couple of days, what can I say about them?  Hmmm...I know most people reading this would be clueless as to why I would have found a church sponsored "Social Media Boot Camp" to be one of the most interesting  and engaging experiences I have ever had.  I know that few would enjoy sitting with a laptop in front of you for 2 1/2 days, discussing the inner workings of Facebook, Twitter, web sites and blogs.  But as always, what's on the surface is not where the meaning is, for we most often find true value in what awaits us in the layers beneath.

What made this so fascinating was not the logistical challenges that we are faced with when working with 21st Century tools, but it is how we use these tools to develop and enhance relationships.  And what do we find in relationship?  That's easy...we find God.

And God was everywhere the past 3 days.  La Foret, where the retreat was held, is special in all our hearts due to our kids visiting there every summer for church camp.  God was in the whispering of the pines and the scampering squabbits (A rare form of squirrel that looks like a cross between a rabbit and a squirrel).  God was in the chapel but also in the conference hall as computer screens glowed well into the night.  The Spirit was not hiding, but was instead front and center in ways one wouldn't expect at what was essentially a "Tech Camp".  It was a reminder that if we are intentional about being aware and open, we can walk with the assurance that God is indeed with us no matter what we are doing, or where we are. 

Sometimes we forget that as we go about our day, seemingly unaware of the presence of the Holy.  Posting on Facebook, are our interactions grace filled?  Or do we use the opportunity to be filled with snark?  Are we listening to what others are really saying in between those short, typed sentences?  Is God reflected in what we write, the photos we post, and the comments we make in response to others?  I know I fail sometimes at this, despite my best attempts.  Someone will say something that gets my hackles up, and my less-than-gracious self appears.  Or someone will share something that has a hint of something more important than where they went for lunch, and I don't take the time to stop and offer my full attention when someone really needs a caring heart to hear them.  While this was not really the focus of the Boot Camp, it was where my mind wandered as we walked away from class during breaks.

Many were trying to get a handle on what all of this means...are these tools for marketing?  Are they for ministry?  Are they merely a strategically placed electronic billboard?  To those new to all of this, it can be complicated to sort out. 

But we know something, don't we?  After all these years online, participating in Yahoo groups, writing this blog, Facebooking and emailing within the adoption community, I know better than just about anyone else present at this class what sort of depth of relationship all of this Social Media can lead to.   After all, you and I, my friends, have been at this a very long time, some of us for 10 years and counting, and we have very, very real relationships.  Sure, there are many of you that I will never meet face to face, or I might never even learn your name.  You are nothing more than a mere click on the blog hit counter...at least to many that is all you are.  I know you are someone though, seeking something.  Maybe it is solely entertainment as you read about one strange family in Montrose, Colorado.  Maybe you visit because you want to learn more about what adoption is all about, or homeschooling, or the United Church of Christ, or plain old parenting.  Maybe you know us in real life, or are curious and wish you did (or are happy that you don't!!! Hahaha!). 

The thing I do try to remember at all times, is that whether I "know" you or not, be it virtually or in the real world, you are truly "real".  I answer every single email, I read every single comment, I have spoken on the phone to every single person who has ever made such a request over the years.  We are all in relationship with one another, whether anonymous or not.  That matters.

The past few days I spent in relationship with new folks.  That is what this was really all about as we learned from one another, shared our individual perspectives and gained skills.  I had the privilege of being in the presence of some incredibly bright and articulate people, and of feeling I fit in.  That is something that does not often happen for me.  The conversation over meals was not the sort usually heard as pastors and lay persons asked the big questions that had nothing to do with typed answers.  How do we move past saying "all are welcome" to truly welcoming all, regardless of class, color or sexual orientation?  What does it mean to have our "need for giving" met?  How do we help congregations move forward in the midst of major upheaval and change?  What does youth ministry look like in small churches?

But really, the unspoken but understood bigger question was "How can we help others see God?"

Reflecting on all of this may seem boring to the point of tears to many.  However, there is usually a time in one's life when they are filled with gratitude that, long before their need became apparent, someone was sitting around brainstorming ideas that would one day help them fill their need for Spirit connection.  It is then that we God Geeks don't seem quite as geeky after all.

As part of our class assignments, we were given one hour and told to take our cameras out and find photos that fit a theme.  That theme was not assigned, but would be discovered on our own as we wandered around La Foret...but we had only one hour to complete it.  It helped us each to imagine the bigger picture as we developed the details around it.  My theme was sort of a double take on the concept of "Reflection", as I gathered photos that represented the concept both literally and figuratively/spiritually.  I'll share them below, and I hope that as you read this post you have found ways in which God is in your normal, boring old daily life...and that you reflect on it for just a moment:






Amen.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Oh What a Beautiful Day!


As I travelled less than a mile from my home on the road heading to town, this is the view I had given to me as a gift today.  Sometimes I find myself falling into the trap of being less than attentive to the stunning landscapes that we are literally surrounded by.  The openness, the beauty, all of it creates a spaciousness in my heart and soul that I never once had living in California.  I know there are trade offs...we have no mall, we have no culture, we have no list of activities every weekend.  Yet somehow we have carved out a life here that needs none of that, so we feel we are lacking not a single thing.

Can you believe all that snow already?  Mid-September, and our mountains are thickly blanketed.  Storms the past few days have brought rain and rain puddles, and snow in the high country which is going to taunt us from afar.  I love this place more than I could ever put into words.

This evening I was standing in the driveway with fellow blog reader, Lael, as we chatted after she dropped Olesya off after spending the entire day with her at the sheepdog trials that were held 2 hours away.  There we stood, as the sun slowly began its descent creating a magnificent glow through the rainclouds.  Birds flocked by the hundreds overhead as they lifted and landed over and over again in the bulbous globe willows of our neighbors.  It was a sight to behold and I couldn't have witnessed it with a more appropriate friend.

Tonight I am FILLED with anticipation about so much!  Tomorrow I leave with one of my few techie oriented friends for a 3 day seminar sponsored by our church conference on social networking/community building/web site development at our kids camp, La Foret.  This is so totally up my alley and something I am completely interested in.  I mean, honestly, what could be better than a 3 day retreat at one of the most spiritually connected places in Colorado where they insist you bring along your computer and digital camera!  I know, Geek Patrol on the loose, but I am terribly excited about meeting new folks and hopefully learning a lot.  I hadn't even realized how much I was looking forward to it until today as I began to pack.  What a special treat this will be!

Yea, go on and laugh at me...I can take it.  Hahaha!

So as life continues to happen all around us, as usual, we are knee deep in the middle of it.  Big week ahead aside from my little get away, as when I return Matthew gets his back brace and orthotics, the kids have their 2nd volleyball game, and we get to see friends from Salt Lake City next weekend.  My dear buddy is starting a cool new business which is launching tomorrow and I hope to have good news from her about great success this weekend.  I also have a stack of cool books waiting for me to have time to read them all, we are also waiting for special news from John Wright about a little project Kenny and Angela are involved in, and much, much more. 

Some days you wake up and your heart just sings, thankful to be alive, and crying out "Oh what a beautiful day!"

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Jumping to "Yes"

This week has been hectic, and mildly frustrating at every turn.  On top of the usual activities that have ramped up this year for us, we had Sunny being spayed, an orthodontist appointment, and to cap it off a less than ideal IEP meeting today for Kenny.  At every turn it seemed nothing would be successful...it took me 4 attempts to order a single TShirt for Matt for Civil Air Patrol, I still have yet to get the money order I need to send to our adoption agency to cover expenses for a post placement report as I went to 3 different locations only to find that the machine was broken to print them or someone was not there to handle it.  I still do not have an appointment for Matthew for Shriner's in November after several calls, and I had a package to send to a friend overseas that was lost for 3 months, returned and then I struggled to find the best way to resend it.  As you can tell from the description, none of it was major, but it has just been one of those weeks where every simple task turned into something more complicated than it should have been.

So this afternoon, I decided we would all take the afternoon off.  I wasn't sure what we would do, but after art class we all came home and didn't feel like returning to work.  I suggested we take a walk, which then turned into all of us taking a 4 1/2 mile walk around our block.  You see out here in the country, our blocks tend to be HUGE and take us past rustling corn fields and over swiftly running irrigation canals.  As I looked out the window, I saw dark, ominous thunderheads gathering over the San Juan Mountains off in the distance, heading our direction. 

I almost did it, the word was sitting right there on the tip of my tongue, just waiting to be released. After all, it was most likely going to rain, if it did we would get caught in it, we would be pretty far from home and would be a muddy mess.

"No"...it is SO easy to jump to the "No".  As a Mom, we so often have to maintain order, keep schedules, make sure all is on track.  It is far easier to say say "no" to make life easier.  After all, there is still dinner to prepare, potatoes to peel, laundry to move from the washer to the dryer, school work to correct...lots of things that have to get done. 

Today though, I jumped another direction...today I jumped to "Yes" :-)

And I am so glad I did.  What would have been missed was totally, completely priceless and precious.



Oh, we were rain free for the first 20 minutes or so, and as the thunder began to rumble overhead the excitement grew.  Further and further we walked, stopping here or there to call out to the cows in the nearby field, or wonder at what was hidden in the little hollowed out area near the canal.  The drops started to fall, a plop here...a plop there.  Grins started to appear wider, and a lilt came to each of their voices as they wondered "Will we get home before it starts pouring?"  Anticipation of the downpour to come caused our pace to pick up, but we still had a couple of miles to go.

"No"...oh, how easy that would have been.

It started to rain...hard.  We were all getting wet, really, really wet.  So...what do you do when you have no options, when you are already drenched with no hope of escaping?


Your mom finds the BIGGEST mud puddle around and jumps in it, splattering everyone and starting a Mud Puddle War to end all wars!  Then we danced. We walked down the middle of the deserted road singing and chasing each other, we waved at the few trucks passing by as their drivers smiled and waved a hearty hello back, in all likelihood looking at this oddball band of 6 and wondering what in the world we were all doing out there. 

It was magical.
























And jumping to "no" would have caused us to miss it.  Jumping to "yes" brought the magic.

We stopped in the rain to marvel at a fascinating road kill victim, a frog who was perfectly flattened with, believe it or not, his tongue sticking out.  We picked up a random golf ball that had somehow ended up on the edge of a corn field. We walked single file, stomping to splash the person behind us.  We did nothing important at all, and yet, it really was.

Suddenly, Josh rushed up, flung his arms around me as he grabbed me in the biggest bear hug.

"Thank you, Mommy."

"For what?" I asked.

"For all of this." he happily replied.

As we finally came upon our road, Olesya, hair dripping, declared "I just love my family...we are so crazy!"

Kenny said "This was the best day ever, Mommy, the very, very best." and Angela said "Yea, this was totally cool!"

I turned to them both and said "OK, so you have to promise me something...someday I want you to say "Yes" to something your kids ask you to do.  Remember this afternoon, and pass it on to your own kids."
The look on Angela's face told me that she totally got it.  "I promise, Mama, I'll never forget this day."

Neither will I :-)

Jumping to "yes" is really not all that hard, but it takes moving beyond our auto-response mode. It takes recognizing that often we say "no" for no good reason at all, and that there are many times we could say yes with a minimum of effort required on our part.  We live in a "no" oriented world.  Spontaneity is viewed as irresponsible.  After all, we have a schedule to keep, we have plans to follow.  How could we possibly say "yes"??

I urge you all, one day this week, jump to the "yes"...then write and tell me what you did with a friend or family member...or even just for yourself when you jumped to the "yes" and turned off the auto-response.  I challenge you to do it just once, and then share with all of us.



We found a monster worm!


We got filthy!


We loved every moment of it!


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Race To Nowhere

As I was reading a magazine in the orthodontist's office this afternoon while waiting for Kenny to finish his latest adjustment, I stumbled across something that seemed so timely that it was almost spooky.  This ongoing conversation we have all had here on the blog the past week or so in response to my education posts revealed a lot of heated emotions, and a lack of understanding likely due in large part to my inability to articulate things well enough.  Also, I truly believe that I could make the exact same statements about the craziness of public education if our kids were still in public school and I would get a lot of vigorous head nods from others rather than the thinking that I somehow feel homeschooling is something everyone should do. Not at all the truth, just a right decision for our situation and our family...definitely not the right decision for others.

However, my passionate feelings regarding wanting to get our kids off the merry-go-round that our society sees as the only path to gaining a solid education was met with derisionby a few, and the mistaken sense that we want to deny our kids a college education or "call the shots" for them.  This single minded focus on SAT's and college prep is killing our kids, literally.  It kills their spirit, it kills their intellectual curiosity, and sometimes, it takes away their very life.  Think I am nuts?  Well, you definitely might be right about that :-) but it seems tens of thousands of others are seeing the lunacy of all of it as well.  What I found in the magazine was a short article about a film called "Race to Nowhere", in which this very same topic is addressed in depth.  I may be crazy, but I discovered I am not alone.  My thoughts about all of this, and wanting to make decisions that we feel are healthier for our kids, are not as odd as I was made to feel they were and I instantly felt a little validated upon reading the article (I think it was in something like Family Circle or one of those magazines).   Mind you, whether we homeschooled or not I would try and steer our kids away from thinking they had to jump on the Stress Express that our high schools have become.  The discussion about homeschooling really has nothing at all to do with the college band wagon and our approach as a society to education in general. 

Quotes from the trailer that I found insightful were "Our students are pressured to perform, they're not necessarily pressured to learn, especially learn deeply and conceptually."  and another "I'm afraid that our children are going to sue us for stealing their childhoods."  The trailer alone backed up what I was trying to say so well, and I was surprised to discover that anyone else at all was tackling this complex issue.  This film is not some sort of "out of left field" documentary, it has been very favorably reviewed by many big names and newspapers.  Check out the trailer:




We all may agree to disagree, there are many of us that will likely never find ourselves on the same page about this subject, but this is really deep food for thought, and something every parent should at least consider as they look to the academic future of their child.  Our job is not just to get our kids into good colleges, or have them score great paying jobs.  Our job, as parents, is also to help them become healthy, whole individuals.  It also means showing them that they can create the life they want to have, that there are many different paths to the same objective, and that they are never "boxed in" unless they allow that to happen.  And yes, it means helping them learn to have the courage to do things differently, to refuse to "sell their soul" for a grade...or a paycheck.  Because it flat out isn't worth it.  They lose too much in the process.

I realize that for many, there IS no other way than the established norm, and to even consider any other alternative is fraught with way too much uncertainty.  That's fine!  Continue on, you may have one of those kids that thrive with that kind of pressure.  We all know folks like that exist.  But many, many do not thrive, many lose themselves along the way and it takes years, if not decades, to discover who they really are outside the system that created them.

At least the conversation has begun, and we can all enter in as we feel led.  That's what America is all about, not falling lockstep behind others!  Guess I'll never be very good at that myself :-)

Monday, September 12, 2011

First Flight!

Cadet LaJoy in his BDU's

We got a surprise phone call later yesterday afternoon inviting Matthew on his first "O" flight.  O = Operations???  Oh My Gosh?? Outstanding??  I have no idea, there is all this military jargon that I am not privy to, but will eventually figure out.  Hey, at least I got "BDU's" down pat!  Matthew was excited and also happy to wear his BDU uniform for the first time, patches and all.

Matt has already gone up at least a couple of times in a small aircraft before, prior to being in Civil Air Patrol so this was not altogether new to him.  He was joined by another cadet, and they flew from Montrose to Gunnison, landed there, spent a little time at the airport, and then returned.  All together it was a three hour trip, and he learned a lot.  He was pretty mellow when I picked him up, and I asked if it was fun.  He replied "Yea, but it went pretty slow.  I know I have to start somewhere, but someday I want to fly jets!"

I did well, was not nervous at all about it really.  Yea, Grandma Alice, but YOU don't need to worry!  I just heard a statistic on NPR recently about flight safety (I think it was NPR) and they said that the odds of dying in an airplane crash in America are about the same as any single person being voted President.  Matt even told me this evening that if he were to die flying in an airplane at 12 or 13 years old, he'd die happy.  So, how can I argue with that?  I personally think odds are pretty high too that this kid is going into aviation for a career of some sort, so this training and exposure is invaluable.

Matt is really struggling to keep his spirits up with the back issues he is facing.  He is so limited, and although he has not complained once he talked honestly with me about it tonight saying he misses jumping on the trampoline, misses TaeKownDo big time, misses wrestling with his brothers, and feels pretty left out.  The other kids aren't even playing on the tramp without him, in some sort of unspoken pact not to make it even worse.  We are still waiting to hear back from Shriner's with an appointment date for November, and we might learn more.  He gets his back brace and orthotics next week.  All in all though, he is handling it very, very well and having Civil Air Patrol just beginning as this all came about has helped tremendously.

My wish for all our children is that they would find something eventually that they are this passionate about.  Heck, my wish for MYSELF is that I would find something I am this passionate about! Hahaha! Well, Joshie always has his obsession with Abe Lincoln.  In fact, the Teaching Company had a course on sale for $10 (A total steal as their products are expensive!) about the life of good old Abe, and I bought it for him.  Although it is a college level course taught by a professor, there are lots of pictures on the DVD to go with the lecture and I figure he might like that.  He was quite excited about it when it arrived today.

Olesya and I were looking at a catalog my equally hobbyless friend shared with me, and it has all kinds of glass items for making stained glass windows, mosaics, etc.  Very, very cool and something I have always wanted to do but never made the time for.  Being lacking in any artistic talent, I fear spending money on something like that but it looks like fun!  Sort of paint by numbers with glass, if you have a pattern.  Surely I could handle that, right??  Still thinking about teaching myself the harp too, but the cost of a decent harp will hold me back a long time on that one.  Someday, maybe when I am retired...more than likely though I'll still be as hobbyless then as I am now! Hahaha!

I am excited about something coming up this next week though, a class I am taking for church on social networking.  Geek that I am, this sounds fascinating to me and I am really looking forward to it.  Social networking is changing not only how we communicate as as society, but also the very dynamics of relationships, and I find that totally intriguing. 

Here is one last photo of Matt.  Hoping to have the opportunity to add a few of Olesya and Joshua, who are not involved in things right now that are as easily photographable!:





Sunday, September 11, 2011

Being Different



After the past couple days posts and the comments I received, and with the addition of today's sad anniversary of September 11th, I have done a lot of reflecting about who I am, who we are as a culture, and what all of that means.

Being different in this world is never easy.  Of course, in one way or another, we are ALL different but many of us try to conform to fit the norm for fear of attack or being left out.  Our family is different.  We look different, we have different values, more often than not we are judged (often quite harshly) for our decisions.  

One thing we are though, is true to ourselves.  That is also not easy.

But on this Sunday, September 11th, as we ponder how America reacted to the tragedy that befell us, I wish that our nation would have fallen outside the norm.  Actually, I wish we had been true to our former selves, a country who weighed military action far more carefully than we seem to do these days.  What would our lives have looked like these past ten years had we responded as Norway did recently?  If we had met hatred with peace?  If we had not immediately jumped to retaliation and revenge?  How many lives would have been saved?  And I am not talking solely about American lives.  God doesn't view American lives as worth more than Iraqi or Afghan lives...only we do.

During Sunday School today, I was teaching and the topic was about "Why do we go to church?".  We came up with many wonderful reasons why we attend church, ranging from being part of a community of like minded souls, to being reminded that God loves us.  Matthew showed incredible insight when he added one I hadn't thought about, saying "I think going to church helps us to become more self-aware."  Twelve years old, and already he understands something many adults never do, an understanding that intentional living requires self-awareness, and a willingness to confront that which we may not always want to see in ourselves.

Our family's vehicles each have stickers on them with the LaJoy family theme, "Love Wins".  In order for love to win, it doesn't just "happen".  It takes a desire to walk through this world with intentional deliberateness, with self-awareness.  It takes sticking up for those who can not speak for themselves, for the voiceless orphans of the world, for the Hispanic child who can not read, for the gay man who simply wants to be accepted, for the drug or alcohol addict who needs another chance.  It takes putting love into action, for mere words alone can not create change in the world.

Without action, love loses.

Our family is different in the very obvious ways...we don't "match", we have kids virtually the same ages, we decided to go against the mainstream and homeschool for the salvation of our kids' minds, hearts and souls.  We are different in many other ways, some much more subtle and less talked about.  We volunteer to work with kids who need a caring adult, we embrace the supposed unlovable, we give the addict another chance, and another chance, and another chance. We are different in that we really, really, really love being a part of our family, being a member of Team LaJoy.  We don't shrug our shoulders and say "Yea, my family's OK I guess.", we recognize what a special unique blessing it is to be part of something bigger than we are when all alone.  We are each grateful to have been "saved" in a way that only an orphan or infertile couple can feel.  We love those in our lives as completely as possible, we love our friends unabashedly and are willing to put our heart and our backs where our mouth is.  Things don't matter to us much, people do.

When someone insinuates that the love we share is somehow twisted, it hurts my heart...not for us, but for them.  How unloved must someone feel to have those sort of thoughts?  And yet, so many in our world today walk around completely, utterly alone.  

Our society, our world, is broken.  It is turned upside down and shaken so hard that like fragile pieces of glass from a shattered mirror, we see things in altered form.  We are so used to seeing families who rarely speak to one another other than the rare occasion when the ear buds are taken out, that a family who laughs and plays together seems somehow "wrong".  We are so accustomed to watching kids perform at low levels at school, that we attack those who point out the obvious, that all the little Johnny's...and Jose's...and Jamal's...can't read and we as a nation need to fix that somehow.  We are so comfortable with the "They'll get theirs!" attitude, that waging war and being responsible for the deaths of over 100,000 Iraqis somehow seems like adequate compensation for our 3,000 lives lost, as if even that 97,000 body count difference will ever bring those loved ones back to life.  We are so filled with the idea that vengeance is ours to exact, that we don't find it at all disconcerting that a presidential candidate would state that he's never struggled with the enforcement of the death penalty in his state...this despite the fact that in his state alone 12 innocent persons on death row have been exonerated.

Our world needs a little self-awareness.  Our world needs active love so that Love can Win.  Our world needs voices to speak for the voiceless, regardless of the consequences.  Our world needs people to be different.

So if you read our blog and you find us to be "different", if you read and think our ideas are outdated, wrongheaded, or flat out stupid, I guess I'll have to take that as a sign that we are being true to ourselves.  Those who are true to themselves never get away unscathed.  Notice I do not say we are "right" and any dissenter would be "wrong".  We are just different.  It is far, far easier to reach for this world and its values, it is far more challenging to walk through this world intentionally, deliberately, and with self-awareness, being different and not conforming.  That self-awareness piece can be so painful, for it means you have to actually see the wrongs you do...and repair on them.  You have to see the wrongs of the world...and not ignore them.

By placing our family "out there" for the world to get to know on this blog, it is a big, big risk.  I have taken some hard body blows over the years, and have also been called to think more deeply about things in a respectful fashion.  I leave us open for condemnation, ridicule, and judgment for merely sharing what we do and how we do it.  Why?  Why should we bother?

Because Love Wins.  And people need to know that.  It can be hard won, but it does win.  You have seen us at our most broken, and how we have healed.  You have seen us in our frustration, and seen us respond. You have seen us jump off cliffs others would never dare jump off, and seen us fly...with the occasional flop :-)  

Hopefully, you have also seen God somewhere along the way.

On this September 11th night,  I pray that together we continue to grow as we share our lives here.  I pray that we can hear our differences and be drawn into new ways of seeing and being.  I pray that you and I, my Constant Readers, are willing to tackle the hard things together...agreeing to disagree when necessary yet loving one another virtually anyway as we are called to do.

For together, even here, we will be different and we will show that Love Wins.

He's different...

He's different...

She's different...

She's different...

He's different...

We're all different!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Response to Comment...

Ok, so there are always people in the world...and they most often tend to be anonymous...who strike a quick blow and retreat.  I can't let this go uncommented upon.

For those who don't read the comments, here is a comment I received on my last post:

I am glad you have such confidence in your decisions.


I would caution you to use neutral words when you discuss the public school system with your children. Life is filled with good and bad fortune, and you never know which will be lurking around the next corner. In the event they return to public school one day, you don't want them to walk through the doors with fear and apprehension in their hearts.


Lots of kids pursue their personal interests in addition to attending public school =)


And, it's none of my business, but with puberty and adolescence on the cusp, and closely-aged kids of opposite genders that are biologically unrelated in close contact all day every day.... is one or two events a week really enough social time for them to make bonds outside their own family? I just keep thinking about how the kids who acted in the Brady Bunch all dated each other when they were growing up, because they hardly ever were around any other kids.


In my own job, I see that the US has been woefully surpassed in education by other countries. High paying jobs are being filled by foreign citizens at higher and higher rates in the US. Why limit your kids' opportunities in life by deciding to predetermine their college paths by dismissing college prep? They probably all have abilities beyond what you have imagined. Keep an open mind.

Let's take this paragraph by paragraph, shall we?
I am glad you have such confidence in your decisions.

Shouldn't we all?  Isn't that the point of being self-aware and following a path?


I would caution you to use neutral words when you discuss the public school system with your children. Life is filled with good and bad fortune, and you never know which will be lurking around the next corner. In the event they return to public school one day, you don't want them to walk through the doors with fear and apprehension in their hearts.

Uhhh...and you have been privy to our conversations when?  You have knowledge of me being less than neutral with my children??  Considering we LOVED our public school teachers, and let them know it at every opportunity, considering we LOVED our school but that sort of grade level teaching could not possibly work for most of our kids, do you really think I have torn it down to our kids?  Do you think I don't recognize that we are totally blessed at the moment to have this as an option...or that we don't do without a lot to make this option possible? 

And did Matt's comment which I shared have anything at all to do with "fear and apprehension"...or was it more about boredom and wanting to be self-directed?  Re-read it and you'll get my drift clearly.  Sorry, my kids...other than perhaps Kenny (who was often teased and for whom it was not always a pleasant place to be), are not afraid of public school and performed quite well there.  They are not weird and unsocialized, terror filled at the thought of ever entering the hallowed halls of a public school again.  Heck, some of their best friends are there!!  The simple fact is, they prefer one method of being educated over another.  Period.  One works better for them than another. That has nothing to do with fear and apprehension, regardless of how you might choose to interpret it.

Lots of kids pursue their personal interests in addition to attending public school =)
 
You are absolutely correct, they do.  I agree 100% with you on that.  However, particularly at middle and high school levels, what is sacrificed so they CAN pursue those personal interests?  I'll tell you in one word:  family.  The amount of homework that a child has after school these days, in addition to time away from home at school itself, then trying to squeeze in that time to really engage in things like drama, art, music, sports, etc. means that nary a family meal is shared, relationships within the family suffer, and sleep is sacrificed.  That can not be disputed. You can read here what is recommended on a Stanford University web site:  http://ed.stanford.edu/in-the-media/what039s-right-amount-homework
 
Here is a little of what they said:

The district plans to use the survey results to reshape homework policies, which currently allow its teachers to assign 10 minutes of homework each day beginning in kindergarten, and increase it by 10 minutes for each grade level, capping at three hours for high schoolers.

3 hours a night for high schoolers.  7-8 hours a day of school not including travel time.  Hopefully 8 hours of sleep.  Throw in those sports, drama and music activities and that leaves how much of a day to interact with your family?

And we wonder why high schoolers have nothing to do with their parents or siblings. 

Oh, but then according to this next twisted comment, perhaps it is best if we ALL remain separated and away from home as many hours as possible:

And, it's none of my business, but with puberty and adolescence on the cusp, and closely-aged kids of opposite genders that are biologically unrelated in close contact all day every day.... is one or two events a week really enough social time for them to make bonds outside their own family? I just keep thinking about how the kids who acted in the Brady Bunch all dated each other when they were growing up, because they hardly ever were around any other kids.

So, I guess I am to take from this that our children are at higher risk for developing incestuous relationships because they are not biologically related and never are around others.  Hmmm....that is a new one, thanks for pointing it out.

SERIOUSLY???

Oh, but I forgot, we are only out once or twice a week around other kids...at the library, at dance class, at church, at volleyball 3 times a week, at taekwondo 2 times a week, at Civil Air Patrol, at art class, at track, at Home Ec class, visiting other kids in their homes, at any other activity we engage in.  Yea, we are at high risk for lack of socialization.

I will have to remember that homeschooling leads to incest.  Thanks.  That takes the cake.


In my own job, I see that the US has been woefully surpassed in education by other countries. High paying jobs are being filled by foreign citizens at higher and higher rates in the US.

And you just made my entire point, that generally, we are failing and our kids...not just mine...are suffering.  Sure, some succeed, but overall those all important test scores continue to decline.  I don't want this for any child, it's not fair that a kid graduates high school and still can't read at even a 10th grade level.  And this is not an anomaly these days, this happens.  How about the following:

http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/slj/home/891733-312/u.s._students_rank_32_in.csp

I quote:  Our nation's graduating high school class of 2011 had a 32 percent proficiency rate in math and a 31 percent proficiency rate in reading, leaving many to question whether schools are adequately preparing students for the 21st century global economy, says a new report.

Or this:

http://myblackaustin.com/lifestyle/2011/08/25/Report-Shows-U-S-Is-Not-Preparing-Minorities-For-Global-Competition.html

Quote:

Of the United States’ high school graduating class of 2011, only 32 percent had a proficiency rate in math and 31 percent had a proficiency rate in reading, reports Harvard University's Program on Education Policy and Governance. When broken down by racial backgrounds, African-Americans and Latinos fared the worst in the report. Only 11 percent of Blacks were proficient in math, in comparison with 50 percent of Asian students, 42 percent of white students and 15 percent of Hispanic students. The minority races also did not rate well in reading proficiency. Only 13 percent of African-American students and 4 percent of Hispanic students were proficient in reading, in comparison with 40 percent of white students and 41 percent of those with Asian and Pacific Island backgrounds.

I am sorry, but this sickens me, it goes against all that is fair and just in this world.  Our school was filled with wonderful, beautiful, intelligent Hispanic kids of whom this 2011 study indicates only 4% will be proficient in reading.  How will they ever get ahead in this world??  How will any of our minority students make it with this sort of abysmal performance? 

And it is not their fault.

We have to figure out what is broken, and fix it.  Not necessarily for my kids, which is why I blog about education often, but for every single student who needs someone to advocate for them. This.Is.Not.Fair.  I remind you, that the above percentages are for high school graduates.  Why are high schools allowed to graduate students who can't read, write or compute???

And that is EXACTLY what they are doing.

And This.Is.Not.Fair.

Simply because I could see with our unique family makeup that our own children were at risk for this very same outcome and I wanted to stop that from happening does not mean I feel we are "better than" others or that I think public education can not be changed to become much more effective.  After all, it sure used to be!  The fact is, Kenny in particular, and very likely the girls as well, would have been in those single digit numbers had we not acted when we did.  We did what we felt was right, not every kid is in their circumstances.

But the statistics show that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, are.

My comments about public education failing kids are NOT unjustified, but...and I emphasize this firmly...they are NOT a condemnation of those families whose children attend public school and it works for them.  Obviously, there are kids for whom public school works, and works well.

Just not the majority.  The fact that only 40% of all Caucasian students of all graduating US high school students in 2011 are reading at a proficient level proves my point.  No one seems to be disturbed by that figure either.  40%...that means that 60% couldn't even read proficiently, but received their high school diploma anyway.

If we drove cars that worked only 40% of the time, or if we used computers that only worked 40% of the time, or if our doctors correctly diagnosed us only 40% of the time, we would be appalled and screaming bloody murder!!!  And yet it is somehow wrong of me to point out the failure of our public education system to do its job. 


Why limit your kids' opportunities in life by deciding to predetermine their college paths by dismissing college prep? They probably all have abilities beyond what you have imagined. Keep an open mind.

Who said anything about limiting their opportunities or dismissing college prep?  I am sorry, but we are ALL brainwashed in this society to think there is but a single path to being educated.  I used to think that too, years ago, until I realized just how much I could learn on my own.  College prep does NOT mean cramming for PSAT and SAT tests, spending years on the hamster wheel of having 6, 7 or 8 meaningless after school activities just to "look good", or having to attend the Big Name school which puts you so far into debt post-college that it is depressing to even get up in the morning.  All I am trying to say, is there are other avenues, and we are going to explore them.  You tell me to "keep an open mind"...perhaps, Anonymous, you ought to do the same!  There ARE other paths to getting a college diploma.  (And maybe "college prep" should mean making sure they are reading at a proficient level???  Dontcha think???).  To think otherwise is, simply put, elitist and denigrates all those non-traditional students who, for whatever reason...finances, lack of decent K12 education, lack of family support, can not follow the traditional path.

(PS:  To those who don't understand what I am saying, we are looking to junior college for 2 years then transferring.  And yes, we will likely have to do it online or through the local small satellite campus of our college due to distance.  Living in rural Colorado, we have no junior college even within 2 or 3 hours drive.  With 5 kids, and every penny spent adopting and raising them, we will HAVE to look at alternatives, even if only for financial considerations.  PLEASE...read what I have said carefully, for I have already received emails from folks thinking for some reason that we are going to "deny our kids" a college education.  However, by going the junior college route, it immediately has the benefit of taking us off the competitive merry-go-round that is the norm these days.  Making deliberate choices to walk different, and less stressful paths, is for some reason unpopular...junior college attendance eliminates the whole SAT garbage and high school stress, and costs less to boot!  Win Win, transfer later on, and still end up with a diploma from a major university if so desired at half the cost.  What's wrong with that???)

I think the problem that we, as a whole, have in viewing education is that we have done with college entrance exactly what we have done in ALL of education...boiled it down to a test.  Gaining knowledge has nothing at all to do with a test.  Learning to really think critically has nothing to do with test performance. 

After all, are you going to tell me that 60% of those Caucasian students who couldn't read at a proficient level were not taking the SAT last year? 

And what, exactly, does their score mean...what value does it have if they are not even reading at a 12th grade level.

That's OK, I don't have an open mind...I guess I'll follow along with society's idea of education and "push 'em on through."


Here's where I will absolutely agree with you though, and I saved the best for last:

They probably all have abilities beyond what you have imagined.

Absolutely they do!!

So do ALL kids, ours are no exception to that.  For our kids, that is a tough one though, because Dominick and I think they can be just about anything in this world they want to be...well...with the exception of President of the United States.  But as Kenny said, he'll get voted into office and change that too.

Yea, Anonymous, that's what it's all about, dreaming big dreams...even if they look different than what anyone else thinks they ought to look like.  I just wish every single child in school in America had the same chance.